Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Shark River Inlet 6/20

Brown Pelicans FOY USA
(click any photo to enlarge)
I had a dental appointment this morning in Sea Girt (or Sea Grit, as Shari likes to mispronounce it), which isn't far from the Shark River Inlet so I drove up there just for the fun of looking at the Least Tern breeding colony, while at the same time hoping I'd come up with something new for the year--I was thinking Royal Tern, hoping Roseate Tern, dreaming Sandwich Tern. There is a season, tern tern tern, but this was not the season.

However, there were other rewards. In amongst the 75 to 100 terns sitting on their ridiculously rudimentary nests were a few oystercatchers and large group
Semipalmated Plover
Piping Plover
of Black Skimmers, along with one Semipalmated Plover, a rarity, it seems, this time of year in Monmouth County. There was also a more exciting Piping Plover which, since they breed in NJ, aren't considered rare. Endangered yes, but you can find them if you look in the right places. This Piping Plover was probably immature, judging from both its coloration and its fearlessness around beachgoers. I'm sure none of the other people on the beach knew there was an endangered species right under their feet. Since the bird is the color of sand, I bet half of them didn't even see it.

I also had the pleasure of running into a birder I know and she and I spent a pleasant time watching the Least Terns fly in and out, some birds bring food to the nest sitters.
Least Tern delivering food to mama and chick
The highlight there was the two birds sitting very close to the edge of the colony that had chicks. I had never seen tern chicks before (juveniles of course, but not chicks) and these were adorable. Least Terns are feisty birds and they have to be to protect their young in such open, vulnerable conditions. Nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide and I'm sure the chicks are a tasty morsel for any of the 3 species of gulls commonly found on the beach this time of year, along with crows and who know what other random predators.

I happened to glance up and look north over the jetty which is when I spotted the 3 Brown Pelicans flying over the inlet. This is early for pelicans and I was excited to see them, not remembering that I'd already seen plenty of them when we were in Mexico in April. However: country bird, state bird, county lifer bird, month bird. Plus: fun bird. How can you not love seeing these "flying boats?"

I spent a little over an hour walking around the fenced off area. I don't know who maintains this area each year, but they do a good job and I'm thankful the birds are protected. Obviously, a bird that nests in such precarious circumstances (the skimmers and oystercatchers are in the same predicament) needs all the help and isolation it can get.

My list:
16 species
Double-crested Cormorant 1
Brown Pelican 3
American Oystercatcher 4
Semipalmated Plover 1
Piping Plover 1
Laughing Gull 6
Least Tern 75
Common Tern 2
Black Skimmer 42
Rock Pigeon 1
Northern Mockingbird 2 Chasing grackle
Song Sparrow 1 Heard
Northern Cardinal 1 Flying parallel with boardwalk
Red-winged Blackbird 1 In tree at entrance
Common Grackle 10
House Sparrow 5 On jetty and beach

Least Tern & chick

Sunday, June 17, 2018

High Point SP 6/17--Canada Warbler

It's a long drive to High Point SP to hear and (sorta) see one bird, but my trip up there with Mike (who, happily, doesn't mind a long drive) had other compensations. We did two loops around Cedar Swamp in the Kuser Natural Area at High Point, hoping we might hear, or perhaps flush, a grouse, or failing that (spoiler alert: we failed) get a couple of warblers on the year list. In that we were somewhat successful.

At the start of the trail we ran into a birder we know and she showed us where Canada Warbler was often heard. We'd just passed that spot and saw an unidentified bird that flew too fast and too far back. She heard the bird and pointed out it's sputtering little song--if it sounds like anything it sounds like someone giving you the raspberries. I heard it clearly enough but when it showed itself, briefly, I never got on it. On our 2nd loop, I did manage to see a flash of the bird as it jumped up off a branch and then down into the underbrush. Not the most satisfying listing, but that's warblers!

Warblers we were able to get good looks at were redstarts, Ovenbirds, Black-and-white Warblers, Northern Waterthrush and a single Black-throated Blue Warbler that posed high on a branch in the greenish-cast light of the woods.

