Friday, August 31, 2012

August Review

Bird #140 was heard at 5:45 this morning--a Great Horned Owl calling from the drainage slump next to the house. While I hit a few spots in Ocean County today, no new birds for the month were added. In all, it was a very good month, helped, of course, by taking a couple of field trips with excellent birders from NJ Audubon.

The highlight of the month, of course, was the Reddish Egret we saw last Friday at Brig. That's a true rarity (2nd NJ record). It wasn't seen last weekend, though it did make an appearance on Monday, frustrating dozens of birders. Other oddballs at Brig were the continuing Black-bellied Whistling Duck, a Brant that's hung around and a Snow Goose that also didn't fly north.

Our Delaware trip added lots of shorebirds including American Avocet--just a beautiful bird, even in black and white "alternate" plumage--and Black-necked Stilt, one of the more unlikely looking birds you'll see.

I keep hoping that Double Trouble will turn out to be a hot spot for migrating warblers and vireos. I've had a tantalizing day there when I found a Blue-winged Warbler along with 3 or so more common warblers, but so far nothing exceptional has shown up since, either in numbers or unseen species. Today it was fog-bound for most of my walk and I found very little. However, I did bring back photographs of the private cemetery that is on the grounds of the park. The Crabbes were owners of the Double Trouble Cranberry Company which they sold to the state to make the park. I guess an easement for the burial ground was part of the deal. What's most interesting to me is that the cemetery is active--the most recent interment was last year.

Not to be overlooked was the evening we spent on the Maurice River Bridge watching 100,000 (give or take a few thousand) Purple Martins fill the sky as they came into the marsh to roost. 

It has been a year since we bought the house in Whiting--never did I think I'd have a backyard where I could hear owls and Whip-poor-wills and where Wild Turkeys would graze on the bird seed that the  grackles and cowbirds kick out of the feeders.

