As a longtime observer of nature—especially but not only birds—I’ve been spending a lot of time watching the ebb and flow in Croton on Hudson, especially down in Croton Landing. The Landing is a pretty remarkable mix of created habitats (freshwater ponds, riverside beaches, a mini cattail marsh, fields with tall trees, and of course the river). This month (both on the Landing and in the town) has seen so many signs of in-progress and impending autumn, things I never really noticed before I started walking along the river so often.
A few examples: After a midsummer silence, several bird species have been singing again (if sometimes weakly and sporadically) at the Landing, including Warbling Vireo, Yellow Warbler, and Baltimore Oriole. Red-tailed Hawks have been endlessly vocal—are these young newly on their own and complaining that they’re not being fed? The Killdeer that nest around the Croton train tracks have been flighty and vocal as well. Among mammals, the Landing’s woodchucks are getting themselves fat.
In town, there’s a large population of vultures that spends all winter here. After a summer where I saw mostly Turkey Vultures, the flocks seem larger–real kettles–and include many Black Vultures as well. Also, twice in the past two weeks, my neighborhood has been inundated with grackles, gleaning every bit of food they can find before moving on. (We’re trying to protect the black-swallowtail caterpillars, themselves feasting on the parsley and dill in our pollinator garden as they race the clock to grow big enough to pupate, from the keen-eyed grackles.)
It’s fascinating—and heartening—to see how nature inherently understands the way the seasons meld into each other: How even in the midst of what still feels like midsummer to us humans, it’s preparing for what happens next. — Joe Wallace
Saw Mill River Audubon is offering over 30 birding field trips in Spring 2019: our weekly Monday bird walks, weekend day trips to local and regional habitats, and special early morning birding walks on weekdays and weekend days during the height of the spring migration.
In late March 2017, Charlie Roberto noted that he had seen Purple Martins last spring just a few miles north of Croton Point, in Putnam County along the Hudson. He added, “Croton Point is a perfect place for a colony…but we would have to get it done by the end of April to have a chance for nesting this year.” Challenge accepted!
Saw Mill River Audubon contacted Rob Armanini, owner of the Feed the Birds store in Croton to see about martin tower pricing. Rob immediately offered us wholesale pricing and then went even further than that, underwriting half the cost. (Thanks again, Rob!)
SMRA also contacted John Baker, (then) Director of Conservation for Westchester County Parks, who linked us with the Westchester Parks Foundation for more funding support.
Croton Point Park Naturalist John Phillips handled the Croton Point Park permissions and went even further, arranging for some park staff to dig the hole, and erect the tower. Meanwhile, John also assembled the many, many parts that go into a purple martin nesting tower.
By April 19, Croton Point Park had a brand new Purple Martin nesting tower. Now for some martins.
There’s a wealth of advice online about Purple Martin colonies including an active discussion forum at the Purple Martin Conservation Association’s web site (www.purplemartin.org.) All these experienced martin watchers agree that the best way to attract martins to a new colony was (1) have a purple martin plastic decoy at the top of the tower, and (2) play recordings of a purple martin dawn song — when else? — at dawn. Purple Martins are highly social and will show up where they think other martins already are.
John Phillips took care of getting the plastic Purple Martin decoy installed. This plastic decoy came with our Purple Martin structure but lacked a good attachment scheme. No matter. Some duct tape did the trick. (We shall leave nameless those few birders that, briefly, eBirded the plastic martin.)
As for the dawn songs, there’s an .mp3 audio file for that. We put up a notice on Facebook for some volunteers to come at dawn and play recordings. Jessica T. stepped up for several mornings of song playing, some others did as well. We persisted. And a month went by with no Purple Martins.
May 22, 2017 Saw Mill River Audubon’s regular 4th Monday morning walk at Croton Point saw a martin! A lone Purple Martin — perhaps a scout for a new colony — was flying around the main parking lot, singing and trying to enter the emergency siren structure. Just down the road from our sparkling new nesting structure.
This one martin stuck around for two more weeks, finally making its way over the nesting tower.
It kept adding its voice to our dawn chorus playbacks and then, at last, FOUR Purple Martins were seen on June 8, sitting and singing in the right place, on the new nesting tower.
A week later, June 15, we had five martins and a week later, reports of up to 8 martins! .
