Monday, February 27, 2017

Colliers Mills 2/27--Northern Bobwhite, Brown Thrasher

Nicely camouflaged Northern Bobwhite in undergrowth. 
I've been going to Colliers Mills frequently this month. Hunting season is over, it's fairly close, and it is a good long walk through varying, interesting habitat. I mix up the route a little each time, sometimes exploring one area a little more than usual, which was what I was doing this morning, walking along the west side of Colliers Mills Lake (a misnomer, since it is smaller than Turnmill Pond to which it feeds through a little a stream) where I found the brush very active with sparrows and my first year bird of the day, a Brown Thrasher, a virtual giant among the sparrows. I also added in that section Eastern Towhee as county bird and as a sighted bird for the year, since first one this year was listed based on a couple of loud 'chwinks' coming from the woods at Brig.

My second year bird of the day is a little more controversial. According to the received wisdom, Northern Bobwhite has been extirpated from New Jersey, and aside from a small population from Georgia that has been introduced onto a farm in Burlington County, the birds you see have been released (for hunting) and are not really wild. However, here is my rationale for counting the bird I stumbled across on a path off Success Road:

1) Bobwhites have not been permitted to be released at Colliers Mills for a few years now. There are only two places in New Jersey where you can still hunt released birds and those two places are a distance from Colliers. Since they have restricted hunting of the bird in most places, doesn't that imply that there are still wild birds afoot? Besides, if this bird has survived the hunting (for pheasants and Chukar--which by the way, I don't count when I see them there) and dog training, then it is wild enough for me.

2) In the past I have seen a hen followed by half-grown chicks at Colliers Mills, which indicates breeding (one of the requirements for countability). For all I know, this bird was born at Colliers Mills from birds that survived their release.

3) Hey, it's my list.

Besides the west side of the lake, I walked up Success Road to the path where I found the Bobwhite, strolled by the back of the shooting range where I encountered 3 Killdeer, but not interesting woodpeckers, walked along the berm behind Turnmill Pond then over to Hawkin Road with a couple of hard to explain if you haven't been there detours, then north on Hawkin Road back to the car.

With all that I came up with 27 species, not counting the two domestic ducks that have made themselves at home near the parking lot, where I've seen at least one guy leave them food. He likes to pet the white duck.

Canada Goose 20
American Black Duck 4 Turnmill Pond
Mallard 2 one on lake, one on Turnmill Pond
Mallard (Domestic type) 2
Ring-necked Duck 18
Lesser Scaup 1 Lake. Wasn't associating with RNDU
Northern Bobwhite 1
Great Blue Heron 2
Turkey Vulture 4
Bald Eagle 1 Came out of trees by lake, flew toward power line cut
Killdeer 3 Behind shooting range
Mourning Dove 3
Belted Kingfisher 1 Lake
Red-bellied Woodpecker 6
Blue Jay 14
Fish Crow 40
Carolina Chickadee 3
Tufted Titmouse 3
White-breasted Nuthatch 2
Carolina Wren 1 Heard
Eastern Bluebird 6 Scattered around.
Brown Thrasher 1
Dark-eyed Junco 12
White-throated Sparrow 11
Song Sparrow 1
Eastern Towhee 1
Red-winged Blackbird 8
American Goldfinch 1

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Behind the Costco in Stafford 2/22--Horned Lark

There's is section of Stafford Township off Route 72 that has interested me for a while, if no other reason than the turn-off from the highway is named Recovery Road which sounds like the way to a sanitarium. On Google Maps it is just a big blank spot behind the Costco in Stafford Mall. A lot of eBird lists have it named Stafford Preserve, but the only thing I could see preserved there is sand and clay, weeds and scrub. I turned off Recovery onto Cook and instead of a sanitarium, I found various Ocean County facilities like maintenance garages, dumpsters, and a recycling transfer station. I did notice that a condo development there is named Stafford Preserve. Maybe they have plans.

I saw a dirt road that looked like it went to an empty area so I drove up and saw that it lead into the condo development, where the road became paved again. I parked where the sidewalk ended in the sand and headed into the field pictured at left.

