Sunday, March 31, 2013

March Summary

28 birds added to the year list this month (10 yesterday in Cape May) and 9 rarities (including the continuing lapwings and cranes in New Egypt) made for a happy month of birding. But March is supposed to be a transition month. The winter birds disperse north and are replaced by the migrants coming up from the south. That didn't really happen in March. Juncos still abound  beneath the feeders and I have yet to see my first Chipping Sparrow or towhee. I haven't seen a Pine Warbler yet--I live in the Pine Barrens for crying out loud; it's embarrassing. On the positive side, I got through to my 90th entry for Bird A Day without some easy Spring species. Which is like money in the bank for April.

I easily broke the century mark this month for the first time. Part of that was due to chasing and part of it was just doggedness. I enjoyed our weekend trips--they turned out to be very social this month, due to either a field trip or just meeting people in the field and birding along with them. The best way to  become a better birder is to bird with better birders and we did that a lot in March.

Finally, the cumulative highlight of the month was seeing 3 owls. I don't think I've ever seen 3 owls in the same month.

For the month: 116 species.
Counties birded:
New Jersey: Burlington, Cape May, Monmouth, Ocean, Salem
New York: New York, Richmond
Key: First of Year Bird | Rarity
Species                                             First Sighting
Greater White-fronted Goose     Brynmore / Big Woods Rd. fields
Snow Goose     Featherbed Ln, Pilesgrove
Brant     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Canada Goose     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Mute Swan     Manasquan Reservoir IBA
Tundra Swan     Double Trouble State Park
Wood Duck     White's Bogs
Gadwall     Manasquan Reservoir IBA
American Wigeon     Assunpink WMA
American Black Duck     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Mallard     Manasquan Reservoir IBA
Blue-winged Teal     Lighthouse Pond
Northern Shoveler     Salem River WRA
Northern Pintail     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Green-winged Teal     Assunpink WMA
Canvasback     Riverfront Landing
Ring-necked Duck     Manasquan Reservoir IBA
Tufted Duck     Thundergust Lake
Greater Scaup     Riverfront Landing
Lesser Scaup     Manasquan Reservoir IBA
Common Eider     St. Mary's dune crossing
Long-tailed Duck     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Bufflehead     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Hooded Merganser     Double Trouble State Park
Common Merganser     Manasquan Reservoir IBA
Red-breasted Merganser     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Ruddy Duck     Manasquan Reservoir IBA
Wild Turkey     Whiting WMA
Red-throated Loon     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Common Loon     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Pied-billed Grebe     Manasquan Reservoir IBA
Horned Grebe     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Double-crested Cormorant     Riverfront Landing
Great Blue Heron     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Great Egret     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Snowy Egret     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Black-crowned Night-Heron     Jakes Landing
Black Vulture     Brynmore / Big Woods Rd. fields
Turkey Vulture     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Osprey     Lighthouse Pond
Northern Harrier     Horicon Lake
Sharp-shinned Hawk     GSP MM 95
Cooper's Hawk     35 Sunset Rd
Bald Eagle     Manasquan Reservoir IBA
Red-tailed Hawk     Assunpink WMA
Clapper Rail     Jakes Landing
American Coot     Manasquan Reservoir IBA
Sandhill Crane     Brynmore / Big Woods Rd. fields
Northern Lapwing     Brynmore / Big Woods Rd. fields
Black-bellied Plover     Higbees Beach SWA--Canal Overlook
Killdeer     Brynmore / Big Woods Rd. fields
American Oystercatcher     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Greater Yellowlegs     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Sanderling     Miami Ave. beach
Pectoral Sandpiper     Brynmore / Big Woods Rd. fields
Dunlin     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Wilson's Snipe     Brynmore / Big Woods Rd. fields
American Woodcock     Crestwood Community Gardens
Bonaparte's Gull     Seven Presidents Park
Laughing Gull     Higbees Beach SWA--Canal Overlook
Ring-billed Gull     Horicon Lake
Herring Gull     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Great Black-backed Gull     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Forster's Tern     Miami Ave. beach
Rock Pigeon     Brynmore / Big Woods Rd. fields
Eurasian Collared-Dove     Lincoln Ave, Cape May Pt
Mourning Dove     35 Sunset Rd
Great Horned Owl     Palmyra Cove Nature Park
Long-eared Owl     Assunpink WMA
Short-eared Owl     Jakes Landing
Rufous Hummingbird     Palmyra Cove Nature Park
Belted Kingfisher     Double Trouble State Park
Red-bellied Woodpecker     35 Sunset Rd
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker     Clove Lakes Park
Downy Woodpecker     35 Sunset Rd
Hairy Woodpecker     35 Sunset Rd
Northern Flicker     Crestwood Village
American Kestrel     Haines Neck Rd, Mannington
Peregrine Falcon     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Eastern Phoebe     Whiting WMA
Blue Jay     Manasquan Reservoir IBA
American Crow     Manasquan Reservoir IBA
Fish Crow     Manasquan Reservoir IBA
Tree Swallow     White's Bogs
Carolina Chickadee     35 Sunset Rd
Black-capped Chickadee     Central Park
Tufted Titmouse     35 Sunset Rd
Red-breasted Nuthatch     35 Sunset Rd
White-breasted Nuthatch     35 Sunset Rd
Brown Creeper     Palmyra Cove Nature Park
Carolina Wren     Crestwood Community Gardens
Golden-crowned Kinglet     Manahawkin WMA
Eastern Bluebird     Cedar Bridge Road, Stafford Township
American Robin     Assunpink WMA
Northern Mockingbird     Horicon Lake
European Starling     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Yellow-rumped Warbler     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Field Sparrow     White's Bogs
Savannah Sparrow     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Seaside Sparrow     Jakes Landing
Fox Sparrow     Double Trouble State Park
Song Sparrow     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
White-throated Sparrow     35 Sunset Rd
Dark-eyed Junco     35 Sunset Rd
Western Tanager     Sunset & Lighthouse, W. Cape May
Northern Cardinal     Horicon Lake
Red-winged Blackbird     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Eastern Meadowlark     Featherbed Ln, Pilesgrove
Common Grackle     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Boat-tailed Grackle     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Brown-headed Cowbird     Brynmore / Big Woods Rd. fields
House Finch     Manasquan Reservoir IBA
White-winged Crossbill     Washington Road, Princeton
Common Redpoll     Manasquan Reservoir IBA
American Goldfinch     35 Sunset Rd
House Sparrow     Horicon Lake

