Tuesday, April 30, 2013

April Roundup

With 3 field trips and the reopening of our beloved Brigantine, April was our best month this year in terms of both quantity (142 species) and quality. What's quality?  During our trip to Brigantine, one of the participants was a casual birder; she was trying to figure out why Chipping Sparrows were shrugged at while a Northern Rough-winged Swallow was a "good" bird. She understood if the bird was rare, then it was good, but what else made a bird a quality bird?

Hard to say, since it is subjective. Warblers, because they migrate, tend to be elusive, and are pretty little birds for the most part, are generally considered quality birds--but some, like Yellow-rumped Warlbers which overwinter, don't get anyone's heart racing.  Raptors, rare or not, are generally sought after, because they're dramatic. Everyone loves a Bald Eagle even though they're certainly not "rare" anymore--thankfully. I'm always amused at how much attention Ospreys get--I certainly don't consider them quality birds, but judging from the the number of photos taken of Ospreys on nests at Brigantine, I'm in the minority there.

Shorebirds attain quality status when they are tricky to identify. At certain times of the year, Western Sandpipers are not that rare on the east coast, but picking them out from Semipalmated Sandpipers takes experience and a good eye--find a Western Sandpiper and you have a good bird.

And then there's the personal aspect--some birds you just like. Shari's favorite, American Oystercatcher is common--and it isn't it great that such a goofy looking bird is common? The day's birding is a success once she's seen one. As for me, any time I see a Cedar Waxwing, I'm happy.

In the list below, birds that are underlined are rarities. There are 2 kinds of rarities: absolute rarities like Crested Caracara that are out of their range, and seasonal rarities like Long-billed Dowitcher which are found at the 'wrong' time of the year. Birds in bold italics are first of year birds.

Counties birded:
New Jersey: Atlantic, Burlington, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Monmouth, Ocean, Salem
New York: New York

