Sunday, September 14, 2014

Home 9/14--Eastern Screech-Owl

One night a few months ago we thought we heard an owl as we were coming back late from Brig. It turns out that our neighbor across the street does a passable owl imitation and was teasing us while he was walking his dog.

Tonight, Shari came into the house and asked me if I'd been making funny noises while she worked in the garage. She thought I was trying to fool her with an owl call. Not me, I told her, probably Dwight again, messing with you. A little later she called me out to the garage to hear Dwight's owl--except that Dwight wasn't outside. It was a real Eastern Screech-Owl she'd heard whinnying all night. I heard it clearly two or three times. Dwight thought it was hilarious that he fooled us the first time. He'll think it's even funnier that he fooled us without even trying.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Cape May Point SP 9/13--WHISKERED TERN, Common Gallinule

With bad memories of our futile quadruple searches for an Elegant Tern at Sandy Hook a couple of years ago, we headed down to Cape May in search of another, even more rare, even more out of place tern. The weather was gloomy and threatening and I didn't relish being part of a bird mob, but the bird was too good to pass up and besides, as we always say when we chase a rarity, this is why we moved down here.

We got a late start but with a tern that shouldn't matter. We arrived at the hawkwatch at 12:55 and heard that doleful phrase, "You just missed it." But, we were informed, the bird was making regular trips back, on average every 20 minutes, so just hang around. I looked up at the gray skies. We'd already had a little drizzle.

After a few minutes, Shari decided to go look on the beach where the bird was also being seen. That would be my last resort, because picking out a grayish tern on a gray day, against the gray ocean, from a lot of only slightly lighter gray terns, wasn't optimal to me. I hate when Shari & I split up when looking for a rarity. I was afraid that either she would see it on the beach and I would miss it, or else it would fly back to the pond in front of me and she would miss it. And great acrimony would ensue either way.

Since she didn't have her cell phone with her we agreed she'd signal me from the dune if she saw the bird. Unfortunately, when she was signaling, I was watching a Bald Eagle try to take a fish away from an Osprey. Finally, she called up to me from the parking lot: The bird was on the beach. I picked up my scope and ran toward the cut in the dunes to the beach. She told she'd met Andrew Baksh, who we know from NY, on the beach, so I was hopeful that I'd have some knowledgeable eyes to guide me.  As I got onto the beach, I saw Andrew and he was pointing up in the air--there went the tern, right back to the hawkwatch where I'd been. Should have just stood there.

Ran back to the hawkwatch, asked the guy I'd been talking to where the bird was and he got me on it without too much difficulty--WHISKERED TERN, an Old World tern, found in Europe, Asia, Africa, even Australia and New Zealand, but not around here. At first the bird was flying at the distant end of the pond, in the company of a Black Tern (not a bad bird in itself) and I was having to take it on faith that that was the bird, but soon it began to fly in closer and I was able to get the field marks--very dark gray back and breast, black, slightly white flecked cap, dark bill, a medium-sized tern, a little bigger than the Black Tern, not as big as Forster's or Common, though in flight it would be impossible for me to make size comparisons.

Soon the bird flew off back toward the beach. I wanted to see it stationary, so I headed back to the beach. Shari's attitude was that we'd already seen the bird. My attitude was we just drove 85 miles, I wanted to really see it. I met Andrew as he was coming off the beach and asked him if he'd seen the bird come back. He hadn't but started to scan the large flock of gulls and terns on the beach, which were occasionally being stirred up by oblivious beach walkers. He couldn't find it and then he did--flying over our heads again!

Back to the hawkwatch. Found the bird again and this time it was coming closer in for longer periods. I felt the platform getting more crowded behind me and heard someone tell "Pete" that the bird was present. I turned around and there was Pete Bacinski. He and Mike had been leading a trip to Brig (which because Shari was busy this morning, we didn't attend) and he had led his group down to Cape May to get this rarity. Pete and Mike managed to get the group on the bird, which was delightful for them.

