Thursday, February 28, 2013

February Review

The beach at Barnegat Light SP
February was not nearly as dramatic as January. No life birds, no new visitors from another continent. There were a lot of ducks and a few shorebirds, the best being American Woodcock found in the seemingly unlikely suburban environs of Horicon Lake--though I do have a report of timberdoodles not far from here near the Crestwood Village Community Gardens. One of these dusks Shari & I will have to get over there to see if we can catch an aerial display.

Red-breasted Merganser, Long-tailed Ducks, Barnegat Light SP
I'm doing all right in my Bird A Day contest, but I've already had to use up some "easy" birds like Rock Pigeon, House Finch, and Carolina Wren. Starting the contest in winter complicates the strategy, because, while you want to list the winter ducks, geese and swans before they migrate, you don't want to use them all have and have nothing left over for the cold months at the end of the year. For instance, I'd like to keep Brant for the end of the year--it's an easy get--but I don't know if I'll find enough birds through the Spring to do it. Brant hang around through June and it might get tempting. I'm hoping for an early migration in March, not only for B.A.D. purposes but to relieve the winter monotony of chickadees, titmice and nuthatches.

For the month I saw/heard 90 species--10% below my arbitrary target of 100--but hey, I only had 28 days. 13 First of Year birds--4 ducks, 3 shorebirds, a woodpecker, a comorant, a couple of sparrows, a crow and a thrush.
The month list:
Species        Location
Brant       Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Canada Goose        Crestwood Village
Mute Swan        Cattus Island County Park
Tundra Swan        Colliers Mills WMA
Gadwall        Marshall Pond
American Wigeon        Marshall Pond
American Black Duck        Horicon Lake
Mallard        Crestwood Village
Northern Shoveler        Barnegat Beach
Northern Pintail        Cedar Run Dock Rd.
Green-winged Teal        Mercer Corporate Park
Canvasback        Riverfront Landing
Ring-necked Duck        Horicon Lake
Greater Scaup        Riverfront Landing
Lesser Scaup        Riverfront Landing
Common Eider        Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Harlequin Duck        Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Surf Scoter        Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Long-tailed Duck        Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Bufflehead        Riverfront Landing
Hooded Merganser        Horicon Lake
Common Merganser        Conines Millpond
Red-breasted Merganser       Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Ruddy Duck        Riverfront Landing
Wild Turkey        Crestwood Village
Red-throated Loon        Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Common Loon        Barnegat Beach
Pied-billed Grebe        Horicon Lake
Horned Grebe        Cedar Run Dock Rd.
Double-crested Cormorant        Riverfront Landing
Great Cormorant        Cattus Island County Park
Great Blue Heron       Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Black Vulture        Crestwood Village
Turkey Vulture        35 Sunset Rd
Northern Harrier        Brynmore / Big Woods Rd. fields
Cooper's Hawk        Riverfront Landing
Bald Eagle       Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Red-shouldered Hawk        Horicon Lake
Red-tailed Hawk        Stafford Forge WMA
American Coot        Marshall Pond
Sandhill Crane        Brynmore / Big Woods Rd. fields
êNorthern Lapwing        Brynmore / Big Woods Rd. fields
Killdeer        Brynmore / Big Woods Rd. fields
American Oystercatcher        Bayview Marina
Greater Yellowlegs        Stafford Forge WMA
Sanderling        Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Purple Sandpiper        Barnegat Lighthouse SP
American Woodcock        Horicon Lake
Ring-billed Gull        Crestwood Village
Herring Gull        Horicon Lake
Great Black-backed Gull        Horicon Lake
Rock Pigeon        Brynmore / Big Woods Rd. fields
Mourning Dove        35 Sunset Rd
Belted Kingfisher       Eno's Pond
Red-bellied Woodpecker        35 Sunset Rd
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker        Heritage Park, Allentown
Downy Woodpecker        Crestwood Village
Hairy Woodpecker        35 Sunset Rd
Northern Flicker        Horicon Lake
Merlin        Mercer Corporate Park
Blue Jay        35 Sunset Rd
American Crow        Crestwood Village
Fish Crow        Heritage Park, Allentown
Carolina Chickadee        35 Sunset Rd
Tufted Titmouse        35 Sunset Rd
Red-breasted Nuthatch        Crestwood Village
White-breasted Nuthatch        35 Sunset Rd
Brown Creeper        Crestwood Village
Winter Wren        Horicon Lake
Carolina Wren        Crestwood Village
Golden-crowned Kinglet        Heritage Park, Allentown
Eastern Bluebird        Crestwood Village
Hermit Thrush        Crestwood Village
American Robin        35 Sunset Rd
Northern Mockingbird        Crestwood Village
European Starling        Crestwood Village
Yellow-rumped Warbler       Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Savannah Sparrow        Stafford Forge WMA
Fox Sparrow        Stafford Forge WMA
Song Sparrow        Crestwood Village
White-throated Sparrow        35 Sunset Rd
White-crowned Sparrow        Brynmore / Big Woods Rd. fields
Dark-eyed Junco        35 Sunset Rd
Northern Cardinal        35 Sunset Rd
Red-winged Blackbird        Brynmore / Big Woods Rd. fields
Common Grackle        Brynmore / Big Woods Rd. fields
Boat-tailed Grackle       Great Bay Bvld. WMA
House Finch        Crestwood Village
American Goldfinch        35 Sunset Rd
House Sparrow        Horicon Lake

