Friday, March 27, 2015

Double Trouble 3/27--Eastern Phoebe

One week into spring and it is cold, damp, and dismal. I took a walk in the WMA this morning, forcing myself to get going despite the gloomy skies. Immediately, I heard the buzzy trill of Pine Warblers. For the first 2/3 of the walk, most of my birding was by ear, but when I reached the lake I hit a good pocket of birds that I could actually see. The happiest find for me was a large number of Golden-crowned Kinglets, a bird I haven't seen since the dead of winter. I guess they're starting to migrate now, but in which direction, I don't know.

Then late this afternoon, after it had stopped raining, again, I drove over to Double Trouble SP. It seemed pretty dead as I walked west to the reservoir but just before I reached the water I found a little area that was busy with birds, including about 8 Pine Warblers and Brown Creeper. The lake had the first dozen or so of over 80 Ring-neck Ducks that I would find throughout the park, and a loud cheeping sound puzzled me for a moment until I looked overhead and saw an Osprey fly above me. I don't mind relearning the warbler songs each spring, but it is a sad commentary on my memory when I can't remember what an Osprey sounds like.

A look behind the sawmill flushed a woodcock and a walk on the back bogs added more ducks and an American Coot, not a bird I often (if ever) see at DT. A couple was walking on the other side of the bog and I watched them to see if they would flush any birds. One did flush, but at first I couldn't figure it out from the distance until I realized that it was pumping its tail and was a gray and white bird that could only be an Eastern Phoebe. I heard a phoebe this morning in the WMA, but I'd rather list the one I see than the one hear. I walked over to that side of the bog but I couldn't refind the bird. I did come across a Yellow-rumped Warbler. They'll soon be scarce while the other warblers will be, I hope, abundant.

17 species for my 3 miles of bogs and pine forest.
Canada Goose  7
American Black Duck  5
Mallard  46
Ring-necked Duck  82
Hooded Merganser  4
Osprey  1
American Coot  1
American Woodcock  1     
Mourning Dove  1
Eastern Phoebe  1
Carolina Chickadee  1
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
Brown Creeper  1
Golden-crowned Kinglet  1     Heard
Pine Warbler  8
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1
Song Sparrow  1

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Finally! A Turkey in the Backyard

We haven't seen a turkey in our backyard since November. I was beginning to think they looked askance at our birdseed buffet, because others around the village have reported them. This morning, at 8:29, one male wandered through, looked around, then took a walk back into the woods.

With luck, he was a scout, and soon the Gang of Four (or more) will be back pushing the sparrows aside for the see.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sylvan Lake 3/22--Eurasian Wigeon

Eurasian Wigeon
We sandwiched a very nice year bird and rarity between two dips today. There always seems to be a Eurasian Wigeon somewhere in NJ, so I felt it was only a question of when that we'd get one, but I didn't expect to get such close and detailed looks as we did today. For a long time this winter a Eurasian Wigeon had been reported in the Shark River inlet, a little south of this location, but I never bothered to go up there because it is a big area to search. Sylvan Lake, on the other hand, is only a few blocks long and barely a block wide, so I felt our odds were a lot better. Shari (of course) spotted the bird almost immediately in a small flock of wigeons feeding on the lawn across the lake from us. Once you have the search criteria (brown head, gray body) the bird, if it is there, stands out against its green-headed, brown-flanked American cousins. In theory. In practice, usually the flock is far away, the lighting is lousy, and the bird is weaving in and out of the flock, or dabbling with its butt up in the air. That's how I've seen most of my Eurasian Wigeons. Wigeons, I read somewhere, spend more time grazing out of water than any other duck, but I've rarely seen them do so except in this area of the North Shore.

I took a few lousy digiscope photos from across the water, then we drove around the other side to see if we could get a better angle. It took a bit of looking but finally we were able to find a spot on a dead end street where we could observe the bird in with a few AMWI still eating whatever they find on a suburban lawn. That's when I took the photo above.