What's Up Dock?

I enjoy a pun as much as the next guy, but I don't usually plan my birding forays around one. Today, however, and I want to emphasize that this was solely my lovely wife's idea, we took, on Easter Sunday, in homage to Bugs Bunny, a "What's Up Doc(k Road)?" trip. This was something of a reprise of our Ocean County road tour that we did with Pete Bacinski a couple of weeks ago.

The Forsythe Refuge, in addition to its flagship reservation known to all as Brig, stretches over 30 miles up the coast, incorporating large sections of marsh along the various bays up to Brick. We decided to see what was up on, north to south: Cedar Run Dock Road, West Creek Dock Road, and Parker Run Dock Road which all run through sections of the refuge. Cedar Run Dock Road is the most well known of these roads, famous for its Short-eared Owls in fall and winter. The other two are birded, at least from the evidence on eBird, much less frequently.

We spent the most time on Cedar Run Dock Road mostly because there are more places to search. Most interesting bird there was a single Greater Yellowlegs close to the road in a shallow pool. Along the 2 1/2 miles of marsh and creeks we found:
Canada Goose  5
Mallard  5
Greater/Lesser Scaup  X
Bufflehead  20
Hooded Merganser  2
Red-breasted Merganser  1
Red-throated Loon
Pied-billed Grebe  1
Horned Grebe  1
Horned Grebe
Photo: Shari Zirlin
Double-crested Cormorant  4
Great Egret  2
Osprey  1
Northern Harrier  1
Greater Yellowlegs  1
Herring Gull  10
Rock Pigeon  3
Mourning Dove  1
Fish Crow  1
Song Sparrow  3
Northern Cardinal  1    Heard
Red-winged Blackbird  X
Boat-tailed Grackle  X

Next we drove about 2 miles south on Rt 9 and turned left onto West Creek Dock Road. West Creek itself had one Horned Grebe and 3 Pied-billed Grebes and a few Hooded Mergansers.
New birds we added along this road were
Brant  2
Common Loon  1
Pied-billed Grebe  4
Turkey Vulture  7
Great Black-backed Gull  3
Blue Jay  1    Heard
Tree Swallow  4
European Starling  4
Shari took what she calls her "obligatory Osprey picture," while I documented what is possibly the most hideous building on the Jersey shore, what is known locally as the "Plywood Palace." There is a lot of gossip about why this house remains unfinished; I prefer to think that a bad idea can only go so far and this is as far as this one went. Another hurricane might be a mercy killing for this monstrosity. 

Our third Dock Road is simply listed as "Dock Street" on the maps. You can see where this can get confusing when you're looking for a street at 40 mph. It is 8/10 of a mile south along Rt 9, and officially known as Parker Run Dock Road. 

