Monday, October 20, 2014

Great Bay Blvd WMA 10/20--Purple Finch

Favorable winds last night sent me down to Great Bay Blvd this morning with Greg & Karmela.  I was hoping for a county bird; I came away with a state bird and year bird instead.

Greg & I met Karmela at the north end of the WMA, just after the first bridge & it immediately became apparent that the road was inundated with yellow-rumps and both kinglets. My counts for all 3 are extremely conservative. After thoroughly checking the cedars and reeds we moved on down to the north side of the fifth bridge, where besides hundreds of Boat-tailed Grackles, we began to see sparrows. The one sparrow, however, that I really wanted wouldn't be found in that habitat (supposedly, although, as the day progressed, we began finding birds where they "shouldn't" be) so we moved on down to the inlet at the south end of the road.

It was here, in the marsh grass or reeds we (I especially) were hoping to find Nelson's Sparrow, which has become my county nemesis bird. As I said in my last post, I've bracketed this bird in Atlantic and Monmouth Counties, but still need it for the all-import Ocean County list. I'd seen reports of multiple birds in the last few days, but despite slogging through mud and grass we weren't able to turn up any of this elusive bird. In face, we couldn't even find the very closely related, but much more common, Seaside Sparrow.

But, in the "not supposed to be there" category, Greg pointed out a large bird flashing white on its tail feathers that turned out to be an Eastern Meadowlark. One of the memorable lines in Peterson's Field Guide to Eastern Birds regards habitat: "a meadowlark needs a meadow." Not this one. Mud flats at low tide do not a meadow make.  A fisherman's loose dog scared the bird into the grass but we later saw it much clearer and for longer flying to our right.

So I thought the meadowlark would be the consolation prize--I always say I only need one good bird to make it a successful day in the field. The birding, though, go really interesting as we walked up from the inlet to the fifth bridge, a distance of about 6/10 of a mile. Just south of the bridge, Karmela photographed a very fresh looking male Northern Parula which then flew low into some bushes where all three of us got great looks. A small stand of trees held Cedar Waxwings, innumerable butterbutts and kinglets and a Brown Creeper.

On the other side of the bridge many juncos were the in pullout area, but we lost interest in them quickly enough when Greg pointed out a Purple Finch that flew into a cedar. It was a little difficult to get on the bird in the dense vegetation, but eventually Karmela and I found it and then the female came in. Again, from Peterson: "a sparrow dipped in raspberry juice."

The cedars and dead trees in this area act as a night-heron roost, so we spent some time trying to find one but came up empty until Greg found a juvenile hunkered down in an indentation in the marsh reeds. We agreed it was of the black-crowned variety.

Crossing back over the bridge is when things got really weird. First we found another female Purple Finch. Then another; and another! And while they flew around, Greg pointed out a Wood Duck in the middle of the channel. There is no way a Wood Duck should be in Little Sheepshead Creek. Yet, there it was.  It didn't stay long though. We turned our backs and it was gone as if in a dream.

We stopped worrying about it when Greg spotted a warbler on some goldenrod. This was a gray, plain, nondescript, warbler, the most nothing warbler you'll ever see and it was an Orange-crowned Warbler and a state bird for me.

So, while I'm still light a Nelson's Sparrow for the county, it was an extremely rewarding and surprising (if somewhat tiring) 6+ hours of birding along the boulevard of broken asphalt.

