Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Toms River 3/14--Great Egret, Wilson's Snipe

Great Egret, Cattus Island CP
Having failed 5 times to find woodcock at my reliable spot which it obviously no longer is, I found its supposedly more elusive cousin, Wilson's Snipe, almost instantly this morning at Shelter Cove. At least Shelter Cove remains reliable for that bird; I've seen them there the past few years. One zipped out of the grass, right where it was supposed to be when I was walking through the ice and mud near the little grove, and later, as I walked around the other side with Steve (who'd found the bird yesterday), we flushed it again. Or another one, who knows?

Steve told me of another spot in Toms River where he and others have been getting woodcocks no problem, but, if it seems silly to me to drive a couple of miles down the road at sunset just to hear a bird go "peent" and maybe catch a glimpse of one in the gloaming, how much sillier is it to drive 20 miles to do the same thing--and miss Jeopardy to boot! So, invoking Zirlin's Second Law of Birding, I am truly giving up on woodcock for the year.

Having gotten that year bird out of the way and after taking a tour of the goose (and deer) shitty soccer fields without finding much else exciting, I made my next stop at Cattus Island CP, where again, without any searching, I found my FOY Great Egret in the big marsh in front of the viewing platform. I wasn't really worried about eventually getting a Great Egret but it is pretty unusual for me to go into mid-March before I have a Great Egret on the list. This has been a hard winter and speculation was that the frozen marshes drove the egrets south, but then what of the Great Blue Herons of which there have been no dearth this winter? My only speculation is that the Great Blues can make do with mice and other little mammals (or even small birds) running around the icy marshes, while the Great Egret relies more on an aquatic diet.

Again, as at Shelter Cove, nothing else was of note although a male Eastern Bluebird on the way out is always a good way to end a session of birding. Naturally, later in the day, Steve had a Pine Warbler in a section of the park I didn't investigate. Pine Warbler is another bird that usually hangs around in the winter but not this one. So spring might actually happen soon.

For my two stops I had 27 species. They were:
Canada Goose   82
Mute Swan   3
Mallard   15
Bufflehead   1
Great Blue Heron   5
Great Egret   1
Turkey Vulture   1
Killdeer   4
Wilson's Snipe   1
Ring-billed Gull   2
Herring Gull   3
Great Black-backed Gull   2
Mourning Dove   7
Red-bellied Woodpecker   1
Blue Jay   2
American Crow   6
Carolina Chickadee   7
Tufted Titmouse   2
White-breasted Nuthatch   1
Eastern Bluebird   1
American Robin   10
European Starling   25
Yellow-rumped Warbler   2
White-throated Sparrow   1
Song Sparrow   4
Red-winged Blackbird   13
House Sparrow   1

Sunday, March 11, 2018

North Shore 3/11--Northern Gannett, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Glaucous Gull

A somewhat impressionistic digiscope 
of a 
Black-crowned Night-Heron
at the Shark River
Scott ran a sort of "flash" trip of the ponds and inlets of the "North Shore," starting at the Manasquan Inlet (Ocean County side) today. I got a head start at Lake of the Lilies, which still has a substantial number of Redheads, as well as both scaup and a good number of coots. I'm always hoping for Ocean County "white-winged" gulls around the inlet. The best I could do for the county was a Lesser Black-backed Gull on the sand bar at the back of the inlet. I did eventually get a white-winged gull today, but it was in the "wrong" county.

After the group made a stop at Lake of the Lilies, where I was able, with some help and better lighting to distinguish Greater from Lesser Scaup, we began to wend our way along Route 35. It is only 4.1 miles from Lake of the Lilies to Wreck Pond--it feels like 20 when you're driving it. I found out today from Scott how Wreck Pond got its name. Before the outfall water control structure was put into place, Wreck Pond could be accessed from the ocean via a short inlet. To the navigationally challenged, it was sometimes mistaken for Manasquan Inlet, about 3 miles to the south. But the inlet was not for big fishing boats and they met their end as wrecks in the pond.

There wasn't much of note in the pond, but the boardwalk to the east had a few interesting birds, as well as a couple of juvenile Bald Eagles cavorting above

Great Cormorant on the Wreck Pond
outfall structure
Another interesting bird was a Great Cormorant on the outfall tower. I'd like to know the reason Great Cormorants seem to like to roost on big towers. You never see them, like their double-crested cousins, sitting on rocks, jetties, or wharves.

