Plan a Day Trip to Washington County Grasslands Important Bird Area
If you're into birding, whether you've just downloaded your first birdwatching app or you can already identify many species by sight and sound, you'll want to make sure to plan a visit to the Washington County Grasslands.
This Important Bird Area (IBA) is located in Fort Edward, less than an hour from Albany, and is managed by the Grassland Bird Trust (GBT). GBT is a 301c3 nonprofit organization that works to conserve this critical habitat for endangered, threatened, and rapidly declining grassland birds.
Species You Can Expect to See
Photo credit: Gordon Ellmers
The Washington County Grasslands support 10 of New York State's 11 species of endangered, threatened, and rapidly declining grassland birds, including short-eared owls, Northern harriers, Upland sandpipers, Horned larks, Eastern meadowlarks, American kestrels, Vesper sparrows, Grasshopper sparrows, and Sedge wrens. Visitors might also see wintering Snowy owls and Rough-legged hawks.
This Important Bird Area is crucial to the survival of short-eared owls in this state, and the Grassland Bird Turst, a local 301c3 nonprofit land trust, works to protect critical habitat there.
The Washington County Grasslands stretch over Fort Edward, Argyle, and Kingsbury. The Alfred Z. Solomon Grassland Bird Viewing Area is likely the best place to start. The viewing area is located off Route 42 in Fort Edward and has a parking area and viewing blinds. One viewing blind offers an accessible parking area.
The Washington County Grasslands can be accessed by a nearby 3,000-acre parcel on Black House Road in Fort Edward - this also has a parking area and also offers a viewing platform as well as a half-mile long trail. The DEC expects to have a new parking area and birding trough on a second parcel located off Plum Road.
And, you can check out Little Theater on the Farm, which welcomes guests to view birds and wildlife on the property. Please note: Guests cannot park at Little Theater on the Farm if there's an event going on.
Why the Grasslands are Vital to the Bird Community
Grasslands are declining in this country due to a shift towards crop monocultures (like corn and wheat), which do not provide the same open land grassland birds and other species depend on. Grassland birds have experienced a decrease in population by 717 million birds (more than 50%), since 1970.
Many grassland birds build their nests directly on the ground and also use the area for breeding and hunting. In addition, grasslands like the Washington County Grasslands serve as a wintering area for raptors. Only 544 acres of a core area of this critical 2,000-acre grassland habitat is protected from land development.
About the Grassland Bird Trust & How You Can Help
GBT has successfully conserved over 200 acres of critical habitat in the Washington County Grasslands. They're working with the Department of Envrionmental Conservation (DEC) and other groups to conserve more habitats across the state and the Northeast.
You can help the GBT on their mission to preserve habitat for species in need by attending events that support the group, like the Winter Raptor Fest or a Birding & Owl Watch, or by making a donation through their site.