Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Cape May 6/20--Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks
Photo: Shari Zirlin
About 1:30 this afternoon, with the report of the Black-bellied Whistling Ducks on Shunpike Road, Shari could stand it no more and decided right then that we were going to Cape May. Which was fine with me, because last year, when the ducks showed up at this very same pond, I dithered so long about making the drive that when I finally decided to go, they were gone.

What there is about this little private pond that attracts these ducks, other than habit, is obscure to me. But there they were, among the geese, Mallards, and Laughing Gulls, looking goofy as always. This species turns up on almost annual basis in NJ, and they're always worth the trip to me. I love the way they look.

It didn't take any time to find them either--Shari leaned out the car window and found them naked eye. So we drove an hour and 45 minutes for a 1 minute bird (we actually spent 5 minutes admiring them). Then we drove over to the state park.

Things did not go as well over there. We spent two hours overlooking the beach, waiting for the Fork-tailed Flycatcher to reappear. It finally did--an hour and half after we left. Nor were there any shearwaters for Shari to add to her life list. We did, however, hear the piercing call of the Northern Bobwhite in the maintenance yard. It sounded like it was in the same tree as on Sunday, but this time there was no kind person to let us into the yard to view the back side of the tree.

Everything else we saw would be expected species; two American Oystercatchers, on the beach, one sitting in the sand as if on nest, filled out Shari's day. 2 out of 4 targets--not bad for a spur of the moment trip.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Cape May 6/18--GREAT SHEARWATER, Fork-tailed Flycatcher

Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Cape May SP
Mike and I made a rarity run today and we did pretty well. Despite some trepidation about the traffic, we drove down to Cape May State Park to see if we could get the Fork-tailed Flycatcher that showed up yesterday. Unlike the two rarities Shari & I saw at Bombay Hook on Friday, this, with its tail about one and a half times longer than its body, is a "Wow" bird, visiting from South America.

The location of the bird wasn't hard to figure out once we saw the line of birders on the ramp to the beach. Naturally, the bird hadn't been seen for about 15 minutes--we really didn't want a long wait because the light traffic we had coming down wasn't going to last all day, especially going back. Meanwhile, birders with scopes were calling out shearwaters in the rips. We hadn't taken our scopes out of the car, so we went back for them, Mike making a detour. I was scanning the ocean, hopelessly, looking for any birds on, in, or over the water, when Mike came back saying that he had seen the Northern Bobwhite that has been resident in the park for a couple of months. I knew the bird was there but he'd forgotten about it. It was a year bird for him, but I'd heard one just on Friday and seen one at Colliers Mills earlier in the year. Still, always a good bird, so I went back down the ramp to find it, behind the line of buildings. Just as I was peering into the maintenance yard, I heard a roar go up and knew I was missing the flycatcher. I ran back. Bird was gone. Mike was chuckling. Now I was 0 for 2. My bad mood lasted only a moment because the flycatcher returned and I got great looks and decent pictures.

Then we turned our attention to the sea. Mike was describing where the shearwaters were, in the flocks of gulls, but no matter how hard I looked, my eyesight was glaucous without the gull. Finally I saw some white specks flying low over the water and realized people were identifying them as species~! Then Mike and another guy were describing the flight of a GREAT SHEARWATER and I had no clue as to where in the vast ocean they were looking when the first miracle of the day occurred--the bird flew right into my scope view and I was able to track it for 20 or 30 seconds. Compared to the specks I was seeing this was at least identifiable as a bird, with dark wings and white band on its rump. Good enough to take as a life bird. Great Shearwaters are not considered rare this time of year but they don't often come in close enough to shore to view. You need to go on a pelagic and Larry don't do pelagics.

Someone mentioned that a Purple Gallinule had been reported in Ocean City, about 30 miles north. At first I thought they were talking about the bird that was in Ocean Grove last month, but no, this was a different place (definitely) with a different bird (possibly). Mike missed last month's bird, so we decided to drive up to Ocean City traffic be damned. But first, let's find that bobwhite.

