Tuesday, July 31, 2012

July Report

Aside from a foray to the Berkshires in Massachusetts where we picked up a couple of birds we wouldn't see down here--Black-capped Chickadee (wrong place) and Dark-eyed Junco (wrong season) and a mad dash to Jamaica Bay in Queens to pick up the RUFF, our only lifer of the month--all our birding was confined to the NJ counties of Atlantic and Ocean. Brigantine by far provided the most birds this month--slightly over 60% of this month's 117 species were first found there.

July is a normally a slow birding month--most birds haven't started their migration south and with breeding season over the birds aren't singing as they were in the spring. I've had a tough time finding a lot of birds while walking in the WMA and a long walk around Double Trouble today didn't turn up much of interest either aside from a Green Heron. Birds start moving in August. I start afresh tomorrow.

Counties birded:
MA:  Berkshire, Hampshire
NJ: Atlantic, Ocean
NY: Queens

Species                                        Location
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck       Brigantine
Snow Goose       Brigantine
Canada Goose       Brigantine
Mute Swan       Brigantine
American Black Duck       Brigantine
Mallard       Brigantine
Hooded Merganser       Brigantine
Common Merganser       Chesterfield Gorge
Ruffed Grouse       Coles Brook Farm
Wild Turkey       35 Sunset Rd
Double-crested Cormorant       Brigantine
American White Pelican       Brigantine
Great Blue Heron       Brigantine
Great Egret       Brigantine
Snowy Egret       Brigantine
Little Blue Heron       Cattus Island County Park
Tricolored Heron       Cattus Island County Park
Cattle Egret       Brigantine
Green Heron       Brigantine
Black-crowned Night-Heron       Brigantine
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron       Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Glossy Ibis       Brigantine
Turkey Vulture       Brigantine
Osprey       Brigantine
Bald Eagle       Brigantine
Northern Harrier       Brigantine
Peregrine Falcon       Brigantine
Clapper Rail       Brigantine
Black-bellied Plover       Brigantine
Semipalmated Plover       Brigantine
American Oystercatcher       Brigantine
Spotted Sandpiper       Brigantine
Solitary Sandpiper       Whiting WMA
Greater Yellowlegs       Brigantine
Willet       Brigantine
Lesser Yellowlegs       Brigantine
Whimbrel       Brigantine
Semipalmated Sandpiper       JBWR--East Pond
Western Sandpiper       Brigantine
Least Sandpiper       Brigantine
White-rumped Sandpiper       Brigantine
Stilt Sandpiper       Brigantine
RUFF       JBWR--East Pond
Short-billed Dowitcher       Brigantine
Long-billed Dowitcher       Brigantine
Wilson's Phalarope       Brigantine
Laughing Gull       Brigantine
Ring-billed Gull       Cattus Island County Park
Herring Gull       Brigantine
Lesser Black-backed Gull       Brigantine
Great Black-backed Gull       Brigantine
Gull-billed Tern       Brigantine
Caspian Tern       Brigantine
Forster's Tern       Brigantine
Royal Tern       Brigantine
Black Skimmer       Brigantine
Rock Pigeon       North Channel Br Parking Lot
Mourning Dove       Brigantine
Eastern Whip-poor-will       35 Sunset Rd
Ruby-throated Hummingbird       35 Sunset Rd
Belted Kingfisher       Cross Place Road
Red-bellied Woodpecker       Whiting WMA
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker       Coles Brook Farm
Downy Woodpecker       35 Sunset Rd
Northern Flicker       Whiting WMA
Eastern Wood-Pewee       Whiting WMA
Acadian Flycatcher       Double Trouble State Park
Eastern Phoebe       Whiting WMA
Great Crested Flycatcher       Brigantine
Eastern Kingbird       Brigantine
White-eyed Vireo       Brigantine
Blue Jay       35 Sunset Rd
American Crow       Brigantine
Fish Crow       Whiting WMA
Northern Rough-winged Swallow       Brigantine
Purple Martin       Brigantine
Tree Swallow       Brigantine
Barn Swallow       Brigantine
Carolina Chickadee       35 Sunset Rd
Black-capped Chickadee       Cross Place Road
Tufted Titmouse       35 Sunset Rd
White-breasted Nuthatch       Whiting WMA
Carolina Wren       Brigantine
House Wren       35 Sunset Rd
Marsh Wren       JBWR--East Pond
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher       Double Trouble State Park
Eastern Bluebird       Brigantine
Veery       Double Trouble State Park
Wood Thrush       Double Trouble State Park
American Robin       Brigantine
Gray Catbird       Brigantine
Northern Mockingbird       North Channel Br Parking Lot
Brown Thrasher       Brigantine
European Starling       Brigantine
Cedar Waxwing       Whiting WMA
Ovenbird       Whiting WMA
Black-and-white Warbler       Double Trouble State Park
Common Yellowthroat       Brigantine
Yellow Warbler       JBWR--East Pond
Pine Warbler       Whiting WMA
Eastern Towhee       Whiting WMA
Chipping Sparrow       Brigantine
Seaside Sparrow       Brigantine
Song Sparrow       Brigantine
Dark-eyed Junco       Coles Brook Farm
Northern Cardinal       Brigantine
Blue Grosbeak       Brigantine
Indigo Bunting       Notchview Reservation
Dickcissel       Brigantine
Red-winged Blackbird       Brigantine
Common Grackle       Double Trouble State Park
Boat-tailed Grackle       Brigantine
Brown-headed Cowbird       Whiting WMA
Orchard Oriole       Brigantine
House Finch       35 Sunset Rd
American Goldfinch       Whiting WMA
House Sparrow       35 Sunset Rd

