Thursday, January 31, 2013

January Review & List

It was a spectacular way to kick off the new year. I can't think of a better birding month we've had on the East Coast. Three rare geese, the elusive cranes, one life bird finally tracked down, and, of course, what will probably be the highlight of our birding pursuits--finding 3 Northern Lapwings in a muddy cow pasture 15.1 miles from here. The lapwings have attracted wide-spread attention, with birders arriving from all over the country to view them. For a couple of days, when the weather was extremely cold, they disappeared to the disappointment of some long-distance travelers, only to reappear a few days ago. As of yesterday, they were still in the same field where Shari first found them moving around. We were able to see them on 3 different occasions. I went back there this week to look for the Sandhill Cranes again, because I felt like I'd given them short shrift the day they flew in when all the lapwing excitement started. I easily found them in the field east of the cow pasture. That was the day I had the sad duty of telling a couple from Michigan who had driven 10 hours, that the lapwings were gone--temporarily as it turned out.

The first rare goose we found was Cackling Goose, which turned up in Duke Island Park when we were looking for Greater White-front Goose (which is the only goose rarity that's eluded us so far), which was a kind of a rehearsal for finding the lapwings. Look for one bird (cranes), find another.

Pink-footed Goose we chased down on the 2nd day it was in Toms River. It moved around quite a bit while it was here--from a retention pond in a shopping mall, to a golf course, to a soccer field and then back to the pond and golf course. That was a fun one to chase, so close to home.

Seeing 2 Barnacle Geese in Assunpink was almost too easy. It was a case of don't look for bird, look for birders. Barnacle Goose is close to becoming commonplace in New Jersey--there are at least 3 of them, possibly 4 in the state. And they're not being challenged as they once were--a few years ago, reports of Barnacle Goose were met with skepticism as to the origin. Now, it seem pretty well established that these are Wrong-way Corrigans from Greenland and not escapees.  There's also debate as to how many Pink-footed Geese are around--probably more than one is the consensus.

Then there was our first lifer of the year: NORTHERN SHRIKE. It was satisfying to finally find this bird for a couple of reasons. For one thing, we once thought we had Northern Shrike at Jones Beach on Long Island a few years ago, only to have it turn into Loggerhead Shrike after much Internet debate. Secondly, it was our 4th try for the bird and it was starting to get frustrating, but we were determined to find it, so rose early and made our way up to Assunpink just after sunrise and luckily got on the bird for about a minute with the help of some other birders.

Throw in the Tricolored Heron I saw on Long Beach Island, a rarity for this time of year, along with some lovely ducks, and it was a great month to be birding.