Gadwall, Toms River

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Barnegat Light SP 2/24--Surf Scoter, Purple Sandpiper

Almost a Spring-like day at the beach. With Shari spending the weekend in NYC, I took the opportunity to go to Barnegat Light SP--site of the dreaded jetty. I lucked out--I didn't have to rock hop to see the Harlequin Ducks--there were four right at the end of the concrete walkway.  One of the first ducks I saw today an FOY that I used for BAD (Bird-a-Day), a hen Surf Scoter very far up the inlet, near the lighthouse, an unusual spot for scoters which tend to be out closer to the waves. And it was the only scoter I saw there. I guess it's getting late in the winter (yippee) and the winter ducks are moving north.  The duck with largest numbers was Long-tailed Duck, followed by Red-breasted Merganser. There were a few Common Eiders out in the ocean.

Surf Scoter (hen)
Another interesting sign that we're late in the winter game (again, yippee), is that the gull population on Long Beach Island seems to have suddenly transitioned from Ring-bill Gulls to Herring Gulls. I saw well over a thousand Herring Gulls, nary a one of Ring Bill.
I walked along the beach to the ocean, occasionally peering over the jetty to see if any interesting ducks or loons were on the other side. Another birder told me that Purple Sandpipers were at the end of the jetty, but you had to find them from the beach because the surf was crashing over the rocks there. I looked for a long time before I finally found a few in the crevices of the boulders--not very satisfying looks, but then one sandpiper flew right in front of me and by stepping up onto a rock I got the "field guide" look at it.

Savannah Sparrow (Ipswich)
That birder also alerted me to the presence of a an Ipswich Sparrow which is a subspecies of the Savannah Sparrow.  I don't usually get too excited about subspecies, but the Ipswich variety is a pale copy of the nominate form. But I didn't see it going out. Coming back, another birder mentioned the Ipswich, so now I decided to really look for it--because they're so pale they blend in very well with the sand and light colored rocks. However, I did finally see it and was even able to photograph it.

Long-tailed Ducks
After 3 1/2 hours walking the beach, the walkways, the forest trail, and occasionally jumping up onto the jetty, I left to have a look at the bay side of the Island. At the Bayview Marina I found a couple of American Oystercatchers, so the day was pretty much complete in terms of favorite birds.

My last stop of the day was Double Trouble SP. Since I had the scope with me I thought I'd take a look at the lake--I always have the feeling I'm missing something when I scan it with just binoculars. I was also hoping the Tundra Swans were still there; they weren't, but I did turn up some distant ducks (Bufflehead, Ring-neck, and hen Hooded Mergansers) as well as a Pied-bill Grebe. Probably would not have seen any of them with just my bins.

