Monday, February 19, 2018

Pole Farm | Whitesbog | New Egypt 2/19--Long-eared Owl, Red-shouldered Hawk, Sandhill Crane

Sign at Pole Farm--the "and so forth" includes the harassing of owls.
On the third day of Paul's Birding Jersey Jaunt, we covered a lot of ground, looking for interesting birds for him to see and perhaps even photograph. If there was one lesson that can be drawn from our birding today, it's "Look again."

We started the day off at the Pole Farm in Lawrenceville, site of the old AT&T transmission station where 2000 telephone poles stood in what are now grasslands. We wanted to see a Long-eared Owl. The location was no longer a secret, as many owl roosts are. In fact, it is so well-known that barricades were in places, old AT&T signs had been repurposed to keep people away (apparently you can be arrested for a "so forth" violation), and park rangers were quite obviously keeping an eye on all who approached. We walked up the mud track, got to where the path was blocked by orange plastic fencing, peered deep into the cedar trees and found nothing. We figured that all the activity had scared the owls away. We retraced our steps and while we took turns making a pit stop, I saw a birder coming down the path. When he got closer I realized it was Bill, a fine birder from Mercer County with whom I've birded Assunpink a couple of times. I told him we'd missed the owls and he looked at me like that was impossible. He didn't really feel like walking back up the track, but he took pity on us and we trudged up to the little grove of trees. We hadn't been looking back into the woods far enough. Standing just so where Bill planted me, I put up my binoculars and there was an owl! It was like a magic trick. Paul got it, then Mike. Unfortunately, the modern camera focuses on the branches in front of the bird and not the bird, so none of us were able to get pictures. There were actually a couple of owls there; Paul saw two. I only need one.

Since no birding trip is complete without a visit to a waste treatment plant, our next stop was the Trenton Sewer Utility. This winter it has been disappointing in terms of warblers--where some years there have been as many as 5 species there at one time, this year there are only the ubiquitous Yellow-rumps.

On to Assunpink, where the only swan on the lake was a Mute. We swung by the muddy cattle fields in New Egypt, but didn't find anything of note, and then it was on to Whitesbog so Paul could photograph Tundra Swans. Lots of them there, but not as close as one would ideally like them to be. However, we did see a raptor flying low over the Upper Bog and when it landed in a tree we saw that it was a Red-shouldered Hawk, 2nd FOY of the day for me. But again, too far for photos. By then we felt we'd had enough of birding, so we headed back up toward Paul's hotel. We were about halfway there when I checked my phone and saw that the Sandhill Cranes, which have been seen on and off in New Egypt were in the "on" stage. We were just there!

"Should I turn around," Mike asked? Yes. I don't know how happy Paul was about that, Sandhill Cranes not being a big deal to him, but I definitely wanted those birds. I have an irrational proprietary feeling about the cranes in New Egypt, since they were the birds Shari & I were originally looking for 5 years ago when we stumbled upon the lapwings out there. It took us about 40 minutes to get there, just as a light drizzle began. And no cranes that we could see. I was getting mad, which is stupid, since these are only birds, but there it is. We drove around a little bit, then came back to the field where the cranes historically feed and Mike and Paul both spotted one. I, of course, looking through the smoked glass of the car into the evermore graying day, did not. I jumped out, trained my binoculars in the direction Mike told me and still came up empty. He got out his scope, looked around, and finally was able to spot some movement. They were feeding in high grass (and you know it is high grass if it can hide a crane) but eventually, after I had whimpered for a few minutes, one then the other stuck up their heads and I was able to get good views through Mike's scope. Photography was out of the question. They had probably been there the first time we went there, just hidden in the field. Again the lesson is look again.

