Monday, August 20, 2018

Sod Farming 8/20--American Golden-Plover

Since the month began I've been checking out the various sod farms clustered around Allentown, looking for "grasspipers." Until today, all I've come up with were Killdeer, Least Sandpipers, and Semipalmated Plovers, all fine birds, but nothing worth standing with your back to a busy road hoping a tractor-trailer doesn't swerve off course.

This morning, while I was doing something else, I saw that, finally, some decent birds were being found up there, but of course, I couldn't go. It wasn't until the late afternoon that I managed to gather myself together and drive up there, without much hope. The first farm I tried had tractors running around on it, so any of the cool birds that were seen there this morning weren't going to be seen this afternoon. The second place I tried, one I like better because you can view the fields from the parking lot of a recreation area, had another birder there peering through his scope when I arrived. "Another masochist," I thought, but at least he had some interesting birds in his optics. With a little help I finally managed to find 3 of the 6 American Golden-Plovers he was seeing in the dirt. Still, in order to get even the lousy photograph above, we had to cross the road to the opposite shoulder while rush hour began to build. Unpleasant to say the least.

There are more farms north of that spot and the one I like the best for both sentimental and logistical reasons, is one that is adjacent to the Union Transportation Trail. Lately, I've been parking there and actually walking on Herbert Road, scanning the fields. I've done well with Killdeer there and today we also had Horned Larks which blend amazingly well with the clods of dirt, but aside from more Semi Plovers, we had no "good" grasspipers there. My new friend was going on to the sod farm at Gordon Road, but I looked at that one recently and it still had sod on it--the farms are best once the sod has been rolled up and there's nothing but a barren field and, with luck, a few puddles. I decided that "one cool bird a day suffices" and headed home.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Whitesbog 8/14--Black Tern

Even though the bogs at Whitesbog have not been lowered this year, it's still a good place to go look for birds--there's still lots of habitat, but a lot of it you have to walk to. And it's only about 10 miles from the house, so there isn't a lot of investment in travel time.

Mostly what I've been doing this month is walking out to the Upper Reservoir which is only about half-filled due to this winter's breach (and the reason the bogs that usually attract shorebirds remain filled) walking on the sand flats to find the occasional shorebird--Killdeer, Least Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper--nothing rare so far.

Today, I decided to change it up a little and walk my more normal route, which starts off by taking me around Union Pond. From my parking spot next to the middle bog I see across to the far shore of Union Pond that there were a couple of Great Egrets and a Great Blue Heron, so I figured it was worth the walk and it was. I flushed a Green Heron making  side trip to Ditch Meadow and then as I was coming around the eastern side of the pond I saw a dark bird fluttering over the grasses growing out of the water. My first impression was that of an Eastern Kingbird, of which I'd already seen a few, but then a real kingbird came by and harassed the bird at which I was looking so intently.  What fairly large birds flutter and hover over water? Terns, of course, but this was obviously not a Gull-billed Tern, which at this time of year would be expected at Whitesbog, and with it's dark wings and earpatch it certainly wasn't one of the medium-sized terns which would be unusual. It took me longer than it should have to identify the bird as a Black Tern, a rarity for the county and year bird for me. I just don't see enough Black Terns to immediately put a name to one, especially what was probably an immature bird. I took out my camera and even though it is a slow focus, managed to get a few shots of the bird as it made its way around the pond. I walked to the north shore of the pond and took a few more shots but the bird, of course, wended its way east again. I went back there and for a couple of seconds it landed on a branch growing out of the bank, not 20 feet away from me, but I couldn't get a picture of it then.

The bonus bird, while I was observing the tern, was a Belted Kingfisher flying over the pond, rattling away as they do. Kingfishers have been elusive this year; I wonder why?

Afterwards, I did walk up to and on the Upper Reservoir, but there were no shorebirds there, nor on the shores of Big Tank. However, the bogs around the dogleg are getting low and there I found a few pretty juvenile Least Sandpipers as well as a flyby Spotted Sandpiper.

