It’s Bird-Watching Season! Here’s How to Identify Rare Birds in the Valley

Birding is a surprisingly social sport — so put on some good shoes, grab a pair of binoculars, and start the search for your feathered friends

Many birding experts are quick to point out that avian aficionados should maximize their explorations during spring and fall “because birds are most active and colorful then,” says Mary Yrizarry, board member of the Sugar Loaf-based Orange County Land Trust. Yet no matter the time of year, the region is home to motley types, and summer is still a good time to get out and do some birding. For instance, Yrizarry point out, “the sparrows that populate Benedict Farm Park in Montgomery are still beautiful in their own rite. The Hudson Valley is on the eastern migrating flyway. So different species can find happy homes here because the region has such a variety of habitats from mountain woodlands, to farm fields to lakes, and marshy areas.”

wood duck scarlet tanager

From left: Wood duck and scarlet tanager

For a number of ornithology enthusiasts, the best way to savor these eye-popping but unpredictable communes with the great outdoors is on field trips organized by local clubs. In Orange County, for instance, the Edgar A. Mearns Bird Club leads walks at locations as diverse as Storm King Art Center and Croton Point Park. Every May it spearheads “Break 100,” a beloved event wherein birders scout the best locations in Orange, Sullivan and Ulster Counties to spot more than 100 birds in a 24-hour period. (This year’s event starts at 4 p.m on May 15 and for the first time, the area to be birded is only in Orange County.) Last year, 155 species were spotted, including 29 warblers. In addition, for the first time, participants in the Break 100 spotted a ruddy turnstone on the mud flats at Cornwall Bay. Apparently, tis was only the third time this species has been seen in Orange County.

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In Dutchess County residents seek out the Ralph T. Waterman Bird Club for jaunts to sanctuaries such as Ferncliff Forest and the Pawling Nature Reserve, while the John Burroughs Natural History Society entices Ulster County dwellers with expeditions to Tivoli Bays and Thorn Preserve.

indigo bunting blue heron redwinged blackbird

From left: Indigo bunting, blue heron, and redwinged blackbird

Perhaps the most thrilling element of bird-watching is its capricious nature. “Birds that are easy to spot are not necessarily the most popular,” notes Yrizarry. While a certain habitat might bring the hope of glimpsing a specific species, there is no guarantee it will be flying during the course of the day’s outing.

“In an open, bushy area you might find a yellow warbler with orange stripes on his breast or a common yellow-throated one sporting a black mask like the Lone Ranger. In the marsh at 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary you will probably see a great blue heron stalking a fish or frog, and possibly a family of wood ducks; at the Wallkill River Refuge you may see a northern harrier flying low and gracefully over the marsh, or a short-eared owl doing the same at dusk,” says Yrizarry. “Go to Sterling Forest State Park and you may see a scarlet tanager high in a tree, an indigo bunting singing its head off near a clearing or red-winged blackbirds chasing each other back and forth.”

summer sparrow
Summer sparrow

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Upcoming birding events:

Spring Migration Warbler Walk with John Haas
Where: Basha Kill Wildlife Management Area, Wurtsboro
When: Saturday, May 2, 8 a.m.
Details: Meet at the “Stop Sign Parking Area” off Haven Road. Birdwatchers are recommended to bring binoculars and should expect to see warblers, orioles, and grosbeaks. Allot two hours.
Contact: 845-754-0743;

Spring Migration Bird Walk
Where: Esopus Bend Nature Preserve, Saugerties
When: Sunday, May 3, 7:30 a.m.-12 p.m.
Details: Explore the 161-acre preserve; over the years birdwatchers have found yellow-bellied sapsuckers, northern flickers, and American robins. What will you find?
Contact: 845-247-0664;

Birding for Beginners with Scott Graber
Where: Basha Kill Wildlife Management Area, Wurtsboro
When: Sunday, May 31, 8 a.m.
Details: Are you interested in birding but not sure what a paradise tanager is? This field trip will allow newcomers to experience the basics in identifying birds. Make sure to bring binoculars and wear durable shoes.
Contact: 914-799-1313;

Bird Walk
Where: Thorn Preserve, Kingston
When: Sunday, May 31, 8 a.m.
Details: You’ll be able to meet all types of birds on this trip. Maybe you’ll become the new Snow White!
Contact: 845-339-3053;

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