Before that stop we spent over an hour at the Manasquan Inlet looking for a drake King Eider that has been seen, off and on, for the last couple of weeks. I had a phone call from a fellow birder yesterday that he had seen it yesterday afternoon, in among thousand of scoters. Well, we saw the thousands of scoters with no problem, the overwhelming majority of them skunkheads (Surf Scoters) which seemed to form an endless line drifting north. We scoped the passing parade for as long as we could stand being in the wind then told ourselves that the eider had also drifted north. Our bonus bird though came courtesy of a couple of "civilians" who asked me if we were birdwatching (as if the binoculars and scope didn't give it away) and when I confirmed that we were, they pointed out a bird perched on the rain gutter of a condo. I put the scope on it and thanked them very much for the juvenile Merlin.  The bird was completely unperturbed by the all the activity on the boardwalk below and posed for as many pictures as we cared to take.

Our last location was unpremeditated. After shopping at Costco, we were parked at a Wawa when Shari saw a report from Assunpink that a Common (or Eurasian) Teal had been spotted there in with a flock of Green-winged Teal. While chasing a sub-species is not all that satisfying to me, there is always the possibility that the birds will someday be "split" and I would get an "armchair bird" on my list, so we drove over there. The flooded field where the birds had been seen in the morning was devoid of any ducks save one which I saw only in silhouette and it was too big, anyway, to be a teal. We checked the usual spots on the lake and while I did see one Green-winged Teal far off on the eastern end of the lake on the other side of the dam with some Ring-necked Ducks, it slid into the vegetation to quickly for me to see whether the flank strip was horizontal (American) or vertical (Eurasian). We did see a nice assortment of the usual ducks there plus, for Shari, her FOY White-crowned Sparrow in the reliable farm driveway just outside the WMA's border.

Our lists for the day. Including the Killdeer we had in the field next to the Wawa, we had 35 species in our wanderings.
Manasquan Inlet
12 species
Surf Scoter  3000     
Long-tailed Duck  100
Common Loon  15
Horned Grebe  3
Ring-billed Gull  10
Herring Gull  500
Great Black-backed Gull  10
Merlin  1   
American Crow  1     Heard
Fish Crow  1     Heard
House Sparrow  5     Heard

Sylvan Lake
14 species
Brant  200
Canada Goose  20
Gadwall  4
Eurasian Wigeon  1     
American Wigeon  25
Hooded Merganser  4
Red-breasted Merganser  3
Pied-billed Grebe  1
Horned Grebe  1
Double-crested Cormorant  1
Ring-billed Gull  100
Herring Gull  1
Great Black-backed Gull  2
Fish Crow  2

Assunpink WMA
19 species
Canada Goose  25
Mute Swan  6
Wood Duck  1     East end of lake
Gadwall  1
American Wigeon  4
American Black Duck  1
Mallard  1
Green-winged Teal  1     East end of lake
Ring-necked Duck  10     East end of lake
Lesser Scaup  2     East end of lake
Bufflehead  10
Red-breasted Merganser  2
Ruddy Duck  15
Pied-billed Grebe  2
Turkey Vulture  1
American Coot  15
Ring-billed Gull  2
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1
White-crowned Sparrow  1     

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Brig 3/21--Blue-winged Teal, Golden Eagle

We went out on our monthly Audubon trip to Brig on this first full day of spring. Our snowstorm from yesterday had virtually no impact on the Wildlife Drive and all the water is open, so ducks were abundant including our FOY Blue-winged Teal, a handsome duck that for some reason is hard to find in big numbers. By big numbers I mean "6" which is what I counted today and which eBird found notable.

eBird also has many of the birds we saw listed as "rare" now that it is spring. The Golden Eagle we saw today, first hovering over a flock of a thousand Snow Geese that it scared up and then by itself, a dihedral speck in the sky, is rare almost all of the time in NJ, but I was surprised to find myself having to list Tundra Swan, Red-necked Grebe, Rough-legged Hawk and American Tree Sparrow in the rare category. It's not these birds are reading the calendar and saying they better head north today.

The real find today though was a bird not listed as rare but still pretty hard to get during the daytime--Short-eared Owl.
Short-eared Owl
Photo: Shari Zirlin
This was a case of "look for the birder, not the bird." Mike saw a birder looking intently through his scope out into the marsh, stopped to ask what he had and when he found out, pulled the whole caravan over and we all got fabulous looks at this normally crepuscular bird. 