It was way past lunch time but there was one more bird I wanted to get. Not a rarity, but one I didn't have for the year yet. On Lighthouse Pond a Common Gallinule had been reported.  Shari & I drove over to Lighthouse Road, found the cut into the pond and started scoping. Hank Burk, who was with Pete & Mike called out from the east shore, where the group had stationed itself, that the bird was on the far shore to our left. Shari, who is lot better at finding stuff than me, picked it out pretty quickly.

Common Gallinule recently had its name changed from Common Moorhen and most people still seem to prefer that name, even though as I point out every time the subject comes up that half of them aren't hens and there aren't many moors in North America. (On a completely irrelevant note, the Toledo Mudhens, a minor league baseball team made famous on M*A*S*H, have the folk name for American Coot. It amuses me that a baseball team of men goes under a feminine moniker.)

Not a lot of birds for the day, but a life bird outweighs quantity.
20 species
Mute Swan  10
Gadwall  2
Mallard  20
Blue-winged Teal  10
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret  2
Snowy Egret  1
Osprey  1
Bald Eagle  1
Common Gallinule  1
Laughing Gull  100
Caspian Tern  1
Black Tern  1
Common Tern  25
Forster's Tern  10
Rock Pigeon   1
Belted Kingfisher  1
Tree Swallow  20
Palm Warbler  1

Friday, September 12, 2014

Sandy Hook 9/12--Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

At this point in the year I only need one new bird to make the day seem a success. I went to Sandy Hook this morning to go on a field trip with Scott, hoping that I'd be able to add some warblers to my year list, or at least get some different warblers than the few species I see pretty easily in Pine Barrens. Not to be. Migration may be in full swing, but today the birds skipped the hook. I had exactly two warblers--a Northern Parula (not a bad bird actually) and an American Redstart. The group birded the bike path and the Road to Nowhere and we didn't turn up much. Even Tom Brown, the bird bander in residence there was coming up with little--catbirds.

However, when we returned to the Guardian Park lot Scott spotted an empid in a bare tree. For once, I was able to pick out the bird quickly and for once the bird stayed in place long enough for me to make an i.d.--Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.  Not only was it a year bird, but it was also a state bird for me. Empids are notoriously hard to identify, particularly in fall when they don't sing, but this one was close enough and lingered lone enough for us to get the relevant field marks.

The "death march" on the Fisherman's Trail out to the False Hook didn't produce much--a couple of Royal Terns were the highlights there. After the trip was officially over, Bob Auster and I decided to give the Road to Nowhere and the bike path another chance. Again we were coming up empty until after we completed the loop and found 2 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks in adjoining trees. One was an immature male, the other a female. I don't get to see many RBGRs in a year, so this was a particularly happy find for me.

Despite what seemed like a slow birding day, I did manage 41 species in my perambulations up and down the Hook.
Canada Goose  15
Northern Pintail  2     f/o fisherman's trail
Double-crested Cormorant  12
Great Blue Heron  1
Snowy Egret  1
Osprey  3
Broad-winged Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Clapper Rail  1     Heard, Horseshoe Cove
Black-bellied Plover  5
Semipalmated Plover  1
Sanderling  5
Short-billed/Long-billed Dowitcher  1
Laughing Gull  20
Ring-billed Gull  25
Herring Gull  25
Great Black-backed Gull  20
Forster's Tern  1
Royal Tern  2
Rock Pigeon  4
Mourning Dove  8
Downy Woodpecker  1     Heard, Guardian Parking Lot
Northern Flicker  1
Eastern Wood-Pewee  1
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher  1
Great Crested Flycatcher  1     Heard, Guardian Parking Lot
White-eyed Vireo  5
Tree Swallow  500
House Wren  2     Heard
Carolina Wren  3
American Robin  2
Gray Catbird  15
Northern Mockingbird  1
European Starling  25
Cedar Waxwing  15
American Redstart  1
Northern Parula  1
Eastern Towhee  8
Northern Cardinal  2     End of Road to Nowhere
Rose-breasted Grosbeak  2     End of Road to Nowhere
House Finch  2
American Goldfinch  5

