Monday, March 8, 2010

Taking the River Roads

What a lovely day for a drive! It would have been great for a hike as well, but today was the day I promised to take an ailing friend on an outdoor adventure, and I promised his wife I wouldn't wear him out with too much walking. So off we went to the Hudson River, but this time we mostly stayed in the car. And this time we traveled along the stretch of river that forms the eastern edge of Saratoga County. I wanted to check out some prime birding areas around Ft. Edward, where hawks and owls are regularly seen, and happily, the way there offers terrifically pretty drives.

Just north of Schuylerville we crossed the Hudson into Washington County and chose the dirt road that follows the river closely all the way to Ft. Miller. With no traffic to tailgate us, we could inch along, watching the river for waterfowl, windows rolled down, binoculars at the ready. We hadn't gone more than a few hundred feet when the first bunch of Common Mergansers accommodated us with their presence.

Close by was another group of ducks, Hooded Mergansers, white crests upraised, engaged very noisily in mating displays. Unfortunately, we scared them off, so I couldn't get a photo.

The tiny village of Ft. Miller is just a gem! A white-steepled church and a small cluster of early 19th-century houses gather at the river there, which runs smooth and wide above a dam just downstream. We got out of the car to walk along this sunny bank, trying to discern what kinds of waterfowl were cruising the river just beyond the range of our binoculars.

It almost seems as if time has forgotten this little hamlet, its early years and inhabitants inscribed on the gravestones in this old, old cemetery.

But some inhabitants are still very much alive! What a nice place, that permits its people to house horses in their backyards!

And here was an odd artifact in another backyard: it looks like a replica of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins's front door. How perfect a find, in this tiny town that almost seemed lifted straight out of The Shire!

When we reached Ft. Edward, we headed east out of town and hadn't gone more than a quarter mile before the farmlands stretched out in rolling hills this side of the distant mountains. This kind of far-reaching landscape feels so serene to me; my eyes seem to take a rest just gazing at it. I had heard that this is one of the most important birding areas in New York State, and it well may be. The waitress in the restaurant where we stopped for lunch told us that owls perch on her mailbox almost daily. All we saw were some distant crows, but they added a perfect touch to the vista.

Heading home, we took another river drive, this time along the western bank of the Hudson. That's where we saw these ducks. At first, because of those mostly-white bodies, I thought they were more Mergansers. But my friend (who has much better eyes than I) quickly told me, no, just look at the shape of their heads. Note that their bills are much shorter. And see on the cheek, that teardrop of white. Must be Common Goldeneye. And so they were. As they flew away, the whistling sound confirmed it. Another name for Goldeneye is Whistler.


Ellen Rathbone said...

What a nice drive. We've had some glorious sunny days lately - great for getting out. Sorry you missed out on the owls this year, although I heard that the Saratoga Battlefield was a great owl spot this winter - better than Ft. Edwards this year.

squirrel said...

Looks like the ducks in WV flew to NY. We had the mergansers and there was a report of a Goldeneye but I never saw it. Thank you for your kinds words about my dog.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Hi Ellen, I'm glad to learn about the owls at Saratoga Battlefield. Chances are good that I'll be taking my friend there on our next outing. The owls may be gone, but the drive is quite beautiful.

Hi squirrel, thanks for stopping by. Believe me, I know how piercing a sorrow it can be to lose a dear pet. As for mergansers, they tend to stay here all winter if they can find open water. I had never seen goldeneyes, except in books.