Saturday, July 13, 2019

Brig 7/13--Least Bittern, White-faced Ibis

Black-crowned Night-Heron
Here's another Law of Birding (I haven't decided which number on the list it is): If you want to see good birds, go birding with good birders.

I added two year birds to the list today that, had I been by myself, I probably would have overlooked. But since I was on a NJ Audubon field trip at Brig, a fast, cackling call I would have thought was a Clapper Rail instead turned out to be my first Least Bittern of the year. Scott identified it. I've heard Least Bitterns before, but always a softer, cooing kind of call, but Scott, with way more experience hearing them than me, knew it wasn't a rail but a bittern. It did sound a little odd for a clapper, but I wouldn't have guessed bittern.

Later, at the dogleg, Dave, another excellent birder was looking one way when all the rest of the group was looking the other and he found, buried in the vegetation, an immature White Ibis. Not a year bird for me, but it always perks up the day to find one. Then Bill, looking right, spotted another one, so we had two examples of this rarity, though they seem to be showing up in increased numbers lately.

White-faced Ibis
Finally, on our second trip around, just before we were about to enter the upland portion of the drive, Jason spotted a White-faced Ibis, giving us the ibis trifecta. We'd been looking for one all day and he pulled one out of the hat at the last minute.  I would never have recognized this molting individual as anything but the standard issue Glossy Ibis, but those who know what to look for--and have the patience to examine each bird--will usually find the outlier. It was a skittish bird and while I got on it pretty quickly--it is was right in front of us in the channel--given the light and brevity of the sighting it is really an "if you say so" bird for my list. But since I went all of last year without ever tracking one down, I'll take it. The two pictures I took of it prove nothing.

A few other interesting birds we saw today were certainly out of season--a lone Ruddy Duck that has been hanging around the refuge, an early Northern Harrier which the blackbirds were not happy to see, and the two Snow Geese that never left with the other thousands of their brethren. Amusingly, one Snow Goose is not considered rare at Brig in the summer. However, two is considered a "high count" and gets flagged. I have a standard explanation for these situations in my eBird comments: Exact Count. Scott uses "1x1 count." Two fewer keystrokes yet equally huffy.

So with all these good birders (throw Mike, Linda, Carole & Bob into the mix), it isn't surprising that I came away with a list of 75 species for the day. And the greenhead flies weren't even all that bad!

Snow Goose  2    Exact count
Canada Goose  100
Mute Swan  35
Wood Duck  1
Blue-winged Teal  2
Mallard  5    ducklings at dogleg
American Black Duck  4
Ruddy Duck  1    Continuing small duck with stiff tail.
Mourning Dove  2
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  1
Clapper Rail  8    Heard young ones in the morning, saw chicks in the afternoon
American Oystercatcher  3
Whimbrel  1
Least Sandpiper  3
Semipalmated Sandpiper  25
Western Sandpiper  1
Short-billed Dowitcher  25
Spotted Sandpiper  2
Greater Yellowlegs  20
Willet  6
Lesser Yellowlegs  10
Laughing Gull  50
Ring-billed Gull  1
Herring Gull  10
Great Black-backed Gull  3
Least Tern  7
Gull-billed Tern  6
Common Tern  2
Forster's Tern  45
Black Skimmer  15
Double-crested Cormorant  25
Least Bittern  1    Heard around marker 4
Great Blue Heron  7
Great Egret  30
Snowy Egret  10
Tricolored Heron  1
Black-crowned Night-Heron  5    Scattered around the refuge
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron  2
White Ibis  2    Immature mottled brown And white with orange beaks. At dogleg. 
Glossy Ibis  50
White-faced Ibis  1    Red eye. Seen briefly in channel off north dike. Very skittish.
Turkey Vulture  3
Osprey  10
Northern Harrier  1    Mobbed by blackbirds.
Bald Eagle  1
Willow Flycatcher  1
Eastern Phoebe  1
Eastern Kingbird  1
White-eyed Vireo  2    Heard
Blue Jay  1    Heard
American Crow  1
Fish Crow  2
Purple Martin  20
Tree Swallow  10
Bank Swallow  5
Barn Swallow  10
Carolina Chickadee  1    Heard
Tufted Titmouse  1    Heard
White-breasted Nuthatch 1 Heard parking lot
House Wren  1    Heard
Marsh Wren  6
Carolina Wren  2    Heard
Gray Catbird  2
European Starling  20
American Goldfinch  4    Heard
Chipping Sparrow  2
Seaside Sparrow  7
Saltmarsh Sparrow  1
Song Sparrow  1    Heard
Eastern Towhee  1    Heard
Red-winged Blackbird  50
Common Grackle  1
Boat-tailed Grackle  1
Common Yellowthroat  10
Yellow Warbler  1

