Sunday, August 25, 2013

Bombay Hook 8/25--American Golden Plover

American Golden Plover
After spending Saturday at various Prime Hook locations as well as the DuPont Nature Center and Little Creek, we returned to Bombay Hook today and found a few more goodies.

Shari impressed me mightily today picking out these 2 American Golden Plovers, birds that can difficult to identify, but she made her case pretty persuasively, her main points focusing on the facial pattern, the white supercilium, and the darkish cap. These plovers are in the middle of their molt, but others saw them, so we're confident in the i.d. They are not an especially rare bird at Bombay Hook and this is the time of the year they start migrating along the east coast.

We found one Hudsonian Godwit in the Shearness Pool and were pretty happy with seeing that one, but later, on our 2nd trip to the Raymond Pool, someone pointed out not only another Hudsonian but a Marbled Godwit as well, standing practically next to each other, the Marbled a giant compared to the Hudsonian and the Hudsonian itself looming over the dowitchers.

The one rarity we found this weekend is a "time" rarity--a Tundra Swan in the Raymond Pool. Speculation is that this bird is (or was) injured and thus unable to migrate. It did spend the time we watched it waddling around in shallow water instead of swimming, but that could just because the water in the pools is pretty low to accommodate the shorebirds--it isn't wise to anthropomorphize.

Is this a Marsh Wren?
Photo: Shari Zirlin
Today's highlights included a couple of male Blue Grosbeaks, a trio of Bobolinks in winter plumage--still a startling bird, like a large golden sparrow--at least one Marsh Wren and another bird that acted like a Marsh Wren but sure didn't look like one, and a Pectoral Sandpiper skulking behind a flock of Glossy Ibises.

Before we went into the NWR proper, we stopped along Smyrna-Leipsic Road to scan the potato fields for plovers, larks, sandpipers. Another birder at the side of the road said he just had 2 Baird's Sandpipers, one of those birds I always say that I have to stand on top of before I'll i.d., but the farmer was actually working his field, and while one of the birds that flew away from the tractor was supposedly the Baird's, there was no way I could say for sure that I'd seen one. Another case of "Ooh, you just missed it!"  We stayed and looked for about 20 minutes, but only came up with Killdeer, Tree Swallows, and a lone Horned Lark.

Besides those birds, we had 53 species at Bombay Hook today:
Canada Goose  40
Tundra Swan  1    Raymond Pool
Mallard  45
Blue-winged Teal  4
Double-crested Cormorant  15
Great Blue Heron  30
Great Egret  70
Snowy Egret  50
Little Blue Heron  4    one in Finis Pool, 3 in pool on road to Allee House
Glossy Ibis  40
Turkey Vulture  1
Osprey  2
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Clapper Rail  2    Heard
Black-bellied Plover  2
American Golden-Plover  2    Raymond Pool
Semipalmated Plover  10
American Avocet  250
Greater Yellowlegs  35
Lesser Yellowlegs 
Hudsonian Godwit  2    One in Raymond, one Shearness
Marbled Godwit  1
Semipalmated Sandpiper  200
Pectoral Sandpiper  1
Short-billed Dowitcher  100
Long-billed Dowitcher  4
Laughing Gull  4
Herring Gull  5
Caspian Tern  5
Forster's Tern  10
Mourning Dove  15
Black-billed Cuckoo  1    Heard, pool on road to Allee House
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  4
Downy Woodpecker  1
Eastern Wood-Pewee  4
Eastern Phoebe  1    Visitor's Ctr
Great Crested Flycatcher  2
Eastern Kingbird  6
Red-eyed Vireo  1    Heard Finis Pool
Blue Jay  1    Heard, road to Finis Pool
Barn Swallow  5    Wires on Whitehall Neck Road
Tufted Titmouse  1    Heard, Finis Pool
Marsh Wren  2    One @ Raymond, one @ Shearness
Carolina Wren  3    Heard
American Robin  1    Entrance
Gray Catbird  2
Northern Mockingbird  4
European Starling  2    Entrance
Field Sparrow  1    Heard, Visitor's Ctr
Blue Grosbeak  2    One near Visitor's Ctr, one @ Raymond Pool
Bobolink  3    Raymond Pool
Red-winged Blackbird  10
American Goldfinch  15

The other great bird we missed was on Saturday. A King Eider had been reported for a week or so at the DuPont Nature Center on Delaware Bay, but by the time we got down there it hadn't been seen since Friday morning. A King Eider is a rarity anytime; in summer really rare.  We did pick up some favorite birds on Saturday, including Shari's requisite American Oystercatchers at both DuPond and at Fowler Beach. The most perplexing miss of the weekend was that we saw no night-herons--black-crowned, yellow-crowned, any-crowned. No night-herons. For some reason they have been scarce this summer, especially the yellow-crowned variety.