But the real highlight of our trip was bird watching. The great thing about northern NJ is that you can see a lot of nesting birds. We saw a female redstart on the ground, which we thought unusual until Mike took a photo that showed her picking up a long stem for her nest and then we saw a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (which are long gone from our part of the state) visiting her nest and heard her cheeping chicks inside the hollowed out tree.

But the best was a Veery on a nest, something neither of us had ever witnessed.

I told Mike that perhaps it was anthropomorphizing, but there is something about a thrush or warbler sitting on its nest that makes them seem vulnerable and fragile. Perhaps it is because it is both incubating and protecting its eggs at the same time and it seems like a lot to ask of a little bird.

I came away with 27 species. I also broke the record for insect repellent, employing 4 kinds: Permethrin, Off spray, Off wipes, and Ultrathon lotion, all of which worked fine except for the flies bouncing off my eyeballs. Something to be said for wearing glasses.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird 2
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Eastern Wood-Pewee 3
Great Crested Flycatcher 1 Heard
Yellow-throated Vireo 1 Heard
Red-eyed Vireo 15
Blue Jay 2
Black-capped Chickadee 1
Tufted Titmouse 1
White-breasted Nuthatch 1 Heard
Veery 5
Wood Thrush 1 Heard
Gray Catbird 1 Heard
Ovenbird 15
Northern Waterthrush 2
Black-and-white Warbler 5
Hooded Warbler 1 Heard
American Redstart 6
Black-throated Blue Warbler 1 Singing
Prairie Warbler 2 Heard
Canada Warbler 1 Heard, saw shape fly
Chipping Sparrow 3
Eastern Towhee 2 Heard
Scarlet Tanager 2
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 1 toward end of loop
Brown-headed Cowbird 3 two in parking area, one on trail

Friday, June 15, 2018

Brig 6/15--Yellow-breasted Chat

I know it's irrational, but my trip down to Brig early this morning felt like cheating, as if I was being disloyal to a birding hot spot. But after three trips to the tick-infested fields around the Assunpink Navigation Field with no Yellow-breasted Chat to show for the miles of walking I put in, I decided to shift venues. In the words of W.C. Fields, "No sense making a fool of yourself." I know there are chats at Assunpink--two were reported today--but this year I just can't find them.

I'd heard from Mike, Pete, and Bob that Yellow-breasted Chats were singing (if you want to call "Blat-blat-blat" singing) in the upland section of the Wildlife Drive at Brig. The directions to the spot were precise. All 3 of them had heard them there, multiple times. But I didn't just want to hear them.

I arrived at Brig at 6:40 AM and instead of driving the loop, I walked the road starting at the exit. It is only about a mile to the grasslands area of the trail. Just as I emerged from the woods, I became aware of a "song," sounding something like a crazed mockingbird, or a mimid with no talent, and I became aware that I'd stumbled on a chat already, about 1/4 mile from where I thought I'd start searching. I heard the constant chattering of the bird and even caught a glimpse of it as it moved around in the small trees in the field. Well, I had it on the list, with a brief sighting, but I wanted more for my efforts.

I walked up the road, past the entrance to the Refuge Overlook (the Experimental Pond to old-timers) to the sign that explains "What Happened Here?" (they took a hydro-axe and cut everything down to make habitat for grasslands birds). Which seems to have worked because I immediately heard another chat, this one higher in an oak. I pished and pished and moved around the tree, peering up at different angles, trying to keep the sun from blinding me. I could see the bird moving around but all I'd catch would be a tail or flank. Finally, after about 5 minutes (it always seems like hours when you're trying to get the bird to come out) the chat perched on a branch, gave me a long sequence of blats and chats and I was happy as I viewed it in my binoculars. Finding it in the view finder of my camera was another, unsuccessful story.

I walked back to the car and started the loop. I figured everything else was going to be gravy today--this is a dull time of year at Brig--plenty of birds, but nothing unusual. Shorebirds, except for oystercatchers and Willets are gone. There are plenty of Willets and they turn up everywhere--in the marshes, on the roads,
on the antennae of the weather station
on signs and flying overhead calling pee-willet constantly.

