Tuesday, February 9, 2016

New Egypt 2/9--Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes, New Egypt
Three years ago, Shari & I went out to the New Egypt cattle fields in search of Sandhill Cranes and found the Northern Lapwings instead, so I have both sentimental and proprietary feelings about those fields. For the couple of years, I've ventured out there, never coming up with anything exciting. The cranes seemed to disappear. However, this weekend they were back. Where have they been?

Snow Geese
I took a ride out there yesterday and missed them by about a half hour, according to other reports. Today, feeling restless, I drove out again, even though I saw a report from early in the morning where the birder had not seen them. For whatever reason, afternoon is when they are feeding in the big field next to the cattle pasture (if you can call a field of mud a "pasture"). There was a huge flock of Snow Geese in the field, so I got out my scope, started scanning from right to left and when I got almost to the end of the field, there they were, 3 cranes, not the 2 that had been there in 2013. Are these the parents and an offspring, or 3 new cranes? No way to know, but it is great to have them back in the county. And just like 3 years ago, they keep their distance and are hard to photograph.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Trenton Sewer Utility 2/7--Nashville Warbler, Palm Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler

Yellow-throated Warbler

Yes, you read that right: I spent this morning at Trenton's sewage ponds. I could no longer resist the lure of winter rarity warblers that have been reported there for the last couple of months. I've been reluctant to go for a number of reasons, none of them good. I figured I'd eventually see the warblers that were there come spring or summer until I realized that a couple of them were not gimmes; it looked like a place that was a little difficult to get to (and it was, for me, even with directions from Google and a GPS I still took a wrong turn & wound up about a mile away before I found the place); and, even though I was born in NJ, up until today I had only set foot in Trenton once in my life and that was last year when I was with Mike who knows Trenton well. (I've been through Trenton many times on the train, each time amused by the world's most petulant sign that the citizens erected on a bridge over the Delaware: 
Talk about a sulky city!) But there were too many good birds being seen there and after talking to Hank on the field trip yesterday, who told me just how to bird the place, I resolved to go there this morning. 

And of course, I'm glad I did. Once I found the driveway into the facility and the parking lot across the street, I immediately saw a Brown Creeper on the first tree in. The area to bird, the driveway, is relatively short, less than a 1000 feet, but the activity in the trees is amazing. The reason it has had 7 species of warblers there at various times is due to the ponds which have a constant insect hatch that makes it easy for the warblers to find food. If a bird can find food and shelter it can overwinter--especially during a mild winter like this one. Why migrate when you have what you need right here and then you'll be closer to your breeding grounds come spring? 

I walked the length of the driveway, turning up Yellow-rumped Warblers (expected) along with other winter species. When I got back to the beginning of the driveway a photographer pulled up and asked me if this was where the birds were. I told him yes, showed him where to park, and just as he turned around, I found the Yellow-throated Warbler in a bare tree. This is always considered a "good" warbler and I usually have to go down to Belleplain Forest to see it in spring. I tried to signal to the photographer that I had the bird, but he was dawdling and missed it, though about an hour later it turned up again and he took a few hundred shots of it. 

I continued to pace up and down the drive, meeting a few more birders. Someone said that the activity usually picked up around 10 o'clock and as the sun warmed the trees and the wall of the ramp to Highway 29, it did get noticeably birdier. Next warbler to be found was a Palm Warbler, pumping its tail. Not considered rare, but still an FOY.

Nashville Warbler
A couple of birders I know who live in Mercer County were there and while we chatted about county lists, Todd found the next rarity (a very difficult Jersey bird for me), a very bright Nashville Warbler. By this point there were about 8 birders there, all staring into the sun-warmed trees. The Yellow-throated reappeared and gave spectacular looks (so much easier to bird when the leaves are gone), and with it a few Pine Warblers were seen, a couple of drab birds, probably females and one bright bird. Pine Warblers are listed as rare; I think they are just overlooked in winter.

After about an hour and a half I was still missing one rarity, the hardest one, as far as I'm concerned--Orange-crowned Warbler, but I figured, looking on the bright side, now that I knew the place, it just gave me a reason to come back, preferably with Shari, to look for it again. Larry? Looking on the bright side? Hmm.