Lists for the two sides of Whitesbog:
Burlington County side:
22 species
Mallard 4
Mourning Dove 3
Black Tern 1
Great Blue Heron 1
Great Egret 2
Green Heron 1
Turkey Vulture 1
Belted Kingfisher 1
Northern Flicker 1 Heard
Eastern Wood-Pewee 3
Eastern Phoebe 1
Eastern Kingbird 6
Purple Martin 4
Tree Swallow 50
Barn Swallow 1
Carolina Chickadee 1 Heard
Gray Catbird 10
American Goldfinch 1 Heard
Eastern Towhee 1 Heard
Red-winged Blackbird 1
Common Yellowthroat 2
Pine Warbler 1

Ocean County side:
18 species
Mourning Dove 1 Heard
Least Sandpiper 4 Dogleg bog
Spotted Sandpiper 1 Flying by dogleg bog
Green Heron 1 Dogleg bog
Northern Flicker 1 Heard
Eastern Wood-Pewee 3 Heard
Eastern Phoebe 1 Dogleg
Eastern Kingbird 4
American Crow 1 Heard
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 1 Dogleg.
Purple Martin 5
Tree Swallow 70
Carolina Chickadee 1 Heard
Gray Catbird 6
Song Sparrow 1
Eastern Towhee 1 Heard
Red-winged Blackbird 5
Common Yellowthroat 4

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Brig 8/4--Cattle Egret, Pectoral Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher

Cattle Egret (rear) with Snowy Egret
Pectoral Sandpiper (digiscope)
A really good day on the dikes with Scott, Linda, Mike, Bob, et. al., despite the unsettled weather which brought a couple of squalls over our caravan between hot, humid periods. The big attraction at Brig this time of year is, of course, shorebirds and we had 14 species of them with Semipalmated Sandpiper & Short-billed Dowitcher numbers in the thousands. But it is quality, not quantity, you're looking for and I was glad to be with more patient birders than I who are willing to sort through the thousands of little birds running around on the mud flats to pick out the odd Western Sandpiper, the scattered Stilt Sandpipers, the FOY Pectoral Sandpipers and the always controversial Long-billed Dowitcher.

The Pec and the Long-billed Dowitcher are the kind of birds I hope to find at Brig this time of year. The delightful surprise was the Cattle Egret. And we almost missed it.

The group was already on the east dike when a photographer stopped his car and showed a few of us pictures he'd taken of what he was pretty sure was a Cattle Egret, all the way back by the long-passed by goose marker 4. While it didn't have any of the orange on its head you'd expect in breeding plumage from this species, its face and bill were definitely those of a Cattle Egret. He said it had been coming onto the road to eat frogs that were flushed by cars parking near the grassy fringes. As it would be year bird for a lot of us, it became the target bird for our 2nd trip around.

Cattle Egret in the marsh
When we got to the area there were plenty of egrets in the impoundment, but only of the snowy or great variety. Then, sharp-eyed Bob Auster, thinking out of the box, looked across the channel into the outer marsh--and there it was. Conveniently the bird flew ever closer to our group, coming across the channel onto the side of the road to eat a Fowler's toad, as advertised, then flying into the impoundment directly in front of us, giving a nice comparison with a Snowy Egret (above).

Cattle Egrets used to be a lot easier to find a few years than they are today. You can go to Salem County and find them pretty easily, but going to Salem County from here is like going to Delaware. No one seems to know why they've suddenly become scarce, just as no one really knows why they suddenly turned up in North America about 60 years ago.

Three year birds in August is doing pretty well for me. About all I can expect to add for the summer and early fall are grasspipers and they won't be showing up for another few weeks. I'll have to start "sod farming" soon. The only disappointment today was looking at the dogleg at Brig--or, as I refer to it, "Lake Dogleg" because that spot, which, when it is drained, always attracts the grasspipers, does not look like it is going to be productive this year at all.

