Monday, July 29, 2013

July Wrap-up

Glossy Ibis, Great Bay Blvd. 
It is unlikely that I'll add any new birds for the month, or even have a chance to go birding since we have a couple of days on Staten Island dealing with doctors in store, so I figured I'd wrap up the month now.

Photo: Shari Zirlin
July is a tough month. The birds don't sing as much so they're harder to find, the migrating birds have moved through and until the end of the month you don't see any moving back down south. I only added 6 birds for the year: 3 shorebirds, 2 waders, and a tern. One the of the birds--Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, fell into the "finally" category. The most difficult bird to find for the month had to be the American Bittern we saw at Brigantine on Saturday.

My Bird A Day streak ended at 201 days--I could have stretched it a little, but I knew I'd never make it past this week when we'd be preoccupied. A couple of highlights for me were having a birder from Bergen County drive down on his way to the shore, just to hear the Whip-poor-will that was calling reliably in the early part of the month, and the visits we've been getting from a pair of tom turkeys every afternoon. When I walked out the side door and saw one just sitting on the lawn I thought that these guys were getting entirely too comfortable. We've named them Frick & Frack. Never did I think when we were living in Brooklyn that I'd ever be sitting on my patio, feet up, drinking a beer, watching turkeys peck at my lawn.
Frick & Frack
Photo: Shari Zirlin
For the month I managed 120 species. The underlined birds are the rarities--mostly rare for time of year not location. Birds in bold italics are FOY.
Counties Birded:
New Jersey: Atlantic, Burlington, Cape May, Ocean
New York: Kings
Species     First Sighting
Brant     Brigantine
Canada Goose     Brigantine
Mute Swan     Brigantine
Wood Duck     Colliers Mills WMA
Gadwall     Cape May Meadows
American Black Duck     Brigantine
Mallard     Brigantine
Blue-winged Teal     Brigantine
Wild Turkey     35 Sunset Rd
Double-crested Cormorant     Great Bay Blvd WMA
American Bittern     Brigantine
Great Blue Heron     Great Bay Blvd WMA
Great Egret     Great Bay Blvd WMA
Snowy Egret     Great Bay Blvd WMA
Little Blue Heron     Cattus Island County Park
Tricolored Heron     Cattus Island County Park
Black-crowned Night-Heron     Great Bay Blvd WMA
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron     Brigantine
Glossy Ibis     Great Bay Blvd WMA
Turkey Vulture     Crestwood Village
Osprey     Great Bay Blvd WMA
Cooper's Hawk     Brigantine
Red-tailed Hawk     Colliers Mills WMA
Clapper Rail     Great Bay Blvd WMA
Black-bellied Plover     Brigantine
Semipalmated Plover     Great Bay Blvd WMA
Piping Plover     Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Killdeer     Cape May Meadows
American Oystercatcher     Great Bay Blvd WMA
Spotted Sandpiper     Cape May Point SP
Greater Yellowlegs     Brigantine
Willet     Great Bay Blvd WMA
Lesser Yellowlegs     Brigantine
Whimbrel     Brigantine
Marbled Godwit     Brigantine
Ruddy Turnstone     Brigantine
Semipalmated Sandpiper     Brigantine
Western Sandpiper     Brigantine
Least Sandpiper     Brigantine
Dunlin     Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Stilt Sandpiper     Brigantine
Short-billed Dowitcher     Brigantine
Laughing Gull     Great Bay Blvd WMA
Ring-billed Gull     Brigantine
Herring Gull     Colliers Mills WMA
Great Black-backed Gull     Great Bay Blvd WMA
Least Tern     Great Bay Blvd WMA
Gull-billed Tern     Brigantine
Caspian Tern     Brigantine
Common Tern     Cape May Point SP
Forster's Tern     Great Bay Blvd WMA
Royal Tern     Brigantine
Black Skimmer     Brigantine
Rock Pigeon     Prospect Park
Mourning Dove     Crestwood Village
Yellow-billed Cuckoo     Whiting WMA
Black-billed Cuckoo     Whiting WMA
Common Nighthawk     35 Sunset Rd
Eastern Whip-poor-will     35 Sunset Rd
Chimney Swift     Crestwood Village
Ruby-throated Hummingbird     35 Sunset Rd
Belted Kingfisher     Crestwood Village
Red-bellied Woodpecker     Colliers Mills WMA
Downy Woodpecker     Crestwood Village
Northern Flicker     Colliers Mills WMA
Peregrine Falcon     Brigantine
Eastern Wood-Pewee     Colliers Mills WMA
Acadian Flycatcher     Cattus Island County Park
Eastern Phoebe     Colliers Mills WMA
Great Crested Flycatcher     35 Sunset Rd
Eastern Kingbird     Colliers Mills WMA
Red-eyed Vireo     Eno's Pond
Blue Jay     Crestwood Village
American Crow     Crestwood Village
Fish Crow     35 Sunset Rd
Northern Rough-winged Swallow     White's Bogs
Purple Martin     Cattus Island County Park
Tree Swallow     Colliers Mills WMA
Bank Swallow     Brigantine
Barn Swallow     Colliers Mills WMA
Carolina Chickadee     Crestwood Village
Tufted Titmouse     Crestwood Village
White-breasted Nuthatch     35 Sunset Rd
House Wren     Eno's Pond
Marsh Wren     Eno's Pond
Carolina Wren     Colliers Mills WMA
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher     Crestwood Village
Eastern Bluebird     Whiting WMA
Wood Thrush     Double Trouble State Park
American Robin     Crestwood Village
Gray Catbird     Crestwood Village
Northern Mockingbird     Colliers Mills WMA
Brown Thrasher     Brigantine
European Starling     Cape May Meadows
Cedar Waxwing     Colliers Mills WMA
Ovenbird     Crestwood Village
Worm-eating Warbler     Cape May Point SP
Black-and-white Warbler     White's Bogs
Common Yellowthroat     Great Bay Blvd WMA
Yellow Warbler     Brigantine
Pine Warbler     Crestwood Village
Prairie Warbler     Crestwood Village
Eastern Towhee     Crestwood Village
Chipping Sparrow     Crestwood Village
Field Sparrow     Brigantine
Saltmarsh Sparrow     Cattus Island County Park
Seaside Sparrow     Great Bay Blvd WMA
Song Sparrow     Crestwood Village
White-throated Sparrow     35 Sunset Rd
Northern Cardinal     Crestwood Village
Blue Grosbeak     Cattus Island County Park
Indigo Bunting     Brigantine
Red-winged Blackbird     Colliers Mills WMA
Common Grackle     Colliers Mills WMA
Boat-tailed Grackle     Great Bay Blvd WMA
Brown-headed Cowbird     Crestwood Village
Orchard Oriole     White's Bogs
House Finch     35 Sunset Rd
American Goldfinch     Crestwood Village
House Sparrow     35 Sunset Rd