The full list: 97 species (wish I could have rounded it out to 100).
Counties Birded:
New Jersey: Mercer, Monmouth, Ocean, Somerset
New York: Nassau, New York
Species                                Location
Pink-footed Goose         St Joe's Soccer Field
Snow Goose         Jones Beach SP
Brant         Jones Beach SP
Barnacle Goose         Assunpink WMA
Cackling Goose         Duke Island Park
Canada Goose         Jones Beach SP
Mute Swan         Assunpink WMA
Tundra Swan         White's Bogs
Wood Duck         Central Park
Gadwall         Manasquan Reservoir IBA
American Wigeon         Shark River
American Black Duck         Assunpink WMA
Mallard         Crestwood Village
Canvasback         Riverfront Landing
Ring-necked Duck         Riverfront Landing
Greater Scaup         Riverfront Landing
Lesser Scaup         Riverfront Landing
Common Eider         Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Harlequin Duck         Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Black Scoter         Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Long-tailed Duck         Jones Beach SP
Bufflehead         Horicon Lake
Common Goldeneye         Cattus Island County Park
Hooded Merganser         Horicon Lake
Common Merganser         Assunpink WMA
Red-breasted Merganser         Jones Beach SP
Ruddy Duck         Assunpink WMA
Wild Turkey         Crestwood Village
Red-throated Loon         Jones Beach SP
Common Loon         Jones Beach SP
Pied-billed Grebe         Riverfront Landing
Horned Grebe         Jones Beach SP
Double-crested Cormorant         Jones Beach SP
Great Blue Heron         Duke Island Park
Tricolored Heron         Bayview Ave Park
Black Vulture         New Egypt--Brynmore / Big Woods Rd.
Turkey Vulture         Crestwood Village
Osprey         Manasquan Reservoir IBA
Northern Harrier         Mercer Sod Farm IBA
Cooper's Hawk         35 Sunset Rd
Bald Eagle         Rt 539 New Egypt
Red-shouldered Hawk         Assunpink WMA
Red-tailed Hawk         Randolph Rd
American Coot         Manasquan Reservoir IBA
Sandhill Crane         New Egypt--Brynmore / Big Woods Rd.
êNorthern Lapwing        New Egypt--Brynmore / Big Woods Rd.
Killdeer         Duke Island Park
American Oystercatcher         Jones Beach SP
Sanderling         Seven Presidents Park
Ring-billed Gull         Jones Beach SP
Herring Gull         Jones Beach SP
Great Black-backed Gull         Jones Beach SP
Razorbill         Shark River Inlet
Rock Pigeon         Jones Beach SP
Mourning Dove         Utterby Rd, Malverne
Belted Kingfisher         Horicon Lake
Red-bellied Woodpecker         Utterby Rd, Malverne
Downy Woodpecker         35 Sunset Rd
Hairy Woodpecker         Scherman-Hoffman
Northern Flicker         Assunpink WMA
Pileated Woodpecker         Scherman-Hoffman
American Kestrel         New Egypt--Brynmore / Big Woods Rd.
Merlin         Crestwood Village
Eastern Phoebe         Double Trouble State Park
NORTHERN SHRIKE         Assunpink WMA
Blue Jay         Utterby Rd, Malverne
American Crow         Jones Beach SP
Carolina Chickadee         35 Sunset Rd
Black-capped Chickadee         Scherman-Hoffman
Tufted Titmouse         35 Sunset Rd
Red-breasted Nuthatch         Whiting WMA
White-breasted Nuthatch         35 Sunset Rd
Brown Creeper         Assunpink WMA
Winter Wren         Assunpink WMA
Carolina Wren         Crestwood Village
Golden-crowned Kinglet         Crestwood Village
Ruby-crowned Kinglet         Assunpink WMA
Eastern Bluebird         Crestwood Village
American Robin         Utterby Rd, Malverne
Northern Mockingbird         Jones Beach SP
European Starling         Utterby Rd, Malverne
Palm Warbler         Bayview Ave Park
Yellow-rumped Warbler         Assunpink WMA
American Tree Sparrow         Jones Beach SP
Field Sparrow         Assunpink WMA
Song Sparrow         Jones Beach SP
White-throated Sparrow         Utterby Rd, Malverne
White-crowned Sparrow         Assunpink WMA
Dark-eyed Junco         Jones Beach SP
Northern Cardinal         Utterby Rd, Malverne
Red-winged Blackbird         Jones Beach SP
Common Grackle         Manasquan Reservoir IBA
Boat-tailed Grackle         Bayview Marina
House Finch         Whiting WMA
Pine Siskin         Whiting WMA
American Goldfinch         35 Sunset Rd
House Sparrow         Utterby Rd, Malverne

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Crestwood Village 1/30--Merlin

Suddenly a Spring-like day appeared and I took advantage of it by taking a long walk around the neighborhood. Song Sparrows and House Finches were singing. The pond on Stonybrook was frozen over, so the kingfisher I was hoping for was not present. Every bird I turned up on my walk was "reliable" until I got to the end of Congasia, where there is an entrance for the Crossley Preserve. While looking up into a pine tree, trying to locate a cardinal incessantly calling (I like to see my birds, if I can), I saw skimming over the tree tops a small gray-brown falcon with pointed wings--my first Merlin of the year. Never did see the cardinal, though.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Seven Presidents Park 1/27--Sanderling