For the day my list was 71 species:
Canada Goose 15
Mute Swan 20
Wood Duck 1 Gull Pond
Mallard 8
Double-crested Cormorant 110
Great Blue Heron 15
Great Egret 60
Snowy Egret 40
Cattle Egret 1
Green Heron 1 Gull Pond
Black-crowned Night-Heron 10
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron 1 Gull Pond
Glossy Ibis 2
Black Vulture 1
Turkey Vulture 5
Osprey 20 Many juveniles still on nest
Red-tailed Hawk 1 Flying over parking lot
Clapper Rail 4
Black-bellied Plover 4
Semipalmated Plover 50
Whimbrel 2
Ruddy Turnstone 5
Stilt Sandpiper 4
Least Sandpiper 2
Pectoral Sandpiper 5 Near Goose Marker 4
Semipalmated Sandpiper 2000
Western Sandpiper 1
Short-billed Dowitcher 1000
Long-billed Dowitcher 1
Spotted Sandpiper 1
Greater Yellowlegs 4
Lesser Yellowlegs
Laughing Gull 300
Herring Gull 10
Great Black-backed Gull 3
Least Tern 3
Gull-billed Tern 12
Caspian Tern 3
Common Tern 1
Forster's Tern 30
Black Skimmer 25
Mourning Dove 15
Chimney Swift 1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 1 Feeder at Visitor's Ctr
Peregrine Falcon 1
Eastern Wood-Pewee 1 Heard picnic tables
Great Crested Flycatcher 2 Heard
Eastern Kingbird 4
Blue Jay 3 Heard
American Crow 5
Fish Crow 3
Purple Martin 2
Tree Swallow 2
Barn Swallow 5
Marsh Wren 1 Heard
Eastern Bluebird 1 On box
American Robin 1 Heard
Gray Catbird 3
European Starling 115
Common Yellowthroat 1 Heard
Yellow Warbler
Seaside Sparrow 6
Chipping Sparrow 2
Song Sparrow 3 Heard
Northern Cardinal 1 Upland
Blue Grosbeak 2 Saw female, heard one singing just before Jen's Trail
Red-winged Blackbird 10
Boat-tailed Grackle 1
House Finch 2
American Goldfinch 7
House Sparrow 1

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Great Bay Blvd 8/1-2

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Looking at the lacunae on my Ocean County list, I thought the only bird I could reasonably expect to find this time of year was Yellow-crowned Night-Heron and the only place I could reasonably expect to find it in the county was Great Bay Blvd. The tides, though, were against me, being low very early in the morning. Still, I thought the laughably named "boulevard" gave me the best chance to see some birds.

Yesterday, at the old boat launch I thought I had my target bird, a juvenile, but when I went home and closely studied the pictures, I could see the tell-tale wash of yellow on the lower mandible and knew that it was, unfortunately, yet another Black-crowned Night-Heron. For two birds that look very dissimilar as adults, the juveniles can be very difficult to pick apart. The mnemonic is that Yellow-crowns have black bills while Black-crowns have yellow on the bill. There's also something about punctuation marks--one bird has periods, the other has exclamation points (or "bangs" as we used to call them in printing) but I can never keep it straight. Yellow-crowns also appear to stand taller and are generally slimmer, but from a distance, this can be very subjective.

So I went back down again today. It was interesting to see the shorebirds switch so quickly. Yesterday I had one Short-billed Dowitcher; today, 63. Yesterday Semipalmated Sandpipers were the predominate peep; today it was Least Sandpipers. I didn't see any Black-bellied Plovers or Spotted Sandpipers yesterday; today I did.

But there were no Yellow-crowns hanging out with the dozens of egrets, both great and snowy. Yesterday a few Black-crowns were stand-offish from the larger flocks of herons and egrets--today I only found one juvenile, roosting int he cedars near the 2nd wooden bridge. I got excited at first, thinking it was the target, but look at the bill:
Note the yellow on the bottom of this Black-crowned Night-Heron juvenile's bill
But right after I took this photo I heard a squawking coming from the back of the grove and saw a bird fly out. I rushed around to the old boat launch area and saw, standing on a piling the adult pictured above. Adults are easy. I felt good.

Just to show you how maddening this can be, at the left is a photo of a juvenile Yellow-crown that I found when I walked north up to the first wooden bridge (when it rains...etc). note its slimmer appearance, how it has the same build as the adult, and, of course, its all black bill.