I got my first year bird of the day at the Shark River where one of our group pointed out a Black-crowned Night-Heron that she said was standing in the same spot she had seen it last week It took me a little while to locate the bird since it was fairly distant. I don't usually go this far into the year without a night-heron, but it was also a year bird for a lot of others in the group. Probably the unpleasant winter had discouraged  them, like a lot of other birds, from staying around these parts.

My second year bird was all the way up in Allenhurst at Corlies Avenue--some Northern Gannets flying just above the horizon--and I didn't even realize they were year birds until I got home and looked at my cumulative list. I guess I just assumed I'd seen gannets this year when probably the last ones were in December. Now I wish I'd looked harder at Manasquan Inlet when someone called one out--it would have been a county bird there too.

The final year bird for the day was probably the hardest one for me to get and one I don't think I've ever seen without company--a Glaucous Gull flew by just as we were leaving Pullman Avenue in Long Branch. Scott, naturally, saw it, called it out, and we were all able to get on the big white bird as it flew north. Glaucous Gull is "rare" in Monmouth County, not rare in Ocean, where I haven't seen it this year. Go figure.

In all I had 57 birds for the day, respectable for a winter's day birding.
The stops we made and day list:
Allenhurst; Deal; Lake Takanassee; Lake of the Lilies; Long Branch; Manasquan Inlet; Shark River; Shark River Inlet; Spring Lake; Sylvan Lake 
Snow Goose  3
Brant  390
Canada Goose  136
Mute Swan  80
Northern Shoveler  1
Mallard  38
American Black Duck  12
Redhead  39
Ring-necked Duck  1
Greater Scaup  5
Lesser Scaup  60
Surf Scoter  1
Black Scoter  12
Long-tailed Duck  14
Bufflehead  15
Hooded Merganser  5
Common Merganser  1
Red-breasted Merganser  21
Ruddy Duck  145
Red-throated Loon  3
Common Loon  19
Horned Grebe  2
Red-necked Grebe  1
Northern Gannet  7
Great Cormorant  2
Double-crested Cormorant  1
Great Blue Heron  3
Black-crowned Night-Heron  1
Black Vulture  2
Turkey Vulture  1
Bald Eagle  2
Red-tailed Hawk  2
American Coot  73
American Oystercatcher  1
Killdeer  5
Sanderling  50
Dunlin  1
Purple Sandpiper  10
Ring-billed Gull  142
Herring Gull  705
Lesser Black-backed Gull  1
Glaucous Gull  1
Great Black-backed Gull  42
Mourning Dove  1
Merlin  1
American Crow  2
Fish Crow  10
Tufted Titmouse  1
American Robin  1
European Starling  2
Song Sparrow  3
Northern Cardinal  2
Red-winged Blackbird  10
Common Grackle  10
Boat-tailed Grackle  6
House Finch  5
House Sparrow  3

Monday, March 5, 2018

Whitesbog 3/5--Tree Swallow

Tundra Swans,  Union Pond
Last week, there was a big migration of Tundra Swans in northern New Jersey. Lakes up there were getting unprecedented numbers of these birds. Here in south Jersey, they're not a big deal, especially at Tundra Swan Central otherwise known as Whitesbog. I went out there last week to see if more birds than usual were there (a flock of about 70 has been steady all winter) and instead, I found nary a swan. Could they have all joined in the migration? It would have been a very early departure for them; they usually stick through March.

I couldn't believe they had all left, so today I drove out there again. The roads at Whitesbog are not for the faint of heart--torn up by excavators and dump trucks, eroded by rain and snow. Fortunately, I do most of my exploring there on foot. I did drive along Union Pond (after making a detour to avoid a puddle in the road that was ready to be named as a new pond) and found 54 Tundra Swans on the water. That number seemed about right and, as John Astin used to say on "Night Court," "I'm feeling much better now."

My original intention was to park the car on the breached dike between the middle and upper bogs and walk around the Ocean County section, but changed my plan when I saw through my binoculars, little birds flying fast in the back of Union Pond. I didn't know what they were, but they looked interesting. I'd like to say that they were a harbinger of spring as they turned out to be a small flock of Tree Swallows, but Tree Swallows are scattered around the state all winter--they, like Yellow-rumped Warblers can live on certain berries instead of insects in the cold months--I just hadn't seen any until today. Now a Barn Swallow, or a Purple Martin...that will be a welcome sign of warmer months. I would have liked to have the swallows about a 1/4 mile down the road over the line in Ocean County, but I'm pretty certain I'll get them as county birds this year. I'm having my doubts about some other birds though...I haven't been able to buy an American Woodcock so far, after going to the place I've always seen them 4 times already this year.

