Thursday, May 31, 2012

Horicon Lake 5/31--Sora

After dinner, we drove over to Horicon Lake. It was a beautiful evening to watch a sunset over a lake.

We were only there for about 1/2 an hour but we saw (and heard) an interesting assortment of birds including 2 Least Terns (apparently tern have been a spring presence at the lake for at least a decade), a couple of Great Egrets in the marsh, and, very surprising, 4 Purple Martins hawking over the lake.

But the best bird was one we heard--a Sora in the marsh with it's unmistakable whinny which we heard at least 4 times a long with a couple of loud clicks. Soras are rails and while not as hard to see as some of the other rails, still pretty secretive (except for one we saw in Canada which actually followed us as we walked around the pond where it was feeding). I've thought before that I had heard rails at the back of the lake where it gets swampy, but this was the first time I was positive of what I'd heard. I want to go back and clap my  hands loudly. I knew one of the rails responded to that trick, I just didn't remember which one until I looked up Sora on my Thayer software when we got home.

21 species for the quick trip:
Canada Goose  3
Double-crested Cormorant  2
Great Blue Heron  1
Great Egret  2
Sora  1    Heard it whinny 4 times in marsh at back of park.
Least Tern  2
Mourning Dove  1    Heard
Chimney Swift  2
Blue Jay  1
Purple Martin  4
Tree Swallow  1
Barn Swallow  1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  1
Gray Catbird 
Cedar Waxwing  4
Pine Warbler  1
Prairie Warbler  1    Heard
Song Sparrow  1    Heard
Northern Cardinal  1    Heard
Red-winged Blackbird  3
Common Grackle  1

Sunday, May 27, 2012


A couple of loops around the drive, a visit to the Gull Pond  tower,a short walk on the Leeds boardwalk and lunch near the Visitor's Ctr, turned up 62 species today, the most interesting being two Common Gallinules by the tower, a couple of Gull-billed Terns, and 1 (that we could find) White-rumped Sandpiper. Thousands of Semipalmated Sandpipers were present, with good numbers of Dunlins, Black-bellied Plovers, and Short-billed Dowitchers
Common Gallinule, Brig 5/27
Photo: Shari Zirlin
Common Gallinule until recently was called Common Moorhen but, since there are no moors in North America and it seems silly to have 1/2 the population call hens when they're males, the name change was a good idea, though birders seem to be having a hard time assimilating it. 

And finally, finally, we found our first Black-crowned Night-Herons of the year. When we lived in NY this bird was a gimme by the end of January, either at Prospect Park or Jamaica. This year it took almost 5 full months to find a couple--embarrassing.

The day list, not including the Wild Turkey we zipped by on Route 539 on our way to Brigantine. 
Canada Goose  25
Mute Swan  3
American Black Duck  3
Mallard  4
Double-crested Cormorant  6
Great Blue Heron  1
Great Egret  50
Snowy Egret  5
Black-crowned Night-Heron  2
Glossy Ibis  30
Turkey Vulture  3
Osprey  8
Bald Eagle  1
Peregrine Falcon  1
Clapper Rail  4
Common Gallinule  2    Gull Pond Tower
Black-bellied Plover  250
Semipalmated Plover  6
Greater Yellowlegs  1
Willet  40
Ruddy Turnstone  60
Semipalmated Sandpiper  2000
Least Sandpiper  50
White-rumped Sandpiper  1    Southeast Pool
Dunlin  200
Short-billed Dowitcher  50
Laughing Gull  250
Herring Gull  50
Great Black-backed Gull  50
Least Tern  1
Gull-billed Tern  2
Caspian Tern  1
Common Tern  3
Forster's Tern  50
Black Skimmer  15
Mourning Dove  3    Road to Gull Pond Tower
Northern Flicker  1    Heard, Visitor's Ctr
Eastern Wood-Pewee  1    Heard, Visitor's Ctr
Eastern Phoebe  1    Heard, Visitor's Ctr
Great Crested Flycatcher  1    Heard, Visitor's Ctr
Eastern Kingbird  2
Blue Jay  2
Fish Crow  2
Purple Martin  20    Visitor's Ctr
Tree Swallow  10
Barn Swallow  20
Carolina Chickadee  1    Visitor's Ctr
Tufted Titmouse  1    Upland trail
Carolina Wren  1    Visitor's Ctr
Marsh Wren  2    Leeds Trail
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  2    Visitor's Ctr
American Robin  1    Visitor's Ctr
Gray Catbird  2
European Starling  1    Visitor's Ctr
Common Yellowthroat  2    Heard
Yellow Warbler 
1    Heard
Chipping Sparrow  2    Visitor's Ctr
Northern Cardinal  2    Visitor's Ctr
Red-winged Blackbird  150
Brown-headed Cowbird  3    Visitor's Ctr
House Finch  5    Visitor's Ctr
American Goldfinch  1    Upland trail

