Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November Wrap-Up

Looking at this month's list, my reaction to see the 6 new "year" birds on it is, "So late?" I think it is a little embarrassing not to have already seen a Common Eider or a Black Scoter so late in the year. Why did it take until November to see Snow Buntings? Or Purple Sandpipers or Bonaparte's Gulls? I guess the answer is that earlier this year we did very little winter birding near the ocean--I recall a trip to Jones Beach on New Year's Day and after that I think I pretty much avoided windy beaches. So our trip to Barnegat Lighthouse SP was successful "duck hunting."

We took in a couple of new  places this month--White's Bogs (where the commercial blueberry was developed) attracts Tundra Swans to the impoundments used to flood the bogs--it looks promising and while we there we found a very late, out of place Black-bellied Plover. A trip down to Wheaton Arts to visit the American Museum of Glass (15,000 pieces and they show 'em all) afforded us the opportunity to do a little Cumberland County birding.

I went to Prospect Park 3 times last month, trying to cram in as many trips there as I could before we finally move for good down to Whiting. With luck, I'll get one more go-round there in December--Peter has the feeders up and I'd like to see what they're attracting this year.

The last species seen this month was an  immature Cooper's Hawk sitting in the bare tree that is prominent in our living room window--it was very cooperative, even moving in closer to me, sitting in a pitch pine so I was able to get an excellent view of all the field marks.

For the month 95 species. Not great numbers but it isn't all about numbers (so I tell myself on months like this).
Counties birded:
New Jersey: Atlantic, Burlington, Cumberland, Monmouth, Ocean.
New York: Kings.

Snow Goose
Sandy Hook
Canada Goose
Prospect Park
Mute Swan
Prospect Park
Tundra Swan
American Black Duck
Prospect Park
Prospect Park
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Prospect Park
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Common Eider
Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Harlequin Duck
Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Surf Scoter
Barnegat Lighthouse SP
White-winged Scoter
Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Black Scoter
Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Long-tailed Duck
Island Beach SP
Batsto Village
Hooded Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Sandy Hook
Ruddy Duck
Prospect Park
Red-throated Loon
Island Beach SP
Common Loon
Sandy Hook
Pied-billed Grebe
Prospect Park
Horned Grebe
Sandy Hook
Northern Gannet
Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Double-crested Cormorant
Prospect Park
Great Cormorant
Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Turkey Vulture
35 Sunset Rd
Sandy Hook
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Sandy Hook
Sharp-shinned Hawk
35 Sunset Rd
Cooper's Hawk
35 Sunset Rd
Red-tailed Hawk
Prospect Park
American Kestrel
Prospect Park
Peregrine Falcon
Prospect Park
American Coot
Prospect Park
Black-bellied Plover
White's Bogs
Greater Yellowlegs
Ruddy Turnstone
Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Purple Sandpiper
Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Bonaparte's Gull
Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Ring-billed Gull
Prospect Park
Herring Gull
Prospect Park
Great Black-backed Gull
Sandy Hook
Forster's Tern
Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Rock Pigeon
Prospect Park
Mourning Dove
Prospect Park
Belted Kingfisher
Whiting WMA
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Prospect Park
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
35 Sunset Rd
Downy Woodpecker
Prospect Park
Hairy Woodpecker
35 Sunset Rd
Northern Flicker
Prospect Park
Eastern Phoebe
Prospect Park
Blue-headed Vireo
Sandy Hook
Blue Jay
Prospect Park
American Crow
Prospect Park
Fish Crow
Wheaton Arts
Carolina Chickadee
35 Sunset Rd
Black-capped Chickadee
Prospect Park
Tufted Titmouse
35 Sunset Rd
White-breasted Nuthatch
Prospect Park
Brown Creeper
Whiting WMA
Carolina Wren
Whiting WMA
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Prospect Park
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Prospect Park
Eastern Bluebird
Prospect Park
Hermit Thrush
Prospect Park
American Robin
Prospect Park
Gray Catbird
Prospect Park
Northern Mockingbird
Sandy Hook
European Starling
Prospect Park
Cedar Waxwing
Sandy Hook
Snow Bunting
Palm Warbler
Prospect Park
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Prospect Park
Chipping Sparrow
Prospect Park
Savannah Sparrow
Prospect Park
Song Sparrow
Prospect Park
Swamp Sparrow
Prospect Park
White-throated Sparrow
Prospect Park
Dark-eyed Junco
Prospect Park
Northern Cardinal
Prospect Park
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
35 Sunset Rd
House Finch
Prospect Park
American Goldfinch
35 Sunset Rd
House Sparrow
Prospect Park