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Brigantine 7/27--American Bittern, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Western Sandpiper, Royal Tern.

American Bittern
Photo: Shari Zirlin
Well, so much for the summer doldrums; Fall migration has started in earnest. About 30 birders were led around Brigantine by Pete Bacinski, Scott Barnes, Linda Mack, Mike Mandracchia and Lloyd Shaw, and with that much birding knowledge, great sightings were sure to be had. The highlights, for me, are in the heading, along with a the Marbled Godwit that my ever-diligent wife was able to spot out among the skimmers & gulls.

The place was teeming with sandpipers--a couple of thousand Semipalmated Sandpipers is probably a conservative estimate. In among them we were able to tease out a couple of Western Sandpipers, a Least Sandpiper, a Dunlin and about 6 Stilt Sandpipers. The buildup in birds will only increase as the summer (for us)/fall(for the birds) progresses.

The Yellow-crowned Night-Heron we found was a very fresh, almost downy juvenile along the north dike. My first one of the year--amazing it took this long to find one. Royal Terns are rarities at Brig (they're more of an seashore bird) so it was fine to get very good looks at multiple examples--they're easy to pick out with their "tonsures." I guess because of their name they always remind me of vain balding kings. The other great, great, find today was on the road to the Gull Pond: American Bittern, as pictured above. This is also a true rarity, but if you're going to see one, that stretch of road at Brig is pretty reliable. Last year that's where we also saw one. There were a couple of new birders on the trip today (how I envy them: life birds almost every time they lifted their binoculars) and I told them they could go 10 years before seeing another bittern. That's a bit of an exaggeration, but I bird a lot and there are long stretches when I haven't seen one.

