Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October Review

With the Winter Wren I glimpsed at Horicon Lake this afternoon, I have now seen more species of birds in New Jersey than I have in New York consider myself officially a Jersey birder whatever that means and for whatever it's worth.

We found out that post-Sandy we're living in a bubble--outside of the environs of Crestwood Village it is a mess out there--traffic lights not working, gas lines like the oil embargoes of the 70's, supermarkets out of food and running on generators, and fifteen miles due east of here, utter devastation, symbolized by the image of a roller coaster dumped in the ocean.

A lot of places we bird, like Brig, Island Beach, Long Beach Island, Great Bay Blvd, & Jamaica Bay, have sustained heavy storm damage. It could be weeks or months until we know how much damage has been done to the habitats of these spots. Many people have been sending in reports of "storm birds" from the Delaware River, but somehow it is hard to get interested in an storm displaced Leach's Storm-Petrel when Sandy has carved a new inlet from the ocean to the bay a little north of here. Plus, I'd like to know where these guys are getting gas!

124 species for the month; 9 FOY.
Counties birded:
Delaware: Kent, Sussex
New Jersey: Atlantic, Morris, Ocean, Somerset
Species                 Location
Snow Goose         Bombay Hook
Brant         Brigantine
Canada Goose         Bombay Hook
Mute Swan         Brigantine
Tundra Swan         Bombay Hook
Wood Duck         Island Beach SP
Gadwall         Bombay Hook
American Black Duck         Bombay Hook
Mallard        Cattus Island
Blue-winged Teal         Brigantine
Northern Shoveler         Bombay Hook
Northern Pintail         Bombay Hook
Green-winged Teal         Bombay Hook
Lesser Scaup         Double Trouble State Park
Hooded Merganser         Double Trouble State Park
Red-breasted Merganser         Great Bay Blvd
Ruddy Duck         Bombay Hook
Wild Turkey         35 Sunset Rd
Pied-billed Grebe         Bombay Hook
Northern Gannet         Island Beach SP
Double-crested Cormorant        Cattus Island
Brown Pelican         Island Beach SP
American Bittern         Brigantine
Great Blue Heron        Cattus Island
Great Egret        Cattus Island
Snowy Egret         Bombay Hook
Little Blue Heron        Cattus Island
Green Heron         Crestwood Village
Black-crowned Night-Heron         Brigantine
Glossy Ibis         Prime Hook
Turkey Vulture         Whiting WMA
Osprey         Bombay Hook
Northern Harrier        Cattus Island
Sharp-shinned Hawk         Island Beach SP
Cooper's Hawk        Cattus Island
Bald Eagle         Brigantine
Red-tailed Hawk         Whiting WMA
American Coot         Bombay Hook
Black-bellied Plover         Bombay Hook
Semipalmated Plover         Brigantine
Killdeer         Eno's Pond
American Oystercatcher         Great Bay Blvd
Black-necked Stilt         Bombay Hook
American Avocet         Bombay Hook
Greater Yellowlegs         Bombay Hook
Lesser Yellowlegs         Bombay Hook
Marbled Godwit         Brigantine
Sanderling         Island Beach SP
Semipalmated Sandpiper         Bombay Hook
Western Sandpiper         Bombay Hook
Dunlin         Bombay Hook
Stilt Sandpiper         Bombay Hook
Long-billed Dowitcher         Brigantine
Laughing Gull         Bombay Hook
Ring-billed Gull         Horicon Lake
Herring Gull        Cattus Island
Great Black-backed Gull         Island Beach SP
Caspian Tern         Bombay Hook
Forster's Tern         Bombay Hook
Rock Pigeon         Island Beach SP
Mourning Dove         Whiting WMA
Black-billed Cuckoo         Island Beach SP
Belted Kingfisher        Cattus Island
Red-bellied Woodpecker         Whiting WMA
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker         35 Sunset Rd
Downy Woodpecker         35 Sunset Rd
Hairy Woodpecker         Scherman-Hoffman
Northern Flicker         Whiting WMA
Merlin         Bombay Hook
Peregrine Falcon         Bombay Hook
Eastern Phoebe         Whiting WMA
Blue-headed Vireo         Island Beach SP
Red-eyed Vireo         35 Sunset Rd
Blue Jay         Whiting WMA
American Crow         Whiting WMA
Fish Crow         Dover
Tree Swallow         Island Beach SP
Carolina Chickadee         Whiting WMA
Black-capped Chickadee         Scherman-Hoffman
Tufted Titmouse         Whiting WMA
Red-breasted Nuthatch         Whiting WMA
White-breasted Nuthatch         Whiting WMA
Brown Creeper         Island Beach SP
House Wren         Island Beach SP
Winter Wren         Prime Hook
Carolina Wren         35 Sunset Rd
Golden-crowned Kinglet         Prime Hook
Ruby-crowned Kinglet         Crestwood Village
Eastern Bluebird         Whiting WMA
Swainson's Thrush         35 Sunset Rd
Hermit Thrush         Island Beach SP
American Robin         35 Sunset Rd
Gray Catbird         Double Trouble State Park
Northern Mockingbird         Bombay Hook
Brown Thrasher         Prime Hook
European Starling         Bombay Hook
Cedar Waxwing         Island Beach SP
Black-and-white Warbler         Island Beach SP
Common Yellowthroat         Double Trouble State Park
Northern Parula         Crestwood Village
Magnolia Warbler         Horicon Lake
Blackpoll Warbler         Island Beach SP
Palm Warbler         Whiting WMA
Pine Warbler         Whiting WMA
Yellow-rumped Warbler        Cattus Island
Eastern Towhee         35 Sunset Rd
Chipping Sparrow         Whiting WMA
Savannah Sparrow         Crestwood Village
Song Sparrow         Double Trouble State Park
Swamp Sparrow         Crestwood Village
White-throated Sparrow        Cattus Island
White-crowned Sparrow         Island Beach SP
Dark-eyed Junco         Whiting WMA
Northern Cardinal         Crestwood Village
Rose-breasted Grosbeak         Island Beach SP
Red-winged Blackbird        Cattus Island
Common Grackle        Cattus Island
Boat-tailed Grackle         Brigantine
Brown-headed Cowbird         Whiting WMA
Purple Finch         35 Sunset Rd
House Finch         Crestwood Village
Pine Siskin         35 Sunset Rd
American Goldfinch        Cattus Island
House Sparrow         35 Sunset Rd

