Saturday, December 9, 2017

Birding with One Eye Sans Binoculars

Ever since Tuesday, when I had cataract extraction performed on my right (dominant) eye, I have felt more disoriented than usual. I have fine distance sight without glasses out of my eye for the first time since the second grade and, with "cheaters" I can read, and write well enough. Theoretically, removing the lens from the right side of my glasses should provide me with good sight until the next eye is done, but my brain doesn't agree with the theory and can't make the adjustment of seeing out of lenses that are different distances from the retina--one on the eye, the other a half inch away. Consequently, I can walk around, watch television, read the clocks pretty well if I ignore the slight fuzziness on my left side, if I can ignore the urge to put on glasses. But the habits of a lifetime are difficult to break. Every time I awake in the middle of night to go to the bathroom, I reach for glasses I don't need.

None of this would bother me as much, probably, if I could bird, but I really shouldn't press binoculars up against the eye until it is healed--which is another strange feeling it isn't healed yet I have had none of the post-op "discomfort" (medical euphemism for pain) of which I was warned. So I have had to bird with one eye sans binoculars and my birding has been limited to the backyard and the streets of Crestwood Village.

One of the reasons I delayed the surgery until December was because I knew that opportunities for new birds would be limited and I thought my attitude toward chasing might be like last year's when I just got sick of it. But I still would like to go out, wander around and look at birds. I'd like to see something beyond the juncos, goldfinches, and Mourning Doves that make up 70% of the birds I've seen this week. It is amazing I can see any birds with one eye, no glasses, no optics. When I saw in the backyard, on the day after the surgery, the little yellow spot on the head of a Golden-crowned Kinglet, a bird we rarely see near our feeders, I knew the operation was a success in that my sight was as good as old--but it doesn't seem better than when I wore glasses. The birds seem pretty much like they did with glasses--they aren't brighter, or sharper, or more beautiful. The idea that reality looked different when not mediated by thick pieces of plastic has wilted. It's all right; I was always skeptical how wonderful my sight would be. I was never impressed with the prospect of not wearing glasses.  Wearing glasses c'est moi.

Now I just want to get back to seeing without thinking about seeing. My left eye will be done on the 19th. Ironically, you spend weeks dreading the first operation, scared of someone operating on your eye, find out it is even less traumatic than they told you it would be, then spend the next two weeks fervently wishing the day would come when the second eye (which will have a multi-focal lens so that I can read and see distances most of the time without going to glasses) is fixed.

I hope to be back birding full force in January. My spirit for birding had become dulled by November. This enforced layoff is sharpening it again.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

November Wrap-up

Snowy Owl, Holgate
November is usually a good month for rarities and that proved to be true again with many western vagrants showing up around the state. However, the rarities seemed to be of two types: Hummingbirds on private property and elusive birds on Cape May. In the first instance you have to (at least if you're ethical about it) contact the owner of the property and ask for permission to try to see the bird and then be prepared to stand around for hours waiting for the the little hummer to show up. Not my idea of fun.

In the 2nd instance you have to be in Cape May when the bird is seen because the rarities are either flybys seen from the dune crossings or else one day wonders with the emphasis on wonder as in "I wonder why I bother to chase these birds."

There was a great rarity in Ocean County this month--an Ash-throated Flycatcher that Scott Barnes found on his Island Beach Audubon trip--but I missed it. Where was I? Cape May of course, missing all the rarities down there. The bruises from kicking myself are just starting to heal.