So, despite the greenhead flies (which weren't that bad when there was a breeze), I walked about 10 miles up and down Great Bay during the two days and found it worth my while. The southerly migration is getting good: 7 species of waders, 9 species of shorebirds (but no Willets!), 42 species in all:
Canada Goose
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Glossy Ibis
Bald Eagle
Clapper Rail
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Ruddy Turnstone
Least Sandpiper
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Spotted Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Laughing Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Common Tern
Forster's Tern
Black Skimmer
Rock Pigeon
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow Warbler
Seaside Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Boat-tailed Grackle

Great Egrets roosting just north of 2nd wooden bridge

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

July Was a Slow Month

Cedar Waxwing and Eastern Bluebird
Cranberry Bogs, Dover Rd
July started off well with the Roseate Spoonbill at Brig on the first and then the Red-headed Woodpecker on Sooy Road in Burlington County the next day, but it was slog the remainder of the month. I add only two more year birds for the month: the Stilt Sandpiper at Brig and a few Royal Terns near the inlet at Island Beach.

The underlined birds on my list indicate rarities but most of them come with an asterisk--the 3 duck species are rare only for the season. In the winter, eiders, ruddies, and teals would be unremarkable.

I made another trip up to north Jersey to not much avail and I still haven't gotten down to Cape May. I concentrated on Ocean & Burlington Counties for the most part with a few trips down to Brig where over a third of my list was first sighted.

Usually I bird and get my exercise in, but this month, when there was really nothing new to find and no real rarities to chase, I had to, on a number of mornings, force myself to get my walk in somewhere and let the birds come as they may.

At least shorebird migration has started in earnest. But the big disappointment this year is that I'll have to travel around to see them since my usual close August shorebird location--Whitesbog--will not have its bogs drained this year due to the catastrophic breach at the Upper Reservoir this winter which made the water available for irrigation and eventual flooding of the cranberry plants more problematic for the farmer than it usually is. Too bad, because the last few years I've spent the great majority of my time in August at Whitesbog. So this month could be interesting. Or it could be a repeat of July.