On our way up the Parkway to the Metropark train station, we detoured on Rt 36 and spent about 45 minutes birding Seven Presidents Park in Long Branch.  (Seven presidents reputedly summered in Long Branch; let's see...Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Harrison, McKinley, and Wilson.) Birds were sparse in the trees, in the field, on the beach, and in the ocean. Except for gulls; plenty of gulls. I considered using Brant for Bird A Day, then Yellow-rumped Warbler, but settled on one of my favorites, the little wind-up toy-like Sanderlings, a few of which were scurrying along the edge of the water and were FOY.  We were only able to garner 11 species; neither of us felt like standing too long in the cold waiting for ducks to fly by.
Brant  125
Canada Goose  25
Greater/Lesser Scaup  2
Bufflehead  12
Ruddy Duck  10
Sanderling  4
Ring-billed Gull  200
Herring Gull  50
American Crow  1    Heard
Northern Mockingbird  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler  3
Song Sparrow  1

We drove up Rt 36 through some of the Sandy-damaged towns along that long spit of land that terminates in Sandy Hook of sainted memory. Speaking of saints:  
 We came across this boat atop a sand pile in Monmouth Beach. I make no speculations as to whether the grouping is deliberate or random.
From a different angle the scene becomes more dramatic.

Seeing these abandoned stuffed toys reminded me of a scene from a few weeks ago when I was on Long Beach Island:

Has anyone considered that there was so much debris spread around because we have so much junk to start out with?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Assunpink WMA 1/26--Barnacle Goose

Every day for the past 5 days I've tried to motivate myself to bundle up and get out of the house to look for birds, but aside from a quick ride to see the Wild Turkeys a few blocks from here, I haven't been able to do it. I just hate the cold. This morning I had to go out to fix a couple of feeders--the constant cold and ice from last night's storm had snapped their strings (amazing since one of them was held up by parachute cord) and in the 5 or 10 minutes I was out there rehanging and filling them up I thought my fingers were going to snap off.

Shari was feeling all cooped up too, so when she asked where we might go today where we could bird relatively comfortably (meaning, near the warmth of the car), the temptation to go to Assunpink to see the 2 Barnacle Geese reported there overcame my loathing of the cold. 4 layers of shirts, long underwear, 2 pairs of gloves, a dickey, my heavy coat and I was ready to go. I couldn't lift my arms swathed in so many layers, but I was ready to go.

Assunpink Lake was 90% frozen. We saw a few birders to the right side of the parking lot and out on the ice and in a small patch of open water a large flock of geese. Setting up my scope one birder said to me, "Right edge of the flock." I found them right away. 2 Barnacle Geese is a record for me and the thought is that these are a pair. Barnacle Geese, like most geese, mate for life, so it's interesting that this might not be just one lost goose but one lost goose with a faithful companion.

Not much else was on the lake. A Bald Eagle flew overhead. We decided to drive over to Allentown and look around there and afterward have some lunch. The ponds at Mercer Corporate Park were also, unsurprisingly, frozen, though we did find a couple of Gadwalls and the always amusing American Coots.

Finally, we decided to swing by Brynmore Road to see if the lapwings had stayed around after last night's snow fall. Apparently they had, but had flown off this morning according to one sad birder I spoke to who had "just missed them by five minutes," that doleful refrain. We hung around, not gigantically disappointed, for 20 minutes or so. Brief excitement when 3 Killdeer flew in, but no lapwings. I hope one of the people who saw them this morning was a guy I'd been corresponding with the last few days who was driving 450 miles from North Carolina to see them.

The good news, for me, was that, with no wind and the temperatures reaching into the balmy mid-20's, I was very comfortable standing outside. Maybe I'll do it again tomorrow.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Crestwood Village 1/24--Wild Turkeys

Click picture for larger image
Even though Shari thinks my Bird A Day game is one more stupid obsession, she is such a good wife that when, returning from Stop & Shop, she saw a flock of Wild Turkeys skittering across Penwood, she called me from the car, told to me to put on my shoes, she'd be at the house in 2 minutes, then drove me back over there so I could use the turkeys for today's entry. I only need one for the day, but here are 14.