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Moths on a Wawa's Walls & Windows

Polyphemus Moth
Last week, as I was leaving my local Wawa, I saw three low-lifes looking intently at something on the front wall. One of them picked it off the wall and showed it to the other two. It turned out to be a moth on the wall and one of the  low-lifes turned out to be my brother, who, among his many accomplishments, is an expert, semi-pro lepidopterist. The other two had seen him checking the walls, as he has for many years on his trips into the Pine Barrens, and since it is easier to explain what you're doing than get rid of somebody, he was giving them an impromptu lesson in entomology.

Giant Leopard Moth
It took some doing, but I finally managed to get his attention (he had assumed that I was yet another denizen of the Wawa parking lot) and, after he got over the surprise of seeing me, he showed me what had been on the wall: a Giant Leopard Moth. It wasn't a particularly good specimen since its lower wings were worn and translucent, but, still, it was  impressive to find it on the Wawa wall. At least to me. To him--meh.

My local Wawa, my brother discovered many years ago, is to moths what Mercer Corporate Park or Marshall's Pond is to birds--a spot that inexplicably attracts interesting specimens. He has been picking off the walls moths and other insects (his interests extend deep into beetle family of which there are more species than any other) long before we ever moved down here. He had told me that this was a mothing hot spot but it wasn't until we took a quick tour around the store that I realized just how amazing it was.

One of the aspects of birding that first attracted me was the idea that there was an alternate universe going on all around you, full of birds with their field marks, songs, and behaviors, and if you just looked and studied for a while, you could easily enter that universe. And here, at the Wawa 2 1/2 miles from my house, was a miniverse I could also enter, because, with 10 times more moths than birds, I have no intention of ever trying to learn them. I have an app for that: it's called Email Harry. I'm only going to be interested in the moths on the Wawa walls (and windows). And, according to my brother, I don't have to worry about other Wawas because only this one--whether there is something in the lights, or the texture of the walls, or its proximity to the Pine Barrens, or a combination of those factors he doesn't know--attracts the diversity of moths this one does.

So for the last week, every time I've stopped there I've checked the walls and, using the Harry App, this is some of what I've found:
Imperial Moth
Rosy Maple Moth
Painted Lichen Moth
Black-waved Flannel Moth
Mind you, these are all on the walls of one Wawa! And since the moths are absorbing & storing heat during the day to use as energy for nocturnal flight, they don't move around like those damn birds.

Of course, there's nothing like being with an expert, so this morning I met Harry at Wawa around 6:30 in the morning. That Polyphemus Moth above (a male, you can tell by the antennae) was the highlight, but we also saw a couple of examples of this peculiar specimen:
which looks like a curled up leaf--great camouflage in most circumstances--on a white concrete wall, not so much.

Harry was reeling off the names of so many moths that I could barely keep up--Banded Tussock Moth, Gracilis Underwing, Spiny Oak Slug Moth, White-blotched Heterocampa. None of these moths are particularly photogenic. To the expert, the big showy butterflies and moths are not at all interesting. It is the small, gray, or brown moths and butterflies, stuff you'd hardly notice as anything more than a bug, that really starts their engines. 