Northern Bobwhite
It was calling really loudly in the maintenance yard but we couldn't find it. A worker there said it was in a tree and kindly let us into the yard providing we didn't linger. We found the bird, I took a few quick shots and one of them turned out well. The provenance of this bird can be disputed. The coolness of it cannot. The score so far: 2 rarities, 2 year birds, 1 life bird. Not yet 10 o'clock.

Northern Shoveler
I had a vague notion of where the Ocean City Preserve was, having been there once about 8 years ago, but the Google directions, unfortunately took us to the back of the refuge. After some lefts and rights, we eventually found the little boardwalk to the observation tower that I remembered. There were a few birds in the wetlands, but the place wasn't jumping. The most interesting bird we noticed was a very out of season drake Northern Shoveler. Nice to see, but not a bird you'd drive into Ocean City for.

Purple Gallinule (digiscoped)
We'd met one of our birder friends down at the state park, where the flycatcher and bobwhite had been lifers for her and now she came up to the deck, hoping to add a third. There were a lot of reeds, bushes, and high grasses that the gallinule could be hiding in. It wasn't going to be like the Ocean Grove bird, wandering around the street. We three were talking and looking for about 10 minutes when the second miracle of the day occurred--I found the bird. When I'm by myself, obviously, I find birds. But when I'm in a group, I almost never find the target. In fact, if I can get on the bird without tedious directions about angled tree limbs or open patches of darker water, that's an accomplishment. But today, I was scanning and bang--the bird was across the water on a little island. Mike and Lisa both got on the bird immediately with only some rudimentary range-finding from me--"over there" and the score for rarities rose to 3 1/2 (the shoveler doesn't count as a full-blown rarity). This is another great looking bird--unfortunately, my photographs (digiscope and digital) don't do it justice.

Back on to the Parkway, heading north, where the traffic around Atlantic City was in mid-summer form. We did a loop of Brig (our original destination) where we weren't able to locate the Wilson's Phalarope of last week but where we did get the long-staying Black-headed Gull, which has molted into full breeding plumage, making it much more difficult to differentiate from the hundreds of Laughing Gulls--the trick is find the gull with a brownish hood (Black-headed Gull with a brown hood, yeah, that makes sense) that does not come all the way down the nape of its neck. For the day we had around 80 species, but it was quality not quantity that made it fun--especially considering that June is notoriously a "slow" birding month. As I said, we did very well. And beat most of the traffic.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Bombay Hook 6/16--Little Egret, American Avocet, LITTLE GULL

Little Egret looks pretty much like a Snowy Egret
until you see those TWO plumes sticking up
When Shari & I lived in Brooklyn, the trip to Brig was long, at least a couple of hours each way, but we always did it in one day. When we moved down here, much closer to Brig (45 minutes), we realized that Bombay Hook in Delaware, about 2 1/4 hours away, could be done as a day trip, but up until today, when because of some musical festival in Dover we couldn't find a motel room to reserve, we never had. And we really wanted to go there because there were two cool birds that had been hanging around for over a week and we didn't want to miss them.

I chased Little Egret in New Jersey a couple of months ago and missed it in Heislerville, so another one showing up in Delaware was a second chance I didn't want to pass up. And it is "another" because the Jersey bird, I'm told, is possibly a hybrid, since it had a couple of blue spots on its plume and head that this bird clearly does not have. We arrived around 10:30 and went straight to the Raymond Pool, the first pool on the meandering drive and saw 3 small white egrets, one of which, we were convinced was the Little Egret, (absence of yellow lores) but it wasn't wholly convincing. Another birder there had seen many of them, he said, in Taiwan (hey, that's why it's a big deal rarity here) and when he took a close look he nixed the bird. Meanwhile, we did see, very distantly in our scopes, a LITTLE GULL, the other rarity we came for and a life bird. Little Gull shows up in NJ on fairly regular basis, but almost always in places I don't go and usually in big flocks of gulls where my chances of finding it are small. Here, it was the only gull we saw all day. It was far back at the edge of the pool and in our scope we could see enough of detail to call it a Little Gull, but it wasn't the most satisfying of looks for a life bird.

