Saturday, November 30, 2013

November Wrap-up--2 Lifers

Red-tailed Hawk, Brigantine

Photo: Shari Zirlin
Thirty days hath November...I almost forgot, what with the holiday festivities and all, that today was the last day of the month. And it was a pretty good month of late autumn birding. We spent a lot of time looking at the ocean for ducks and such and a fair amount of time craning our necks to see raptors. 

I had 2 lifers for the month: the NELSON'S SPARROWS that popped out, finally, at Brigantine early in the month after I had searched all season for them at their most "reliable" spot in Tuckerton and then in the middle of the month 3 PARASITIC JAEGERS I was able to see from shore at Island Beach State Park. 

The big miss for the month, which perhaps we'll rectify tomorrow, was Snowy Owl. There seems to be a virtual invasion of this arctic owl into NJ this month--they've been seen at Sandy Hook, Barnegat Light, National Park, Island Beach, Cape May and Brigantine (where we had no luck on Saturday finding one). I feel like we're the only birders in NJ who haven't seen one. 

Other interesting FOY for the year were the 2 Golden Eagles at Brig and the flock of Snow Buntings we saw at Island Beach. In the "about time" category we had Northern Gannet & White-winged Scoter. Rusty Blackbirds, a seasonal rarity, were pretty easy to find if you walked far enough back in Whitesbog, and the Eurasian Wigeon we saw twice at Brigantine rounded out the FOY list. 

I started keeping data again for Project Feederwatch this month. This gives me something to do on days it is too stinking cold to go out. It also occupies the cat wonderfully. 

For the month we had 121 species, all in NJ. 
Counties Birded: Atlantic, Burlington, Cape May, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean.
Species                   Location
Snow Goose     Brigantine
Brant     Brigantine
Canada Goose     Cape May Point SP
Mute Swan     Cape May Point SP
Tundra Swan     Brigantine
Wood Duck     Whitesbog
Gadwall     Cape May Point SP
Eurasian Wigeon     Brigantine
American Wigeon     Cape May Point SP
American Black Duck     Cattus Island County Park
Mallard     Cape May Point SP
Northern Shoveler     Cape May Point SP
Northern Pintail     Cape May Point SP
Green-winged Teal     Cape May Point SP
Ring-necked Duck     Brigantine
Greater Scaup     Brigantine
Lesser Scaup     Cape May Point SP
Surf Scoter     Island Beach SP
White-winged Scoter     Avalon--8th St. Jetty
Black Scoter     Avalon--8th St. Jetty
Long-tailed Duck     Island Beach SP
Bufflehead     Cattus Island County Park
Hooded Merganser     Crestwood Village
Red-breasted Merganser     Island Beach SP
Ruddy Duck     Cape May Point SP
Wild Turkey     35 Sunset Rd
Red-throated Loon     Island Beach SP
Common Loon     IBSP--Beach
Pied-billed Grebe     Cape May Point SP
Horned Grebe     Brigantine
Northern Gannet     Avalon Seawatch
Double-crested Cormorant     35 Sunset Rd
Brown Pelican     Island Beach SP
Great Blue Heron     Whitesbog
Great Egret     Wetlands Institute
Snowy Egret     Wetlands Institute
Little Blue Heron     Wetlands Institute
Black-crowned Night-Heron     Brigantine
Black Vulture     Crestwood Village
Turkey Vulture     35 Sunset Rd
Golden Eagle     Brigantine
Northern Harrier     Whitesbog
Sharp-shinned Hawk     Cape May Point SP
Cooper's Hawk     35 Sunset Rd
Bald Eagle     Brigantine
Red-shouldered Hawk     Brigantine
Red-tailed Hawk     Brigantine
American Coot     Cape May Point SP
Black-bellied Plover     Island Beach SP
Killdeer     Whitesbog
Greater Yellowlegs     Whitesbog
Ruddy Turnstone     Avalon Seawatch
Red Knot     Island Beach SP
Sanderling     Avalon Seawatch
Dunlin     Island Beach SP
Purple Sandpiper     Avalon Seawatch
Pectoral Sandpiper     Whitesbog
Western Sandpiper     Brigantine
Wilson's Snipe     Whitesbog
Bonaparte's Gull     Island Beach SP
Laughing Gull     Island Beach SP
Ring-billed Gull     Atlantic City Service Area
Herring Gull     Atlantic City Service Area
Great Black-backed Gull     Cape May Point SP
Forster's Tern     Island Beach SP
Rock Pigeon     Atlantic City Service Area
Mourning Dove     Crestwood Village
Belted Kingfisher     Cattus Island County Park
Red-headed Woodpecker     Oros Preserve
Red-bellied Woodpecker     Cattus Island County Park
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker     Crestwood Village
Downy Woodpecker     Crestwood Village
Hairy Woodpecker     Double Trouble State Park
Northern Flicker     Island Beach SP
Peregrine Falcon     Brigantine
Blue Jay     Crestwood Village
American Crow     Crestwood Village
Tree Swallow     Cape May
Carolina Chickadee     Crestwood Village
Tufted Titmouse     35 Sunset Rd
White-breasted Nuthatch     35 Sunset Rd
Brown Creeper     Crestwood Village
Winter Wren     Cattus Island County Park
Marsh Wren     Cattus Island County Park
Carolina Wren     Crestwood Village
Golden-crowned Kinglet     Cattus Island County Park
Ruby-crowned Kinglet     Whitesbog
Eastern Bluebird     Crestwood Village
Hermit Thrush     Cattus Island County Park
American Robin     Crestwood Village
Gray Catbird     Cape May Point SP
Northern Mockingbird     Wetlands Institute
European Starling     Atlantic City Service Area
American Pipit     Reed's Sod Farm
Snow Bunting     Island Beach SP
Palm Warbler     Wetlands Institute
Pine Warbler     Whiting WMA
Yellow-rumped Warbler     Wetlands Institute
Eastern Towhee     Whitesbog
American Tree Sparrow     Double Trouble State Park
Chipping Sparrow     35 Sunset Rd
Field Sparrow     Cattus Island County Park
Savannah Sparrow     Brigantine
NELSON'S SPARROW     Brigantine
Saltmarsh Sparrow     Brigantine
Seaside Sparrow     Brigantine
Fox Sparrow     Whitesbog
Song Sparrow     Wetlands Institute
Swamp Sparrow     Whitesbog
White-throated Sparrow     Crestwood Village
White-crowned Sparrow     Wetlands Institute
Dark-eyed Junco     35 Sunset Rd
Northern Cardinal     35 Sunset Rd
Red-winged Blackbird     Cattus Island County Park
Rusty Blackbird     Oros Preserve
Common Grackle     Cattus Island County Park
Boat-tailed Grackle     Brigantine
House Finch     Crestwood Village
American Goldfinch     Crestwood Village
House Sparrow     Atlantic City Service Area

