By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – That’s an Ovenbird,” said Andy Mason, co-president of the Delaware-Otsego Audubon Sanctuary.
“In all the years I’ve been birding, I’ve only ever seen two, and one of those times was because I almost stepped on a nest.”
Named for their dome-shaped nest built on the ground, the Ovenbird is one of more than 100 species of birds who make their home in the 100-acre sanctuary, high on Grange Spur Road overlooking Oneonta.
“We’ve seen a lot of Red-Eyed Vireos lately,” he said. “They’re a small, tropical migrant from the West Indies. Orioles too.”
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when events were cancelled and many people were stuck inside, Mason said they saw a rise in the number of visits to their website, www.DOAS.us.
“Our bird scavenger hunt was more popular than it’s ever been,” he said. “And we moved a lot of our workshops online. The lockdown really prompted an interest in birding. It’s a chance for people to be outdoors, while maintaining social distancing.”
But with the weather getting warmer and guidelines relaxed, people have started coming out to the sanctuary, which boasts trails across a variety of habitats, including forests, wetlands, open plains and, of course, plenty of skies to watch.
“Birding is a simple thing to get started with,” he said. “All you need is binoculars and a field guide.”
And the field guide, he said, just got simpler, as the National Audubon Society has released a free app that includes photos, videos, recordings of birdsongs and more. “Now you don’t have to lug around a book,” said Mason.
The sanctuary itself has also gone digital. “We have new signs that have a QR code that you can scan with your phone,” he said. “It shows the birds we have, and the trails.”
Birds aren’t the only thing visitors may spot. “We see deer up here, we’ve got otters and a beaver dam, and we had a bear sighting earlier this spring!”
The beavers – and the rising waters from their dams – forced the DOAS to build an extended boardwalk between the forest and the wetlands. “The boy scouts came out and built it for us,” said Mason.
But it’s worth the trek, muddy as it can be. The wetlands near the end of the trail are
some of the best places for amateur birdwatchers to start their spotting.
“The wetlands are always productive,” Mason said. “We’ve got mallards and wood ducks, and although herons come to feed here, they don’t build their nests.”
Though the birds generally build their nests in the wild, the Audubon Society maintains several boxes, including bluebird and duck houses. “It’s always great when you see a bluebird settle into the box,” he said.
In addition to the sanctuary, the DOAS also maintains a map of other good spots for bird watching across the two-county area, including Gilbert Lake State Park, a canoe ride between Portlandville and Milford, and Wilber Park, where the county’s first pair of Merlins built their nest last year.
Mason is hoping that gathering restrictions are eased in time for their annual Franklin Mountain Hawk Watch, noted for the late-season flights of Red-Tailed Hawks. “We’ve been counting hawks since 1990,” he said. “Last year we counted 5,100.”
Among those, he said, were 142 golden eagles. “In 2018, we had the highest total of golden eagles in North America,” he said. “It’s always a big thrill to see one, and we’re the best place in the state to look for them.”