A Couple of Nature Notes

It took until November 29 for me to find a tick on my body. Tick season is a myth. Unless there is snow covering the grass, you are always vulnerable to ticks. Happily, it hadn't bit me; I'm have very sensitive skin, so last night, when I felt something on my knee, I pulled up my pant leg and found a small tick wandering around my kneecap. It was all black, but seemed to me too big to be a deer tick, yet definitely too small to be a dog tick and it didn't have a dot on it, so it wasn't a lone star tick, but I didn't spend a lot of time studying it from the living room to the bathroom where I flushed it down the toilet. At least this time of year the deer ticks are not nymphs, which are virtually impossible to see.

I probably picked it up in the WMA yesterday when I took a different trail that was a little more  overgrown than the others. This is why I have my doctor test for tick-borne diseases.
In his great book, The Pine Barrens, John McPhee, writing about the bird life in the barrens, says that the towhee is the most common species. This is more than 40 years ago, back when the bird was called the Rufous-sided Towhee instead of the Eastern. Things may have changed since then, because from my admittedly unscientific observations these last 3 1/2 month the most common bird around here is the Carolina Chickadee. Checking my eBird records I find that I've recorded

Carolina Chickadee:  427
Eastern Towhee:  14

These records are skewed, because I don't write down every chickadee I see or hear--I'd do almost nothing else if I did, but I do note every towhee I see or hear. A handsome bird with a maddening song: Drink your Teeeeeea.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Barnegat Light SP--Scoter Hat Trick + 4 FOY

At least once during the fall or winter we try to get over to the northern tip of Long Beach Island to bird Barnegat Light SP. It's the best place we know of to find Harlequin Ducks, which are real beauties, and Purple Sandpipers, one of the few sandpipers that winter around here. The inlet between Long Beach Island and Island Beach is also good for all kinds of winter ducks. The problem is, as I've mentioned before, is that there is an approximately mile-long jetty, which can be treacherous. I'm pretty sure-footed, but when I'm carrying expensive optics I'm not real crazy about jumping from wet rock to slippery boulder.

Today, instead, we walked on the beach along the jetty; it was low tide. The sand must have built up over the last year, because I was happy to see that I could, for long stretches, see over the jetty into the inlet without actually having to climb up on the rocks and compete with the dozens of fishermen casting into the water. Purple Sandpipers and Harlequin Ducks both usually hang around close to rocks and, as Shari pointed out, it was pretty unlikely that they'd be there will all the fishing lines whooshing about.

We started out on the  concrete pathway, scoping for birds and didn't find much except for some Ruddy Turnstones in winter plumage, always a treat, and some White-winged Scoters far off up the channel. I was hoping that the ocean would turn up some other scoters and perhaps eiders. Shari was pretty pessimistic, which I believe is a requirement for really good birding--you won't find the bird until you have truly, sincerely given up on finding it. You can't fake it; you have to believe the bird is not there.
Ruddy Turnstones

White-winged Scoters--hens
So we'd given up on the harlequins and purples. When we finally arrived at the beach I scoped out a raft of ducks, but before I could even begin identifying them, another birder came up to me and told me that down the beach, by some rocks, there was a small flock of harlequins along with a large raft of Common Eiders (as in "eiderdown"). We hustled down the beach and found the eiders easily enough. (I was surprised to find out later when I made out my eBird list that the eiders were first of year for me--usually we see a lot of them off Jones Beach or Point Lookout but we didn't bird Long Island much in January and February.) Also mixed in were quite a few Black Scoters, another FOY.  Our helpful birder came back to look over the ducks and he noticed that in with the Black Scoters was a very handsome drake Surf Scoter--a Scoter Hat Trick!  (I have always relied on the kindness of birders.)

There is a channel marker tower at the end of the inlet that has always been reliable for Great Cormorants and   it had 4 cormorants on it today--very good scope looks, considering how far out in the water the tower is, but the light was perfect today. I asked a couple of other birders if they'd seen any purples and they said that they were there, moving along the rocks with the turnstones beyond the crowd of fishermen. The tide was starting to come in flooding the beach side of the jetty, but I found a low, dry spot and climbed up after we'd passed the mass of anglers and there, as advertised, were 3 Purple Sandpipers hopping along the rocks eating microscopic sea life off the algae.

