Monday, December 15, 2014

Monroe Twp 12/15--Barnacle Goose

Another Monday, another goose. Today I ventured into the far western reaches of Middlesex County where the last couple of days a Barnacle Goose (another visitor, like like last week's Pink-footed Goose, from Greenland) was seen in a huge corn stubble field. I couldn't go yesterday because we were doing the Island Beach Christmas Count, so I heaved myself out of bed this morning and set off to find the bird, not relishing looking through a couple of thousand Canada Geese to find it.

I could almost predict who else would be there when I arrived and two of them were (Bob & Deirdre). The third showed up later. Happily, everyone there had the bird and I got a glimpse of it walking away in the scope of a birder from Missouri. Missouri. This guy and his wife had driven out from Missouri to see the Pink-footed Goose and the Barnacle Goose was their bonus. This afternoon I tried a little thought experiment with Shari: what rare bird would we drive to Missouri to see? We couldn't come up with one. I said to my friends there that this field was 30 miles from where I lived and I had to really think this morning if I wanted to make the drive.

(The Missouri birder was given good instructions by us as to where to find the Pink-footed in Wall Township and I happen to know he was successful, because I spoke to another my birder friends this morning as he was looking at the Pink-footed and he told me he'd made the acquaintance of the Missouri couple who had already ticked the bird on their life list.)

While scanning through the flock geese which extended at least a quarter of mile waiting for the BAGO to reappear, Deirdre looked for Cackling Geese, the recently separated species of goose, once considered a sub-species of Canada (studying sub-species of geese can by dizzying). She found a couple of candidates. I found a candidate. But, determining what is and isn't a Cackling Goose (is it really small enough? is its bill stubby enough? Is the shape of the head correct?) can sometimes be way too subjective for me, so, like Western Sandpiper, unless I'm right on top of the bird and it is extremely obvious as to i.d., I won't call the bird. Too bad, because it would be another year bird.

I wasn't happy with the brief look I got. I could count it, but it would be a technicality. Deirdre and her friend left and then came back about 15 minutes later to tell us that we could see the bird from a different perspective down the road in the parking lot of the firehouse. I packed up and drove down there, set up my scope and still couldn't find it. Deirdre pulled up in her car and told me to behind the firehouse, that another guy had the bird. Deirdre did everything but take me by the shoulders and position me to find the bird. I scurried around the back of the firehouse, squeezing between the corner of the building and a hurricane fence and got my tripod legs stuck in the wire. It was really wedge in tightly. As I managed to extricate it, I popped off the rubber tip on one of the legs which flew into a coil of fire hose beyond my reach. That will cost over $17 to replace.

But I got the bird! I saw it in my fellow birder's scope, black breast, white flanks, barring on the back, white patch on the face. It fairly shone amongst the Canada Geese. Then I put it in my scope.  Somehow, you haven't seen the bird until you see it in your scope. Satisfied, I shouldered my scope and headed out to Assunpink to do some real birding and get a walk in.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Word Gripes

With the weather (another surprising snow event) keeping me from my outdoor obsession, this afternoon I turned to my indoor preoccupation--words:

Adjectives can be tricky

 When Shari showed me this label I had misgivings about dinner tonight.
The "original pork tenderloin?" The original pork tenderloin has got to be hundreds of thousands of years old--I don't care if it has been kept refrigerated, I think it's long past its stale date. Maybe the word Stop n Shop was looking for was "authentic," or better yet, "real."


I like everything about our Subaru except these four letters. Every time I see this logo I want to get a screwdriver and pry it off. I don't know a lot about mathematics, but I do understand the concept of "zero,"  which is say "nothing" and I know you that you can't divvy up nothing. A vehicle either emits zero toxic fumes or else it emits toxic fumes. The crap spewing out of that tailpipe cannot be "partially zero."

Actually right now the car is a zero emission vehicle because it is parked in the garage. Tomorrow, when Shari drives to Toms River, it will go back to being a vehicle with emissions that amount to a positive number. You don't get to average that number with zero and come out with a section of zero so you can feel better about your carbon footprint.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Allaire Community Farm 12/8--Pink-footed Goose

I did some chasing today. Chasing isn't my favorite kind of birding--it's the proverbial missing the forest for the trees. I originally was going to go back to Parker Preserve and look for the Sedge Wren, but a bird I thought would be more "gettable" was reported yesterday while we were braving the 40 MPH winds at Barnegat Light, so I changed my itinerary.