Friday, November 29, 2013

Colliers Mills WMA 11/29--Ring-Necked Pheasants: Can't Count 'em

Looking for someplace different to walk today I grabbed my hunter-orange vest and traipsed around Colliers Mills this morning. Immediately after getting out of the car I heard "kok-kok" to my left and saw a bird's green face. My first thought was Wood Duck. But then I saw that they were Ring-necked Pheasants.  Nice to look at, but I can't count them in a WMA during pheasant hunting season.
These were pretty smart pheasants, I think, since they were hanging around the game refuge section of the WMA--no hunting permitted.
They weren't taking any chances either as they took off for the underbrush as soon as they spotted me a hundred or more feet away.

I came across more of them in the field near Turnmill Pond. A couple of guys in full camo, including painted faces, stopped their pick up truck to ask me if hunting was allowed on that pond. "Why, do you want to shoot the pheasants?" I asked.

"No, there are ducks out there."

I don't know the hunting regulations (and it is my opinion that if you don't know the hunting rules, you shouldn't be hunting), but I asked where they'd seen the ducks. "I'm not a game warden, so..." I shrugged my shoulders. "But let me see the ducks before you shoot 'em."

The ducks turned out to be 6 Ring-necked Ducks. Good to have them back in Ocean County. I have a sentimental attachment to Ring-necks because they were the first interesting ducks I saw on the pond in the Whiting WMA when we moved here a couple of years ago. Whether they're dead ducks now, I don't know.

Nothing else really unusual  on my walk--I was constrained in my wandering by gunfire--but I did see one Black Vulture swooping low over a field.