Not much new along this road although we did a get a very nice look at a Belted Kingfisher.

So, that wrapped up the joke. The weather was starting to deteriorate but we wanted to keep going so we decided to investigate one more Forsythe property called Graveling Point. This area is south of Great Bay Boulevard and reached by turning right off Great Bay onto Radio Road. On the map it looks like Radio Road winds through evermore marsh. The map must be old because Radio Road is built up with luxury condos, a small mall, and all the other trappings of suburbia. However, it does, like most roads down there, end at the bay. By now the water was pretty choppy, but in a small pond separated from the bay by a thin strip of beach we saw 3 Snowy Egrets (Shari's first for the year) and a few Laughing Gulls were mixed in with the ubiquitous Herring Gulls.

We drove back to Whiting as the weather continued to cloud up and get more blustery. Where to have lunch on Easter? At a Chinese restaurant on Rt 530. We were the only customers but the food was good enough to eat. Re-energized, we decided to go out to New Egypt. The  lapwings haven't been reported the last few days, but I wanted Shari to see the Pectoral Sandpipers and the Wilson's Snipes out in field.

As we were packing up, another birder pulled up and broke out the optics. I realized I knew her, though we only met once, when I saw her daughter with the binoculars too. It seemed appropriate for us to meet on Easter, since she published on line some research she'd done on lapwings including the factoid that they may be the origin of the Easter Bunny!

In England and Europe the eggs of plovers (the family to which lapwings belong) were (and still are to some extent) both eaten and collected. Lapwings don't dig their own nests--they use old rabbit burrows. Someone finding a lapwing egg in a burrow would also find bunny fur around the egg. Hence, the myth of the Easter Bunny's eggs.

It's a great story and if it isn't true, if I tell it enough times, it might be.

At the cattle field in New Egypt our list was:
Canada Goose  1
Black Vulture  10
Turkey Vulture  10
Sharp-shinned Hawk  1
Sandhill Crane  2    
Killdeer  4
Pectoral Sandpiper  3    
Wilson's Snipe  9
Rock Pigeon  20
Eastern Phoebe  1
American Crow  2
Northern Mockingbird  1
European Starling  10
Red-winged Blackbird  100
Common Grackle  5000
Brown-headed Cowbird  100

Five thousand grackles flying overhead is impressive and a little worrisome--you've got to figure that at least one of them is going to let go. For the day we ended up with 45 species. And the rain began shortly after we got home.

Cape May 3/30--Western Tanager + 9 Other FOY

We made our first trip to Cape May today. Our goal was two-fold: find the rarity and then bounce around the county finding as many birds as we could.

Western Tanager, female
Photos: Shari Zirlin
The rarity today was at the feeder in a backyard on Sunset Boulevard just before the road to the state park. The homeowner graciously has been allowing birders to stand in his backyard and wait for the female Western Tanager to appear. It was our first stop and we didn't have to wait long--at least I didn't--Shari missed it the first time the bird came to the feeder; the bird would fly from the feeder to the tangles behind the house. Eventually, she reappeared in a tree and Shari managed to get this documentary photo.

After getting the Bird A Day entry, we pinballed around the county. First to the Beanery (Cooper's & Red-tailed Hawk, 3 Great Blue Herons flying overhead), then, in a field opposite the parking lot to Hidden Valley we found a nice flock of Eastern Meadowlarks. Shari thought the fields looked promising and she was correct. Next the canal overlook at Higbees, where we saw our first Laughing Gulls and Black-bellied Plovers of the year along with a huge flock of Dunlins on the jetty.

After lunch we drove back to West Cape May. We wanted to see if could find the Eurasian Collared-Dove that hangs out around Lincoln Avenue. I thought we'd walk around the block, hoping to track it down but Shari found two of them sitting on a phone wire in about 30 seconds. This is an invasive species, so it's interesting now, but soon it won't be. A stop at the St. Mary's Dune Crossing yielded two Common Eiders and a Long-tailed Duck.

At the state park itself we first walked around Lighthouse Pond which from the road looked empty but was actually full of ducks toward the back, including our first Blue-winged Teals.  A huge kettle of Turkey and Black Vultures was overhead as well as a Red-tailed Hawk and an Osprey.
Red-tailed Hawk

The pond in front of the Hawkwatch Platform had pretty much the same variety along with one drake Northern Pintail.