Believe it or not, the habitat looked good for the bird I was hoping to find. And soon I found one--a Horned Lark perched on the top of a huge sand pile. A few were peeping and flying overhead and eventually, once I was close enough to the sandy hill, I got an excellent look at one.  Horned Larks gravitate to the most degraded, barren areas they can find and this spot certainly qualified. I don't know what the zoning for this blank area on the map is--it looks like the development might expand, or yet another shopping center could be put there, hard by the parkway as it is, but right now it is an excellent spot to find these birds, which are difficult to come by in the county. I suppose birds that associate with larks, like Snow Buntings or Lapland Longspurs could also turn up there, but I'll let others investigate the area for them. I like out of the way places, but this place was just ugly.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Cape May Zoo 2/20--Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Goose
However, before we could start lunch, another text alert came in: the Pink-footed Goose had reappeared at the Cape May Zoo. We'd just been there 45 minutes ago. Back north we drove. This would be my 4th attempt and Mike's 5th, or maybe 6th. The first time we'd gone to the zoo we couldn't find parking because it was so crowded due, I assume, to the school holiday, so this time we parked in a lot across the street and walked over to the entrance. While we were waiting for a red light to change, a guy rolled down his car window and told us that the goose was moving toward the back of the pond. That saved us, because otherwise, we would have scanned the wrong part of the lake and perhaps missed the bird. We walked toward a wooden walkway that went to a gazebo in the middle of the pond, scanned for a few moments before Mike found the bird, right up front. Very obvious against the larger Canada Geese.

Those who know more about migration than me believe that rare geese like Pink-footed or Barnacle follow migrating Canada Geese to North America. I've been wondering about the cohesiveness of geese flocks. Does the flock that flies from Greenland to New Jersey all stay together, or does it have a shifting population? Does the Pink-footed Goose stay with its original flock, or does it attach itself to any large flock of geese? Whatever the answer, it seems like this goose goes back and forth between the zoo, a sports complex nearby (where, once the soccer games begin the geese flee) and surrounding, nearby fields, including a cemetery. This makes the bird somewhat elusive since it doesn't keep a reliable schedule.

Now, with the Pink-footed Goose on my 2017 year list, I have all 11 large waterfowl to be found in New Jersey:

  • Pink-footed Goose
  • Greater White-fronted Goose
  • Snow Goose
  • Ross's Goose
  • Brant
  • Barnacle Goose
  • Cackling Goose
  • Canada Goose
  • Mute Swan
  • Trumpeter Swan
  • Tundra Swan
All 11 birds were first sighted in 11 different locations around the state. All this really means is that at the end of the year, when these birds start to show up again, I don't have to chase...unless the rarer ones turn up in Ocean County.

So, while we were striking out in the early part of the game today, we came up big in the bottom of the ninth.

Villas 2/20--Forster's Tern

Forster's Terns on sand bar with Herring Gulls and Black-bellied Plovers
Mike and I started the day with a number of birds in mind. We started in Point Pleasant Beach, hoping that the Iceland Gull,  reported on & off there, was still on. Many gulls, none of them "white-winged." On to the jetty at Manasquan, where perhaps there would be an Iceland Gull on the beach. There wasn't. Nor was there a Razorbill for Mike's year list. Back to the first spot in PPB and still no Iceland Gull.

Then we drove down the parkway to Double Trouble Park, hoping that the flock of Red Crossbills, very rare in NJ and certainly rare in this county, would still be in the pine on the trail to the reservoir. Our hopes were dashed when we met a couple of birders we knew who had been searching for a few hours hadn't found them. Still, we had to look and had no more success than our friends. There weren't even a lot of birds in the woods to substitute quantity for quality.

We'd heard that the Pink-footed Goose at the Cape May Zoo, which we missed on Friday, had been seen again yesterday and then today was seen nearby & was said to heading back toward the zoo, so we did too. An hour later, at the zoo, no PFGO.

The exercise in frustration continued as down to Villas we headed,  seeking the reported Black-headed Gull.  We found a small group of birders intently studying the large flock of gulls on the sand bars. Nice to see Bonaparte's Gull, which look a lot like Black-headed Gull but there was no BHGU in the flock, though some time was spent debating a bird that was perhaps a half mile distant. This was becoming ridiculous.