For the day I had 38 species with 2 FOY, got my Ocean County year last up to 96 birds to vault into first place in the county listings and got a taste of what its like to bird without wearing gloves.
Brant    50
Canada Goose    212
Mallard    8
Ring-necked Duck    35
Lesser Scaup    2
Common Eider    5
Harlequin Duck    4
Surf Scoter    1
Long-tailed Duck    154
Bufflehead    1
Hooded Merganser    6
Red-breasted Merganser    26
Red-throated Loon    1
Common Loon    26
Pied-billed Grebe    1
Great Cormorant    4
Turkey Vulture    1
American Oystercatcher    2
Sanderling    2
Purple Sandpiper    4
Herring Gull    1550
Great Black-backed Gull    110
Rock Pigeon    29
Mourning Dove    2
Belted Kingfisher    1
American Crow    10
Carolina Chickadee    2
Tufted Titmouse    5
White-breasted Nuthatch    3
Carolina Wren    1
Golden-crowned Kinglet    1
Northern Mockingbird    2
European Starling    10
Savannah Sparrow (Ipswich)   1
Song Sparrow    2
Northern Cardinal    5
Red-winged Blackbird    3
House Sparrow    20


Friday, February 22, 2013

Horicon Lake 2/22--American Woodcock

I have on my calendar a list of places I took from Howard Boyd's A Pine Barrens Odyssey where in early March we should check for woodcock courtship displays--Whitesbog, Atison, Medford. I guess we have to add Horicon Lake, much closer to home, to that list, because today I found an American Woodcock in among the tangles across the road from the lake. A couple of days ago in the same spot I flushed a bird and my first reaction was snipe, but it disappeared into the underbrush. Today I was lucky enough to come upon the bird and not scare it--I saw its big eye, the cryptic coloration, the long beak as it inched slowly away from me, walking under a bush and vanishing. Despite looking for 20 minutes, I never saw the bird again. If you look at where it hid, it isn't hard to see why I had no luck:
The last woodcock I saw was in Prospect Park about 2 1/2 years ago--I flushed that one on a hill--not a very satisfactory look. Before that we stopped one early evening in Cape May at the Beanery and watched 3 woodcocks go through their whirling, "peenting" courtship aerial dance. So I'm excited to have finally found one so close to home.

Earlier in the day--much earlier, Shari had to make a 6:45 bus to NY so I was looking at ducks as the sun came up--I stopped at Riverfront Landing. The usual ducks were floating among the piers, but I never get tired of looking at Canvasbacks.

After 15 minutes there I drove over to Double Trouble State Park to take my morning walk. The big surprise there was finding a couple of flocks of Tundra Swans on the bogs and on the lakes. I saw my first Ocean County Tundra Swans on Sunday at Colliers Mills WMA. There's no essential difference between the bogs at Double Trouble and the bogs at Whitesbog, yet Whitesbog is the "go to" hot spot for Tundra Swans in this area. Curious.

For the day, at the 3 sites, I had 25 species:
Canada Goose    175
Tundra Swan    30
Mallard    28
Canvasback    40
Ring-necked Duck    30
Greater Scaup    2
Lesser Scaup    15
Bufflehead    6
Hooded Merganser    5
Ruddy Duck    11
Pied-billed Grebe    1
American Woodcock    1
Ring-billed Gull    20
Rock Pigeon    1
Mourning Dove    1
Red-bellied Woodpecker    1
Hairy Woodpecker    2
American Crow    1
Tufted Titmouse    2
Carolina Wren    1
Song Sparrow    1
White-throated Sparrow    4
Dark-eyed Junco    20
Northern Cardinal    1
House Sparrow    15

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Cattus Island 2/16--Great Cormorant

I was walking along the path at Cattus Island County Park this morning around 10, out past the woods where it opens up again to salt marsh and wondered if I could find any object not colored gray or brown. It was that bleak a morning. The best I could do was a white object, an incongruous one, in the middle of the marsh.
Mail Box in the Marsh
Who gets their mail out there I can't imagine.