As I was watching the swallows and fruitlessly trying to get a photo of one zipping by, I ran into a friend of mine there who knows every path and road in Whitesbog. I asked him about the breached bog in the back on the Ocean County side near the Upper Reservoir. It wasn't a deliberate act as I had thought--the construction equipment I had seen was repairing the original breach, which was a catastrophic failure of an ancient, forgotten wooden sluice gate buried beneath the road that finally rotted away, which collapsed the road and pour something like 78 million gallons of water out of the Upper Reservoir, and then, domino-like, burst other gates, draining Otter Pond and turning some of the abandoned bogs back by Fort Dix into mere streams. Otter Pond is huge; it's hard to imagine it drained. I was tempted to walk back there, but my friend took one look at my shoes and said the water had spread so much back there that I would need much higher boots. Too bad, because he says it has turned into pretty good shorebird habitat. He had a Greater Yellowlegs back there and they are never at Whitesbog before summer.

I did walk around the Ocean County side, checking out the Upper Reservoir where I was delighted to find 82 Tundra Swans feeding on it. Interestingly, when I got back to my car in the early afternoon, the 50 swans that had been on Union Pond were gone. I don't think they were part of the flock on the Upper Reservoir because even I would notice 50 big birds flying east overhead.
Tundra Swans on the Upper Reservoir

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

February Wrap-up

Northern Pintail, Shelter Cove Park
It was a tough month of birding. While I added 20 species to the year list and while some of them were exciting birds to find (particularly the Ross's Geese at Whitesbog, the Pink-footed Goose at Warinanco Park, and the Long-eared Owl at Pole Farm), there were many days of remarkably crappy birding, where I would find very few species on my walks through the woods and fields and on the beaches of the Garden State. Granted, I have been going to some out of the way spots in an attempt to add variety to my walks; some of these locations seem underbirded to me. Perhaps not. There may be a reason not many birders go there--there ain't no birds. Or it's the wrong time of year for where I'm walking. Manasquan River WMA is a for instance: great spot in the spring; in the winter, something of a bird-free zone, though, I have to remember that I did get my FOY Hermit Thrush there.

Whatever the reasons I'm not getting more birds this year, I'm way behind last year's list, when, at this time I had 10 more species than my current 127.

The highlight of the month, however, only had to do with birding tangentially. Last Saturday, Shari & I went on the first of Mike's Birds of Jackson trips, as we do each year. It's a great concept: Go to the same locations 5 times from mid-winter to mid-spring and watch how the bird populations change with the season. There's usually a core group of local birders who do this trip, but on Saturday, we had a new addition in Cheryl, who has recently taken up this hobby/obsession.

And it seems it is already something of a fever for her, because she went out to Minnesota to join Mike and Kim's trip out there and birded in 25 degrees below zero. When Shari & I made the trip a few years ago we were lucky and never had temperatures approaching that. Cheryl is soon to retire from her job in IT at...WAWA! Mike, of course, informed her of my, let's call it, deep, abiding interest in all things Wawa, so when we met on Saturday, Cheryl came with a couple of Wawa gift baskets for Shari & me containing valuable Wawa accessories like mugs, cups, and lunch bag. She made the delightful presentation in the Jackson Memorial High School parking lot. She also told us there is a new, two-story Wawa in Media, Pennsylvania. Media is only about 2 hours from here. Road trip!

For the month I finished with 114 species. I'm hoping to get back on track in March.
Counties birded: Atlantic, Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth, Ocean, Union

