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Birdathon 2013: Final Report for the Pepperbox Wilderness

Sunshine Pond

Sunshine Pond

On May 18 2013, I participated in the Audubon Society, Onondaga Chapter’s Birdathon, a challenge to observe as many bird species as possible within a single 24-hour period. After missing last year due to an injury, I finally returned to the Pepperbox Wilderness for another try at some bushwhacking birding.

Unfortunately, it did not go as well as I planned. A serious head cold, which started mere days before, dogged me the entire way, preventing me from doing reconnaissance the day before the big event. In addition, the cold depleted my energy stores and caused minor dehydration, making finishing the original aggressive route impossible. The black bear distracting me during the morning hours while eating breakfast did not help any either. To add insult to injury, beavers thwarted any attempt to cut through open meadows, when they decided to dam them up and fill them with water in the past few years.

Finally, some of the damn common birds never showed up!

Below is a table with the results of my bushwhacking adventure through the Pepperbox Wilderness during the 2013 Birdathon. The numbers of detected species during the three years in this wilderness area are included. The method of detection (i.e. visual (V) or aural (A)) for those species detected this year and in 2011 is listed, where for 2010 there is only a presence/absence indicator (X).

Species 2013 2011 2010
Common Loon X
Turkey Vulture V X
Canada Goose V V X
Wood Duck V V X
American Black Duck V X
Mallard V X
Ring-necked Duck V
Common Goldeneye V V X
Hooded Merganser V V X
Ruffed Grouse A A X
Great Blue Heron V
Osprey A
Broad-winged Hawk V
Merlin V
Solitary Sandpiper V X
Barred Owl A A X
Chimney Swift A A
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker A A X
Hairy Woodpecker V A X
Northern Flicker A A
Olive-sided Flycatcher A
Eastern Wood-Pewee A
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher A
Blue-headed Vireo A A X
Red-eyed Vireo A A
Gray Jay X V
Blue Jay V A X
Common Raven X
Tree Swallow A A X
Black-capped Chickadee A A X
Red-breasted Nuthatch A A X
Brown Creeper A X
Winter Wren A A X
Golden-crowned Kinglet A A X
Eastern Bluebird X
Swainson’s Thrush A
Hermit Thrush A A X
American Robin A V X
Ovenbird A A X
Northern Waterthrush A
Black-and-white Warbler A A X
Nashville Warbler A A X
Common Yellowthroat A A X
American Redstart A
Northern Parula A A
Magnolia Warbler A A X
Blackburnian Warbler A A X
Chestnut-sided Warbler X
Black-throated Blue Warbler A A X
Pine Warbler X
Yellow-rumped Warbler A A X
Black-throated Green Warbler A A X
Canada Warbler A A X
Savannah Sparrow V
Song Sparrow A A X
Lincoln’s Sparrow A A X
Swamp Sparrow A X
White-throated Sparrow A A X
Dark-eyed Junco V X
Scarlet Tanager A A X
Rose-breasted Grosbeak X
Red-winged Blackbird A V X
Rusty Blackbird A X
Common Grackle V V X
Purple Finch A X
American Goldfinch A X

The highlight of this year was the merlin at Sunshine Pond late in the day. This small, dark and fast moving raptor flew over the southern part of the large pond, landing on the top of a conifer, where it perched for a lengthy period before flying off from the original direction it had come early.

Unfortunately, many species were no-shows in the big day, despite being present in the area during the previous two years. These included the turkey vulture, American black duck, brown creeper (heard the day AFTER) and swamp sparrow. In addition, not a single flycatcher piped up, even though several least flycatchers sang their hearts out a short distance south the day prior.

Birdathon Results over the years

Birdathon Results over the years

This year’s Birdathon yielded only 46 species, placing it at second to the bottom of the seven years I participated. This year was the worst year for the Pepperbox Wilderness location and only marginally better than all years, barely beating out 2002, when a surprise late snow storm but the damper on the bird community within the Five Ponds Wilderness. The accompanying bar graph compares the final number of bird species for the seven years of my Birdathon participation.

Comparisons between the different Birdathons are problematic though, given the different strategies employed and areas visited during the previous years’ Birdathons.

What will I do next year for the Birdathon?

Assuming illness or injury has not incapacitated me, I may return to the Pepperbox Wilderness once again. I am still not convinced that I have wrung all the birding potential out of this wilderness area. Getting an earlier start in the morning, leaving the Cropsey Pond outlet stream earlier and keeping the other distractions to a minimum may just allow enough time to get all the way to Raven Lake, and therefore pick up some more species.

Then again, if the weather or birds do not cooperate, it may just all be for naught.

If the weather appears less than hospitable then I might return to the easier and more productive trails of the Five Ponds Wilderness instead. At least there I can hang out in the lean-to shelters when it rains, sleets, hails or snows.

See you next year!

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