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Great Sedge Island 9/10--A Circumnavigation

Greg & I did another canoe expedition out to Great Sedge Island today. We got a later start than usual as the weather was predicted to improve as the day progressed, but the sun was still playing hide and seek when we got in the water around 11:30. The tide was high and the weather gloomy--actually downright threatening--as we made our made through snake ditch. We weren't seeing much of anything other than hundreds and hundreds of Tree Swallows streaming overhead, flying north (figure that out). However when we got through the channel and out to the inlet (where the little purple tail is on the southern part of the map) we hit a bonanza of birds. The high tide must have concentrated them all in one place. There were dozens of oystercatchers, skimmers, 4 tern species, at least 60 pelicans, but the special birds were:
A Marbled Godwit feeding in the shallows, standing next to first an oystercatcher, then a Willet, giving us good size comparisons;
A Black Tern that we first saw swimming a few feet offshore which then merged itself (but still stuck out) in the large, mixed flock of terns on the beach;
And most oddly, a very early Common Eider, just molting into breeding plumage. We first saw the bird waddling on the beach into the water--I've never seen an eider on land--it then swam out into the inlet, but not before Greg was able to digiscope a good shot:

Common Eider
Photo: © Greg Prelich
All summer we've been exploring the area, probing a little farther each time, like the Portuguese mariners who explored the African coast, until today when we turned northwest we decided, like Vasco de Gama (yes, just like him), to make the turn and circumnavigate the island.

It was a hard pull for a while since the tide was going out as we were going in, but we made back to the bay just in time to see the sand bars start to emerge at low tide. We stopped at a hummock and scanned the water At first there were few birds, mostly gulls, resting in the shallow water. Just as Greg put the scope away I told him that a lot of large, reddish birds had just flown in. He reassembled the scope and there, for the 2nd time in a row, were 7 Marbled Godwits. The odd number leads us to believe that these are the same godwits we had last week (and that the single godwit at the inlet is also the same one we saw last week). We watched them for a long time before first one, then five, then the remaining godwit flew off, perhaps as impatient as we were for the tide to finally expose some ground.

Today's trip yielded 40 species for me. They were:
Mallard  2
Common Eider  1     
Double-crested Cormorant  100
Brown Pelican  60
Great Blue Heron  1
Great Egret  10
Snowy Egret  15
Little Blue Heron  1
Tricolored Heron  2
Green Heron  1
Osprey  2
Clapper Rail  2     Heard
American Oystercatcher  65
Black-bellied Plover  25
Semipalmated Plover  20
Willet  3
Marbled Godwit  7     
Ruddy Turnstone  5
Red Knot  1
Semipalmated Sandpiper  25
Short-billed Dowitcher  4
Laughing Gull  100
Herring Gull  100
Great Black-backed Gull  4
Caspian Tern  10
Black Tern  1
Common Tern  50
Forster's Tern  30
Royal Tern  25
Black Skimmer  60
Belted Kingfisher  1
Peregrine Falcon  2
White-eyed Vireo  1     Heard, boat launch
American Crow  1
Tree Swallow  1500     Huge flocks flying over in streams.
Gray Catbird  1     Heard
Northern Mockingbird  2
Saltmarsh Sparrow  2
Seaside Sparrow  2
Boat-tailed Grackle  3

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Brig 9/7--Wilson's Phalarope

The wonders of modern communications. From multiple digital platforms (email, Internet, text) many "interesting" birds were reported from Brig the last few days. Shari, Joan and I went down this morning to see if we could turn up any of them.

For once, the water in the pools wasn't too high (this has been a complaint all summer), and the channels out on the outer side of the drive had goodly amounts of mud, all fine for shorebirds. Which didn't help any on the first go-round as we only found the most common and expected of shorebirds. The happiest finds the first trip were at the exit ponds where we came up with a Pied-bill Grebe and 5 Wood Ducks (alas, still in eclipse).