My list. Karmela's and Greg's lists vary somewhat.
47 species (+1 other taxa)
Brant  50
Wood Duck  1
American Black Duck  20
Common Loon  1
Double-crested Cormorant  300
Brown Pelican  1
Great Blue Heron  3
Great Egret  25
Snowy Egret  1
Black-crowned Night-Heron  1     Marsh before fifth bridge
Turkey Vulture  6
Northern Harrier  1
Sharp-shinned Hawk  2
Greater Yellowlegs  20
Dunlin  15
Laughing Gull  5
Herring Gull  25
Great Black-backed Gull  20
Belted Kingfisher  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker  2
Downy Woodpecker  1     Trees before fifth bridge
Northern Flicker  2
Eastern Phoebe  2
Brown Creeper  2
Golden-crowned Kinglet  5
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  20
Swainson's Thrush  1
Hermit Thrush  1
American Robin  1
European Starling  20
Cedar Waxwing  3
Orange-crowned Warbler  1
Northern Parula  1     South of fifth bridge
Palm Warbler  3
Palm Warbler (Western)  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler  30
Field Sparrow  2
Savannah Sparrow  5
Song Sparrow  5
Swamp Sparrow  2
White-throated Sparrow  5
White-crowned Sparrow  4
Dark-eyed Junco  10
Northern Cardinal  1
Red-winged Blackbird  5
Eastern Meadowlark  1
Boat-tailed Grackle  200
Purple Finch  5   

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Sandy Hook 10/18--Nelson's Sparrow

We went on a field trip with Scott and Linda up at Sandy Hook--with 30 people it's hard to do real serious birding, but we did explore a couple of areas that Shari & I rarely get to (Plum Island and Gunnison Beach) and one area (the proving grounds) that we'd never birded before. For a skinny peninsula, there's a lot of varying habitat tucked away in obscure areas.

Highlight of the day was one of the first birds found on Plum Island, a Nelson's Sparrow, seen decently through a scope. There seemed to be quite a few in the reeds there, but they are elusive. Now I have bracketed the sparrow in Atlantic County to the south and Monmouth County to the north. I need it for this county and haven't had any luck in the "traditional" spot for them, Great Bay Blvd. It's a winter sparrow, so there's time, I suppose.

The other bird I was happy to at least hear was a Pine Siskin which flew over our heads on Plum Island. I couldn't remember if I'd encountered them this year. Checking eBird, I hadn't--in New Jersey. In New Mexico, this spring, we had a slew of them. They were so common there I guess that they didn't make much of an impression.

Raptors made a decent show--accipters, falcons, and vultures.

I feel like we have to enjoy Sandy Hook while we can--the National Parks Service seems determined to destroy as much habitat as they can, either with ill-thought out recreational development (RV camps on the beach where the Piping Plovers nest--there's a swell idea) or else by building themselves a nice shiny maintenance yard & building right in the middle of the largest holly forest in New Jersey. Their last building got flooded by Sandy, so naturally they want to move into an area that also was completely flooded, spending millions of taxpayer dollars to do so. Habitat can recover from Sandy; it can't against the Parks Service.

Anyway, rant over, here's the list.
40 species
Brant  10
Canada Goose  50
American Black Duck  4
Surf Scoter 8
Common Loon  1     f/o K lot
Double-crested Cormorant  5
Great Blue Heron  1
Black Vulture  1
Turkey Vulture  4
Sharp-shinned Hawk  2
Cooper's Hawk  4
Laughing Gull  3
Herring Gull  5
Great Black-backed Gull  2
Forster's Tern  2
Royal Tern  4
Rock Pigeon  20
Mourning Dove  2
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  1
Northern Flicker  1
Merlin  1
Peregrine Falcon  2
Eastern Phoebe  2
Blue-headed Vireo  1
American Crow  1
Tree Swallow  10
Brown Creeper  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  3
Northern Mockingbird  3
European Starling  10
Cedar Waxwing  8
Yellow-rumped Warbler  5
Nelson's Sparrow  1
Seaside Sparrow  1
Song Sparrow  2
Swamp Sparrow  1
White-throated Sparrow  1
Red-winged Blackbird  5
House Finch  10
Pine Siskin  1     Heard, f/o Plum Island

Friday, October 10, 2014

Great Bay Blvd WMA 10/10--Clay-colored Sparrow

I went looking for one bird today and found another.

Great Bay Blvd, from my understanding, is just about the only reliable place to find Nelson's Sparrow in Ocean County. Since I've only seen Nelson's Sparrow once in NJ (and for all I know, my life, because at one time it was con-specific with Saltmarsh Sparrow), I drove down there today, hoping to come up with at least one for the year and county list.