At that same distance, though, we were able to see, with enough clarity through the scope if not in the photo through the scope, a small group of Forster's Terns. At last, a year bird for the day. Not one we were looking for or particularly expected, but we were happy to take it and then went to the car, planning to eat our lunches. However...(see post above)

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Brig 2/18--American Bittern, Eastern Towhee

American Bittern
Bob, Me, Pete, Lauren, Mike, & Hank
Official meeting of the Orange Hat Society at the Gull Pond
Photo: Marylou Norman
I drove down to Brig with Mike & Pete for their delayed tour of the newly reopened dikes. There we met 3 other members of the Orange Hat Society. Because getting shot tends to cut down on the number of birds you can see, prudent birders own an orange hat to wear in winter when birding anywhere hunting might also be taking place (though I sometimes think it just makes you a better target for a frustrated hunter) and often as not, that becomes your default winter hat. Mike & Pete and I all had on our orange hats, Hank showed up with his, turned to Bob, who changed his black baseball cap for the hat in his trunk. All eyes turned to Lauren, who turned her camo hat inside out and voila! 6 orange hats.

The highlight of the trip came early--before the actual start of the trip, when we drove down to the Gull Pond. Pete spotted an American Bittern close to the road, standing in a little patch of reeds, pretending that we couldn't see it. Bitterns are not considered rare--they're just hard to see. Hank pulled up behind us after we'd moved past the bittern. He'd driven right by it. I walked over with him, looking through the reeds, not seeing the bird until there it was. A year bird for all four of us. Unfortunately, by the time the other two members of the OHS showed up the bittern had wandered off. It's frustrating, because you know it's there; it's probably standing a foot behind the reeds and you can't see it, but you know it's there.

A great many Snow Geese and Brants populated the waters of Turtle Cove. My counts are lower than the actual numbers since estimating how many specks in the water off toward Atlantic City are Brants is just not worth the guessing; I don't, generally, count specks.

I also don't, generally, count chip notes, (as opposed to songs) unless it is a very distinctive chip note--like say the "chwink" of an Eastern Towhee, which we heard in the upland section of the Wildlife Drive.

Diversity wasn't great today; the passerine numbers were low, the waders were at two (bittern and Great Blue Heron) and the shorebirds numbered one (Dunlin). Still, two year birds, 44 species altogether at the refuge (a couple more, Boat-tailed Grackle and Common Loon, were seen at nearby Motts Creek) found with good friends in weather that warmed to the point where we were all shedding layers (and hats) is a non-complaints day.

Snow Goose 750
Brant 370
Canada Goose 150
Mute Swan 6
Tundra Swan 18
Gadwall 2
American Wigeon 30
American Black Duck 230
Mallard 40
Northern Shoveler 5
Northern Pintail 40
Green-winged Teal 5
Canvasback 75 There has been a big flock here off and on all winter.
Ring-necked Duck 7 Exit Pond
Bufflehead 8
Hooded Merganser 10
Common Merganser 3 Lily Lake
American Bittern 1 Gull Pond
Great Blue Heron 3
Turkey Vulture 13
Northern Harrier 2
Bald Eagle 3
Red-tailed Hawk 2
American Coot 1 Gull Pond
Dunlin 1
Herring Gull 155
Great Black-backed Gull 2
Peregrine Falcon 2
Blue Jay 3 Heard
American Crow 5
Carolina Chickadee 2
Tufted Titmouse 1 Heard
Carolina Wren 2 Heard
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1 Refuge Overlook
Eastern Bluebird 1
American Robin 1
White-throated Sparrow 2
Song Sparrow 1 Heard
Eastern Towhee 1 Heard
Northern Cardinal 1 Heard, parking lot
Red-winged Blackbird 3
Common Grackle 1 Gull Pond
House Finch 1 Heard, parking lot
American Goldfinch 1 Heard

Friday, February 17, 2017

Brig 2/17--Wilson's Snipe

Wilson's Snipe with amused American Black Duck
Mike & I did a road trip down to Cape May today. The hope was to find the Pink-footed Goose that has been visiting the grounds of the Cape May Zoo and surrounding fields and ponds. No luck there. We looked around the zoo's pond a couple of times plus checked a nearby athletic field and the veteran's cemetery on the other side of the parkway finding only boring old Canada Geese. We met a fellow with Arkansas license plates, on our second trip to the zoo grounds in the afternoon, who said he'd been looking all around the area for over 5 hours. That actually made us feel good in two ways:

  • A) We're not that nuts
  • B) We didn't miss the bird; it wasn't there. 

