Saturday, March 25, 2017

Brig 3/25--Osprey, Clapper Rail, Laughing Gull

The annual, obligatory Osprey photograph
Attention all photographers: It's over. Today I took THE photograph of an Osprey, the quintessential, definitive, nominative, photograph of an Osprey, so there is no need for anyone to take any more pictures of this species, anywhere, at any time. You can safely delete all the photographs you have stored on disk, on your computer, on thumb drives and in the cloud and can now go about taking pictures of butterflies or orchids or sunsets--whatever you like so long as it isn't an Osprey. No need to any longer clog up the road at Brig, or anywhere else, taking pictures of the bird on its nest because it is easy and sits still for hours while you hold down the shutter button on cameras with enormous, howitzer-likes lenses until your finger goes numb; no longer necessary to get bleary-eyed scrolling through the thousands of photos you shot in rapid-fire bursts, trying to determine if one picture taken 1/100 of second after the the previous picture is somehow "better" than the picture taken 1/100 of a second later. I have taken the only picture needed henceforth. I have performed this service selflessly, with all good intentions and with a pure heart. You're welcome. Now stop it.

Shari & I joined Mike on his semi-monthly tour de dikes of Brig today where Osprey was one of 3 year birds for us--we also heard a Clapper Rail (4 people in the group simultaneously named it when it called on the south dike) and saw, on the 2nd trip around the Wildlife Drive, 2 Laughing Gulls, perhaps a tad early, but not early enough to make a big deal out of them.

Shari, of course, was ready to go home when we found a trio of American Oystercatchers on the south dike. We had heard one that seemed to fly behind a muddy mound on the bay side while so I walked down the dike to get different angle and flushed a couple of Savannah Sparrows, which were year birds for some in the group, including Mike. Better yet, at least one of them was of the Ipswich sub-species.

There were still a lot of ducks there as well as Snow Geese. Tundra Swans have left. Shorebirds, aside from the oystercatchers and a couple of snipe that I missed were absent. Have the Dunlin already departed for northern climes? This will all change dramatically, one assumes, in the next couple of weeks. I may even take a walk in the woods there, one weekday, seeking early warblers.

Shari & I missed the big excitement of the day--a Golden Eagle flying over the exits ponds--a good number of our party got on it, but by the time I was even aware that the bird was being seen--I was searching for coots--it was "above the white cloud" and all I saw, looking into the blue, was floaters.

But 3 year birds at this time of year, before migration has begun, is a pretty good day. Our list:
Snow Geese with dirty faces

58 species
Snow Goose 1600 Spread out all through refuge
Brant 85
Canada Goose 30
Mute Swan 5
Wood Duck 2
Gadwall 20
American Black Duck 150
Mallard 20
Northern Shoveler 60
Northern Pintail 50
Green-winged Teal 50
Canvasback 23
Ring-necked Duck 5
Greater Scaup 10
Bufflehead 20
Hooded Merganser 2 SE Pool
Red-breasted Merganser 3
Ruddy Duck 2
Pied-billed Grebe 1
Double-crested Cormorant 18
Great Blue Heron 6
Great Egret 7
Turkey Vulture 5
Osprey 4
Northern Harrier 2
Cooper's Hawk 1
Bald Eagle 4
Clapper Rail 1 Heard
American Oystercatcher 7
Laughing Gull 2
Ring-billed Gull 2
Herring Gull 30
Great Black-backed Gull 5
Mourning Dove 1
Downy Woodpecker 1 Gull Pond
Northern Flicker 1
Peregrine Falcon 2 Hacking tower
Eastern Phoebe 2 Heard
Blue Jay 1
American Crow 4
Fish Crow 20
Tree Swallow 20
Carolina Chickadee 2 Heard
Tufted Titmouse 2 Heard
Carolina Wren 2 Heard
Golden-crowned Kinglet 1 Heard, parking lot
Eastern Bluebird 1 Box in field by Visitor's Center
American Robin 1
European Starling 5
Pine Warbler 2 Heard
Savannah Sparrow 2
Song Sparrow 2
Eastern Towhee 1 Heard
Northern Cardinal 2 Heard
Red-winged Blackbird 100
Boat-tailed Grackle 1
Brown-headed Cowbird 1 Heard
House Finch 2

Friday, March 24, 2017

Raritan Bay Waterfront Park 3/24--Iceland Gull, American Pipit

Iceland Gull
The last time Shari & I were at this park was more than 11 years when a Western Grebe was regularly showing up in Raritan Bay. It always shows us as good rare gull location, but I've never had the impetus to drive up to South Amboy to look. You have to time the tides right and besides, gulls are not my forte. Some guys I know can stand on a windy beach for hours, patiently sorting through the gulls, looking for the one that is whiter, or has a red beak instead of black, or is just otherwise different. I'm not one of those guys.