Before I went to Colliers Mills I made a quick stop at the cattle farm in New Egypt. Sandhill Cranes have returned to Somerset County and I wanted to see if they'd also returned to the field where they were pretty reliable earlier this year. Not yet. Nothing in the fields to see except Texas Longhorns and some crows.

The birds at Colliers Mills that I could count:
20 species
Canada Goose  15    f/o. More heard
Ring-necked Duck  6    Turnmill Pond
Black Vulture  1
Turkey Vulture  2
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Rock Pigeon  3
Belted Kingfisher  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker  3
Blue Jay  1
Tufted Titmouse  1    Heard
White-breasted Nuthatch  1    Heard
Carolina Wren  1    Heard
Golden-crowned Kinglet  3
European Starling  10
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1
Song Sparrow  3
White-throated Sparrow  2    Heard
Dark-eyed Junco  4
Northern Cardinal  1    Near parking area
American Goldfinch  5

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Why I'll Probably Never Do a "Big Year"

I never thought I'd say this: I'm not obsessive enough. Yesterday, while we were at Brig, two cool birds were reported in this area--the Northern Shrike we looked for at Whitesbog last week, which was refound in the last couple of days, moving over the line into Ocean County; and a Snowy Owl on the beach at Barnegat Light SP. Neither would be lifers, one of the reasons I didn't feel compelled to run up to Sandy Hook to look for the two SNOW up there. Both would be Ocean County lifers, though and since two of my current (apparently not overwhelming) obsessions are my county year and life lists, I should be out there chasing one or ideally both birds at either end of the county.


The temperature and the winds are the same: 26. I hate the cold and I hate wind more. Birds don't like the wind either, so the chance of shrike's appearance decreases and the owl at Barnegat would be a long trudge through sand and 40 mph gusts.

Leaves are whipping past my window, the feeders are swinging like pendulums, I'm staying in. If I were ever to consider a "Big Year" the rule would have to be "to see as many birds as I can without making myself utterly miserable."

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Brigantine 11/23--Golden Eagles

Bald (not Golden) Eagles, watching the ducks go by.
Photo: Shari Zirlin
It is uncanny. It seems like every time we go to Brigantine we end up exactly with a "Heinz" 57 varieties list of species. We did it again today on a field trip led by Scott Barnes & Linda Mack.

Brigantine this time of year is great for waterfowl and raptors and that's the bulk of our list. The standout in the duckage category was the continuing Eurasian Wigeon that Scott managed to tease out of a distant American Wigeon flock. Fortunately, there was a good landmark--a road sign on the northern dike--that we could use to locate the bird, though it did take a long time to get on the bird as it wove in and out of its brown-flanked cousins, but once it came out in the open, the reddish head and gray flanks were obvious and diagnostic. I don't know why Sibley says these ducks are "nearly identical." Maybe the juveniles and the hens are, but the drakes seem pretty distinct to me when they're next to one another. As to getting to photos, well, they were way far away.

And speaking of distance--the bird of the day in both the raptor and overall categories was Golden Eagle, two of them in flight over Leeds Point, seen from the north dike. "Eagle-eyed" Scott was able, amazingly to me, to spot these two birds. Oh, to have eye sight like that!

At first, viewing them in the scope, even at high power, they were just distant specks to me and I wasn't going to count them because, even though I was sure Scott and Linda were correct, I couldn't see any field marks that would allow me to say I'd seen a Golden Eagle as opposed to any other distant raptor. But luckily the birds hung around and banked a few times allowing me to see both the white base at the tail and white patches under the wings, distinct field marks not found on other hawks, so I could confidently say I'd seen a couple of juvenile birds. Not that I wouldn't like to see them at a lot closer range, but I'll take the sighting with no guilt.

One trip around the dikes and a walk along the Leeds Eco-trail yielded up 55 species. Afterwards we drove about 10 minutes over to Leeds Point  to look for more raptors and perhaps see the Golden Eagles better. There wasn't much new over there as it was clouding up and getting colder and windier but we did manage to add two birds to bring us up to ketchup--Boat-tailed Grackle and Belted Kingfisher.