Meanwhile, after having our Little Egret sighting smashed to smithereens we continued on to the next pool, the Shearness. We saw a large flock of Snowy & Great Egrets very close to the road but now Little Egret mixed in. However, just ahead of us, the birder who knew whereof he spoke, signaled to us to drive up about 50 yards. There, nestled in the phragmites with about 6 snowies, was our bird. We'd seen one in France 10 years ago but this was our ABA bid.
In the middle--look for the plumes
Meanwhile, what normally would have been the two birds we especially look for at Bombay Hook, American Avocet and Black-necked Stilt, were instead, duly noted.

We drove around the other pools (Bear Swamp and Finis) and had lunch, then went back out to see what else we could pick up. At the Raymond Pool the Little Egret was back and close enough to get decent photos of it, especially photos showing the the two (as opposed to the Snowy Egret's one) breeding plumes. The Little Gull was still sitting at the back edge of the pool, too far for photography. Shari wondered if we could see it better from the observation tower that was back there. That seemed like a good idea and another birder there though it was two, so we drove all around the pool (it's one way on that section) to get back to the observation tower. Shari & I started down the road and were immediately met by a cloud of Greenhead Flies. We walked a few yards and Shari, being the more sensible one in this marriage turned back, figuring, "this is a bird, not God." I, of course, really wanting to see the bird better, ran the gauntlet of greenheads, followed soon by the other birder and it was a good thing she was there, spitting out flies with me, because I was disoriented and couldn't find the bird from our new position. I was look way too far out when it was actually comparatively close to us. Comparatively. It was still too far to get a decent photo, but I did see it's blotchy head, small bill, and dark, carpal bar on the wing. This is the best photo I could get:
It really isn't much to look at and neither, truth be told, is the Little Egret. They're not "wow" birds. They're white, slightly different birds than usual, and the real thrill goes to the birder who picks them out. All the rest of us are just chasing and checking but that's the game we play.

The one other notable bird was practically the first bird of the trip--we heard a Northern Bobwhite as soon as we got out of the car at the visitor's center. In NJ, bobwhite listings are looked at askance; in Delaware it is just another bird on the expected list.

It was a good trip despite the greenheads, which seemed particularly vicious, maybe because on the first day you encounter them you're just not prepared for the onslaught. After our 2nd trip around, where we managed to get the list up to 52 species, we drove the few miles into Dover and had dinner at our favorite Indian restaurant, Flavors of India, which is part of a Motel 8 on Du Pont Highway. Highly recommended.

Canada Goose 25
Mute Swan 2
American Black Duck 1
Mallard 15
Northern Bobwhite 1 Heard parking lot
Great Blue Heron 6
Great Egret 65
Little Egret 1
Snowy Egret 30
Glossy Ibis 15
Turkey Vulture 1
Bald Eagle 3
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Clapper Rail 1 Heard
Black-necked Stilt 5
American Avocet 1
Killdeer 2
Semipalmated Sandpiper 50
Greater Yellowlegs 8
Willet (Eastern) 1
Forster's Tern 1
Black Skimmer 2
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1 Heard
Downy Woodpecker 1 Heard Finis
Great Crested Flycatcher 1 Heard
Eastern Kingbird 2
Red-eyed Vireo 1 Heard Finis
Fish Crow 1
Purple Martin 20
Tree Swallow 5
Barn Swallow 1
Carolina Chickadee 1
Tufted Titmouse 1 Heard Finis
Marsh Wren 10
Wood Thrush 1 Heard
American Robin 3
Gray Catbird 10
Brown Thrasher 1
Ovenbird 1 Heard. Finis
Common Yellowthroat 15
Yellow Warbler
1 Heard
Field Sparrow 5 Heard
Eastern Towhee 1 Heard
Scarlet Tanager 1 Heard
Blue Grosbeak 2
Indigo Bunting 1
Red-winged Blackbird 30
Common Grackle 4
Brown-headed Cowbird 2
American Goldfinch 6
House Sparrow 4