Counties Birded:
Delaware: Kent, Sussex
New Jersey: Atlantic, Cumberland, Middlesex, Ocean
Semipalmated Sandpiper, Barnegat Light Jetty 8/31/12
Species                 Count                       First Sighting
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck     1      Brigantine
Snow Goose     1      Brigantine
Brant     1      Brigantine
Canada Goose     115      Brigantine
Mute Swan     6      Brigantine
Wood Duck     5      Bombay Hook NWR
Gadwall     1      Bombay Hook NWR
American Black Duck     17      Brigantine
Mallard     12      Brigantine
Blue-winged Teal     4      Bombay Hook NWR
Northern Shoveler     2      Bombay Hook NWR
Northern Pintail     3      Brigantine
Green-winged Teal     1      Brigantine
Wild Turkey     4      Whiting WMA
Pied-billed Grebe     1      Bombay Hook NWR
Double-crested Cormorant     4      Great Bay Blvd
American White Pelican     1      Brigantine
Brown Pelican     1      Great Bay Blvd
Least Bittern     1      Bombay Hook NWR
Great Blue Heron     1      Great Bay Blvd
Great Egret     50      Great Bay Blvd
Snowy Egret     50      Great Bay Blvd
Little Blue Heron     1      Great Bay Blvd
Tricolored Heron     2      Great Bay Blvd
Reddish Egret     1     Brigantine
Green Heron     2      Bombay Hook NWR
Black-crowned Night-Heron     2      Great Bay Blvd
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron     2      Bombay Hook NWR
Glossy Ibis     13      Great Bay Blvd
Black Vulture     1      Bombay Hook NWR
Turkey Vulture     1      Double Trouble State Park
Osprey     10      Great Bay Blvd
Northern Harrier     1      Brigantine
Cooper's Hawk     1      Bombay Hook NWR
Bald Eagle     1      Maurice River Bridge
Red-tailed Hawk     1      Lincoln Ave
Clapper Rail     1      Maurice River Bridge
Black-bellied Plover     1      Great Bay Blvd
American Golden-Plover     3      Bombay Hook NWR
Semipalmated Plover     7      Great Bay Blvd
American Oystercatcher     2     Mispillion
Black-necked Stilt     4      Bombay Hook NWR
American Avocet     400      Bombay Hook NWR
Spotted Sandpiper     1      Great Bay Blvd
Solitary Sandpiper     1      Great Bay Blvd
Greater Yellowlegs     1      Great Bay Blvd
Willet     3      Brigantine
Lesser Yellowlegs     2      Brigantine
Whimbrel     1      Brigantine
Hudsonian Godwit     1      Bombay Hook NWR
Marbled Godwit     1      Brigantine
Ruddy Turnstone     1      Great Bay Blvd
Sanderling     2      Prime Hook NWR--Fowler Beach Rd.
Semipalmated Sandpiper     25      Great Bay Blvd
Western Sandpiper     1      Great Bay Blvd
Least Sandpiper     1      Great Bay Blvd
White-rumped Sandpiper     2      Brigantine
Pectoral Sandpiper     2      Bombay Hook NWR
Dunlin     1      Brigantine
Stilt Sandpiper     2      Brigantine
Short-billed Dowitcher     6      Great Bay Blvd
Long-billed Dowitcher     3      Brigantine
Wilson's Phalarope     2      Brigantine
Bonaparte's Gull     1      Bombay Hook NWR
Laughing Gull     200      Great Bay Blvd
Ring-billed Gull     1      Brigantine
Herring Gull     50      Great Bay Blvd
Great Black-backed Gull     5      Great Bay Blvd
Least Tern     1      Great Bay Blvd
Gull-billed Tern     6      Brigantine
Caspian Tern     5      Brigantine
Common Tern     1      Brigantine
Forster's Tern     25      Great Bay Blvd
Royal Tern     1      Brigantine
Black Skimmer     26      Brigantine
Rock Pigeon     1      Iselin
Mourning Dove     5      Great Bay Blvd
Yellow-billed Cuckoo     1      Wells Mills Park
Eastern Screech-Owl     1      35 Sunset Rd
Great Horned Owl     1      35 Sunset Rd
Barred Owl     1      Bombay Hook NWR
Eastern Whip-poor-will     1      35 Sunset Rd
Chimney Swift     2      Bombay Hook NWR
Ruby-throated Hummingbird     1      35 Sunset Rd
Belted Kingfisher     1      Great Bay Blvd
Red-bellied Woodpecker     2      Horicon Lake
Downy Woodpecker     1      Whiting WMA
Hairy Woodpecker     2      Double Trouble State Park
Northern Flicker     1      Whiting WMA
Peregrine Falcon     1      Brigantine
Eastern Wood-Pewee     1      35 Sunset Rd
Eastern Phoebe     2      Whiting WMA
Eastern Kingbird     2      Whiting WMA
Red-eyed Vireo     1      Bombay Hook NWR
Blue Jay     4      35 Sunset Rd
American Crow     2      Brigantine
Fish Crow     2      Great Bay Blvd
Horned Lark     10      Whitehall Crossroads - Leipsic
Purple Martin     1      Brigantine
Tree Swallow     500      Great Bay Blvd
Bank Swallow     10      Bombay Hook NWR
Barn Swallow     15      Great Bay Blvd
Carolina Chickadee     1      Great Bay Blvd
Tufted Titmouse     10      Whiting WMA
Red-breasted Nuthatch     1      Great Bay Blvd
White-breasted Nuthatch     5      Whiting WMA
House Wren     11      Whiting WMA
Carolina Wren     1      35 Sunset Rd
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher     1      Whiting WMA
Eastern Bluebird     1      Whiting WMA
Wood Thrush     1      Double Trouble State Park
American Robin     3      Whiting WMA
Gray Catbird     2      Great Bay Blvd
Northern Mockingbird     1      Bombay Hook NWR
Brown Thrasher     1      Prime Hook NWR
European Starling     50      Great Bay Blvd
Cedar Waxwing     1      35 Sunset Rd
Ovenbird     2      Wells Mills Park
Blue-winged Warbler     1      Double Trouble State Park
Black-and-white Warbler     1      Whiting WMA
Common Yellowthroat     1      Great Bay Blvd
Yellow Warbler     3      Brigantine
Pine Warbler     12      Whiting WMA
Prairie Warbler     3      Double Trouble State Park
Eastern Towhee     10      Whiting WMA
Chipping Sparrow     15      Whiting WMA
Field Sparrow     1      Whiting WMA
Saltmarsh Sparrow     1      Great Bay Blvd
Seaside Sparrow     1      Brigantine
Song Sparrow     3      Great Bay Blvd
Northern Cardinal     1      35 Sunset Rd
Blue Grosbeak     3      Bombay Hook NWR
Red-winged Blackbird     50      Great Bay Blvd
Common Grackle     4      35 Sunset Rd
Boat-tailed Grackle     10      Great Bay Blvd
Brown-headed Cowbird     1      Whiting WMA
Baltimore Oriole     1      Prime Hook NWR
House Finch     5      Whiting WMA
American Goldfinch     1      35 Sunset Rd
House Sparrow     6      Iselin