Common Tern
Terns were around, mostly Forster's Terns, but I had a couple of Caspian Terns at the dogleg, a Common Tern at the Northeast Corner which is the only place you'll find them at Brig, and a couple of Gull-billed Terns toward the end of the north dike.
Gull-billed Terns
I was glad I got the chat early, because when I came to the spot in my car, it was nowhere in evidence. However, when I parked at the Refuge Overlook, I heard and then saw a chat flying in the brush.  Whether this was a third one or the same bird from a couple of hundred yards away I don't know. I left my count at two; I only need one. 

Finally, the other interesting scene I encountered was a flicker nest along the upland section of road, with a begging juvenile sticking its head out of the hole and the adult flying in to feed it. Something I'd never seen before.
Immature Northern Flicker, waiting for food
Because I spend a lot of time walking while I'm there, it took me 6 hours to accumulate 55 species. They were:
Canada Goose 220
Mute Swan 12
Mallard 25
American Black Duck 1 Gull Pond
Double-crested Cormorant 15
Great Blue Heron 2 Gull Pond
Great Egret 30
Snowy Egret 50
Glossy Ibis 4
Turkey Vulture 5
Osprey 15 each with its own photographer
Clapper Rail 1
American Oystercatcher 2
Willet 50 estimate
Laughing Gull 250
Herring Gull 50
Great Black-backed Gull 20
Gull-billed Tern 2 North dike
Caspian Tern 2
Common Tern 1 NE corner
Forster's Tern 50
Black Skimmer 50
Mourning Dove 4
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 2
Eastern Wood-Pewee 2 Heard
Willow Flycatcher 2
Great Crested Flycatcher 3 Heard
Eastern Kingbird 4 Along upland trail
White-eyed Vireo 2 Heard
Blue Jay 1 Heard
American Crow 1
Fish Crow 3
Purple Martin 15
Tree Swallow 20
Barn Swallow 7 Leeds Eco-trail
Carolina Chickadee 1 Heard
Tufted Titmouse 2
House Wren 1 Heard
Marsh Wren 3 Heard
Carolina Wren 2 Heard
American Robin 1
Gray Catbird 17
Common Yellowthroat 6 Singing
Yellow Warbler 3
Pine Warbler 1 Heard Jen’s Trail
Seaside Sparrow 10
Song Sparrow 2 Heard
Eastern Towhee 2
Yellow-breasted Chat 2
Northern Cardinal 2 Heard
Red-winged Blackbird 100
Brown-headed Cowbird 1 Upland section.
Boat-tailed Grackle 1 NE Corner
American Goldfinch 2
Eastern Kingbird

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Lakehurst NAES 6/13--Upland Sandpiper

Lakehurst Jump Circle
My annual trip to the Lakehurst section of the MDL Joint Base, looking for Upland Sandpiper in their only breeding grounds--the jump circle--in New Jersey. Last year I got skunked, but this year made up for it with at least 8 of the uppies showing well in the air and sounding off with their distinct "wolf whistle." The jump circle is 312 acres of grassland, divided into quadrants which are mowed and burned on a schedule that optimizes the breeding potential for the uppies, as well as for other grassland birds like Grasshopper Sparrow. John Joyce, the base naturalist, who does yeoman work keeping the military from harming the endangered species (animal and plant) that thrive on the base, said today that research shows that for unknown and peculiar reason, Upland Sandpiper prefers a round area to nest rather than rectangular, which leads me to wonder--How do birds know geometry?

We go to Lakehurst with a little list of target birds, Upland Sandpiper, of course, heading the list, but then we also want to see Grasshopper Sparrowü, Eastern Meadowlarkü, Horned Larkü , and one other that it looked like we were going to miss as we left the jump circle area after spending about 2 hours walking up and down the sandy roads. 

I was riding with Bob L, who had never been to Lakehurst and was thrilled with the birds he was getting. Bob & I met one day at Great Bay Blvd and in talking it turned out that he used to teach in the Woodbridge Public School system--a little time after I left but during the time my brothers were in school. Fortunately for him he never had them in any of his classes, else he might never have made it to retirement. Just as I said to Bob and his wife Kathleen that we'd done pretty well except for the one bird, and Kathleen said there was still time to find it, and I replied, not where we're headed next, the whole caravan of cars stopped and I knew it would only stop for a Common Nighthawkü so Kathleen was right. We all got killer looks as the bird flew over, vocalizing, and showing why this relative of Whip-poor-wills and Chuck-will's-widows has the "hawk" appellation. It seemed enormous and fast, much more like a raptor than a bird that "hawks" bugs. 