Species               Location
Snow Goose     Sharptown-Auburn Road, Pilesgrove
Brant     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Canada Goose     Horicon Lake
Mute Swan     Salem River WRA
Wood Duck     Horicon Lake
Gadwall     Salem River WRA
American Wigeon     Salem River WRA
American Black Duck     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Mallard     Horicon Lake
Blue-winged Teal     Salem River WRA
Northern Shoveler     Salem River WRA
Northern Pintail     Brigantine
Green-winged Teal     Pedricktown Marsh
Ring-necked Duck     Horicon Lake
Greater Scaup     Riverfront Landing
Lesser Scaup     Riverfront Landing
Bufflehead     Horicon Lake
Red-breasted Merganser     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Ruddy Duck     Riverfront Landing
Wild Turkey     Brynmore / Big Woods Rd. fields
Red-throated Loon     Cattus Island County Park
Common Loon     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Pied-billed Grebe     Salem River WRA
Horned Grebe     Cattus Island County Park
Double-crested Cormorant     Horicon Lake
Great Blue Heron     Horicon Lake
Great Egret     Horicon Lake
Snowy Egret     Cattus Island County Park
Little Blue Heron     Brigantine
Tricolored Heron     Cattus Island County Park
Black-crowned Night-Heron     Heislerville WMA
Glossy Ibis     Brigantine
Black Vulture     Pedricktown Marsh
Turkey Vulture     35 Sunset Rd
Osprey     Horicon Lake
Northern Harrier     Featherbed Lane WMA
Cooper's Hawk     Edwin B. Forsythe NWR--Lily Lake
Bald Eagle     Whiting WMA
Broad-winged Hawk     Brigantine
Red-tailed Hawk     Rt. 70
Clapper Rail     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
American Coot     Salem River WRA
Black-bellied Plover     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Killdeer     Pedricktown Marsh
American Oystercatcher     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Greater Yellowlegs     Cattus Island County Park
Willet     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Lesser Yellowlegs     Brigantine
Whimbrel     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Sanderling     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Least Sandpiper     Heislerville WMA
Pectoral Sandpiper     Brynmore / Big Woods Rd. fields
Dunlin     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Short-billed Dowitcher     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Long-billed Dowitcher     Heislerville WMA
Wilson's Snipe     Mannington Marsh
Wilson's Phalarope     Heislerville WMA
Laughing Gull     Riverfront Landing
Ring-billed Gull     Brigantine
Herring Gull     Cattus Island County Park
Glaucous Gull     Heislerville WMA
Great Black-backed Gull     Cattus Island County Park
Gull-billed Tern     Brigantine
Caspian Tern     Brigantine
Forster's Tern     Brigantine
Rock Pigeon     Brynmore / Big Woods Rd. fields
Mourning Dove     Cattus Island County Park
Great Horned Owl     Pedricktown Marsh
Eastern Whip-poor-will     35 Sunset Rd
Ruby-throated Hummingbird     35 Sunset Rd
Belted Kingfisher     Double Trouble State Park
Red-bellied Woodpecker     Horicon Lake
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker     Double Trouble State Park
Downy Woodpecker     35 Sunset Rd
Hairy Woodpecker     Salem River WRA
Northern Flicker     Cattus Island County Park
Crested Caracara     Featherbed Lane WMA
American Kestrel     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Peregrine Falcon     Brigantine
Eastern Phoebe     Horicon Lake
Eastern Kingbird     Horicon Lake
White-eyed Vireo     Horicon Lake
Blue-headed Vireo     Belleplain State Forest
Blue Jay     Horicon Lake
American Crow     Horicon Lake
Fish Crow     Horicon Lake
Northern Rough-winged Swallow     Salem River WRA
Purple Martin     Brigantine
Tree Swallow     Cattus Island County Park
Barn Swallow     Sharptown-Auburn Road, Pilesgrove
Carolina Chickadee     Horicon Lake
Tufted Titmouse     Horicon Lake
Red-breasted Nuthatch     Cattus Island County Park
White-breasted Nuthatch     Horicon Lake
Brown Creeper     Double Trouble State Park
House Wren     Belleplain State Forest
Winter Wren     Central Park
Carolina Wren     Horicon Lake
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher     Double Trouble State Park
Golden-crowned Kinglet     Brigantine
Ruby-crowned Kinglet     Double Trouble State Park
Eastern Bluebird     Cattus Island County Park
Hermit Thrush     Brigantine
American Robin     35 Sunset Rd
Northern Mockingbird     Featherbed Lane WMA
Brown Thrasher     White's Bogs
European Starling     Horicon Lake
American Pipit     Brigantine
Cedar Waxwing     Brigantine
Ovenbird     Whiting WMA
Worm-eating Warbler     Belleplain State Forest
Black-and-white Warbler     Horicon Lake
Prothonotary Warbler     Belleplain State Forest
Common Yellowthroat     Horicon Lake
Hooded Warbler     Belleplain State Forest
Yellow Warbler     Brigantine
Palm Warbler     Heritage Park
Pine Warbler     Cattus Island County Park
Yellow-rumped Warbler     Heritage Park
Yellow-throated Warbler     Belleplain State Forest
Prairie Warbler     Horicon Lake
Eastern Towhee     Whiting WMA
Chipping Sparrow     35 Sunset Rd
Field Sparrow     Assunpink WMA
Savannah Sparrow     Brigantine
Seaside Sparrow     Brigantine
Fox Sparrow     Double Trouble State Park
Song Sparrow     Horicon Lake
Swamp Sparrow     Central Park
White-throated Sparrow     Horicon Lake
Dark-eyed Junco     Horicon Lake
Summer Tanager     Belleplain State Forest
Northern Cardinal     Horicon Lake
Red-winged Blackbird     Cattus Island County Park
Eastern Meadowlark     Featherbed Lane WMA
Yellow-headed Blackbird     Sharptown-Auburn Road, Pilesgrove
Common Grackle     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Boat-tailed Grackle     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Brown-headed Cowbird     35 Sunset Rd
House Finch     35 Sunset Rd
American Goldfinch     35 Sunset Rd
House Sparrow     Horicon Lake

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Brigantine 4/28--Broad-winged Hawk, Gull-billed Tern, Yellow Warbler

American Oystercatcher on nest.
Photo: Shari Zirlin
Day two of our weekend bird-a-rama with Pete Bacinksi. Today we did 2 loops around the Wildlife Drive at Brig. The first time around was productive. On the 2nd trip we seemed to enter what Pete called a "bird free zone." However, a stop at the Experimental Pool where we hung out for 20 minutes produced some "quality" birds including our FOY Broad-winged Hawks, albeit very distant views of high flying birds. 