So when Scott announced a 1/2 day trip there we took the opportunity to search for rare gulls. Admittedly, I was hoping for a lifer, like Little Gull. Instead, we had to "settle" for the rare, but not unexpected, Iceland Gull, sitting on a sandbar with an mixed flock of Herring & Ring-billed Gulls. The more common gulls did not seem to appreciate its presence. Shari, of course, considered it a "trash" bird, having seen the hundreds in Iceland.

American Oystercatcher
I don't bird Middlesex County very often, especially not its shoreline, so today I built up the county life list with some birds that I wouldn't think twice about in Ocean, like Brant, Bufflehead, and Killdeer. Shari, of course, was very happy to get her FOY American Oystercatchers. She got Eurasian Oystercatcher in Iceland before she ever got its American cousin.

The other new bird for the year was a quick flyover, American Pipit, making its little "pipit" call as it zoomed overhead the group as we stood on the walkway. Not the most satisfying way to get a year bird, but often the only way you're going to get a pipit.

I did get some disappointing news this morning. One of the Associate Naturalists on the trip was my friend David, who last I saw in Cape May when we saw the Tufted Duck. Thought we saw the Tufted Duck. I hadn't heard, but David informed me that the duck we were looking at, "upon further review," turned out to be a Lesser Scaup and not the rarity at all. Distance, lighting, wishful thinking...There is a real, actual Tufted Duck down there, still. We just didn't see it. So I had to remove that one from the year list, leaving me with 151 species so far.

The birds we did see (or hear) today:
29 species
Brant 300
Canada Goose 50
American Black Duck 20
Mallard 2
Greater Scaup 30
Long-tailed Duck 4
Bufflehead 10
Red-breasted Merganser 3 distant
Red-throated Loon 12
Common Loon 10
Horned Grebe 4
Northern Gannet 2
Great Cormorant 1
Turkey Vulture 1
Red-shouldered Hawk 1
American Oystercatcher 5 on beach
Killdeer 3
Sanderling 12
Bonaparte's Gull 3 Beach
Ring-billed Gull 50
Herring Gull 200
Iceland Gull 1
Great Black-backed Gull 3
Mourning Dove 1
American Crow 1
American Robin 1
European Starling 4
American Pipit 1 Heard. Flyover.
Song Sparrow 1 Heard

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Birding Sans Binoculars in Central Park 3/23--Black-capped Chickadee

We had to be in New York today for a couple of appointments but we had time for some culture first. However, what Shari wanted to see at the New-York Historical Society didn't interest me in the least and their Audubon collection was not on display (they've been rotating the collection for the last couple of years and are between exhibits right now), so I decided to walk across the street to Central Park, even though I had left my binoculars at home. I wanted to see how many birds I could find "naked eye."

Blue Jay photographed with iPhone
I did bird by ear, but I only used that as a tool to direct me to where the birds were. I surprised myself at how well I did, totaling 18 species in about an hour and half of wandering around The Ramble. Central Park is the ideal place to do this kind of birding because the birds there are inured to human traffic and let someone even as near-sighted as me get very close to them. The trick, sometimes, is not to step on them.

I knew the best place to see the birds would be the feeders in The Ramble. It was a little difficult for me to get used to so many people looking at and photographing birds. A couple of photographers there had very long lenses and were shooting House Finches and grackles in bursts of 50 or 100 and it all seemed pretty silly to me. I always wonder how they edit their photos--when you're looking at 50 photos of a sparrow taken within 10 seconds, what makes one better than the others? But it was fun to watch school kids get excited about a Tufted Titmouse when their teacher pointed one out.

