Thursday, January 18, 2018

Central Park 1/18--Wood Duck, Northern Shoveler, Common Grackle

Common Grackle
Two stints in Central Park today, sandwiching an appointment. In the morning I entered the park on the West Side, by the Natural History museum and walked into The Ramble where I spent most of my time watching the feeders. Nothing that I couldn't see in my own backyard, as Black-capped Chickadees didn't make an appearance, but I was cheered by a big flock of FOY Common Grackles. I'd say Common Grackle is probably #4 on the "trash bird" list, (not a list I give any credence to), right after Rock Pigeon, European Starling, and House Sparrow (all of which were in the park today, of course), but, if you'll just look at a grackle and then imagine seeing it in another country, with its iridescent blues, violets, and even oranges, all shimmering on what at a glance is just a big black bird, you'd be knocked out and be taking a slew of photos.

Fox Sparrow
I was also happy to find a couple of Fox Sparrows on the ground. Not a year bird (had one a couple of days ago at Bamber Lake), but always a good to find this robust sparrow in winter. 

After my appointment on the East Side, I walked back to the park and headed up to the Reservoir. Despite one of the great bubblers of all time in the fountain spewing a stream of water a couple of stories high, about 70% of the water was frozen. It is, according to the tracker of eBird, 1.57 miles around the perimeter of the Reservoir, and since there were only a few areas where the birds were congregating, I did the loop in 45 minutes.
Northern Shovelers mixed with Mallards

It wasn't until I was about 2/3 of the way around that I saw any new ducks for the year and I almost overlooked them as 2 Wood Ducks and 7 Northern Shovelers were mixed with the 30 or so Mallards sitting on the ice which in turn were mixed in with well over 100 Canada Geese. It didn't make any easier that most of the ducks had their heads tucked in. At first I saw the shovelers, their white breasts being the giveaway, and then, after another sweep with the binoculars, I found the two Wood Ducks, one of which appeared to be looking  balefully at me.
Wood Ducks
My little list for the day:
155 Canada Goose 
2 Wood Duck 
7 Northern Shoveler 
54 Mallard 
1 American Black Duck 
2 Hooded Merganser 
7 American Coot 
200 Ring-billed Gull
20 Herring Gull 
2 Rock Pigeon 
2 Downy Woodpecker 
4 Blue Jay 
1 American Crow 
6 European Starling 
2 Fox Sparrow 
5 White-throated Sparrow
50 Common Grackle 
4 House Finch 
5 American Goldfinch 
45 House Sparrow 

Of course none of these birds are New Jersey birds, much less Ocean County birds, so to a certain turn of mind, they hardly even count. I have to admit, I was much more excited when I pulled up to the house this afternoon and found 5 Wild Turkeys on my neighbor's lawn. FOY turkeys.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sandy Hook & the North Shore 1/14--11 year birds

Cedar Waxwings, Boy Scout Camp parking lot, Sandy Hook
I looked up "idiot (n)" in the dictionary and next to the definition of "one who hates the cold but insists on going up to Sandy Hook with the temperature in the low teens and the wind in the low twenties" was my picture. But Scott and Linda were running one of my favorite trips so I put on five layers above the waist and two layers below and two sets of gloves and two pairs of socks and it wasn't so bad except I couldn't feel my feet after about a half hour and just getting my car keys out of my pocket required complicated logistics in order to expose my hand to the weather for the minimum amount of time possible.

However, no sooner had I pulled into Parking Lot B at the Hook, long before the scheduled start time,  than I got a year bird, a Northern Mockingbird. That, at least, is what's good about this time of the year--you have to get even the most common birds a first time, so that keeps your mind off the fact that frost bite is imminent. We did some seawatching from the beach and I added White-winged Scoter to the year list, which I thought was great since last year it took until November before I had that duck on the list.  Conditions were painful there with the wind; fortunately, Scott knows a few sites on the Hook that are protected from the wind, so we headed north up the peninsula stopping to look at both the bay and ocean in several spots. Highlights for me were my first Cedar Waxwings (a household favorite) at the Boy Scout Camp parking lot, and Snow BuntingsAmerican Tree Sparrows and an immature White-crowned Sparrow at North Beach.
24 species
Brant 30
Canada Goose 60
Greater Scaup 2
White-winged Scoter 20
Black Scoter 15
Long-tailed Duck 30
Bufflehead 3
Common Goldeneye 3
Red-breasted Merganser 1 Horseshoe Cove
Common Loon 1
Ring-billed Gull 20
Herring Gull 115
Great Black-backed Gull 1
Northern Flicker 1
American Robin 10
Northern Mockingbird 2
European Starling 5
Cedar Waxwing 10

