Monthly Archives: June 2008

Birding the Shawangunk Grasslands

Shawangunk Grasslands

Coming from the flatland, I have a longing for wide open spaces, vista, amber waves of grain, bobolink, meadowlark and all the open grassland sparrows. Sometimes I just need to be alone in the vastness of a big sky. So when I got an email about a field trip to the Shawangunk Grassland National Wildlife Refuge; I decided to go. Secretly hoping for an Upland Sandpiper (a would-be life bird for me) I drove for an hour through charming small towns and beautiful farmland to reach the refuge. Arriving about a half hour after the field trip started, I tucked my pants into my socks, sprayed my pant legs, boots and hat with bug spray and strode off along a 2 track path. (Shawangunk Grasslands is a decommissioned military airport, so the paths are all paved runways. You can still see the painted marks that guided the planes. It is sorta weird to walk on a runway.)

As soon as I walked around the gate to get onto the property, I heard blue-winged warblers, baltimore orioles, rufous-sided towhees, warbling vireos, common yellow throats, the gulping chuckle of a yellow-billed cuckoo and the fitz-bew of a willow flycatcher. Stopping to chat with a fellow sitting in the blazing sun staking out a stand of second growth trees and brambles; I was happy to help him identify an immature male orchard oriole with its greenish-yellow body and that black throat. A wonderful first of the season orchard for me. We had fabulous looks.

Walking the north-south runways I was surrounded by the bubbling cascade of bobolink song. They chased each other flashing their white wings and tail spots. The males sat on every post, branch, even sturdy grasses to proclaim their love for lass and grass. I have not seen so many bobolinks in years and years. It was wonderful.

If you need any grasslands birds, Shawangunk is a great place to get them. My list, in just over 2 hours is: bobolink, meadow lark, eastern kingbird, baltimore oriole, orchard oriole, least flycatcher, willow flycatcher, cedar waxing, common yellowthroat, goldfinch, yellow warbler, blue-winged warbler, warbling vireo, rufous-sided towhee, carolina wren, song sparrow, chipping sparrow, savannah sparrow, grasshopper sparrow, killdeer, red-winged blackbird, crow, turkey vulture, black vulture, kestrel, yellow-billed cuckoo, rose-breasted grosbeak, american robin, eastern bluebird, tree swallow, barn swallow, mourning dove, prairie warbler.

My favorite? Hands down the Bobolink.

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