For Shari, of course, the highlight of the day was seeing the oystercatchers, particularly the one pictured above, sitting on a nest. This is the first time we've seen a nesting oystercatcher. The nest is just a scraped out area in the gravel. The staff at Forsythe has cordoned off the area with traffic cones  since the birds decided that 5 feet off the road was the perfect place to scratch out their nest. 

It was, as it so often seems to happen, another "Heinz" day for us: 57 varieties of birds. I'm stretching this just a little by counting the pigeon we saw on New York Road on the way to the refuge. Hard to believe, but that was the first pigeon I've seen in Atlantic County.

Day List:
Brant  120
Canada Goose  31
Mute Swan  4
American Black Duck  100
Mallard  6
Blue-winged Teal  5
Green-winged Teal  3
Red-breasted Merganser  1
Ruddy Duck  13
Double-crested Cormorant  50
Great Egret  25
Snowy Egret  20
Glossy Ibis  4    f/o Experimental Pool
Black Vulture  1    f/o Experimental Pool
Turkey Vulture  7
Osprey  8
Broad-winged Hawk  2    High over Experimental Pool
Clapper Rail  1    Heard
Black-bellied Plover  20
American Oystercatcher  6    
Greater Yellowlegs  25
Willet  100
Whimbrel  25
Least Sandpiper  2
Dunlin  200
Short-billed Dowitcher  50
Long-billed Dowitcher  1    
Laughing Gull  5
Ring-billed Gull  2
Herring Gull  100
Great Black-backed Gull  6
Gull-billed Tern  2    North Dike
Forster's Tern  100 
Rock Pigeon 1   New York Road  
Red-bellied Woodpecker   1   Heard Lily Lake
Peregrine Falcon  3    On tower  
White-eyed Vireo 1 Heard Lily Lake
Blue Jay  1    Heard
American Crow  1    Heard
Fish Crow  5
Northern Rough-winged Swallow  1    Gull Pond
Purple Martin  20
Tree Swallow  10
Barn Swallow  1    Experimental Pool
Carolina Chickadee  3    Heard
Tufted Titmouse  1    Heard
Carolina Wren  1    Heard
American Robin  4    Picnic tables and parking lot
Common Yellowthroat  3    Heard
Yellow Warbler
  1    Heard upland trail
Eastern Towhee  1    Heard upland trail
Chipping Sparrow  10    Picnic tables and parking lot
Seaside Sparrow  3
Song Sparrow  5    Heard
Northern Cardinal  2    Heard
Red-winged Blackbird  50
American Goldfinch  1    Heard Experimental Pool

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Heislerville WMA 4/27--Least Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Wilson's Phalarope, Glaucous Gull

Heislerville Rookery
Photos: Shari Zirlin
After lunch we caravanned over to the Heislerville WMA, a series of impoundments on the Delaware Bay shore, sort of southwest NJ's answer to Brigantine. The sight of the rookery was impressive, the trees at the bottom and in the middle looking like they had huge cotton balls of egrets stuck on them, while at the top, Double-crested Cormorants sat, preened, and dried their feathers. While I've seen a number of heron rookeries, I've never seen one shared with cormorants. In fact, I've never seen cormorants nesting at all.

Thousands of shorebirds were on the mud flats--mostly Dunlins, which are coming into the their very attractive rufous and black breeding plumage, and Short-billed Dowitchers, a few of them of hendersoni sub-species, looking as red on their breasts as a robin.

There were three rarities on the flats, the rarest being, I suppose, the Wilson's Phalarope, always a good bird to find. That one we knew about and with the help of some other birders who were already "on" the bird, we didn't have too much trouble finding it. It also came in close enough to for Shari to get some pretty good photos of it:

Scoping the huge flocks of shorebirds, Pete started picking out the much rarer (for NJ) and very early arrival, Long-billed Dowitchers, best described as looking like hump-back dowitchers that have swallowed, depending on who you're talking to, a basketball, a grapefruit, or a softball. Pete said there were about 100 out there. I was happy to be able to confidently identify three. 