The tide was very high today, the water pushing up so far as to leave practically no beach, which means the water in the marsh was high too. So if there were going to be any Nelson's Sparrows running around like (as they do) they were going to be in the high reeds and hard to see.

However, the unexpected bird was found just before the 5th and last bridge, in an area that  has some kind of monitoring equipment that emits an incessant "beep" every 2 seconds. I saw lots of sparrows flying around the trees and bushes near the enclosure; they were mostly Song Sparrows. However, one popped up on the fence, very pale. My first reactions was "Ipswich Savannah Sparrow" but then I realized it had no stripes, so that let out that bird and then I noticed the very clean gray nape and realized I was looking at my first New Jersey Clay-colored Sparrow. I got decent looks at it before it flew down into the underbrush. While I pished a Savannah Sparrow (of the non-Ipswich variety) and a White-throated Sparrow appeared in the vicinity, but the Clay-colored was not to be found. I walked down the road to a stand of cedars that acts as reliable night-heron roost, figuring I'd give the bird time to make its way back into sight. I did come up with one Black-crowned Night-Heron, but when I turned back to the fenced off area, a huge flock of about 100 Boat-tailed Grackles flew in, drinking from the puddles, sitting on the fence, and hogging the trees. No chance for the little sparrow to come out with those brutes in place.

Already it seems that warbler migration is waning and sparrows are coming to the fore. While Great Bay Blvd is not exactly know as a migrant trap, there were large numbers of Yellow-rumped Warblers in all the bushes, and even larger numbers of Song Sparrows. A few other warblers and sparrows rounded out the list, as well as both kinglets.

Not much in the way of shorebirds and only the expected herons & egrets. Today's list.

34 species
Mute Swan  6     Northern marshes
Double-crested Cormorant  120
Brown Pelican  5
Great Blue Heron  4
Great Egret  50
Snowy Egret  10
Black-crowned Night-Heron  1
Osprey  1
Greater Yellowlegs  7
Laughing Gull  3
Herring Gull  50
Great Black-backed Gull  2
Forster's Tern  25
Belted Kingfisher  4
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  7
Peregrine Falcon  2
House Wren  1
Golden-crowned Kinglet  2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  4
American Robin  1
Gray Catbird  4
European Starling  100
Cedar Waxwing  1
Common Yellowthroat  4
Palm Warbler  4
Yellow-rumped Warbler  15
Clay-colored Sparrow  1
Savannah Sparrow  2
Song Sparrow  25
Swamp Sparrow  1
White-throated Sparrow  4
Red-winged Blackbird  6
Boat-tailed Grackle  300

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

September Wrap-up

Marbled Godwit, digiscoped, Winter Anchorage, Island Beach SP
As the year progresses, it obviously gets harder to add year birds (unless you travel outside your territory) so by adding 9 this month, including the lifer WHISKERED TERN, I feel pretty good about the month's forays. At the same time, there was a lot of frustration this month looking warblers and other migrants. I felt like I was slogging all month, picking up one or two birds at a time instead of a slew of them in a "fall out." My timing always seemed off. I spent a lot of time walking up and down Reed's Road (including today, when I added my last bird of the month, a Brown Creeper), hoping to replicate that one great day I had in the spring when the road and the bowl just to the north were full of birds.

We also ranged a little farther afield than usual making 2 trips to North Jersey (hic sunt leontes), doing a day at Chimney Rock Hawk Watch in Somerset County and finally getting to the Celery Farm in Bergen County. The former was frustrating; someone with my eyesight has a hard time distinguishing the hawks from the floaters. The Celery Farm was great and much more extensive than I imagined it.

Another frustration this month was missing the two American Avocets that were briefly at Forsythe-Barnegat; it was the day we went to the hawk watch. I tried for them the next day (twice) but they were gone. Avocets are always fun to see and I need them for my county list.

