01/14/12 – Vassar Farm & Wappingers Lake


I had a bunch of errands to run yesterday in preparation of our upcoming move, but I decided to bring my camera along if we ended up running ahead of schedule.  After an oil change and breakfast, I was able to spare about 45 minutes at Vassar Farm.

Right as I walked on the trail cutting across the front pond,  I looked up to see a beautiful little merlin perched on a high branch along the trail.  I didn’t know what it was at first, but I knew based on the size and color alone, it had to be either a sharp-shinned hawk or a merlin.  This little falcon was about the size of a blue jay, much smaller than the raptors I’m used to spotting.  Thank goodness for cameras!

Snow Goose

I barely had time to celebrate though, as a goose shaped bird with a call I didn’t recognize flew overhead.  After initially passing behind the treetops, he turned around and flew right by again before disappearing for good.

I was shocked to find that it was a snow goose, another bird I’ve never seen before!  Talk about being at the right place at the right time, as I was only at the farm for less than five minutes.

After the excitement, I made my way to the rugby field and hugged the perimeter in search of sparrows in the tall grass and hawks in the trees above.  Other than a couple of house sparrows, song sparrows, and a red-tailed hawk, nothing out of the ordinary was seen.  After that, my time was up, and it was back to errands for the next few hours.

American Coots

I got my next chance to photograph and observe at Wappingers Lake.  I started at Fisherman’s Park to see if there were any standouts to find.  As I walked along the paved walkway, we had about fifteen mallards follow us, obviously fed by others before my visit.

With mallards at the shore with us, I scanned the lake for other species.  I saw a great blue heron, mute swans, many ring-billed gulls, a few pairs of common mergansers, and four american coots.  The coots were the biggest surprise for me, since I haven’t seen any since November 2010.  They were too far away to get any detailed photos, but are overall dark-gray color with a black head and a white bill.  They have what my guide book describes as a ‘frontal shield’, a colored spot in front of their head, which is typically red, but the four I spotted are variants, with white shields instead.

Hooded Mergansers

My next stop was Veteran’s Memorial Park, also on Wappingers Lake.  From there, several male and female hooded mergansers were there.

The male hooded mergansers were shaking their heads, elongating their necks, and leaning back letting out croaking sounds, while females watched.  Mating sounds and dances, perhaps?  It was all very interesting, and much closer to me than the american coots.  This whole time observing along the shore, I didn’t even notice the little muskrat a few feet away!

This was the first hike of 2012, and I can only pray that I have more days like this!

Full sighting List:

  1. Snow Goose *128th bird photographed in Dutchess County
  2. Canada Goose
  3. Mute Swan
  4. Mallard
  5. Hooded Merganser
  6. Common Merganser
  7. Great Blue Heron
  8. Black Vultures (four at intersection of Dutchess Rail Trail & Rt. 376)
  9. Red-tailed Hawk
  10. Merlin *127th bird photographed in Dutchess County
  11. American Coot
  12. Downy Woodpecker
  13. Blue Jay
  14. American Crow
  15. Black-capped Chickadee
  16. Tufted Titmouse
  17. White-breasted Nuthatch
  18. Northern Mockingbird
  19. European Starling
  20. Song Sparrow
  21. Northern Cardinal
  22. House Sparrow
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