Our day list:
Snow Goose  500
Brant  10
Canada Goose  100
Mute Swan  5
Tundra Swan  20
Wood Duck  2    Gull Pond
Gadwall  10
Eurasian Wigeon  1    In the eastern pool
American Wigeon  20
American Black Duck  25
Mallard  100
Northern Shoveler  10
Northern Pintail  20
Green-winged Teal  500
Ring-necked Duck  5
Greater Scaup  1
Bufflehead  50
Hooded Merganser  10
Ruddy Duck  25
Horned Grebe  2
Great Blue Heron  2
Great Egret  3
Black-crowned Night-Heron  2    Eastern Pool
Black Vulture  1
Turkey Vulture  3
Golden Eagle  2    
Northern Harrier  5
Bald Eagle  4
Red-tailed Hawk  1
American Coot  5
Greater Yellowlegs  3
Dunlin  10000
Ring-billed Gull  1
Herring Gull  20
Great Black-backed Gull  5
Mourning Dove  2

Belted Kingfisher  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1    Entrance Pond
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  1
Downy Woodpecker  1    Leeds Eco-trail
Northern Flicker  1    Leeds Eco-trail
Peregrine Falcon  3
Blue Jay  1    Heard
Carolina Chickadee  2    Heard
Carolina Wren  1
Golden-crowned Kinglet  1
American Robin  50
Northern Mockingbird  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler  30
Savannah Sparrow  1
Song Sparrow  1    Heard, Gull Pond
White-throated Sparrow  2    Heard, Leeds Eco-trail
Northern Cardinal  1    Entrance Pond
Red-winged Blackbird  10

Boat-tailed Grackle   6
House Finch  2    Entrance Pond
American Goldfinch  2

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Whitesbog, Ocean County Portion 11/17--Rusty Blackbirds

Officially, Whitesbog is in Burlington County. That's where the village is located and that's where most of the working bogs seem to be and that's where, if you're looking for Tundra Swans in the winter, you'll find them. However, Whitesbog is huge and actually straddles Burlington & Ocean Counties. Go far enough back there and you've crossed over into Ocean County. There's no sign or line in the sand road; rule of thumb: by the time you've reached the dogleg, you're in Ocean.

None of this matters unless you're obsessively/compulsively keeping county bird lists, as I am. So,on the 15th, when I came across a few Rusty Blackbirds and knew I was in Ocean County, I made a new eBird marker at the exact bog where I saw them so I could count them for my Ocean County list.

When I listed them, they turned up as "rare" in my county. Ironically, had I just listed them in Whitesbog, they would not be considered rare. It is one of the quirks of the eBird filters although I like to imagine sometimes that the birds know where the county lines are.

I had barely mediocre digiscoped photos, but they were good enough to confirm the sighting:

Today, we were having lunch in Allentown (Monmouth County), when Shari saw on Jerseybirds that a Northern Shrike had been reported at Whitesbog. It amused me that the reporting birder was very specific that this shrike was in the Burlington County side of the property--a birder after my own heart! We trucked on down there and after a mild traffic jam on the dikes, pulled over and looked around for the bird, to no avail. But we did meet a couple of birders that we'd only known by name--one of them beat me by one bird in the Bird A Day competition. With her we decided to drive farther along the dike into Ocean County. She and Shari wanted to see the Rusties.

Right before the bog in which I'd seen the RUBLs, there is a flooded bog that is listed on my old Whitesbog water control map as an active blueberry field. We stopped here because the other day I'd seen Green-winged Teal and Wilson's Snipe there and sure enough they were still there, along with some Greater Yellowlegs and 6 Dunlins. Dunlins are not commonly found on bogs. They're more of a saltwater bird. Had I listed these birds as in Whitesbog, they would have been flagged as "rare." But here in Ocean County, the sighting is unremarkable. I could list 6 Dunlin in my backyard and eBird's algorithm wouldn't blink.

In my mind there's a hierarchy of "rare:"
Rare for the date--"Well, that's interesting."
Rare for the locality--"Hmm, don't see that too often."
Rare for the area--"Wow, look at that!"
Rare for the country--"Holy smokes, start sending out texts!"

The blackbirds and the Dunlins both fall into the 2nd category. The Northern Shrike is in the 3rd.