Hermit Thrush, Whiting WMA 10/31
Photo: Shari Zirlin

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


We lost power for 10 hours, from 9:15 PM to about 7:15 this morning. We slept through most of it. Aside from about a dozen fallen branches off a dead tree, we had no damage and nothing to clean up. In short, we're very lucky.

Low barometric pressure seems to induce lethargy--I had no desire to go anywhere today, even close by, to look for birds. I put up the feeders throughout the day, whenever I could muster a little energy. The birds, for the most part, stayed hidden until late in the afternoon. Then they had a feeding frenzy. The only birds of note were a Brown Creeper on an oak and a Red-breasted Nuthatch at a feeder. Everything else was very common for our backyard.

These "100 year" storms seem to come every other year now, but Governor Christie praising President Obama--that's a once in a lifetime experience.

14 species
Turkey Vulture  1
Mourning Dove  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1
Downy Woodpecker  2
Blue Jay  1
Carolina Chickadee  3
Tufted Titmouse  2
Red-breasted Nuthatch  1
White-breasted Nuthatch  2
Brown Creeper  1
Carolina Wren  1    Heard
Chipping Sparrow  3
Dark-eyed Junco  18
House Finch  4

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Shari Sees Some Siskins

A week or so ago there was a Pine Siskin on our feeder that Shari didn't see, and there have been a few siskins on feeders around the neighborhood that Shari didn't see so Saturday we uncustomarily set out to the northwest where the siskins have been abundant and at Scherman-Hoffman refuge, they were. We walked a few hundred feet from the parking lot toward the feeders and I said to Shari, "You want siskins? There's siskins."

Pine Siskins with one goldfinch
Photos: Shari Zirlin
Every perch on the feeders had a siskin and along the frame sat more siskins. The ground was literally crawling with siskins. A bare tree across the walk had a siskin on every branch and the spruce tree nearby continually spilled out more siskins and a puddle in the back of the nature center had siskins taking baths and the goldenrod along the path had siskins hanging on every stem. There were a lot of siskins.

As I understand it, a pine cone failure in the boreal forests up north have pushed the siskins south--they are, in the technical term, irrupting. Purple Finches have also been numerous and even the rare Evening Grosbeaks have been reported in unusual numbers. There were 6 of them last week at Scherman-Hoffman and we stood around with another birder we know for a while hoping that at least one more of these robin-sized yellow finches would appear but had no luck with what would have been a life-bird. Still, we came for siskins and we had siskins up the wazoo.