Greg & I canoed out to Great Sedge Island 3 times and consistently found Marbled Godwits, which pleased us immensely, along with lots of pelicans, birds that somehow just seem incongruous no matter where you find them. If the weather stays warm, we may continue the trips in October. Greg's already found an Eared Grebe in Barnegat Bay today, so who knows what kind of interesting waterfowl could be hiding in plain sight out there?

For the month I managed 152 species.
Counties birded: Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Cape May, Monmouth, Ocean, Somerset.
Cooper's Hawk, Whitesbog
















Species               Location

Canada Goose     Brig
Mute Swan     Brig
Wood Duck     Brig
Gadwall     Cape May Point SP
American Black Duck     Brig
Mallard     Brig
Blue-winged Teal     Brig
Northern Shoveler     Forsythe-Barnegat
Northern Pintail     Sandy Hook
Green-winged Teal     Brig
Common Eider     Great Sedge Island
Hooded Merganser     Eno’s Pond
Wild Turkey     Whitesbog
Pied-billed Grebe     Brig
Double-crested Cormorant     Brig
Great Cormorant     Great Sedge Island
Brown Pelican     Holgate
Great Blue Heron     Brig
Great Egret     Brig
Snowy Egret     Brig
Little Blue Heron     Great Sedge Island
Tricolored Heron     Great Sedge Island
Green Heron     Great Sedge Island
Black-crowned Night-Heron     Brig
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron     Brig
Glossy Ibis     Brig
Black Vulture     Union Transportation Trail
Turkey Vulture     Brig
Osprey     Brig
Northern Harrier     Brig
Sharp-shinned Hawk     Chimney Rock Hawk Watch
Cooper's Hawk     Whitesbog
Bald Eagle     GSP MM 48
Red-shouldered Hawk     Chimney Rock Hawk Watch
Broad-winged Hawk     Sandy Hook
Red-tailed Hawk     Sandy Hook
Clapper Rail     Brig
Common Gallinule     Cape May Point SP
American Oystercatcher     Brig
Black-bellied Plover     Brig
American Golden-Plover     Holgate
Semipalmated Plover     Brig
Killdeer     Whitesbog
Spotted Sandpiper     Great Sedge Island
Greater Yellowlegs     Brig
Willet     Brig
Lesser Yellowlegs     Brig
Marbled Godwit     Great Sedge Island
Ruddy Turnstone     Holgate
Red Knot     Great Sedge Island
Sanderling     Holgate
Dunlin     Brig
Least Sandpiper     Brig
Buff-breasted Sandpiper     Whitesbog
Pectoral Sandpiper     Whitesbog
Semipalmated Sandpiper     Brig
Short-billed Dowitcher     Brig
Wilson's Phalarope     Brig
Laughing Gull     Brig
Ring-billed Gull     Brig
Herring Gull     Brig
Great Black-backed Gull     Brig
Gull-billed Tern     Brig
Caspian Tern     Brig
Black Tern     Great Sedge Island
WHISKERED TERN     Cape May Point SP
Common Tern     Holgate
Forster's Tern     Brig
Royal Tern     Holgate
Black Skimmer     Brig
Rock Pigeon     Sandy Hook
Mourning Dove     Holgate
Yellow-billed Cuckoo     Brig