I thought Cattus Island would be a good place to tick off Ruddy Duck for my Bird A Day contest/obsession, and I did find 5 of these winter ducks, but I'll hold off using them, because out in the bay, after I had walked out to the end of park's peninsula, I found a cormorant with an extreme amount of white on it's face, making it a Great Cormorant, another winter visitor to these parts, unlike the year-round double-crested. I hardly ever find these big birds--the most usual place is to see them from the jetty at Barnegat Light roosting on a tower in the inlet. I still have at least a month before the ruddies will be gone.

Other than that sighting, everything else was pretty common. Most passerines were in hiding. I suppose not having feeders because the Nature Center is closed due to Sandy damage has cut down on the bird diversity in the park. The sparse list for the day's  2 1/2 hour walk:
Even the greens are gray
15 species
Canada Goose  6
Mute Swan  3
American Black Duck  9
Bufflehead  50
Red-breasted Merganser  3
Ruddy Duck  5
Great Cormorant  1
Great Blue Heron  1
Ring-billed Gull  10
Herring Gull  2
Great Black-backed Gull  2
Downy Woodpecker  4
American Crow  1    Heard
Carolina Chickadee  4
Tufted Titmouse  3

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Allentown 2/12--Green-winged Teal, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Fish Crow

The forecast for the day was pretty good, so after dropping Shari off at the Toms River bus station for her weekly trip to Hell (the office in NYC), I drove over to Riverfront Landing hoping once again to find a Redhead. And for the fourth and fifth time this year had no luck. I saw all the other four Athya species you'd expect: Canvasback, Ring-necked Duck, Greater & Lesser Scaup, but the Redhead continues to elude me.

My plan today was to scout out a new spot in Allentown in Monmouth County--Heritage Park. Shari & I had seen the entrance to the park a few times but we never investigated. Another birder had recently seen a Baltimore Oriole nearby at the mill pond; during an email correspondence she mentioned that the park was a great place to bird when the paths were clear of snow. The park reminded me a lot of Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Trails along the stream that comes out of the pond gave the illusion of isolation, as you get in places in Prospect Park, but walk a hundred yards up a trail and you come to an expansive lawn, very reminiscent of the great lawn in Brooklyn.

I started out on one of the trails alongside the creek. It was muddy and in a few places pretty slippery, but generally a pleasant walk. I wasn't in the park five minutes before I saw my first Yellow-bellied Sapsucker of the year, so already the excursion was a success. I found a lot of the usual winter birds in there, including a dandy little Golden-crowned Kinglet. While I was in the woods I thought I heard the hoarse call of a Fish Crow, but with all the gulls around I couldn't be sure. I walked out of the woods onto the lawn and there, in some bare trees across the way, was a small flock of about 10 crows. Good to finally see them this year.

Before I went into the park I stopped at the mill pond to scan the impressive large flock of geese for anything unusual. The best I came up with were 8 Northern Pintails. The oriole wasn't around the mill pond or in the park that I could find; I didn't really expect to.
A small part of the flock

Another nearby spot is the Mercer Corporate Center in Robbinsville (for an inexplicable reason, eBird lists it in Allentown, which is not even the right county). This is the site where the first Northern Lapwing was briefly seen by Sam Galick back in November after the first big snowstorm, and also the site where a Barnacle Goose was hanging out in December, so it's always worth checking. There weren't nearly as many geese there as in Allentown, but there were a good number of American Coots, Gadwalls, Ring-necked Ducks and one handsome drake Green-winged Teal (FOY). A Merlin swooped by.

I drove back to Allentown, had lunch at my new favorite diner (Woody's on Main Street), checked the mill pond again, then on the way home, I couldn't resist stopping in New Egypt to see the Northern Lapwings which have hung in there through frozen fields, snow storms, and birds of prey for nearly a month. Another month and their breeding season begins; that should be interesting. All 3 were hanging out near a mud puddle in the back of the cattle field. Good scope views, but I don't have the camera to take decent pictures of them.