Also, loafing on a piling, was a very white, presumably 2nd winter, Glaucous Gull, another rare find for NJ at any time of the year. This is the kind of gull I'd easily overlook on my own. I don't usually  have the patience or sitzfleisch to sort through hundreds of common gulls, looking for the rarity. That's why it's good to go with those who do. 

Toward the end of the day we were all getting a little goofy, trying to build up the day list, so birds that normally would be barely noted, like Mallard, Mute Swan, and Boat-tailed Grackle, were each greeted with a cheer and its number on the list called out by Mike Mandracchia, the official tallier on these outings. I think the cumulative number for the group was about 83. Shari & I finished the day with 74, which is a fine number any day.

Heislerville WMA list:
36 species
Canada Goose  10
Mute Swan  1
American Black Duck  1
Mallard  1    North Impoundment
Blue-winged Teal  1    Main Pool
Northern Shoveler  3
Green-winged Teal  1
Red-breasted Merganser  3
Double-crested Cormorant  50
Great Blue Heron  1    North Impoundment
Great Egret  50
Snowy Egret  10
Black-crowned Night-Heron  4    North Impoundment rookery
Turkey Vulture  1
Osprey  4
Bald Eagle  2
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Clapper Rail  1    Heard
Black-bellied Plover  1
Greater Yellowlegs  25
Lesser Yellowlegs 
Least Sandpiper  1
Dunlin  2000
Short-billed Dowitcher  500
Long-billed Dowitcher  3    
Wilson's Phalarope  1   
Laughing Gull  2
Herring Gull  50
Glaucous Gull  1    
Great Black-backed Gull  6
Forster's Tern  10
Barn Swallow  1
Eastern Towhee  1    Heard
Song Sparrow  1  Heard
Red-winged Blackbird  1
Boat-tailed Grackle  1

Tomorrow: Brigantine.

Belleplain SF 4/27--Blue-headed Vireo, House Wren, Worm-eating, Prothonotary, Hooded, Yellow-throated Warblers, Summer Tanager

White-eyed Vireo
Photo: Shari Zirlin
We started our weekend of field trips with Pete Bacinski at Belleplain State Forest in Cape May County. Shari & I had only birded this forest once, almost 5 years ago. It's a big place and hard to know where the best spots are if you're not a local or a regular visitor. Interestingly, the one well-known area called "The Triangle" that we remembered going to in 2008 turns out to no longer be the hot spot it once was. "Birded out," according to Karen Johnson, who was assisting Pete.

The one bird that Shari & I really wanted to see was Worm-eating Warbler. We had heard this bird when we were in Belleplain last time, but that was our only encounter with the bird. Happily, the group was treated to long looks at one not too high up in a tree. I had studied it's trilling song, more insect-like than a Pine Warbler's song and not as mechanical as a Chipping Sparrow's, and when we got out of the car I heard one and immediately recognized it. Others were on the bird a lot faster than I was, but eventually, with enough people tugging me this way and that I was able to get the "field guide" look at it. Shari didn't have nearly as hard a time finding it once I was able to point her to it. So, in a way, we feel like we got a life bird today.

It was something of a Warbler Fest in the forest today, as you would hope during Spring migration. Some of the warblers I only heard but I was fine with that because I've at least seen them in the past. Ovenbirds, for instance, were all over the place, chef chef cheffing away wherever we stopped, but I still haven't seen one this year and I'm okay with that. We had 9 warbler species, 2 vireos and a Summer Tanager as the highlights of the morning's birding. 44 species in all.

Then, we went to Heislerville (see above).