Of course, there are other kinds of insects clinging the walls there (Fish Flies, which are gigantic are prominent) and just because it has a bird in its name, I took this picture of an Owl Fly. No idea why it has this common name.
Owl Fly
At one point, as we were circling the store, the manager came out to see what was up with us--someone thought we might be trying to break in (of course we'd be trying to break in to an open store, of course) and Harry, who has the patter down pat, explained to him that we were just looking at the insect life on his walls. He was cool with that, but then, five minutes later, a Manchester police officer pulled up. There had a been a report of a couple of guys looking confused in the parking lot and, in this area with the all the old folks, they worry about silver alerts, so, after we assured him that we were not, in fact, demented (though, perhaps, a little eccentric), and showed him our i.d's, he allowed as how it was pretty cool what we were doing and gave headquarters a 10-4 on the suspicious old guys of Wawa. I find it ironic that if you're an old guy with lots of tattoos, eating your bagel using the garbage bin as a table talking to your other tattooed cronies in a loud voice, spouting stupid political opinions while other dimwits rev their motorcycle engines and a couple of harridans cackle at their lewd jokes, no one sends for the police, but let a couple of guys stare at a what looks like a blank wall and the cops come a-running.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Seaside Park | Brig 7/1--Wilson's Phalarope, Royal Tern

Wilson's Phalarope, Brig
Photo: Mike Mandracchia
Mike & I wanted to start off the month with some interesting birds and since most of the interesting birds of late have been near the coast, we headed to Island Beach SP. We arrived at 7:45. But unless you're a fisherman, you can't get into the park until 8 A.M. They need to comb & manicure the beaches and people (but not fishermen) get in the way. So we drove a couple of blocks over to the bayside near the state marina. All the birds were "new for the month" but one of them was a "finally" bird for me, meaning I finally saw a Royal Tern this year. It was sitting on a piling at the end of a row of other gulls and terns. 

Royal Tern, Seaside Park
We went back on got into the park. With all the stormy weather of late, a number of odd ocean birds have been sighted off the beach on the north end of the park, but we didn't see either of the two rare terns recently reported, nor the shearwater, nor the storm-petrel. And really, I didn't expect to find them because those are birds you only see when you're not looking for them. We did see, however, 3 Piping Plovers on the beach, filling in a hole on Mike's county list. We watched as the adult led a crow on a merry chase away from its chicks. It didn't do the classic "broken wing" charade. Instead it flew like a bullet north and played catch me if you can and the crow couldn't.

Speaking of holes, we also saw ghost crabs on the beach. Mike was familiar with them. I don't recall ever coming across these creatures which burrow into the sand and come out to feed on the wrack line.  We gave it a shot down at the Winter Anchorage, hoping for some rarity--or even a pelican--sitting on the sand bar but the tide was a little too high and the sand bar wasn't there. Neither of us had any interest in battling the mosquitoes of Spizzle Creek. Instead, we headed down to Great Bay Blvd in Tuckerton, because, you know, greenhead flies are so much more pleasant than skeeters.

Again, we saw a lot of birds along the boulevard, along with many terrapins struggling across the asphalt, but it wasn't until we were on our way back that I spotted a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (county bird) in the marsh. Unfortunately, we were crossing one of the timed-light wooden bridges, so we couldn't stop to admire it.

By then it was post meridian and we'd built up a decent list for the day, so we were ready to quit.  Stopping at the Wawa in Little Egg Harbor, I checked my phone and saw the rare bird alert from Brig. The famous Marker 14 had another one. I had spent a goodly amount of time on Friday there looking for a stilt, and yesterday Mike and I spent more time there looking for an ibis that wasn't glossy, and now, what should show up there but a Wilson's Phalarope. Since we were "only" 18.7 miles away, not including the 5 miles of Wildlife Drive to Marker 14, off we went.

