Saturday, July 21, 2018

Brig 7/21--Stilt Sandpiper

Astonishingly bad digiscope photos of Stilt Sandpiper, on top at left, top bird on right, on right

I finally got another year bird today. It gets harder and harder as the summer drags on. Shari & I joined Scott's trip to Brig today on a very unsummer-like day--cool, overcast, "breezy" (read gale-force winds) with intermittent rain, at first, which turned into a downpour on our second trip around. 

While I have spent the last couple of weeks looking for a Royal Tern, I didn't think the chances of finding one at Brig were too good and I was right. This left, unless something really weird showed up, as the only possibility for a year bird, Stilt Sandpiper as the bird to find. I even had Western Sandpiper from earlier in the year, so while everyone was trying to pick one of those out of the hundreds of Semipalmated Sandpipers, I looked at one and then mentally moved on. As my friend Dave said, it isn't much fun sorting through a flock of sandpipers looking for the few oddballs, especially at a distance in gray light and stiff wind. 

On the north dike we ran across another big flock of Short-billed Dowitchers and Linda, who has patience, was able to pick out the "one that does not belong" a very obvious (once you got on it) Stilt Sandpiper. It was starting to spritz by then and it the bird was in the middle distance so I tried a few digiscope photos even though the tripod was swaying in the wind. The very poor results are above. 

In a way, it's a good example, because a lot of times, this is actually what the birds really look like "in the field"--you can tell what they are only by comparing them to what is around them. They sure don't look like the portraits in the field guides. At least today, the Western Sandpiper I saw was close enough to get all the field marks, or at least the ones I use, since looking for "chevrons" on the flanks is a mug's game as far as I'm concerned. 

Because of the conditions, I wasn't particularly interested in taking photos, but this Blue Grosbeak was so cooperative that after watching it perched atop a bush for a minutes, I took the camera out of the car and made this photo.
The teeth-gnasher of the day was when Scott called out Least Bittern flying over the impoundment and I missed it. Even worse was that Shari didn't! The Roseate Spoonbill was reported today but went unseen by our group. The only "rarity" we found was the continuing Green-winged Teal.

I managed 54 species for the day, which isn't bad considering the skies and the winds and the precipitation. 
Canada Goose 150
Mute Swan 40
Wood Duck 1
Mallard 20
American Black Duck 2
Green-winged Teal 1
Double-crested Cormorant 3
Great Blue Heron 4
Great Egret 50
Snowy Egret 10
Black-crowned Night-Heron 4
Glossy Ibis 15
Turkey Vulture 1
Osprey 10 undercount
Cooper's Hawk 1
Clapper Rail 5
American Oystercatcher 1
Semipalmated Plover 5
Killdeer 1
Whimbrel 2
Stilt Sandpiper 1
Least Sandpiper 5
Semipalmated Sandpiper 300
Western Sandpiper 1
Short-billed Dowitcher 200
Greater Yellowlegs 2
Willet 3
Lesser Yellowlegs 2
Laughing Gull 150
Herring Gull 55
Great Black-backed Gull 60
Least Tern 6
Gull-billed Tern 4
Caspian Tern 1
Common Tern 1
Forster's Tern 45
Black Skimmer 50
American Crow 1
Fish Crow 2
Purple Martin 2
Tree Swallow 10
Barn Swallow 25
Marsh Wren 3 Heard
American Robin 1
Gray Catbird 1
Brown Thrasher 1
European Starling 2
Common Yellowthroat 5 Heard
Seaside Sparrow 2
Song Sparrow 1 Heard
Blue Grosbeak 1 Start of Wildlife Drive
Red-winged Blackbird 20
House Finch 1 Heard
American Goldfinch 2

Friday, July 13, 2018

Rechnitz Pine Barrens Preserve 7/13

Eastern Towhee
In John McPhee's wonderful classic, The Pine Barrens, he says that one of the great misconceptions about the area is that no birds live here because there's nothing for them to eat. He then goes on to list a half page of birds that breed in the Pine Barrens (some, alas, like Henslow's Sparrow and Alder Flycatcher, no longer) and ends the section with the sentence, "The most common bird in the Pine Barrens is the towhee."

I first read this book in college and have reread it a number of times; the last time I read the book we had moved here and I had birded extensively and I knew that the towhee was no longer the most common bird, if it ever really was. The Carolina Chickadee is, in my opinion and experience, the bird you'll run into most frequently in the Pine Barrens. For one thing, in winter towhees are scarce, while chickadees are abundant, especially at feeders. We don't really start seeing towhees until the spring when there is always at least one nesting pair in the woods just behind the house.