Moving along up the road we came to the spot where I'd seen the rusties on Friday and there they were again, 10 that I was able to count as they took flight from a tree. They were moving between the bare trees and the mud of the bog, turning over leaves, looking for bugs or grubs, I suppose. I was able to shoot yet another lousy photo:
We drove around the circuit after that, back into Burlington County. When we on the southern side of the big bogs, we saw a gray bird with white outer tail feather flashing fly across the road. It dove down into what another birder told me was wool grass. We then saw it fly 3 times, each time showing it's white outer tail feathers. It looked to me like it's legs were down, as if it were pouncing on prey. On the 3rd dive into the grass it stayed down. No way for us to be certain that this was the shrike, but I have a pretty good hunch it was. But even if it was, there was no way I could honestly say it was Northern Shrike as opposed to a Loggerhead.

If this shrike is anything like the one that was in Assunpink this winter, it will stick around and frustrate many birders and make a few happy.
Our list for the Ocean County section of Whitesbog:
16 species
Green-winged Teal  1   
Killdeer  5
Greater Yellowlegs  10
Dunlin  6
Wilson's Snipe  4
Belted Kingfisher  1    Heard
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1    Heard
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted)  2
Carolina Chickadee  1    Heard
Tufted Titmouse  1    Heard
Golden-crowned Kinglet  1    Heard
Eastern Bluebird  3
American Robin  3
Rusty Blackbird  10   
American Goldfinch  

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Island Beach SP 11/16--PARASITIC JAEGER, Snow Bunting

A dreary, rainy morning into which, if we hadn't signed up for Scott & Linda's Island Beach field trip I would not have even gone, turned out to be quite an eventful birding day. The rain tapered off to a drizzle by the time we started the trip and there was no wind to speak of. With the overall gray lighting and a smooth ocean to scan, we spent most of our time on the beach. This is something I don't normally have the patience to do. When I was at Island Beach last week, I walked onto the beach, set up the scope, saw a few gannets, saw a few loons, took note of the gulls and left. Today, we spent, altogether, a couple of hours at least scanning the ocean from various points along the beach. There were good numbers of both loons, in flight and on the water, giving good comparison looks, lots of gannets, and large flights of scoters, some looking like black whips snapping in the sky. All 3 scoter species were represented and I was able to get the scope on one flight to see the white wing patches on the White-winged Scoters. The Black Scoters and Surf Scoters could be told apart by their faces if you had a scope on them. I took Scott's & Linda's words for most of them.

5 species of gulls were present in very large numbers--there were a lot of fishermen both on the beach and in boats (Linda thought it looked like a marine parking lot) so the gulls were very interested in the proceedings. With that many gulls Scott & Linda were certain there were jaegers to be found. Jaegers make their living stealing food from other birds. But the first 3 stops along the beach didn't turn up any of the species.

As I've said in the past, you don't see the bird you're looking for until you truly give up. I told Scott we wouldn't find jaegers because I needed it for my life list and I'd never come close, to my knowledge, of finding one. (Shari has seen them on pelagic trips; I'm a land-based birder.) So naturally, 5 minutes after I had confessed as a jaeger jinx, Scott spotted a PARASITIC JAEGER harassing a Laughing Gull. (Guess why they're called "parasitic.") This was a bird that looked pretty much like all the other juvenile gulls on the water except those brownish gulls are not nearly as aggressive and don't fly like falcons. I was okay with the view I got of the jaeger in flight as it headed north, but I'd have like to have seen it better. A few minutes later 2 more appeared as settled down on the water. They looked like two brown birds bobbing in the ocean; even with the scope at 60X power I couldn't see anything to distinguish them from other birds. But eventually they took flight and I was able to see some field marks (brown wings with white highlights, a white collar). Still, it was mostly in how they flew that made the biggest impression on me--they are more like raptors with strong wing-beats then gull that seem to fly effortlessly.

While we were scoping the water looking at the 2 jaegers, Linda called out to look on the beach--a small flock of Snow Buntings were bouncing along in flight at the water's edge. Those were our first buntings of the year and probably the first ones in a couple of years.