Still, 3 year birds for the day is pretty good in late winter. In all a very satisfying weekend of birding. Our stops and list for the day:

Assunpink WMA; Lamberton Rd, Trenton; Mercer Corporate Park; New Egypt; Pole Farm; Trenton Sewage Ponds; Whitesbog

44 species
Canada Goose   172
Mute Swan   1
Tundra Swan   30
Mallard   5
Canvasback   8
Ring-necked Duck   19
Lesser Scaup   33
Bufflehead   30
Hooded Merganser   10
Common Merganser   52
Ruddy Duck   20
Red-throated Loon   1
Great Blue Heron   1
Black Vulture   7
Turkey Vulture   14
Northern Harrier   1
Red-shouldered Hawk   1
Red-tailed Hawk   2
Sandhill Crane   2
Killdeer   1
Ring-billed Gull   1
Herring Gull   1
Great Black-backed Gull   1
Mourning Dove   1
Long-eared Owl   1
Red-bellied Woodpecker   3
Downy Woodpecker   1
Blue Jay   2
American Crow   1
Carolina Chickadee   1
Carolina Wren   4
Golden-crowned Kinglet   1
Eastern Bluebird   2
American Robin   7
European Starling   16
Yellow-rumped Warbler   20
American Tree Sparrow   1
Song Sparrow   3
Northern Cardinal   4
Eastern Meadowlark   1
Red-winged Blackbird   1202
Brown-headed Cowbird   1
Common Grackle   10
House Finch   1

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Lake of the Lilies 2/18--Tufted Duck

Tufted Duck, Lake of the Lilies
We were standing in the Visitor's Center at Brig, chatting with Ann Marie, when the alert came in on my phone. "Now I'm pissed," I told Mike. If the alert was that a Tufted Duck was being seen in Wreck Pond, up in Monmouth County, I would have been merely annoyed, since we had looked in there twice yesterday, trying to get a lifer for Paul. But the Tufted Duck was in the Lake of the Lilies in Point Pleasant Beach, making it a precious Ocean County check mark for me and not just a lifer for Paul and we were 50 miles away where all we had seen of note was a couple of more Snowy Owls (ho hum) and we had just looked into the lake late yesterday, so it was even possible that in the flock of scaup we had overlooked the bird in the gloaming. So I was pissed.

Instead of going up to Barnegat Lighthouse SP, as we had planned, we called an audible, went outside, told Paul the news, and hurried back north. You know it was serious when I agreed to skip a Wawa stop. I was thinking, as we drove up the Parkway at perhaps a tad over the speed limit, that Scott had told me that the only Tufted Duck he had ever seen in Ocean County was in this very spot. Coincidence, of course, because that sighting was almost twenty years ago.

As we drove up to the west side of the lake we saw the expected line of cars there and the expected local birders, who all looked at me with amusement as if to say "What took you so long." It was almost like I had to apologize for being at extra-county at Brig.

The duck wasn't too hard to fine though it had the aythya habit of constantly diving. Paul was able to get on the bird in Mike's scope, so that made his 5th lifer of the trip and 2nd one (Pink-footed Goose yesterday) that was completely unexpected. I was able to get decent-enough photographs showing the little tuft. This is possibly the same bird (which was thought to be a hen) that was only a few miles north) or perhaps a 2nd bird that was an immature male. Very hard to say and I'll let the experts examine much better photographs than mine to make that determination.

After about a half hour we got back in the car and drove back south to Barnegat Light. I was under the misapprehension that Harlequin Duck would have been a lifer for Paul--it wasn't. Purple Sandpiper, which is easy to find there, would have been the target bird if we hadn't knocked that one off yesterday a half-mile away from Lake of Lilies on the jetty at Manasquan Inlet. However, Paul did want better looks and possibly photos of Great Cormorant which we only saw poorly yesterday at Sandy Hook. After a long, arduous, walk to the end of the jetty at Barnegat he accomplished both goals, as well as getting the expected close looks at the very tame Harlequins. Just as a by-the-by we had four species of shorebirds there: Purple Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, a big flock of Dunlins, and a small flock of Sanderlings.