Common Nighthawk wasn't a year bird for since a few days ago Shari & I heard them flying over the house, but it is always great to get close up views of that bird. 

For the few hours we were on the base I tallied 23 species, but it was the 5 target birds that meant the most. 
Great Blue Heron 1
Turkey Vulture 2
Upland Sandpiper 8
Herring Gull 3
Mourning Dove 2
Common Nighthawk 1
American Kestrel 1
Eastern Kingbird 1
American Crow 1
Fish Crow 1
Horned Lark 3
Tree Swallow 2
Barn Swallow 1
American Robin 1
European Starling 3
Ovenbird 4
Grasshopper Sparrow 4
Field Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 1
Eastern Towhee 2
Eastern Meadowlark 4
Red-winged Blackbird 1
Common Grackle 1

Monday, June 11, 2018

Wesley Lake 6/11--Cliff Swallow

I know this looks more like a carp than a bird, but it's a Cliff Swallow
Shari was up in Asbury Park yesterday for an event and afterwards went to Wesley Lake to check out the Cliff Swallows that I told her were being reported there. Since my scout found them easily enough, I drove up there this morning after the rain stopped and walked on the bridge near the pedal boats. The swallows were not hard to find nor identify with their "headlights" on the foreheads, but they were impossible to photograph. Well, not exactly impossible since I did get one blurry picture by essentially sticking my camera out and letting it take pictures by itself.

The swallows are apparently nesting beneath the footbridge over the lake. They're well-known for doing this on bridges over the Raritan River in the western part of the state, but in Monmouth County they're considered rare. For me they're rare no matter what. The only other time I've seen them in the state was one of the few times I decided to be patient and looked at every swallow of about 500 on a utility wire down on Great Bay Blvd and came up with 498 Barn Swallows and 2 Cliffs.

Dragon, Swan, Duck, Flamingo, Heron, Black Swan
Wesley Lake, one of the many artificial ponds along the North Shore, is more attractive than most of them with a substantial stone footbridge that connects Asbury Park with Ocean Grove. Ocean Grove started life as, and still is, a Methodist Camp Ground. Hence the name of the lake, named after the founder of Methodism. When I was a kid visiting Bradley Beach to the south, we used to walk through Ocean Grove to get to Asbury Park and its pinball machines. We called it "Ocean Grave" since the whole town shut down on Sundays, including the ocean.  The pedal boats, I note, are moored on the Asbury Park side.

Least Tern on nest
I drove 10 minutes south to the Shark River Inlet and took a walk around the tern breeding colony. I was hoping for something rare but instead saw more Least Terns in one place than I've ever seen before. I counted 25 sitting on nests, which are little more than scrapes in the sand, and when they took to the air there were at least twice that many. There were a few Black Skimmers and a couple of oystercatchers to round out the nesters there. Another birder there said she had a tern with a black bill and I was hoping for Sandwich Tern but it just turned out to be a molting, or molted, Common Tern or perhaps a bird that never shed its immature plumage. Whatever it was, it wasn't rare.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Carteret 6/7--Monk Parakeet

Birding with Mom! Despite thrice-weekly dialysis sessions and macular degeneration, my 91 year old mother is still up for the occasional adventure, so, when she called me earlier in the week and asked if I would come up and write out her checks since her vision suddenly worsened, she also mentioned that maybe I would take her to "see" the Monk Parakeets in nearby Carteret.

I've been going to Carteret for 4 or 5 years to see the parakeets that colonized a residential section of the city but last year I missed them. I'd noticed in the previous years that a new, luxury (whatever that means in working class Carteret) condominium was being put up right next to their utility pole nest and feared that whatever "luxury" did mean, it didn't include squawking parakeets and that the nest would be destroyed. As it seems to have been.