Finally, mixed in with the huge flocks of gulls and Forster's Terns, I was able to pick out,  here and there, some Bonaparte's Gulls ("they're the small ones that aren't terns," as I said to my new birder friend)--hadn't seen them yet this year either.  And why was I so late getting these 4 species this year? Because most fall and winter days by the ocean aren't like today--warm with virtually no wind.

"Only" 18 species for the day but I'm more than satisfied.
Common Eider  20
Harlequin Duck  5
Surf Scoter  1
White-winged Scoter  5
Black Scoter  20
Northern Gannet  10
Double-crested Cormorant  5
Great Cormorant  4
Ruddy Turnstone  18
Purple Sandpiper  3
Bonaparte's Gull  5
Ring-billed Gull  X
Herring Gull  X
Great Black-backed Gull  10
Forster's Tern  100
Rock Pigeon  1
Carolina Wren  1
European Starling  1

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Pygmy Pines & Brig Ducks 11/19

New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the country. Part of the reason for that is that 23% of the state is basically wilderness--the Pine Barrens. It is hard for people even in northern NJ to understand the extent of the Pine Barrens--something like a million acres given over to state parks and WMA's, federal wildlife refuges, and military bases. Today we went exploring again; we wanted to see the pygmy pines.

Within the Pine Barrens are huge tracts of forest including the East and West Pine Plains, where the pine tree don't grow more than 10 feet tall and most are much smaller than that--they top out at 5 feet.
Photo: Shari Zirlin
You can't tell much from the above photo--you need something for perspective.

Like Shari walking through "the woods." I was a little nervous while we were taking these photos. We were parked on the corner of County Rd 539 &
Note the bullet hole--nice touch!
Photo: Shari Zirlin
The road leads to the area of the pines where the Air Force practices bombing. I wasn't afraid of getting bombed, but I was concerned that we might be taken for spies.

We also hit Brigantine again today--we were looking for ducks and we found them--11 species including some of our favorites--Blue and Green-Winged Teal and Hooded Mergansers. However, the most impressive scenes today were in the air--crows chasing harriers until the harrier fought back. Then the harrier decided to chase a Bald Eagle and a few minutes later we saw 3 harriers and a Red-tailed Hawk and, of course, the red-tail took a swipe at the harrier. Then a Peregrine Falcon decided to get into the action and that even stirred up the Tundra Swans.

There were, conservatively 1500 Dunlins in the impoundments, along with a few Black-bellied Plovers. Not too many passerines today, it might have been too windy and they were all clinging to the branches of the trees. No matter, I can see plenty of those at our feeders.

34 species for the 8 mile trip around the wildlife drive. Plus we figured out that not only is it faster to drive down 539 and pick up the parkway down there, but it also avoids the tolls.
Snow Goose  400
Brant  50
Canada Goose  75
Tundra Swan  20
Gadwall  50
American Black Duck  500
Mallard  100
Blue-winged Teal  1
Northern Shoveler  25
Northern Pintail  75
Green-winged Teal  150
Bufflehead  100
Hooded Merganser  25
Red-breasted Merganser  4
Ruddy Duck  12
Pied-billed Grebe  3
Double-crested Cormorant  25
Great Blue Heron  4
Great Egret  7
Bald Eagle  2
Northern Harrier  4
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Peregrine Falcon  2
American Coot  25
Black-bellied Plover  6
Dunlin  1500
Ring-billed Gull  50
Herring Gull  50
Great Black-backed Gull  3
American Crow  3
American Robin  15
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1
Red-winged Blackbird  10
Common Grackle  1

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Brigantine 11/12--Snow Buntings

It is a recurring theme of these posts: Wind and How Much I Hate It. While it was a relatively warm day at Brigantine and the sun was bright, making the birds look sharp, it was really too windy to use the scope for any length of time, so probably a few species of ducks were missed. I know that a large flock of shorebirds had to go unidentified because no matter how heavily I leaned on the scope to steady it, I couldn't get a good enough look at the birds in the middle of the pool to tell what kind of shorebirds they were, especially since they all had their beaks tucked in against (what else) the wind.