I, of course, jaded Jersey birder that I am, have seen all the birds at the feeders in our backyard. I wanted one bird today. It took all of 5 minutes until a single Black-capped Chickadee showed up. I don't get to see what used to be my default chickadee very much anymore and, compared to titmice, they seem to surprisingly hard to find in Central Park. I heard one other, but as I was only counting birds I saw today, I left the singleton on the list. Besides, I only need one. I wish I could remember all the names of the birding spots in the park, but they all blur in my mind. The waterfowl I did see were in the body of water overlooked by "The Oven." Geese and Mallards were no surprise, but some Northern Shovelers were, as was, according to my records, the first Green-winged Teal I have ever encountered in the county of New York.

My first non-New Jersey list of the year:
Canada Goose 7
Mallard 5
Northern Shoveler 6
Green-winged Teal 1
Mourning Dove 2
Downy Woodpecker 1
Blue Jay 15
Black-capped Chickadee 1
Tufted Titmouse 20
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
American Robin 11
European Starling 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 1
White-throated Sparrow 75
Northern Cardinal 5
Common Grackle 5
House Finch 5
House Sparrow 125

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Jackson 3/18--Pectoral Sandpiper, Chipping Sparrow

Pectoral Sandpiper, Patriots County Park
Photos: Peggy Cadigan

Today was the 2nd of the 5 Jackson (the Jackson 5?) trips that Mike is leading. Seven of us convened at the Jackson Memorial HS then headed down the road to FREC, where Mike & I had been just yesterday. I'd said yesterday to Mike it would be interesting to see if anything new flew in overnight and the very first bird we saw and heard (and hearing here is important) was a new one for me for the year: a Chipping Sparrow.

Chipping Sparrows,  per se, are no big deal; in a couple of weeks there might be 10 of them hopping around on my lawn. But so far this year, I've had no luck with them, and I usually get them much earlier. Once earlier this year, we had an odd sparrow at our feeder that I couldn't quickly identify before it flew off--looked like a chippie to me. Turned out to be a female House Sparrow. We hardly ever get House Sparrows here. Then, a couple of weeks ago I had a sparrow with a rufous cap beneath the feeders. While my photos weren't perfect for a chippie, I couldn't think of anything else that would be likely in our backyard, so I listed it as such. An eBird reviewer corrected me and of course, once I looked at the pictures again I could clearly see that it was a Swamp Sparrow. The first Swamp Sparrow we've ever had in the backyard in the 5 1/2 years we've been here. The habitat of our backyard is all wrong for Swamp Sparrow, yet, there it was.

So, when we saw this sparrow in the murk & distance in a tree at FREC we couldn't quite figure out what it was until it sang. If singing is what you want to call a little whir that sounds a miniature machine gun. That made it a positive id of Chipping Sparrow and now I probably won't stop seeing them until November.

The good idea behind Mike's course for the Jackson Community School is to visit the same location 5 times late winter through late spring to see how the bird life changes: what goes, what arrives, in what habitats and why. So today we bounced from location to location on our circuit: FREC to Butterfly Bogs, Lake Enno (which was closed because someone "forgot" to open the gate), a stop at the Wawa on County Line Road, Jackson Mills Pond to Prospertown Lake and finally a run through Colliers Mills.

However, "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," and since two very unusual birds for Jackson were reported yesterday on the soccer fields of Patriots County Park we took a run over there even though it really isn't in the "curriculum." It was only about a 5 minute drive from the exit of Colliers Mills and once we found the right field (#5) Mike quickly got some Wilson's Snipes plus a Pectoral Sandpiper in the scope. The fields are closed for the winter and with the recent snow and rain, there are wet areas--just perfect for both shorebirds. Pectoral Sandpiper is rare this time of year (though I have seen them in winter out in New Egypt in the magic cattle fields) but there was no mistaking the bird with its diagnostic "vest" ending abruptly at the belly. Plus, we were fortunate that Peggy Cadigan was on the trip with us and she has kindly provided the photos documenting this entry. (Clicking on a photo will enlarge it.)
Wilson's Snipes, Patriots County Park
(note how different they can appear depending up stance)
Hairy Woodpecker, FREC