Friday, May 25, 2012

Great Bay Blvd 5/25--Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

While I was at Double Trouble this morning, Jerry, our neighbor, came by to ask if we were interested in going to Tuckerton with him in the afternoon--he goes crabbing there but he also shares our interest in birds. Shari couldn't go, but as soon as I got home I was ready to turn around and go back out.

Great Bay Blvd is also know as Seven Bridges Road despite there only being five bridges (Jerry thinks they're counting a couple of culverts) and the bridges are so narrow that the stop lights are timed to allow only one traffic. All the bridges say no swimming, jumping, fishing, crabbing. No one swims or jumps (that I've seen) but a lot of people, including Jerry, crab & fish. And, he says, with no consequences from the authorities. He threw over 5 or 6 cages and tended them while I birded in the vicinity of the first wooden bridge.

I was picking up the usual birds--egrets, gulls, terns, grackles, blackbirds,--thoroughly enjoying the beautiful weather (quite a contrast from this morning's conditions)--when I spotted a distant bird in the marsh. I was standing in the middle of the bridge and didn't think I had enough room to open up the scope without blocking traffic, but I did anyway, and there, easily seen, was, finally, my first Yellow-crowned Night-Heron of the year. Yay! I showed Jerry the bird in the scope and he thought it was a cool looking bird. Then he looked up to where the scope was pointing and when he realized he couldn't even see a speck that might be the bird he was really impressed with the power of the scope. The bird must have been a half mile away, but the Swarovski picked it out clearly.

The crabs Jerry caught, except for one, were either females loaded with eggs or two small to keep. The one keeper he caught at the very end of our stay there he gave to another crabber on the bridge who'd only caught one and wanted one more for his wife.

Another entertaining aspect of the day was watching four Horseshoe Crabs ponderously move about in the shallows, the 3 smaller males all trying to mate with the huge female.

22 species in the afternoon:
Double-crested Cormorant  2
Great Egret  10
Snowy Egret  2
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron  1
Glossy Ibis  6
Turkey Vulture  4
Osprey  3
Black-bellied Plover  6
Semipalmated Plover  2
Willet  3
Semipalmated Sandpiper  7
Laughing Gull  10
Herring Gull  15
Great Black-backed Gull  3
Least Tern  1
Forster's Tern  5
Willow Flycatcher  1    Heard
Barn Swallow  25
Northern Mockingbird  1
Common Yellowthroat  1
Red-winged Blackbird  20
Boat-tailed Grackle  30

Double Trouble 5/25--Veery, Hooded Warbler

Ear birding. Foggy & overcast at Double Trouble early this morning (6:30 AM) and a lot of birds were singing but not showing. I'm glad I know the songs of a lot of them, but it is fundamentally unsatisfying to only hear pretty birds.

The Veery was pretty easy to pick out by ear. Here's the test I run when I think I've heard one: Does it sound like a theremin?  If yes: Veery.

The Hooded Warbler was more difficult. I heard a song I didn't know, knew it was probably a warbler, knew HOWA had been reported there, looked up the bird in Peterson for his transcription and was pretty sure I'd heard it when after the 2nd time around the loop I heard it again in the same place as the first. Except his transcription leaves out a "weet." When I came home and played the song on my computer it was almost exactly what I'd heard--a little less piercing on the recording. I could have been fooled into thinking it was a Carolina Wren if I hadn't seen and heard one today.

The Willow Flycatcher I heard once and saw it briefly fly (not well enough to make an i.d.) but the "fitz-bew" of a Willow is fairly easy to register and remember.

With all the listening I was very happy to actually see birds today--even a flying Mallard was a good sight. The most amusing scene was watching the Barn Swallows fly under the bridge to their nest where I could hear their chicks begging for food.

