Doodletown & Sterling Forest Blog
Three participants joined Eileen and me on a fun-filled day to Doodletown and Sterling Forest. Both locations, in southeastern New York, are well-known for their migratory and nesting songbirds. Given the fact that trip was in June we were searching for nesting songbirds, and in this regard they did not disappoint!
We first stopped at Doodletown, which is situated near the northeastern edge of Bear Mountain State Park. Access is off of Route 9W near Iona Marsh. Our target bird here was the beautiful and declining Cerulean Warbler. Due to its extensive stretches of mature hardwood forests (oaks, hickories, etc.) Doodletown has one of the most abundant populations of Cerulean Warblers in New York. (I suggest you check out a wonderful new book on the plight of the Cerulean Warbler – “Cerulean Blues: A Personal Search for a Vanishing Songbird” by Katie Fallon, 2011; it’s a delightful read.) We encountered our first male Cerulean Warbler about 1/3 of the way to the reservoir. Not surprisingly for this canopy loving bird, our views were not entirely satisfying. Fortunately, it wouldn’t be long before we had a killer view of a Cerulean. We made our way on the main road to the reservoir, and while out on the concrete walkway that forms the top of the dam to the reservoir, we were fortunate to have a male Cerulean drop down into trees that were eye level with us (they were growing at the base of the dam and we were 30-35 feet above the base). When the bird first landed he was a mere 10-12 feet away. We had prolonged, close views of this beautiful bird and were able to see its diagnostic blue collar. We had several more views of Ceruleans on the way back down to our cars at the end of the visit.
Continuing our way past the reservoir we made a right at the fork beyond it, staying on the main trail, and soon encountered dozens of tiny American Toads that had recently hatched from the reservoir. We stepped gingerly around them and birded along the road, passing some remnants of the former Doodletown community and finally stopping where the path crosses over the stream. From the bridge we had a great vantage point to see several male Ebony Jewelwing Damselflies flitting in the stream west of the bridge. They are remarkably beautiful and stunning animals – in the full sun they glisten a metallic blue-green with black wings and are among the most beautiful insects you will ever see. Fortunately, they are fairly common in southern New York (and on Long Island) so they are relatively easy to find.
At this point we turned around and at the spot we first encountered the toads we spotted a Worm-eating Warbler with food in its bill. For the next ten minutes we watched as the bird, its bill laden with food, made several visits to its nest, flying back and forth over the “toad” path in the process. It was the most prolonged and intimate view that I have ever had for this species.
Heading back toward the cars we ran into a bird photographer who informed us that he had just seen a Hooded Warbler, one of the most beautiful songbirds in New York with its bright yellow plumage and distinctive black-hooded head, up a side path known as Lemmon Road. So up the road we went and sure enough within a minute or two we heard the characteristic tawit-tawit-tawit-teeyo! song. The good thing is that Hooded Warblers are not canopy birds, rather preferring to stalk around in the understory and it was the understory that he sang from, given all of us killer views for a minute or two. With two of the most sought after birds – the Cerulean and Hooded Warbler – in the bag we headed down the hill and enjoyed a box lunch at the base of the stream near where it flowed under Route 9W.
Our next destination was a drive along Mine Torne Road a little bit north of Doodletown. Here we hoped for Golden-winged Warbler or one of its hybrids from mating with Blue-winged Warblers – the Brewster’s or Lawrence’s Warblers. Both hybrids along with both parent species have been reliably reported along the road. We did observe a Blue-winged Warbler but failed to find any of the hybrids or the Golden-winged Warbler. We also had a nice view of an Indigo Bunting but struck out in our search for nesting Cliff Swallows that had been reported further down the road at the Stillwell Lake Dam, within the West Point Military property. Their globe-shaped mud nests are quite distinctive and hard to miss. I still wonder where they were since we carefully scanned the face of the dam and came up empty.
Off we went to Sterling Forest State Park, about 50 minutes to the southwest, near the New Jersey state line. There are several birdy spots in the state park and one of the more well-known is the powerline cut at the end of Ironwood Drive. Golden-winged Warblers and other songbirds can be quite reliable here and I saw a Golden-winged at the exact spot about a week before (as well as a pair of Chestnut-sided Warblers and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird). Unfortunately, there were no Golden-winged about but we did have a great view of a pair of American Redstarts feeding a fledgling in the woods on the far side of the cut. We also saw two Prairie Warblers, and a nesting Painted Turtle.
From Ironwood Drive we headed to the Park’s Visitor Center where we hoped to see Sterling Forest’s main attraction – a pair of breeding Mississippi Kites! Along the way we had great views of two Green Herons perched in a small tree pond that had been created by beavers. Once at the Center it wasn’t hard to find the two kites as half a dozen scopes in an adjacent parking lot were focused on the pair. For the next 1/2 hour we enjoyed watching these handsome and remarkably graceful birds-of-prey as they perched, preened, flew around the area, and even copulated twice on the top of the tall white pine that seems to serve as their home perch. It was great way to cap a wonderful day exploring some of New York’s best birding spots a couple of hours from Long Island.