Our complete Delaware weekend list--81 species:
Species               First Sighting
Canada Goose    Bombay Hook NWR
Tundra Swan    Bombay Hook NWR
Wood Duck    Bombay Hook NWR
Gadwall    Bombay Hook NWR
American Black Duck    Bombay Hook NWR
Mallard    Bombay Hook NWR
Blue-winged Teal    Bombay Hook NWR
Double-crested Cormorant    Bombay Hook NWR
Great Blue Heron    Bombay Hook NWR
Great Egret    Bombay Hook NWR
Snowy Egret    Bombay Hook NWR
Little Blue Heron    Bombay Hook NWR
Glossy Ibis    Bombay Hook NWR
Turkey Vulture    Bombay Hook NWR
Osprey    Prime Hook NWR
Bald Eagle    Prime Hook NWR
Red-tailed Hawk    Bombay Hook NWR
Clapper Rail    Bombay Hook NWR
Black-bellied Plover    Bombay Hook NWR
American Golden-Plover    Bombay Hook NWR
Semipalmated Plover    Bombay Hook NWR
Killdeer    Whitehall Crossroads - Leipsic
American Oystercatcher    Fowler Beach Rd
American Avocet    Bombay Hook NWR
Spotted Sandpiper    DuPont Nature Center
Solitary Sandpiper    Prime Hook NWR--Broadkill Marsh
Greater Yellowlegs    Bombay Hook NWR
Lesser Yellowlegs    Bombay Hook NWR
Hudsonian Godwit    Bombay Hook NWR
Marbled Godwit    Bombay Hook NWR
Ruddy Turnstone    Fowler Beach Rd
Sanderling    Fowler Beach Rd
Semipalmated Sandpiper    Bombay Hook NWR
Pectoral Sandpiper    Bombay Hook NWR
Short-billed Dowitcher    Bombay Hook NWR
Long-billed Dowitcher    Bombay Hook NWR
Laughing Gull    Bombay Hook NWR
Ring-billed Gull    Bombay Hook NWR
Herring Gull    Fowler Beach Rd
Great Black-backed Gull    Fowler Beach Rd
Caspian Tern    Bombay Hook NWR
Common Tern    DuPont Nature Center
Forster's Tern    Bombay Hook NWR
Royal Tern    Fowler Beach Rd
Mourning Dove    Bombay Hook NWR
Black-billed Cuckoo    Bombay Hook NWR
Chimney Swift    Dover
Ruby-throated Hummingbird    Bombay Hook NWR
Belted Kingfisher    Prime Hook NWR
Downy Woodpecker    Bombay Hook NWR
Peregrine Falcon    Bombay Hook NWR
Eastern Wood-Pewee    Bombay Hook NWR
Eastern Phoebe    Bombay Hook NWR
Great Crested Flycatcher    Bombay Hook NWR
Eastern Kingbird    Bombay Hook NWR
Red-eyed Vireo    Bombay Hook NWR
Blue Jay    Little Creek Wildlife Area
American Crow    Prime Hook NWR
Horned Lark    Whitehall Crossroads - Leipsic
Purple Martin    Prime Hook NWR
Tree Swallow    Bombay Hook NWR
Barn Swallow    Bombay Hook NWR
Carolina Chickadee    Prime Hook NWR
Tufted Titmouse    Bombay Hook NWR
House Wren    Prime Hook NWR
Marsh Wren    Bombay Hook NWR
Carolina Wren    Bombay Hook NWR
American Robin    Bombay Hook NWR
Gray Catbird    Bombay Hook NWR
Northern Mockingbird    Bombay Hook NWR
European Starling    Bombay Hook NWR
Eastern Towhee    Bombay Hook NWR
Field Sparrow    Bombay Hook NWR
Northern Cardinal    Bombay Hook NWR
Blue Grosbeak    Bombay Hook NWR
Indigo Bunting    Bombay Hook NWR
Bobolink    Bombay Hook NWR
Red-winged Blackbird    Bombay Hook NWR
Brown-headed Cowbird    Prime Hook NWR
American Goldfinch    Bombay Hook NWR
House Sparrow    Bombay Hook NWR