In all 35 species, covering a large portion of the park.
Mallard  4
Great Blue Heron  1
Great Egret  1
Herring Gull  1    f/o
Mourning Dove  2
Belted Kingfisher  1    Heard
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1    Heard
Eastern Wood-Pewee  1    Heard
Willow Flycatcher  1
Eastern Phoebe  4
Great Crested Flycatcher  4    Heard
Eastern Kingbird  4
Blue Jay  1    Heard
Fish Crow  1
Tree Swallow  2
Barn Swallow  6    Nesting under Carriage Rd Bridge.
Carolina Chickadee  3
Carolina Wren  1
Veery  1    Heard
American Robin  6
Gray Catbird  8
Brown Thrasher  1
Ovenbird  7    Heard
Black-and-white Warbler  2    Heard
Common Yellowthroat  6    Heard
Hooded Warbler  1    Heard
Prairie Warbler  2    Heard
Eastern Towhee  2    Heard
Chipping Sparrow  2
Song Sparrow  2
Northern Cardinal  1
Red-winged Blackbird  10
Common Grackle  5
House Finch  1    Heard
American Goldfinch  1    Heard

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Northern Bobwhite 5/23

Northern Bobwhite
Photo: Shari Zirlin
Standing in the kitchen this morning, not too groggy, I heard a piercing bird call and after a second or so, it penetrated to the birding part of my brain. "Let me hear that again," I said to myself. I heard it again, called Shari, told the cat to shut up, and then she heard it--a Northern Bobwhite, very close by.

From inside the house it was hard to tell from which direction the bird was calling, but once Shari stepped outside she said the bird was up the block. A neighbor walking his dog came by. He had wondered what the bird was that he heard and when Shari told him what we were looking for, he joined in. A few moments later, he found a bird sitting in the middle of our neighbor's tree across the street. It sat there for about 10 minutes "bobwhiting," giving Shari an opportunity to run into the house to get her camera. Having sat for its portrait long enough, it flew across the street to our lawn, disappeared around the corner of the house and presumably hit beneath the bushes. Nice plump little quail. We continued to hear it for another half hour or so.

A bobwhite here is a real surprise to me, although I guess it shouldn't be with the WMA behind the house. With pheasant and turkey, it gives us all three game birds found in Ocean County. An excellent way to start the morning (and believe me, the rest of the day has been downhill from there.)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


We spent 5 days on the Delmarva Peninsula, mostly at the Chincoteague NWR on Assateague Island. We stayed on Chincoteague Island, which is an island off the barrier island of Assateague.  Assateague Island is a very long island, the southern part in Virginia, the northern in Maryland. "Wild" horses ("world famous" so they say) are the tourist draw.
Photos: Shari Zirlin
There is a famous children's book, Misty of Assateague Island, which until this weekend I'd never heard of, that gives the horses (they call them ponies) a romantic, nostalgic cachet. I had expected to see herds of horses galloping along the beaches and through the foamy waves. Instead, what I saw, while looking for birds, were clumps of pie-bald horses grazing penned in fields accompanied by Cattle Egrets that stood nearby and snatched any bugs the horses attracted or stirred up. There are two herds, on one the Virginia side, the other in Maryland, and these herds, which are limited to 150 adults, are owned by the Chincoteague Fire Department in Virginia and the National Wildlife Service in Maryland. Owning "wild" horses (ponies) seems oxymoronic to me--perhaps the herds should be described as "free range horses."

Semantics doesn't stop everyone else from gathering at viewing sights to look at the horses eat grass. All that said, I admit it was amusing to one day find a horse who had busted out walking along a trail eating underbrush. And it was a fairly small horse--almost pony-like. I gave this one a fairly wide berth--horses bite as well as kick--wild or not.
The main attraction, to me, was the possibility of adding BROWN-HEADED NUTHATCH to my life list, which I did on our 2nd day there, early morning in the parking lot of the Woodland Trail. Shari, who'd been to Chincoteague on an Audubon field trip a few years, said that the nuthatches stayed very high up in the tall pine trees and sounded like squeeze toys. Almost as soon as we were out of the car she heard one and pointed it out to me. I was able to see it briefly fly. Later, on the trail there were a couple more and one of them, climbing around a branched, tipped down for a moment into a beam of sunlight and I clearly saw its brown head. I was very happy

Other birds we saw that are either unusual for us to see or happen to be favorites were Green Heron (including one outside our hotel room), White IbisMarbled GodwitIndigo Bunting and Blue Grosbeak.

There is another that mammal makes its home and what might be its last stand on Assateague: The endangered Delmarva Peninsula Fox Squirrel. I don't usually pay much mind to squirrels, but I noticed that these squirrels had very bushy tails and were practically white. Apparently they need deep woods for habitat and there isn't much of that left on the peninsula.