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Instant Swamp

It rained heavily last night. The thunderstorms at Brigantine yesterday were nothing compared to what we had here in Whiting starting around 8:30 last night. Still, it was just rain, not a hurricane.

When I got up this morning and looked out the kitchen window, the slump looked funny to me--the ground seemed brighter somehow but I didn't think much of it--a trick of the light the groggy brain decided.

It took Shari to point out to me that the slump was filled with water--it was acting as it was designed as a catch basin for rainwater runoff. We had an instant swamp, which is impressive considering that after the hurricane last summer there was barely a puddle in there.

I put on my muck boots and waded out there--I wanted to see how deep it was. I can report that it was over a foot deep before I stopped, not wanting the water to run over the tops of my boots. The prickly pear cactus that grows in the sandy soil (good for drainage but not for plants) was sticking out of the water at the edge and completely submerged in the middle.

Our bird house sits surrounded by water. Happily, the occupants are gone--it's hard enough for a fledgling to learn to fly, never mind swim too.

Our new body of water reminded me that while we were visiting our friend in the Berkshires a couple of weeks ago, Sue and I were wondering what the difference was between a swamp and a marsh. Without going into all the geology and biology, the basic difference, it seems, is that a swamp has trees and hardwood bushes growing in it and is fed by a river or a stream, while a marsh is next to a body of water, like a bay or lake and is overgrown with reeds and grasses, but generally, no trees.

So, for the time being, we have a swamp next to the house. I'm curious as to how long it will take to drain.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Brigantine 7/28--Black-bellied Whistling Duck, American White Pelican, Western Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, Wilson's Phalarope, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Royal Tern, White-eyed Vireo (Whew!)