Bombay Hook 8/23--Hudsonian Godwit

A small portion of the American Avocets at Bombay Hook
We spent the weekend in Delaware, mostly for the shorebirds. If you want to see American Avocets, this is the place to go.  Even though Bombay Hook is virtually on the same latitude at Brigantine, if one or two avocets make it across the bay to Brig it is a very big deal, while at Bombay Hook, seeing 200, 300, or 400 avocets is commonplace. Black-necked Stilts are also usually reliable down there too, but not this weekend. That was a little disappointing--I'll have to make do with the stilt I saw in the spring at Manahawkin.

Our year bird on Friday we found fairly quickly in Raymond Pool, the first big impoundment on the auto route--two Hudsonian Godwits. Not the fifty that flew behind us last week at Brig, but as I always say, I only have to see one. Naturally, the picture I digiscoped is not very satisfactory. As soon as I got my camera they decided to rest and tucked their bills in.
Godwits (top center) avocets, dowitchers, Caspian Terns
Other nice finds Friday were about 25 Wood Ducks in the Bear Swamp Pool (the joke is usually no bear, no swamp, no pool, but the water was pretty high this time), a Peregrine Falcon stirring up the thousands of shorebirds, a couple of female Blue Grosbeaks and an Indigo Bunting at the visitor's center while we were eating lunch.
We managed 50 species for one go-round, starting around noon.
Canada Goose  40
Wood Duck  25
Gadwall  1
American Black Duck  10
Mallard  35
Blue-winged Teal  1
Double-crested Cormorant  10
Great Blue Heron  10
Great Egret  20
Snowy Egret  25
Little Blue Heron  2
Glossy Ibis  8
Turkey Vulture  2
Clapper Rail  1    Heard
Black-bellied Plover  25
Semipalmated Plover  10
American Avocet  300
Greater Yellowlegs  10
Lesser Yellowlegs
Hudsonian Godwit  2
Semipalmated Sandpiper  3000
Short-billed Dowitcher  500
Long-billed Dowitcher  1
Laughing Gull  4
Ring-billed Gull  1
Caspian Tern  15
Forster's Tern  2
Mourning Dove  5
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  1    Visitor ctr
Peregrine Falcon  1
Eastern Wood-Pewee  3
Eastern Phoebe  1
Eastern Kingbird  6
Red-eyed Vireo  1    Heard
Tree Swallow  7
Barn Swallow  1
Tufted Titmouse  1    Heard Finis Pool
Carolina Wren  2    Heard
American Robin  1
Gray Catbird  5
Northern Mockingbird  3
European Starling  1
Eastern Towhee  1    Heard
Field Sparrow  1    Heard
Northern Cardinal  2
Blue Grosbeak  2
Indigo Bunting  1    Visitor ctr
Red-winged Blackbird  3    Raymond pool
American Goldfinch  16
House Sparrow  1

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Brigantine 8/17--Cattle Egret, Red Knot

We returned to Brigantine today for what has become our almost weekly field trip with NJ Audubon. If you want to see great birds, learn something about identifying the tricky ones, and have lots of good company while you sort through thousands of shorebirds, there's no better way than to go out with Pete, Scott, Linda, Mike, and Lloyd along with all the other great "amateurs" who come along.