Across the street from the sewage ponds, where I parked, is the Delaware, so I quickly scanned the river, admiring the sign on the bridge trestle again, and found a few ducks way up river. Lots of gulls, but none that stood out. 

The park was once the Trenton Marine Terminal and vestiges of it remain:
There was also one bird, a hawk, with a white head, that none of us could identify:
We couldn't figure out what it was until we realized it was a decoy to keep pigeons off the electronic billboard. It apparently isn't that effective, since its head is white with guano.

For walking a straight line of about 1000 feet, I had 26 species; I can sometimes walk 5 miles around here and not find that many species.
Canada Goose  9     f/o
Greater/Lesser Scaup  2     far up river
Bufflehead  3     on river, scanned from Trenton Marine Terminal
Common Merganser  4     on river, scanned from Trenton Marine Terminal
Ring-billed Gull  10
Herring Gull  50
Rock Pigeon  2
Mourning Dove  3
Downy Woodpecker  1
Blue Jay  2
American Crow  1
Fish Crow  1     Heard
Carolina Chickadee  1
Brown Creeper  4
Carolina Wren  1     Heard
Golden-crowned Kinglet  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  4
American Robin  25
European Starling  100
Nashville Warbler  1     
Palm Warbler  1
Pine Warbler  3     
Yellow-rumped Warbler  10
Yellow-throated Warbler
Chipping Sparrow  1    
Northern Cardinal  1
House Sparrow  3

Saturday, February 6, 2016

North Shore 2/6--Western Grebe, Merlin

Merlin, Monmouth Beach
There are a lot of good birding spots along the North Shore, which encompasses Monmouth County's oceanfront, inlets and artificial ponds. I can rarely motivate myself to visit more than two or three of them at a time and then I always feel like it's either the wrong spot or the wrong time, so I took the opportunity to go on the NJ Audubon field trip, led by Scott and Linda, where we methodically worked our way south from Sandy Hook to Allenhurst. I was also hoping for another shot at the rarity I missed last week, but when we didn't see it from the platform at Monmouth Beach, I figured I was SOL on that one. I was happy to settle for the FOY Merlin perched on a chimney across the street from the platform.

Monmouth Beach was our first stop after surveying the ocean from Sandy Hook. There was a nice flock of White-winged Scoters there, as well as the ubiquitous Black Scoters and Long-tailed Ducks. We completed the scoter sweek at Monmouth Beach with a good number of Surf Scoters (popularly known as skunkheads).

Next stop, farther south on Monmouth Beach yielded a couple of Great Cormorants far out on a buoy. The i.d. for these birds is always amusing--you can see that they're obviously cormorants but you can't get any field marks on them, so, how do you know that they're Great Cormorants?  Well, for one thing, Great Cormorants tend to perch much farther out than their smaller cousins. And, if I can see them from so far away, then they must be big enough to be Great Cormorants.

We took a look at Lake Takanassee and came up with our puddle ducks for the day. Stops at the dead end streets off Ocean Avenue that overlook the sea had the usual inventory of sea ducks, loons, and a few diving gannets. A couple of spots turned up Razorbills. In one place they were so distant that I wasn't going to count them because they looked like flying spots, but at Marine Place I was able to get them well enough and big enough in the scope to identify them. It is hard looking for birds on the ocean since there are few "seamarks" for the one who has first found the bird to use as guidance. Oddly, we used a Staten Island Ferry that was being tugged back and forth far way from its home ports as our guide.

We ended up on the Allenhurst boardwalk around 2 PM.  There we finally got some shorebirds--a little flock of Sanderlings skittering along the beach and jetty. We were all scanning the usual birds and chatting as it felt like the trip was winding up when Carol Hughes said, "Scott, come here now."

She had found the Western Grebe which has been reported along the shore for the last week or so. It took some doing, but eventually everyone on the trip got to see the grebe, an annual winter rarity along the shore, as it cooperatively drifted north and closer in. Persistence paid off. I doubt I would have forced myself to visit so many spots looking for this bird, so being on the trip was my good idea of the week.