The trip ended on a dramatic note, when at the end of our 2nd loop, on the upland section near the exit, Scott found a Cooper's Hawk entangled in the greenbriar. We guessed that it had attacked a bird, missed, and got caught in nature's barbed wire. The bird's breast was actually pierced by a stem of the greenbriar, but Scott, Linda, and a couple of others worked hard and very carefully and the team was able to free the hawk, which astoundingly flew away. I was sure it was going to need to go to a raptor rehabilitation facility.

In June I was on a trip at Assunpink with Scott and others. Jimmy Lee was wearing a t-shirt I really admired. A couple of weeks later, out of nowhere, my friend Eileen came to the house with the shirt, knowing nothing about Jimmy or the shirt. Her sister, who doesn't even know me, but knows of me, had bought it as a goof. A great present. And I was mortified, mortified, I tell you, when I saw that Jimmy and I were both wearing the shirt today. Wish I had tucked it in before Shari took the photo--I look like a slob next to him.

And, as if to bring home that Fall is rapidly approaching, when we got home this afternoon, Shari called me to the window to see, in the backyard, our first White-throated Sparrow of the season--but which season?
Chipping and White-throated Sparrow
Photo: Shari Zirlin
Two trips around the Wildlife drive yielded 64 species for us--the group as a whole had about 86 species.
Canada Goose  500
Mute Swan  6
Wood Duck  1
American Black Duck  25
Mallard  30
Blue-winged Teal  2
Double-crested Cormorant  3
American Bittern  1    
Great Egret  25
Snowy Egret  20
Little Blue Heron  1    gull tower
Black-crowned Night-Heron  1
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron  1    From North Dike
Glossy Ibis  10
Osprey  10
Cooper's Hawk  1    
Clapper Rail  2
Black-bellied Plover  1
Semipalmated Plover  15
American Oystercatcher  6
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Greater Yellowlegs  2
Willet (Eastern)  3
Lesser Yellowlegs  15
Whimbrel  3
Marbled Godwit  1    From South Dike before observation tower. 
Ruddy Turnstone  1
Semipalmated Sandpiper  2000
Western Sandpiper  2
Least Sandpiper  1
Dunlin  1
Stilt Sandpiper  6
Short-billed Dowitcher  50
Laughing Gull  50
Ring-billed Gull  1
Herring Gull  50
Great Black-backed Gull  10
Least Tern  15
Gull-billed Tern  5
Caspian Tern  1
Forster's Tern  50
Royal Tern  3
Black Skimmer  50
Peregrine Falcon  2
American Crow  15
Fish Crow  3
Purple Martin  10
Tree Swallow  5
Bank Swallow  1
Barn Swallow  10
Marsh Wren  3
Gray Catbird  1    Heard
Northern Mockingbird  1
Cedar Waxwing  2
Common Yellowthroat  4
Field Sparrow  1    Heard
Seaside Sparrow  4
Song Sparrow  2
Northern Cardinal  1    End of upland trail, by COHA
Blue Grosbeak  1    Dogleg
Indigo Bunting  1    South dike, on phragmites
Red-winged Blackbird  25
Boat-tailed Grackle  2
American Goldfinch  1    Heard

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Bird A Day--The Streak is Over

This has been an interesting experiment in OCD--Ornithological Compulsive Disorder. The streak ended yesterday at Brigantine with 201 days in a row logging a unique species. I went to Colliers Mills this morning in the hope of finding a pheasant or a bobwhite to stay in the game a little while longer, but I wasn't able to come out with one.

I could have continued the streak at least to the end of this month until personal matters will get in the way, but it would have required more driving than I feel like doing. For instance: I could have driven back down to Brig today--if I had, I probably would have seen a Reeve (a female Ruff) and would have been quite excited about it Bird A Day or not. Just yesterday, on the trip with Scott and Pete, we were talking about the possibility of one showing up (one already has, a male, for one day this summer) and today Pete and Mike Mandracchia found 2 (two!) Reeves. Between Atlantic and Cape May Counties I could have kept the streak alive, but that's a lot of driving just to find a bird.

To a large degree, I'm relieved that I don't have desperately look for a new bird tomorrow. It was fun to get birds on my normal birding rounds, but when, in the last month or so, I found myself going to specific places to get specific birds, the whole "game" started to feel more like an obligation, a job, and I like being retired.