The siskins were crowding out all the other birds from the seed. Once in a while a goldfinch or a titmouse would try to elbow its way in but sheer force of numbers prevented them from really chowing down. At one point I saw a chickadee hanging in there--I didn't think much of it until remembered that I was in north Jersey so it was a Black-capped Capped Chickadee and not the now familiar Carolina that I seen constantly out my window.

After we had our fill of siskins we walked around the refuge trails, finding most of the expected birds. What we found unusual was the behavior of the bluebirds. They seem to already be checking out the bluebird boxes, a behavior that doesn't normally occur until late winter.

Weren't they surprised to find that a new tenant had moved in for the season. Look closely and you'll see a Red-breasted Nuthatch peeking out from entrance.

Sparrows were all over the fields, diving into the high grass just as you got your binoculars focused on one. We had 7 species there today.

In all 30 species at the refuge with siskins by far outnumbering all the other birds combined.

Canada Goose  25    f/o
Turkey Vulture  1
Sharp-shinned Hawk  1
Cooper's Hawk  1
Mourning Dove  2   
Red-bellied Woodpecker  4
Downy Woodpecker  4
Hairy Woodpecker  1    
Northern Flicker  1
Blue Jay  1    Feeders
American Crow  1   
Black-capped Chickadee  5
Tufted Titmouse  5
Red-breasted Nuthatch  1
White-breasted Nuthatch  5
Golden-crowned Kinglet  2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  4
Eastern Bluebird  15
Gray Catbird  1
Eastern Towhee  1
Chipping Sparrow  1
Song Sparrow  10
Swamp Sparrow  3
White-throated Sparrow  10
White-crowned Sparrow  1
Dark-eyed Junco  25
Northern Cardinal  4
Pine Siskin  150    Feeders and all around Nature Ctr. This is a conservative count.
American Goldfinch  3    Feeders
House Sparrow  3    Feeders

After lunch we set out for a couple of other places. The Great Swamp is nearby, on the other side of I-287, so we drove up & down Pleasant Plains Road but didn't see very much, the most notable being 2 Northern Harriers affording very close looks as they swooped over the fields in front of the overlook. I suspect one has to walk, not drive, this road to pick up a good number of birds, because checking eBird shows me that someone after us found around 40 species to our 10.

Northern Harrier  2    Overlook
Blue Jay  3
American Crow  1    Heard
Golden-crowned Kinglet  1
Eastern Bluebird  3
American Robin  1
Northern Mockingbird  1    headquarters
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1
Song Sparrow  10
White-crowned Sparrow  1

Our last stop was Lord Stirling Park, about 3 minutes away from Pleasant Plains Road just on the other side of the Passaic River which forms the border between Morris (Great Swamp) and Somerset Counties. The road that connects them is an ordinary paved road except for about 1/8 of mile of what the sign warns is "rough road." This section is only gravel. I have no idea why it isn't paved, though I suspect some sort of inter-county feud.

Lord Stirling Park is large with a number of habitats--meadows, woods, a fairly large pond, and a trail by the Passaic. A few years ago, the day after Halloween, Shari & I walked a trail to the meadows that turned out to be our spookiest birding experience. In the woods that led to the meadows, dozens of Turkey Vultures were roosting, and as we walked they shifted positions, silently except for the rustle of their wings, seemingly following us, tree to tree, though I suspect they were actually trying to get out of our way. We went along that trail this time, figuring the date was about right, but no vultures were to be found. 

Sparrows again were the order of the day. The last birds found were 3 Palm Warblers. No waterfowl was on Branta Pond, surprisingly, though as we were leaving a small flock of Canada Geese were coming in, probably after a long day munching away on a nearby golf course.

20 species
Canada Goose  18    f/o
Northern Harrier  1
Downy Woodpecker  1
Blue Jay  4
American Crow  3
Black-capped Chickadee  1    Heard
Tufted Titmouse  1
Carolina Wren  1
Golden-crowned Kinglet  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  2
Palm Warbler  3
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1
Savannah Sparrow  2
Song Sparrow  10
Swamp Sparrow  1
White-throated Sparrow  10
Dark-eyed Junco  15
Northern Cardinal  1
Pine Siskin  2
American Goldfinch  4

We had 37 species total for the day; most importantly, Shari saw some siskins. 