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Brigantine 8/25--Feeling Smug

Yesterday we ran down to Brigantine specifically to see the Reddish Egret even though we knew we had a trip with Pete Bacinski of NJ Audubon today. I wanted to see to go and get the egret so I could concentrate on the other birds in the refuge and also to see it while it was there. Rare birds have an annoying habit of disappearing. This one disappeared today, as 2 trips around the loop didn't produce it, nor did anyone else see it despite a virtual traffic jam of vehicles all lined up at the 2 places it had been seen the last couple of days. So I'm feeling pretty smug about going down yesterday instead of waiting. It isn't an attractive part of my personality, but as Anthony Hopkins said in Howard's End, "There it is."

There were rarities to be found, just nothing as spectacular as yesterday's. The most interesting find was 2 Wilson's Phalaropes hunting frantically on a mudflat off the North Dike. Phalaropes have a reputation as extremely active hunters--a bird found spinning like a dreidel in water is one of the 3 North American phalaropes. On land they race around with their butts up and their beaks barely off the ground, snagging little flying bugs an inch or or so above the mud.

I found a Brant sleeping out on the mud--I thought it was a Brant when I first saw it, but it was all scrunched up and now that the ducks are all in eclipse, it could have been anything. Shari looked through the scope as it got up and waddled into the water and proclaimed it a Brant. This is the bird that has been summering at Brig.

The continuing Black-bellied Whistling Duck was also found just before the dogleg, tucked in among grass and some small purple flowers. And the ducks are starting to come back--the Northern Pintails that we saw there today are apparently early since eBird flagged them as a rarity.

As to big-nosed birds we saw a slew of Black Skimmers, 4 American Oystercatchers, lots of Glossy Ibises, and one Whimbrel.

Photo: Shari Zirlin
Altogether a satisfying day and I got my "Heinz list:" 57 varieties of birds. 
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  1    In grass, just before dogleg
Brant  1    Continuing bird, from North Dike, plumage looking pretty shabby.
Canada Goose  15
Mute Swan  3    Gull Tower
Wood Duck  4    Flyby Gull Tower
Gadwall  3    With mixed flock of ducks, before dogleg
American Black Duck  10
Mallard  12
Northern Shoveler  5
Northern Pintail  3    With mixed flock of ducks, before dogleg
Green-winged Teal  1
Double-crested Cormorant  100
Great Blue Heron  5
Great Egret  50
Snowy Egret  25
Black-crowned Night-Heron  4
Glossy Ibis  25
Osprey  6
Clapper Rail  1    South Dike
Black-bellied Plover  15
Semipalmated Plover  10
American Oystercatcher  4    North Dike
Greater Yellowlegs  5
Willet  8
Lesser Yellowlegs  2
Whimbrel  1    North Dike
Marbled Godwit  1    Flyby North Dike
Semipalmated Sandpiper  200
Western Sandpiper  1    Southwest Corner of East Pool
Least Sandpiper  1    Marsh just before Jen's Trail
Short-billed Dowitcher  10
Long-billed Dowitcher  5
Wilson's Phalarope  2    From North Dike, on small mud island with gulls, skimmers, sandpipers
Laughing Gull  300
Herring Gull  50
Great Black-backed Gull  20
Least Tern  1
Gull-billed Tern  2
Caspian Tern  3
Forster's Tern  100
Royal Tern  2
Black Skimmer  35
Mourning Dove  1    f/o parking lot
Peregrine Falcon  1    On tower
Eastern Kingbird  5
Blue Jay  1    Visitor's Ctr
Fish Crow  3    East Pool
Purple Martin  2    Gull Tower
Tree Swallow  50
Barn Swallow  10
Carolina Wren  2    Heard, entry road & parking lot
American Robin  1    Picnic tables
Gray Catbird  2    Heard, upland trail
European Starling  40
Yellow Warbler  3
Red-winged Blackbird  100
American Goldfinch  1    Heard, North Dike

