Did you get to attend the Roger Tory Peterson Institute Festival from June 4-7? It was fabulous. One of my favorite events was a pontoon boat trip down the Chadakoin River, the only outlet of Chautauqua Lake. The Chadakoin flows into Cassadaga Creek. (Didn't I learn in grade school that creeks ran into rivers? How odd.) Anyway, the water from the Cassadaga Creek flows into the Chadakoin River. (There. That sounds better.) That flows into the Allegheny River, which flows into the Ohio River in Pittsburgh, which flows into the Mississipi River. End of geography lesson.
Let's talk about the birds we saw. We sighted several Great Blue Herons, flying with their slow, graceful wing beats and coiled necks. We also spotted several majestically standing on branches. By the time of our trip, they would have already built their nests, probably in colonies, high up in trees near water. The males were in their full breeding plumage of graceful head feathers which flow back over their necks. Did you notice that I didn't tell you how many we saw? That's because we don't know. We think at least nine or ten. But maybe they were the same ones continually passing us from behind.
Yes, we did see one or two Green Herons flying over the river. They are only eighteen inches long compared to the forty-six inches of the Great Blue. They are very dark. I won't discuss them more, since I just did in my last article.
The Great Blue Heron
Although we didn't see many geese or Mallards we were thrilled to a family of wood ducks. The juveniles were following their mom. It was tough to see them, because they were all very bland- looking in the mud and weeds by the edge of the river. The female had completely been on the eggs during incubation. Once or twice a day she would leave and join the male, but he would leave her after getting back close to the nest. By the time we were on the scene, he might have been hiding in a partial molt. However, if the first clutch is destroyed, they would have laid up to two more clutches.
Raptors were seen flying over. Of course one was the Red-tailed Hawk, since it is pretty common. My favorites were the ospreys. Compare its twenty-three inches to the thirty-one inches of the bald eagle, the twenty-six inches of the turkey vulture, the nineteen inches of the red-tailed hawk, the eighteen inches of the northern harrier, the seventeen inches of the red-shouldered hawk, and the fifteen inches of the broad-winged hawk. The osprey is our third largest raptor.
To identify ospreys when they are flying, look for dark backs, rumps and upper tails, but white head crowns. Underneath, look for white bodies and coverts (the small feathers nearest the body that cover the base of the flight feathers). Its wings are very long with the "wrists" far forward in flight. Like the Bald Eagle, the Osprey was in danger in the 1950s and 1960s, probably due to DDT. However, man has provided nest platforms near water and there has been a comeback.
A couple of chimney swifts were sighted near the marinas. Some folks call these birds "flying cigars," because they have very stubby tails and stiff wings. Mostly they nest in peoples' chimneys, so they are usually seen around towns and cities.
In the flycatcher family, we heard an eastern wood-pewee. These birds like mature deciduous forests. They have that in the outlet. Some of the land is pretty wet, but there are old trees. Because of the wetness, houses have not been built. The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy has bought a piece of the land.
Back to the pewee. It differs from the terribly difficult-to-identify members of the empidonax family in that it doesn't flick its tail, it's a little larger (six-plus inches as compared to six-minus inches), has longer wings, and has a dark head and darker breast. The give-away, though, is its song, which really sounds like its name. PEEawee.
We had one visitor who has moved here from California. She had never seen a baltimore oriole. Jackpot! We saw two. She got a really good view. These are the birds with black heads, orange undersides and tail, and white bars. They also like deciduous woodlands. They eat caterpillars, fruit and nectar. I feed them grape jelly in my yard.
The last bird that we heard, but didn't see was the scarlet tanager. You know - the black-winged red birds. They also like mature deciduous forests. They eat insects and larvae found on leaves. Their voice is sometimes described as like that of a robin with a cold, because it has a hoarse quality.
Because of the shallow water, the best way to travel down the Conewango is in a canoe or kayak. However, our pontoon boat was very relaxing for a small group.
The Jamestown Audubon Center and Sanctuary is located at 1600 Riverside Road, off of Route 62 between Jamestown and Warren. The trails, are great for walking and seeing birds wildflowers and other wildlife. We have gardens to help you identify what you might see on the grounds. Call 569-2345 or visit www.jamestownaudubon.org for more information.
Ann Beebe is a volunteer at the Jamestown Audubon.