(Now we await the arrival of Sandy. The latest projection has it on a trajectory to smash into Barnegat Light, about 15 miles southeast of here. For you Bruce Springsteen fans, the name of this storm about to loose chaos on the state is deliciously ironic.)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Horicon Lake 10/24---Magnolia Warbler = Ocean County #188

The Magnolia Warbler I was surprised to see yesterday at the back of Horicon Lake (the swampy area) was the 188th species I've seen in Ocean County, eclipsing by one the total I had in my former home county of Kings (Brooklyn). The only county I've seen more species is Queens in NY, location of Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, one of the great birding hot spots in the country. It will only take 3 more species here in Ocean to beat that. I also stand tied in the state numbers of NY & NJ. One more bird added to the list anywhere in this state and...and what? I don't know. It will just seem significant to me to have seen more species in New Jersey than anywhere else.

Yesterday's list:
14 species
Pied-billed Grebe  3
Ring-billed Gull  2
Belted Kingfisher  1
Northern Flicker  1
Blue Jay  2
Carolina Chickadee  1    Heard
Northern Mockingbird  1
Magnolia Warbler  1    1st winter female
Yellow-rumped Warbler  3
Eastern Towhee  2
Song Sparrow  2    Heard
Swamp Sparrow  2
White-throated Sparrow  9
Dark-eyed Junco  1

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Crestwood Village 10/23--Northern Parula

Here's a surprise: a Northern Parula in a tree on a front lawn along Sunset Road. One of the great things about birding is that there is always the possibility of something interesting showing up, something you weren't expecting. A Northern Parula isn't a rare bird, though it is getting late for warblers aside from yellow-rumps, but finding one along a suburban street when I've been walking in the woods for two months looking for birds, does seem odd.

Almost as odd as the residents along Sunset find me, walking along with my binoculars, peering into their trees, checking out their feeders. Some are interested in what I'm doing: last week I made an old guy happy when I confirmed for him that those were indeed Pine Siskins at his feeder. Others are suspicious and make snide comments as I walk along. I could, I suppose, engage them and describe what I'm seeing, point out the alternate universe that exists all around them, but I don't because I have a strict rule: No Stupid People.

Sometimes I walk through the development instead of in the WMA because I don't feel like dealing with the woods with its bugs, sand, and hunters, and also because there is a neat little pond on Stonybrook that has at times yielded some real surprises, including a Green Heron a couple of times this month. It is a squalid little body of water, hemmed in by a hurricane fence, part of the drainage system, I suppose, but often these neglected spots with their tangles and overgrown shrubs, are perfect habitat for birds. Today, while there was no heron, I did find Song Sparrow, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Palm Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and nearby, my second Yellow-bellied Sapsucker of the walk. 

So what started out as a quick walk to check out the pond, turned into a two-hour, 4+ mile hike, turning up 20 species and some vicious glares. 

Mourning Dove  5
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1    Heard
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  2
Eastern Phoebe  1    Pond on Stonybrook
Blue Jay  1
Carolina Chickadee  25
Red-breasted Nuthatch  1    Heard
White-breasted Nuthatch  3    Heard
Brown Creeper  1
Carolina Wren  2    Heard
Golden-crowned Kinglet  1    Pond on Stonybrook
American Robin  15
Northern Parula  1    1st year female
Palm Warbler  1    Pond on Stonybrook
Yellow-rumped Warbler  6
Chipping Sparrow  2
Song Sparrow  1    Pond on Stonybrook
White-throated Sparrow  5
Dark-eyed Junco  15
Northern Cardinal  2

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Brigantine 10/21--American Bittern

Our first stop at Brigantine is always the Gull Pond Tower. Today when we pulled in, we found a small group of birders staring intently into the reeds. Here's what they were looking at:
It's the first American Bittern I've seen in years. Maybe you're having a hard time seeing it. This picture is a easier:
With their stripes and their coloration, when they take their stance of standing with their bill straight up in the phragmites, and sometimes waving back and forth in sync with the reeds in the breeze, you can see why this bird is hard to find. We had driven the road to the tower very slowly, with Shari gazing into the marsh looking for the bittern where it had been seen (by everyone but me) last week. It was there--someone else saw it--but not us. So it was a true thrill to see this bird today. We could have turned around and gone home and the day would have been a success.