I was thinking of all this today while walking through the newly-opened Rechnitz Pine Barrens Preserve off North Branch Road in Pemberton. 811 acres of preserved land, bought from a family which acquired the property in 1956 in anticipation of a Pine Barrens development boom that never came. Today, at least, in the Rechnitz Preserve, the most common bird was the Eastern Towhee. I listed 20 and that was just a fair guess. They were "chwinking" almost every step of the 1.3 mile trail that I walked. I saw one chickadee.

It's mid-summer, so I really wasn't expecting many species (I wound up with 12); I was more interested in exploring the habitat to see where, when conditions are right, I might look for birds. While Mount Misery Brook runs along the southern end of the property, there's no way to access it that I could see, but, perhaps in the autumn or early spring, when everything isn't leafed out and overgrown, there may be a way.

Supposedly this is good habitat for Red-headed Woodpecker but I have to say that I didn't notice a lot of dead trees that they like to hammer away at. I was hoping for Summer Tanager too. They're probably around but a lot harder to find when not singing.

And a Pine Barrens factoid: The place name Mount Misery derives from it original name which was Mount Misericordia--Latin for "mercy." "Misericordia" is way too long a name to say comfortably, so in a folk transformation, "mercy" become "misery."

Map of Rechnitz Preserve
Mourning Dove 1
Eastern Wood-Pewee 1 Heard
Great Crested Flycatcher 2
Carolina Chickadee 1
White-breasted Nuthatch 2 Heard
Eastern Bluebird 4
Common Yellowthroat 2
Pine Warbler 1
Chipping Sparrow 1
Eastern Towhee 20
House Finch 6
American Goldfinch 2 Heard

Monday, July 2, 2018

Sooy Place Road 7/2--Red-headed Woodpecker

Zirlin's Second Law of Birding, which states that "You will never see the bird you want until you have truly given up on seeing it," was demonstrated again today.

I spent a number of hours last month at Colliers Mills looking for Red-headed Woodpecker. I know they're there, I just have had no luck. On Saturday, I took a run down into Burlington County to a site that historically has the woodpeckers  known as 4 Mile Tornado Damage which is around the New Lisbon Developmental Center, a state facility which means I'm not supposed to be there anyway but someone else had one there that day but I struck out and didn't feel comfortable, not knowing exactly where trespassing began. There's a path into the wood around there where I once had one but I didn't have time to explore.

Yesterday, discussing all this with my friend on the Wildlife Drive with Brig, he told me that he'd been looking in the same area and that the path I'd taken was too overgrown to walk on anymore. He had no luck in the trails around that area either and was also ware of encroaching on state land.

BUT. He did have one on Sooy Place Road which is the road where the entrance to the Huber Prairie Warbler Preserve is located. He said maybe a quarter mile up the road from the entrance. I went there this morning, figuring I'd at least get a walk in the reserve. I walked Sooy Place Road for 7/10 of a mile ("Sooy" is an ancient Pine Barrens family name) and while I had a few interesting birds like cuckoo and thrasher, I did not see the woodpecker. At one dead tree in front of a tree farm I heard drumming but even though I circled the tree I couldn't find the source. I had the feeling it was the woodpecker but I wasn't going to list one on the basis on drumming. Voice yes: they make a distinctive "queer" cry. But drumming? Come on.

So I gave up, turned around and walked 1.7 miles in Huber where, along with 20 species of birds, I picked off from my shoes, socks, and permethrin-treated pants 42 ticks of the Lone Star and Deer variety, which must be some sort of record. (Note to hikers: Deer Ticks really like shoelaces.) I got back to the car, made a thorough tick-check and drove back toward Route 70, slowly. When I  was just about up to the tree farm property I looked at the top of the dead tree and boom--a Red-headed Woodpecker with all the field marks--red head, black body, white rump--flew off the top, across the road and into the woods. No photo opportunity of course, but I got the bird, #250 for NJ and #300 for the year.