I started out at Assunpink figuring that I could get the trio of Trumpeter Swans that have returned to the lake, even though I have them on my year list already--they're still cool birds and I also considered them compensation for wasting my time looking through all those Tundra Swans at Whitesbog last week.

I did stop at the farm driveway on the way in to see if I could pick up the always reliable White-crowned Sparrows and a just a little pishing brought two out. A Cooper's Hawk overhead may have explained why there were so few birds in the area.

At the lake I walked to the area where the swans had been hanging out according to Bob Dodelson. I was misled a couple of times as I walked there, looking through the trees, by first a trio, then a quintet of dumb old Mute Swans, but a little to the east of the quintet I the Trumpeters were in place. I managed some photographs with my new camera, which I'm still learning to use and suspect I will always be still learning to use:
Trumpeter Swans

One up, two down
Invoking the "I only need one good bird a day" rule I was satisfied already with my list so the next target was going to be gravy. Yesterday, a Pink-footed Goose was found with a flock of Canada Geese on the Allaire Community Farm (not to be confused with Allaire State Park), which is about a half hour ride from where I was. I had planned the day so as to give the geese some time to fly back in from wherever they spent the night. I had never been to this spot, so I followed the GPS instructions which took me east on I-195.

I was about 20 minutes away when I noticed a little white stuff swirling on the roadway. The more easterly I went, the more white stuff I found, not only on the road but in the air and then on my windshield. Tomorrow there is supposed be a big Nor'easter. Nobody said anything about snow today, but by the time I pulled into a little parking area across from a pond  which I saw 3 or 4 birders were scoping, big, puffy flakes were falling. That was going to make viewing conditions difficult. Fortunately, one of the birders was a guy I know; in fact, I had a feeling he'd be there today and he already had the bird in his scope so I took a quick look before finally locating it in my scope. Since it was swimming we couldn't see the eponymous feet, but the brown head, pink blotch on bill,  & gray back with barring were enough field marks to cinch the identification.

Last year, in January & Februrary, Pink-footed Geese seemed to be all over the place; this is the first one reported this year of this good which normally isn't found much closer to New Jersey than Greenland so it's a good bird to have for the year and I'm happy I chased. When the bird flew off, leading about a dozen geese to the north, it was the signal to get out of the surprising weather and go home

Here's my "quality over quantity" list for my morning in Monmouth County:
Species                         First Sighting
Pink-footed Goose     Allaire Community Farm
Canada Goose     Assunpink WMA
Mute Swan     Assunpink WMA
Trumpeter Swan     Assunpink WMA
Mallard     Assunpink WMA
Northern Shoveler     Allaire Community Farm
Ruddy Duck     Assunpink WMA
Cooper's Hawk     Assunpink WMA
Mourning Dove     Assunpink WMA
Northern Mockingbird     Assunpink WMA
European Starling     Assunpink WMA
White-throated Sparrow     Assunpink WMA
White-crowned Sparrow     Assunpink WMA

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Bird Detective

My birding for the first week of December got off to a slow & frustrating start in both quality and quantity. But I seem to have assumed a new role as bird detective. Last week while I was on his field trip, Scott showed me a couple of photos of what could have very possibly been Trumpeter Swans that were taken at Whitesbog. Whitesbog is renowned for its flock of Tundra Swans, but Trumpeters are extremely rare in NJ (there are currently 3 in Assunpink, presumably the same trio as last winter), so he suggested that I go take a look. I  had planned to go to Whitesbog on Monday anyway, so, after studying up on the differences between the two species, I spent a couple of hours looking through 75 Tundra Swans in two bogs and came up empty. That's not to say that Trumpeter Swans hadn't been at Whitesbog previously. It only says they weren't there Monday.

Tuesday I drove down to Parker Preserve under threatening skies to meet Bob D and look for the Sedge Wren that Greg found a couple of weeks ago. We spent two hours walking up and down the same 400 foot section of the trail and while we might have heard the little bugger, we never caught a glimpse of him. Naturally, since that day, it seems that everyone and his uncle has seen the bird.

Thursday was more successful though it had its own frustration. Mike had emailed me about an interesting quail at a home near Colliers Mills. It wasn't a bobwhite (which are sometimes, though not this year, stocked in the WMA for hunting) and it wasn't a Chukar (which the hunters sometimes release to train their dogs), so, instead of looking for the Sedge Wren again, I called up the homeowner and, after not finding meadowlarks in the once-famous lapwing field in New Egypt, I drove over to her place.

They keep a small flock of chickens and she said that about 3 weeks ago her husband noticed the quail feeding with the hens. At night, when the chickens went to their coop, he found the quail nestled down with them. The bird (a hen, naturally) has been living there ever since, following the chickens around the couple of backyards they roam in, eating the oatmeal flakes they're fed, and generally living large.