Eventually the bittern moved deeper into the marsh and disappeared. We went up to the tower to check out the flock of water fowl in the back. A good number of coots and Wood Ducks were out there along with the first of a thousand or so Green-winged Teals and pintails that we would see today. Then we noticed the bittern again out in a small pool of open water, but screened by the reeds to anyone at ground level. And instead of just standing there it was actively feeding, trying to pull an eel   into its mouth. Shari went down again to see if she could find an angle for another picture but as I was directing her from above, another birder, oblivious to what was going on five feet in front of her, slammed her car door and the bittern flew up and off into the higher growth in the middle. It makes you think about how much is going on right by you that you just don't see.

This time of year the refuge managers keep the water high for the ducks, so there isn't much room for any shorebirds to feed--but we did find a good number of Dunlin on one exposed patch of mud, along with a few Black-bellied Plovers and a couple of yellowlegs we heard first and then found flying by.

The two most common passerines today were Blue Jays and Yellow-rumped Warblers. My numbers only reflect the ones I saw--if I had bothered counting the one I heard, the numbers would probably be double, maybe even triple for the butterbutts.

47 species for the day. I'm know we most likely missed quite a few birds, but squinting through a scope at a flock of ducks, gulls or gees, looking for the one unusual species is something that I rarely have the patience to do. There were also lots of sparrows popping up and disappearing into the high grass--a better birder would have been able to i.d. them. As it was, I was able to pick out a couple each of the more common sparrows to be found there.

The bittern made the day and also washed away the bitterness I felt from last week when the bird eluded me because I wasn't able to park the car fast enough or close enough to see it before pulled its vanishing act.

Our list:
Canada Goose  100
Mute Swan  6
Wood Duck  17
American Black Duck  310
Mallard  20
Blue-winged Teal  2    Experimental Pool
Northern Shoveler  5
Northern Pintail  1000
Green-winged Teal  1000    Conservative count
Ruddy Duck  300    Turtle Cove
Pied-billed Grebe  6
Double-crested Cormorant  65
American Bittern  1    Gull Tower
Great Blue Heron  4
Great Egret  22
Snowy Egret  5
Turkey Vulture  2
Northern Harrier  2
Red-tailed Hawk  1
American Coot  18
Black-bellied Plover  4
Greater Yellowlegs  2
Dunlin  210
Ring-billed Gull  X
Herring Gull  X
Great Black-backed Gull  2
Forster's Tern  1
Belted Kingfisher  2
Red-bellied Woodpecker  5    Heard
Northern Flicker  1    Heard, Leeds Eco Trail
Merlin  1
Peregrine Falcon  2
Blue Jay  20
American Crow  10
Tree Swallow  2    Gull Tower
Carolina Chickadee  5
White-breasted Nuthatch  1    Heard, Leeds Eco Trail
Carolina Wren  2    Heard
American Robin  1    Jen's Trail
Gray Catbird  1    Jen's Trail
Yellow-rumped Warbler  20
Savannah Sparrow  2
Song Sparrow  2
Swamp Sparrow  1    Leed's Eco Trail
White-throated Sparrow  1    Heard, Leeds Eco Trail
Northern Cardinal  2    Picnic Tables
Red-winged Blackbird  20

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Backyard Bird--Blue-headed Vireo

Blue-headed Vireo
This isn't the way I like to add birds to the backyard list: This afternoon, while sitting at my desk, I heard a thump on the window too loud to be a bug bouncing off it. I rushed outside and found this Blue-headed Vireo sitting stunned in the grass.

I've seen birds hit windows before and when they're standing up, they're usually all right; they just seem to be gathering their strength after an unexpected shock. Still, Shari and I didn't know how long it would take to recover, so we got a small box and a kitchen towel and Shari transferred the bird to the lined box--she was going to put it out of harm's way somewhere (not in the house, where the cat would be a big a problem), but it almost immediately flew out and away. Good.

Window strikes kill millions, if not billions of birds every year. (How many are starlings, I wonder?) Glass-faced skyscrapers are a major culprit (just the other day my brother found a Golden-crowned Kinglet on the ground in front of the Citicorp Building) I wouldn't think the relatively small windows we have would be a problem but obviously I'm wrong. If I get any more strikes I'll have to consider putting a decal on the window to break up the illusory clear space--but I really hate the way those decals (they're usually hawks) look. And it will block my view to the outside.