03/18/11 – Vassar Farm Hike

Hooded Mergansers

What a beautiful day!  I was out hiking from 9:30 am – 3:30 am, and I have the sunburn to prove it.  The wildlife at Vassar Farm was active the whole time I was there, and I managed to see a wide variety of birds, a couple frogs, snakes, turtles, and even two species of butterflies!  This is going to be a lengthy entry, so I hope you have a few minutes! 🙂

I started off my hike at the front pond and the woods near it.  Last weekend when I came here, the water cut right through the trail.  It was still like that today, but someone has put down a large hunk of dead tree to cross it (thank you to those who did it!).  The pond was filled with the calls of red-winged blackbirds, song sparrows, robins, and common grackles.  Along with them, I also saw mallards, canada geese, tufted titmice and mourning doves.

I picked up the orange trail to follow the length of the pond to see if any ducks or other birds were hiding further back.  Right away I saw about 15 eastern painted turtles all on a single log!  That always makes for an interesting photo.  As I continued down the trail, a startled a trio of deer, which also startled me!  The other sightings I saw on the trail were downy woodpecker and a white-breasted nuthatch.  Getting a little antsy to head to the fields, I turned around and walked back to the parking lot.

I then took a detour and walked through the community gardens area.  There were lots of house sparrows and an occasional mourning dove, but not much else.  Once I got to the forest edge, I noticed many red-winged blackbirds sitting along the tree line, near the spot I saw the red-tailed hawk on that nest last week.  I also saw the hawk in the same spot today as well.  The spring peepers were still singing nearby, and wood frogs now joined them in song.

Through the fields was surprisingly quiet, with only a few crows and a pair of bluebirds.  Once I got to the back ponds though, my luck changed quickly.  As I passed the first pond, I had an eastern comma butterfly flutter by, a first of the season!  I was able to snap a photo before it went off the trail.  The second pond was filled with eastern painted turtles and a pair of mallards.

Red-tailed Hawk

At this point, I got a little hungry, so I went to the bench near the wooden bridge for a snack.  I barely set my gear down when I noticed a red-tailed hawk sitting in the tree right near me!  For a good 20 to 30 minutes, I watched and snapped photographs of the hawk until it suddenly swooped from the tree down to the ground behind some shrubs.  Moments later, he flew past with what appeared to be a small meal.  I thought that would be my highlight of the day, but it was only the beginning.

I tried to hike the black trail past the bridge, but the mud was so thick that I turned back to the pond.  Had I not done that, I would have never seen the pair of hooded mergansers on the pond with the mallards!  It’s the second time I’ve ever seen them and a first at Vassar Farm!  I took several photos before they flew off.  What a moment!

As I made my way to the field station, I had a red-tailed hawk soar over me a few times before disappearing behind the tree tops.  Then, I had a red-shouldered hawk flew over me no more than a minute later!  As I tried to photograph the hawk, he let out his call, which I don’t think I will ever forget anytime soon.  Another uncommon bird sighting in a 10 minute span!

At the field station, I decided to try and hike the green trail, which I knew would probably be really muddy.  I wanted to see if I could find anything in the vernal pools near the trail.  Almost immediately, I spotted a small wood frog right from the trail, sitting on a log.  That was another first of the season sighting!  Then, my fiancee called and wanted to come hike at Vassar Farm too.  I hiked back to the parking lot and embarked on the trails I had just hiked.  You would think I would see exactly the same things, but this second hike-through offered even more variety.

As we made our way through the fields, we spotted a second species of butterfly, the Mourning Cloak.  Unfortunately, that one escaped my camera sight.  Soon after that, we heard our first killdeer of the season.  Then, we ended up finding a dead garter snake on the gravel path, probably hit by a bike or one of the campus trucks driving through.  At the pond, a northern water snake lay near the edge of the trail.  The second walk-through was almost as good as the first!

That concludes this entry.  I also took around 200 photos on this hike, so it take a while for me to go through all of these, but the wait will be worth it.  Below is the list of everything I saw and/or heard.  Hope everyone has a great upcoming weekend.

  1. Canada Goose
  2. Mallard
  3. Hooded Mergansers (pair on back pond)
  4. Common Mergansers (several on lake across from Vassar College)
  5. Red-Shouldered Hawk (flew overhead near field station)
  6. Red-tailed Hawk
  7. Killdeer (heard only)
  8. Mourning Dove
  9. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  10. Downy Woodpecker
  11. Blue Jay
  12. American Crow
  13. Fish Crow (heard only, not 100% sure on ID)
  14. Black-capped Chickadee
  15. Tufted Titmouse
  16. White-breasted Nuthatch
  17. Carolina Wren (heard only)
  18. Eastern Bluebird
  19. American Robin
  20. Northern Mockingbird
  21. European Starling
  22. Song Sparrow
  23. White-throated Sparrow (heard only)
  24. Dark-eyed Junco
  25. Northern Cardinal
  26. Red-winged Blackbird
  27. Common Grackle
  28. American Goldfinch (heard only)
  29. House Sparrow

Non-avian Sightings / Notes:

  • Spring Peeper (heard only)
  • Wood Frog
  • Eastern Painted Turtle
  • Red-eared Slider
  • Garter Snake (dead on trail)
  • Northern Water Snake (at back pond)
  • Eastern Comma Butterfly
  • Mourning Cloak Butterfly
  • Woolly Bear Caterpillar
This entry was posted in Hiking and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s