Searing heat, 100% humidity, violent, soaking thunderstorms, and biting flies--what a great day to be at Brig! 3 go-rounds of the wildlife loop, 2 on a field trip led by Pete Bacinski with Scott Barnes & Linda Mack, yielded many rarities (Black-bellied Whistling Duck, American White Pelican, Snow Goose, White-rumped Sandpiper, Wilson's Phalarope, Lesser Black-backed Gull, & Dickcissel), as well as a few other first of year birds (Stilt Sandpiper, Royal Tern and White-eyed Vireo).
American White Pelican
Photo: Shari Zirlin
Aside from the Snow Goose, which I found myself on the 2nd trip once I knew where it had been seen, and the pelican, which is gigantic and hard to miss when it is out in the open, I doubt if I'd would have identified or even noticed the other birds--maybe the BBWD because that one was the one I most wanted to see and we were looking hard--but certainly not the sandpipers mixed in among the thousand peeps. It really is a joy to bird with and learn from great birders. And one of the techniques I'm constantly relearning is to have enough patience to look carefully
Caspian Tern with Juvenile
Photo: Shari Zirlin
I had 73 species for the day; Shari saw a couple of others, including Brown Thrasher which I traditionally miss when she sees one. The group as a whole had 104 or 105 species. Some were seen before we got there and some just zipped by or I missed hearing them. I did see all the "marquee birds" so I'm extremely happy with the 8 hours we spent battling nature.
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  1    With flock of black ducks near Peregrine Tower
Snow Goose  1    with Canada Geese near Peregrine Tower
Canada Goose  150
Mute Swan  12
American Black Duck  12
Double-crested Cormorant  25    Flock sitting on old fish factory
American White Pelican  1    NW Pool. 
Great Blue Heron  5
Great Egret  100
Snowy Egret  50
Little Blue Heron  1    Gull Pond. Juvenile. Almost all white with just some smudging. Grayish bill
Tricolored Heron  1
Green Heron  1    Gull Pond
Black-crowned Night-Heron  4
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron  1    At start of Wildlife Drive
Glossy Ibis  120
Turkey Vulture  2
Osprey  10
Northern Harrier  1
Peregrine Falcon   1
Clapper Rail  1    Heard
Black-bellied Plover  2
Semipalmated Plover  10
American Oystercatcher  6
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Greater Yellowlegs  2
Willet  1
Lesser Yellowlegs  10
Whimbrel  15
Semipalmated Sandpiper  1000
Western Sandpiper  2    Picked out by Linda Mack & Scott Barnes
Least Sandpiper  2
White-rumped Sandpiper  1    Picked out by Scott Barnes
Stilt Sandpiper  3
Short-billed Dowitcher  500
Long-billed Dowitcher  4
Wilson's Phalarope  1    Fly by, identified by Scott Barnes
Laughing Gull  100
Ring-billed Gull  4
Herring Gull  100
Lesser Black-backed Gull  1    NW Pool, found by Scott Barnes
Great Black-backed Gull  50
Gull-billed Tern  4
Caspian Tern  3    Juvenile begging for food.
Forster's Tern  25
Royal Tern  1
Black Skimmer  25
Mourning Dove  1    Heard
Downy Woodpecker  1    Near exit ponds
Eastern Phoebe  1    near exit ponds
Eastern Kingbird  1    Gull Pond
White-eyed Vireo  1    Near exit ponds, feeding juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird juvenile
Blue Jay  2    Heard
American Crow  2    Heard
Purple Martin  10
Tree Swallow  50
Barn Swallow  2
Carolina Chickadee  2    Heard
Tufted Titmouse  2    Picnic tables
White-breasted Nuthatch  1    Picnic tables
Marsh Wren  1    Beginning of Wildlife Drive
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  2    Gull Tower
Gray Catbird
  2    Near exit ponds
European Starling  1
Chipping Sparrow  1    Picnic tables
Seaside Sparrow  1
Song Sparrow  2    Heard
Blue Grosbeak  1    On road to Gull Tower
Dickcissel  1    Dogleg, found by Linda Mack
Red-winged Blackbird  200
Common Grackle  3
Brown-headed Cowbird  1  Juvenile.  Fed by White-eyed Vireo
American Goldfinch  4

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Whiting WMA 7/21--Solitary Sandpiper

The level of the lake in the WMA has slowly been going down, leaving mud flats around the water's edge. Shari thought that perhaps this exposed ground might attract sandpipers, and, as one of our friends has said many times, Shari is right 98% of the time. Today, while scanning the lake from a little hill, I found my FOY Solitary Sandpiper (eye ring, dark shoulder, green-yellow legs) tottering (as opposed to teetering like a Spotted Sandpiper) on a small grassy patch that wasn't there last week. I was wondering if all the stormy weather the last few days would blow in anything new. The SOSP was it though, all the other species were the common ones in the WMA. Lots of juveniles, including bluebirds, robins, yellowthroats, Chipping Sparrows, and towhees.