We hadn't even left the parking lot before we saw our first great bird of the day--a Cattle Egret loping along the road next to the Visitor's Center. Someone mentioned that it walked like Groucho Marx--hadn't thought of that connection, but this image by Shari backs up that observation pretty well, I think.
Photos: Shari Zirlin
A few minutes, later with the caravan more or less organized, we drove down the road to the Gull Pond tower, where we encountered our 2nd cool bird of the day, Blue Grosbeak. However, along this road, one of the disadvantages of a long caravan reared up (literally) when Scott, at the back of the line heard a Dickcissel. He and Linda and others couldn't find the bird and we in the front were unaware of their search until they showed up 10 minutes later. An even more spectacular miss occurred on our 2nd trip around the dikes when a flock of 50 Hudsonian Godwits split the caravan, flying over it to the delight of those in cars toward the back, while those of us in front were oblivious to the show in the rear. 50 Hudwits! I haven't seen 50 Hudwits in the aggregate, never mind in one flock. However, we found this out while we were all looking at a huge flock of Red Knots, that terribly endangered species that was stopping over on their return flight from the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego.  In the Spring these birds stop over on Delaware Bayshore in the thousands to gorge on Horseshoe Crab eggs, but find them in the dozens in late summer at Brig is very unusual.

A personal, disconcerting miss for us was American Oystercatcher. A few people saw them but somehow we managed to overlook them. Oystercatcher is usually a "gimme" at Brig--not finding Shari's favorite was a little disappointing.

However, not to dwell on the negative, At the same stop on the north dike where we had the knots, a call went up the line that a Wilson's Phalarope had been spotted, so we all trotted back down the road where Scott pointed out the one bird acting craziest, running left and right while leaning down and looking like it was trying to imitate a Northern Shoveler. The bird moved around so fast and erratically that it was difficult to keep in the scope, and a couple of Greater Yellowlegs in the vicinity added to the confusion as they were hopping around almost as frantically as the phalarope, but eventually, everyone who wanted to see this rarity got a chance to view it. I thought it was a year bird for us, but checking the records I see we had one in Heislerville in May on an earlier trip with Pete.

We also had a beautiful close-up look at a Pectoral Sandpiper, great for locking in the salient field marks, and some decent looks at distant Western Sandpipers, birds that I wouldn't call with any confidence on my own. Also, happily, at least one very obvious Long-billed Dowitcher among the hundreds of short-bills.

In all the group tallied 102 species. I saw/heard 70 and Shari had a couple of more, like Bald Eagle and Marsh Wren. And the greenhead flies were only mildly annoying.
Canada Goose  200
Mute Swan  4
American Black Duck  20
Mallard  10
Blue-winged Teal  7
Green-winged Teal  5
Double-crested Cormorant  10
Great Blue Heron  3
Great Egret  75
Snowy Egret  25
Little Blue Heron  3
Cattle Egret  1
Black-crowned Night-Heron  1    f/o Visitor's Ctr
Glossy Ibis  18
Black Vulture  1
Turkey Vulture  1
Osprey  10
Cooper's Hawk  1    Upland portion of drive
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Clapper Rail  1
Black-bellied Plover  50
Semipalmated Plover  100
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Greater Yellowlegs  20
Lesser Yellowlegs 
Whimbrel  2
Ruddy Turnstone  3
Red Knot  40
Semipalmated Sandpiper  2000
Western Sandpiper  2
Least Sandpiper  1
White-rumped Sandpiper  1
Pectoral Sandpiper  1
Dunlin  1
Short-billed Dowitcher  200
Long-billed Dowitcher  1
Wilson's Phalarope  1    North dike.
Laughing Gull  200
Ring-billed Gull  2
Herring Gull  100
Great Black-backed Gull  2
Least Tern  1
Gull-billed Tern  1
Caspian Tern  3
Forster's Tern  50
Black Skimmer  25
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  3
Peregrine Falcon  2
Great Crested Flycatcher  1    Heard, upland portion of drive
Blue Jay  1    Heard
American Crow  1    Heard
Fish Crow  1    Heard
crow sp.  2
Purple Martin  1
Tree Swallow  50
Bank Swallow  1
Barn Swallow  10
Carolina Wren  2    Heard
Cedar Waxwing  3
Common Yellowthroat  2
American Redstart  1    Picnic tables
Pine Warbler  1
Chipping Sparrow  2    Picnic tables
Field Sparrow  1    Heard, upland portion of trail
Song Sparrow  1
Northern Cardinal  1    Visitor's Ctr
Blue Grosbeak  1    Road to Gull Pond
Red-winged Blackbird  100
Boat-tailed Grackle  1
American Goldfinch  2
House Sparrow  1

