THROUGH THE WOODS: 2021 birds off to good start

Snow geese. Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

MY FAVORITE PASTIME/HOBBY is bird watching and I signed up again this year to participate in a group of hardcore birders who try to find as many species of birds as possible in DEC’s Region 8 of New York state. Region 8 encompasses 11 counties: Schoharie, Greene, Montgomery, Fulton, Schenectady, Albany, Saratoga, Warren, Washington, Rensselaer and Columbia. The rule is that you can count any bird species you can identify by sound or sight in these counties for your year’s total, and there is a friendly competition to determine who sees the most.

Photography of birds is encouraged. There are no prizes or rewards other than submitting a lot of sightings to Cornell University’s Laboratory of Ornithology through their eBird reporting system. The lab uses the data to determine species ranges at different times of the year, increases or decreases in populations, and where special studies need to be done or to add protection for a species. My strategy is to look for anything but concentrate on the bird species seen only in one season of the year.

Over the past few weeks, I found some nice birds expected in winter like redpolls, rough-legged hawk, , horned larks, snow buntings, Merlin hawk, and a pair of young snow geese in the company of several thousand Canada geese on a cornfield. A fellow birder emailed me to see if I had any idea why these snow geese were with the Canada geese. I jokingly wrote back the parents dumped them with friends and went south.

Most of these birds will go north in the spring so now is the time to find them. A few years ago, I had the highest number of species reported for Columbia County. I wasn’t aiming for this and was surprised. I guess it makes sense because this is my county and I spend a lot of time birding here. Because of Covid-19 I am birding alone now and may be missing species. Another pair of eyes always helps.

Our group is called Region 8 Fun Run and it is fun. We share our reports on the internet and if someone finds something very rare, we have a smart phone app so we can alert others of location and details. Some people go instantly while some must plan and go later. Unfortunately, birds are free to go where they want and can’t be tied to a spot. One year I drove 20 miles on four occasions to see a barnacle goose and never found it. That’s part of the excitement and challenge. There are no guarantees and no known outcomes of any trip. I love to explore new places and I often find beautiful or interesting areas even if I don’t find a special bird. So far it is a very Happy New Year.

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