We found about 60 species wandering around the county, nothing spectacular, the highlights being a Gray Catbird at Higbee Beach (hard to find in winter); Killdeer at the state park (year bird for Mike); and a drake Common Goldeneye in a channel of the wetlands along the Stone Harbor causeway.

Having made a big loop of the county we headed up the parkway to Brig and, even though we're going to be there tomorrow for Mike's delayed trip, we still went around the Wildlife Drive--"scouting" we called it.

There were a goodly number of birds, but aside from a large flock of close-by Canvasbacks, nothing out of the ordinary until we got almost to the end of the north dike. Mike stopped the car and looked left and I looked to my right at the outside channel. "I have an eagle," he said. "I have a shorebird," said I. It was the first shorebird we'd seen at the refuge. "That can't be a Dunlin," I said. "No, look at the bill," Mike replied. And the bill was very long. The head was striped. And the shorebird was a Wilson's Snipe and we were both very happy to get a year bird.

The last bird of note there was Palm Warbler we found bobbing its tail in the scrub above what used to be called the Experimental Pool and is now signed as the "Refuge Overlook" or some such. Funny, Palm Warbler is not unusual in winter in some counties, but is in Atlantic County. There was no doubt about the identification, though.

For our one and half hours traveling the 8 mile loop (plus a quick look at the Gull Pond) we garnered 33 species.
Snow Goose 50
Brant 600
Canada Goose 150
Mute Swan 3
Tundra Swan 6
Gadwall 2
American Wigeon 2
American Black Duck 350
Mallard 30
Northern Shoveler 35
Northern Pintail 35
Green-winged Teal 12
Canvasback 50 Careful estimate
Ring-necked Duck 6
Greater Scaup 10
Bufflehead 35
Hooded Merganser 4
Red-breasted Merganser 1
Great Blue Heron 1
Turkey Vulture 3
Northern Harrier 2
Bald Eagle 1
Wilson's Snipe 1 North dike
Herring Gull 155
Great Black-backed Gull 2
Mourning Dove 1
Northern Flicker 1
American Crow 5
Carolina Chickadee 1 Heard
Eastern Bluebird 2
American Robin 1
Palm Warbler 1
Red-winged Blackbird 12

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Mercer Corporate Park 2/15--Greater White-fronted Goose

Greater White-fronted Goose (left), Mercer Corporate Park
Mercer Corporate Park in Robbinsville, like Marshall's Pond in Toms River, inexplicably attracts rare waterfowl to its two little ponds. It is about a 45 minute drive from here, so when I saw that a Greater White-fronted Goose had been spotted in among the Canada Geese I was out the door in 3 minutes and on my way.  The beauty of this chase is that, because the area is so small, I would know whether the bird was there almost immediately. No looking for flocks of geese on far-flung farm fields then sorting through thousands of lookalikes for the one rarity.

As soon as I pulled into the park I saw a Northern Harrier floating low over the brushy area. There was a small flock of geese in the first pond. From the car I scanned them with my binoculars and they all looked like Canada Geese. I brought out the scope, set it up on the edge of the pond (the geese were, of course, on the far shore) and started at the left. About halfway through the flock I saw the little brown goose with the orange bill and white face. Total time to find: under 3 minutes. That's the kind of chasing I like.

Digiscope of GWFG
I was able to get surprisingly decent photos from across the water. I was even able to digiscope a shot that more or less looks like a GWFG. Sometimes my hand is steady enough to do it, sometimes not. I haven't been able to find an attachment yet that fits both my phone and the scope.

Other birds that were there included a Great Blue Heron standing just at the water's edge and 5 Gadwalls in the 2nd, overgrown pond.

There is only one more rare goose or swan that comes to New Jersey that I haven't tracked down yet this year--Pink-footed Goose. I know where one is. I just have to get down there soon.