Monday, August 12, 2013

Whitesbog 8/12--Scissor-tailed Flycatcher Continues

I wanted by my friend from Brooklyn, Peter, to see the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher that has stayed at Whitesbog much longer than anyone would have predicted. Peter was camping down at Bass River, so I got to Whitesbog before him, walked out to the bog that it has been frequenting the most and found the bird pretty quickly, even before I reached the little knot of birders who were already on it. Great, but Peter wouldn't be there for another half hour at least. So, I told Jeff and James to keep the bird there, while I went back to the parking lot to wait for Peter. When Peter arrived, a little bleary from staying up half the night to watch the meteor showers, we drove back to the bog and sure enough, Jeff and James had kept the bird there. Ironically, it had taken James 5 days of trying to find the bird. Peter: 5 seconds. That's birding.

Then Peter and I took a walk around the drained bogs--Whitesbog right now is like a min-Brig when it comes to shorebirds. I probably primed Peter by telling him to keep a look out for a Baird's Sandpiper. This species has been reported on and off the last couple of weeks, but only one record has been validated by eBird. I've seen two in my life, and both times I was practically standing on top of the bird at the East Pond at JBWR. It is not a bird I'd have a lot of confidence in identifying. Peter is a very good birder with a lot more time in the field than me. Peter found a largish bird and went through a mental checklist and was fairly certain he had found "the" Baird's. I took some lousy digiscoped photos.

(I told you they were lousy.) I have to say, that looking at these photos and comparing them to my memory of the bird Peter and I were looking at, that this isn't the bird we were looking at, which only goes to show the frailty of memory. After posting this on line a number of other birders all concurred that this is, alas, a Pectoral Sandpiper--which is still a rare bird for Burlington County, though I've been seeing them at Whitesbog the last couple of weeks. So at least those sightings are confirmed. The bird was pretty far out and the lighting wasn't ideal (it rarely is). This bird's "vest" just didn't seem to go down far enough on the breast for a Pectoral.  Baird's is a notoriously difficult sandpiper to identify. We gave it a shot, but the bird isn't the rarity we wanted.

The other oddity today was the number of Solitary Sandpipers that were on the mud flats. They're supposed to be Solitary Sandpipers.

I gave directions to quite a few birders who were looking for the Scissor-tail--Whitesbog doesn't exactly have road signs and the bog numbering system is not obvious. As we were leaving, two soldiers in a pickup truck stopped and asked us if we knew where "Bivouac Charlie" was located. I had to tell them that they weren't even on Fort Dix. But if they wanted to see a really interesting bird....

List for the day, sans Baird's:
26 species
Canada Goose  5
Mallard  10
Great Blue Heron  1
Great Egret  4
Turkey Vulture  5
Semipalmated Plover  10
Killdeer  3
Spotted Sandpiper  2
Solitary Sandpiper  6
Greater Yellowlegs  10
Lesser Yellowlegs 
Semipalmated Sandpiper  10
Least Sandpiper  5
Pectoral Sandpiper  2    
Laughing Gull  2
Gull-billed Tern  12   The numbers of Gull-bill Terns have been building here for the past 2 weeks.
Mourning Dove  2
Eastern Phoebe  1    Heard
Eastern Kingbird  3
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher  1    Flying from sprinkler head to dike to sprinkler head.
American Crow  5
Fish Crow  3
Tree Swallow  10
Barn Swallow  5
Gray Catbird  2    Heard
Song Sparrow  2    Heard

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Whitesbog 8/4--Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

A post-ablation celebration! Today was the first day Shari & I felt comfortable going birding, so after seeing that there were a lot shorebirds reported at Whitesbog, we decided to take a quick spin around the bog. I'd been there yesterday and saw a few shorebirds so I knew the habitat was improving for them.  And while we didn't find as many species as I'd hoped, it was still pretty good birding. There were a couple of candidates for Western Sandpiper and we were looking for a Pectoral, but the light was harsh, and in the scope the peeps seem to resolve to just Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers.

