Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Whitesbog 4/16--White-eyed Vireo, Common Yellowthroat, Prairie Warbler

Spring snow at Whitesbog
It snowed early this morning. April 16 and it snowed. April 16 and I'm scraping snow off the windshield. April 16 and it is literally freezing out.

I waited for the temperature to warm up a little, figuring that the birds weren't going to be active until there was at least a little warmth in the air. I drove over to Whitesbog where I knew I could take a good long hike.

Before I was even in the parking lot I thought I'd be having a good day--not because 2 Turkey Vultures were perched on the big sign in the blueberry field on the road in, but because just beyond and above them, on a wire, I spotted an American Kestrel. It's been a good month for kestrels--that was the 4th one I've seen.

I walked through the village and out onto the bogs. It must have been warm enough to get the insects out since the first bog on the right was swarming with swallows--Tree, Barn, Northern Rough-winged, and later on, Purple Martins. On Union Pond there was a lone Tundra Swan. It's very late for these swans and I found out when I ran into my friend Len out on the road that this swan was injured (perhaps a stray shotgun pellet) and could only fly short distances. It will be interesting to see how it fares.

Things picked up when I crossed back into Ocean County. (Looking at a map, while Whitesbog Village is in Burlington County, I would say that probably 60 to 70 per cent of Whitesbog is actually in Ocean.  For those of us keeping county lists, it makes a difference.  Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were giving their sibilant little cat calls and turning off the main road for a bit I heard then quickly found my first Common Yellowthroat of the year. It was being chased through the underbrush by a Swamp Sparrow--not enough room in that bog for both birds, apparently. The sparrow was huge in comparison to the warbler and got its way.

I saw Len's truck up the road, so I made a left instead of my usual right and we caught up with each other. He told me he'd been watching warblers up the road behind us where the sun was warming the brush, so after we chatted I walked up there and sure enough, there were more yellowthroats, gnatcatchers, and yes! as he said, my FOY Prairie Warbler. Two new warblers for the Ocean County List.

At the end of my loop around the impoundments I heard for the 2nd time a song I knew I should know but it wouldn't come to mind--it sounded, at first like a flycatcher, but not like a flycatcher I knew and besides, it's too early for the flycatchers except phoebes. Then I thought "vireo" and it all came back to me--White-eyed Vireo. I pished and had the good fortune to actually have it show itself for a couple of moments. Too bad I was back in Burlington County!

So 3 new birds + a kestrel + a good chat with a friend and the temperature all the way up to 45 degrees--a good few hours on the bogs.

The day's list:
34 species
Canada Goose    1
Tundra Swan    1
Mallard    15
Double-crested Cormorant    1
Great Blue Heron    1
Turkey Vulture    3
Osprey    1
Mourning Dove    1
Northern Flicker    1
American Kestrel    1
White-eyed Vireo    1
Blue Jay    1
American Crow    1
Fish Crow    1
Northern Rough-winged Swallow    5
Purple Martin    4
Tree Swallow    30
Barn Swallow    20
Carolina Chickadee    1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher    11
American Robin    2
Black-and-white Warbler    1
Common Yellowthroat    3
Pine Warbler    1
Yellow-rumped Warbler    3
Prairie Warbler    1
Eastern Towhee    5
Savannah Sparrow    3
Song Sparrow    3
Swamp Sparrow    1
Northern Cardinal    1
Red-winged Blackbird    3
House Finch    1
American Goldfinch    1
Daffodils in snow