Harlequin Ducks, Barnegat Lighthouse SP
For the day we had 53 species among the 3 locations. An odd day when Brig is the least interesting spot birded. 
Snow Goose   2000
Brant   225
Canada Goose   85
Mute Swan   16
Northern Shoveler   7
Gadwall   5
American Wigeon   2
Mallard   21
American Black Duck   105
Northern Pintail   17
Redhead   25
Tufted Duck   1
Greater Scaup   20
Common Eider   12
Harlequin Duck   15
Black Scoter   1
Bufflehead   14
Hooded Merganser   4
Red-breasted Merganser   6
Ruddy Duck   100
Red-throated Loon   2
Horned Grebe   2
Great Cormorant   4
Double-crested Cormorant   1
Great Blue Heron   3
Turkey Vulture   3
Northern Harrier   1
Red-tailed Hawk   1
American Coot   2
Ruddy Turnstone   5
Sanderling   8
Dunlin   50
Purple Sandpiper   40
Ring-billed Gull   100
Herring Gull   2062
Great Black-backed Gull   9
Mourning Dove   1
Snowy Owl   2
Red-bellied Woodpecker   1
Hairy Woodpecker   1
Blue Jay   1
American Crow   2
Carolina Chickadee   1
Tufted Titmouse   3
White-breasted Nuthatch   3
Carolina Wren   1
Eastern Bluebird   1
Cedar Waxwing   10
Yellow-rumped Warbler   10
Song Sparrow   1
Northern Cardinal   1
Red-winged Blackbird   2
House Finch   3     

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Warinanco Park 2/17--Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Goose (the one with the pink feet) with Canada Geese, Warinanco Park
Even though I have only birded Warinanco Park in Linden twice, I have a great fondness for it. Firstly, because Linden is my father's hometown; secondly, because when I was a child, he used to take me for rowboat rides in the lake. So I am told. Like most memories, I only remember remembering this. Finally, because 9 years ago, Shari & I got our our life Cackling Geese in this park, an extraordinary flock of 6. It was then that I remarked to her that it was the first time I had been in that park in 50 years.

Mike's friend Paul from Illinois is spending the long weekend in Jersey birding, and today the three of us started at Warinanco Park to get one of the rare geese that have been in the state. A good opportunity for me because I haven't felt like chasing them on my own. We arrived at the park around 8 o'clock and even though I was the only one who had been there, I had no memory of the park's layout from 9 years ago. I did know that it wasn't very big, so we just started out looking for water. We found the lake (which, I remember remembering was much larger when I was a little boy) and though there was a large flock of geese on it, all of them were standard issue. We knew reports had it also on a baseball field, so we drove around until we found another flock of geese grazing on the grass. Another birder, whom we'd met first at the lake was there with his scope set up and he signaled to us that he had the bird we had come for, a Pink-footed Goose. Always good to have it pointed out, as it saves time and frustration, but we'd have found this one on our own as it wasn't tucked in with the other geese, as so often happens, but was right out in the middle, pink feet obvious. Year bird for Mike and me, life bird for Paul!

Today was dedicated to getting Paul lifers, so our next stop was down in Wall to look for the Barnacle Goose that hadn't been reported in a while (one was reported, late in the day, about 18 miles from where we were looking) and then down to Wreck Pond to look for the Tufted Duck that also seems to have disappeared. We then drove up to Sandy Hook to get easier birds that Paul needed, like 5 Great Cormorants hanging roosting on a tower in the shipping channel. We didn't spend a lot of time at the Hook; instead we made a tour of the north shore ponds. Paul thought he had Lesser Black-backed Gull on his life list, but upon examination, couldn't find it listed. We found one on the shore of Sylvan Lake, where they are often easy to find. Good pictures for Paul too.

Purple Sandpiper, Manasquan Inlet
Stubbornness brought us back to Wreck Pond. Stubbornness still didn't get us a Tufted Duck. We had plans to go to Barnegat Light tomorrow where we would pick up a couple of lifers for Paul, but just in case, we stopped at Manasquan Inlet. This year there are more Purple Sandpipers there than at Barnegat. I found a couple flying in the inlet and one landed across the way on the north jetty. Paul was focusing on that one when a flock of 50 appeared, winging back and forth between the jetties. Fortunately, quite a few landed close to us on our side and Paul had good shots of this lifer too. I took one "for-the-hell-of-it" shot because I like the facial expression these sandpipers have--somewhere between quizzical and Weltschmerz. Do I anthropomorphize? Very well then, I anthropomorphize.