For the day I garnered 38 species and 2 year birds (counts are cumulative):

Locations:  Allenhurst--Corlies Ave : Deal--Marine Place : Lake Takanassee : Monmouth Beach : Monmouth Beach South : Sandy Hook : Seven Presidents Park

Canada Goose  200
Gadwall  2
American Wigeon  7
Mallard  10
Surf Scoter  86
White-winged Scoter  20
Black Scoter  500
Long-tailed Duck  120
Bufflehead  4
Hooded Merganser  4
Red-breasted Merganser  11
Ruddy Duck  1
Red-throated Loon  27
Common Loon  100
Western Grebe  1
Northern Gannet  11
Double-crested Cormorant  1
Great Cormorant  2
Black Vulture  1
Turkey Vulture  1
Cooper's Hawk  1
American Coot  10
Sanderling  8
Razorbill  2
Ring-billed Gull  135
Herring Gull  460
Great Black-backed Gull  3
Rock Pigeon  5
Mourning Dove  2
Merlin  1
American Crow  3
Carolina Wren  1
Northern Mockingbird  1
European Starling  5
Yellow-rumped Warbler  8
Song Sparrow  1
American Goldfinch  1

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Island Heights 2/4--Greater White-fronted Goose

It was late this afternoon when I glanced at Jerseybirds and saw that a Greater White-fronted Goose was in Island Heights which is only about 25 minutes from home. I've chased this species all year unsuccessfully--a couple of times at Lake Takanassee, once up at Etra Lake. Five were reported the other day at Brig and I was tempted to drive down there, so having one in my home county was too good and I practically burst out the door after a quick look at Google maps to figure out exactly where it was. A light rain had started when I got into the car and it got heavier as I drove on. I was thinking that the rain might be good if it kept dog-walkers off the ball field that the goose was on. (When I got there, Alyssa, who found the bird, told me she had politely asked a dog-walker not to go on the field)

Alyssa was in her vehicle, waiting to "hand off" the bird to others. She said that the goose had moved to the back of the field, so we drove over to the outfield from the home plate area and quickly re-found the bird. It wasn't easy getting pictures in the rain but I managed a couple of documentary shots. The goose was fairly active, moving with a flock of Canada Geese. Just from its walk it was easy to pick out--it kind of sashays as it moves along, swishing its tail in practically a bump and grind.

Good bird to get for the county, good bird to get for the year.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Colliers Mills 2/2--Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow
Now that hunting season is supposedly over--I don't know, I saw a couple of guys with shotguns and a dog walking through the fields--I decided to add Colliers Mills back into the walk rotation. Despite the relatively warm weather the last few days, plus rain last night, most of the water there was still thick, so no ducks, geese, or grebes were to be found.

Sparrows were, not surprisingly, the easiest birds to find. I walked up to an unmowed corner of the fields along Success Road where I'd seen a good number of sparrows on my last visit and there, in the bare thickets bordering the field I found my FOY Savannah Sparrows. I looked without luck for Red-headed Woodpecker. Nothing else of note around in the almost 3 hours it took to walk most of my usual route.

Afterward, I made I quick run through the cattle fields out in New Egypt. I stayed as long as I could stand the smell. Another Savannah Sparrow and a Northern Harrier were the only two birds I'd stop the car for. Alas, no lapwings, no cranes.

The Colliers Mills list:
19 species
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Herring Gull  35     f/o in two flocks
Red-bellied Woodpecker  4
Downy Woodpecker  2
Blue Jay  15
Carolina Chickadee  10
Tufted Titmouse  5
White-breasted Nuthatch  4     Heard
Carolina Wren  2
Eastern Bluebird  2     Heard
American Robin  30
European Starling  15
Chipping Sparrow  5
Dark-eyed Junco  1
White-throated Sparrow  10
Savannah Sparrow  4
Song Sparrow  1
Northern Cardinal  1     Hawkin Rd
Red-winged Blackbird  5

Monday, February 1, 2016

Manasquan Inlet 2/1--Razorbill

The jetty at Manasquan Inlet, Ocean County side
A couple of winter rarities were reported yesterday while I was participating in the Pinelands Survey. I was hoping they'd stay around for Shari & me this morning. One didn't. One did. We started off the day at Monmouth Beach, hoping that the Western Grebe that had been reported there for what seems like weeks would have, as Shari said, put an anchor on its feet, and still be there for us. But I guess after 25 or 30 reports in one day, that bird was exhausted from being seen so much and moved on.