The walk through Huber was not without its satisfactions--there is still plenty of warbler activity in there and I saw them all aside from the Prothonotary Warbler which was a heard only at the red bridge.
Turkey Vulture 1
Yellow-billed Cuckoo 1 Heard Yellow Trail
Red-bellied Woodpecker 2
Eastern Wood-Pewee 3 Heard
Great Crested Flycatcher 1
White-eyed Vireo 2 Heard
Carolina Chickadee 2 Heard
Tufted Titmouse 3
White-breasted Nuthatch 2 Heard
Carolina Wren 1 Heard entrance
Wood Thrush 2 Heard
Ovenbird 9
Black-and-white Warbler 1
Prothonotary Warbler 1 Heard Bridge
Common Yellowthroat 5
Hooded Warbler 2
American Redstart 1 Yellowstart
Pine Warbler 3
Prairie Warbler 6
Eastern Towhee 5

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Brig 7/1--Roseate Spoonbill

That spoon, that spoon, that spoonbill
Click photos to enlarge
TI only wanted to see one bird today at Brig and I was prepared as Adlai Stevenson said in another context "to wait until Hell freezes over." Or one hour, whichever came first.

 I was on the Wildlife Drive a little after 7 this morning and stopped at Goose Marker 4 without finding the target. I moved on and ran into a friend of mine at #5. We stood scanning the pool, talking, enjoying the light breeze which kept the flies away from us. We saw a group of photographers up ahead but photographers will take a thousand pictures of a House Sparrow if the light is good, so we paid them little heed. After a while, having seen most of the usual, expected birds for July 1, my phone dinged: ROSP just beyond tower on left among egrets.

I ran back to my car, jumped in, don't tell anyone but went over the 20 MPH speed limit for a quarter of a mile and arrived where the photographers were grouped. Put up my bins and there it was, the Roseate Spoonbill that has been playing hide-and-seek at Brig for the last week. The reason I sped down the drive was because this bird has a history of flying off to other parts of the refuge and sometimes disappearing altogether and I didn't want to hear, "Ooo, you just missed it!"

Another entry in the goofy bird category with the added bonus of also being one of the "big-nosed" birds I enjoy so much. I think this may be the 3rd time a spoonbill has taken up residence at Brig. About 9 years ago, Shari & I found the 2nd one. I remember we were driving around, not finding much of anything that day, when on the north dike I spotted a big pink bird and said out loud, "WTF is that?" and Shari calmly identified it. We didn't have a camera that day so I stopped a photographer who had been taking pictures of Ospreys (I had been making fun of him to Shari when we passed him) and told him, "Take a picture of that!" It turned out to be a life bird for him and he shared the credit with us when we made our formal report to the Records Committee. So I have a sentimental attachment to spoonbills.

Having got that bird out of the way in the first mile or so of the drive I was free to make my way around the remaining 7 miles without any pressure. I found what I found--I wasn't interested in building up a huge list for the day. The air conditioning in the car kept the flies at bay and the few times I stopped to scope they were little more than a nuisance, but then, it wasn't really that hot yet either.

The only other "notable" bird I found was a Ruddy Duck way out in the pool off the north dike. This is a long-staying duck that didn't get the memo to migrate. It is rare only for date.

I stopped briefly at the parking area for Jen's Trail, just where the upland portion of the drive begins but moved on quickly, having no desire to exchange greenhead flies for biting deer flies. A stop at the Refuge Overlook (the Experimental Pool to old timers) yielded two singing Yellow-breasted Chats (heard only), 3 swooping Gull-billed Terns, a Willow Flycatcher and an Orchard Oriole.

I had 48 species for the morning. I didn't even stop at the Gull Pond. Home before 1 o'clock.
Canada Goose 60
Mute Swan 20
Mallard 40
American Black Duck 2
Ruddy Duck 1
Double-crested Cormorant 7
Great Blue Heron 2
Great Egret 25
Snowy Egret 30
Black-crowned Night-Heron 4
Glossy Ibis 50
Roseate Spoonbill 1
Osprey 15 occupied nests
Clapper Rail 1
Short-billed Dowitcher 10
Greater Yellowlegs 3
Willet 30
Lesser Yellowlegs 1
Laughing Gull 100
Herring Gull 10
Great Black-backed Gull 2
Least Tern 2
Gull-billed Tern 3
Caspian Tern 1
Common Tern 1 NE corner, as usual
Forster's Tern 50
Black Skimmer 10
Mourning Dove 2
Willow Flycatcher 1
Blue Jay 2 Heard
Fish Crow 4
Purple Martin 10
Tree Swallow 10
Barn Swallow 2
House Wren 1 Heard parking lot
Marsh Wren 1 Heard dogleg
American Robin 1
Gray Catbird 1
Brown Thrasher 1 Road to Gull Pond
European Starling 1
Common Yellowthroat 4
Seaside Sparrow 5 Heard
Field Sparrow 1 Heard Refuge Overlook
Song Sparrow 2 Heard
Yellow-breasted Chat 2 Heard at Refuge Overlook
Orchard Oriole 1
Red-winged Blackbird 100
American Goldfinch 2