Snow Bunting 3
Yellow-rumped Warbler 3
American Tree Sparrow 4

White-crowned Sparrow 1
White-throated Sparrow 2
Song Sparrow 2

Late morning we left the Hook for various spots along the North Shore. We didn't linger very long in any one spot; if there was nothing "interesting" at one site, we'd just go south to another. Monmouth Beach didn't have anything new, but Seven Presidents Park in Long Branch turned up a couple of year birds for me:
5 species
Canada Goose 25
Long-tailed Duck 3
Bonaparte's Gull 1
Gray Catbird 1

Yellow-rumped Warbler 5

Then it was on to Lake Takanassee to look for rare gulls, none of which were present. However, this is also a reliable spot for American Coot and as it happened, I "needed" American Coot. I was so intent on getting the coot that I missed 3 Snow Geese that were mixed in with the Canada Geese. Fortunately, I didn't "need" Snow Goose, not even for Monmouth County.
American Coot, Lake Takanassee
8 species
Canada Goose 100
Mute Swan 1
Mallard 2 Drake & Hen
American Black Duck 3
Hooded Merganser 1 Drake
American Coot 3
Ring-billed Gull 100
Herring Gull 25

Nothing much at Pullman Avenue, a few blocks south and most of the group called it a day there. However, a few stalwart souls continued down to Corlies Avenue in Allenhurst, just north of Asbury Park. It was there, in the breakers, that I got my last year bird for the day, a very fleeting look at a Horned Grebe bobbing in the waves. 
6 species
Greater Scaup 50
Long-tailed Duck 20
Horned Grebe 1
Sanderling 11
Ring-billed Gull 100
Herring Gull 50

Toward the end of the day the temperatures had risen to the high twenties. It was almost pleasant, out of the wind. "Now would be a great time to bird," I thought. "And if I could just feel my feet, I might consider it."

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Backyard 1/13--Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper. Always a great winter bird and one we haven't seen in our backyard in almost 3 years. Shari was looking out the window and saw a bird climbing up the tree, which grabbed her attention, since nuthatches climb down. She called me into the room and, unlike the cataract days, I was able to see it immediately and naked eye.

Even more amazing is that it hung around, feeding off of at least four trees, long enough for me to get a picture of it. It is the first time I've ever had one stay in sight long enough for me to photograph it.

'Tide Pods Challenge' is the newest deadly trend among teenagers --Headline in The Daily News

Image result for tide podsEating detergent brings new meaning to the phrase "cleanse the gene pool".

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Great Bay Blvd 1/10

Boat-tailed Grackle, female
The inlet at Great Bay this morning looked more like Alaska than New Jersey, with big ice floes scattered throughout the water, some looking like min-icebergs, with shards from the wave action sticking up into the air. This made for great scenery, but with almost all the water frozen in the bay, the creeks, and the marshes, it also made for a dearth of birds.

Sometimes birding around here reminds me of food shopping in Brooklyn. On Saturday, you'd walk up and down Court Street, go to Esposito's for sausage, Pastosa's for pasta, this bakery for bread, that store for bagels, the farmers' market  downtown for vegetables, make a detour on Atlantic Ave and go to Sahadi's for Middle Eastern food... Here, birding, you go to Island Beach for the Snowy Owl, go to Barnegat Light to get the Harlequin Ducks and Purple Sandpiper, today, go to Great Bay Blvd to get Boat-tailed Grackle on the year list. To extend the analogy, Brig would be like going to Shop-Rite.

That species, plus a very close look at a Northern Harrier flying right over my head, were the two birds I added today. Not much else to see--in the creek below the 2nd wooden bridge there was a small draw of open water with mostly Buffleheads. A scope look revealed a couple of hen Common Goldeneyes and a few Hooded Mergansers. The bay itself had more Buffleheads, as well as the seemingly ubiquitous Red-breasted Mergansers, plus the unsurprising Brants.

As to land birds...robins, yellow-rumps, and the aforementioned grackles were all in good numbers. Not the biggest list, but, for the first time in a while, I accomplished my four miles of walking between, covering the beach and the road up to the first wooden bridge and back.

16 species
Brant 100
American Black Duck 3
Bufflehead 50 24 near second wooden bridge, balance in inlet
Common Goldeneye 2
Hooded Merganser 3
Red-breasted Merganser 15
Northern Harrier 1
Dunlin 50
Herring Gull 5
Great Black-backed Gull 1
American Crow 1 Heard
American Robin 50
European Starling 10
Yellow-rumped Warbler 50
Song Sparrow 1
Boat-tailed Grackle 45 Probably an undercount

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Barnegat Light SP 1/9

Red-breasted Merganser, hen
I didn't know what conditions to expect at Barnegat Light today, whether the concrete walkway would be clear or if there would be a foot of snow on the beach. I did suspect, correctly, that the jetty would be coated in ice. At Shari's suggestion, I wore my ice cleats, which was a good idea because no sooner did I open the car door in the parking lot than my foot slid on the asphalt.

The inlet itself was pretty much open except for the shallow areas near the shore. Red-breasted Mergansers were the most prevalent bird in the water, but mixed in with them were a few other ducks, the most surprising of which was a drake Redhead associating with a few Greater Scaup. I've never seen a Redhead in the inlet, but as my friend Linda said yesterday, so much of the water around here is frozen that birds are being forced into areas they don't usually frequent.