Shari stopped in the Visitor's Center at lunch and saw that Greg had made some entries in the bird log there, so I gave him a call. He was back out on the dikes with his brother. We compared our findings and they had come up similarly dry. However, as we were making our way back onto the drive for the 2nd trip, Greg called me back to say that they had had a Wilson's Phalarope. "Had" was the crucial word; it had flown off. On our 2nd trip the tide was lower and mud more extensive but we still weren't picking up much new--a few Least Sandpipers and a Gull-billed Tern were added on the south dike. We were on the north dike when Greg called again--the bird was back in sight. This was not going to be a case of Too Late The Phalarope for me (whatever that means) so I sped along up the road about 3/4 of mile (amazing how long that seems at 15 mph) and found Greg and Rich setting up their scope. We got out and found the bird. It was easy. Here is my technique for spotting a Wilson's Phalarope in a flock of other shorebirds: Look for the craziest bird. That will be the phalarope. It was running back and forth snatching bugs just off the surface of the water or sand, tail up, head down, zig-zagging every which way. Dumb luck allowed me to digiscope a couple of photos when it strayed into where I had the lens pointed.
Then Shari, always a great spotter of rarities, found another one! It was about 100 feet to the left of the first, doing the same kind of dance. We had both in sight at the same time, so we knew we weren't just counting the same one twice. Unfortunately, while this one was closer, my camera was already back in the car and we'd move up the road to get a better angle on the second bird.

We also managed to come up with some Blue-winged Teal, not a big deal but first of season for me (I'm not sure if this summer or fall--summer by the calendar, fall for migration). For the day I managed 55 species, counting the eagle I saw sitting on a utility pole on the Mullica River as we passed over it on the parkway.
Canada Goose  30
Mute Swan  6
Wood Duck  5
American Black Duck  3
Mallard  4
Blue-winged Teal  6
Pied-billed Grebe  1
Double-crested Cormorant  100
Great Blue Heron  4
Great Egret  50
Snowy Egret  20
Black-crowned Night-Heron  2     Dogleg
Glossy Ibis  36
Turkey Vulture  2
Osprey  5
Northern Harrier  2
Clapper Rail  1     Heard, north dike
Black-bellied Plover  3
Semipalmated Plover  2
Greater Yellowlegs  15
Lesser Yellowlegs
Ruddy Turnstone  2
Least Sandpiper  5
Semipalmated Sandpiper  200
Short-billed Dowitcher  10
Wilson's Phalarope  2     
Laughing Gull  300
Herring Gull  100
Great Black-backed Gull  2
Gull-billed Tern  1
Caspian Tern  3
Forster's Tern  20
Black Skimmer  10
Mourning Dove  10
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1     Heard, picnic tables
Downy Woodpecker  1
Peregrine Falcon  2
White-eyed Vireo  1     Heard upland section
Blue Jay  5
American Crow  6
Tree Swallow  25
Carolina Chickadee  1     Heard picnic tables
Tufted Titmouse  2     Heard picnic tables
Carolina Wren  2     Heard
Gray Catbird  2
Cedar Waxwing  1
Common Yellowthroat  1     Heard, Gull Tower
American Redstart  1     picnic tables, either female or 1st year male
Northern Cardinal  2     picnic tables
Red-winged Blackbird  25
Boat-tailed Grackle  1
Brown-headed Cowbird  1     north dike with blackbirds
American Goldfinch  10

Sunday, August 31, 2014

August Wrap-up

"Sedge" seemed to be the theme of the month. We had our lifer SEDGE WREN at Bombay Hook this month and I made 3 canoe trips with Greg to Great Sedge Island off Island Beach. I'm not even sure what sedge is even after reading up on it a little--apparently it is a grass with triangular stems and spiraling flowers and there are 5500 varieties of it so I'm sure I've stumbled on some this month.