However, that isn't to say it wasn't a "productive" day. We saw Tundra Swans at the Gull Pond Tower, so that was a good start and coots were swimming around as well as pintails. A couple of Bald Eagles were swooping over the impoundments stirring up the ducks and further on up the road, a Peregrine Falcon was scaring up flocks of Dunlin. But the best birds came one two on the northeast side of the Danzenbacker Pool--first an Eastern Meadowlark which flew from one side of the road then dove into the tall grass and then 3 FOY Snow Buntings sitting in the middle of the road until a vehicle came along and up into the sky they went. So nothing to complain about today, other than the *&%$* wind which always leaves me feeling that I could have seen more if it wasn't in my face all day. (Interesting that no matter where you stand at Brig, the wind is always coming at you.)

We thought we'd check out Batsto Village, hoping it would be less windy (and it was) but aside from a couple of Buffleheads and a Pied-billed Grebe, nothing was there. However, we were delighted to run into Brooklyn birders Peter and Mary. Had we seen them at Brig I wouldn't have been amazed, but Batsto is not heavily birded. (Insert music: Small World, Isn't  It?)

29 species at Brig:
Snow Goose  210
Brant  18
Canada Goose  250
Tundra Swan  20
American Black Duck  500
Mallard  400
Northern Shoveler  20
Northern Pintail  200
Hooded Merganser  8
Red-breasted Merganser  10
Double-crested Cormorant  100
Great Blue Heron  5
Great Egret  6
Bald Eagle  2
Northern Harrier  3
Peregrine Falcon  1
American Coot  20
Greater Yellowlegs  3
Dunlin  400
shorebird sp.  100
Ring-billed Gull  X
Herring Gull  X
Blue Jay  3
American Crow  2
Carolina Chickadee  2
White-breasted Nuthatch  2
American Robin  50
Snow Bunting  3
Red-winged Blackbird  100
Eastern Meadowlark  1

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Prospect Park 11/9--Peregrine Falcons

Morning mist rising from baseball fields
Not a lot of birds to be found today. I came up empty in most of the reliable spots. Only the Vale of Cashmere seemed busy with cardinals, White-throated Sparrows and 4 House Finches. But as usual, the day was saved toward the end, when I decided to go have lunch at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens (their chili is excellent).  I put my binoculars on top of the radio tower while I was around the carousel in the park, just for the heck of it, and was rewarded with a Peregrine Falcon at the very top, it's foot on prey that it was picking apart. A minute later another falcon flew in--judging from the size difference, the first one, which was larger, was a female, and the 2nd was a male. I could see a distinct difference in size even at the height they were at. It was a gorgeous fall day, the trees still seem to be at the peak of their autumnal color, and I saw enough birds to keep me interested.
By the lake
28 species
Canada Goose  3
Mute Swan  9
American Black Duck  1
Mallard  75
Ruddy Duck  24
Pied-billed Grebe  1
Double-crested Cormorant  4
Peregrine Falcon  2    BBG tower
American Coot  12
Ring-billed Gull  80
Herring Gull  10
Rock Pigeon  9
Mourning Dove  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker  4
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  1
Downy Woodpecker  1
Blue Jay  10
Black-capped Chickadee  3
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
Hermit Thrush  1
American Robin  2
European Starling  8
Savannah Sparrow  1
Swamp Sparrow  1
White-throated Sparrow  10
Northern Cardinal  9
House Finch  4    Vale
House Sparrow  15

Monday, November 7, 2011

Backyard & WMA 11/7

A pretty birdy day for just hanging around the house and taking a walk in the WMA.

It started off at 6:30 this morning when Shari noticed a hawk in the bird magnet tree across the path. Considering time of year, shape, size, and squared off tail (it was back lit by the rising sun so we couldn't see any coloration or details) it was a Sharp-shinned Hawk, another new yard bird.

I took my morning walk in the WMA and in the first "meadow" I found a flock of Eastern Bluebirds. I watched them for a while, noting how they flew, which came in handy later in the day. I walked out to the lake, noting the usual chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches along the way. Finally, ducks on the lake; 2 Mallards, a drake and a hen, no big deal, but hey, it's a start. On the way back a flock of about 30 Ring-billed Gulls flew over--we're far enough from the ocean for gulls to be a surprise. Maybe they'll be attracted to the lake. At the second meadow on the return portion of the walk, I watched a kettle of 8 Turkey Vultures.