I knew immediately the bird wasn't "countable" because it had a forelock, and only western quail, which don't migrate, have them. The only question was whether it was a California Quail or a Gambel's Quail and the lack of a scaly breast and the coloration indicated Gambel's. I've seen both species out west. The first time I ever saw a Gambel's it ran between my legs at the Tucson Botanical Gardens, so they're not particularly shy.

Too bad the bird isn't countable, it would be a great one to have on the NJ list, but it is probably someone's escaped pet. Yes, I was surprised to find that people do keep quails as pets. Or possibly it's a fugitive from Great Adventure which is about 5 miles away from the house. I didn't put this "sighting" on JerseyBirds because the homeowners didn't really want a lot of people coming around since they have dogs they let loose in the yard. Since it wasn't a bird anyone could put on their list, I didn't feel guilty about keeping the location to myself.

Luxury Chicken Coop
The funniest part was the chicken coop. When it was pointed out to me, I said that looks like a playhouse. Yes, I was told, it was her daughter's playhouse, then her son's fort, and now a very nice apartment house for 9 chickens and one very happy quail.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

November Summary

As the year progresses it obviously gets harder to add "year birds," so I'm pleased with this month's results--quality over quantity, with only 8 new birds but what birds they were! Three of the eight count as rarities: yesterday's Eared Grebe, the elusive Northern Shrike of Whitesbog, and the Black-headed Gull at the waste treatment plant in Delaware. Add in the rare (but previously encountered) Ross's Goose at Brig and the Western Kingbird in Virginia, along with some favorite birds like American White Pelican, Snow Bunting and Lapland Longspur and I'll count the month as a success.

We roved around a lot this month--many spots in NJ as well as the long weekend on the Delmarva Peninsula which really helped the bird count. Winter is not my favorite time of the year, so I don't expect spectacular results this next month. I keep buying warmer shoes, warmer gloves, adding layers, but I would still rather be inside.

