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The Birds of Amherst State Park

There is a bridge across Ellicott Creek in Amherst State Park that I love to visit. I did so in late May early on a foggy morning.

The easiest way to reach this bridge is by walking through the orchard from the Amherst State Park main parking lot off Mill Street, but on this morning I approached along one of the trails from the Tennis Center, a half-mile farther south but also from Mill Street.

The bridge itself is made up of planks arranged across a metal frame. It has high railings along its sides, perfect to lean on and relax. The floor of the bridge is about ten feet above the creek surface.

On this morning tendrils of fog still rose from the orchard and from the meadow a few yards away on the opposite side of the creek. There had been a slight rain during the night and the trees continued to drip.

One of the things I especially like about this bridge is its bucolic quality when it is scarcely more than a quarter mile north of Main Street in the busy village of Williamsville. Yet here I can look in any direction including south and see only this placid creek amid its wild vegetation. The creek banks are shrub and tree lined. Some of the bushes are red-osier dogwoods now festooned with lovely white panicles. The trees are mostly willows but a few taller hardwoods reach high above them.

This spring has been the most lush with greenery I can ever recall and on this morning the view each way along the creek was especially beautiful.

The creek itself was running several inches deeper than it had been a few days earlier at the end of this spring's dry spell, and just north of the bridge a partial dam had formed. This clearly was not the work of beavers as it was mostly formed by stones. It still didn't hold back much water, but it did contribute a kind of white noise background to the songs of birds.

And on this morning birds were singing all around me. Most were not especially rare and all but one or two species would probably remain for the summer. But I enjoyed listening to their singing. I could see only a few of them, the leaves were so well formed. (Bird watchers pray for late springs so they can the migrants before the foliage develops. Their prayers were certainly not answered this year.)

Most of the birds I did see in the fifteen minutes I stood on the bridge were large: grackles and robins and jays fed on bugs high up in the willows. A cardinal and a catbird worked the lower branches.

Several orioles sang, the closest one repeating a whistled, "Cheer cheer, churr churr" and a great crested flycatcher added its "wheep". I never could pick out these handsome birds despite their presence in the treetops. Nor could I see the red-eyed vireo that was singing its monotonous phrases.  A red-winged blackbird's "konk-a-ree" sounded from the meadow edge and I could hear a scarlet tanager's throaty phrases farther off in the woods.

Most warbler migrants had departed for the boreal forests of Canada but two probably resident yellow warblers and a single Northern yellowthroat sang merrily from the creek bank shrubbery. One late migrant did put in an appearance, however. A mourning warbler sang its raspy "cheery cheery, chorry chorry" from the wood edge. Much to my surprise it then flew up to perch on a dead twig to sing. There I had a good look at its black bib between its gray head and yellow belly.

Song sparrows are certainly not uncommon but I always enjoy hearing their chattering song. One now flew up into a choke cherry right next to the bridge and I could watch it singing lustily. Through my binoculars I could even see its throat vibrate as it sang its warbled notes.

In that brief interval I recorded twenty bird species but numbers were not important on that morning. It was just good to enjoy another lovely spot on our Niagara Frontier.-- Gerry Rising

Twenty Minutes on a Bridge

(This 792nd Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on June 4, 2006.)

Ellicott Creek in Amherst State Park

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