Brown Creeper, FREC

My list for day totaled 45 species. Others had more, others had less.
32 Canada Goose
7 Tundra Swan --Colliers Mills
3 Wood Duck
--Colliers Mills
6 American Black Duck
8 Mallard
28 Ring-necked Duck
6 Bufflehead
7 Hooded Merganser
10 Common Merganser --Prospertown Lake
1 Pied-billed Grebe --Butterfly Bogs
2 Great Blue Heron
15 Killdeer--Patriots County Park 
1 Pectoral Sandpiper
2 Wilson's Snipe
2 Ring-billed Gull
8 Herring Gull
4 Mourning Dove
1 Belted Kingfisher 
--Colliers Mills
4 Red-bellied Woodpecker
2 Downy Woodpecker
1 Hairy Woodpecker
1 Merlin 
--Colliers Mills
3 Eastern Phoebe
9 Blue Jay
2 American Crow
5 Fish Crow
8 Carolina Chickadee
5 Tufted Titmouse
3 White-breasted Nuthatch
1 Brown Creeper
2 Carolina Wren
3 Golden-crowned Kinglet
33 American Robin
1 Northern Mockingbird
28 European Starling
1 Chipping Sparrow
1 White-throated Sparrow
2 Song Sparrow
1 Eastern Towhee
3 Northern Cardinal
17 Red-winged Blackbird
2 Brown-headed Cowbird
1 House Finch
2 House Sparrow 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Manasquan Inlet 3/17--Glaucous Gull

Glaucous Gull
Photo: Mike Mandracchia
Mike & I planned to start our birding day in Pt. Pleasant Beach to look for white-winged gulls and then see where the rest of the day led us. It led us to an inadvertent big day in Ocean County, where we hit 14 locations (and left out some big ones, like Island Beach, LBI, Colliers Mills...). But the highlight of the day, I guess for both of us, came early on the jetty at Manasquan Inlet where, from a mixed gull flock Mike manage to winkle out our FOY Glaucous Gull (a white-winged gull, though "glaucous" means gray [glaucoma comes from the same root] and it really is a very pale gray). It started out on the beach and then we followed it into the surf. Always good to get a year bird, but especially good (for me) to get it in Ocean County and very special (for me) because it is also a county bird lifer. (There are probably only a very few obsessives reading this who will understand why this is such an event.)

It was a lot colder than we needed it to be for mid-March with a biting wind, but we managed to stick it out long enough for Mike to get his FOY Razorbill flying along the horizon. I was never able to get on the bird, but that was all right--I already sighted this species last month, on the same jetty.

We hit a few more spots in PPB then, looking for someplace out of the wind, decided that the roads through the Manahawkin marshes might be protected. By the time we got down there it had warmed up enough to bird comfortably and we found a lot of land birds in the trees and on the sides of the roads. The best sightings there were when we flushed an American Woodcock from the marsh and when, as Mike was pointing out where a Red-tailed Hawk was sitting in a dead tree, another Red-tail flew in and...well, there is a book called Red-tails in Love.

After lunch we drove up to Barnegat, found decent duckage plus a Horned Grebe off the Municipal Dock and then looked into the impoundments on Bayshore where there was surprisingly little, though we did add Green-winged Teal and Gadwall to the list.

We figured we might as well keep looking for ducks, there won't be many left in a few weeks, so we headed up to Toms River where we managed to find one hen Canvasback in the river and 6 Wood Ducks along with a couple of Ring-neck Ducks at Marshall's Pond.

Our last stop was at FREC, again looking for land birds and we did pretty well, adding Eastern Bluebird, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Dark-eyed Juncos (how did we go a whole day without seeing juncos?), as well as flushing another woodcock. Amazingly, we had no goldfinches the whole day.

My list shows 71 species, Mike had, I think, 3 more. Considering we thought 60 would be a respectable number, we were very happy with our day.