The big news in rarity sightings though was on Island Beach where a number of Snowy Owls have been roosting in the dunes. Four years ago there was an irruption of these charismatic birds and it looks like we're going to have another good year--if you consider photographers harassing birds good. My friend Steve spotted a Snowy along the beach at IBSP mid-month but kept it quiet. The day before Thanksgiving he saw one again; I was at an appointment in Toms River but, since I already have one for the year and county, I wouldn't have chased it anyway. On Thanksgiving, word got out and ever since birders and photographers have been chasing around the dunes there looking for and finding the birds, which may number as many as 6. To be fair, most people have kept their distance, but the thought of chasing one of these birds always makes me slightly queasy. I was at Island Beach last week, but I was looking for a different kind of "snow" bird--Snow Buntings for the county which I didn't find. I did find, finally, thanks to Steve, White-winged Scoters for the county. I had been walking up and down the beach there a number of days before Steve took pity on me and drove me up to a section where there was a small raft in the breakers.
White-winged Scoters (hens), Island Beach SP
I did, obviously from the picture above, see a Snowy Owl this month, but it was at Holgate, at the extreme south end of Long Beach Island, where I had gone to once again seek out Snow Buntings in the dune grass. Unsuccessfully. But, while trudging along the beach I saw two photographers with their cameras pointed to the dunes and knew immediately they had found an owl. No surprise, really--Holgate is perfect habitat for them and it was there, very early in the year, that I saw one. It is just that Holgate is relatively remote and a long walk through sand whereas Island Beach, even if you don't have a permit to drive on the beach, has many paths to access the beach, which makes finding an owl a whole lot easier.

Great Gray Owl, Sax-Zim Bog, MN
Not that I ever read the Harry Potter series, but I understand that a Snowy Owl is a character in the books and that has added to their appeal to non-birders. But while I was looking at the bird on Sunday at Holgate, it struck me not so much as a fierce raptor which can (and will) eat an eider, but as a rather jolly looking bird. Cute even. Thus, another aspect of their popularity--they disguise their fierceness. If you ever saw a Great Gray Owl, for instance, "cute" would not come to mind.

As for the rest of the month, it was uneventful. I only added two year birds to the list--both on the same day down at the Avalon Seawatch. That's somewhat to be expected this time of year--the longer the year goes one the fewer birds that are "new." But two is a pathetic number. And I don't think it will be much better next month, as, for various reasons, my birding opportunities are going to much more limited than usual.

So, for the month, 127 species. The only other rarities I saw this month was the returning Trumpeter Swans at Assunpink & an Orange-crowned Warbler when Shari & I were lucky enough to run into Scott and Linda up at Sandy Hook.