I also wanted Shari to see the huge pitcher plant a guy I know there pointed out to me yesterday. This is a southern variety, he told me, that Ms White, who was the co-creator of the modern high-bush blueberry, probably transplanted from a pine barren down south. It is in the garden next to her house. Our native pitcher plants have all pretty much "gone by" so I didn't know how long this one was going to last and I wanted to be sure Shari saw this beauty.

 However, the big excitement occurred as we were leaving. As I was driving out on Whitesbog Road, I saw the proverbial bird on the wire. "That's not a dove," I said and Shari immediately called out "Scissor-tailed Flycatcher!" This is a rare bird for New Jersey (only a few a year are reported) and, from what I can tell, the first one ever reported in Burlington County--or at least as far back as eBird's records go, which is 1950.  Too bad it wasn't in my home county of Ocean.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Photos: Shari Zirlin
For the record, here's our list:
Canada Goose  7
Mallard  20
Wild Turkey  6    
Great Blue Heron  1
Great Egret  2
Turkey Vulture  10
Killdeer  2
Greater Yellowlegs  1
Lesser Yellowlegs
Semipalmated Sandpiper  20
Least Sandpiper  10
Gull-billed Tern  2
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher  1  

Friday, August 2, 2013

Colliers Mills WMA 8/2--Northern Bobwhite

Where were they when I needed them a couple of weeks ago when I was trying to keep my Bird A Day streak going? Northern Bobwhites have been reported sporadically at Colliers Mills, but until today I hadn't seen any. I thought they might be in some distant fields, so I've spent quite a bit of time tromping around remote areas of the WMA looking for them or pheasants. Colliers Mills is a big place. So today, ironically, when 5 bobwhites came out of the bushes and walked along the road, it was by the lake, about 5 minutes away from where I parked the car.

Since the state stocks quail for hunters in places like Colliers Mills and Assunpink, I have been a little leery about whether the birds would be countable. However, breeding birds are countable, and since this appeared to be a family group, 4 juveniles following an adult, I have no qualms about counting and listing them.

At the same time that the  bobwhite scurried onto the road I heard a Yellow-billed Cuckoo call from a large tree behind me. I was more intent on the bobwhites and didn't spend any time looking for the cuckoo.

Power line cut looking east
I walked very far back in the WMA today, well past the power line cut, past the overgrown pond where I sometimes see Wood Ducks (but not today) until the road curved around. Since there are no maps of the WMA, I didn't know if it would take me, eventually, in a full circle, so I walked until it seemed like there were no more interesting birds to be found then retraced my steps. Birds along that road were a Pine Warbler, a couple of Red-bellied Woodpeckers, a Northern Flicker, a Field Sparrow, plus a couple of Chipping Sparrows, which for some reason seemed out of place so deep in the woods.

What bird can do this? 
I've noticed a utility pole along the power line cut that is full of woodpecker holes, but until today I hadn't really looked at it. The holes are so deep and so numerous, that I can't figure out what kind of woodpecker would make them. Red-headed Woodpeckers, my first guess, don't really drill into trees, according to some quick research, and there aren't many Pileated Woodpeckers around the area. I can't believe little Downy Woodpeckers or even their larger cousins Hairy Woodpeckers could do so much damage. That pretty much leaves Red-bellies--again, they don't seem to do that kind of drilling. So maybe it isn't woodpeckers. It's a quandary.

For the 4 miles or so I walked I had 32 species.
Northern Bobwhite  5
Great Blue Heron  2
Turkey Vulture  3
Rock Pigeon  1
Mourning Dove  5
Yellow-billed Cuckoo  1    Heard
Belted Kingfisher  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker  3
Downy Woodpecker  1    Heard
Northern Flicker  1
Eastern Wood-Pewee  5    Heard
Eastern Phoebe  1
Great Crested Flycatcher  1
Eastern Kingbird  2
Blue Jay  3
Purple Martin  2
Tree Swallow  100
Barn Swallow  1
Carolina Chickadee  3
Tufted Titmouse  10
White-breasted Nuthatch  2    Heard
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  1
American Robin  10
Gray Catbird  12
European Starling  30
Pine Warbler  1
Eastern Towhee  5
Chipping Sparrow  2
Field Sparrow  1    Heard
Indigo Bunting  1
Common Grackle  2
American Goldfinch  2    Heard