Some miscellaneous birds seen this month:
Ross's Goose at Brig. I broke the speed limits to make sure I got this bird before the field trip started so I wouldn't get antsy until the group got to the spot, well along on the drive.
Purple Finch at our feeder. Finally!
Immature Bald Eagle, digiscoped 11/30 at Brig.
Boat-tailed Grackles take over the bridge at Great Bay Blvd.
Ring-necked Pheasant at Assunpink. He showed no fear of me. Which is why they're easy to kill. 
For the month I listed 149 species.
Counties birded:
Delaware: Kent, Sussex
Maryland: Worcester
New Jersey: Atlantic, Burlington, Cape May, Mercer, Monmouth, Ocean
Virginia: Accomack, Northampton
Species              Location
Snow Goose     Bombay Hook
Ross's Goose     Brig
Brant     Great Sedge Island
Canada Goose     Assunpink WMA
Mute Swan     Assunpink WMA
Tundra Swan     Bombay Hook
Wood Duck     Magothy Bay Preserve
Gadwall     Mercer Corporate Park
American Wigeon     Chincoteague NWR
American Black Duck     Bombay Hook
Mallard    Corines Millpond
Blue-winged Teal     Brig
Northern Shoveler     Bombay Hook
Northern Pintail     Bombay Hook
Green-winged Teal     Bombay Hook
Ring-necked Duck     Assunpink WMA
Lesser Scaup     Brig
Common Eider     Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Harlequin Duck     Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Surf Scoter     DuPont Nature Center
White-winged Scoter     Island Beach SP
Black Scoter     Chincoteague NWR
Long-tailed Duck     Island Beach SP
Bufflehead     Assunpink WMA
Common Goldeneye     LBI Bayside--24th St
Hooded Merganser     Magothy Bay Preserve
Red-breasted Merganser     Avalon Seawatch
Ruddy Duck     Assunpink WMA
Northern Bobwhite     Townsend
Ring-necked Pheasant     Assunpink WMA
Wild Turkey     35 Sunset Rd
Red-throated Loon     Chincoteague NWR
Common Loon     Island Beach SP
Pied-billed Grebe     Assunpink WMA
Horned Grebe     Island Beach SP
Red-necked Grebe     Sandy Hook
Eared Grebe     Sandy Hook
Northern Gannet     Island Beach SP
Double-crested Cormorant     Assunpink WMA
Great Cormorant     Barnegat Lighthouse SP
American White Pelican     Prime Hook NWR
Brown Pelican     Kiptopeke SP
American Bittern     Brig
Great Blue Heron     Assunpink WMA
Great Egret     Assunpink WMA
Snowy Egret     Chincoteague NWR
Little Blue Heron     Chincoteague NWR
Tricolored Heron     Chincoteague NWR
Black-crowned Night-Heron     Chincoteague NWR
White Ibis     Chincoteague NWR
Black Vulture     Rt 539 New Egypt
Turkey Vulture     Assunpink WMA
Golden Eagle     Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR
Northern Harrier     Great Sedge Island
Sharp-shinned Hawk     Island Beach SP
Cooper's Hawk     Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR
Bald Eagle     Assunpink WMA
Red-shouldered Hawk     Magothy Bay Preserve
Red-tailed Hawk     Assunpink WMA
Virginia Rail     Saxis WMA
American Coot     Assunpink WMA
American Avocet     Bombay Hook
American Oystercatcher     Chincoteague NWR
Black-bellied Plover     Great Sedge Island
Semipalmated Plover     Great Sedge Island
Killdeer     Saxis
Greater Yellowlegs     Bombay Hook
Willet     Queen Sound Flats
Lesser Yellowlegs     Prime Hook NWR
Marbled Godwit     Bombay Hook
Ruddy Turnstone     Prime Hook NWR
Sanderling     Great Sedge Island
Dunlin     Great Sedge Island
Purple Sandpiper     Avalon Seawatch
Western Sandpiper     Chincoteague NWR
Long-billed Dowitcher     Chincoteague NWR
Bonaparte's Gull     Great Sedge Island
Black-headed Gull     Wolfe Neck WTP
Laughing Gull     Island Beach SP
Ring-billed Gull     Double Trouble State Park
Herring Gull     Great Sedge Island
Great Black-backed Gull     Great Sedge Island
Forster's Tern     Great Sedge Island
Royal Tern     Great Sedge Island
Rock Pigeon     Maddox Blvd
Eurasian Collared-Dove     Magotha Road
Mourning Dove     35 Sunset Rd
Belted Kingfisher    Corines Millpond
Red-bellied Woodpecker     Double Trouble State Park
Downy Woodpecker     35 Sunset Rd
Northern Flicker     Chincoteague NWR
American Kestrel     Seaside Rd
Merlin     Sandy Hook
Peregrine Falcon     Great Sedge Island
Eastern Phoebe     Island Beach SP
Western Kingbird     Seaside Rd
Northern Shrike     Whitesbog (Ocean Co.)
Blue Jay     35 Sunset Rd
American Crow     Double Trouble State Park
Fish Crow    Corines Millpond
Horned Lark     Cartanza Road
Tree Swallow     Chincoteague NWR
Carolina Chickadee     35 Sunset Rd
Tufted Titmouse     35 Sunset Rd
White-breasted Nuthatch     35 Sunset Rd
Brown-headed Nuthatch     Chincoteague NWR
Brown Creeper     Stone Harbor Point
Winter Wren     Double Trouble State Park
Marsh Wren     DuPont Nature Center
Carolina Wren     Double Trouble State Park
Golden-crowned Kinglet     Double Trouble State Park
Ruby-crowned Kinglet     Bombay Hook
Eastern Bluebird     Chincoteague NWR
Hermit Thrush     Chincoteague NWR
American Robin     Double Trouble State Park
Gray Catbird     Assunpink WMA
Brown Thrasher     Prime Hook NWR
Northern Mockingbird     Assunpink WMA
European Starling     Assunpink WMA
Cedar Waxwing     Assunpink WMA
Lapland Longspur     Island Beach SP
Snow Bunting     Avalon Seawatch
Common Yellowthroat     Chincoteague NWR
Palm Warbler     Brig
Pine Warbler     35 Sunset Rd
Yellow-rumped Warbler     Double Trouble State Park
Eastern Towhee     Double Trouble State Park
American Tree Sparrow     Sandy Hook
Chipping Sparrow     35 Sunset Rd
Field Sparrow     Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR
Savannah Sparrow     Double Trouble State Park
Nelson's Sparrow     DuPont Nature Center
Fox Sparrow     35 Sunset Rd
Song Sparrow     Assunpink WMA
Swamp Sparrow     Double Trouble State Park
White-throated Sparrow     Double Trouble State Park
White-crowned Sparrow     Assunpink WMA
Dark-eyed Junco     35 Sunset Rd
Northern Cardinal     Assunpink WMA
Red-winged Blackbird     Assunpink WMA
Eastern Meadowlark     Bombay Hook
Common Grackle     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Boat-tailed Grackle     Chincoteague NWR
Brown-headed Cowbird     Cartanza Road
House Finch     35 Sunset Rd
Purple Finch     Chincoteague NWR
Pine Siskin     Assunpink WMA
American Goldfinch     35 Sunset Rd
House Sparrow     Avalon Seawatch