Belleplain list:
Double-crested Cormorant  6    f/o HQ
Black Vulture  1
Turkey Vulture  6
Cooper's Hawk  1
Bald Eagle  1
Laughing Gull  2    f/o HQ
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  1    HQ Feeder
Red-bellied Woodpecker  2    Heard
Hairy Woodpecker  1    Heard
Eastern Phoebe  1
White-eyed Vireo  5
Blue-headed Vireo  1
Blue Jay
Fish Crow  2
Carolina Chickadee  5
Tufted Titmouse  1    Heard
Red-breasted Nuthatch  1    Heard
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
House Wren  1    Heard
Carolina Wren  1    Heard
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  2
Eastern Bluebird  1
American Robin  1
Northern Mockingbird  1
Ovenbird  10    Heard
Worm-eating Warbler  1
Black-and-white Warbler  5    Heard
Prothonotary Warbler  1    Heard
Hooded Warbler  1    Heard
Pine Warbler  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler  3
Yellow-throated Warbler
Prairie Warbler  3
Eastern Towhee  1    Heard
Chipping Sparrow  2
Field Sparrow  1    Heard
White-throated Sparrow  5
Summer Tanager  1
Northern Cardinal  1    Heard
Red-winged Blackbird  1
Eastern Meadowlark  1
Brown-headed Cowbird  1   
House Finch  1    Heard
American Goldfinch  3

Front Yard 4/27--Ruby-throated Hummingbird

As I was waiting for Shari to pull the car out of the garage to start down to Belleplain State Forest, I saw our first Ruby-throated Hummingbird at the new feeder Shari had strategically placed at the front of the house. It deftly avoided the spray from the sprinkler system. A great jump start to a very productive day of birding (reports above).

Friday, April 26, 2013

Great Bay Blvd WMA 4/26--Short-billed Dowitcher

Short-billed Dowitcher (reddish bird), with Black-bellied Plovers and Dunlins
Today on Great Bay Blvd, I stopped before the last bridge, as I usually do, and found construction vehicles on the site. This is the 2nd spot on the road where work is in progress. I think they're replacing the bulkheads. As I walked over with my scope a guy in a fluorescent yellow vest asked me if I was bird watching. I thought he was going to give me gas about not being allowed  on the little landing but instead he excitedly told me about a really "weird" bird he and his friend had seen. "It looked like a penguin." He started to describe the bird to me but it could have been anything from his description. His friend showed me a picture she had taken on her phone. "Oh, this is a good one," I said, "Black-crowned Night-heron. They roost in these trees during the day and hunt at dusk." I was hoping to find one of these birds, along with its yellow-crowned cousin, but the smart phone photo was as close as I got.

However, the shorebirds were abundant. The switch over from waterfowl to shorebirds is just about complete. I saw large flocks of Black-bellied Plovers flying over the marshes, a big concentration in one spot of Dunlins, coming into their summer plumage, reddish backs with large black spots on their bellies, and mixed in, as the photo above barely shows, my first Short-billed Dowitchers for the year.

Along with the constant song of Red-winged Blackbirds and the clicks and chirps of Boat-tailed Grackles, I heard the "pee-willet" cry of Willets at every stop I made. It is amazing how much noise a couple of birds can make--you think you're hearing a flock and look out on a point and see only a couple producing all that sound. Still, my count of 25 is probably very conservative. I was also pleased to find the Whimbrel again, almost in exactly the same spot as it was on the 18th when I last visited.

In the non-water bird category, I saw my 2nd Brown Thrasher in 2 days. Maybe this won't be the frustrating bird it usually is this year.

The day's list:
34 species
Brant  150
Canada Goose  2
Mute Swan  1
Red-breasted Merganser  2
Common Loon  2
Double-crested Cormorant  7
Great Egret  30
Snowy Egret  25
Turkey Vulture  1
Osprey  4
Clapper Rail  1    Heard
Black-bellied Plover  250
American Oystercatcher  1
Greater Yellowlegs  10
Willet  25
Whimbrel  1
Dunlin  175
Short-billed Dowitcher  4    
Laughing Gull  1
Herring Gull  100
Great Black-backed Gull  6
Forster's Tern  10
Rock Pigeon  1
Mourning Dove  1
Blue Jay  1
Barn Swallow  5
Brown Thrasher  1
European Starling  2
Eastern Towhee  1    Heard
Chipping Sparrow  2
Savannah Sparrow  2
Song Sparrow  5
Red-winged Blackbird  100
Boat-tailed Grackle  75