Our Monday walk on June 26 stopped to watch the martins. We saw an adult pair, male and female, carrying nesting materials into one of the nesting gourds.
If nesting is successful, this will be the only known Purple Martin colony in Westchester County. (A small colony was in the Rye area, along the Long Island Sound, but apparently lost its housing during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.)
Here’s another look at real Purple Martins on the tower either side of the decoy martin.
Photo: Valerie Heemstra.
August 2017 Update
Despite several people observing the nesting tower, we are uncertain whether nesting was successful this year and we will check the nesting gourds before winter storage. However, by the middle of August, as many as 11 martins were seen at once, as shown in this photo below by Jim Bourdon. (The Martin decoy was also slipping its duct tape bounds at that point and later retrieved to be reattached next spring.)
September 2017 Update: What was in the Gourds?
Croton Point Naturalist John Phillips took down the nesting gourds the end of September and cleaned them out. He also recorded the contents of the gourds and noted, “The uniformity of the contents of 6 of the 8 gourds is remarkable.”
Bottom line: we don’t think we had nesting Purple Martins this year but are hoping for next year! See John’s notes below
1N (lower, facing gate house)
– clean no droppings
– 1 twig tip White Pine
– 6 stems/leaves/seed heads of various grasses
– 1 phragmites stem section
2N (upper, facing gate house)
– clean (1 dropping)
– 1 White Pine needle whorl
– 5 stems/leaves/seed heads of various grasses)
– 1 Phragmites outer stem
– 1small white feather
1E (lower, facing Park entrance)
– light droppings and debris
– 1 White Pine twig
– 15 stems/leaves/seed heads various grasses, 3-4 different species
– 4 small white feathers
– 2 large feathers, one white, one dark
– 1 strip Phragmites core, one sm rectangle Phrag outer stem
2E (upper, facing Park entrance)
– significant nesting materials but fairly clean- apparently unused
– a few droppings
– bottom 1/3 of gourd full of various grasses (# sp.?)
– a few small stems Phragmites, one ribbon Phrag cambium
– a few White Pine twigs
– approx 30 feathers, mostly small white, mixed in with grasses
– 2 sm pieces plastic
– in lower layer (buried) a fully formed nesting cup made of various grasses and lined with large number of feathers. *
1S (lower, facing Maintenance Barn)
– trace droppings
– 8 grass stems/leaves/seed heads various species
– 1 ribbon Phrag cambium
– small paper wasp nest below entrance platform (interior)
2S (upper, facing Maintenance Barn)
– 10 grass stems/leaves/seed heads
– 1 small gray feather
1W (lower, facing bath house)
– Apparently remains of nesting activity. Different contents than all other gourds: compacted mass apparently cemented by droppings.
– shallow, solid, dark mass on bottom 3″ of gourd. Difficult to remove.
– a few large loose twigs, feathers, and a few identifiable droppings on top of mass
– mass composed primarily of thousands of insect exoskeletons w iridescent blue and green fragments, a few intact thorax, abdomens, legs. One apparent Cicada wing, one apparent dragonfly wing.
– Also fragments of brown deciduous leaves (oak? maple?) 6 valves and one whole bivalve Asian Clam (Corbicula),
– a few partial feathers, pieces Phragmites stems & cambium ribbon, hatched fly eggs (sp?),
– at bottom of mass many pieces of flat plastic (candy wrappers, cellophane, sheet plastic, etc.)
2W (upper facing bath house)
– 5 White Pine needles (2 loose, 3 remaining in original whorl)
– 20 grass stems/leaves/seedheads, various species
– 2 small white feathers (down)
– 1 section Phragmites stem
Karalyn Lamb was able to identify some of the grasses as “non-native cool season grasses” and “switch grasses”.
* Jim Bourdon suggested that 2E may have held a Tree Swallow nest early on in June (which was subsequently covered over by the Martins?)
Spring 2018 Update
Max count of five Martins — three adult males among them — are being seen around the nesting structure as of May 18, 2018 with one pair, at least, apparently establishing a nest in one gourd.
Guided Birding at Area Hotspots
NOTE: start times vary seasonally.
April: 8:30 am; May: 7:30 am;
June through August: 6:30 am
Meet in main parking area for all walks.
No registration needed. Rain or shine.