However, Monk Parakeets are nothing if not tenacious, so this year they have regrouped and moved their operation over a couple of blocks to quieter street with small one-family houses. The nest is only about 20 minutes away from my mother's house but neither of us had ever been in that part of Carteret as we drove a circuitous route through the town. I saw the nest as we turned onto Heald Street and saw that birds were flying out of it. I was able to park directly underneath the next (granted, possibly not the best strategy if you worry about droppings, but I didn't want to make my Mom walk too much). I wasn't sure if she'd be able to see them, but I was pretty certain that even with her slight deafness she'd be able to hear them and the first squawk proved me right. She could see the bird in the nest (above) but when one came out and perched on a wire she could make out its silhouette. "They're much smaller than I imagined," she told me, not realizing that these are parakeets, not parrots. "Well, I see its outline, but I can't see any color," she sighed. In this case, I told her, it wasn't her eyes, because, since the bird was back-lit, all I could see was a silhouette too.

What I found most peculiar about this nest, which is a giant assembly of sticks and twigs surrounding the top of the light pole, was that it seemed to have more species sharing it than just parakeets. The first two birds that I saw fly out of it were robins and House Sparrows were also sitting right outside one of the nest entrances. I'd have to go back to see if this is truly a multi-species nest, which would be a new one for me, but today I didn't have the time to study the comings and goings, especially since I was in a resident's parking space. He was nice about it, understanding the attraction, but he also wanted me to move.

So my Mom got to add a life bird to her list, which, like most non-birders, is probably a lot bigger than she thinks. Driving her back home, after lunch, I was getting a little maudlin, thinking that since her eyesight is failing so quickly (according to her) that the parakeet might be the last bird she ever saw. Then I saw a mockingbird fly across the street in front of the car and called it out and she said, "Oh yes, I can tell mockingbirds just from their long tails." So, I guess there are still a few more bird sightings left for her.

My mother has always been interested in the birds Shari & I have seen and she used to be an assiduous reader of Pete Bacinski's birding column when it appeared in the Star-Ledger, but today was the first time I ever had the chance to take her out into the "field." A 3 species list with my Mom today means more to me than finding a 100 species tomorrow by myself.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Ocean City Visitors Center 6/6--Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

This was almost like cheating. Shari & I drove down to the Ocean City Visitors Center, on the causeway into Ocean City, to visit the heron rookery there. We hadn't added Yellow-crowned Night-Heron to our list yet in our various forays. Going to Ocean City is the birding equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel. A grove of trees in the marsh hosts nesting colonies of both night-herons and since the causeway is above the trees, it is easy to see the herons roosting on the branches. It is also a photographer's dream; there were a half-dozen today with their large lenses "capturing" the birds as they flew, flapped, and postured in the branches, making me feel pretty silly with my little camera, but I only really want an illustration for the blog and documentation. (Digression: coming from a print on paper background, I'm more than a little cynical about photography viewed on computer/tablet/phone screens. Since everyone's screens are calibrated differently, even the most perfect photographs are not going to show well on the majority of media. Hence, I don't care if my photos aren't perfect, because you're not looking at what I shot anyway.)

I listed 15 of the yellow-crowns, which I knew would get flagged on eBird. Anyplace else and that would be an extraordinary number of that species. Here, it is probably an underestimate. Aside from Tricolored Heron and Green Heron, we got all the herons and egrets you'd expect to find this time of year in a saltmarsh. We were light on shorebirds, but did get Shari's favorite bird, American Oystercatcher.

After about an hour we left the colony to the burgeoning crowd of photographers and drove into Ocean City proper, heading south to the Ocean City Preserve, a nice marsh with a viewing platform. There we did pick up Green Heron and best of all, Shari found a Common Gallinule swimming with Mallards. While not a year bird, the Common Gallinule was a state bird for the year. Then we had lunch and I restrained myself from listing the House Sparrows that were on the sidewalk outside the restaurant.

We other things to do, we headed back north and home with a little list of 26 species, not counting the sparrows.
Canada Goose
American Black Duck
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Glossy Ibis
Clapper Rail
Common Gallinule
American Oystercatcher
Laughing Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Forster's Tern
Barn Swallow
Common Yellowthroat
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Boat-tailed Grackle