Unlike last time I was at the park, just before Christmas, there were no construction vehicles digging up the sand, so I could walk on the beach along, not on, the jetty. And the walking was comparatively easy--the ground was gelid so it was more like walking on soft dirt than trudging ankle deep in loose sand.

Ruddy Turnstones
There was nothing down the mile walk except gulls, but at the end of the jetty I clambered up to a big flat rock where I got, looking west, my Ocean County Harlequin Ducks for the year and looking east, my FOY Purple Sandpipers. If I don't get those two birds there at this time of year, then the birding world is seriously out of kilter.

On the jetty and the beach were three other shorebirds--Dunlins, Sanderlings, and FOY Ruddy Turnstones. By then, some of the ice had melted into treacherous puddles or convenient birdbaths, depending on what species you happen to be.

Looking north, toward the Island Beach jetty, there was a large flock of Common Eiders, but they were much too distant to try to pry out a King Eider. Down at the end of the jetty and north to the old 8th Street jetty and beyond, were large flocks of Long-tailed Ducks and scaup. Surprisingly, I only found two Black Scoters. More surprisingly, near the jetty, I found 3 Common Goldeneyes, yet another new species for this park. This is the second time this year I've encountered goldeneyes in a new place--last week I found one off the Winter Anchorage at Island Beach SP. The part of the Barnegat Bay, where I normally see them, was a sheet of ice, so, as Linda said, they have to go somewhere.

Going back up the beach I walked the edge of the dunes; alas, no Snow Buntings. Will they be my nemesis bird for Ocean County again this year?

I had 26 species for my beach walk and it felt good to get moving after a week of only being able to make quick forays out of the house, if I could get out at all. At the Bayview Marina I added Fish Crow to the year list. On Rt 72, just off the bridge, a Merlin flew in front of the car.

26 species
Brant 10
Mallard 1 near jetty by lighthouse
Redhead 1
Greater Scaup 200
Common Eider 50
Harlequin Duck 8
Black Scoter 2
Long-tailed Duck 200
Bufflehead 50
Common Goldeneye 3
Red-breasted Merganser 200
Common Loon 15
Great Cormorant 6
Double-crested Cormorant 2
Ruddy Turnstone 25
Sanderling 30
Dunlin 20
Purple Sandpiper 10
Ring-billed Gull 10
Herring Gull 200
Great Black-backed Gull 25
American Crow 2
Carolina Wren 1 Heard
Yellow-rumped Warbler 10
Savannah Sparrow 1 On the jetty.
House Finch 8

Monday, January 8, 2018

Shark River Inlet 1/8--Tufted Duck

Tufted Duck (hen) in front of Greater Scaup (drake)
Photos: © Peggy Cadigan
Serendipity. Shari & I, for reasons too boring to explain, had to be up at her office in Ocean this morning. While she was attending to business, I got an alert on my phone--the hen Tufted Duck, reported yesterday, was still there, at the Shark River Inlet, a mere 13 minutes away. Traffic lights, all ill-timed, probably slowed us down to 16 minutes; arriving, and parking next to a snow bank, we saw the expected bird mob looking intently out to the ocean. Half the birders there we knew, and it didn't take them very long to get on us this really rare Aythya species. A drake would have been nicer, especially since I got skunked last year on one, but the hen is distinct enough not to cause any second thoughts--the little tuft (much more prominent in the drake) was easily viewed, the very dark back and the chocolate flanks, all added up to good field marks even from a fair distance. However, getting a photo of this constant diver with my slow-focusing camera and very cold hands was another story.

Fortunately for us, our friend, and very fine photographer, Peggy was among the crowd and she was able to take some really good pictures that permit me to illustrate this entry.

The water was full of ducks, fairly close in, mostly scaup, and mostly Greater Scaup. I know there were Lesser Scaup mixed in, but it still isn't warm enough for me to sift through scaups, judging head shape. Shari found a couple of Black Scoters, farther out, beyond the breakers, and Scott got us on the hen Harlequin Duck (also reported yesterday) that was near one of the jetties. Harlequin Duck is a rarity in Monmouth County (yet, practically a gimme at Barnegat Light SP) so that, along with the Tufted Duck gave me 2 new life birds for Monmouth. There were other ducks and waterfowl there and had weather, time, and freezing wife allowed, I probably would have a longer list, but the theme so far this year seems to be rarities (or at least hard to find birds) over quantity.

14 species
Brant 15
Canada Goose 1
Tufted Duck 1
Greater Scaup 200
Harlequin Duck 1
Black Scoter 2

Long-tailed Duck 5
Bufflehead 10
Common Goldeneye 2
Common Loon 5
Black-bellied Plover 2
Sanderling 3
Ring-billed Gull 10
Herring Gull 5