1st Mon: Muscoot Farm
2nd Mon: Rockefeller State Park
3rd Mon: Teatown Lake Reservation
4th Mon: Croton Point County Park
5th Mon: Location varies.
(Very) Early Morning Bird Walk Series: 5:30 am
Timed to catch the early morning bird chorus during
height of the season. No registration needed. Meet at
the main parking area for each location at 5:30 am.
Binocular loans available. Rain or shine.
Thursday, May 11: Croton Point Park
Thursday, May 18: Rockefeller State Park Preserve
Thursday, May 25: Teatown Lake Reservation
Thursday, June 1: Rockefeller State Park Preserve
Thursday, June 8: Croton Point Park
Field Trips: Flight of the Woodcock
Sunday, April 9: Croton Point Park, 7:30 pm
Saturday, April 16: Muscoot Farm , 7:30 pm
Gather with us at dusk for the seasonal courtship display
of American Woodcock. At Croton Point Park, meet in
ballfield parking. At Muscoot, meet in main parking.
For adults and ages 10 and up. $5/donation suggested
for Muscoot, payable at walk.
Sunday, April 23, 8:00 am
Field Trip: Celery Farm (NJ)
A special birding trip to the famed Celery Farm in
Allendale, New Jersey, a 107-acre freshwater wetland
with trails and viewing platforms maintained by the Fyke
Nature Association. (www.fykenature.org) Meet us 8:00
am at the Celery Farm parking lot on Franklin Turnpike,
Allendale, NJ. Look for waterfowl and very early spring
migrants. Register by calling/emailing SMRA office,
914-666-6503 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Saturday, May 13, All Day
Westchester Birdathon/Global eBirding Day
We will be birding Friday 7:00 pm to Saturday 7:00 pm
to count as many species as possible & to raise funds
for SMRA & Rockefeller State Park Preserve projects.
Saturday, May 20, 5:30 am
Field Trip: Doodletown & Iona Island Birding
A SMRA tradition: visiting Doodletown and Iona
Island for spring migration. Meet at parking area on Rt.
9W just north of Iona Island. No registration needed.
Sunday, May 28, 6:00 am–12:30 pm
Field Trip: Sterling Forest
Join us on a birding field trip to Sterling Forest in
Orange County. Target species include Golden-winged
Warbler and other specialties. We are arriving 6:00 am
at Sterling Forest. Email us for details and to register.
An April 2016 article in the journal Biological Conservation considered how birding data collected in eBird can be a valuable tool in the conservation of birds and their habitats. One example cited is the effort by Saw Mill River Audubon at Croton Point Park to encourage the nesting of grassland species, including Grasshopper Sparrows. More
Despite the challenging weather conditions, teams of birders saw more than 90 species yesterday, Saturday, December 17, during the annual Peekskill Christmas Bird Count. This 15-mile diameter circle includes birding areas from Peekskill south to Ossining and east to Cortlandt Manor, Millwood and Ossining.
There are over 65 CBC count circles in New York alone. An interactive map of all count circles in the Americas is here. More about Christmas Bird Counts is here.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Birds of North America (BNA) is an extraordinary public resource, constantly updated for every bird species in North America, even accidentals. A redesign of the BNA website launched this September.
You can explore the site by searching for a species name or scanning the taxonomy list. Species introduction pages—available to those without a subscription—provide general information on subjects like distribution, behavior, breeding, and subspecies. Subscribers can see beyond this introduction, which only scratches the surface of the wealth of information Cornell has put together. Are you interested in when a bird species starts singing, builds a nest, raises young, migrates or changes plumage? It’s all there.
Each species entry allows you to navigate to topics such as Distribution, Migration and Habitat; Diet and Foraging and each of these topics are further sub-divided into sections like Locomotion, Self-Maintenance, Agonistic Behavior, and Predation.
Many Cornell Macaulay Library resources supplement the text, including photographs, videos, sound recordings, distribution maps, eBird range maps, molting cycle graphs, and spectrograms, graphic images of sounds.
The writing is not as lay-friendly as that from Cornell’s more simplified All About Birds web site. The concise language can be dry and jargony, yet still more readable than most science journals. Links are provided for all citations; you can view a full list of references, and, if you are using BNA for research, they’ve made citing BNA easy with “Recommended Citation” on each page footer.
BNA offers personal, institutional, and gift subscriptions from 30 days to three years. Sarah Hansen