Monday, April 14, 2014

Cattus Island CP 4/14--Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron

I met Greg at Double Trouble this morning. Yesterday he saw a Louisiana Waterthrush along the drainage ditch that runs along the trail to the big reservoir. He'd emailed me yesterday and rushed over there, but didn't find the bird. We didn't have any better luck this morning. Louisiana Waterthrush is not officially a "rara avis" 'round here, but there are very few sightings listed on eBird. Greg's was the first in about 7 or 8 years! So we both would really have liked to refind the bird. We saw plenty of other expected warblers, and Greg, before I got there, had the first Common Yellowthroat of the year at the power line cut, but despite diligent searching up and down the trail, we could get the waterthrush to materialize. Too bad; I don't see them that often anywhere and it would be a really good bird for my Ocean County list.
Double Trouble State Park
22 species
Mallard  5
Great Egret  3
Turkey Vulture  1
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  1    Heard
Eastern Phoebe  5
Blue Jay  3
Fish Crow  1
Tree Swallow  10
Barn Swallow  2
Carolina Chickadee  5
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  3
American Robin  2
Black-and-white Warbler  5
Palm Warbler  4
Pine Warbler  3
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1
Chipping Sparrow  5
Savannah Sparrow  2
Song Sparrow  4
Red-winged Blackbird  3
Brown-headed Cowbird  1

My original plan for this morning was to go to Cattus Island County Park and look for new waders, so after a full morning at Double Trouble we headed over there. We met a guy I know taking photographs and asked if any of our target birds had been seen--of course they had and we had just missed 'em. 

We were not so easily dissuaded--after all we'd spent a few hours trying to find a little warbler bobbing along a stream, big shorebirds should be easier to spot. So we walked almost to the end of the road when Greg spot a wader far out in the marsh. Too far out to be sure what it was. Happily, the trail to Scout Island, which was damaged by Superstorm Sandy, has been restored. We walked out on the boardwalk and over to the "island," which is more like a hard spot in the marsh than an actual island, and peering through the phragmites, Greg found a Tricolored Heron. A little farther on we were able to get better looks. 

On the way out we stopped again to scan the marshes and found the second target bird of the day, a Little Blue Heron. Good thing I lugged the scope today because it too was pretty far out in the marsh but we sighted it through the scope perfectly. A little before that a second, beautiful Tricolored Heron flew over us--absolutely spectacular breeding plumage. And the bonus bird for the day was Glossy Ibis, a few of which we could see flying in to an inaccessible area of the marsh--inaccessible because the boardwalk that goes out there still hasn't been repaired since the storm. 

So, despite dipping on the waterthrush, we had a pretty good day in the field.
Cattus Island County Park
22 species
Canada Goose  2
Mallard  5
Bufflehead  1    Crossway Creek
Double-crested Cormorant  1
Great Egret  10
Snowy Egret  3
Little Blue Heron  1
Tricolored Heron  2
Glossy Ibis  3
Turkey Vulture  1
Osprey  3
Northern Harrier  2
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Great Black-backed Gull  1
Belted Kingfisher  1
Carolina Chickadee  1    Heard
Tufted Titmouse  1    Heard
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  1    Heard
Pine Warbler  1
Eastern Towhee  1    Heard, Scout Island
Song Sparrow  1    Heard, Scout Island
Red-winged Blackbird  5

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Colliers Mills WMA 4/12--Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Black-and-white Warbler

Take the left
I ventured into a new spot at Colliers Mills today; my friend Greg told me that if you kept going south on Hawkins Road and made a left at the fork, you'd come to the dam for Turnmill Pond and a wetlands area. After about a mile on the road, I came to a parking lot and beyond that, the berm of the dam.
Berm: Turnmill Pond at left, wetlands at right.
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher seen later on Hawkins Rd.
I walked the berm, which brought me over the dam and into more fields that I'd never seen. However, birdy it wasn't, though I did pick up a beautiful bluebird perched on a high stump in a recently burnt field. It wasn't until I was returning that I found the first interesting birds of the walk--two male Eastern Towhees skulking in the reeds. I've heard towhees this year--these were the first I've seen. There is a trail beyond the parking that runs along another small pond, so I decided to see what that would bring up and that's where I made my first happy find of the morning. I had come hoping to find Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and heard its soft, raspy "zeep." In the parking lot I was attracted to another song, if "wheezy wheezy wheezy" can be considered a song. Out of habit I pished and out onto a small bare tree in front of me jumped a Black-and-white Warbler. So, I think this habitat has its possibilities.