Locations:   Barnegat Municipal Dock; Barnegat--Bayshore Dr; Beach Ave; Edwin B. Forsythe NWR--Barnegat; Field next to Lakewood Wawa; Forest Resource Education Center; Lake of the Lilies; Little Silver Lake; Manahawkin WMA; Manasquan Inlet; Marshall's Pond; Mathis Veteran's Memorial Park; Mud City; Point Pleasant Beach-Baltimore Ave 

60 Brant
28 Canada Goose
18 Mute Swan
6 Wood Duck)
4 Gadwall
2 American Wigeon
14 American Black Duck
36 Mallard
2 Northern Shoveler
15 Green-winged Teal
1 Canvasback
2 Ring-necked Duck
11 Greater Scaup
30 Lesser Scaup
1 Black Scoter
4 Long-tailed Duck
33 Bufflehead
16 Hooded Merganser
30 Red-breasted Merganser
200 Ruddy Duck
36 Common Loon
1 Pied-billed Grebe
1 Horned Grebe
1 Northern Gannet
3 Double-crested Cormorant
5 Great Blue Heron
1 Black Vulture
5 Turkey Vulture
1 Cooper's Hawk
1 Bald Eagle
2 Red-tailed Hawk
20 American Coot
2 American Oystercatcher
25 Killdeer
6 Sanderling
X Purple Sandpiper
2 American Woodcock
75 Ring-billed Gull
280 Herring Gull
1 Glaucous Gull
63 Great Black-backed Gull
2 Rock Pigeon
7 Mourning Dove
3 Red-bellied Woodpecker
1 Downy Woodpecker
1 Hairy Woodpecker
1 Northern Flicker
1 Blue Jay
1 American Crow
31 Fish Crow
16 Carolina Chickadee
7 Tufted Titmouse
1 Red-breasted Nuthatch
5 White-breasted Nuthatch
1 Carolina Wren
2 Golden-crowned Kinglet
2 Eastern Bluebird
1 Hermit Thrush
36 American Robin
1 Northern Mockingbird
52 European Starling
1 Fox Sparrow
11 Dark-eyed Junco
1 White-throated Sparrow
4 Song Sparrow
2 Swamp Sparrow
4 Northern Cardinal
1 Red-winged Blackbird
35 Common Grackle
1 Boat-tailed Grackle
3 House Sparrow 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017


I used the phrase "out of whack" this morning. Then it occurred to me: Has anything ever been in whack? For that matter, has anything ever been on kilter? Or in of kilter?

When you whack an object, it is certainly going to be out of something, I suppose. The etymology of "kilter" comes from "keiter" which meant, healthy, or in good condition, but is now like the word "gruntled," which is never used in positive form.

"Out of sorts?" That's easy for a former printer--sorts are punctuation marks, dingbats and decorations in a type font. When you're out of them you can't complete the job. Of course, that never happens nowadays when typefaces are all digital, but when you only had so many pieces of lead in your type case, you were in trouble when you ran out.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Manahawkin WMA 3/12--Eastern Phoebe

We're at the point in the birding year, where, if you haven't seen a winter species you're probably going to have to wait until the end of the year for a second chance--that's why I was happy to get Snow Buntings yesterday at Brig. Meanwhile, the spring birds are just starting to arrive. Mike reported a Pine Warbler in his backyard this morning--they can usually be found in winter, but not so much this year. And I, walking in the Manahawkin WMA, caught sight of my first Eastern Phoebe of the year, sitting on the branch of a small tree, pumping its tail. It flew before I had any chance to photograph it.

I saw a big flock of House Finches there but couldn't turn any of them purple--looks like that species will have to wait. Ducks were scarce--most of the impoundments were frozen and there were only a few of the more common dabblers in the pool on Stafford Avenue The diving ducks, save for a single hen Hooded Merganser, seem to be moved on from there. An American Coot, though, was a surprise.
18 species
Mute Swan 2
American Black Duck 6
Mallard 4
Northern Pintail 6
Green-winged Teal 5
Hooded Merganser 1
Turkey Vulture 2
American Coot 1
Mourning Dove 2
Belted Kingfisher 1 Heard
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1 Heard
Eastern Phoebe 1
Carolina Chickadee 4 Heard
Carolina Wren 1 Heard
Song Sparrow 2 Heard
Northern Cardinal 1
Red-winged Blackbird 2
House Finch 20

More interesting to me than the phoebe, a bird that will soon be listed almost daily, was a report of a Wilson's Snipe up at Meadowedge Park in Barnegat.  Snipes, like woodcocks, can be elusive and they're cool birds to find. I drove up there without much hope that I'd see the bird but almost as soon as I got out of the car, there it was, standing in a wet, grassy area, along with a Killdeer. Not a year bird, but it was a county bird and, even more importantly, a fun bird to find.

Wilson's Snipe