For my wanderings in 3 counties I had 40 species on the day:

Locations:   Allentown—Conine’s Millpond; Robbinsville--Mercer Corporate Park; Allentown--Heritage Park; New Egypt--Brynmore / Big Woods Rd. fields; Riverfront Landing 
Canada Goose     1285
Gadwall     9
Northern Pintail     8
Green-winged Teal     1
Canvasback     43
Ring-necked Duck     37
Greater Scaup     2
Lesser Scaup     11
Bufflehead     15
Turkey Vulture     2
Bald Eagle     1
Red-tailed Hawk     1
American Coot     14
êNorthern Lapwing     3
Killdeer     3
Ring-billed Gull     6
Herring Gull     1
Great Black-backed Gull     1
Rock Pigeon     25
Mourning Dove     1
Red-bellied Woodpecker     2
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker     1
Downy Woodpecker     2
Northern Flicker     1
Merlin     1
Blue Jay     2
American Crow     3
Fish Crow     10
Carolina Chickadee     2
Tufted Titmouse     3
White-breasted Nuthatch     3
Carolina Wren     4
Golden-crowned Kinglet     1
American Robin     1
European Starling     30
Song Sparrow     5
White-throated Sparrow     4
Dark-eyed Junco     20
Red-winged Blackbird     1
Common Grackle     1000

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Ocean County 2/10--Greater Yellowlegs, Fox Sparrow, NOPI, NSHO, SASP

We did some hit & run birding today, starting out at Stafford Forge WMA, which I wanted Shari to see. Still no Tundra Swans there (the impoundment looks to be about half frozen) but there were a couple of surprises. As soon as we parked it was evident that there were quite a few sparrows around. When I walked down the short path to the water I flushed a few Song Sparrows and juncos and one much bigger sparrow--our first Fox Sparrow of the year, a real beaut, very reddish and a bruiser compared to the other birds. Scanning the water we did find Ring-necked Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, and one Bufflehead hen. We were looking in the trees and ground for more sparrows (and found a couple of Savannah Sparrows along the way) when we heard what we at first thought were goldfinches. Looking up in the trees we didn't see any activity and they didn't sound exactly right for goldfinches. Over our shoulders we heard the birds flying in and they turned out to be Greater Yellowlegs calling "do-do-do, do-do-do." They settled in open water on the far shore, but not too far way to see them well in the scope. Yellowlegs aren't an "alert the list" species, but they are unusual in the winter.

Every road in the area seems to be some derivation of either "Stafford" or "Forge": Forge Road, which we came in on, Stafford Forge road, on which we continued, Old Forge Road which looks to be a sand road, and Stafford Avenue, which leads to the Bridge to Nowhere. Stafford Forge Road on the Google maps looks like it runs through the woods but, after going under the Parkway, turns out to be a pleasant residential road which dumps you out on Rt 9. Our next stop was a little north on 9, Cedar Run Dock Road, which runs through marshes until it ends at Barnegat Bay. Some severe Sandy damage is still in evidence along this road, houses and a restaurant boarded up, and the end of the road where we used to park is flooded. The road must have subsided in the storm, allowing the bay to come up the past the boat ramp that used to be there. But we were able to scope the bay and found a couple of Horned Grebes, lots of Hooded Mergansers and Buffleheads, and our first Northern Pintails of the year.

Continuing north on Route 9 we took a right on Stafford Avenue and drove down to the Bridge to Nowhere. There were lots of birds to be seen from the ruins at the end of the road, but even with the scope they were too far to identify in the shimmering light on the water. There were 5 Great Blue Herons in the marshes.

Next we drove up to Barnegat Beach. More devastation, one  small house that had been right on the beach was completely off its foundation and looked like a demolition crew had had at it with sledge hammers. Scanning the bay (the marsh across the street was frozen) I saw a few ducks that for moment stumped me. Shari looked and said "Northern Shovelers" and, of course, she was right. I just hadn't seen them in so long and since I think of them as "puddle ducks," my mind wasn't ready for them on the bay.

Finally, after lunch, we took a walk around Eno's Pond. Lots of the usual winter passerines. The highlight there was two Belted Kingfishers. We watched one dive into the pond and immediately fly up to a branch shaking water out of its feathers and chattering, as if to say "What the hell did I do that for, the water is cold!"

Including the Red-breasted Nuthatch we had at the sunflower seed feeder this morning, we had 37 species for out day of wandering around Ocean County. I finally got my year total over 100.