Scott and I have a running joke about our eBird county lists--Scott holds the lifetime records for a few counties in NJ including Ocean. Last year, when I accumulated the  most species in Ocean County for 2012, it was only because Scott didn't get down here much toward the end of the year. Sometimes I feel like all Scott has to do is step into Ocean County, look around for a few minutes and he'll be way ahead of my numbers. However, this year I'm doing really well--ironically because I've gone on a few outings with Scott. For instance--I'd never have gotten the jaeger without him, nor would I have added the American Pipit that flew over our heads without him pointing it out. And of course, if he hadn't suggested I check out the cattle farm in New Egypt back in January, we'd never have gotten the Northern Lapwings either. Today I added 5 more species for the year to bring me up 212; two of them, the pipit and the jaeger, are county life birds, putting me at #3. However, since I am a land-based birder, I know I'm never going to catch Scott for the top spot. And that's all right because he's 10 times the birder I am. Let's face it: I lead in Ocean County this year primarily because I'm always here.

My list for the day:
39 Species
American Black Duck  100
Surf Scoter  X
White-winged Scoter  25
Black Scoter  X
Surf/Black Scoter  X
Long-tailed Duck  3    Two flying, one in water
Bufflehead  100
Red-breasted Merganser  6
Red-throated Loon  50
Common Loon  30
Horned Grebe  1
Northern Gannet  50
Double-crested Cormorant  1
Great Blue Heron  7
Northern Harrier  1
Black-bellied Plover  2
Sanderling  25
Dunlin  10
Bonaparte's Gull  10
Laughing Gull  X
Ring-billed Gull  X
Herring Gull  10
Great Black-backed Gull  10
Forster's Tern  2
Northern Flicker  1
Peregrine Falcon  1
Carolina Wren  1    Heard Winter Anchorage
Golden-crowned Kinglet  2    Heard Maintenance yard
Hermit Thrush  1    Heard, Interpretative Ctr
Gray Catbird  3
American Pipit  1    f/o
Snow Bunting  15
Yellow-rumped Warbler  10
Song Sparrow  1
Swamp Sparrow  1    Heard, Winter Anchorage
White-throated Sparrow  20
Dark-eyed Junco  1
Northern Cardinal  1    Interpretative Ctr
House Finch  1    Heard, Interpretative Ctr

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Oros Preserve 11/10--Rusty Blackbird

When I lived in Iselin, NJ during the dark days of my adolescence, my sense of the place was very dim, or so it seems to me now, 45 years later. I had and still have, only the vaguest notions of the geography of the area, where the various towns of Woodbridge Township, of which Iselin is a part, were in relation to each other. I'm wistful now, about the fields that use to be across the street from our house--I didn't care about birds then. I can only imagine the birds I may have missed in those woods--my brother, who was the nature boy of the family, was always out there, but his interest was butterflies and moths. But from what I've seen in the last couple of years around the area, going to a couple of remaining wood lots nearby, I missed a lot.

All this is preamble to our venturing up to Middlesex County today to go to the Oros Preserve in Avenel, about 10 minutes from my mother's house. I don't know the history of this preserve--it is a relatively large wetlands reclamation project. The body of water, according to Google maps, is the Woodbridge Creek, which is the first time I've encountered that name. Right now it is a particularly popular "hot spot" because rare and always sought-after Red-headed Woodpeckers have been easy to find there in the abundant stands of dead trees.
Photos: Shari Zirlin
We found one, possibly two, juveniles. Hard to say if the bird(s) we kept seeing flying around the property were a single bird or a couple.As many as 3 birds have reported there.  It didn't take long to find one. We walked along one trail at random that came out on a small pond where there was a flock of Canada Geese and mixed in, a pair of Hooded Mergansers. Also in the dead tree limbs were many icterids--mostly Common Grackles though two distant birds (I kick myself for not lugging the scope today) brownish, smaller than grackles and obviously not sparrows, turned out to by our FOY Rusty Blackbirds, another rarity for the area. I'm sure some of the other blackbirds flying directly into the low autumn sun were also rusties, but I'm only "calling" two. 

I wish I'd known about this place a couple of years ago when I was essentially living in Iselin during a family health crises, though then it might not have been as well tended as it is now with mowed paths between the reeds. A dog walker warned me about keeping away from one side of the refuge because some homeless people were living there, so the area may have been a little sketchier back then. 