I walked back to the lake (why it's a "lake" when it is much smaller than the "pond" I don't know) and started off on my usual walk out to the power cut. Northern Flickers were everywhere; no Red-headed Woodpecker that I could find.

Last month the fields at CM were burned. As at Assunpink, this seemed to make the robins happy, but how it will affect the grass-loving species this summer depends on how quickly the vegetation grows back. On the left is a photo of the field on Success Road on 3/24. On the right, the same field today. Reason for optimism for the Grasshopper Sparrows? While walking through that field I saw my final "good" bird of the day--a hunting American Kestrel.

For my 4 1/2 hours wandering the roads and fields (there were a couple of ponds I didn't check because dog training was going on in many of "my" spots), I tallied 34 species; in the "hard to believe" category, I saw/heard no phoebes, chickadees, or Song Sparrows.
Canada Goose  18
Ring-necked Duck  5    Colliers Mills Lake
Bufflehead  1    Colliers Mills Lake
Turkey Vulture  4
Northern Harrier  1
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Mourning Dove  4
Red-bellied Woodpecker  5
Downy Woodpecker  1
Hairy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  15
American Kestrel  1
Blue Jay  2
American Crow  1
Fish Crow  3
Tree Swallow  10
Tufted Titmouse  3
Carolina Wren  2    Heard
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  5
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
Eastern Bluebird  2    One in burnt fields beyond dam, one in fields by power cut
American Robin  50
Northern Mockingbird  2    One in burnt fields beyond dam, one in fields by power cut
Black-and-white Warbler  1    Singing
Pine Warbler  1
Eastern Towhee  2    Wetlands near dam.
Chipping Sparrow  8
White-throated Sparrow  4
Dark-eyed Junco  3
Northern Cardinal  2
Red-winged Blackbird  25
Common Grackle  1
Brown-headed Cowbird  10
American Goldfinch  1    Heard, f/o

Backyard 4/11--Eastern Whip-poor-will

Last night was the first evening this spring when I felt like sitting out on the patio, listening. I was hoping to hear our first "whip" of the year, but all I heard were robins squabbling, a cardinal singing, and cowbirds sounding like dripping faucets.

I checked my eBird records and said to myself, "Well, it's a bit early." The last couple of years I heard the bird on 4/15 and 4/17. Another few days, I figured. Then, at around 11:30, as I was drifting off to sleep, I heard "Whippoorwill! whippoorwill!" My eyes flipped open. I called Shari to listen and she commented that this one still hasn't "learned its lines yet." We've notice that some birds hesitate after a few "whippoorwills," cry a single "whip!" then start all over again, as if they suddenly remembered what they were about.

And so it starts. Our neighbors, who all seem to be deaf when I'm talking to them, can hear the Eastern Whip-poor-will's song very clearly and they all seem to find it annoying.

We, on the other hand, love it.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Assunpink WMA 4/8--American Kestrel

It was gray and murky when I started out for Assunpink this morning. I made a quick stop at the farm driveway where White-crowned Sparrows always hang out and picked up three of them, then drove to the model airplane field. I was hoping they'd be flooded after last night's rain. A few days ago Pectoral Sandpipers were reported there after a heavy rain. No luck today and as soon as I got there a light drizzle started. I scanned the lake and didn't come up with much besides a Pied-billed Grebe. I decided to walk along the road around the field, hugging the lake shore, but soon the drizzle turned into light rain then not-so-light rain and I retreated to the car.

I was going to give up but decided to drive to the boat launch and wait in the car, hoping the rain would pass. There were a few ducks on the water, but nothing like the last time I was there. Once the rain let up I walked the road that goes over to the western side of the lake. There were birds, but nothing special. I thought winter was supposed to be sparrow time, but I was picking up lots of sparrows today, including at least 5 Field Sparrows--they were singing all over the place and a few showed themselves.