Counties birded:
Atlantic, Burlington, Cape May, Mercer, Monmouth, Ocean
Species             First Sighting
Snow Goose   Brig
Brant   Great Bay Blvd
Canada Goose   Brig
Mute Swan   Brig
Trumpeter Swan   Assunpink WMA
Tundra Swan   Brig
Wood Duck   Brig
Blue-winged Teal   Brig
Northern Shoveler   Brig
Gadwall   Assunpink WMA
American Wigeon   Brig
Mallard   Brig
American Black Duck   Brig
Northern Pintail   Brig
Green-winged Teal   Brig
Canvasback   Brig
Redhead   Assunpink WMA
Ring-necked Duck   Assunpink WMA
Lesser Scaup   Brig
Common Eider   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Harlequin Duck   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Surf Scoter   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
White-winged Scoter   Avalon Seawatch
Black Scoter   Avalon Seawatch
Long-tailed Duck   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Bufflehead   Assunpink WMA
Hooded Merganser   Brig
Red-breasted Merganser   Avalon Seawatch
Ruddy Duck   Assunpink WMA
Wild Turkey   Crestwood Village
Red-throated Loon   Brig
Common Loon   Great Bay Blvd
Pied-billed Grebe   Brig
Horned Grebe   Brig
Northern Gannet   Manasquan Inlet
Great Cormorant   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Double-crested Cormorant   Great Bay Blvd
Great Blue Heron   Holly Lake
Great Egret   Great Bay Blvd
Snowy Egret   Brig
Tricolored Heron   Brig
Black-crowned Night-Heron   Great Bay Blvd
Black Vulture   Cloverdale Farm
Turkey Vulture   Warren Grove
Osprey   Assunpink WMA
Northern Harrier   Brig
Sharp-shinned Hawk   Brig
Cooper's Hawk   Brig
Bald Eagle   Assunpink WMA
Red-tailed Hawk   Wawa Galloway
American Coot   Assunpink WMA
American Oystercatcher   Great Bay Blvd
Black-bellied Plover   Great Bay Blvd
Semipalmated Plover   Great Bay Blvd
Killdeer   Horicon Lake
Ruddy Turnstone   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Sanderling   Avalon Seawatch
Dunlin   Great Bay Blvd
Purple Sandpiper   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Least Sandpiper   Brig
White-rumped Sandpiper   Brig
Semipalmated Sandpiper   Brig
Western Sandpiper   Brig
Short-billed Dowitcher   Brig
Long-billed Dowitcher   Brig
Greater Yellowlegs   Great Bay Blvd
Lesser Yellowlegs   Brig
Parasitic Jaeger   Avalon Seawatch
Bonaparte's Gull   Brig
Laughing Gull   Little Silver Lake
Ring-billed Gull   Brig
Herring Gull   Great Bay Blvd
Lesser Black-backed Gull   Cape Island
Great Black-backed Gull   Great Bay Blvd
Forster's Tern   Brig
Royal Tern   Manasquan Inlet
Rock Pigeon   Mercer Corporate Park
Mourning Dove   Great Bay Blvd
Great Horned Owl   I-195 MM 13
Snowy Owl   Holgate
Belted Kingfisher   Assunpink WMA
Red-bellied Woodpecker   Brig
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker   Colliers Mills WMA
Downy Woodpecker   Assunpink WMA
Hairy Woodpecker   Colliers Mills WMA
Northern Flicker   Colliers Mills WMA
Pileated Woodpecker   Assunpink WMA
Peregrine Falcon   Great Bay Blvd
Blue Jay   35 Sunset Rd
American Crow   35 Sunset Rd
Fish Crow   Forked River
Tree Swallow   Cape May Point SP
Carolina Chickadee   35 Sunset Rd
Black-capped Chickadee   Sandy Hook
Tufted Titmouse   35 Sunset Rd
White-breasted Nuthatch   Assunpink WMA
Brown Creeper   Assunpink WMA
Winter Wren   Sandy Hook
Carolina Wren   Brig
Golden-crowned Kinglet   Brig
Ruby-crowned Kinglet   Assunpink WMA
Eastern Bluebird   Brig
Hermit Thrush   Brig
American Robin   Assunpink WMA
Gray Catbird   Assunpink WMA
Northern Mockingbird   Assunpink WMA
European Starling   Forked River
Cedar Waxwing   Cape May Point SP
Snow Bunting   Sandy Hook
Orange-crowned Warbler   Sandy Hook
Palm Warbler   Great Bay Blvd
Pine Warbler   Whitesbog
Yellow-rumped Warbler   Great Bay Blvd
Chipping Sparrow   35 Sunset Rd
Field Sparrow   Colliers Mills WMA
Dark-eyed Junco   Great Bay Blvd
White-throated Sparrow   Great Bay Blvd
Savannah Sparrow   Brig
Song Sparrow   Assunpink WMA
Swamp Sparrow   Assunpink WMA
Northern Cardinal   35 Sunset Rd
Eastern Meadowlark   Brig
Red-winged Blackbird   Brig
Boat-tailed Grackle   Great Bay Blvd
House Finch   35 Sunset Rd
American Goldfinch   35 Sunset Rd
House Sparrow   Union Transportation Trail

Friday, November 17, 2017

South Toms River 11/17--New Wawa

Dover Road, South Toms River.
Ever since we moved here, Shari & I always said that Exit 80 off the Parkway would be a perfect place for a Wawa. There was a vacant lot right on the corner of Railroad Avenue and Dover Road and nowhere to buy coffee unless you count 7/11 which we don't. Evidently, the Wawa corporation agreed, because in April a "Coming Soon" sign went up. All the spring, summer, and into the fall, I tracked the progress the store, snapping an iPhone picture through the car window whenever I could:
"Soon" came today, when Shari texted me this picture:

She also sent me a self a "Ha-ha-ha" selfie, since she got in there first.
They opened at 5 AM today--had I known, I would have been first in line. When I got her text, I was about 3/4 of the way around the Manasquan Reservoir--this was almost as bad as hearing about a rare bird except that I was reasonably certain that the Wawa would be there when I got to it. But to get to it I had to take long way around, going east on I-195 and then south down the Parkway, probably about 25 miles out of my way. However, they were giving out free coffee.