I remember the first time I ever saw a Solitary Sandpiper. It was in the Berkshires at Sue's & Roy's place, down by the beaver pond that was pretty low that year, the beavers having moved on. I never expected to find a sandpiper up there in the hills. I remember running back to tell Sue what I'd seen. I don't think she was particularly wowed. I wasn't keeping records then but it was probably 20 years ago.

20 species for the day.
Mallard  2
Solitary Sandpiper  1    at lake
Mourning Dove  10
Eastern Wood-Pewee  2    Heard
Blue Jay  3
Fish Crow  2    Heard
Carolina Chickadee  15
Tufted Titmouse  5
White-breasted Nuthatch  4
House Wren  5
Eastern Bluebird  3
American Robin  15
Gray Catbird  2    Heard
Common Yellowthroat  3
Pine Warbler  3
Eastern Towhee  15
Chipping Sparrow  15
Song Sparrow  1
Northern Cardinal  2
American Goldfinch  2

Monday, July 16, 2012

Squirrel on Hummingbird Feeder

Like everyone else with feeders, I fight a constant battle with the squirrels. But today was the limit. I watched a squirrel shimmy up the iron hummingbird stand, latch onto the feeder with all four feet, tilt one of the plastic flowers toward its mouth, and drink out of it like it was a baby bottle. Meanwhile, 2 ruby-throats buzzed around, waiting their turn. By the time I had the presence of mind to get the camera, it had hopped off and was running around the backyard with what I imagine was quite a sugar rush, since it had consumed about half the liquid in the feeder.

I have to admit to a grudging admiration for the little varmints.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Berkshires 7/12-7/15--Ruffed Grouse

We spent a long weekend with our friends Susan & Roy at their place deep in the woods of Washington, MA. I list it on eBird as Coles Brook Farm because a while back Susan had a flower farm going there. Now she has a fairly large vegetable garden--the sugar snap peas were delicious!

We birded somewhat as an afterthought--I've found that for the most part I see the best birds either on their property or on Cross Place Road, the long dirt road that leads up to it. And that was again the case this weekend--just about the last birds we saw there were this morning on the long walk out to Cross Place--we flushed 2 Ruffed Grouse along their driveway (really a dirt road).

We hiked around Notchview, an old farm that has been preserved and is a popular cross-country skiing area; Susan skis there but had never seen it in the summer. Best bird there was an Indigo Bunting, singing at the top of a tree.

At Chesterfield Gorge, an interesting geological site along the Westfield River we were surprised to find a hen Common Merganser with 6 ducklings. Common Merganser is a winter bird down here in Jersey, as is Dark-eyed Junco, one of which we saw in a tangle of branches and uprooted bushes that  were left on the side when a trail was widened to make their driveway.

Hiking and driving around the county along with a couple of walks along Cross Place yielded 30 species for the weekend. List below. By the way, anyone interested in biking, bicycles, and/or France, would do well to check out Susan's blog SUZE, CYCLING.

Berkshire and Hampshire Counties 7/12-7/15

Species                         First Sighting
Canada Goose   6      Cross Place Road
Mallard   1      Cross Place Road
Common Merganser   7      Chesterfield Gorge
Ruffed Grouse   2      Coles Brook Farm
Wild Turkey   1      Worthington
Great Blue Heron   1      Cross Place Road
Turkey Vulture   10      Becket
Belted Kingfisher   1      Cross Place Road
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker   1      Coles Brook Farm
Northern Flicker   1      Cross Place Road
Eastern Wood-Pewee   1      Becket Quarry
Eastern Phoebe   1      Cross Place Road
Eastern Kingbird   1      Cross Place Road
Blue Jay   2      Cross Place Road
American Crow   4      Notchview Reservation
Tree Swallow   3      Notchview Reservation
Black-capped Chickadee   1      Cross Place Road
White-breasted Nuthatch   1      Cross Place Road
House Wren   2      Notchview Reservation
Veery   1      Coles Brook Farm
Wood Thrush   1      Coles Brook Farm
American Robin   1      Cross Place Road
Gray Catbird   1      Cross Place Road
Cedar Waxwing   4      Cross Place Road
Common Yellowthroat   2      Cross Place Road
Song Sparrow   2      Notchview Reservation
Dark-eyed Junco   1      Coles Brook Farm
Indigo Bunting   1      Notchview Reservation
Common Grackle   2      Cross Place Road
American Goldfinch   1      Cross Place Road