I like birding but I don't like frost-bite. The last 3 days have been bitterly cold for New Jersey--temperatures have not risen above 20 degrees--so my birding has been confined to looking out the window at the feeders, which means I've had to use up yard birds like Dark-eyed Junco and White-throated Sparrow the last couple of days as my BAD entries. They at least are winter birds which I don't mind using (although it would be good to keep them for the end of the year, if I were to last that long in the game), but today I thought I was going to have list one of the "reliables," and if I start employing them too early I probably won't last through the spring.  So chalk up a "save" for Shari.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Toms River 1/21--Pink-footed Goose

We were like a couple of firefighters this morning ready to go as soon as the alarm went off. Shari was going into the city this afternoon but she was completely packed last night. Around 10:30 the email alert came clanging in on Jerseybirds and we jumped in the car with Googled directions to a soccer field in Toms River.  Arriving about 20 minutes later we found a flock of Canada Geese and with the help of a couple of birders we knew, we quickly found the Pink-footed Goose we had chased and missed yesterday. It was great to see it walking on a field instead of swimming because we were able to view its eponymously named feet--pink as Bazooka bubble gum. A small brown goose, it is easily lost among the larger Canada Geese in water, but on land, if you look beneath the goose bellies you can often find it just by searching for the brightly colored legs.

We saw it just in time; while eating lunch about an hour later Shari saw a message that the goose had disappeared from the field only to wind up back in the pond in the Seacourt Mall where it was originally found yesterday. Birds have wings; they move around.

It has been quite a week in Ocean County for North Atlantic rarities; the lapwings are still in New Egypt, despite the fields starting to freeze. A cold snap is expected to kick in tomorrow. It will be amazing if they persist through it.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


We were barely in the house after returning from Manasquan Reservoir when I checked my email and saw that a Pink-footed Goose had been found (by a reliable observer) in Toms River. Back in the car we went.

As we were driving there a text message came in on my phone from SJBirds, a kind of private Twitter network I belong to, reporting the bird. This is as sophisticated as I get in the field. I can't check my email because I don't have a smart phone. But at least I knew exactly where we were going--to a shopping mall on Hooper Avenue!  Informally called "Marshall Pond" this unprepossessing body of water looks to be a stream incorporated into the mall's drainage system. It directly across from Marshall's Department Store. I've checked it a few times. In the winter there are hordes of Canada Geese there as well as Mallards and sometimes a few more interesting species. PFGO was certainly more interesting. One of this species had been reported for the past couple of weeks a little north of here where Mercer, Middlesex, and Monmouth Counties meet, but no sightings had been made for the past couple of days. Pink-footed Goose, like Barnacle Goose, is starting to appear more often (global warming again) so this could be the same bird, or it could be a different one.

We got there about 4:15, looked for the birders and heard a variant of "Oh, you just missed it": "It went around the other side of that island." The island was nothing more than some tall reeds rising out of mud, but no matter where we stood or what angle we took, we couldn't see to the other side of the island. As it was getting close to sunset, I knew what was going to happen next: the geese started to get restless, and then, through some mysterious method of communication, began to deploy in squadrons that took off from the pond in groups of 20 or 30. Somewhere in one of these groups, I was sure, went the Pink-footed Goose.

We figured as long as we were in the neighborhood we might as well stop at PetSmart for more bird seed and cat treats. But instead of going home the usual way, Shari turned right on Rt 571 because she knew there was a golf course along the road. We saw another car pulled onto the shoulder and stopped a little ways one. We four scanned a flock of at least 1000 geese. By now we were in the gloaming and Shari and I gave up. At 5:25 I got another text from SNJBirds: PFGO on golf course. Those other 2 birders were more persistent than us and it paid off for them.

Oh well, maybe it will stick around. And the trip was not a complete loss. I added 3 birds to my Ocean County year list--Gadwall, wigeon, coot--putting me (briefly) into a tie for the #1 spot.

Manasquan Reservoir 1/20--Osprey

We liked Manasquan Reservoir so much last week when we went there on a field trip that we decided to return today and explore it more thoroughly than we were  able to when it was one of three stops that day.

The reservoir didn't have nearly the numbers of waterfowl that it had last week. We saw no Common Mergansers in contrast to last Saturday when there were approximately 2000. But there were still a good diversity of species, including around 100 Ring-necked Ducks mixed in with Lesser Scaup.