My occasional glances at the feeders today found virtually nothing, but at around 4 o'clock, as the sun was setting, I looked at the dead tree again. The lighting at that time of day is perfect for watching birds up there--the sun almost spot lights them. I saw a small flock of birds with red-breasts and my first reaction was robins, but then I noticed how they fluttered instead of having the strong flight of robins and realized I'd seen that kind of flight this morning so I had 6 bluebirds flying from branch to branch--yet another new yard species. My only disappointment is that they took off before my neighbor, who says he's never seen bluebirds down here, was able to get a look at them.

18 species today and no gasoline used.

Mallard   WMA
Turkey Vulture WMA
Sharp-shinned Hawk  Yard
Ring-billed Gull  WMA
Mourning Dove   Yard
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Yard
Downy Woodpecker  WMA
Blue Jay   WMA
American Crow  WMA
Carolina Chickadee  Both
Tufted Titmouse  Both
White-breasted Nuthatch  Both
Eastern Bluebird  Both
American Robin  WMA
Song Sparrow  Yard
White-throated Sparrow  WMA
Dark-eyed Junco  Both
Northern Cardinal   Yard

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sunset Road, 11/6 4:30 PM

Click photo for larger image
"Whoa!" I exclaimed when a Turkey Vulture swooped by the kitchen window. Don't usually see them flying at eye level. I went over to the living room window and saw two of them in the dead tree across the path. Grabbed Shari's camera, figuring even I could take a decent photo of them.

Then Shari called my attention to a couple of woodpeckers a little higher on the tree. They turned out to be Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. They ignored the vultures, the vultures ignored them. A Red-bellied Woodpecker flew in. Behind me, a Downy Woodpecker was calling in the dying pine tree. 3 Song Sparrows were bouncing around in the bush below the dead tree. A Blue Jay across the street was messing with the other birds, doing its imitation of Red-tailed Hawk. All this from our side yard.

Department of Understatement

Museum of American Glass, Millville, NJ

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sandy Hook 11/5--Lots of Sparrows, But Not the One We Wanted

We traveled up to Sandy Hook this morning in hopes of getting the Harris's Sparrow that's been reported there the last couple of days. It would have been a life bird, but we along with about 30 or 40 other birders had no luck finding it. We did get to explore an area of the Hook we'd never gone to--the field west of K Lot that borders the Coast Guard Base; and in that field we had some interesting birds including a Cedar Waxwing, my first ever NJ Blue-headed Vireo and a Swamp Sparrow that was mixed in with a large mixed flock of sparrows that everyone focused upon, hoping the Harris's would make an appearance. In that flock too were a couple of Chipping Sparrows, which, according to the eBird filter, are a rarity this time of year in Monmouth County--come to think of it, I haven't seen any down here in Ocean County this month--last month they were as common as House Sparrows in Brooklyn.

Also of note: a late Osprey, first of season Common Loon & 2 Horned Grebes and the return of the Brants, my favorite little goofy goose. So while we missed the lifer, it was one of our better days at the Hook, certainly better than last month when the park was so crowded we couldn't even find parking spaces.

39 species there and then, closer to home, a quick look-see at Horicon Lake showed 3 Pied-billed Grebes. I assume they're the same 3 I saw last month. I still have hopes for that lake, especially after a little more exploring of the park revealed a nice swampy area at the back of the lake.

Sandy Hook
Brant  300
Canada Goose  120
American Black Duck  10
Mallard  4
Red-breasted Merganser  8
Ruddy Duck  110
Common Loon  1    Off ferry dock
Horned Grebe  2    Off ferry dock
Double-crested Cormorant  6
Turkey Vulture  6
Osprey  1
Northern Harrier  2
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Ring-billed Gull  50
Herring Gull  2
Great Black-backed Gull  2
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  6
Blue-headed Vireo  1    K Lot
American Crow  6
Black-capped Chickadee  2    Boy Scout Camp
Carolina Wren  1    Spermaceti Cove
Golden-crowned Kinglet  8
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1    Spermaceti Cove
Hermit Thrush  2
American Robin  4
Gray Catbird  1
Northern Mockingbird  12
European Starling  200
Cedar Waxwing  1    Field west of K Lot
Yellow-rumped Warbler  20
Chipping Sparrow  2    Trail west of K Lot
Savannah Sparrow  3
Song Sparrow  10
Swamp Sparrow  1
White-throated Sparrow  30
Dark-eyed Junco  60
Northern Cardinal  1    Boy Scout Camp
House Sparrow  10