So, 4 lifers for Paul, one year bird for Mike & me, made for a very good day. Not a huge number of species (39 that I listed) but pretty good for hit-and-run birding.

Locations birded:
Garden State Parkway,  Lake Takanassee; Lake of the Lilies; Manasquan Inlet; Mathis Veteran's Memorial Park; Marshall's Pond, Sandy Hook; Shark River; Silver Lake; Sylvan Lake; Warinanco Park; Wreck Pond
Snow Goose   3
Pink-footed Goose   1
Brant   580
Canada Goose   613
Mute Swan   101
Northern Shoveler   2
Gadwall   13
American Wigeon   8
Mallard   27
American Black Duck   9
Canvasback   20
Redhead   40
Ring-necked Duck  5
Greater Scaup   75
Lesser Scaup   13
Long-tailed Duck   1
Bufflehead   67
Hooded Merganser   12
Red-breasted Merganser   3
Ruddy Duck   9
Common Loon   1
Horned Grebe   1
Great Cormorant   5
Great Blue Heron   2
Turkey Vulture   1
Bald Eagle   1
American Coot   27
Purple Sandpiper   50
Ring-billed Gull   118
Herring Gull   31
Lesser Black-backed Gull   1
Great Black-backed Gull   21
Rock Pigeon   1
Blue Jay   1
American Robin   200
Northern Mockingbird   1
European Starling   100
Cedar Waxwing   2
Song Sparrow   3

Monday, February 12, 2018

Whitesbog 2/12--Ross's Geese (pl.)

Show me a flock of 500 Snow Geese and I'll never pick out the rarity. Show me two white geese and I'll take a longer look at them. This morning, at Whitesbog, I was counting the Canada Geese and Tundra Swans in the lower bog when I saw two white geese among the brown ones. As I couldn't recall ever having seen Snow Geese at Whitesbog, I thought that was pretty interesting to up my patch list. Then I noticed that the geese were "cute." They had small bills, round heads. They didn't look goofy like Snow Geese. Naturally, I didn't have my scope with me. After I took some pictures and blew them up on the preview screen of my camera I was pretty certain that I had not one, but TWO Ross's Geese.  I sent one of those pictures via text message off to one of the Burlco experts (the wonders of technology) and he confirmed what I thought I had.

As I've never seen more than one Ross's Goose at a time, seeing two was extraordinary for me. There are a couple of rarer geese up north that for various reasons I haven't felt like chasing, so finding my own rarity alleviated any nagging feeling about what I should be doing as opposed to what I felt like doing.

Walking around the Ocean County side, I came across a new water feature that I don't know how I feel about. Across from the NW corner of the Upper Reservoir there is a bog that sometimes has interesting ducks in it. I walk around it about half the time I'm there--it's also good for bluebirds and yellowthroats in the appropriate seasons. Today there was a lot of heavy equipment rolling around the roads--between the 3 inches of rain and the treads of the excavators  the roads are a complete mess. I was actually sinking into the wet sand in the middle of the road as I walked and these roads are usually hard enough to safely drive a little sedan on. At first I noticed that they had cleared out a lot of brush and trees which I thought was okay as it would make viewing easier. When I got halfway around the bog, though, I saw that it had been breached, with water pouring in from the marsh on the other side of the road. I have no idea why this was done (or exactly who is doing it, the state or the farmer who leases the bogs) and I have no idea what birds this new development will attract or repel. All I know is that one of my walk options is gone and the cut right now is ugly.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Brigantine Island, Brig 2/10--American Oystercatcher, Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Peregrine Falcon, Eastern Towhee