The big find of the day was an out of season Osprey patrolling the wetlands area. On our previous trip someone mentioned that one had been seen there all winter. Lloyd Shaw, leading the trip, mentioned that Ospreys have to migrate because as they evolved, they lost their insulating feathers, which would only act as a drag when they dive into water for fish. Thus, they need warm weather. But thinking about it, I realized that while that may be true, they also have to migrate because during a normal winter, their food is encased beneath ice, and smashing yourself into a frozen lake or pond is not a good way to make your living. However, as we all know, this has been a mild winter, so an Osprey can forgo the insulation and still find fish in the open water. So this bird probably perceived no reason to fly away.  Right now it rates as a "rare" bird for the area and season. As global warming continues, who knows, the species may extend its range north.

27 species scanning the reservoir and walking the wetlands trail.
Canada Goose  100
Mallard  3
Ring-necked Duck  100   
Lesser Scaup  50
Bufflehead  10
Hooded Merganser  2
Ruddy Duck  12
Pied-billed Grebe  3
Double-crested Cormorant  2
Great Blue Heron  1
Osprey  1    
American Coot  10
Ring-billed Gull  25
Herring Gull  1
Great Black-backed Gull  1
Rock Pigeon  2
Red-bellied Woodpecker  3
American Crow  5
Carolina Chickadee  3
Northern Mockingbird  1    
Song Sparrow  1
White-throated Sparrow  1
Dark-eyed Junco  4
Red-winged Blackbird  1
Common Grackle  2
House Finch  10
American Goldfinch  2

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Lapwing Update Redux 1/19

Watching the Lapwings
Photo: Shari Zirlin
My brother came down from Westchester this morning and though he's not an avid birder, he was still curious to see the lapwings and cranes, so we drove over to New Egypt for the third time. I, of course, was hoping for the cranes for Bird A Day.

There weren't as many birders as I thought there would be for a weekend but still a good number lined the road. The lapwings were closer in and gloriously iridescent in the strong morning sun, but still not close enough to get any decent shots. And of course, we heard those heart-sinking words about the cranes: "Oh, you just missed 'em."

We only hung around for about a half hour. In that time we did see 8 Black Vultures and I found a couple of Killdeer in the field. Talking to another birder, I introduced myself and he said, "Are you related to Harry Zirlin?" "Yes, I am," I replied, pointing to my brother,"and there he is." I get this a lot. Harry is an expert entomologist, pretty well known in insect circles. Many birders also have an interest in butterflies and beetles and this birder wanted to thank Harry for alerting him via some butterfly reporting site, to where he might find Hoary Elfins. They're a fairly rare species, found in the  Pine Barrens. Later, Harry told me that it was one of the butterflies he found in our backyard last year.

Before we left I took this picture of Shari:
I have titled it:

Friday, January 18, 2013

Lapwing Update 1/18

Around lunchtime Shari wanted to go back to New Egypt to see the lapwings again--it was very sunny today and we wanted to see them in better light than we did under the murky gray skies we had on Monday. I joked that it was sort of a victory "lap" for Shari.

I was also hoping for Sandhill Cranes for my Bird A Day (I would then go back to Whitesbog soon and use the swans then). No cranes were present for the 1/2 hour we could stand being out in the cold (the air temperature wasn't anything special today but the wind chill was something else), but we did find the lapwings immediately, pretty much where they were on Monday, in the back of the field.  Shari tried digiscoping but the wind and our relatively rickety tripod were not in her favor.
However, the wispy crest is easily viewed in this photo and in the bright sunlight we were able to see the iridescent green on their backs so it was worth the drive out there. On the negative side of the ledger there were three people walking in the back of the field, trying to sneak up on the lapwings (or maybe they were just trying to keep their footing in the sucking mud). A couple of members of the family that owns the farm drove up and wanted to know if we knew who they were--they'd parked their car on the farm's road. The woman of the pair said, "Daddy don't want them on his property." I don't blame Daddy.

Aside from the fact that these people were breaking the law, being inconsiderate of the rest of the birders who were there by potentially flushing the birds and ruining access for all the birders who will want to go there this weekend, they were really stupid. The field is a foot deep in mud with very big bulls with very big horns roaming around in it. Daddy doesn't need the headache of some idiot suing him because he got gored by a bull when he fell down in the mud. Though I'm sure all the birders along the roadside would be entertained by such a sight.