This is the 83rd Wawa I have visited, encompassing 4 states: NJ, DE, PA, & FL. To see the others you can click here.

This is a pretty important one for us--it will change the way we go home driving south on the Parkway. No longer will we exit at 89 and put up with the traffic lights on Rt 70 so we stop at the Wawa on Vermont Avenue in Lakewood. Instead, we'll just cruise down to Exit 80 and swing around Rt 530 to Whiting, the original route we took when we first came to view the area 6 1/2 years ago.

There are a couple of other spots that could use a Wawa--the NE corner of the Wildlife Drive at Brig comes to mind--but I think that is unlikely.

As a memento of the new store I asked for a receipt--had to buy something since the coffee was free--and, naturally, I found a typo. The store is actually located in SOUTH
Toms River, a town distinct from the much larger one just to the north.

But I doubt anyone else will ever read their receipt beyond the numerals or care where they really are.

And so, after 6 1/2 years, a dream has finally taken on reality.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Manahawkin WMA 11/15--Ring-necked Pheasant, New But Not Countable

It gets hard in the cold months to find a place to walk in the woods or fields--the parks are full of dog walkers and the WMAs resound with gunfire. I wear orange from October to March. Colliers Mills on a weekday is the "Wild West" as a hunter at Manahawkin WMA told me today. I know that and won't walk there most of the fall and winter. Manahawkin seemed like a good alternative--it has impoundments as well as fields and woods. I didn't think it was heavily hunted, but I was mistaken.

When I saw 2 Ring-necked Pheasants (a male and a hen) on the side of Stafford Avenue, just before the trail into the WMA, I knew they weren't countable for my eBird list but they are beautiful and, if you're in a car, very approachable. As I drove along slowly they paid me no heed and I could take pictures practically leaning out the car window. As soon as I got out of the car, off they both flew.

I ran into a couple of hunters, one on the dike between impoundments and one with a dog at the entrance on Hilliard Avenue. They were both friendly and didn't care that I was birding. Neither was having much luck. One told me that pheasants are stocked there Tuesdays and Thursdays and he avoids the place then because there is too much shooting! I was surprised that the state continuously stocked the woods with fresh birds. I thought they dumped a flock of birds at one time and let the hunters have at it over the course the season.

I wasn't have much luck myself. The impoundments didn't have many ducks or other waterfowl and while there were flurries of birds in a couple of spots, there were long stretches where I didn't even hear a chip note. I did flush a hen and heard a male calling very close to me but invisible in the thick brush.

A few years ago, in the back impoundment, there was a Black-necked Stilt, so I, superstitiously, think of that water as a rarity site. Today, the rarest birds in there were Greater Yellowlegs.

I stopped at one point on Stafford where there are some dead trees, remembering that Mike & Pete & I have seen Red-tailed Hawk in the vicinity. And sure enough, as I was scanning, there was a hawk, right where they like to be.

After walking back out the way I came (there is probably a loop I can make, but I worry about getting lost there), I did a little survey of The Bridge to Nowhere (which is contiguous with Manahawkin). Aside from some Great Blue Herons, a cormorant incongruously sitting atop a utility pole, and about 200 Boat-tailed Grackles, there wasn't anything worth noting.
The little list from Manahawkin:
17 species
Mute Swan 5
Mallard 8
Green-winged Teal 25
Great Blue Heron 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Greater Yellowlegs 8
Ring-billed Gull 2
Herring Gull 1
Belted Kingfisher 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1 Heard
Blue Jay 2 Heard
Carolina Chickadee 5
Tufted Titmouse 1 Heard
Eastern Bluebird 4
American Robin 2
Yellow-rumped Warbler 3
White-throated Sparrow 2 Heard

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

700 Great Bay Blvd 11/14

I went down to Great Bay Blvd in Tuckerton this morning, more for the exercise than for the birds--I didn't expect to find anything new, but you can build up a pretty good list with a combination of stopping at certain spots, walking the beach and then walking from the inlet up to the first wooden bridge and back.