The month started off with me going to Whitesbog almost every day. The bogs were drained and for a little under 2 weeks abounded in shorebirds. Then the water got too low and the birds disappeared.
Pectoral Sandpiper, Whitesbog
But for a while there, we had a mini-Brig only 15 minutes away from the house.

We had a good trip to Delaware, adding 5 year birds there, and we made a number of trips to Brig. Shorebirds there, at Barnegat, on the sandbars around Sedge Island...we even got shorebirds on dirt when we birded the sod farms in Monmouth County.

There was also productive birding around the house, surprising for summer. A Merlin made an early appearance, counting as a rarity, and continued to perch for a number of nights at the top of the same dead tree in the drainage basin.

One night last week I went out to take pictures of it and found 6 Common Nighthawks flying overhead, while a pewee called from another branch in the tree. Then, after the Merlin flew off, a Cedar Waxwing came in to take it's place.

Cedar Waxwing

For the month I had 145 species, including 10 year birds.
Counties birded
Delaware: Kent, Sussex
New Jersey: Atlantic, Burlington, Cape May, Monmouth, Ocean
New York: New York
Species                First Sighting
Snow Goose     Bombay Hook
Canada Goose     Whitesbog
Mute Swan     Brigantine
Tundra Swan     Bombay Hook
Wood Duck     Whitesbog  (Ocean Co.)
Gadwall     Cape May Meadows
American Black Duck     Whitesbog
Mallard     Whitesbog
Northern Shoveler     Bombay Hook
Green-winged Teal     Great Sedge Island
Black Scoter     Port Mahon
Ruddy Duck     Bombay Hook
Northern Bobwhite     Bombay Hook
Wild Turkey     Whitesbog
Pied-billed Grebe     Whitesbog
Double-crested Cormorant     Whitesbog  (Ocean Co.)
Brown Pelican     Great Sedge Island
Great Blue Heron     Whitesbog
Great Egret     Whitesbog
Snowy Egret     Forsythe-Barnegat
Little Blue Heron     Whitesbog
Tricolored Heron     Great Sedge Island
Green Heron     Whitesbog
Black-crowned Night-Heron     Brigantine
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron     Brigantine
Glossy Ibis     Forsythe-Barnegat
Black Vulture     Whitesbog
Turkey Vulture     Whitesbog
Osprey     Forsythe-Barnegat
Northern Harrier     Brigantine
Cooper's Hawk     Brigantine
Bald Eagle     Prime Hook NWR
Red-tailed Hawk     Brigantine
Clapper Rail     Brigantine
Black-necked Stilt     Prime Hook NWR
American Avocet     Bombay Hook
American Oystercatcher     Great Sedge Island
Black-bellied Plover     Whitesbog
American Golden-Plover     Reed's Sod Farm--CR 526
Semipalmated Plover     Whitesbog
Piping Plover     Great Sedge Island
Killdeer     Whitesbog
Spotted Sandpiper     Whitesbog
Solitary Sandpiper     Whitesbog
Greater Yellowlegs     Forsythe-Barnegat
Willet     Great Sedge Island
Lesser Yellowlegs     Whitesbog
Whimbrel     Brigantine
Marbled Godwit     Great Sedge Island
Ruddy Turnstone     Great Sedge Island
Red Knot     Great Sedge Island
Stilt Sandpiper     Whitesbog
Sanderling     Great Sedge Island
Least Sandpiper     Whitesbog
White-rumped Sandpiper     Jarvis Sound
Buff-breasted Sandpiper     Brigantine
Pectoral Sandpiper     Whitesbog
Semipalmated Sandpiper     Whitesbog