Saturday, July 7, 2012

JBWR East Pond 7/7--RUFF!

Sunday, while we were at Brigantine, not finding the reported RUFF there, another one was reported at our old stomping grounds, the East Pond of Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. A year ago we would have scooted out there in no time. Now we had to wait a week and hope the bird stuck around. Actually, 2 birds. Ruffs have variable plumage and the first one was "white-headed" while the 2nd one, reported mid-week, was "rufous."

Temperatures were predicted to reach 100 today both here and in NY, so we arose at 5:30 AM and were on the road by 6, making it to the parking lot by the North Channel Bridge at around 8:15--we only got stuck in traffic on the Belt for a few minutes.  We broke out our muck boots, which we haven't used in a couple of years and started the trudge down Cross Bay Boulevard to the gravel road that leads to the pathway that leads to the oozing mud of the East Pond. We met a couple of birders coming back and they reported that neither Ruff had been seen this morning. I didn't have great expectations.

Surprisingly, there were not many birders there. We set up the scope on Sanderling Point, not wishing to wade through the sucking mud of the aptly named Mud Cove (also know as Dead Man's Cove) if we didn't have to. We scanned the flocks of shorebirds--mostly Short-billed Dowitchers and  yellowlegs with some gulls and terns and a lot of Mute Swans in the background. I thought I had one candidate but suddenly all the birds flushed and I lost it. When they resettled, Shari found the Ruff. This bird was pretty obvious, but we called over a couple of other birders on the point to get a confirmation and they agreed--we had the Ruff in the scope. This bird, I believe, was the white-headed one, though I saw reports that the rufous had been found. With the light and the distance, the color of the head was hard to make out, but not the profile, nor the remnants of the eponymous ruff on its breast, nor the posture, nor its pugnacious behavior toward the yellowlegs around it, which explains its Latin name, Philomachus pugnax. With its small head, relatively short bill, and the protruding feathers on its breast, it looked like a miniature turkey. It was too far away to take any decent photos of it.

Now that we'd seen it, did we want to get closer? Memories of helping up out of the mud flailing birders, memories of flailing in the mud ourselves, plus the heat and humidity starting to reach the oppressive setting on the discomfort dial mitigated against it.

I thought that the viewing area by The Raunt in the middle of the pond might give us another view without having to slog our way south, so we walked back and drove to the main parking lot across the street from the trail's entrance. We found some new birds for the day, mostly ducks (with about 20 adorable Mallard ducklings) plus some sandpipers and identifiable terns (Forster's) but the shorebird flocks were just a bit too far to distinguish any oddball standing out.

By 10:45 we were back on the road, going back to Jersey, very satisfied with this great lifer. When I counted up all our species for the day I started to say to Shari that it was impressive how many birds we had "without breaking a sweat," until I looked down on my drenched t-shirt.
35 species found while hunting for one:
Canada Goose  100
Mute Swan  150
American Black Duck  50
Mallard  70    Many males in basic plumage.
Double-crested Cormorant  15
Great Egret  1
Snowy Egret  10
Black-crowned Night-Heron  6
Glossy Ibis  1  f/o parking lot
American Oystercatcher  2
Greater Yellowlegs  40
Lesser Yellowlegs  30
Semipalmated Sandpiper  7
RUFF  1   
Short-billed Dowitcher  200
Laughing Gull  20
Herring Gull  25
Great Black-backed Gull  10
Forster's Tern  20
Black Skimmer  1
Rock Pigeon 1  parking lot
American Crow  5
Tree Swallow  4
Barn Swallow  3
Tufted Titmouse  1    Heard
Carolina Wren  1    Heard
Marsh Wren  1    Heard
American Robin  2
Gray Catbird  4
Northern Mockingbird 1 parking lot
Common Yellowthroat  2    Heard
Yellow Warbler  2
Eastern Towhee  2
Red-winged Blackbird  10
American Goldfinch  1