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

It only takes a MOMENT to proofread a sub-head

From BirdWatching 
It's not a MONUMENTAL task.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Mercer Corporate Park 6/11--Least Bittern

The latest rarity to show up at magical Mercer Corporate Park--where in the recent past Barnacle Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose, Red Phalarope (!), and Common Gallinule have all been sighted and which still hosts a very vocal King Rail--is Least Bittern. If you think finding an American Bittern is difficult, then try finding this bittern, which is about half the size and a lot shyer.

So this morning, Mike and I decided to run over there and give it a try. We arrived about 7:30 and there were already a few birders peering into the reeds of the second pond. The bittern and the rail had both been sighted, we were told, though past is not prologue with these two birds since if they decide not to be seen, they will not be seen.

After about a half hour of standing around, where Willow Flycatcher and Orchard Oriole were the highlights, we heard a squawk and the bittern flew out of the phragmites, glided to a branch, perched for a moment, then dropped back down into the reeds, where, however, we were able to locate it and with a scope, see it very clearly. That there was a horizontal log in the vicinity helped with location directions. Photography, unfortunately, was not an option once I missed the perching opportunity.

Always good to get a year bird and I felt compelled to say, yet again, that while my Mercer County list isn't very large, what's on it is tasty. We were just about to leave when the King Rail started to call--KEK-KEK-KEK-KEK--which was just gravy.

Having only spent 37 minutes there and feeling pretty frisky, Mike suggested we go over to the Pole Farm (once an AT&T transmission array, though most of the poles are down) and look for Bobolink. We walked through the grasslands on both sides of the park for a distance of about 2 miles but it appears the Bobolinks are on nest and not inclined to show themselves. We had to settle for sightings and hearings of Grasshopper Sparrow, Scarlet Tanager, a couple of kestrels, Least Flycatcher, Indigo Bunting (which, by the way, isn't indigo, which is fine, since indigo as a color doesn't actually exist--Newton just threw it in there because he thought the number of colors in the spectrum should match the number of musical notes) and spectacular looks at a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak--again, photography was not an option as these auto-focusing cameras insist on focusing on the branches and leaves and not the bird.

In fact, the only picture I took all day was of this Field Sparrow--we were hearing them pretty often today (some of them doing what can only be described as a backward bouncing ping-pong ball song), but this one, the only one I saw, was posted up on a branch and was content to just stay there.

So Bobolink remains unsighted and unheard, though hearing their little "plink" flight calls overhead will not be very satisfying. Someone said that early in the morning at the Pole Farm the Bobolinks are out, but the place is a good hour away from here and maybe more with weekday traffic on I-195, so I may have to seek other options.