I was surprised that we didn't see many Ospreys on the island. I only saw 2 occupied nests. One on the usual pole and the other around the chimney of the abandoned rescue station in Toms Cove.

I was pretty happy with the 79 species we found while there, especially considering that most of the time we were birding in gale force winds. In the woods it wasn't too bad, but try picking out peeps in a pond when you can barely keep the scope from flying away.

Our Virginia list:

Species                      Location
Canada Goose      Comfort Suites
American Black Duck      Chincoteague NWR--Wildlife Loop
Mallard      Comfort Suites
Hooded Merganser      Comfort Suites
Double-crested Cormorant      Assateague Island
Great Blue Heron      Chincoteague NWR--Swan Cove
Great Egret      Comfort Suites
Snowy Egret      Comfort Suites
Little Blue Heron      Comfort Suites
Tricolored Heron      Chincoteague NWR--Black Duck Marsh
Cattle Egret      Chincoteague NWR--Marsh Trail
Green Heron      Chincoteague NWR--Wildlife Loop
White Ibis      Chincoteague NWR--Woodland Trail
Glossy Ibis      Chincoteague NWR--Black Duck Marsh
Black Vulture      Chincoteague NWR--Marsh Trail
Turkey Vulture      Chincoteague NWR--Wildlife Loop
Osprey      Chincoteague NWR--Toms Cove Visitor Center
Bald Eagle      Chincoteague NWR--Wildlife Loop
Red-tailed Hawk      Chincoteague NWR--Woodland Trail
Clapper Rail      Little Toms Cove
Black-bellied Plover      Chincoteague NWR--Wildlife Loop
Semipalmated Plover      Chincoteague NWR--Wildlife Loop
Piping Plover      Assateague Island
American Oystercatcher      Comfort Suites
Greater Yellowlegs      Chincoteague NWR--Black Duck Marsh
Willet      Chincoteague NWR--Toms Cove Visitor Center
Lesser Yellowlegs      Chincoteague NWR--Wildlife Loop
Marbled Godwit      Chincoteague NWR--Swan Cove
Ruddy Turnstone      Chincoteague NWR--Toms Cove Visitor Center
Sanderling      Assateague Island
Semipalmated Sandpiper      Chincoteague NWR--Wildlife Loop
Least Sandpiper      Chincoteague NWR--Marsh Trail
Dunlin      Chincoteague NWR--Wildlife Loop
Short-billed Dowitcher      Chincoteague NWR--Black Duck Marsh
Laughing Gull      Comfort Suites
Ring-billed Gull      Chincoteague NWR--Swan Cove
Herring Gull      Comfort Suites
Great Black-backed Gull      Comfort Suites
Least Tern      Chincoteague NWR--Wildlife Loop
Common Tern      Assateague Island
Forster's Tern      Comfort Suites
Black Skimmer      Assateague Island
Rock Pigeon      Comfort Suites
Mourning Dove      Chincoteague NWR--Wildlife Loop
Ruby-throated Hummingbird      Chincoteague NWR--Woodland Trail
Northern Flicker      Chincoteague NWR--Wildlife Loop
Eastern Wood-Pewee      Chincoteague NWR--Wildlife Loop
Acadian Flycatcher      Chincoteague--Black Duck Trail
Great Crested Flycatcher      Chincoteague NWR--Wildlife Loop
Eastern Kingbird      Chincoteague NWR--Wildlife Loop
American Crow      Chincoteague NWR--Marsh Trail
Fish Crow      Comfort Suites
Purple Martin      Main St., Chincoteague
Tree Swallow      Chincoteague NWR--Wildlife Loop
Barn Swallow      Comfort Suites
Carolina Chickadee      Chincoteague NWR--Woodland Trail
Tufted Titmouse      Wallops Island NWR
BROWN-HEADED NUTHATCH      Chincoteague NWR--Woodland Trail
Carolina Wren      Chincoteague NWR--Visitor Center
House Wren      Chincoteague--Black Duck Trail
American Robin      Chincoteague NWR--Visitor Center
Gray Catbird      Chincoteague NWR--Woodland Trail
Northern Mockingbird      Comfort Suites
European Starling      Comfort Suites
Ovenbird      Chincoteague NWR--Marsh Trail
Common Yellowthroat      Chincoteague NWR--Woodland Trail
Magnolia Warbler      Chincoteague NWR--Woodland Trail
Yellow Warbler      Chincoteague NWR--Woodland Trail
Pine Warbler      Chincoteague NWR--Woodland Trail
Northern Cardinal      Chincoteague NWR--Wildlife Loop
Blue Grosbeak      Chincoteague--Black Duck Trail
Indigo Bunting      Chincoteague NWR--Marsh Trail
Red-winged Blackbird      Chincoteague NWR--Wildlife Loop
Common Grackle      Comfort Suites
Boat-tailed Grackle      Chincoteague NWR--Wildlife Loop
Brown-headed Cowbird      Chincoteague NWR--Visitor Center
Orchard Oriole      Chincoteague--Black Duck Trail
American Goldfinch      Chincoteague NWR--Woodland Trail
House Sparrow      Comfort Suites