Counties birded:
Atlantic, Burlington, Monmouth, Ocean, Sussex, Warren

138 species:
Species            First Sighting
Canada Goose   Brig
Mute Swan   Brig
Wood Duck   Cranberry Bogs, Dover Rd
Mallard   Brig
American Black Duck   Brig
Green-winged Teal   Brig
Common Eider   Island Beach SP
Ruddy Duck   Brig
Wild Turkey   Crestwood Village
Double-crested Cormorant   Brig
Brown Pelican   Island Beach SP
Great Blue Heron   Brig
Great Egret   Brig
Snowy Egret   Brig
Little Blue Heron   Island Beach SP
Tricolored Heron   Great Bay Blvd
Green Heron   Reeves Bogs
Black-crowned Night-Heron   Brig
Glossy Ibis   Brig
Roseate Spoonbill   Brig
Black Vulture   GSP MM 114
Turkey Vulture   Amasa Landing Rd
Osprey   Brig
Cooper's Hawk   Brig
Bald Eagle   Old Mine Road IBA
Red-shouldered Hawk   Stokes SF
Broad-winged Hawk   Old Mine Road IBA
Red-tailed Hawk   Colliers Mills WMA
Clapper Rail   Brig
American Oystercatcher   Brig
Semipalmated Plover   Brig
Piping Plover   Island Beach SP
Killdeer   Brig
Whimbrel   Brig
Stilt Sandpiper   Brig
Sanderling   Island Beach SP
Least Sandpiper   Brig
Semipalmated Sandpiper   Great Bay Blvd
Western Sandpiper   Brig
Short-billed Dowitcher   Brig
Spotted Sandpiper   Whitesbog
Greater Yellowlegs   Brig
Willet   Brig
Lesser Yellowlegs   Brig
Laughing Gull   Wawa Galloway
Herring Gull   Brig
Lesser Black-backed Gull   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Great Black-backed Gull   Brig
Least Tern   Brig
Gull-billed Tern   Brig
Caspian Tern   Brig
Common Tern   Brig
Forster's Tern   Brig
Royal Tern   Island Beach SP
Black Skimmer   Brig
Rock Pigeon   Highway 206
Mourning Dove   Brig
Yellow-billed Cuckoo   Sooy Pl Rd
Common Nighthawk   35 Sunset Rd
Eastern Whip-poor-will   35 Sunset Rd
Chimney Swift   Brig
Ruby-throated Hummingbird   35 Sunset Rd
Belted Kingfisher   Delaware Water Gap NRA
Red-headed Woodpecker   Sooy Pl Rd
Red-bellied Woodpecker   35 Sunset Rd
Downy Woodpecker   Old Mine Road IBA
Hairy Woodpecker   Whitesbog
Northern Flicker   Colliers Mills WMA
Peregrine Falcon   Island Beach SP
Eastern Wood-Pewee   Sooy Pl Rd
Acadian Flycatcher   Flatbrookville Rd
Willow Flycatcher   Brig
Eastern Phoebe   Cranberry Bogs, Dover Rd
Great Crested Flycatcher   Huber Prairie Warbler Preserve
Eastern Kingbird   Colliers Mills WMA
White-eyed Vireo   Huber Prairie Warbler Preserve
Yellow-throated Vireo   Old Mine Road IBA
Blue-headed Vireo   Delaware Water Gap NRA
Warbling Vireo   Colliers Mills WMA
Red-eyed Vireo   Sooy Pl Rd
Blue Jay   Brig
American Crow   Cranberry Bogs, Dover Rd
Fish Crow   Crestwood Village
Northern Rough-winged Swallow  Cranberry Bogs, Dover Rd
Purple Martin   Brig
Tree Swallow   Brig
Bank Swallow   Cranberry Bogs, Dover Rd
Barn Swallow   Brig
Carolina Chickadee   35 Sunset Rd
Black-capped Chickadee   Lake Ashroe
Tufted Titmouse   35 Sunset Rd
White-breasted Nuthatch   35 Sunset Rd
House Wren   Brig
Marsh Wren   Brig
Carolina Wren   35 Sunset Rd
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher   Whitesbog
Eastern Bluebird   Colliers Mills WMA
Veery   Sandyston
Wood Thrush   Sooy Pl Rd
American Robin   Brig
Gray Catbird   Brig
Brown Thrasher   Brig
Northern Mockingbird   Historic Smithville
European Starling   Brig
Cedar Waxwing   Delaware Water Gap NRA
Ovenbird   Sooy Pl Rd
Black-and-white Warbler   Huber Prairie Warbler Preserve
Prothonotary Warbler   Huber Prairie Warbler Preserve
Common Yellowthroat   Brig
Hooded Warbler   Huber Prairie Warbler Preserve
American Redstart   Huber Prairie Warbler Preserve
Northern Parula   Old Mine Road IBA
Yellow Warbler   Island Beach SP
Pine Warbler   Huber Prairie Warbler Preserve
Prairie Warbler   Huber Prairie Warbler Preserve
Black-throated Green Warbler   Old Mine Road IBA
Wilson's Warbler   Old Mine Road IBA
Saltmarsh Sparrow   Cattus Island County Park
Seaside Sparrow   Brig
Chipping Sparrow   35 Sunset Rd
Field Sparrow   Brig
Song Sparrow   Crestwood Village
Swamp Sparrow   Reeves Bogs
Eastern Towhee   35 Sunset Rd
Yellow-breasted Chat   Brig
Scarlet Tanager   Old Mine Road IBA
Northern Cardinal   35 Sunset Rd
Blue Grosbeak   Brig
Indigo Bunting   Colliers Mills WMA
Orchard Oriole   Brig
Baltimore Oriole   Colliers Mills WMA
Red-winged Blackbird   Brig
Brown-headed Cowbird   Colliers Mills WMA
Common Grackle   Colliers Mills WMA
Boat-tailed Grackle   Island Beach SP
House Finch   35 Sunset Rd
American Goldfinch   Brig
House Sparrow   Wawa Rt 70 & CR 530
Brown Pelicans, Island Beach SP