Crazy Mockingbird
My most interesting experiences were all around 700 Great Bay Blvd, which is just north of the second wooden bridge. This is the fenced off area with the mysterious beeping, solar-powered machinery. I usually stop here to check the boat launch mud flats and also to check for sparrows. Today, the entertainment was provided by a young mockingbird, who landed on my side view mirror (and crapped all over it) and then continuously attacked its image in the mirror and in the side window.

I'd seen this behavior before at this spot about a month ago, probably with the same bird, but it was attacking (and despoiling) my car. I first noticed it when I was looking out on the bay--I heard some scrabbling sounds coming from behind me, but didn't pay it much attention until I found the bird perched on my car. When I put my scope back in the car it flew off. However, that other bird was really bothering it, so as I walked toward the bridge to look for sparrows, it returned and really gave its image a walloping. Actually, it occurred to me that the bird may have thought it was in a gang fight, since it was attacking both the image in the mirror and the image in the window. I know turkeys will attack their images in shiny metal on cars, but I don't think of mockingbirds as being as stupid as turkeys.

700 Great Bay Boulevard
Perhaps the incessant beeping coming from behind the fence drove the mocker mad!

Black-crowned Night-Heron
On my walk north, I saw two guys inside the fence with clipboards and devices, so I asked them, what exactly they were monitoring here for the last 4 or 5 years. It turns out the whole apparatus is a wind monitor that works on sonar--the little beep is sending up a sound that measures the winds and is recorded by the machinery below. The constant beeping is"Why we don't put it near houses," one of the guys said. Seems like a lot of work just to get wind speed and direction in a remote area of Ocean County. Suspicions arise. But at least I know what the whole set up is for--if they were telling me true.

On my way back, I stopped in by the boat launch again--as the tides are ever-moving, so are the birds, so it is always worth a second or third look, which is why I saw this juvenile Night-Heron. My first reaction was that it was a Yellow-crowned, because the bill is big, thick and all black. But Yellow-crowned is rare this time of year, so even though I don't see any yellow on the bill, nor do I find any big white spots on the coverts, I'm listing it as a Black-crowned Night-Heron because it a) has some blurry lines on the breast, b) looks more squat (its tail comes almost to the ground where a Yellow-crowned would have a longer-legged look), and c) is expected. But I'm not entirely convinced. Just when I think I have these birds down cold, an example shows up that confounds me. (UPDATE: After consultation with my panel of experts, it is indeed a Black-crowned Night-Heron.)

For my efforts today I managed 25 species along the boulevard (plus a couple of duck species in Holly Lake and a few more waterfowl (geese, swans, Gadwalls, a Pied-billed Grebe) at Tip Seaman Park). The GBB list:
Brant 54
American Black Duck 11
Bufflehead 33
Red-throated Loon 1
Common Loon 1
Double-crested Cormorant 1
Great Blue Heron 5
Great Egret 20
Snowy Egret 2
Black-crowned Night-Heron 1
Northern Harrier 1
American Oystercatcher 2
Black-bellied Plover 13
Dunlin 305
Greater Yellowlegs 3
Herring Gull 100
Great Black-backed Gull 2
Mourning Dove 4
Northern Mockingbird 1
European Starling 300
Yellow-rumped Warbler 7
White-throated Sparrow 2
Song Sparrow 3
Red-winged Blackbird 3
Boat-tailed Grackle 150

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Fun with Hazmat

The container after the discharge was halted
If I hadn't said, "This drives me crazy," I wouldn't have spent nearly 3 hours at Colliers Mills with Mike waiting to show DEP Emergency Response where we found a leaking container of gasoline.

