By Brian Kluepfel
You’ll have to admit that the first week of spring hit us like a ton of bricks, but imagine how it was for all those migratory and resident birds.
The massive March snowfall didn’t stop the progress of birds going north to their breeding grounds, and similar to us humans with our snow-removal equipment and other contrivances, nature carries on.
Last week outside my Tarrytown office I noted some red-winged blackbirds among the ground feeders, boisterous birds that always draw one’s attention with their bold yellow-red wing patch and referee’s whistle of a call. Many hail the return of these blackbirds as a harbinger of spring, one we welcome after that last arctic blast of winter.
I like to praise the everyday in my journey through life, and coming and going to work are perfect opportunities for that. Passing through the Rockefeller lands in Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown along Route 448, I’ve seen wild turkeys crossing the road, and in this season in particular, the toms (males) are comically puffed up in full-throated mating ardor.
Along the telephone wire I recently spied an American kestrel, one of our smallest but most attractive birds of prey. Of course, driving while birding (or vice versa) presents some challenges, so I recommend pulling over to a safe spot and taking out your binoculars, if you see something that warrants a closer look.
Rockefeller State Park Preserve itself is worth a morning visit – just a few minutes, I promise myself – to see the many Eastern bluebirds (New York’s state bird) on the hillside above Swan Lake. If you have time to circle the lake, as spring comes into full bloom, you’re sure to see Baltimore orioles around the water’s edge, but look up high. The visitor’s center at Rockefeller Park even has a handy, free bird checklist.
On my way home, I’ll stroll down to the Ossining waterfront, and I was recently wowed by a murder of crows flying overhead, a group of 40 or more cawing and cackling, a welcome alternative to the noises along Route 9. Down Main Street, close to the train station, is where my girlfriend and I just weeks ago spotted a magnificent pileated woodpecker, visible from afar with the naked eye, no binoculars necessary, hammering away at a tree for insects, wood chips flying every which way.
At the waterside park in the shadow of Sing Sing, I join Paula, who’s sent me an iPhone video of a bevy of Ring-billed seagulls making a cacophonous party over two abandoned bagels. The circular bread is too heavy for any one gull to lift, but enough to cause a bit of an avian riot until I and a fellow bench-sitter take it into our hands to divide it into seagull-sized morsels. This causes even more of a stir – the birds’ humanistic eye contact is a bit Hitchcockian – but ensured that the food was distributed somewhat evenly.
Out on the river, as the sun set, we spy some Bufflehead ducks, seemingly tuxedo black and white from afar, but upon closer inspection with more subtle hues of deep purple and green mixed in. They disappear for 30 seconds or so at a time, diving into the estuarial deep in search of a meal.
From morning ‘til night, regardless of the season, Westchester is a birding paradise. Just keep your eyes open.
Brian Kluepfel is a Saw Mill River Audubon (SMRA) board member and has written travel guides for Lonely Planet and Fodor’s. Join SMRA for any of its public programs, and increase your knowledge of local wildlife and park system while going on a nice walk. For more information, visit www.sawmillriveraudubon.org.
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