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Brig 7/4--Long-billed Dowitcher

Larry: Whaddya wanna do today?
Shari: I don't know. What do you want to today?
Larry: Duh, I don't know, whaddya you wanna do today?
Shari: We can always go to Brig.
Larry: That's a good idea.

And so we did, after we had explored some of the marshes of Bayville and come up with nothing of interest. Brigantine is always a good fall back, especially when it's hot and the car has air conditioning.

Happily, the killer greenhead flies (my brother says they're actually plain old horseflies) were kept at bay by insect repellent and a gentle breeze whenever we left the car to scope a flock of birds. There wasn't much to scope for about 3/4 of the way around the impoundments. There was a real paucity of birds aside from both white egrets and ibises. But just past the dogleg there was a large flock of mostly dowitchers near a sandbar where the skimmers like to hang out. As we were scanning, Pete Bacinski drove up and immediately the birding became better. When it comes to dowitchers on the coast, I assume they're all short-billed unless told otherwise by an expert. (Long-bills tend to use the flyway in the middle of the continent.) Pete is an expert and said there were a few Long-billed Dowitchers mixed in with the large flock of short-bills. I had thought there might be--some looked different, sort of hunchbacked, but without Pete's expertise, I'd never have called them. I was also embarrassed when Pete pointed out a Cattle Egret that was standing practically in front of us. Somehow I missed it while scanning the shorebirds--a forest for the trees problem. There were also a couple of Caspian Terns mixed in with some Gull-billed Terns, a couple of oystercatchers (making the day a success for Shari, not matter what else we saw) and both yellowlegs, so that was definitely the hot spot for the day, again, boosted by Pete's presence.

I looked for the Dickcissels that have been reported there but didn't turn up any (neither did Pete, so I felt okay about that) though I did locate a few Seaside Sparrows. The coolest passerine we saw was  on the upland portion of the trail--2 female Orchard Orioles in a bare tree just beyond the Experimental Pool.

42 species for our trip around the loop--not bad for a buggy hot summer day.
Canada Goose  125
Double-crested Cormorant  3
Great Egret  50
Snowy Egret  25
Cattle Egret  1
Black-crowned Night-Heron  1
Glossy Ibis  75
Osprey  5
Peregrine Falcon  1    f/o Experimental Pool
American Oystercatcher  3
Greater Yellowlegs  1
Willet  30
Lesser Yellowlegs  10
Short-billed Dowitcher  300
Long-billed Dowitcher  5
Laughing Gull  50
Herring Gull  20
Great Black-backed Gull  10
Gull-billed Tern  8
Caspian Tern  2
Forster's Tern  25
Black Skimmer  32
Mourning Dove  2
Eastern Kingbird  1    Field behind Visitor's Ctr
American Crow  2
Fish Crow  1    Gull Pond
Northern Rough-winged Swallow  3    Road to Gull Pond
Purple Martin  15    Visitor's Ctr
Tree Swallow  4
Barn Swallow  10
Carolina Wren  2    Heard
Eastern Bluebird  1    On roof of payment shelter
Gray Catbird  3
European Starling  20
Common Yellowthroat  2    Heard
Chipping Sparrow  1    Visitor's Ctr
Seaside Sparrow  4
Song Sparrow  1    Near Visitor's Ctr
Northern Cardinal  1    Exit Ponds
Red-winged Blackbird  25
Orchard Oriole  2    Upland trail
American Goldfinch  1    Heard, picnic tables