The greenhead flies were bouncing off the car windows like someone was throwing them at us. We stopped briefly a few times to check out pockets of birds, but were more goal-oriented than usual there so we didn't really do any scanning until we got past the dogleg where all the ibises and white egrets were hanging out. None of the ibises looked like good candidates for the white-faced variety, but Mike finally found the phalarope, way in the back, associating with a couple of yellowlegs. We got excellent scope looks, taking our optics about 20 feet away from the car. Amazingly, the flies won't follow you. It's the heat of the car that attracts them. I tried digiscoping the bird and had no success. Mike was able to get the proverbial "distant photo" to document the bird. We didn't linger on the dikes. Just in the 97 minutes we were there we had 47 species. For the day, an even 70. A decent start on the month


Sunday, June 30, 2019

June Birding--9 year birds

Black-billed Cuckoo, Whitesbog
For an historically slow month, post-migration June provided some spectacular results. True, the drop-off in year birds was steep, from 34 to a mere 9, but of those 9 almost all were rarities and what rarities they were: Dickcissel in Burlco, which is regular but rare & sought after, then the amazing surprise of the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher on the playing fields of Toms River HS East (not exactly Eton, but what rare birds has Eton produced lately?), then the two forays in seldom visited Somerset County to get what was probably the rarest bird in the state this month, the Henslow's Sparrow, topped off with Friday's first occurrence in Ocean County of a duo of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. Without those rarities, I don't know what I'd have done.

Actually, I do know what I'd have done, because I did it anyway--I wandered around obscure parts of Burlington and Monmouth Counties, places I was pretty certain not to run into a horde of other birders, and enjoyed myself and whatever birds I happened upon. It's called "birding" as opposed to "chasing." Probably the happiest of my finds which wasn't a year bird, was coming upon the Black-billed Cuckoo picture above at the back of Union Pond at Whitesbog. While I had heard a number of cuckoos this year, this was the first Black-billed I'd come upon and I was lucky enough to get close enough to have photos showing the red orbital ring. And frankly, ever since I got scolded about an out of season Black-billed Cuckoo that I listed as "heard" when it was most likely a chipmunk (!), I have been reluctant to list all the cuckoos I think I hear--especially when that scolding is reinforced by the knowledge that the Yellow-billed Cuckoo learns its cousin's song and vice versa. Which is a long way of saying, "Boy, was I happy to see this one!"

