The forecast had been exciting for today for Derby Hill - strong southeast winds to blow lots of migrating raptors close to the shore after a couple of days of being stalled by north winds. It was potentially the best forecast a scheduled SFO trip had in a long time. There was just one nagging problem: rain was going to move in at some point, and most raptors don't like to migrate in the rain. More to the point most birders don't much care to stand for a prolonged period in an exposed place in chilly temperatures, fierce wind, and heavy rain in order to see very few raptors through wet, foggy optics. Well, we lost the bet today. I had hoped for an hour or two of fantastic migration before the precipitation, but instead the rain began shortly before we arrived. We did see one close beautiful migrating male NORTHERN HARRIER come low over the north lookout, and we did see one OSPREY hunting along the shore and in Sage Creek Marsh after which it may have migrated (we couldn't see from our lakeshore vantage), but otherwise we were skunked in the raptor migration.
We did see multiple LONG-TAILED DUCKS, RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS, and DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS, a few CASPIAN TERNS, and hundreds of TREE SWALLOWS over Lake Ontario, and around the north lookout we had close looks at 2 male PURPLE MARTINS at a box, and a small flock of NORTHERN FLICKERS paused in migration to feed on a grassy area.
It was a joy to have been joined by SFO alumna Sylvia from Albany and Painted Post, who declared of the harrier, "That makes it worthwhile." Truly it was a gorgeous bird Yet we were risking hypothermia, so we didn't stay long enough to see any more raptors at Derby Hill.
We had already stopped briefly and successfully at my favorite site for multiple WILSON'S SNIPE at the corner of NYS-3 and NYS-104B north of the Village of Mexico, and just east of Sage Creek Road (the road to the Derby Hill Bird Observatory). We wanted a litte time for the cars to warm us up, so we aimed for the Montezuma area via NYS-3, NYS-104, and NYS-89.
Happily we found that the rain paused for awhile as we entered the Montezuma Wetlands Complex. Our first stop was the relatively new impoundment on the east side of NYS-89 nearly opposite the Montezuma Audubon Center north of the Village of Savannah (I forget the name). There highlights were 5 TRUMPETER SWANS which I suspect were immature, a pair of GREEN-WINGED TEAL, and a KILLDEER.
Next stop was Martens Tract, where the pond held AMERICAN WIGEONS, GADWALLS, RING-NECKED DUCKS, a single male BUFFLEHEAD, and a PIED-BILLED GREBE. We ate lunch here while scanning the skies, then went to Carncross Road. Between these two sites we tallied a more respectable, if non-migrating, list of raptors: TURKEY VULTURES, OSPREYS, NORTHERN HARRIERS, BALD EAGLES, RED-TAILED HAWKS, and an AMERICAN KESTREL (all Kestrels seen today were male, probably indicating females were on nests). We also found a cryptic pair of NORTHERN PINTAILS; several NORTHERN SHOVELERS (the males especially gorgeous to watch in flight); 14 GREATER YELLOWLEGS; a couple CASPIAN TERNS; 2 GREAT BLUE HERONS pretending to be Rough-legged Hawks by hovering in the wind; a single silent SANDHILL CRANE flying into and later the opposite direction out of a marsh, perhaps a pair trading nest duties and commuting to and from some feeding ground to the west; and an insistently bright blue male EASTERN BLUEBIRD (he couldn't help it, but he did make some of us feel that spring was here).
We also stopped at Muckrace Flats, the currently flooded area on Savannah-Spring Lake Rd near Bixby Hill Rd and Morgan Rd. There were compared GREEN-WINGED TEAL, BLUE-WINGED TEAL, and NORTHERN SHOVELER, and also saw a pair of AMERICAN BLACK DUCKS.
After refreshments at Dave's convenience store in Savannah we briefly scanned East Road but were uninspired. Our next three potential stops - May's Point Pool, Tschache Pool, and the Montezuma NWR visitor center - got nixed because the fierce rain had recommenced, but we reached Union Springs during a lull. There at the Mill Pond we found a couple hundred foraging swallows, 99% TREE SWALLOWS, 1% BARN SWALLOWS, and 1% NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWS (2 each). A handful of male and female BUFFLEHEADS and 2 female HOODED MERGANSERS also graced this pond, and David Nicosia who had joined us with his SFO group, noticed a gorgeous yet cryptic GREEN HERON (first of the year in the basin, I think) crouched on some roots at the edge of the pond. We checked the box at the Factory Street Pond and found that "Screechie" the Eastern Screech-Owl was not at home. In fact "Screechie" appears to have vacated, perhaps for the season: we watched a male COMMON GRACKLE climb into the box briefly and emerge intact and nonchalant. Other birds at this pond included a surprisingly quiet CAROLINA WREN on the "Poison Ivy" tree, a female (slate-crowned) WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH, and a fly-by CASPIAN TERN.
Without further stops we returned to the Lab, where we were grateful that Mary Winston let us in moments before closing time. We studied AMERICAN TREE SPARROWS, WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS, SONG SPARROWS, and briefly a female RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD while we tallied up 62 group species for the day, plus 5 more single-observer species, a pretty darn good day considering the rough weather. (The single-observer species included a PEREGRINE FALCON which I glimpsed circling the building in Syracuse where they nest, one of the worst looks I've had of this species, and I think the first time I've seen it there from I-81.) Thanks to Robyn Bailey and Peter Cashwell for driving and to everyone for enthusiasm and good spirits.
with SFO Group 3