Saturday, June 30, 2018

June in Review

Grasshopper Sparrow, Colliers Mills
By the middle of the month, avian activity gets very, very quiet hereabouts, so I had to range farther around the state to get new, or at least interesting, birds--a couple of trips to High Point SP, an excursion to Old Mine Road, and even some brief forays into Middlesex County, one for a chase (see above), another--the Monk Parakeets--because I was in the area anyway. And yet, I still haven't made it down to Cape May this year! Which partially explains my lagging list.

Mike and I did okay up at High Point SP, but the Old Mine Road trip had the weather against us--steady rain--and the second trip we were going to make got cancelled because of the weather too.

American Avocet at Brig
In terms of rarities, I did all right for the month coming up with one I wasn't looking for (American Avocet) while looking and not finding another (Roseate Spoonbill) at Brig. Today's Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks are probably the highlight of the month, although the memory I'll carry with me forever is taking my mother to see and hear the Monk Parakeets.

Northern Mockingbird on lamp post in front of house
I spent a lot of time tromping around Colliers Mills looking for a Red-headed Woodpecker and didn't find one, which was frustrating, but I did find other sought after birds there along the way. The Grasshopper Sparrows were very cooperative for a couple of trips. And our backyard had two very interesting birds this month, both mimids. We always have a few Gray Catbirds, but rarely do we have Brown Thrasher and there were two hanging near our feeder for a couple of days. Even more intriguing, for me, are the two Northern Mockingbirds that appear to be nesting behind an ornamental tree up against the house across the street. The first day we looked at this house 7 years ago I saw a mockingbird and didn't think anything of it, but it was years before I saw another in the neighborhood. Now there are two very aggressive birds which I've seen chasing any Fish Crow that dares to come into the vicinity.

Also new for the month were the Common Nighthawks flying over the house--this is a very early date for them; usually they don't appear until August.

The special trip of the month was to the Lakehurst base where the Upland Sandpipers put on quite a show. I'll admit to having become a bit jaded about this trip, so it was fun to be there with birders who'd never been on the base and vicariously enjoy their life birds.

For the month I notched 149 species. I could have run down to Brig today and added the spoonbill, but I have to have something to do in July.