Next we head north for a new spot for us--Miami Avenue Beach in Villas. Last week a Little Gull had been reported there which would have been a lifer. However, one report said the bird had an injured leg--this didn't bode well for finding it--little injured birds make good prey. Still, we gave it a try, found more Dunlins and Black-bellied Plovers plus a couple of Forster's Terns in with many gulls. The tide was out, so the birds were far away and even a scope wasn't a lot of help, so who knows, maybe the  bird was there--though I heard from a couple of guys later at Jake's Landing that they'd spent 3 hours searching for the bird with nothing to show for their time. I don't have that kind of patience. Quantity over quality, I always say.

Finally we drove 15 miles up Rt 47 to Jake's Landing which ends in a marsh. Our target bird doesn't come out until dusk; we were pretty early but while we waited we had a Northern Harrier hunting, Shari found a Seaside Sparrow, which I only heard, Clapper Rails were loud and nearby though invisible in the thick reeds ("thin as a rail"). Finally, after sunset, and just before it was too dark to see, Shari spotted a Short-eared Owl flying overhead. They take over the night shift from the harriers.  To end the festivities, a small flock of Black-crowned Night-Herons flew in to the marsh. 

For the  long day we had 67 species, by far our largest tally of the year. For those of you not yet bleary-eyed from reading all this, here's the complete list:
Species                 Location
Brant     Higbees Beach Canal Overlook
Canada Goose     Sunset & Lighthouse, W. Cape May
Mute Swan     Lighthouse Pond
Gadwall     Lighthouse Pond
American Wigeon     Lighthouse Pond
American Black Duck     Hawkwatch Platform
Mallard     Lighthouse Pond
Blue-winged Teal     Lighthouse Pond
Northern Shoveler     Lighthouse Pond
Northern Pintail     Hawkwatch Platform
Green-winged Teal    Lighthouse Pond
Ring-necked Duck     Hawkwatch Platform
Greater Scaup     Lighthouse Pond
Common Eider     St. Mary’s dune crossing
Long-tailed Duck     St. Mary’s dune crossing
Red-breasted Merganser     Higbees Beach Canal Overlook
Ruddy Duck     Hawkwatch Platform
Pied-billed Grebe     Lighthouse Pond
Double-crested Cormorant     Higbees Beach Canal Overlook
Great Blue Heron     The Beanery
Great Egret     Hawkwatch Platform
Black-crowned Night-Heron     Jakes Landing
Black Vulture     Lincoln Ave, Cape May Pt
Turkey Vulture     Sunset & Lighthouse, W. Cape May
Osprey     Lighthouse Pond
Northern Harrier     Jakes Landing
Cooper's Hawk     The Beanery
Bald Eagle     Jakes Landing
Red-tailed Hawk     The Beanery
Clapper Rail     Jakes Landing
American Coot     Lighthouse Pond
Black-bellied Plover     Higbees Beach Canal Overlook
Greater Yellowlegs     Jakes Landing
Sanderling     Villas--Miami Ave. beach
Dunlin     Higbees Beach Canal Overlook
Bonaparte's Gull     Villas--Miami Ave. beach
Laughing Gull     Higbees Beach Canal Overlook
Ring-billed Gull     Higbees Beach Canal Overlook
Herring Gull     Villas--Miami Ave. beach
Great Black-backed Gull     Villas--Miami Ave. beach
Forster's Tern     Villas--Miami Ave. beach
Rock Pigeon     Villas--Miami Ave. beach
Eurasian Collared-Dove     Lincoln Ave, Cape May Pt
Mourning Dove     Sunset & Lighthouse, W. Cape May
Short-eared Owl     Jakes Landing
Red-bellied Woodpecker     Lighthouse Pond
American Crow     The Beanery
Fish Crow     The Beanery
Tree Swallow     St. Mary’s dune crossing
Carolina Chickadee     Sunset & Lighthouse, W. Cape May
Carolina Wren     Sunset & Lighthouse, W. Cape May
American Robin     The Beanery
Northern Mockingbird     Field opp Hidden Valley parking lot
European Starling     Field opp Hidden Valley parking lot
Yellow-rumped Warbler     Lighthouse Pond
Seaside Sparrow     Jakes Landing
Song Sparrow     St. Mary’s dune crossing
White-throated Sparrow     Sunset & Lighthouse, W. Cape May
Dark-eyed Junco     Sunset & Lighthouse, W. Cape May
Western Tanager     Sunset & Lighthouse, W. Cape May
Northern Cardinal     Sunset & Lighthouse, W. Cape May
Red-winged Blackbird     Jakes Landing
Eastern Meadowlark     Field opp Hidden Valley parking lot
Common Grackle     Villas--Miami Ave. beach
House Finch     Sunset & Lighthouse, W. Cape May
American Goldfinch     Sunset & Lighthouse, W. Cape May
House Sparrow     Lincoln Ave, Cape May Pt

Friday, March 29, 2013

Great Bay Blvd WMA 3/29--Snowy Egret

The transition from winter birds to spring/summer birds seems slow this year--still a lot of juncos on the lawn, haven't seen a Chipping Sparrow yet. Where are the catbirds? I should have seen a Pine Warbler by now. True, we have Brown-headed Cowbirds, but everyone except me hates Brown-headed Cowbirds.