Species            First Sighting
Snow Goose   Brig
Ross's Goose   Whitesbog
Pink-footed Goose   Warinanco Park
Brant   Manasquan Inlet
Cackling Goose   Assunpink WMA
Canada Goose   Horicon Lake
Mute Swan   Lake of the Lilies
Trumpeter Swan   Assunpink WMA
Tundra Swan   Whitesbog
Wood Duck   Bunker Hill Bogs
Northern Shoveler   Lake Como
Gadwall   Lake of the Lilies
American Wigeon   Lake of the Lilies
Mallard   Horicon Lake
American Black Duck   Horicon Lake
Northern Pintail   Forsythe-Barnegat
Green-winged Teal   Brig
Canvasback   Assunpink WMA
Redhead   Lake of the Lilies
Ring-necked Duck   Assunpink WMA
Tufted Duck   Wreck Pond
Greater Scaup   Manasquan Inlet
Lesser Scaup   Lake of the Lilies
Common Eider   Island Beach SP
Harlequin Duck   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Surf Scoter   Manasquan Inlet
Black Scoter   Manasquan Inlet
Long-tailed Duck   Manasquan Inlet
Bufflehead   Manasquan Inlet
Common Goldeneye   Maclearie Park
Hooded Merganser   Horicon Lake
Common Merganser   Horicon Lake
Red-breasted Merganser   Lake of the Lilies
Ruddy Duck   Lake of the Lilies
Ring-necked Pheasant   New Egypt
Wild Turkey   35 Sunset Rd
Red-throated Loon   Barnegat Municipal Dock
Common Loon   Manasquan Inlet
Pied-billed Grebe   Ocean County Parks Offices
Horned Grebe   Manasquan Inlet
Red-necked Grebe   Manasquan Inlet
Great Cormorant   Manasquan Inlet
Double-crested Cormorant   Maclearie Park
Great Blue Heron   Meadowedge Park
Black Vulture   Brig
Turkey Vulture   Horicon Lake
Northern Harrier   Brig
Sharp-shinned Hawk   Motts Creek
Cooper's Hawk   Horicon Lake
Bald Eagle   Brig
Red-shouldered Hawk   Whitesbog
Red-tailed Hawk   Brig
American Coot   Lake of the Lilies
Sandhill Crane   New Egypt
American Oystercatcher   Brigantine Island
Killdeer   Shelter Cove Park
Ruddy Turnstone   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Sanderling   Shark River Inlet
Dunlin   Great Bay Blvd
Purple Sandpiper   Manasquan Inlet
Greater Yellowlegs   Brigantine Island
Willet   Brigantine Island
Ring-billed Gull   Horicon Lake
Herring Gull   Lake of the Lilies
Lesser Black-backed Gull   Sylvan Lake
Great Black-backed Gull   Lake of the Lilies
Rock Pigeon   Lake of the Lilies
Mourning Dove   35 Sunset Rd
Snowy Owl   Brig
Long-eared Owl   Pole Farm
Belted Kingfisher   Ocean County Parks Offices
Red-bellied Woodpecker   Cloverdale Farm
Downy Woodpecker   Cloverdale Farm
Hairy Woodpecker   Cloverdale Farm
Northern Flicker   Assunpink WMA
American Kestrel   Brigantine Island
Merlin   Highway 35, Wall
Peregrine Falcon   Brig
Blue Jay   Brig
American Crow   Horicon Lake
Fish Crow   Assunpink WMA
Carolina Chickadee   35 Sunset Rd
Tufted Titmouse   35 Sunset Rd
White-breasted Nuthatch   35 Sunset Rd
Brown Creeper   35 Sunset Rd
Carolina Wren   Horicon Lake
Golden-crowned Kinglet   Cloverdale Farm
Ruby-crowned Kinglet   Ocean County Parks Offices
Eastern Bluebird   Brig
Hermit Thrush   Manasquan River WMA
American Robin   Horicon Lake
Brown Thrasher   Shelter Cove Park
Northern Mockingbird   Brig
European Starling   Manasquan Inlet
Cedar Waxwing   Riverfront Landing
Yellow-rumped Warbler   Cloverdale Farm
American Tree Sparrow   Assunpink WMA
Chipping Sparrow   Forest Resource Education Center
Field Sparrow   Assunpink WMA
Fox Sparrow   Shelter Cove Park
Dark-eyed Junco   35 Sunset Rd
White-throated Sparrow   35 Sunset Rd
Savannah Sparrow   Shelter Cove Park
Song Sparrow   Cloverdale Farm
Eastern Towhee   Brig
Northern Cardinal   35 Sunset Rd
Eastern Meadowlark   Pole Farm
Red-winged Blackbird   Brig
Brown-headed Cowbird   New Egypt
Common Grackle   Manasquan Inlet
Boat-tailed Grackle   Manasquan Inlet
House Finch   35 Sunset Rd
American Goldfinch   35 Sunset Rd
House Sparrow   Galloway