Another highlight of the trip for me was identifying a very distant cormorant as a Great Cormorant. It was perched up on a post far out in the bay and was for the most part a silhouette, but I stayed on the bird until it moved a bit and then saw the tell-tall white brood patch on its flank and knew I had the bigger of the 2 birds.  

For the day we 54 species, including Shari's FOY favorite bird, American Oystercatcher.
Snow Goose  1000
Brant  100
Canada Goose  50
Mute Swan  5
Tundra Swan  10    .
Gadwall  4
American Wigeon  5
American Black Duck  10
Mallard  5
Blue-winged Teal  6    
Northern Shoveler  10
Northern Pintail  100
Green-winged Teal  10
Canvasback  40
Ring-necked Duck  5
Greater Scaup  10
Lesser Scaup  4
Bufflehead  25
Hooded Merganser  10
Common Merganser  4
Red-breasted Merganser  5
Red-throated Loon
Pied-billed Grebe  1
Horned Grebe  3
Red-necked Grebe  1     Large grebe with long dagger-like yellow bill, seen in Turtle Cove
Great Cormorant  1
Great Blue Heron  2
Turkey Vulture  2
Golden Eagle  1    
Northern Harrier  2
Cooper's Hawk  1
Bald Eagle  1
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Rough-legged Hawk  1     Dark morph, perched in tree, seen from Gull Tower parking area.
American Coot  1
American Oystercatcher  2
Ring-billed Gull  1
Herring Gull  50
Great Black-backed Gull  10
Short-eared Owl  1
Northern Flicker  1     Heard upland portion
Peregrine Falcon  1
Blue Jay  1     Heard
American Crow  2
crow sp.  5
Carolina Chickadee  1
Tufted Titmouse  1     Heard, upland portion
White-breasted Nuthatch  1     Heard, upland portion
American Robin  10
American Tree Sparrow  1     Singing along south dike. 
Song Sparrow  5
Northern Cardinal  1     Heard, parking lot
Red-winged Blackbird  15
Boat-tailed Grackle  5
House Finch  1     Heard, parking lot

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Assunpink WMA 3/14--Wild Turkey, Lesser Black-backed Gull

I was supposed to go on a "Birds of Jackson" field trip led by Mike Mandracchia today, but inclement weather forced him to postpone the trip. That didn't mean that we couldn't go out exploring, though we did wait until mid-day when the rain eased up somewhat. We headed up to Assunpink where there are tremendous numbers of geese; we were interested in finding an odd looking one that was reported there this morning. We spent a long time in the drizzle scanning a mixed flock of Snow Geese and Canada Geese looking for the weird one and/or a Ross's Goose. We found neither but the number of geese, while down from what I saw there yesterday, was still impressive.

The lake was a little difficult to view because the warm weather and rain was creating a fog bank off the ice but we did manage the usual ducks. It was while we were going out on Imlaystown Road that the birding started to get interesting. First we found our FOY (for both of us) Wild Turkeys in a stubble field along the road. Finally. I usually have these birds in our backyard but they've been no-shows since November.

A specialty of Assunpink can usually be found just outside the border of the WMA in "the driveway across from the burnt house." We stopped there and scanned the muddy ground and found two White-crowned Sparrows, which Mike needed for the year. They were there yesterday too and will probably stick around until early April. Why that one spot is so reliable I don't know, especially since there is a cat that sits at the end of the drive that birds simply ignore.

A little farther south was field full of gulls. We saw it coming in and Mike said we'd check out later. First glance offered approximately 500 Ring-bill Gulls. Looking a more carefully we saw two larger gulls with charcoal gray mantles. They didn't look like Herring Gulls (though we did eventually find one in the flock) and they didn't weren't big enough to be Great Black-backed Gulls; one of them walked out of the stubble and we saw it's yellow feet and knew we had our FOY Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Eventually we saw two more gulls about the same size but in immature plumage. A consultation with Sibley's convinced us that we had two immature LBBG's also. Paler heads than immature GBBG and again, not a bulky.

I wish I'd taken a couple of pictures of the turkeys and gulls, but I would have had to get out of the car for that and wet weather put a damper on the idea.