If you're wondering why the Red-headed Woodpeckers aren't red-headed it's because they don't attain their eponymous heads until adulthood. The juveniles are compositions in gray, black & white. 
 Our little list for a half hour's walk. Afterwards, we took my mother out to lunch to at an Indian restaurant on Oak Tree Road--the first time in her 86 years that she ever had Indian food. She liked it.
11 species
Canada Goose  85
Hooded Merganser  2
Herring Gull  1
Mourning Dove  1
Red-headed Woodpecker 
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1    Heard
Downy Woodpecker  1
Blue Jay  1    Heard
European Starling  20
Rusty Blackbird  2    
Common Grackle  10

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Brigantine 11/9--Eurasian Wigeon, NELSON'S SPARROW

We took our somewhat monthly NJ Audubon field trip today with Pete Bacinski & Mike Mandracchia--last month's trip was wiped out by the government shutdown, thank you Tea Party.

I was prepared for cold conditions; as it turned out, I didn't even wear gloves today. No wind made viewing the thousands of ducks relatively easy--no frozen tears to deal with. After getting off to a roaring start at the Gull Pond--many ducks, an eagle, harriers--our little caravan was called over at the start of the Wildlife Drive by a birder Pete knew. He had a species of sparrow that I've been looking for all autumn, fruitlessly, down at Tuckerton--NELSON'S SPARROW. I've been searching for it so hard the last couple of months because it would be a life bird for us and although Tuckerton is the place in NJ for this species, I had no luck with it until today when Mike spotted a couple in the reeds. At first I only saw one briefly--not enough of a look to count it, but after some dedicated pishing by the group two soon made their appearance and I was able to get nice clear looks at both of them, and, bonus, compare them to a Saltmarsh Sparrow also in the vicinity. Until fairly recently, Saltmarsh and Nelson's were considered a single species, so I suppose back in my early days of birding at Jamaica Bay I may have seen this version, but if you see something and don't know what it is you  haven't seen it is my philosophy. Just to add to the confusion, until even more recently, these sparrows both "Sharp-tailed" in the middle of their common names. Happily, the nomenclature  has been simplified.

So, now that I'd seen the bird, the trick was to get Shari onto it. Looking into a marshy area of tall grass and reeds does not provide any decent landmarks. Saying,"look in the darker area before the channel," or "where the reeds are tan, not brown," is really frustrating to the person who wants to see the bird. Pointing with your finger doesn't help either. There are two ways the person is going to find the bird: luck or if the bird moves and she can follow it to its next stop. The latter happened, the bird clung to a reed for a while, Shari saw all the relevant field marks and we were all happy. I think it was a life bird for 5 of us on the trip.

Another interesting bird today, FOS, was Tundra Swan. Good to see them back for the winter. Shorebirds, aside from thousands of Dunlin, were scarce, though we did have a few yellowlegs, one Black-bellied Plover that I found among a flock of Dunlin, and a Western Sandpiper by the Gull Tower, feeding between the legs of a goose.

When we gathered for lunch the South Jersey bird text messaging service had some hot birds that we'd missed--Hudsonian Godwit and Eurasian Wigeon. Plus, one of the guys on our trip had seen a Common Goldeneye that we passed. It is hard to stop the line of cars if you aren't the leader. So we had some targets for the second trip around the dikes. The godwit, which was seen at the Gull Tower had flown, but Pete was determined to find the Eurasian Wigeon and once he located the flock of American Wigeons in the East Pool he went through each duck until he found the rare one--a wigeon with a red head and gray body instead of gray head and brown body.  We hadn't seen a Eurasian Wigeon in some time and this sighting made up for the frustration of last week's trip to Cape May when looked too late for the bird that had been in the Lightouse Pond.

While we were on the road, another report came in of Lapland Longspur. We drove to the reported spot but it wasn't to be found. The problem with lonspurs is that they like dirt or stubble. The only place on the Wildlife Drive for a longspur is the road. The problem with the road is cars. The report said it was repeatedly flushed by traffic but kept returning. By the time we got there, it must have gotten sick of the disturbance. However, later, on Pete's third trip around, he did find the longspur. We considered going with him to try for it (haven't seen one of those in years either) but somehow a cup of Wawa coffee seemed more appealing than another 8 mile drive. "And you call yourself a birding fanatic?"