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Sandy Hook 11/29--Eared Grebe

Scott Barnes sent out an email yesterday about a "flash" field trip for today at Sandy Hook; the main attraction (aside from the good company these trips always provide) was the continuing Eared Grebe, a rarity 'round these parts that Scott found last week. I was eager for the EAGR since I hadn't seen one in 5 years and that was off Staten Island. I'm counting it as a state bird; Shari says we saw one years ago in the Shark River, but I'm dubious about our sightings from so long ago, before we had decent optics.

For an impromptu field trip attendance was pretty good--13 birders with nothing better to do showed up at Lot B. Scott & Linda led us up to Lot L across from Horseshoe Cove. Some birders were already scanning the extremely calm waters (miraculously, no wind today) and after a short time Scott (of course) located our target bird about 1/2 way out in the cove.  It took just a little doing to get everyone on the bird--grebes dive and dive a lot. I got good looks at the bird--it's pointy head, it's dusky neck and was able to compare it to the numerous Horned Grebes in the cove. The bonus birds were a Red-necked Grebe also present in the cove and a few Common Goldeneyes, providing very good looks.  (I'd seen a few yesterday in Barnegat Bay but under less than ideal conditions--gale force wind in my face so I looked at them just long enough to verify they were goldeneyes.)

While looking around the other side of the cove I spotted an immature male Common Eider. Unfortunately, I couldn't get Linda on the bird (there were no good landmarks) and it drifted out of sight before most of the group caught up to us. I didn't think it was any big deal (it was a Common Eider, after all) but everyone seemed inordinately disappointed that it had disappeared.

While we were standing around bemoaning our now lost eider a small flock of Horned Larks flew overhead, cheeping away, and that raised everyone's spirits.

Other notable sighting were a large flock of Snow Buntings on Gunnison Beach, a Merlin in the same location, and American Tree Sparrows and White-crowned Sparrows in the dunes around the hawk watch. We also had the largest flock of House Finches I've ever seen--at least a 100 flying around and landing on the telephone wires.

We ended the day sea watching at Lot C where we had our goofiest sighting of the day. A lone Snow Goose flew past us and, seeing other black & white birds landed in with a flock of gulls to the south. I guess that's why decoys work!

Our original plan for the day was to go to the Parker Preserve and search for a Sedge Wren reported there. I met some Burlington County birders today at the Hook who'd searched unsuccessfully for the bird recently, so I was happy that we called an audible and got the grebe.

My list for the day. I missed a few passerines, but nothing I really needed to see.
40 species (+1 other taxa)
Snow Goose  1
Brant  50
Canada Goose  25
Common Eider  1     
White-winged Scoter  3
scoter sp.  10
Bufflehead  20
Common Goldeneye  4
Red-breasted Merganser  25
Red-throated Loon  
Common Loon  4
Horned Grebe  10
Red-necked Grebe  1
Eared Grebe  1     
Northern Gannet  2
Double-crested Cormorant  12
Black Vulture  3
Northern Harrier  2     Lot C
Bald Eagle  1     Lot C
Red-tailed Hawk  1
American Coot  2
Black-bellied Plover  2
Sanderling  5
Ring-billed Gull  10
Herring Gull  100
Great Black-backed Gull  10
Downy Woodpecker  2
Northern Flicker  1
Merlin  1
American Crow  1
Horned Lark  8
Northern Mockingbird  2
Snow Bunting  50
Yellow-rumped Warbler  6
American Tree Sparrow  1
Savannah Sparrow  1
Song Sparrow  2
White-throated Sparrow  20
White-crowned Sparrow  3
Dark-eyed Junco  20
House Finch  100

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


I love to collect to typos and other printing errors--they make up most of the "words" entries in this blog--so I was delighted to find an essay about mislabeled pictures of birds in Pete Dunne's entertaining Small-headed Flycatcher. Seen Yesterday. He Didn't Leave His Name.

I was even more delighted when I read this sentence:
At one pregnant moment, a point-blank house finch was shown that, to everyone's astonishment, threw back its head and belted out a beautiful morning warbler song.
Perfect. A typo in an article poking fun at copy-editing errors. A meta-typo. For you non-birders, t'aint no such thing as a morning warbler. Try Mourning Warbler with the easy-to-read initial caps.