Despite the balmy weather, neither of us was in the mood for a prolonged hunt along the northern shore where there are a number of look out points as you head south. It isn't a life bird and it isn't even a state bird. Persistence is a positive quality, but not when the odds say it will just lead to ever increasing frustration. Instead, we drove south to Manasquan Inlet. As we were walking to the beach we saw a couple of birders coming back from there. "Is this going to be worth it?" I asked them.

"Oh, sure, there's lots of loons and.."

I  held up my hand, peremptorily, I'm afraid, and said, "I'm not interested in them. Did you see the Razorbill?"

"Oh yeah, its around, it keeps popping up. But it flew around to the north side of the jetty."

That elicited a groan from me. For one thing, that would make it hard to find. For another, even if we found it, the north side of the jetty is in Monmouth County. I wanted the bird for Ocean County. Shari, of course, being the rational one in the duo, wouldn't care which county it was in.

Bonaparte's Gull
We walked out to the end of jetty, meeting a couple of birders along the way, all of whom had seen the bird and all of whom told us the same wrong side of the jetty story. I was just starting to scan out that way, coming up with "lots of loons" when Shari said the one of the guys down the jetty was signally. We walked down about 100 feet and caught a very quick sight of the Razorbill, in the middle of the inlet, Ocean County side. It kept popping up, getting closer to us, even staying up for whole seconds at a time. We got good binocular looks, but all the picture I took turned out to be very nice photos of empty water. Or of a Bonaparte's Gull that was in the vicinity and was being used as a "seamark" as in, "To the left of the gull, to the right of the gull." The bird was extremely active until a trawler came up the inlet and all the birds moved out of the way. When last seen it was pretty far away, heading toward the Monmouth County line.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

January Wrap Up

Bonaparte's Gull, Manasquan Inlet
American Woodcock in our backyard
January was a very satisfying birding month: I did a Christmas Count, a Pinelands Survey, saw some decent rarities (American Avocet, Barnacle Goose, Eurasian Wigeon, Snowy Owl, among others), birded with friends and my lovely wife and generally had a good time in mild winter weather, marred only by a weekend of 2 feet of snow. I would have to say that the highlight of the month happened in our backyard when we saw an American Woodcock feeding in the leaf litter one afternoon and then, two days later during the storm, huddling beneath a stunted pitch pine. That bird brought our backyard bird count up to 90 species and I would say it is tied with last year's Common Redpoll for most exciting species seen through the window.

