Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies: Birding Down to a Science

My latest birding excursion also turned out to be one of my most frustrating. I ventured with my mom to New York for the first blog post in the state. We chose the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, an ecological research center in Millbrook, NY dedicated to environmental research, preservation, and public programming.

It was a cloudy day with spots of rain which made it tough birding. Cloudy sky causes backlighting which makes a silhouette of the bird without revealing any detail. I will touch more on this later.

The Cary Institute trail system is great for leisurely walks as it has paved roads that take you around the grounds where you can branch into rougher trails. That is exactly what my mom and I did. We walked down the road and took in some of the usual suspects. There were Veerys and American Robins aplenty as we made our way towards the trail we would branch out on. The unmistakable call of the Black-capped Chickadee brought my attention to a group of four chickadees in the coniferous forest to my left. It is always a great bird to see and one of, if not, my favorite.

We finally reached the desired trail. Fern Glen is a well-maintained boardwalk (designated one-way during COVID) that dips through a wetland, beside a creek, and past more coniferous forest. As soon as we entered, our attention was directed to a small little pond where a Painted Turtle happily swam along. Upon closer inspection, we saw it was impossibly clear for still water and featured a unique blend of aquatic plants.

As for birdlife, I heard birds all around me, but it was almost impossible to see them due to the cloudy sky. Cloudy days can be just as productive for bird songs, but you will have a tougher time seeing the birds. One of the birds I did see is the smallest in New England: The Ruby-throated Hummingbird. It was perched proudly upon a dead tree. Walking alongside the creek I noticed a large group of Chipping Sparrows and a singular Gray Catbird. (A very beautiful bird was heard but not seen on the boardwalk trail. I will keep you all in suspense as to what that was).

We continued along on the road through a rather quiet stretch of woods before coming upon a location where woodland met a grassy meadow. The world exploded with life as I began to see Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Baltimore Orioles. I also was able to hear the beautiful song of the Wood Thrush before noticing one of the highlights. In the distance, I heard the faint sound of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, a rather elusive bird.

We headed back on the road towards the car while seeing more birds such as a Blue-headed Vireo and Red-eyed Vireo. When passing the Fern Glen again I was able to spot the suspense bird that I mentioned earlier. It was the beautiful Scarlet Tanager with striking black wings contrasted against a bright red body.

On the final stretch, I was able to see a Field Sparrow and was about to close the car door before an Eastern Towhee sang which marked the last bird of the day. 

The Cary Institute is an amazing bird location and a serious research facility that provides the world with vital information about our natural environment. I had a great time birding there!

I’ll see you on the next blog. Happy Birding!

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