Century Run 2021 - Albany County (Tom Williams and Tristan Lowery)
For a seventh year (but not in a row, thanks to the public health situation last year), Tom Williams and I did the Century Run together on Saturday, restricting ourselves as we have for a few years now to Albany County.
Our experience was similar in some respects to that of Larry’s group. We also found 127 species, which is our new best effort after getting to 124 in both 2017 and 2019. But as in 2019, we found ourselves out to a promising start in the morning, only to stall in the afternoon and evening when several expected “set pieces” failed to happen. Among resident species, our notable “dips” included Ruby-throated Hummingbird (often but not always an easy target at Tom’s feeders), Black Vulture, Grasshopper Sparrow, and Orchard Oriole, as well as Herring Gull, Bank Swallow, and Hermit Thrush. These last three were missed for the first time Tom and I have been doing the Century Run together.
We heard both Eastern Whip-poor-will and American Woodcock well before sunrise, but no owls. As for diurnal shorebirds, we did better than in most years, with Semipalmated Plover, Least Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs (our first one of the day was a bit of a surprise at Black Creek Marsh), and Lesser Yellowlegs. American Pipits at Cohoes Flats were a nice byproduct of our shorebirding there.
Our only gull or tern species was Ring-billed Gull. We also found the four Buffleheads at Basic Creek Reservoir but had to work hard for a distant Common Loon obscured by heat shimmer on Alcove Reservoir. Of the cryptic marsh rails and herons, we heard Virginia Rail, Sora, Common Gallinule, and American Bittern at Black Creek Marsh, but missed Least Bittern. Willow Flycatchers are abundant there during breeding season and often our first tyranid of any Century Run, but we only heard their song twice on our way out of the marsh; Tom and I figured they may have only just arrived that morning and got off to a later start than usual. Given the early calendar date for this year’s Century Run, it also wasn’t a surprise when we ended up missing late-arriving Eastern Wood-Pewee and Alder Flycatcher – as well as Cedar Waxwing, which seems to be conspicuously scarce in our area this spring. But it was nice to pick up Swainson’s Thrush and Yellow-billed Cuckoo for the day, the cuckoo giving us a heard-only parting shot as we approached the parking lot at Deer Mountain in Ravena after a muddy slog on the ankle-breaking west trail which caused both me and Tom to bite the dust – er, mud – one time each.
We tallied 23 species of warblers, but only encountered anything approaching a varied and sizable mixed flock once. Otherwise, it was just here and there over the course of over fifteen hours of birding. Highlights from this family were Worm-eating Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Hooded Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, and a late-ish “Western” Palm Warbler. But we missed Bay-breasted Warbler and Tennessee Warbler, the latter of which was singing in my Albany yard the next morning.
A few of our favorite moments of the day:
Tom and I were finishing up a nice afternoon lunch on a bench at Coeymans Landing and casually discussing when Brant would migrate this; every year, these geese always seem to pick one day and move en masse at once. Tom mentioned that he felt this usually takes place a bit later than Saturday’s date, while I suggested that it typically happens right around it. Mere seconds after those words left my mouth, we looked up and saw a cloud of about 250 Brant winging their way up the Hudson, about 200 feet over the water. Sure, the occasional lucky break is part of the fun of any Century Run, but this was a little too uncanny. For the record, further attempts to summon new birds in a similar manner were unsuccessful.
Tom and I are particularly careful about getting Carolina Wren for the day, after the scarring experience of missing this bird on our very first Century Run. It’s surprising how quiet and difficult to detect this seemingly ubiquitous species can get by the middle of May – particularly when you’re not making a concerted effort to listen for it (and whoever does that?). A few minutes after the Brant sighting, we were ready to leave Coeymans Landing but Tom decided to avail himself of the porta potties before our departure. As I waited by the car, I gradually became aware that I was hearing a loud, repetitive bird song carrying over the hustle and bustle of the marina, emanating from some wooded area of the nearby park. After a couple of seconds (mental responses are occasionally slower this many hours into a Century Run), I finally grasped what I was hearing. I sprinted over to the porta potties – there are two at Coeymans Landing – picked the closest one without knowing at all whether it was the one Tom had entered, banged on the plastic wall, and yelled “CAROLINA WREN!” through the perforated screen installed around the top to provide some semblance of ventilation in these mobile privies. A muffled voice from within that sounded like Tom’s responded, “GOT IT!” At least I think it was Tom in there.
At the end of the day and after some disappointing late-in-the-day misses, we hadn't added anything to our list in a few hours and were striking out on hope-for hummingbirds at Tom's house, too. But with the light fading around eight o'clock, we glanced up from our tumblers of Basil Hayden’s to see a Common Nighthawk flying over the yard – with a loudly calling Merlin right behind it! Not a bad way to add a final two species to our day list simultaneously and to cap a fun but always exhausting day.
Finally, as Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club president, I’d like to add that it was good to hold the 76th annual Guy Bartlett Century Run under more “normal” conditions than last year, especially as this meant seeing a lot of familiar faces in the field throughout the day, some of which we haven’t seen in well over a year. But with the public health situation improving, the Club is working to resume its regular field trip schedule very soon, so please check back at hmbc.net and HMBirds for updates.