For the month I had 143 species in 6 counties
Counties birded: Atlantic, Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth, Ocean, Somerset
Species                    First Sighting
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck   Cedar Run Dock Rd.
Snow Goose   Brig
Canada Goose   Cloverdale Farm
Mute Swan   Brig
Wood Duck   Brig
Blue-winged Teal   Brig
Mallard   Forsythe-Barnegat
American Black Duck   Brig
Common Eider   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Surf Scoter   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
White-winged Scoter   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Black Scoter   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Red-breasted Merganser  Brig
Wild Turkey   Brig
Mourning Dove   Cloverdale Farm
Yellow-billed Cuckoo   Double Trouble State Park
Black-billed Cuckoo   Whitesbog
Common Nighthawk   35 Sunset Rd
Eastern Whip-poor-will   35 Sunset Rd
Chimney Swift   Brig
Ruby-throated Hummingbird   Lochiel Creek County Park
Clapper Rail   Brig
American Oystercatcher   Brig
Black-bellied Plover   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Semipalmated Plover   Brig
Piping Plover   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Killdeer   Cedar Bonnet Island
Ruddy Turnstone   Brig
Dunlin   Brig
Least Sandpiper   Brig
Semipalmated Sandpiper   Forsythe-Barnegat
Western Sandpiper   Brig
Short-billed Dowitcher   Brig
Spotted Sandpiper   Brig
Greater Yellowlegs   Brig
Willet   Brig
Lesser Yellowlegs   Brig
Laughing Gull   Meadowedge Park
Herring Gull   Meadowedge Park
Great Black-backed Gull   Forsythe-Barnegat
Least Tern   Great Bay Blvd WMA
Gull-billed Tern   Brig
Caspian Tern   Brig
Common Tern   Brig
Forster's Tern   Forsythe-Barnegat
Black Skimmer   Brig
Double-crested Cormorant   Brig
Brown Pelican   Island Beach SP
Great Blue Heron   Cloverdale Farm
Great Egret   Cloverdale Farm
Snowy Egret   Forsythe-Barnegat
Little Blue Heron   Island Beach SP
Tricolored Heron   Brig
Green Heron   Whitesbog
Black-crowned Night-Heron   Double Trouble State Park
Glossy Ibis   Meadowedge Park
Black Vulture   Lake Enno
Turkey Vulture   Crestwood Village
Osprey   Brig
Sharp-shinned Hawk   Brig
Cooper's Hawk   Butterfly Bogs
Bald Eagle   GSP MM42
Red-tailed Hawk   Colliers Mills WMA
Red-headed Woodpecker   Cloverdale Farm
Red-bellied Woodpecker   35 Sunset Rd
Downy Woodpecker   Cloverdale Farm
Hairy Woodpecker   Cloverdale Farm
Northern Flicker   Cloverdale Farm
Peregrine Falcon   Cedar Bonnet Island
Eastern Wood-Pewee   Cloverdale Farm
Acadian Flycatcher   Double Trouble State Park
Alder Flycatcher   Negri-Nepote Grasslands
Willow Flycatcher   Brig
Eastern Phoebe   Double Trouble State Park
Great Crested Flycatcher   Cloverdale Farm
Eastern Kingbird   Cloverdale Farm
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher   Toms River High School East
White-eyed Vireo   Double Trouble State Park
Yellow-throated Vireo   Baldpate Mt
Warbling Vireo   Colliers Mills WMA
Red-eyed Vireo   Lochiel Creek County Park
Blue Jay   Cloverdale Farm
American Crow   Cloverdale Farm
Fish Crow   Meadowedge Park
Common Raven   Negri-Nepote Grasslands
Northern Rough-winged Swallow   Lake Enno
Purple Martin   Brig
Tree Swallow   Cloverdale Farm
Bank Swallow   Laurel Run Park
Barn Swallow   Cloverdale Farm
Carolina Chickadee   35 Sunset Rd
Tufted Titmouse   Cloverdale Farm
White-breasted Nuthatch   Cloverdale Farm
House Wren   Cloverdale Farm
Marsh Wren   Forsythe-Barnegat
Carolina Wren   Meadowedge Park
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher   Cloverdale Farm
Eastern Bluebird   Cloverdale Farm
Veery   Double Trouble State Park
Wood Thrush   Cloverdale Farm
American Robin   Cloverdale Farm
Gray Catbird   Cloverdale Farm
Brown Thrasher   Cloverdale Farm
Northern Mockingbird   Colliers Mills WMA
European Starling   Meadowedge Park
Cedar Waxwing   Cloverdale Farm
House Finch   Cloverdale Farm
Pine Siskin   35 Sunset Rd
American Goldfinch   Cloverdale Farm
Grasshopper Sparrow   Laurel Run Park
Chipping Sparrow   Cloverdale Farm
Field Sparrow   Double Trouble State Park
White-throated Sparrow   Island Beach SP
Seaside Sparrow   Brig
Saltmarsh Sparrow   Great Bay Blvd WMA
Henslow's Sparrow   Negri-Nepote Grasslands
Song Sparrow   Cloverdale Farm
Swamp Sparrow   Whitesbog
Eastern Towhee   Cloverdale Farm
Yellow-breasted Chat   Brig
Orchard Oriole   Brig
Baltimore Oriole   Double Trouble State Park
Red-winged Blackbird   Cloverdale Farm
Brown-headed Cowbird   35 Sunset Rd
Common Grackle   Meadowedge Park
Boat-tailed Grackle   Brig
Ovenbird   Cloverdale Farm
Worm-eating Warbler   Lochiel Creek County Park
Black-and-white Warbler   Double Trouble State Park
Prothonotary Warbler   Huber Preserve
Common Yellowthroat   Cloverdale Farm
Hooded Warbler   Double Trouble State Park
American Redstart   Double Trouble State Park
Yellow Warbler   Forsythe-Barnegat
Pine Warbler   Lochiel Creek County Park
Prairie Warbler   Double Trouble State Park
Summer Tanager   Huber Preserve
Scarlet Tanager   Garden State Parkway N
Northern Cardinal   35 Sunset Rd
Blue Grosbeak   Colliers Mills WMA
Indigo Bunting   Cloverdale Farm
Dickcissel   Laurel Run Park
House Sparrow   Brig
Wood Duck, Ditch Meadow, Whitesbog