Sullivan County Grassland Quest

Once again I devoted the weekend to surveying Sullivan County Grasslands in hopes of finding some rare birds. The main target of my quest was to find a Grasshopper Sparrow or breeding colony of same. We have not had Grasshopper Sparrows in the county since several pairs bred on Hunter Road in 2008. After spending time in both Orange and Ulster Counties in recent weeks and seeing many Grasshopper Sparrows, I was once again convinced they had to be in Sullivan somewhere. Long story short, I didn’t find any. There is an abundance of habitat for these birds, and I just can’t find them anywhere. That said, it was a great weekend and I really enjoy seeing how the other grassland species are doing locally. The result, they are doing great! On Saturday, I went to Hunter Road to see if there were GHSP there. The fields in which they formerly bred are managed by the property owner to benefit the birds. The fields are only mown every other year in the month of August to see that the birds have finished their breeding cycle. Bobolink were abundant. I saw at least 40 of these birds in the main fields, and not all fields are accessible. I was a bit concerned about Savannah Sparrow here. I only had two singing males, a low count. Perhaps the birds are already well into their breeding cycle and less conspicuous. Other birds seen included Indigo Bunting, Alder Flycatcher, Field Sparrow, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Barn and Tree Swallows, and Eastern Bluebirds.

Bobolink were abundant on Hunter Road

Bobolink were abundant on Hunter Road


Only a couple of Savannah Sparrows were seen on Hunter Road

Only a couple of Savannah Sparrows were seen on Hunter Road


On Sunday, Arlene Borko and I headed to the Beechwoods area of the county. This area has extensive farm fields and the most habitat for grassland species in the county. This is a beautiful part of the county and worth a visit anytime of year. Today, we had an abundance of birds. Last year I thought I had seen my highest count of Bobolink ever, and today surpassed it. I believe we easily saw 200 Bobolink in the area. It was impossible to count them accurately and I’m sure there were more than we could see. Once again there were fewer Savannah Sparrows than I would have expected. Only six were counted. The next species we wanted to try to county were EASTERN MEADOWLARK! We only have a few locations they breed in the county and this is definitely the best spot. They are also hard to see, but hearing them easily enables you to get a reasonable count. We had a total of 14 in the area and we sure didn’t get them all. Many other species were seen, some in big numbers. Red-winged Blackbirds, Eastern Kingbirds, Field Sparrows, Brown Thrasher, Barn and Tree Swallows, Indigo Buntings and Song Sparrows were all seen. On a down note, this is the first time I’ve done this that I found no American Kestrels. This is particularly odd since just a couple of months back I had pairs in several locations. Perhaps once again this could be a timing issue, just not sure. Overall, we saw a tremendous number of grassland birds in just a few hours each day! Things seem to be looking good for our grassland species.
* Addendum: I only surveyed a couple of locations this weekend. We have at least four more grassland areas in the county and I will try to check them out in the near future.
We were able to see four Brown Thrashers this morning, representing three pairs.  We thought that was pretty good for the Beechwoods area.

We were able to see four Brown Thrashers this morning, representing three pairs. We thought that was pretty good for the Beechwoods area.


Though Eastern Meadowlark can be tough to see, they can be heard throughout the area.

Though Eastern Meadowlark can be tough to see, they can be heard throughout the area.

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2 Responses to Sullivan County Grassland Quest

  1. Ralph Tabor says:

    Savanah Sparrow numbers seem to be down at the Shawangunk Grasslands as well–Ralph

    • Hi Ralph,
      Very interesting, wonder if something is happening or since this year has been so strange overall, if it is nothing significant. Nice to hear from you Ralph! John

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