Update to the update: The trespassers' car was stuck in the mud, the police were called and much schadenfreude was shared by all right-thinking birders everywhere.

Whitesbog 1/18--Tundra Swans

Tundra Swans, Whitesbog
It didn't feel that cold this morning when I set out for Whitesbog, after a trip to the dump. My Bird A Day target was Tundra Swans. I drove straight out to the bog where I usually see them, only to be disappointed. Nothing in that bog but some Canada Geese and a few Mallards. I stepped out of the car and bam! the wind coming over the water was cutting me up. Two pairs of gloves and my hands were still numb.

Nevertheless I set off down the road to the end of the bog hoping that the swans were hidden in a marshy area. Whenever I'm birding in frigid weather (and my definition of frigid is pretty wimpy) I always think of Scott, Shackleton, Amundsen and the other Antarctic explorers--not for inspiration but to remind myself that at least I'm not as crazy as they were. I got to the end of the bog and still saw no swans. Turning around I put my binoculars on the bog across the road and looking back from where I'd walked I saw them! With the glare of the sun somehow I'd missed them. I walked back to the car, drove up the road a little, counted 45 swans, took some pix and went home. Glad I saw them, they're great looking (and sounding) birds and I was happy to enjoy them for a few minutes from the warmth of my car.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Central Park 1/17--Wood Ducks

I had to be in the city (as we called it in Brooklyn) today for a quick appointment. As I like to spend at least as much time there as it takes me to get back and forth, after I was done doing what I had to do, I took the subway up to Central Park to get in my birding for the day. I had a target bird for Bird A Day:
Wood Ducks, Central Park Reservoir
They were easy to find, right where I thought they'd be. It really is a toss up which is the more beautiful duck--these or Harlequin Ducks. I go with the woodies--much more elegant than the harlequins which verge on the clownish as is somewhat implied in their name.

The reservoir was pretty active but there was nothing else new there for the year. I walked down to The Ramble after a brief stop at Turtle Pond (one hen Bufflehead) and checked out the Maintenance Meadow and the feeders. Again, lots of activity; again, nothing new.

26 species
Canada Goose  300
Wood Duck  5    Reservoir
Mallard  85
Bufflehead  1    Turtle Pond
Hooded Merganser  5
Ruddy Duck  12
Pied-billed Grebe  1
American Coot  10
Ring-billed Gull  300
Herring Gull  200
Great Black-backed Gull  50
Rock Pigeon  15
Red-bellied Woodpecker  2
Downy Woodpecker  1    Feeders
Blue Jay  8
American Crow  1
Black-capped Chickadee  1
Tufted Titmouse  20
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
American Robin  7
Song Sparrow  1
White-throated Sparrow  25
Northern Cardinal  1    Feeders
House Finch  5    Feeders
American Goldfinch  4
House Sparrow  50

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Double Trouble 1/15--Eastern Phoebe

Nothing was going to match the highs of yesterday's rarity but I did find one relatively rare bird today in recently reopened Double Trouble SP--an Eastern Phoebe.  The park was closed down right after Sandy and only opened a few days ago, so perhaps the Phoebe has spent the mild winter there. I heard it calling (too early for its raspy eponymous song) then saw it on a bush in the back of a bog as I was I walking along Pkwy Access Rd. (Someday I'll walk this road to the end and see just how it accesses the Parkway.)  A jogger scared it off its perched. It flew across the road, sat on a branch for a moment furiously pumping its tail then disappeared into the woods.

Other than that good find nothing--geese, gulls, ducks, and 1 junco. Still, I got my Bird A Day.

Monday, January 14, 2013

New Egypt, NJ 1/14--Northern Lapwings, Sandhill Cranes

Northern Lapwing
Photos: Shari Zirlin
There is a phenomenon in birding known as the "Patagonia Picnic Table Effect," that originated near  the Sonoita-Patagonia Refuge in Arizona, in which birders, while looking for one rare bird (originally a picnic table was the landmark), come up with another, even rarer species. We imported that effect to NJ today.

