Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Lakehurst Joint Base 6/5--Upland Sandpiper, Common Nighthawk, Eastern Meadowlark

Our annual trip to the Lakehurst base (site of the Hindenburg disaster) was a success despite the adverse weather conditions--persistent rain which didn't stop as predicted and which became chilling after a few hours for those of us who dressed as if it were June. Due to bureaucratic screw-ups, Pete Bacinski (our leader), Shari, and I were put on the "do not admit" list for impenetrable reasons (probably a transposed number on our driver's licenses) so we had to go in with the base's Natural Resources Manager, John Joyce, which was a not a bad thing to ride with the most knowledgeable person about the base and Pete. The only real disappointment there for me was that I was looking forward to muddying up our new Subaru on the base's dirt roads.

We started off, as usual, in the "drop zone" which is managed for ground nesting birds. How long this will last is a question. Apparently the marines want to use that area for some maneuvers and John has been trying to convince them to use other parts of the base--particularly since, unbelievable as this is, the marines don't have it in their budget to do the necessary environmental impact study. There are protected plants in that area.

While standing in the crossroads of the 4 quadrants of the circle in a light rain, I found the first target bird of the day, a Grasshopper Sparrow, singing. We all managed to get good scope looks of this pretty little bird and heard it's song clearly.  Soon, a couple of Upland Sandpipers--our main target bird--were heard calling and then two flew up out of the grass and soared high over head. Pete pointed out that they flew like Spotted Sandpipers, with their wings never raising much above their bodies, so this made their flight easy to pick out. We also had a Horned Lark fly by and saw a few Eastern Meadowlarks both flying and perched on sticks in the field. I would have liked to see the uppies down on the ground or have a closer fly by, but there was no mistaking the identification.

John took us to another part of the base to look for kestrels and eventually we did find one in the murk, sitting dead center on a T-shaped light post on a runway. It then flew off and hovered over the field before landing atop a giant light bulb on another post.

Some of the group wanted to go back to the crossroads to try to get better looks at the uppies, so we caravaned back to the drop zone, and while we saw another uppie in flight, it wasn't really much closer than the previous ones, though we could hear them calling more clearly. However, David Bernstein pointed out a Common Nighthawk flying over the road and the bird put on quite a show for the group both calling and flying directly over head, giving us field guide looks at its field marks, particularly the white patches on the wings.

Then what seemed to be a large hawk flying over the tree line turned out to be a Common Raven, a rarity, supposedly, in Ocean County, though the Lakehurst base has a documented raven nest. I was happy because it was my first county raven.

A trip to a pond where we usually end up produced a Willow Flycatcher and Eastern Kingbird, but no Least Terns, which are usually fairly reliable in that spot. There were a few birds I let go by either because I didn't feel like standing in the rain looking into a featureless gray sky for a speck of a bird or because I couldn't realistically shush everyone so I could hear a "zeep" or a "pfft."

For the day I had 26 species. Others had more. Others had less. I think the total group list was around 47.
Great Blue Heron  1     f/o cathedral parking lot
Turkey Vulture  4     cathedral parking lot
Killdeer  1     Heard
Upland Sandpiper  3
Mourning Dove  10
Common Nighthawk  1
Hairy Woodpecker  1
American Kestrel  1
Willow Flycatcher  1
Eastern Kingbird  1
American Crow  1
crow sp.  1
Common Raven  1    
Horned Lark  3
Tree Swallow  4
House Wren  1     Heard
American Robin  1
Gray Catbird  1     Heard
Northern Mockingbird  1
European Starling  10
Ovenbird  1     Heard
Eastern Towhee  1     Heard
Field Sparrow  1     Heard
Grasshopper Sparrow  2
Red-winged Blackbird  2
Eastern Meadowlark  3
Common Grackle  1

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