16 May 2016

Rockefeller Big Day 2016- Post-Birdathon Analysis

Well, what a day of birding it was! First, I'll start with some stats and facts.

Official Species Total: 93
Individual Birds Counted: ~930
eBird Checklists Submitted: 11
Miles Walked: ~18.65
Hours Actually Birded: ~16 hours and 27 minutes
First Species Counted: American Robin (but really a tie with about 5 other species)
Last Species Counted: Ring-billed Gull (flock scoped across the river from Rockwood Hall)
Warbler Species Counted: 21(Wow!)

Rockefeller Trails Covered: 
Rockwood Hall-Foundation Loop, Middle Trail, Upper Trail, Lower Trail
Eagle Hill-Eagle Hill Trail, Gory Brook Road Trail, Pocantico River Trail
13 Bridges-13 Bridges Trail
Swan Lake-Brother's Path, Overlook Trail, Ash Tree Loop, Farm Meadow Trail, Old Sleepy Hollow Road Trail, Nature's Way, Glacial Erratic Trail
Buttermilk Hill-Buttermilk Hill Trail, Lucy's Loop, 117 Lucy's Loop Access Nature Trail, Laurence's Ridge Trail, Ferguson's Loop Trail
Stone Barns-Unnamed Farm Trail (closest to Rt. 448)

Birds I Missed From My "Must Get" List (see my previous blog post):
Wood Duck- I just continue to have bad luck with the Swan Lake wood ducks, but it wasn't for lack of trying. I came back in the evening right before the end in hopes of catching them, but no joy.
Rock Pigeon- I couldn't believe that I couldn't locate one of these buggers, either at Rockwood Hall or Stone Barns, but it was not to be. I fear I probably missed some flying over earlier in the day while I was focused on all the great warblers.
Fish Crow- These can be hit or miss around here, particularly on Rockefeller property and unfortunately, this was one of the miss days.
Brown Thrasher- I came up empty at both my known locations for this species, some times they just seem to disappear for a while and then they are back.
Pine Warbler- Unfortunately, the migration gods giveth and the migration gods taketh away. The weather that ushered in all the great warblers, seems to have carried the last of these straggling early warblers with it.
White-throated Sparrow- As with the pine warbler, the migratory push seems to have caused a mass exodus of this species (there were tons two days previous). I'm sure there are probably a few stragglers around, but I couldn't find them.
House Finch- Like the pigeon, this one hurt. I should have picked it up. My usual location came up empty and I didn't have a reliable back-up.

Birds I Got From My "Pick-Up or Occasional" List:
Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, Great Egret, Osprey, Killdeer, Solitary Sandpiper, Ring-billed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Blue-headed Vireo, White-eyed Vireo, Common Raven, Swainson's Thrush, Chesnut-sided Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Bay-breasted Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Canada Warbler, Cape May Warbler


I have to admit that the Rockefeller Big Day/Birdathon this year ranks up there with some of my favorite birding experiences of all time. This is a big admission for me. I'm not a lister and I generally enjoy a slower pace of birding where I can take my time and observe each species as much as I want. I'm honestly more of a scientist than a birder. However, the birding was so excellent this weekend, there was just so much to see and enjoy, and though it slowed in the afternoon, it never really slowed enough to get boring or fail to counteract the creeping exhaustion that seeps in after so many hours birding and hiking. 

The big story and highlight was the warbler migration. I saw 21 species of warbler on just Rockefeller lands, in a pretty short amount of time. The quantity and diversity of warblers was truly astounding. And they almost weren't in discrete knots, they were just everywhere. This made the warbling more relaxed as I wasn't frantically trying to sort out a handful of different species in a large and rapidly moving flock of yellow-rumped warblers. In particular, I've never seen so many magnolia, Canada, and Tennessee warblers at one time. Highlights included great looks at a blackburnian warbler at the base of Overlook Hill at Swan Lake; great looks at Canada warblers along the Pocantico River below Eagle Hill and along the edge of Swan Lake; great looks at magnolia warblers, just about everywhere; great looks at a singing chestnut-sided warbler and a bay-breasted warbler along the Ferguson's Loop trail; a singing early morning Tennessee warbler at the base of Eagle Hill (really my first indication that Saturday was going to be a great day); and the return of a singing hooded warbler in the Buttermilk Hill area (which I got great looks at this morning).

Other highlights include: great looks at a pair of Swainson's thrushes on Ferguson's Loop trail; a low osprey flyover on the Old Sleepy Hollow Road trail; a fledgling great horned owl clambering from limb to limb in the early morning at the base of its nest tree; an extremely close solitary sandpiper on the flotsam at the end of Swan Lake; a lone barn swallow gliding over the foggy Hudson during a truly spectacular sunset; and a flock of 18 bobolinks with males singing and displaying their hearts out, right next to the cows at Stone Barns. I also enjoyed sharing a joy for birds with an ultrasound technician taking an evening stroll around Rockwood Hall Friday night, and my daughter's friend, Charlotte, and her mom, Connie, coming out to participate in the Birdathon and accompanying me on a warbler-filled trip over Overlook Hill.

Thanks so much to all who have donated on behalf of my Birdathon effort. It means a lot to me and your donations will help bird conservation in this area, and beyond, through the education and outreach efforts of both Saw Mill River Audubon and Rockefeller State Park Preserve. If you'd still like to make a donation, it's not too late. Here is the link: http://www.sawmillriveraudubon.org/birdathon/birdathon-payment.html. Donations of any amount are very welcome.

Happy spring! There are still a few more weeks of migration left. Get out and enjoy!


  1. P.S. The last collective total for the Westchester Birdathon as a whole was 119 species seen/heard. And probably over $1300 was raised with more donations coming in.

  2. Well-written and fun-to-read, Elijah! What excellent birding our Birdathon teams had in Westchester County last Saturday. What is especially impressive is that your total of bird species--AND your total of warblers--is only from Rockefeller State Park Preserve! This points to the richness of the habitats there as well as your intimate knowledge of those habitats built over time with much walking and observing. Well done! AND Thank you for the idea of the Birdathon!

    1. Anne, it was my pleasure. Let's do it again next year! 8-)

  3. Well done. Anne and I didn't have as much focus as you did in just one area but hopefully as much fun. Looking forward to the next one.