Peregrine Falcon, Brig
Mike & I tried again for wintering shorebirds down on Brigantine Island (north of Atlantic City) again and this time we were more successful. Our first stop, at the "south cove" yielded our FOY Greater Yellowlegs (distant, but identifiable by said legs plus manic behavior), and tour of the dead end streets of the island itself brought us our first looks of the year at American Oystercatchers (unfortunately, Shari wasn't with us for her favorite bird) and a couple of fairly large flocks of Willets (of the Western sub-species, long-rumored to be split into a separate species) on both sides of the island. With the American Kestrel Mike found on a utility pole (year bird for him) we did pretty well in the hour or so we spent on the island. Not a lot of birds, but birds we wanted.
Brant 100
Canada Goose 50
American Black Duck 10
Greater Scaup 6
Bufflehead 20
Red-breasted Merganser 1 Hen, marina
American Oystercatcher 2

Greater Yellowlegs   7
Willet (Western) 30
Herring Gull 10
Great Black-backed Gull 1
Rock Pigeon 15
Mourning Dove 1
American Kestrel 1
House Sparrow 1

Mid-morning we entered Brig and did one loop around. Ever since the hacking tower was taken down a few months ago after it was decided that Peregrine Falcons really never should have been established there, getting that raptor on the list is no longer a gimme. However, we finally saw one on an Osprey platform, just after we passed the usual owl jam of cars stopped for the persisting Snowy Owl. It's a little sad when a Snowy Owl becomes a ho-hum bird, but that's the case for those of us who don't care if they get a photograph of one. The falcon was probably commuting from Atlantic City where there is a nest on one of the hotels. At least the casinos are good for something.

Mostly we found ducks, geese, and swans. A flock of 20 Canvasbacks were new for the month and Atlantic County. A contingent of robins was on Jen's Trail. Just as we were leaving we heard an Eastern Towhee's "chwink" coming from the direction of the new headquarters building. Aside from the Roughie, there was nothing today that I wasn't sure to see sometime this year, but 6 year birds feels like a productive day.
Our Brig List:
34 species
Snow Goose 2500
Brant 700
Canada Goose 55
Mute Swan 15
Gadwall 15
American Wigeon 20
Mallard 30
American Black Duck 200
Northern Pintail 7
Green-winged Teal 1
Canvasback 20
Bufflehead 16
Hooded Merganser 28
Great Blue Heron 3
Turkey Vulture 2
Northern Harrier 1
Bald Eagle 1
Herring Gull 50
Great Black-backed Gull 4
Mourning Dove 3 Feeder
Snowy Owl 1 sitting on ground
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1 Heard entrance
Peregrine Falcon 1 North dike. Just visiting nowadays
Blue Jay 3 Heard
American Crow 7
Carolina Chickadee 3
Carolina Wren 1 Heard
Eastern Bluebird 1 Heard upland section
Hermit Thrush 1 Heard
American Robin 25
Yellow-rumped Warbler 1 Visitor's Ctr
Song Sparrow 1 Feeder
Eastern Towhee 1
Red-winged Blackbird 5

Friday, February 9, 2018

Manasquan River WMA 2/9--Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush
Manasquan River WMA is not famed as a winter locale. The other three seasons it is a good spot for warblers, but I wanted to see if I might find in the woods some cold weather species that have eluded me so far and/or interesting raptors flying over the fields. I succeeded in the former with a Hermit Thrush that I found in a huge flock of robins (sometimes it pays to look at every robin), but as to the latter goal, I had one Cooper's Hawk and one unidentified raptor that was too far and too fast before it flew into the woods. 

Mostly what I saw were robins. There were a lot of little trails that I never noticed before, probably because in spring and summer they're too grown over (or too potentially tick-laden) to explore. And all along those trail the forest floor was athrob with robins kicking around the leaf litter. Along one trail that somehow goes down to the Manasquan River (although the closest I've ever been able to get was a wall of phragmites) a flock of about 100 robins were flying back and forth, eating the little red berries pictures above with the thrush. 