The last couple of days I'd seen reports of Sandhill Cranes on eBird in New Egypt, about a 20 minute drive from our house. Scott Barnes had seen them there on Saturday and yesterday, while on field trip with him, he told me that fields around there were muddy pasture and that he'd been looking carefully through the Killdeer flocks for a certain rarity. Yesterday, the cranes were reported again, so I suggested to Shari that during her lunch hour we drive over there and try for them. It's better than driving up to Somerset County, fruitlessly searching Randolph Road's corn stubble fields.

Twenty minutes away from our house looks a lot different. This is what we came upon. Driving along Inman Road toward its intersection with Big Woods Road, we stopped to check out what turned out to be an immature Bald Eagle sitting in a tall tree. The farm owner came by in his tractor and asked me if that bird was indeed an eagle and when I confirmed it he said, "Good, I like to keep track of my stock." I asked him about the Sandhill Cranes. He knew that they'd been there yesterday, but didn't know if they were today. He directed me to the fields we should check.

We drove along looking at the muddy fields, very impressed with the size of the horns on the bulls but coming up empty on the cranes. At one particularly muddy field Shari said she saw birds moving in the back. "Get out the scope." She spotted the birds and at first we were puzzled. Larks? I thought, maybe I haven't seen Horned Larks in winter plumage, but these don't look like larks. Meanwhile, Shari was making sweeping gestures over her head, indicating a crest, what's the bird with a crest? Remembering a sighting by Sam Galick from November not too far from where we were and Scott's admonition to check those Killdeer flocks, I looked up Northern Lapwing in Sibleys and the three birds in our scope were a dead on match! Northern Lapwing is a mega rarity in North America--it is a European plover. A few have been reported on the east coast the last few months (including one Sam saw in Mercer County briefly) and when you see one (or three) you better start getting the word out. Especially if you only have a lousy camera with you and after one shot its battery dies!

Shari sent an email message to Jerseybirds and really lit up the board. Within 20 minutes the birders started rolling in. Some had been in Monmouth County checking out the Pink-footed Goose that's up there. One couple was on their way to Pennsylvania after a somewhat disappointing trip to Cape May. The first birder to stop though hadn't seen her email. He was also looking for the cranes. When he asked what we had and we told him lapwings, he thought, he admitted later, that we didn't know what we were talking about. I would have probably thought the same. After about an hour the road was lined with cars and crazed birders.
Happily, Scott Barnes arrived. The bird was a lifer for him. (We saw lapwings on our honeymoon in France.) After about an hour I looked up and saw two Sandhill Cranes flying in. My first thought was, "Don't disturb the lapwings!" but fortunately they flew into the next field, where we were all able to get good looks at them. The only downside in the cranes, for me, was that they were sort of wasted for my Bird A Day list. But the farmer claims they're pretty steady visitors, so I'll have to go back, when the excitement over the lapwings dies down, and try for them again.

Other birds we picked up there, that would have been exciting on any other day, were three Black Vultures and an American Kestrel.

I saw the farmer on his tractor backing through a gate to pick up a trailer and walked down the road to speak to him. "Thanks for the cranes," I said, " and by the way, you have three really rare birds in your fields." He seemed only mildly interested in them, wondering what European birds found so appealing about his pasture. When I gently warned him that the next few days would probably see an influx of cars on the road, he shrugged his shoulders and said he didn't care. I hope he maintains that sang froid.

Sam Galick posted that this sighting was the fourth New Jersey record and the first record with multiple individuals, so it is quite a find for Shari. I'm lucky to have a wife who can spot birds in the back of a pasture, but we'd never have been in that field had it not be for the reports and advice of Sam, Scott and Gregory. If this were a game (this isn't a game?), they'd get assists.

The way I feel tonight is that I can stop birding now, because I'll never have a better day than today. I'll most likely feel differently tomorrow.

