Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Assunpink WMA 4/8--American Kestrel

It was gray and murky when I started out for Assunpink this morning. I made a quick stop at the farm driveway where White-crowned Sparrows always hang out and picked up three of them, then drove to the model airplane field. I was hoping they'd be flooded after last night's rain. A few days ago Pectoral Sandpipers were reported there after a heavy rain. No luck today and as soon as I got there a light drizzle started. I scanned the lake and didn't come up with much besides a Pied-billed Grebe. I decided to walk along the road around the field, hugging the lake shore, but soon the drizzle turned into light rain then not-so-light rain and I retreated to the car.

I was going to give up but decided to drive to the boat launch and wait in the car, hoping the rain would pass. There were a few ducks on the water, but nothing like the last time I was there. Once the rain let up I walked the road that goes over to the western side of the lake. There were birds, but nothing special. I thought winter was supposed to be sparrow time, but I was picking up lots of sparrows today, including at least 5 Field Sparrows--they were singing all over the place and a few showed themselves.

I wasn't satisfied with what I was seeing, so I drove back down Imlaystown, made a left on East Branch, and wound up in the parking lot of the air control beacon field. There is a long path uphill through grasslands up to the beacon then into a grove of Norway Spruces. It was pretty slippery today. Like Colliers Mills, the fields here were recently burned. The cleared ground seemed to make the robins and blackbirds happy; how it is going to affect the Grasshopper Sparrows and Yellow-breasted Chats that nest there is an open question.

The Norway Spruce stand looked completely different than I was used to--all the brush had been cut and hauled away, giving the trees a more formal appearance. Probably close to what they looked like many years ago when this part of the WMA was a working farm--Norway Spruce is not a native tree so these trees might have been planted as a wind break.

As I was walking toward the beacon, I saw a bird atop a small, bare tree. My first reaction was robin, but it was slightly too big for a robin. My 2nd reaction was kestrel. I wasn't lugging the scope, so I was hoping the bird would stay still long enough for me to get close enough to get a decent look with my bins--naturally it didn't, flying down onto the ground. It was gone by the time I got to where I'd seen it. I told myself I wasn't going to get another chance at finding a falcon today.

I was wrong. Just before I descended the hill, I ran my binoculars over the tree tops of the field below and there I saw a rufous bird with blue-gray wings. No bird around here other than American Kestrel has those field marks. I saw it for a minute or so before it flew down, showing its pointed wings. Finally, a bird worth all the schlepping.

I racked up 39 species slogging around the WMA today.
Canada Goose  12
Mute Swan  2    Eastern end of the lake
Mallard  4
Lesser Scaup  1    Eastern end of lake
Bufflehead  5    seen from boat launch
Common Merganser  1    boat launch
Ruddy Duck  31
Pied-billed Grebe  1
Double-crested Cormorant  5
Black Vulture  1
Turkey Vulture  2
Bald Eagle  2
Mourning Dove  4
Belted Kingfisher  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker  2    Heard
Downy Woodpecker  2
American Kestrel  1
Blue Jay  5
American Crow  1    Heard
Fish Crow  5
Tree Swallow  25
Carolina Chickadee  5
Tufted Titmouse  2
Carolina Wren  1    Heard, farm driveway
American Robin  150
European Starling  10
Palm Warbler  1
Pine Warbler  1    Heard
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1
Eastern Towhee  1    Heard, air control beacon field
Field Sparrow  5
Song Sparrow  4
White-throated Sparrow  3
White-crowned Sparrow  3
Dark-eyed Junco  1
Northern Cardinal  2    Heard
Red-winged Blackbird  50
Common Grackle  1
Brown-headed Cowbird  6

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