There were a few pockets of birds in various spots, but nothing else remarkable. I managed 17 species for my efforts, which is pretty good considering the low numbers I've been coming up with of late.
Cooper's Hawk 1
Mourning Dove 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker 3
Blue Jay 2 Heard
American Crow 1 Heard
Carolina Chickadee 15 Probably an underestimate
Tufted Titmouse 4
White-breasted Nuthatch 2 Heard
Carolina Wren 2
Golden-crowned Kinglet 1
Hermit Thrush 1
American Robin 150 Probably an underestimate
Yellow-rumped Warbler 3
White-throated Sparrow 10
Song Sparrow 1
Northern Cardinal 2
American Goldfinch 2
Song Sparrow

Monday, February 5, 2018

Toms River 2/5--Killdeer, Belted Kingfisher, Brown Thrasher

Killdeer, Shelter Cove Park
I took walks in a couple of locations in Toms River I hadn't visited in quite a while, stopping first at Shelter Cove park. This is a park primarily given over to recreation that abuts the salt marsh that goes up to Cattus Island Park, but it attracts a lot of birds to its edges, beach, and underwater soccer fields. They must play some interesting matches in Toms River, because those fields are not only constantly flooded but they are also a geese magnet with the accompanying Vienna sausage-shaped goose shit all over the fields.

The geese were there, in large numbers, and mixed in among them was the bird I had hoped to find, a single Killdeer walking unperturbedly amongst the giants. The first Killdeer I ever saw in Ocean County was at this park, on a median in the parking lot and usually that is where I find them--on the drier swards that border the asphalt but I'll take 'em where I find 'em. Killdeer have been scarce this year, so far. I theorize that the extreme cold weather pushed them out--can't find little worms or bugs when the ground is either frozen or covered in snow. I also added Brown Thrasher to the year list, briefly glimpsed at the back of the park along the fence line.

Belted Kingfisher, Ocean County Parks Offices
Shelter Cove is not large enough for a good walk unless you're going to obsessively circle the fields hoping for something new, which is fine except that watching where you step gets tiresome, so after about an hour I drove up a couple of miles to the Ocean County Parks Office grounds, which is really an extension of  the trails at Cattus Island. At the boat launch, I heard, then quickly found, another bird that has been missing from the area this winter, a Belted Kingfisher. I think the weather has also moved them out of their normal spots, since diving into ice is probably not a long-term survival strategy. Now that the weather of late has been more "normal," these birds, like the Killdeer, have a chance to make a living again.

My last stop was just because I was passing by on my way home--Marshall's Pond, where I tried for the 3rd time to find the reported Cackling Goose. I looked carefully through 400 or so geese and didn't see one. Some geese were flying out, while some geese were flying in, so that may explain why a few hours later my friend Steve found the cackler. Or, it could have been there all the time and I just stink at identifying that species. But the stop wasn't a complete bust. While I had my binoculars up, scanning the geese at they floated by, I felt something pressing on my wrist. I thought I was brushing up against a tree branch. When I looked to my right, I saw that a Sharp-shinned Hawk had perched there. When it realized I was not a stump, it flew across the pond and perched in a real tree. I've never had so much as a chickadee land on me, so to find a hawk very close to my face was both exhilarating and scary.

For the morning I had 28 species, 3 year birds, and upped my Ocean County list by 5
702 Canada Goose 
4 Mute Swan 
2 American Black Duck 
5 Black Scoter 
12 Bufflehead 
1 Great Blue Heron 
1 Turkey Vulture 
1 Sharp-shinned Hawk 
1 Killdeer 
10 Herring Gull 
1 Great Black-backed Gull 
1 Belted Kingfisher 
1 Red-bellied Woodpecker 
1 Downy Woodpecker 
1 Northern Flicker 
1 American Crow 
5 Carolina Chickadee 
3 Tufted Titmouse 
2 White-breasted Nuthatch 
4 Carolina Wren 
13 American Robin 
1 Brown Thrasher 
1 Northern Mockingbird 
5 European Starling 
3 Yellow-rumped Warbler 
6 Dark-eyed Junco 
2 Savannah Sparrow 
3 Song Sparrow