Mike & I were at Colliers Mills after spending a fairly productive morning at Assunpink WMA, scanning the lake and walking the dirt road. The first bird I listed today was a Great Horned Owl that Mike showed me as we sped along I-195, roosting in a tree, where he had seen it for most of the last week as he drove into work. Not a bad start for the morning.

The second significant listing of the day was three Trumpeter Swans on Lake Assunpink, presumably the same three birds that have wintered there for the previous three years. One had been reported yesterday, but the trio wasn't especially surprising to find. We spent a little time debating whether they were actually Tundra Swans, but size, bill and neck shape led us to Trumpeter. These birds are somewhat controversial in NJ, since their provenance is unknown, but they don't seem to be of the re-introduced population from New York. And since they have become regular winter visitors, they have been ruled "countable." Mike and I had one much earlier in the year, but this time of year (when nothing much is new and most birds pale before our African list), anything unusual, even if it isn't a 
year bird, piques our interest. 

We didn't have many raptors at Assunpink though the Osprey was late, the Northern Harrier always fun to see and there were a couple of Bald Eagles harassing the ducks. A guy in white car stopped us and asked us where he could photograph eagles--I mumbled under my breath, "I'm sorry, but you can't ask us that, you're not in a pickup truck," but Mike was polite and helpful. 

After Assunpink we made a quick pass through Mercer Corporate Park, home of the rarities, which was home to nothing but a few geese, pigeons and a Red-tailed Hawk. We decided to go down to Colliers Mills. No hunting on Sundays. No hunting, but plenty of guys running their dogs, a Jeep club called "Jeepers Creepers" speeding up and down Success Road, and ATVs and dirt bikes running illegally through the fields, not to mention the aimless wanderings of people out for a Sunday drive--"I wonder what's up this road--oh nothing, well, let's turn around then." 

So we were walking north up the east side of Colliers Mills Lake, heading for the power line cut where I thought it might be quieter and more birdy (though we had already scored a Field Sparrow close to the parking lot--hadn't see one of those in a couple of months) when I saw the big green container pictured above. People dumping stuff in parks and WMAs--"This drives me crazy." I went over to the container, figuring I'd pick it up later on the way back, when I saw that it was leaking. The side said VP Racing Fuel and the liquid smelled like gasoline. The area around the can was stained. There was still a good amount of liquid inside. 

Mike has worked in site remediation for DEP for 30 something years, so he sprang into action, turning the open end uphill to stop the dripping, only to find that the container was cracked at the bottom and was leaking from there too. So he turned the container over 180 degrees and halted the discharge. Then he called WARN-DEP, and reported the incident. 

I figured that was the end of it and that nothing more would happen--and maybe if I had reported it that would be true, but I guess an employee of DEP has a certain amount of gravitas. Anyway, Mike said we should wait. They were going to send both an enforcement officer to relieve him and someone qualified to handle the hazardous material. 

As I had no place else to go and the weather was pleasant I didn't much mind, but after a while staring at a no longer leaking container of gasoline gets a little old, so we walked back to the intersection at Success where we watched the passing parade of fools--including one dolt in a pickup full of ATVs who asked where he could run his machines. We weren't very sympathetic to his plight. Meanwhile, even though Mike had told the dispatcher at DEP that we were on the east side of Colliers Mills Lake, she wrote down Colliers Mills, lake, east side, so the enforcement officer went to Lake Success, 5 miles away, explaining to Mike on the phone that that's where 90% of the incidents take place anyway. Then she was delayed because she had to pull someone out of the sand near the lake. Then she was delayed because she was involved in chasing down the ATVers and dirt bikers. 

At the intersection, while all this excitement was being relayed to us, I remembered that I had smelled gas when we started up the road. I thought it was coming from a noisy pickup truck that was driving behind us, but now we saw a hose on the side of the road we had previously overlooked, along with a lozenge shaped stain in the middle of the dirt road.
With this forensic evidence, we played a little environmental detective: the container originally fell off a vehicle here, cracked at the bottom, started to leak. The perpetrator picked up the leaking container, transported it a couple of hundred yards north up the road, and flung to the side where it would be less likely to be found--but not that less likely. Which is why I started to smell gasoline long before we found the container. 