My list for the day came out to 48 species
Species               Location
Canada Goose  Mercer Corporate Park
Least Bittern  Mercer Corporate Park
Great Blue Heron  Mercer Corporate Park
Green Heron  Mercer Corporate Park
Turkey Vulture   Pole Farm
King Rail  Mercer Corporate Park
Mourning Dove   Pole Farm
Chimney Swift  Mercer Corporate Park
Red-bellied Woodpecker   Pole Farm
Downy Woodpecker   Pole Farm
Hairy Woodpecker   Pole Farm
American Kestrel   Pole Farm
Eastern Wood-Pewee   Pole Farm
Willow Flycatcher  Mercer Corporate Park
Least Flycatcher   Pole Farm
Great Crested Flycatcher   Pole Farm
Red-eyed Vireo   Pole Farm
Blue Jay   Pole Farm
American Crow   Pole Farm
Tree Swallow   Pole Farm
Barn Swallow  Mercer Corporate Park
Carolina Chickadee   Pole Farm
Tufted Titmouse   Pole Farm
House Wren   Pole Farm
Wood Thrush   Pole Farm
American Robin   Pole Farm
Gray Catbird   Pole Farm
Northern Mockingbird  Mercer Corporate Park
European Starling   Pole Farm
Cedar Waxwing   Pole Farm
Ovenbird   Pole Farm
Common Yellowthroat   Pole Farm
Yellow Warbler  Mercer Corporate Park
Grasshopper Sparrow   Pole Farm
Chipping Sparrow  Mercer Corporate Park
Field Sparrow  Mercer Corporate Park
Song Sparrow  Mercer Corporate Park
Eastern Towhee   Pole Farm
Scarlet Tanager   Pole Farm
Northern Cardinal   Pole Farm
Rose-breasted Grosbeak   Pole Farm
Indigo Bunting   Pole Farm
Red-winged Blackbird  Mercer Corporate Park
Eastern Meadowlark   Pole Farm
Common Grackle  Mercer Corporate Park
Brown-headed Cowbird  Mercer Corporate Park
Orchard Oriole  Mercer Corporate Park
American Goldfinch  Mercer Corporate Park

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Barnegat Light SP 6/9--Brown Pelican

I made my warm weather trek to Barnegat Light in search of a few birds that I like to see--especially in the county. I was successful with 3 out of 4.

Piping Plover outside it's nest
The endangered Piping Plover has a number of nests at the south end of the Long Beach Island at Holgate, and because of that, Holgate is closed spring & summer. Barnegat Light, being a state park, can't close for birds, and it usually has one pair of nesters. About 3/4 of a mile of the beach gets stringed off, leaving only a narrow corridor to walk down. The plovers scratch out their nest in the sand and whoever is monitoring these birds places a cage on top of the nest so that the gulls, crows, and who know what other predators can't get to the eggs. I saw one plover running on the beach and another sitting on the nest. However, just looking at the bird on the nest was enough to get it run out of the cage. It doesn't look like any eggs have hatched as of yet.

American Oystercatcher with chicks
American Oystercatchers also nest within the confines of the strings and they have bred successfully. One of the oystercatchers and one of the plovers were banded--the oystercatcher has T2 plastic bands and a metal band I couldn't read, the plover's band are colored and if there is any information on them it is much too small for me to read.

I was also looking for terns--Common & Royal. Got the former, missed the latter. The year bird for the day was a single Brown Pelican flying north along the shore--a bit early for them but a nice semi-surprise.

Red-throated Loon
There were two other surprises on my walk--the first was hearing the "pit-za!" call of the Acadian Flycatcher in the maritime forest that is across from jetty--county bird. The 2nd, and somewhat more interesting sighting was a very late Red-throated Loon off the beach. My first surmise was that it was a Common Loon, some of which do hang around all summer, but the gray face, beady eye, and especially the turned up beak, gave it away as the rarer (for this time of year) loon. I managed one really crappy photo to prove my sighting. If you click on the photo you can view it larger and crappier.

I'll find a Royal Tern somewhere, eventually, but at least I don't have to fight the summer traffic to get the other birds now.

26 species
Mallard 4
Red-throated Loon 1
Double-crested Cormorant 9
Brown Pelican 1
Great Egret 2
Glossy Ibis 4 in marsh across from jetty
Osprey 2 nesting in channel marker just outside the inlet
American Oystercatcher 4
Piping Plover 2
Laughing Gull 2
Herring Gull 25
Great Black-backed Gull 20
Common Tern 1
Acadian Flycatcher 1 Heard
Eastern Kingbird 2
American Crow 1
Fish Crow 10 saw many mobbings of crows by Red-winged Blackbirds
Tree Swallow 1
Barn Swallow 20
Northern Mockingbird 2
Common Yellowthroat 2 Heard maritime forest
Yellow Warbler
1 Heard maritime forest
Song Sparrow 5
Red-winged Blackbird 25
Common Grackle 2
House Sparrow 10