I wasn't satisfied with what I was seeing, so I drove back down Imlaystown, made a left on East Branch, and wound up in the parking lot of the air control beacon field. There is a long path uphill through grasslands up to the beacon then into a grove of Norway Spruces. It was pretty slippery today. Like Colliers Mills, the fields here were recently burned. The cleared ground seemed to make the robins and blackbirds happy; how it is going to affect the Grasshopper Sparrows and Yellow-breasted Chats that nest there is an open question.

The Norway Spruce stand looked completely different than I was used to--all the brush had been cut and hauled away, giving the trees a more formal appearance. Probably close to what they looked like many years ago when this part of the WMA was a working farm--Norway Spruce is not a native tree so these trees might have been planted as a wind break.

As I was walking toward the beacon, I saw a bird atop a small, bare tree. My first reaction was robin, but it was slightly too big for a robin. My 2nd reaction was kestrel. I wasn't lugging the scope, so I was hoping the bird would stay still long enough for me to get close enough to get a decent look with my bins--naturally it didn't, flying down onto the ground. It was gone by the time I got to where I'd seen it. I told myself I wasn't going to get another chance at finding a falcon today.

I was wrong. Just before I descended the hill, I ran my binoculars over the tree tops of the field below and there I saw a rufous bird with blue-gray wings. No bird around here other than American Kestrel has those field marks. I saw it for a minute or so before it flew down, showing its pointed wings. Finally, a bird worth all the schlepping.

I racked up 39 species slogging around the WMA today.
Canada Goose  12
Mute Swan  2    Eastern end of the lake
Mallard  4
Lesser Scaup  1    Eastern end of lake
Bufflehead  5    seen from boat launch
Common Merganser  1    boat launch
Ruddy Duck  31
Pied-billed Grebe  1
Double-crested Cormorant  5
Black Vulture  1
Turkey Vulture  2
Bald Eagle  2
Mourning Dove  4
Belted Kingfisher  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker  2    Heard
Downy Woodpecker  2
American Kestrel  1
Blue Jay  5
American Crow  1    Heard
Fish Crow  5
Tree Swallow  25
Carolina Chickadee  5
Tufted Titmouse  2
Carolina Wren  1    Heard, farm driveway
American Robin  150
European Starling  10
Palm Warbler  1
Pine Warbler  1    Heard
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1
Eastern Towhee  1    Heard, air control beacon field
Field Sparrow  5
Song Sparrow  4
White-throated Sparrow  3
White-crowned Sparrow  3
Dark-eyed Junco  1
Northern Cardinal  2    Heard
Red-winged Blackbird  50
Common Grackle  1
Brown-headed Cowbird  6

Monday, April 7, 2014

Whitesbog 4/7--Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow

I was just starting out at Whitesbog this morning when I had the great good fortune of seeing my friend Greg pull into the parking lot--a happy coincidence. Greg has sharp eyes and sharper ears, so more than a few of our birds today I owe to him.

We walked a long circuit out on the bogs. It started out well--a Bald Eagle flew overhead, then a Red-tailed Hawk (juvenile) flew across the bogs and landed in a tree where it was immediately harassed by crows and blackbirds. The first bog had many Tree Swallows swooping over it--gnats were plentiful this morning despite the chill and overcast. Among the blue-backed swallows we picked out a couple of brown ones--Northern Rough-winged Swallows.

All the Tundra Swans seemed to be gone (the ones in Crestwood Village flew off this weekend) until we crossed over the double-laned road into Ocean County where we encountered a single swan on the bog.  It's silly; on eBird I had to call up the rarities to list it--had I just entered a Whitesbog list it would still be an "expected" bird. But I was making the distinction because in a bare tree of roosting Tree Swallows Greg picked out a single Barn Swallow--my first for Ocean County this year. Greg also found my O.C. FOY Field Sparrow when we made our way all the way back to the Upper Reservoir.