Friday, August 24, 2012

Brigantine 8/24--Reddish Egret

We're going on another NJ Audubon field trip to Brig tomorrow, so this week I was thinking of the possible rare birds for New Jersey that could show up there this time of year. It also had to be a species I haven't seen in the state. Reddish Egret seemed the most likely of the unlikely. It was as if I called it in, because yesterday a juvenile REEG was found feeding near the dogleg on the Wildlife Drive, a spot that seems to be a magnet for rarities. I promise to use this power only for good.

Even though we're going tomorrow, Shari & I drove down there this afternoon, hoping to get the egret before it disappeared. It had moved overnight to a stand of cedars on the south dike, roosting with a mixed flock of egrets and one Great Blue Heron. At first we could only see its feet and a part of its lower body, the rest of the bird obscured by a branch, but then it stuck its head up briefly and we got an okay look. There was a small group scoping out the bird and someone decided that driving farther down the road would present a better angle to view the bird. Whoever thought that was right. A Peregrine Falcon landing on top of the tree also helped to stir up the birds and we found the egret in plain sight, standing up on a limb. The white egrets didn't seem to like either the falcon or the Reddish Egret in their tree. Interlopers to their quiet neighborhood.

Reddish Egret is certainly not a life bird for us; we've seen them multiple times in both Florida and Texas, including the white morph (and try explaining to a non-birder why a white bird is a Reddish Egret). But we haven't seen one in a few years and it's a good looking bird to find, even in rather bland juvenile plumage.

Now, tomorrow, when everyone else is angsting about seeing the rarity, we'll already have seen it and can concentrate on the other 80 or so species to be found there. Today we had the Reddish Egret as our target bird and everything else was gravy. We didn't even look at anything until we were 1.2 miles up the drive, the last place it had been reported. Still, the Wildlife Drive is one way, so we had to complete the 8 mile loop. Along the way we picked up 34 more species. Tomorrow, we'll take longer and I'm sure, with expert help, find way more species than our quick run around the impoundments yielded today.

The common name "Reddish Egret" amuses me. It isn't a "Red Egret." We don't want to commit that strongly to the color. Let's just settle on reddish and let it go at that.
35 species:
Canada Goose  15
Mallard  4
Double-crested Cormorant  110
Great Blue Heron  2
Great Egret  150
Snowy Egret  50
Reddish Egret  1    In cedar, south dike, just past tower, with many egrets and a GBHE
Black-crowned Night-Heron  1
Glossy Ibis  4
Turkey Vulture  1
Osprey  6
Black-bellied Plover  100
Semipalmated Plover  10
Greater Yellowlegs  30
Semipalmated Sandpiper  10
Short-billed Dowitcher  5
Laughing Gull  300
Herring Gull  100
Great Black-backed Gull  5
Caspian Tern  2
Forster's Tern  100
Royal Tern  3
Black Skimmer  35
Peregrine Falcon  1
Blue Jay  2    Heard
Fish Crow  5
Barn Swallow  2
House Wren  1    Heard
American Robin  1
Gray Catbird  2
Northern Mockingbird  1
European Starling  40
Saltmarsh Sparrow  1
Seaside Sparrow  3
Red-winged Blackbird  5

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Backyard 2 AM--Eastern Screech Owl

With it cool enough to sleep with the air conditioning off and the windows open, I awoke this morning at around 2 AM to the whinnying call of an Eastern Screech Owl from the woods in the back of the house.