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Lakehurst NAES 6/8--Upland Sandpiper, Common Nighthawk, Barred Owl, Eastern Meadowlark

Part of the jump circle--ideal habitat maintained for
Upland Sandpiper
I went on the annual Audubon trip to the former Lakehurst Naval Base (now part of the the Joint Base MDL along with McGuire and Dix). It is THE place in New Jersey to see Upland Sandpiper. This was my 6th year going to the old jump circle; in previous years the weather has been blazingly hot or miserably damp or too damn windy, but today's conditions were ideal--partly sunny, mid-60's, no breeze. The uppies were flying and chittering as we got out of the cars, so the anxiety of finding them (we got skunked last year) immediately vanished.

The jump circle's quadrants are maintained for nesting Upland Sandpipers, as well as grassland sparrows and Common Nighthawks (which we also saw flying today) by mowing 3 sections and burning one on a rotating basis. Walking up and down the dirt roads we also found Horned Larks, Grasshopper Sparrows (buzzing and perching up on bushes fairly close), and an Eastern Meadowlark that blended in nicely with the surrounding foliage except for its yellow breast.

Northern Pine Snake
My interest in animals without feathers is usually pretty low, but one of our group found a snake close to the road and when we called out to John Joyce, the base naturalist, that we had a snake he asked if it was white with black splotches. It was and he came over walked into the field and picked it up. It was a life snake for me (and most others in the group), a Northern Pine Snake. John, when he finds one, tags them by putting a little chip beneath the skin. This one turned out to be a female (slimmer in the back than a male). The males are equipped with two penises--always good to have a spare, I guess. While Pine Snakes aren't poisonous they will occasionally bite and somehow that little head is able to eat mice, bird's eggs, and sparrow chicks.

After the jump circle we made a couple of more stops at spots the yield reliable birds. Near a runway where gigantic gray cargo planes were flying 75 feet over our heads doing "touch and goes" we found the usual American Kestrel and Pete spent about 10 minutes imitating a Barred Owl.  He does an amazingly realistic call, but after a while you start to think this is pretty nutty behavior. You think that until the Barred Owl calls back!

Our final stop was at location where the Hindenburg touched down in the great disaster of 1937. "Oh the humanity!" Interesting factoid: Where the Hindenburg crashed was not Lakehurst--it is actually in Manchester (my town). In fact, none of the Lakehurst base is actually in Lakehurst--it is split between Manchester and Jackson.

On the old hangar, Common Ravens nest. There was one flying around that most of the group saw. I saw a black bird on the water tower, but without a scope to verify identity, I didn't count it--I have plenty of ravens for the year in both the state and the county.
Site of the Hindenburg Disaster
Since I was concentrating on getting the charismatic birds, I let some species go by, so my list is not as long (padded) as it could be.
35 species (+1 other taxa)
Green Heron 1
Black Vulture 1
Turkey Vulture 6
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Killdeer 2 Heard
Upland Sandpiper 5
Mourning Dove 2
Barred Owl 1 Heard

Common Nighthawk 1
Northern Flicker 1 heard
American Kestrel 1
Eastern Kingbird 4
crow sp. 1
Horned Lark 2
Purple Martin 1
Tree Swallow 1
Barn Swallow 1
House Wren 1 Heard
Carolina Wren 1 Heard
Eastern Bluebird 1 Heard
Wood Thrush 1 Heard
American Robin 3
Gray Catbird 2 Heard
Cedar Waxwing 1
Ovenbird 3 Heard
Common Yellowthroat 1 Heard
Pine Warbler 1 Heard
Grasshopper Sparrow 3
Chipping Sparrow 1 Heard
Field Sparrow 2 Heard
Eastern Towhee 1 Heard
Red-winged Blackbird 10
Eastern Meadowlark 1
Common Grackle 10
Orchard Oriole 1
House Finch 1 Heard