By now, close to 3 hours had passed, the Jeeper Creepers were congregating at the parking lot, asking each other if they had gotten a ticket, cars, SUVs, and truck were streaming west down Success Road out of the WMA as if in a panic, and, at the same time both a DEP enforcement officer (but not the one we were waiting for) and the Emergency Response Vehicle pulled up. The officer was chasing the off-roaders. He'd caught one but wanted the others. We couldn't really help him with their whereabouts--the only ones we'd seen had already escaped to the west with their machines loaded on the back of trucks. There was also a vehicle on fire somewhere in the WMA just to add to the chaos. 

The emergency responder drove up the road and Mike and I watched him test the site--high concentration of gasoline, big surprise, and stabilize the container with what were essentially wee-wee pads for hazmat. He was going to dig up some of the contaminated sand around the container as well as the lozenge stain down the road and take the hose away too. It was way too late to continue birding, so we took our little list of 18 species and called it a day, happy, sort of, that we had done our little bit for the environment, though the 10 off-roaders still ripping through the fields was as depressing as can be. I must say I was surprised that DEP would come out and clean up so quickly a few gallons of gasoline on a Sunday. Your tax dollars at work and thanks. 

I've picked up and disposed of some big crap at Colliers Mills--a refrigerator box once, a portfolio full of bills and receipts, a hub cap, not to mention about 20 skeets that escaped the shot gun...but this was the first time I needed reinforcements. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Avalon Seawatch 11/7--White-winged Scoter, Parasitic Jaeger

Long periods of this punctuated by flights of silhouettes
Mike & I went down to the Avalon Seawatch in Cape May County today, hoping for a couple of year birds, which we got. Today's weather was borderline dreary and it still hasn't penetrated my head that I have to wear warmer clothes--probably should have worn a knit cap instead of my Ding Darling baseball cap with a hole in its crown--so with the northerly wind it was a little uncomfortable standing still looking at the occasional long line of Black Scoters fly by.  My "count" of 950 is laughably arbitrary. I admire the official counter for his attempt at accuracy--yesterday he tallied 2638 Black Scoters going north to south. 

As to the year birds--the first was a Parasitic Jaeger we saw in typical fashion: a large dark, distant bird skipping along the top of the breakers, chasing a gull. We knew it was a Jaeger because it wasn't a gull (and the seawatcher got it in his scope) but that's the best I can say for it. 

Somehow, both Mike & I were still missing White-winged Scoter, the least numerous of the 3 regularly appearing scoters. Many scoter silhouettes flew by at speed (the north wind giving them a boost), but it was until we had been standing there for an hour that 5 scoters with obvious white wing patches flew by. With that we figured we'd had enough. I also admire the counter for his endurance--to stand every day as the weather gets colder and gloomier (it rained the last half of today) counting thousands of ducks and distinguishing which was are Black Scoters from which ones are Surf Scoters, with the occasional merganser, teal, long-tail, or even Wood Duck thrown in, (and for negligible remuneration) is quite a feat of persistence and dedication. It sure doesn't look like fun.

There were a few ducks I couldn't get on due to distance, speed, and poor eyesight, while the Green-winged Teal, even though I did see 3 smaller ducks mixed in with the scoters, are definitely "if you say so" birds. My list came out to 15. The birds I enjoyed the most were the gannets, plunge diving into the ocean and brilliant white against the ever darkening skies.

Brant 23
Green-winged Teal 3
White-winged Scoter 5
Black Scoter 950
Red-breasted Merganser 1

Red-throated Loon 1
Common Loon 1
Northern Gannet 10
Double-crested Cormorant 1
Sanderling 7
Parasitic Jaeger 1
Bonaparte's Gull 1
Ring-billed Gull 1
Herring Gull 5
Great Black-backed Gull 1