On Great Bay Blvd this morning the birding was slow. Brant were around in small numbers; they'll probably hang out until June. I found a couple of Common Loons, one in the inlet, but the water was empty save for that bird. I used Common Loon for Bird A Day, at the risk of running out of winter birds at the end of the year, should I still be in the contest.

 However, 6 Great Egrets were the most I've seen so far this year, and on the way out I came upon my first Snowy Egret of the year, very close to the road. Perfect for a picture except the camera battery was dead. Not that the world needs another Snowy Egret photo.

Only 17 species on the Boulevard of Broken Asphalt today. What we need is a warm front pushing up from the south.

Brant  60
Canada Goose  2
American Black Duck  50
Bufflehead  6    channel beneath fifth bridge
Red-breasted Merganser  15
Common Loon  2
Great Blue Heron  1
Great Egret  6
Snowy Egret  1
Herring Gull  50
Great Black-backed Gull  5
European Starling  20
Song Sparrow  4
Northern Cardinal  1    Trail at end of the road
Red-winged Blackbird  25
Common Grackle  1
Boat-tailed Grackle  100

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

New Egypt 3/26--Wilson's Snipe

Four "shorebird" species were in the amazing cattle field out in New Egypt this morning: Wilson's Snipe, Killdeer, Pectoral Sandpiper (rare for here) and, (ho hum) 2 Northern Lapwings. Usually, I'm happy if I accidentally flush a Wilson's Snipe and catch a glimpse of its zig-zag flight. Sometimes I'm lucky enough to see one standing alone in a wet field. Today, there were 9 of them that I counted in one of the puddles at the back of the field. The Pectoral Sandpipers were associating with them and one of the lapwings was off to the side. My count of 16 Killdeer is conservative.

I also got my closest sighting of the 2 resident Sandhill Cranes. I've never seen them in the cattle field--they've always been in the corn stubble field to the east. At one point I had a scope view of the other lapwing in between the 2 cranes. I wasn't able to digiscope that picture, but I did finally get an identifiable shot of the 2 big gray birds:

And, if you've ever wanted to see a picture of a Northern Lapwing scratching itself, today's your day:

After about 45 minutes standing by the fence, scoping the field and watching the longhorn steers slog through the mud, occasionally letting go a mournful bellow (the steers, not me), I drove over to Collier Mills WMA to get in my vigorous walk. I don't know this WMA well at all, so I picked a trail walked it, found it didn't go far, then picked another road, walked it for a good distance then turned around. The best find there were 4 Wood Ducks on Collier Mills Lake. Eastern Bluebirds were in the woods, Brown-headed Cowbirds sounded like dripping water in the trees, and cardinals were singing loudly wherever I walked. Many sparrows in the bushes and tangles. I was looking for a Swamp Sparrow among them but came up empty. Still, I'm sure the habitat there will eventually yield that species.

Including the Red-tail Hawks I saw on perched in a tree and on a wire along Long Swamp Road and Rt. 539 respectively, I had 30 species for the morning.
New Egypt--Brynmore / Big Woods Rd. fields
13 species
Canada Goose  50
Mallard  2    Mud puddle
Sandhill Crane  2    
Northern Lapwing  2   
Killdeer  16
Pectoral Sandpiper   Brown medium size sandpipers, "vests" ending abruptly at belly. In puddle with WISN
Wilson's Snipe  9
Rock Pigeon  25
American Crow  1    Heard
European Starling  20
Northern Cardinal  1    Heard
Red-winged Blackbird  25
Common Grackle  100
Colliers Mills WMA
19 species
Canada Goose  5
Wood Duck  4    Colliers Mills Lake
Ring-necked Duck  8    Colliers Mills Lake
Red-breasted Merganser  2    Turnmill Pond
Turkey Vulture  3
Mourning Dove  2
Red-bellied Woodpecker  4
Blue Jay  6
Fish Crow  5
Carolina Chickadee  3
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
Carolina Wren  1    Heard
Eastern Bluebird  2
American Robin  1
Song Sparrow  15
White-throated Sparrow  5
Northern Cardinal  4
Red-winged Blackbird  10
Brown-headed Cowbird  3