Birding on the Rail Trail

Birding the Sheldon Trail – Chapter III

by Dick Miga

It was April 4, 1997 when I made my first visit to the Sheldon trail. As I indicated in my first column for TRACKIN’ (1997), I was tremendously impressed by the variety of habitat type, and the tremendous potential that bird enthusiasts would enjoy in that area. My early prediction was that the trail had the potential to produce at least 175 species of birds, and even reach 200 over time.

That first year saw a lot of birding activity, with members from the Lake Erie Bird Club, the Roger Tory Peterson Institute Ornithological Club, and the Jamestown Audubon Society spending quality time on the trail enjoying and recording the bird species found there. The first two months, being the prime birding season of the year, recorded 139 species as reported in that article.

The second article I wrote for the newsletter was an update that appeared in the summer 1998 issue entitled One Year Later. In that article, I reported the species count had reached 153 as of June 7, 1998. This number was well below our target figure of 175. One theory for the lower than expected number was a major environmental change that occurred on the trail. This event had a negative impact on the expected utilization of the wetland region by waterfowl and shorebirds. While the early trips to the region envisioned high spring and fall migration visits by the many shorebird species that frequent other Chautauqua county locations, unfortunately, just off the trail property, a family of beavers moved in. Their work resulted in the damming up the outlet flow of water from the nearby water habitats observed from the trail proper. This behavior resulted in higher than anticipated water levels, creating an unfavorable habitat for those anticipated species.

Another negative impact created by the higher water level, was the submerging of the main trail making it difficult for walkers, bikers and others to traverse. Fortunately, the many volunteers that built the trail, under the leadership of Les Johnson, and, cooperation from local industries, repaired the trail making it once again passable.
The Sheldon trail today represents to birders from Chautauqua county, as well as visitors, one of the top birding sites in the region. There are very few local places where one can go, park the car, and visit in one spot such a variety of habitats as wetlands, marshes, woodlands, shrub zones, open fields, deserted orchards and many other fine areas.

To my knowledge, the current one day record on the trail is still 98 species recorded in May of 1997 by the Lake Erie Bird Club on it’s annual Crump Day led by Dr. Allen Benton.

The current number of species, as the writing of this article (February 14, 2000), is at 171*. The list can be obtained by calling me at 716-672-7363 or, the Chautauqua County birding hotline (716-595-8250), and leave your name and mailing address.

Some of the groups of birds reported on the list include: 16 species of ducks and geese, 9 species of vultures and hawks, 12 species of shorebirds, all 7 local species of woodpeckers, 10 species of flycatchers, 7 species of thrushes, an excellent sighting of 28 species of warblers, 12 species of sparrows, and three rarities including a Common Raven, (observed by your truly) the hybrid Lawrence’s Warbler, and a Clay Colored Sparrow. (Observed by David Neveu, a frequent visitor to the trail)

However, the list does not contain any Owls, nor, many of the other expected common birds that are normally found in the area. It is hoped that the many visitors to the trail that have recorded birds would review the list and add species as sighted. There is no doubt in my mind that the original 175 target will be reached this year, and that the dream of 200 is reachable.
*Note: As of 4/27/2000 the list now stands at 172.

Birding the Sheldon Trail – Chapter IV – The Challenge

By Dick Miga

It has only been a few months since my last article appeared in “TRACKIN”, and, since then, three more birds have been added to the list bringing the species total to 174. Hikers and birders on the trail identified a Winter Wren on April 17, a Bald Eagle perched in a tree and photographed on July 15, and a Great Egret was sighted on the big pond on July 20th.

It has really been gratifying to have these reports turned in as it is important, not only for the enjoyment of others, but for the knowledge we gain regarding the status of bird species when we share sightings such as this.
As I have mentioned several times in my previous accounts of birding on the Sheldon Trail, this trail is rapidly becoming one of the premier birding spots in the county. Now that the BOCES students, under the direction of Robert Hayes their Conservation instructor, have almost completed the handicapped accessible overlook on the big pond, the already popular hiking trail will have added another feature that will improve it an attraction for hikers, bikers, birders and outdoor enthusiasts.

I would like to emphasize a little different direction in this in this article; not discussing what has been seen on trail, but what has not been seen. As I have mentioned on previous occasions, there are several common birds that have not been reported from the trail. For example, as of today, no owls have been reported. In order to solve this expected sighting, what is needed is a good evening walk on the trail complete with calls to hopefully attract some of the expected species such as Eastern Screech Owl and Great Horned Owl. Perhaps with a little bit of luck at the right time a Barred Owl and Northern Saw-whet Owl might be enticed to respond. To accomplish this, I plan to lead such a walk early next spring (2001). An announcement will appear in this newsletter as well as the “Blue Bird Notes” and the “Wren’s Ramblings”. These are the newsletters of the Jamestown Audubon Society and the Lake Erie Bird Club respectively.

Some of the other birds that might be expected in the fall, winter, and spring are: the Common Loon which might be sighted on the big pond, the Cattle Egret that could show up on the fields along side the trail near the Titus Road entrance, and a Black-crowned Night Heron that occasionally appears on or near many of the ponds and marshes in our county. Some of the ducks that should be watched for might include the Common Merganser, and the Ruddy Duck that frequently visit this type of habitat.
While we have discussed the problem with the lack of shorebirds, we should not abandoned the hope of sighting Black Bellied and Golden Plovers on some of the farm fields around the trail. (Especially in the fall). Also, keep an eye out for some of the many gull species reported from other county sites. We have yet to sight a Herring Gull or a Great Black-backed Gull on the trail, and of course, no terns are yet reported. During the winter we should be watching the nearby telephone lines and shrubby trees for the possible presence of a Northern Shrike, and, there are no sightings of Red-breasted Nuthatch’s on or near the area. Other winter visitors such as Snow Buntings appearing in the fields and some of the irruptive finches as: Crossbills, (both Red and White-winged), Common Redpolls and Pine Siskins should be searched for along the trail. (How about putting a winter feeding station at or near the trail entrance on Titus Road, or near the overlook?)

The Northern Mockingbird, that has made many northern visits to other areas of the county, has eluded birders from a trail observation. While we are doing quite well in the warbler department with 28 species already recorded, the Northern Parula and Prairie Warbler along with the rare Prothonotary, Worm-eating, Kentucky Warbler, and of course the Yellow-breasted Chat, would be great additions to look for in the spring.

Finally, we should always be on the lookout for all bird species along with the other animals and plant life on this tremendous hiking area that we are fortunate to have in our county.

Should you sight any of the above birds on Sheldon, or any other area in our county, call the Chautauqua County Birding Hotline at 716-595-8250 and report the sighting. Many listeners will appreciate your contribution. In conclusion, if anyone is interested in a guided birding tour of the Sheldon Trail for a group or individuals, call the hotline or me at 716-672-7363.

Click here for a list of birds!

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