Species                                                 First Sighting
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck   Monroe
Canada Goose   Assunpink WMA
Mute Swan   Sussex
Wood Duck   Whitesbog
Blue-winged Teal   Brig
Mallard   Assunpink WMA
American Black Duck   Ocean City Welcome Center
Green-winged Teal   Brig
Common Merganser   Old Mine Road IBA
Wild Turkey   Assunpink WMA
Common Loon   Great Bay Blvd WMA
Double-crested Cormorant   Assunpink WMA
Brown Pelican   Shark River Inlet
Great Blue Heron   Assunpink WMA
Great Egret   Brig
Snowy Egret   Brig
Little Blue Heron   Great Bay Blvd WMA
Tricolored Heron   Great Bay Blvd WMA
Green Heron   Ocean City Preserve
Black-crowned Night-Heron   Ocean City Welcome Center
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron   Ocean City Welcome Center
Glossy Ibis   Brig
Black Vulture   New Egypt
Turkey Vulture   Assunpink WMA
Osprey   Brig
Cooper's Hawk   35 Sunset Rd
Bald Eagle   Great Bay Blvd WMA
Red-shouldered Hawk   High Point SP
Broad-winged Hawk   High Point SP
Red-tailed Hawk   Field next to Lakewood Wawa
Clapper Rail   Brig
Virginia Rail   Cattus Island County Park
Common Gallinule   Ocean City Preserve
American Avocet   Brig
American Oystercatcher   Brig
Semipalmated Plover   Brig
Piping Plover   Shark River Inlet
Killdeer   Whitesbog
Upland Sandpiper   Lakehurst NAES
Ruddy Turnstone   Brig
Dunlin   Brig
Least Sandpiper   Brig
White-rumped Sandpiper   Brig
Semipalmated Sandpiper   Brig
Greater Yellowlegs   Great Bay Blvd WMA
Willet   Brig
Lesser Yellowlegs   Brig
Laughing Gull   Brig
Herring Gull   Brig
Great Black-backed Gull   Brig
Least Tern   Brig
Gull-billed Tern   Brig
Caspian Tern   Brig
Common Tern   Shark River Inlet
Forster's Tern   Brig
Black Skimmer   Brig
Rock Pigeon   Forsythe-Barnegat
Mourning Dove   35 Sunset Rd
Yellow-billed Cuckoo   Whitesbog
Black-billed Cuckoo   High Point SP
Common Nighthawk   35 Sunset Rd
Eastern Whip-poor-will   35 Sunset Rd
Chimney Swift   Assunpink WMA
Ruby-throated Hummingbird   35 Sunset Rd
Belted Kingfisher   Old Mine Road IBA
Red-bellied Woodpecker   Assunpink WMA
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker   High Point SP
Downy Woodpecker   35 Sunset Rd
Hairy Woodpecker   High Point SP
Northern Flicker   Colliers Mills WMA
American Kestrel   Lakehurst NAES
Monk Parakeet   Carteret
Eastern Wood-Pewee   High Point SP
Acadian Flycatcher   Brig
Willow Flycatcher   Great Bay Blvd WMA
Eastern Phoebe   High Point SP
Great Crested Flycatcher   35 Sunset Rd
Eastern Kingbird   Assunpink WMA
White-eyed Vireo   Assunpink WMA
Yellow-throated Vireo   Old Mine Road IBA
Warbling Vireo   Assunpink WMA
Red-eyed Vireo   Assunpink WMA
Blue Jay   35 Sunset Rd
American Crow   Assunpink WMA
Fish Crow   35 Sunset Rd
Common Raven   Old Mine Road IBA
Horned Lark   Lakehurst NAES
Northern Rough-winged Swallow   Union Transportation Trail
Purple Martin   Brig
Tree Swallow   Assunpink WMA
Bank Swallow   Brig
Barn Swallow   Assunpink WMA
Cliff Swallow   Wesley Lake
Carolina Chickadee   35 Sunset Rd
Black-capped Chickadee   High Point SP
Tufted Titmouse   35 Sunset Rd
White-breasted Nuthatch   35 Sunset Rd
House Wren   35 Sunset Rd
Marsh Wren   Great Bay Blvd WMA
Carolina Wren   Assunpink WMA
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher   High Point SP
Eastern Bluebird   Union Transportation Trail
Veery   High Point SP
Hermit Thrush   High Point SP
Wood Thrush   High Point SP
American Robin   Assunpink WMA
Gray Catbird   Assunpink WMA
Brown Thrasher   Brig
Northern Mockingbird   Assunpink WMA
European Starling   New Egypt
Cedar Waxwing   High Point SP
Ovenbird   Assunpink WMA
Worm-eating Warbler   Old Mine Road IBA
Northern Waterthrush   High Point SP
Black-and-white Warbler   High Point SP
Prothonotary Warbler   Union Transportation Trail
Common Yellowthroat   Assunpink WMA
Hooded Warbler   Old Mine Road IBA
American Redstart   High Point SP
Northern Parula   Old Mine Road IBA
Yellow Warbler   Assunpink WMA
Black-throated Blue Warbler   High Point SP
Pine Warbler   Whitesbog
Prairie Warbler   High Point SP
Canada Warbler   High Point SP
Grasshopper Sparrow   Assunpink WMA
Saltmarsh Sparrow   Great Bay Blvd WMA
Seaside Sparrow   Brig
Chipping Sparrow   35 Sunset Rd
Field Sparrow   Assunpink WMA
Song Sparrow   35 Sunset Rd
Swamp Sparrow   Reeves Bogs
Eastern Towhee   Assunpink WMA
Yellow-breasted Chat   Brig
Scarlet Tanager   High Point SP
Northern Cardinal   35 Sunset Rd
Rose-breasted Grosbeak   High Point SP
Blue Grosbeak   Assunpink WMA
Indigo Bunting   Assunpink WMA
Eastern Meadowlark   Lakehurst NAES
Orchard Oriole   Union Transportation Trail
Baltimore Oriole   High Point SP
Red-winged Blackbird   Assunpink WMA
Brown-headed Cowbird   High Point SP
Common Grackle   Assunpink WMA
Boat-tailed Grackle   Brig
House Finch   35 Sunset Rd
American Goldfinch   Assunpink WMA
House Sparrow   New Egypt
Brown Thrasher on our feeder
Ovenbird, Whitesbog