The positive aspect of the challenge is that it did make me a better birder by making me match up habitat and date with desired species, as well as just the practice I got, especially ear birding. I think my observation skills, while still far from what I'd like them to be, have move up a notch or two.

Now I can get back to my regularly scheduled obsessions, like building up my Ocean County year and life list: I've already broken my 2012 record of 182 species, and I'm tied for the #4 spot on the county all time list. But also, I can just go out, walk around, look for birds and enjoy finding what I find. I'd noticed that I was rushing through a place until a found a unique species--only after I'd bagged one could I relax.

Will I take the challenge next year? I don't think so, for the same reason I'll probably never do a big year: while I enjoy birding more than just about anything, there are some mornings when I just don't feel like going out and there are remote places in the state that sometimes I just don't feel like driving to.

To see a complete list of my 201 days of Bird A Day, click the the link in the sidebar.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Meta-Memory Loss

I just remembered
While brushing my teeth
That yesterday I couldn't
Remember  someone’s name
But I can't remember
Whose name I couldn't
Remember and I can't even
Remember if it was a dream
That I couldn't remember
Someone’s name
Or something else. 

Brigantine 7/20--Stilt Sandpiper

Group at Gull Pond
Photo: Shari Zirlin (from tower)
We went to Brig this morning to take a couple of turns around the Wildlife Drive with Birders Supreme, Scott Barnes & Pete Bacinski. It is hot as hell, but to shorebirds, this is already fall and southerly migration has begun. Huge numbers of Short-billed Dowtitchers (and a couple of candidates for Long-billed) and Semipalmated Sandpipers were all along the drive. A couple of Whimbrels in the marsh were a treat--they're already on their long journey to South America from the Arctic.

But it was the FOY Stilt Sandpipers we saw on the North Dike that were the highlight of the day for me (as well as what may turn out to be the final Bird A Day entry). The lesson there was to look carefully, as I always have to remind myself. Had we been going around by ourselves I would probably have dismissed the birds as more Lesser Yellowlegs (which we also saw), without looking closely to see the differences in structure, bill, and, what is usually the big tip off to me, feeding behavior. Because as soon as Scott pointed out the Stilts, I saw that as they fed they stick their rears high up in the air, whereas Lesser Yellowlegs, with slightly longer bills, can reach the water just be dipping down their heads.

The other cool lesson I got today was a good way to distinguish Lesser & Greater Yellowlegs by behavior: Greater Yellowlegs (along with American Avocets) are the only shorebirds that eat fish, so if you see a yellowlegs swishing its bill through the water (as avocets also do) you can be pretty confident you've got a greater.

For the 2 trips around the drive we came up with 49 species but a few other taxa:
Canada Goose  500
Mute Swan  6
Mallard  1
American Black Duck/Mallard  2
Double-crested Cormorant  17
Great Blue Heron  2
Great Egret  50
Snowy Egret  25
Little Blue Heron  3
Tricolored Heron  1
Black-crowned Night-Heron  1
Glossy Ibis  45
Osprey  10
Clapper Rail  1    Heard
Black-bellied Plover  2
Semipalmated Plover  2
American Oystercatcher  8
Greater Yellowlegs  2
Willet  10
Willet (Western)  3
Lesser Yellowlegs  15
Whimbrel  2
Semipalmated Sandpiper  1000
Least Sandpiper  4
Dunlin  1
Stilt Sandpiper  10
Short-billed Dowitcher  1000
Short-billed/Long-billed Dowitcher  1
Laughing Gull  50
Herring Gull  25
Great Black-backed Gull  5
Gull-billed Tern  2
Caspian Tern  2
Forster's Tern  50
Black Skimmer  5
Mourning Dove  2
Peregrine Falcon  1
Eastern Kingbird  1
Blue Jay  1    Heard
crow sp.  3
Purple Martin  15
Tree Swallow  20
Bank Swallow  2
Barn Swallow  10
Carolina Wren  1    Heard
Gray Catbird  2
European Starling  20
Chipping Sparrow  1    Heard
Seaside Sparrow  3
Song Sparrow  1
Blue Grosbeak  1
Red-winged Blackbird  75
American Goldfinch  3    Heard