Western Sandpiper     Brigantine
Short-billed Dowitcher     Whitesbog
Long-billed Dowitcher     Brigantine
Laughing Gull     Forsythe-Barnegat
Ring-billed Gull     Great Sedge Island
Herring Gull     Forsythe-Barnegat
Great Black-backed Gull     Forsythe-Barnegat
Least Tern     Brigantine
Gull-billed Tern     Whitesbog
Caspian Tern     Great Sedge Island
Black Tern     Brigantine
Common Tern     Great Sedge Island
Forster's Tern     Forsythe-Barnegat
Royal Tern     Great Sedge Island
Black Skimmer     Brigantine
Rock Pigeon     Berkeley--Pinewald-Keswick Rd
Mourning Dove     Whitesbog
Yellow-billed Cuckoo     Double Trouble State Park
Black-billed Cuckoo     35 Sunset Rd
Common Nighthawk     Whitesbog
Eastern Whip-poor-will     35 Sunset Rd
Chimney Swift     Double Trouble State Park
Ruby-throated Hummingbird     35 Sunset Rd
Belted Kingfisher     Cattus Island County Park
Red-bellied Woodpecker     Double Trouble State Park
Downy Woodpecker     Whitesbog  (Ocean Co.)
Northern Flicker     35 Sunset Rd
Merlin     35 Sunset Rd
Peregrine Falcon     Brigantine
Eastern Wood-Pewee     Whitesbog  (Ocean Co.)
Eastern Phoebe     Whitesbog  (Ocean Co.)
Great Crested Flycatcher     Whitesbog  (Ocean Co.)
Eastern Kingbird     Whitesbog  (Ocean Co.)
White-eyed Vireo     Whitesbog
Red-eyed Vireo     Bombay Hook
Blue Jay     Whitesbog
American Crow     Whitesbog
Fish Crow     Whitesbog
Horned Lark     Whitehall Crossroads - Leipsic
Northern Rough-winged Swallow     Whitesbog
Purple Martin     Whitesbog
Tree Swallow     Whitesbog
Bank Swallow     Whitesbog  (Ocean Co.)
Barn Swallow     Whitesbog  (Ocean Co.)
Carolina Chickadee     Whitesbog  (Ocean Co.)
Tufted Titmouse     Double Trouble State Park
White-breasted Nuthatch     35 Sunset Rd
House Wren     Whitesbog
SEDGE WREN     Bombay Hook
Marsh Wren     Bombay Hook
Carolina Wren     Whitesbog
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher     Whitesbog  (Ocean Co.)
Eastern Bluebird     Whitesbog
American Robin     35 Sunset Rd
Gray Catbird     Whitesbog  (Ocean Co.)
Brown Thrasher     Whitesbog  (Ocean Co.)
Northern Mockingbird     Island Beach SP
European Starling     Brigantine
Cedar Waxwing     35 Sunset Rd
Ovenbird     Whitesbog  (Ocean Co.)
Northern Waterthrush     Central Park
Black-and-white Warbler     Whitesbog  (Ocean Co.)
Common Yellowthroat     Whitesbog  (Ocean Co.)
American Redstart     Double Trouble State Park
Yellow Warbler     Brigantine
Pine Warbler     Whitesbog  (Ocean Co.)
Prairie Warbler     Whitesbog  (Ocean Co.)
Eastern Towhee     Whitesbog  (Ocean Co.)
Chipping Sparrow     35 Sunset Rd
Field Sparrow     Brigantine
Saltmarsh Sparrow     Great Sedge Island
Seaside Sparrow     Great Sedge Island
Song Sparrow     Whitesbog
Swamp Sparrow     Whitesbog  (Ocean Co.)
Northern Cardinal     Whitesbog
Blue Grosbeak     Brigantine
Indigo Bunting     Bombay Hook
Bobolink     Bombay Hook
Red-winged Blackbird     Whitesbog
Common Grackle     Whitesbog
Boat-tailed Grackle     Brigantine
Brown-headed Cowbird     Clara Barton rest stop
Orchard Oriole     Whitesbog  (Ocean Co.)
Baltimore Oriole     Whitesbog  (Ocean Co.)
House Finch     35 Sunset Rd
American Goldfinch     Whitesbog
House Sparrow     Clara Barton rest stop