It was an interesting birding day here in Stoney Creek. The temperature was 20 degrees colder than yesterday, but bright sunshine made for good birding. The morning started out with Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, Northern Cardinals, and a Red-bellied Woodpecker at our bird feeder. I headed out to Lake Monocan and some of the ponds to look for migrating waterfowl, and to the edge of the small pine forest where I had seen a Black-capped Chickadee yesterday. Aside from a few Canada Geese, American Crows, Red-winged Blackbirds, Eastern Phoebes, some Song Sparrows, and a Carolina Wren. I didn't see too many birds so I headed over to the edge of the pine forest. A Pileated Woodpecker was resting on a power line pole before heading back into the forest, and I could hear chickadees deep in the forest, but did not see any, so I headed home.
At lunch time, I looked out our window and saw a male and a female Mallard in the pond at the end of our lot. The male started swimming around the female, bobbing its head up and down for about a minute, and then the female starting bobbing her head up and down as well. I had never seen ducks doing this before, and suspected that it was some sort of mating ritual. Sure enough, after about 20 seconds of the female bobbing her head up and down, the male mounted her. Ten seconds later they were both having a cigarette : - ).
But this afternoon proved to be the most interesting part of the day for birding. I again headed to Sawmill Creek pond #3 and Lake Monocan, and then down to the Allen Creek Nature Preserve. In the weedy thicket near the wooden bridge
to the preserve near Tuckahoe golf #5 tee box, I heard a deep grunting noise - single syllable gREP! gREP! - gravelly like the grunting of a Red-bellied Woodpecker, but much deeper, and on the ground. Each time I walked from one side of the thicket to the other, the bird would move on the ground to the opposite side, and I never saw it. I then entered the preserve and about 50 yards from where I heard the first bird, another bird flew/jumped in a quail-type of jump away from me into dense brush. All I saw was a duck-like shape from behind that was bright rusty-brown in color with a white spot.
The best match I could find in my field guides was a Virginia Rail - a good match for both birds, but they are rare here. The only rails I have ever seen were in Australia, so I am not familiar with the ones here. Do these two birds sound like Virginia Rails or some other rail/species?
I saw more Cardinals, a Flicker, a few Dark-eyed Juncos, and some Crows, and decided to hike around Sawmill Creek ponds 4, 5, and 6 - that was a good decision. As I approached pond #5, there were Blue Jays, House Finches, and Song Sparrows. I then saw a gray raptor sitting in one of the trees. At first I thought it might be a Mississippi Kite because it was so trim and lightly colored. After looking at the photos, I am fairly certain that it was a young adult Cooper's Hawk - its eye are orange - still in the process of turning from juvenile yellow to adult red.
Just past pond #5 there was a lot of activity: White-throated Sparrows, a male Hairy Woodpecker, another Red-bellied Woodpecker, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet (haven't seen one for a few months), another Flicker, and a Brown Creeper. The Mallards were in pond #4 and flew away when I approached the pond.