Locations:   35 Sunset Rd; Barnegat Beach; Bridge to Nowhere; Cedar Run Dock Rd.; Eno's Pond; Stafford Forge WMA

Canada Goose     9 
Mallard     36
Northern Shoveler     9     
Northern Pintail     2          
Ring-necked Duck     4      
Lesser Scaup     2   
Bufflehead     41     
Hooded Merganser     62   
Red-breasted Merganser     2       
Common Loon     1 
Pied-billed Grebe     1         
Horned Grebe     2  
Great Blue Heron     6        
Turkey Vulture     1 
Northern Harrier     1           
Greater Yellowlegs     5    
Ring-billed Gull     10         
Herring Gull     20    
Belted Kingfisher     2         
Downy Woodpecker     1    
Blue Jay     3
American Crow     1
Carolina Chickadee     6    
Tufted Titmouse     2           
Red-breasted Nuthatch     1          
White-breasted Nuthatch     1       
American Robin     10        
Northern Mockingbird     2 
Savannah Sparrow     2    
Fox Sparrow     1    
Song Sparrow     10
White-throated Sparrow     2         
Dark-eyed Junco     7         
Northern Cardinal     4       
House Finch     1    
American Goldfinch     2    
House Sparrow     1

Thursday, February 7, 2013

How to Humiliate a Squirrel

Shari bought me this early Valentine's Day gift--it is called on the box BIG HEAD SQUIRREL FEEDER. She figured that if I couldn't beat the squirrels in our battle to keep them from the bird seed, I may as well humiliate them.

The way this feeder is supposed to work is that you put seeds and nuts inside a shelf of the hollow head, smearing it with peanut butter to keep everything in place, then, when the squirrel comes to feed, it unknowingly dons the big head and much hilarity ensues.

Well, it seems like an amusing idea, but it will never work, will it? Think not?

Think again.
Our neighbor says the head looks more like a woodchuck than a squirrel. All right, isn't tricking a squirrel into wearing a woodchuck head even more humiliating?

Stafford Forge WMA / Great Bay Blvd WMA 2/7

Stafford Forge WMA

I don't imagine the NJ Dept of Transportation gets many orders for this kind of sign. Stafford Forge is another huge WMA in the pine barrens (within it are the dwarf pine plains), and despite the seemingly remote location on the map, the road passes beneath the Parkway then makes a sudden curve, so the warning is needed for unsuspecting drivers. 

I went there this morning in the hopes of seeing the Tundra Swans that have been reported on the impoundment, but they weren't there, which was a disappointment. Had I felt like walking deep into the area, I suppose I might have turned up something unusual, but I'm always a little wary of WMAs this time of year, even if I wear my orange vest. 

Here's what I did find in about a half an hour scanning the water and looking in the nearby trees:
12 species
Canada Goose  3
Gadwall  4
American Black Duck  4
Mallard  25
Hooded Merganser  5
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker 
1    Heard
Tufted Titmouse  1
Carolina Wren  1    Heard
Song Sparrow  3
White-throated Sparrow  1
Northern Cardinal  3

In order to get my walking in for the day, I drove about 20 minutes over to Great Bay Blvd, which I hadn't visited this year. I was hoping for a little more waterfowl variety than I got--it's a great place for black ducks and Brant right now--and there were, surprisingly to me, no sandpipers or plovers on the beach. The best bird was the last bird I saw on my way back--a Bald Eagle, just barely an adult, with some white mottling still on its back, snacking on something out in the marsh.  

I decided to use Red-breasted Merganser as my Bird A Day entry, thus using up all the mergansers for the year. I'm employing the winter ducks now. If I make it through to next winter in the contest, I'll worry about what to use then--with luck, I'll still have quite a few reliables to fill out the year. 

The list for marshes and inlet of Great Bay Blvd WMA:
14 species
Brant  125
American Black Duck  200
Bufflehead  3
Hooded Merganser  4
Red-breasted Merganser  8
Great Blue Heron  2
Northern Harrier  2
Bald Eagle  1    
Ring-billed Gull  100
Herring Gull  15
Great Black-backed Gull  4
European Starling  25
Yellow-rumped Warbler  2
Boat-tailed Grackle  75