Tuesday, March 17, 2009

An evening with Miilion birds in Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge

Like others, I too decided to take advantage of good weather and go look for birds, though good weather is often bad to see birds. Also, always my dilemma is where do I stop on the way. My main aim for today was chasing some wild white geese, so I decided to skip lake shores and go to back roads. I started around 1.00 P.M. I drove my favorite Rafferty- Dixon road route.

On Rafferty, there were a few Horned Larks singing along the road, but none stopped for me to look at them even for a minute. A big flock of crows was harassing something in the grass and I could not see what it was, I presume maybe it was an owl. One female Harrier scanned the fields for something for an early dinner. They seem that they are highly motivated to concentrate their gaze toward the ground.

Dixon Road was fairly quiet except for a few more scattered Horned Larks and a pair of Kestrels giving a hard time to Red-tailed Hawk. I stopped and watched them. After the hawk was chased across the field on the other side of the road, Kestrels came back and sat on wires excitedly talking to each other, feeling good that they have chased the hawk out of their territory. At the end of the Dixon road, I ended up down toward the lake just near Aurora Fire Station.

Around Levanna, I found hunters putting fake paper/plastic Snow Geese that were fluttering funnily in the air. Just along the shores of Gwywood (?), where there are some mega houses that sit very close to the shore and block the view of the lake for all others, were thousands of snow geese. There was a gap between two houses just enough to watch a few hundred geese. So I pulled out and scanned through the crowd to look for any other species geese among them, but did not find any.

I was planning on heading straight to Muckland via Rt. 90, but then decided I want to look at Eagles at the Mud Lock. The eagle was sitting on the eggs with only head visible. As I was so close to the visitor center, decided to check if the drive was open and it was.

On the main pool I found one CACKLING GOOSE with five other Canada Geese that were swimming closer to the island just past the first Seneca Spillway. But as I was getting ready to take pictures, they moved behind the grass. There were plenty of ducks which others have already described. I did spend sometime photographing and watching No. Shovelers at Benning’s Marsh.

Then I headed to East Road. At the Knox -Marcellus view point, there were 16 TREE SWALLOWS, that were excitedly fighting with each other for a few seconds and next few seconds back to insect hunting. When I went close to their would be nest box, they chirped over my head. From here I could see the vast white mass on the Muckland. I stopped at Muckland and watched the SNOW GEESE, but decided to come back later in the evening to watch them take off in the evening light.

I headed to Carncross Road. There I found a SANDHILL CRANE feeling lost and all alone. I am wondering if the female has already started nest. I also met some other people and Cindy told me that they were seeing some 7 eagles. I did watch four eagles of which three of them were adults. On Rail Road Road, I found thousands of Pintails, softly humming and take off as the Northern Harrier swooped over them. There were also lots of Tree Sparrows some of them were singing and all wanted to sun themselves on one particular tree. Every time I approached them they would fly away but if I moved away, would come back to the same tree again and again.

Finally, it was time to go back to SNOW GEESE on Muck. I parked near first potato building and watched the snow geese as they flew and mulled around. While, I was scanning for a Ross’s all the geese in the front row suddenly looked up and started calling and soon took to air. I did not know what was it that alarmed them, I did not see anything that I would think would alarm them. It always intrigues me, why some geese take off and some as group and some as threes or twos and others single. I watched a single goose coming back toward the group honking and go in circles and finally land. I wonder, if this goose took off by mistake when its group members did not fly after going some distance realized that its companions are not there, so did it come back and search for the companions till it found? So many interesting behaviors to observe and solve. I spent time till almost it was time for sunset. Snow geese stretched over the Mucklands as far your eyes could see.

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I wanted to head towards main pool to observe blackbirds coming in to marsh. But as I was on East Road, I started seeing rivers of Blackbirds, mostly Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds coming from west of Mucklands. Some flocks would stop in woods and once the group built up, they would take off. Soon that place would be occupied by another group. It was a dilemma whether to watch from this point or go to main pool.

I headed further towards the Tschache Pool. Here I could not resist, I had to pull out and watch them. Every tree was covered with throngs of Blackbirds all calling. There seemed so much excitement and exuberance of energy in them, it was impossible that they could not rub on that to me. In the late orange light of setting sun, the wings of Grackles were almost reddish, they looked like Sirkeer cuckoo or the miniature Coucal (Crow Pheasant). They would lift their wings and let out a call. The male Red-winged Blackbirds were chuckchuking. In the crowd I was searching for one possible Yellow-headed Blackbird but found none. I did a see a few female Red-winged Blackbirds, they sat quietly, I watched a couple who had fluffed their feathers and sat looking down, as if they were thinking. Were they thinking - ‘no not one more breeding season again so soon ‘ One more interesting thing I felt was that even though they are making some much of noise the noise was not of annoying quality. In Mexico the Melodious and the Great tailed Grackles can be a little bit annoying with their high pitched songs. Or the din of traffic honking in the evening at Matunga market was annoying. But this sound some how seemed to have cancelled each others noise by interference and rest of the sound was something more soothing like a river flowing over rocky bed. From here, where ever I looked in the sky, as far as my eye could see were throngs of birds continuously heading towards marsh. Some of them would stop for sometime on one tree and the take off and in next few seconds a second group has occupied the place. It was amazing to watch them.

I again stopped at North Spring pool and looked around, they were still coming and coming. As soon as they took from nearby trees for a few seconds it would seem like there was almost a dead silence (comparative feeling). What a contrast from watching sea of white birds earlier in the day and end the day with sea of blackbirds. I am not sure how many Blackbirds were there.
I had same questions as those for geese, what are these groups, are they all from one particular population? Family members and neighbors? How would they recognize each other in such group?

While driving along the west side of the lakes, I could see at least another three large rafts of SNOW GEESE in the middle of the lake till Warwick. There were few black rafts of CAGO, but they were still streaming in as I was driving, they seem to have better eye sight.

One the whole, I must have seen lots and lots of birds for the day. A million, trillion or Obamamillion (as Peter Segal has coined the new name after stimulus bill amounts)?

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