Our list for Assunpink:
25 species
Snow Goose  500
Canada Goose  300
American Wigeon  2     In marsh on Imlaystown Road
Mallard  1     In field with SNGO & CANG
Northern Pintail  20
Ring-necked Duck  2     Marsh on Imlaystown Road
Bufflehead  2     West end of lake
Common Merganser  4     West end of lake
Ruddy Duck  15
Wild Turkey  7
Northern Harrier  1
Ring-billed Gull  500
Herring Gull  1
Lesser Black-backed Gull  4      2nd, 3rd, and 4th year birds.
Mourning Dove  5
Belted Kingfisher  1
Blue Jay  2     Heard
American Crow  1
Carolina Wren  1     Heard
American Robin  50
European Starling  5
White-crowned Sparrow  2
Northern Cardinal  2     Heard singing.
Red-winged Blackbird  500
Common Grackle  500

Red-necked Grebe
The rest of the afternoon was spent on the North Shore, starting at Seven Presidents Park (nothing) continuing down to a few ocean overlooks where we found Black Scoters and Greater Scaup, to Lake Takanassee where we were surprised to find 6 Canvasbacks plus a Merlin, down to the Shark River where the featured birds were a Horned Grebe and a Red-necked Grebe and finally wound up back in Ocean County at Gull Island Park at the end of the Manasquan River where we found an American Oystercatcher, my first one in Ocean County this year. The only other oystercatchers I've seen this year I was also with Mike, down on Brigantine Island near Atlantic City. 

There were a few other lakes we stopped at--some were "productive," some were not. In all I think I garnered around 55 species. Mike had a few more, including a Bald Eagle that I couldn't get on flying over the Shark River. 

For a half a day of birding in gloomy wet weather we had a very good day.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Whitesbog 3/12--Wood Duck

The Tundra Swans are back.
I hadn't been to Whitesbog since mid-January when I found exactly nothing. With the bogs and impoundments solid ice there was little reason to go. With the onset of the warmer weather I headed over there this morning and was pleased to find that the Whitesbog specialty--Tundra Swan--was back in good numbers. I counted 30 of them, which, while not a tremendous count, means you don't have to do a lot searching to see them.

Signs of spring were popping up--I saw my first Tree Swallows in quite a while, hunting over the water and a few Red-winged Blackbirds were noisily staking out their territories. I wasn't finding anything new though, until I wandered around way in the back in the Ocean end by the Upper Reservoir where there is an abandoned bog that sometimes has bluebirds roosting in the trees. No bluebirds, but I did flush my first Wood Ducks of the year.  They flew up and went squealing away in the direction of Fort Dix.

So, while not a lot birds to see, (19 species) I did find enough to stay interested on my 4+ mile walk.
Canada Goose    118
Tundra Swan    30
Wood Duck    2
American Black Duck    11
Mallard    12
Ring-necked Duck    24
Hooded Merganser    5
Black Vulture    2
Turkey Vulture    3
Red-tailed Hawk    1
Ring-billed Gull    3
American Crow    1
Tree Swallow    4
Carolina Chickadee    3
Tufted Titmouse    1
White-breasted Nuthatch    1
American Robin    3
Northern Cardinal    1
Red-winged Blackbird    5

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Crestwood Community Gardens 3/11--American Woodcock

Not far from us the original developer of our 7 "villages" set aside some land for a Community Garden. I don't know what it looked like back in 1973 when it started, but nowadays it resembles Tobacco Road. I would never have thought to go this ugly, muddy area except a couple of years ago Greg tipped me off that it was a good place to find American Woodcocks. And why not? It is perfect habitat--an open area near water (the mud puddles) and brushy patches to hide in and forage during the day.

So for the last couple of years we've been going over there and getting our woodcock tick. Today was not exception but shades of Short-eared Owl if I didn't once again prove the rule that you have to give up on the bird before you'll find it. Just as on Monday, I was heading back to my car, figuring I was either too early by day or time when I heard my first "peent!" The call came from a wooded area across Schoolhouse Road. I cross the street and stood there, no call, turned my back and the bird was vocal again.

So I was happy and then I saw a bird fly in and land near a puddle. There was just enough light for me to see the woodcock clearly in my binoculars for a few seconds before it flew off into the gloaming.

Put that bird with our first of the year backyard Red-breasted Nuthatch and it was a very good day notwithstanding the root canal this morning.