For the day we had 60 species and with a life bird finally ticked, I'm not going to dwell on the ones that eluded us.
Brant  9
Canada Goose  300
Mute Swan  10
Tundra Swan  15
Gadwall  5
Eurasian Wigeon  1    
American Wigeon  20
American Black Duck  200
Mallard  10
Northern Shoveler  25
Northern Pintail  500
Green-winged Teal  10
Ring-necked Duck  1    Entrance Pond
Greater Scaup  50
Bufflehead  25
Hooded Merganser  10
Ruddy Duck  35
Common Loon  1
Horned Grebe  3
Double-crested Cormorant  10
Great Blue Heron  5
Great Egret  4
Snowy Egret  3
Little Blue Heron  1    At turn from South Dike to East Dike
Black-crowned Night-Heron  2    At turn from South Dike to East Dike
Turkey Vulture  1    Over Lily Lake
Northern Harrier  4
Sharp-shinned Hawk  1
Cooper's Hawk  1
Bald Eagle  3    two immatures circling while an adult flew by with prey in its talons.
Red-tailed Hawk  2
American Coot  10
Black-bellied Plover  1
Greater Yellowlegs  10
Dunlin  2000
Western Sandpiper  1
Ring-billed Gull  2
Herring Gull  50
Great Black-backed Gull  5
Peregrine Falcon  2
Blue Jay  1    Heard
American Crow  2    Heard
Tree Swallow  3
Carolina Chickadee  1    Heard picnic tables.
Tufted Titmouse  1    Heard picnic tables
Carolina Wren  2    Heard
Golden-crowned Kinglet  1
Eastern Bluebird  2
American Robin  1    Lily Lake
Yellow-rumped Warbler  15
Savannah Sparrow  5
Saltmarsh Sparrow  1
Seaside Sparrow  1
Song Sparrow  2
White-throated Sparrow  2    Heard
Dark-eyed Junco  1
Northern Cardinal  3    Entrance ponds
Boat-tailed Grackle  1
American Goldfinch  1    Lily Lake

Friday, November 8, 2013

Island Beach SP 11/8--Deked Out

I birded the length (and for what it's worth, the breadth) of Island Beach State Park today and I was especially interested in birding a new trail for me, the Winter Anchorage that is on the bay side, almost all the way down on the end. Looking at Google Maps I could see that there was a relatively short trail that led to the bay, then a much a longer one that wended through the pines and came out across from Sedge Island. The first disappointment was that the longer trail is for "Official Use Only." There were no birds along the relatively short trail that led to the boat ramp on the bay, but when I put my scope on the water I got excited. The first ducks I saw were Canvasbacks, along with a Brant, then I noticed a Mallard, a few Black Ducks, some Buffleheads and even one Northern Pintail. Some mixed flock! They were pretty far out in the bay but with the scope at full power and the sun behind me I was getting pretty good looks.

The Brant looked weird to me--it was too high out of the water. Then I noticed that the Canvasbacks weren't going anywhere. Nor was the Mallard. And the Mallard was just too brilliantly green around the head and didn't change shades when it turned around in the water. Back to the Brant, it had an odd crook in its neck, like it was looking over its shoulder--permanently. And then I realized that of course, these were all decoys.

And based on my reading of the Ducks Unlimited magazine, not a very good "set" in that there weren't nearly enough decoys for the area covered and the fakes weren't set out in a pattern (you want to sort of make a visual arrow) that might persuade the ducks to fly in. They may have fooled me 100 yards away, but I doubt they'd trick a real duck.

Two more positive aspects of the day were seeing my FOY Ocean County Northern Gannets (always a joy to watch these big birds plunge dive), making 205 species for the year and getting my NJ senior citizen card which allows me into all "State Parks, Forests, Recreation Areas and Historic Sites" free along with my passengers (that would be Shari).

It was very windy today, which probably kept the passerines hunkered down. But gannets, a pelican, and 5 species of shorebird made it worth the all the hard walking through sand that I put in, plus the wet feet from the surf that snuck up on me while I was scanning the ocean.
26 species:
Black Scoter
Red-breasted Merganser
Common Loon
Northern Gannet
Double-crested Cormorant
Brown Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Cooper's Hawk
Black-bellied Plover
Ruddy Turnstone
Red Knot
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Northern Flicker
American Crow
Carolina Chickadee
Carolina Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
American Goldfinch