The list from this amazing day when Shari's lunch hour turned into a lunch afternoon:

13 Species
Snow Goose  50    f/o
Black Vulture  3
Turkey Vulture  3
Bald Eagle  1    In tree on Inman
Sandhill Crane  2    Large gray birds, long necks stretched straight in flight, unlike herons.. Definitely not GBHE. The reason we were searching field when we found lapwings. In field to east of field that had lapwings. flew in around 2:15, stayed in field for about an hour.
Northern Lapwing  3    Mega. 
Killdeer  10    Associating with lapwings.
Rock Pigeon  10
Mourning Dove  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1    Heard
American Kestrel  1
European Starling  50
Northern Cardinal  1    Heard

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Long Beach Island 1/13--Harlequin Ducks, Tricolored Heron

Barnegat Light SP Jetty
I went solo on a field trip to Long Beach Island today. That jetty in the state park does not appeal to Shari. Can't blame her: today one of our party slipped off the rocks getting down to the beach, fortunately harming neither himself nor his optics and I found myself standing on a wet, slippery boulder, unable to get any traction and just this side of panic until someone lent me a  hand.

The weather report was for unseasonably warm weather: Good. Unseasonably warm weather in winter often brings fog: Bad. We spent a lot of our time as if we were looking into milk.

We still managed to glean some good birds, both in the inlet and on the ocean, the highlight of the inlet being my second Razorbill this weekend.

The main attraction of the jetty of course, is Harlequin Ducks. From the concrete walkway we got decent but distant scope views. Later, after taking the long way around to avoid rock-hopping our way to the end of the jetty we got the "field guide" looks at the these handsome ducks as the tide took them right by us as if they were promenading before us.

The disappointment today was no sandpipers--no Purple Sandpipers, no turnstones, no Dunlins, no Sanderlings. And they weren't obscured by the fog either.

Barnegat Light SP
22 species
Brant  20
American Black Duck  1
Common Eider  35
Harlequin Duck  3   

Black Scoter  1
Long-tailed Duck  3
Red-breasted Merganser  15
Red-throated Loon 
Common Loon  10
Double-crested Cormorant  3
Cooper's Hawk  1
American Oystercatcher  4
Ring-billed Gull  200
Herring Gull  5
Great Black-backed Gull  10
Razorbill  1
American Crow  2
Red-breasted Nuthatch  1    Heard
Northern Mockingbird  1
European Starling  25
Yellow-rumped Warbler  2
House Sparrow  20

After a while the fog lifted and the sun briefly came out before it just became an overcast winter day. We were hoping for some "interesting" gulls or "interesting" finches, but found none. We then went a few blocks west to the bay side and stopped at a couple of spots there. We were most interested in seeing if we could find the Tricolored Heron that had been reported off and on for a few weeks. At the first stop, a marina, Scott Barnes, who was leading the trip, found not one, but two TRHE flying off toward a marsh called high bar. I saw them, but I couldn't in good conscience count them as they were really too distant for me to identify them on my own. There was one FOY here for me--a single Boat-tailed Grackle, which was soon joined on its wire by a several Red-winged Blackbirds. It's unusual to see just one of this gregarious species, but oddly, last year, my first boat-tailed was a singleton at the Bridge to Nowhere. 
Bayview Marina
13 species
Brant  25
Canada Goose  40
Mallard  10
Red-breasted Merganser  5
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon  2
Ring-billed Gull  X
Herring Gull  2
Rock Pigeon  12
American Crow  3
Red-winged Blackbird  25
Boat-tailed Grackle  1
House Finch  20

Our final stop was a few blocks south at a park on the bay. Almost as soon as we parked a Tricolored Heron (a third? or one of the pair circling back?) flew by us and landed in close by marsh where it proceeded to snap up little fish or eels with great rapidity. We walked along the beach there for a hundred yards or so and along the rack line one of our sharper-eyed birders found us a Palm Warlber feeding with a Song Sparrow
Bayview Ave Park
9 species
Canada Goose  X
American Black Duck  5
Bufflehead  20
Tricolored Heron  1   
Ring-billed Gull  X
Herring Gull  X
Palm Warbler  1
Song Sparrow  1
House Finch  20
For the day I finished with 32 species and 6 FOY. Not bad, considering I spent almost as much time cleaning mist off my glasses, binoculars and scope and did looking through them.