As we were walking and birding out by the reservoir, Greg turned left onto a road I'd never been on. I had a fair idea of where it might lead but wasn't sure. I assumed Greg had been on the road before--he hadn't. However, it did lead more or less where I suspected, so we didn't inadvertently wander over onto Ft Dix, where the rifle fire was heavy today.

For our approximately 4 mile journey 'round the bogs we had 37 species--pretty good for a raw spring morning.
Canada Goose   10
Tundra Swan   1
Wood Duck   2
American Black Duck   5
Mallard   7
Ring-necked Duck   4
Great Blue Heron   1
Great Egret   2
Turkey Vulture   2
Bald Eagle   1
Red-tailed Hawk   1
Killdeer   1
Mourning Dove   1
Red-bellied Woodpecker   1
Northern Flicker   2
Eastern Phoebe   4
American Crow   1
Fish Crow   10
Northern Rough-winged Swallow   2
Tree Swallow   125
Barn Swallow   1
Carolina Chickadee   1
Tufted Titmouse   2
Golden-crowned Kinglet   1
American Robin   1
European Starling   5
Palm Warbler   1
Pine Warbler   15
Yellow-rumped Warbler   3
Chipping Sparrow   1
Field Sparrow   1
Savannah Sparrow   1
Song Sparrow   7
White-throated Sparrow   2
Northern Cardinal   1
Red-winged Blackbird   75
Common Grackle   10

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Palmyra Cove 4/6--Laughing Gull

There are a couple of Laughing Gulls in the flock--can you find 'em? 
The last time Shari & I were at Palmyra Cove Nature Park in the depths of winter, the birding was not productive. We took a jaunt there today, hoping our timing was more propitious. I like the concept of the park--owned by the Burlington County Bridge Authority, it is beneath the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge and much of the habitat has been formed from dredge spoils out of the Delaware River.

We walked up to the dredge spoils pond after not finding much on the river itself. A couple of continuing hen Red-breasted Mergansers, a rarity for Burlington County, were in there and not much else--Mallards, geese. We walked along the cove trail and turned up birds here and there--phoebes, woodpeckers, sparrows, and best of all a Brown Creeper, being as elusive as it could possibly be.

The cove trail leads, as one would expect, to a freshwater cove. It was low tide as you can see from the photograph. Mostly mud. There were many black ducks sitting on the mud, a good number of Green-winged Teal in a large puddle, Tree Swallows in the air, and lots of gulls. Since I didn't bring a scope today, we had to walk out to the first viewing platform to get a decent look at the gulls. They turned out to be mostly Ring-billed Gulls, but in the mix were two Laughing Gulls. Shari was surprised when I told her they were our first LAGU of the year--surely we'd seen them down in Cape May, but no, we'd had Bonaparte's Gulls this year but no laughers. So I got my second FOY species for the day, a completely unexpected one since gulls are never uppermost in my mind.

Our list for our mile long walk along the Delaware:
24 speciesCanada Goose  25
American Black Duck  30
Mallard  15
Green-winged Teal  16
Red-breasted Merganser  2    Shaggy heads, gray and white bodies. 
Bald Eagle  1
Laughing Gull  2
Ring-billed Gull  100
Herring Gull  2
Red-bellied Woodpecker  3
Downy Woodpecker  1
Eastern Phoebe  3
Fish Crow  20
Tree Swallow  10    Fresh water cove
Carolina Chickadee  1    Heard
Tufted Titmouse  2
Brown Creeper  1
Carolina Wren  1    Heard
American Robin  15
Song Sparrow  3
Swamp Sparrow  1
Northern Cardinal  1    Heard
Red-winged Blackbird  5
Common Grackle  10