Black-billed Cuckoo     Bunker Hill Bogs
Eastern Screech-Owl     35 Sunset Rd
Eastern Whip-poor-will     35 Sunset Rd
Ruby-throated Hummingbird     35 Sunset Rd
Belted Kingfisher     Great Sedge Island
Red-bellied Woodpecker     Bunker Hill Bogs
Downy Woodpecker     Whitesbog (Ocean Co.)
Northern Flicker     Whitesbog
American Kestrel     Chimney Rock Hawk Watch
Merlin     35 Sunset Rd
Peregrine Falcon     Brig
Olive-sided Flycatcher     The Celery Farm
Eastern Wood-Pewee     Whitesbog (Ocean Co.)
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher     Sandy Hook
Least Flycatcher     Colliers Mills WMA
Eastern Phoebe     Whitesbog
Great Crested Flycatcher     Bunker Hill Bogs
Eastern Kingbird     Brig
White-eyed Vireo     Bunker Hill Bogs
Warbling Vireo     The Celery Farm
Red-eyed Vireo     Chimney Rock Hawk Watch
Blue Jay     Brig
American Crow     Brig
Fish Crow     Forsythe-Barnegat
Common Raven     Chimney Rock Hawk Watch
Purple Martin     Whitesbog (Ocean Co.)
Tree Swallow     Brig
Barn Swallow     Great Sedge Island
Carolina Chickadee     Brig
Black-capped Chickadee     The Celery Farm
Tufted Titmouse     Brig
Red-breasted Nuthatch     Wells Mills Park
White-breasted Nuthatch     Bunker Hill Bogs
Brown Creeper     Reed’s Road
House Wren     35 Sunset Rd
Carolina Wren     Brig
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher     Reed’s Road
Ruby-crowned Kinglet     Reed’s Road
Eastern Bluebird     Whitesbog
American Robin     Brig
Gray Catbird     Brig
Brown Thrasher     Whitesbog
Northern Mockingbird     Holgate
European Starling     Brig
Cedar Waxwing     Brig
Northern Waterthrush     Reed’s Road
Black-and-white Warbler     Whitesbog (Ocean Co.)
Nashville Warbler     Reed’s Road
Common Yellowthroat     Whitesbog (Ocean Co.)
American Redstart     Bunker Hill Bogs
Northern Parula     Sandy Hook
Magnolia Warbler     Reed’s Road
Blackburnian Warbler     Eno’s Pond
Yellow Warbler     Great Bay Blvd
Black-throated Blue Warbler     Wells Mills Park
Palm Warbler     Cape May Point SP
Pine Warbler     Whitesbog (Ocean Co.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler     Brig
Prairie Warbler     Spizzle Creek
Black-throated Green Warbler     Reed’s Road
Eastern Towhee     Brig
Chipping Sparrow     Colliers Mills WMA
Savannah Sparrow     Great Bay Blvd
Saltmarsh Sparrow     Brig
Seaside Sparrow     Great Sedge Island
Song Sparrow     Great Bay Blvd
Swamp Sparrow     Spizzle Creek
White-throated Sparrow     Eno’s Pond
Northern Cardinal     Bunker Hill Bogs
Rose-breasted Grosbeak     Sandy Hook
Indigo Bunting     Union Transportation Trail
Bobolink     Reed’s Road
Red-winged Blackbird     Brig
Common Grackle     35 Sunset Rd
Boat-tailed Grackle     Brig
Brown-headed Cowbird     Brig
House Finch     35 Sunset Rd
American Goldfinch     Brig
House Sparrow     Holgate