Daytime & sunset views from Comfort Suites Hotel room

To get there we decided to take the Cape May-Lewes Ferry--it takes longer but is much less driving. Coming back, though we worked our way up the peninsula--I didn't want to be on a ferry with winds from a tropical storm licking the coast.

We made a stop at the Maryland section of Assateague but were afraid to stay because bad weather seemed to be constantly looming. We were able to add Eastern Bluebird there to our trip list. We drove up ahead of the storm to Bombay Hook, completing the peninsula trifecta. A fairly quick circuit around the refuge turned up some good birds, but the best, by far, and possibly for the whole trip save for the nuthatch, came as we were at the turnaround by Finis Pool. Suddenly from nearby we heard "Who cooks, who cooks for yooooo." Barred Owl, unmistakable. And then another, from deeper in the woods returned the call and for five minutes we had owl call and response. Very unusual to hear in the middle of the day.
38 species there, including 3 FOY
Canada Goose  6
Mallard  3    Bear Swamp Pool
Wild Turkey  1
Great Blue Heron  1
Great Egret  15
Snowy Egret  4
Glossy Ibis  3
Turkey Vulture  1
Bald Eagle  1
Clapper Rail  1
Semipalmated Plover  1    Bear Swamp Pool
Black-necked Stilt  1    Bear Swamp Pool
Willet  1
Semipalmated Sandpiper  1000
Least Sandpiper  100
Dunlin  1000
Short-billed Dowitcher  50
Forster's Tern  1
Barred Owl  2    Calling at Finis Pool
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1    Calling at Finis Pool
Northern Flicker  2
Eastern Wood-Pewee  1    Heard
Willow Flycatcher  1    Heard
Eastern Kingbird  2
Blue Jay  2
Purple Martin  5
Tree Swallow  10
Barn Swallow  1    Bear Swamp Pool
Carolina Chickadee  1    Finis Pool
Marsh Wren  2
Eastern Bluebird  5
American Robin  2
Gray Catbird  1    Finis Pool
Common Yellowthroat  2
Yellow Warbler
Red-winged Blackbird  50
Common Grackle  10
Brown-headed Cowbird  4
All in all, we had a Delmarvalous time.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Cattus Island 5/13--Tricolored Heron

We took a friend out for her first birding experience this afternoon. For a first time birder, you look for big impressive birds to jump start interest, so we thought that Cattus Island would be a likely spot as it has pretty easy to see Ospreys and egrets. And, starting out at 12:45 on a day turning summer-like, I didn't really expect to find many passerines. (I took an early walk in the WMA this morning to get my passerine fix--28 species.)

At the observation deck we saw Ospreys right off, plus a Snowy Egret hunting back in the marsh. We did find one Common Yellowthroat to show her instead of just pointing out its song and she was delighted with the Downy Woodpecker we found. I think she was just happy to see any bird, since we were hearing a lot of birds like catbirds, sparrows, blackbirds, etc.

On the way back, Shari found our FOY Tricolored Heron which is a beautiful bird to see for the first (or any) time. Another birder had told me one had been sighted there earlier in day, but without a scope I didn't really expect to find it.

The Tricolored Heron certainly made the trip worthwhile for me and if nothing else, our friend will be able to impress her boss (a birder) with her report of what she did this weekend.

21 species @ Cattus Island:

Canada Goose  1
Mallard  5
Great Egret  2
Snowy Egret  1
Tricolored Heron  1
Osprey  7
Ring-billed Gull  2
Herring Gull  25
Mourning Dove  2
Downy Woodpecker  1
Great Crested Flycatcher  1    Heard
Fish Crow  2
Carolina Chickadee  1
Gray Catbird  15
Common Yellowthroat  2
Eastern Towhee  3
Chipping Sparrow  5
Song Sparrow  1
Northern Cardinal  1
Red-winged Blackbird  5
House Sparrow  1