There have actually been more exciting birds around than I could get to--today, while doing the Pinelands Survey at Whitesbog, I missed Razorbill at Manasquan Inlet and Western Grebe up in Monmouth County. Shari & I hope to try for them tomorrow. A new month with a clean slate. This month I had 122 species, which is more than a third of the number of species I usually get in a year. But it isn't just about listing (although it would be easy to get that impression from these entries); for sheer aesthetic pleasure, nothing beats seeing a Harlequin Duck off the jetty at Barnegat Light SP.
World's most unlikely looking duck
But I still feel compelled to paste in the month's list:
Counties birded: Atlantic, Burlington, Cape May, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean
Species            First Sighting
Snow Goose     Brig
Brant     Sandy Hook          
Barnacle Goose     Monroe           
Cackling Goose     Monroe
Canada Goose     Manchester      
Mute Swan     Lake Takanassee  
Tundra Swan     Brig          
Gadwall     Brig        
Eurasian Wigeon     Lake Takanassee   
American Wigeon     Lake Takanassee  
American Black Duck     Oceanic Bridge
Mallard     Lake Takanassee         
Northern Shoveler     Brig  
Northern Pintail     Brig      
Green-winged Teal     Cape May Point SP        
Canvasback     Lake Takanassee
Redhead     Marshall's Pond        
Ring-necked Duck     Marshall's Pond   
Greater Scaup     Riverfront Landing      
Lesser Scaup     Brig          
Common Eider     Barnegat Lighthouse SP       
Harlequin Duck     Barnegat Lighthouse SP     
Surf Scoter     Sandy Hook
White-winged Scoter     Sandy Hook      
Black Scoter     Sandy Hook         
Long-tailed Duck     Sandy Hook 
Bufflehead     Oceanic Bridge      
Common Goldeneye     Sandy Hook       
Hooded Merganser     Lake Takanassee
Common Merganser     Brig          
Red-breasted Merganser     Oceanic Bridge      
Ruddy Duck     Oceanic Bridge    
Wild Turkey     Crestwood Village
Red-throated Loon     Sandy Hook          
Common Loon     Sandy Hook     
Pied-billed Grebe     Manahawkin Lake  
Horned Grebe     Sandy Hook      
Northern Gannet     Sandy Hook 
Double-crested Cormorant     Sandy Hook        
Great Cormorant     Sandy Hook  
Great Blue Heron     Silver Lake   
Great Egret     Great Egg Harbor   
Tricolored Heron     Brig     
Black Vulture     Stafford    
Turkey Vulture     Sandy Hook     
Northern Harrier     Bridge to Nowhere   
Sharp-shinned Hawk     35 Sunset Rd   
Cooper's Hawk     Brig        
Bald Eagle     Oceanic Bridge            
Red-shouldered Hawk     Brig      
Red-tailed Hawk     Lakewood Wawa      
American Coot     Lake Takanassee        
American Avocet     Absecon Creek        
Black-bellied Plover     Sandy Hook        
Killdeer     Manahawkin Lake       
Greater Yellowlegs     Brig 
Ruddy Turnstone     Barnegat Lighthouse SP  
Sanderling     Barnegat Lighthouse SP  
Dunlin     Brig          
Purple Sandpiper     Barnegat Lighthouse SP  
American Woodcock     35 Sunset Rd    
Bonaparte's Gull     Barnegat Lighthouse SP    
Ring-billed Gull     Sandy Hook    
Herring Gull     Oceanic Bridge    
Iceland Gull     Sandy Hook          
Great Black-backed Gull     Oceanic Bridge       
Rock Pigeon     Lake Takanassee           
Mourning Dove     Stafford Avenue         
Eastern Screech-Owl     Beach Ave        
Great Horned Owl     Whitesbog     
Snowy Owl     Holgate        
Long-eared Owl     Beach Ave      
Belted Kingfisher     Cattus Island County Park
Red-bellied Woodpecker     35 Sunset Rd         
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker     Bamber Lake         
Downy Woodpecker     Cattus Island County Park       
Hairy Woodpecker     Bridge to Nowhere
Northern Flicker     Bridge to Nowhere    
Peregrine Falcon     East Bay Av 
Blue Jay     35 Sunset Rd  
American Crow     35 Sunset Rd  
Fish Crow     Union Transportation Trail 
Carolina Chickadee     35 Sunset Rd     
Tufted Titmouse     35 Sunset Rd
Red-breasted Nuthatch     Cranberry Bogs        
White-breasted Nuthatch     35 Sunset Rd        
Brown Creeper     Brig        
Carolina Wren     35 Sunset Rd   
Golden-crowned Kinglet     Cattus Island County Park           
Ruby-crowned Kinglet     Assunpink WMA        
Eastern Bluebird     Brig     
Hermit Thrush     Beach Ave         
American Robin     Cattus Island County Park  
Gray Catbird     Brig
Northern Mockingbird     Assunpink WMA         
European Starling     Oceanic Bridge     
Cedar Waxwing     Cattus Island County Park  
Snow Bunting     Sandy Hook      
Pine Warbler     Cranberry Bogs  
Yellow-rumped Warbler     Cattus Island County Park 
American Tree Sparrow     Cranberry Bogs--Dover Rd
Chipping Sparrow     35 Sunset Rd         
Field Sparrow     Cranberry Bogs 
Fox Sparrow     Beach Ave
Dark-eyed Junco     35 Sunset Rd           
White-crowned Sparrow     Assunpink WMA     
White-throated Sparrow     Beach Ave    
Song Sparrow     Beach Ave         
Swamp Sparrow     Bridge to Nowhere   
Eastern Towhee     Stafford          
Northern Cardinal     35 Sunset Rd         
Red-winged Blackbird     Cattus Island County Park   
Eastern Meadowlark     Brig          
Rusty Blackbird     Whitesbog       
Common Grackle     Barnegat Lighthouse SP  
Boat-tailed Grackle     Bridge to Nowhere           
Brown-headed Cowbird     St. Mary's Cemetery
House Finch     Sandy Hook        
Purple Finch     Beach Ave           
Pine Siskin     35 Sunset Rd         
American Goldfinch     35 Sunset Rd     
House Sparrow     Stafford