Friday, September 26, 2014

Great Sedge Island 9/26--Final Trip of the Year?

Greg & I took advantage of the summery weather and made what is probably our final trip of the year out to the Sedge Islands. We still haven't got the tides to match the predictions but today there were lots of sand bars and lots of birds on those sand bars.

The Marbled Godwits remain in place. We saw 5 today.
Marbled Godwit with oystercatcher & gull
Photos © Greg Prelich
We managed to conjure up a couple of new birds (for the islands). I told Greg we should be on the lookout for Great Cormorant and within 5 minutes of my saying it, he'd found one, then later another. 
I was also searching for "winter" sandpipers and the last bird on our list turned out to be a couple of Dunlins we found mixed in with plovers and a Sanderling

For the trip we had 34 species:
Canada Goose  16
Double-crested Cormorant  75
Great Cormorant  2
Brown Pelican  25
Great Blue Heron  2
Great Egret  50
Snowy Egret  30
Little Blue Heron  1
Tricolored Heron  1
Osprey  1
Clapper Rail  1
American Oystercatcher  25
Black-bellied Plover  30
Semipalmated Plover  20
Greater Yellowlegs  1
Willet (Western)  10     Exact count
Lesser Yellowlegs  3
Marbled Godwit  5    
Sanderling  1
Dunlin  2
Least Sandpiper  6
Semipalmated Sandpiper  3
Short-billed Dowitcher  2
Laughing Gull  25
Ring-billed Gull  1
Herring Gull  100
Great Black-backed Gull  20
Caspian Tern  5
Common Tern  2
Forster's Tern  3
Royal Tern  15
crow sp.  1
Tree Swallow  250
Northern Mockingbird  1
Red-winged Blackbird  1

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

IBSP Reed's Road 9/24--Black-throated Green Warbler

It seems like every other day there's a good warbler flight at Island Beach SP and I'm there the next day, when there isn't. Sometimes I doubt my birding abilities; but then I run into someone else on Reed's Road who isn't finding much and I just chalk it up to bad timing.

I can't truly complain today though, because just to the north of Reed's Road in a grove of pine and oak which often acts as a migrant trap, I came across, finally, two Black-throated Green Warblers, a relatively easy bird but one that I've missed, to my embarrassment, up until today.

I even managed to get a picture of one of them. Can you find it? It in the lower left quadrant of the photo. I like this picture because, really, this is how we see most of our warblers--through foliage and twigs, skipping around, not standing up right on a bare branch, posing.
I also came across my FOS Ruby-crowned Kinglet; it was following the warbler. And along the way I managed 3 Red-eyed Vireos, a couple of Magnolia Warblers, and one Palm Warbler, wagging its tail. I didn't have the 10 or 12 species of warblers that were being found yesterday, but I'll take it.
17 species
Osprey  1
Herring Gull  1
Belted Kingfisher  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1     Heard
Downy Woodpecker  1     
Northern Flicker  6
Red-eyed Vireo  3
Blue Jay  2     Heard
Tree Swallow  20
Carolina Chickadee  1
Carolina Wren  1     Heard
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
Gray Catbird  5
Magnolia Warbler  2
Palm Warbler  1
Black-throated Green Warbler  2
Eastern Towhee  2     Heard

I also checked the Winter Anchorage, where Greg & I launch the canoe for our explorations of Great Sedge Island. If the tide is low enough you can scope the sand bar out about 1/4 mile from the boat launch. There were hundreds of, perhaps a thousand sandpipers on the narrow sand bar and while I could have guessed that they were Sanderlings and Semipalmated Sandpipers, I just let them go as peeps. What I really was checking to see was if the small flock of Marbled Godwits that have been hanging out there since late August were still around--they were. They are a supposedly rare bird for Ocean County and since this is the only spot where you'll find them this year, I guess they are.
12 species (+1 other taxa)
Double-crested Cormorant  12
Brown Pelican  1
Great Egret  2
American Oystercatcher  2
Marbled Godwit  6     
peep sp.  500     Conservative estimate. 
Laughing Gull  1
Herring Gull  50
Great Black-backed Gull  1
Caspian Tern  2
Royal Tern  15
Tree Swallow  25
Gray Catbird  1

Finally, I took a walk on the Spizzle Creek Blind Trail, hoping for something out of the ordinary, which I didn't find. However, there were tremendous swarms of Tree Swallows. "Flocks" to me indicates some form of organization, whereas these birds were just swarming haphazardly through the skies (going mostly north, oddly) presumably feasting on the many mosquitoes I was swatting. A mere hint of what I saw in this photo:
I didn't notice the Caspian Tern (extreme upper right) until I was working on the photo.
17 species
Double-crested Cormorant  1
Great Egret  5
Snowy Egret  11
Tricolored Heron  2
Laughing Gull  1
Herring Gull  5
Caspian Tern  1
Mourning Dove  1
Belted Kingfisher  1
Tree Swallow  300
Carolina Chickadee  1     Heard
Gray Catbird  1     Heard
Common Yellowthroat  1
Palm Warbler  1
Swamp Sparrow  1
House Finch  3
American Goldfinch  1