I knew which owl it was immediately because I've heard birders who can reproduce the call and use it as a way of calling in birds. I guess the birds gather to mob the owl that's threatening them.

Checking my records, I was surprised to see that this is only the second time I've listed screech owl and the first time I've ever heard one. The only other record I have is from Texas, at Bentsen State Park, where we saw one sitting in a tree hole, almost completely camouflaged except for its eyes.  When the eyes were closed, the owl was virtually invisible.

Eastern Screech Owl in Bentsen State Park, Texas
Photo: Shari Zirlin

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Delaware 8/17-8/19: Least Bittern, American Golden-Plover, Hudsonian Godwit, Pectoral Sandpiper, Red-eyed Vireo, Bank Swallow

A long birding weekend in Delaware--2 days with a NJ Audubon sponsored trip and one day on our own in Sussex County--yielded 6 FOY with an excitability range from "Oh, that's good," to "Holy mackerel, look at that!"

The trip centered around  Bombay Hook, which has nothing to do with Bombay and is not a hook; rather it is an Englishing of the Dutch "Boompjes Hoeck," meaning "little-tree point." Before we met the group, Shari & I drove down Raymond Neck Road to the back of Finis Pond, looking for whatever passerines we might find, since most of the day we'd be concentrating on shorebirding. Leaders of the trip Scott Barnes, Linda Mack and Carol Hughes had the same idea so for a few minutes we all walked down the path and I heard, because Carol pointed it out, a Red-eyed Vireo. Not much else turned up, save for 2 Green Herons flying out of the pond and over the road. 

The holy mackerel bird of the weekend was Least Bittern. On Friday one flew over the road from behind us and dived into the reeds of Shearness Pond. I saw it for approximately .5 seconds. I haven't seen one of those birds in years, the only time being once from a bridge over Lemon Creek on Staten Island when one posed on a piling. I didn't like settling for just a glimpse of the bittern and next day the bird became "official" in my mind when a LEBI rose from the reeds of Shearness and flew out over the marsh, giving all of us great good looks as Scott excitedly called out its flight. 

Other FOY shorebirds Scott got us on were Pectoral Sandpiper (always a hard one for me), a sleeping Hudsonian Godwit, and 3 American Golden-Plovers that flew in on and settled down with their cousins, Black-belled Plovers

The final FOY was Bank Swallow, a bird I was happy to add and usually would have by this time of the year, since they are reliable at Great Kills Park on Staten Island in the summer. But we don't go to SI much anymore. 

Other hot spots we checked out were the potato fields on the way in to Bombay Hook where we found Horned Lark, as we usually do and Port Mahon a little farther south where every piling that didn't have a Great Black-backed Gull on it, had a Royal Tern, each one displaying its bad winter haircut. 

Sunday, on Linda's recommendation, we stopped, on our way to Prime Hook, at the DuPont Nature Center on the Mispillion River, site of an historic lighthouse. There we were able to add Shari's favorite, American Oystercatcher, to the weekend list. 

Fowler Beach was loaded with birds, particularly Black Skimmers, and the Prime Hook trails around the Visitor's Center had plenty egrets along with a couple of Green Herons. In all I had 88 birds for the weekend and I think Shari may have had a couple more since she saw a bluebird at Prime Hook and a gnatcatcher at Bombay Hook--both times I think I had my nose in a bird list. 

Here's what I saw:

Species             Count      First Sighting
Canada Goose      20      Bombay Hook NWR
Wood Duck      5      Bombay Hook NWR
Gadwall      1      Bombay Hook NWR
Mallard      20      Bombay Hook NWR
Blue-winged Teal      4      Bombay Hook NWR
Northern Shoveler      2      Bombay Hook NWR
Pied-billed Grebe      1      Bombay Hook NWR
Double-crested Cormorant      1      Bombay Hook NWR
Least Bittern      1      Bombay Hook NWR
Great Blue Heron      5      Bombay Hook NWR
Great Egret      25      Bombay Hook NWR
Snowy Egret      5      Bombay Hook NWR
Tricolored Heron      1      Bombay Hook NWR
Green Heron      2      Bombay Hook NWR
Black-crowned Night-Heron      1      Bombay Hook NWR
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron      2      Bombay Hook NWR
Glossy Ibis      2      Bombay Hook NWR
Black Vulture      1      Bombay Hook NWR
Turkey Vulture      5      Bombay Hook NWR
Osprey      4      Bombay Hook NWR
Cooper's Hawk      1      Bombay Hook NWR
Bald Eagle      5      Bombay Hook NWR
Clapper Rail      1      Bombay Hook NWR
Black-bellied Plover      3      Bombay Hook NWR
American Golden-Plover      3      Bombay Hook NWR
Semipalmated Plover      1000      Bombay Hook NWR
American Oystercatcher      2      DuPont Nature Center (Mispillion)
Black-necked Stilt      4      Bombay Hook NWR
American Avocet      400      Bombay Hook NWR
Spotted Sandpiper      1      Bombay Hook NWR
Greater Yellowlegs      50      Bombay Hook NWR
Lesser Yellowlegs      1      Bombay Hook NWR
Hudsonian Godwit      1      Bombay Hook NWR
Ruddy Turnstone      5      Port Mahon
Sanderling      2      Prime Hook NWR--Fowler Beach Rd.
Semipalmated Sandpiper      1000      Bombay Hook NWR
Western Sandpiper      2      Bombay Hook NWR
Least Sandpiper      1      Bombay Hook NWR
White-rumped Sandpiper      1      Bombay Hook NWR
Pectoral Sandpiper      2      Bombay Hook NWR
Stilt Sandpiper      2      Bombay Hook NWR
Short-billed Dowitcher      100      Bombay Hook NWR
Long-billed Dowitcher      4      Bombay Hook NWR
Bonaparte's Gull      1      Bombay Hook NWR
Laughing Gull      25      Bombay Hook NWR
Ring-billed Gull      2      Prime Hook NWR--Fowler Beach Rd.
Herring Gull      2      Port Mahon
Great Black-backed Gull      180      Port Mahon
Gull-billed Tern      1      Bombay Hook NWR
Caspian Tern      10      Bombay Hook NWR
Common Tern      20      Prime Hook NWR--Fowler Beach Rd.
Forster's Tern      50      Bombay Hook NWR
Royal Tern      2      Bombay Hook NWR
Black Skimmer      50      Prime Hook NWR--Fowler Beach Rd.
Mourning Dove      10      Bombay Hook NWR
Barred Owl      1      Bombay Hook NWR
Chimney Swift      2      Bombay Hook NWR
Ruby-throated Hummingbird      1      Bombay Hook NWR
Belted Kingfisher      1      Bombay Hook NWR
Peregrine Falcon      1      Bombay Hook NWR
Eastern Wood-Pewee      1      Bombay Hook NWR
Eastern Kingbird      5      Bombay Hook NWR
Red-eyed Vireo      1      Bombay Hook NWR
Blue Jay      1      Bombay Hook NWR
American Crow      1      Prime Hook NWR
Fish Crow      3      Dover
Horned Lark      10      Whitehall Crossroads - Leipsic
Purple Martin      10      Bombay Hook NWR
Tree Swallow      2      Bombay Hook NWR
Bank Swallow      10      Bombay Hook NWR
Barn Swallow      2      Whitehall Crossroads - Leipsic
Carolina Chickadee      1      Bombay Hook NWR
Carolina Wren      2      Prime Hook NWR
Gray Catbird      1      Bombay Hook NWR
Northern Mockingbird      1      Bombay Hook NWR
Brown Thrasher      1      Prime Hook NWR
European Starling      5      Dover
Chipping Sparrow      1      Prime Hook NWR
Field Sparrow      1      Bombay Hook NWR
Northern Cardinal      1      Whitehall Crossroads - Leipsic
Blue Grosbeak      3      Bombay Hook NWR
Red-winged Blackbird      3      Bombay Hook NWR
Common Grackle      1      Bombay Hook NWR
Brown-headed Cowbird      9      Bombay Hook NWR
Baltimore Oriole      1      Prime Hook NWR
House Finch      2      Bombay Hook NWR
American Goldfinch      1      Bombay Hook NWR
House Sparrow      4      Dover