Thursday, July 31, 2014

July's Birds

Green Heron, Eno's Pond
The month started off slow, typical for the summer. It wasn't until I went to Sandy Hook on July 9, that I found a new bird for the year.

Summer is the time to concentrate on shorebirds, so I headed toward salt and brackish water as much as I could this month, with multiple trips to Brig, Great Bay Blvd, and Cattus Island. The biggest surprise of the month was the out-of-season ducks I kept stumbling across--a Common Eider at Sandy Hook, a Hooded Merganser at Eno's Pond, and a Red-breasted Merganser while canoeing with Greg out to Great Sedge Island.

Great Sedge Island also provided the highlights of the month: Within a few minutes of each other, I had my FOY Brown Pelican and my FOY (and quite possibly Year Only) American Bittern.

We made a brief weekend trip up the Berkshires to visit our friends and while there came up with a few birds that we don't normally see down here in the summer, like Broad-winged Hawk, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

I'm looking forward to August. We have a trip to Bombay Hook planned and the bogs at Whitesbog are draining--more on that tomorrow, weather permitting.

For the month I had 135 species, just about what I did in June, under more propitious circumstances.
Species     Location
Brant     Sandy Hook
Canada Goose     Whitesbog
Mute Swan     Cattus Island County Park
Wood Duck     Whitesbog
American Black Duck     Brigantine
Mallard     Cattus Island County Park
Common Eider     Sandy Hook
Hooded Merganser     Eno’s Pond
Red-breasted Merganser     Great Sedge Island
Wild Turkey     Whitesbog
Double-crested Cormorant     Brigantine
Brown Pelican     Great Sedge Island
American Bittern     Great Sedge Island
Great Blue Heron     Whitesbog
Great Egret     Cattus Island County Park
Snowy Egret     Cattus Island County Park
Little Blue Heron     Cattus Island County Park
Tricolored Heron     Cattus Island County Park
Green Heron     Whitesbog
Black-crowned Night-Heron     Brigantine
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron     Brigantine
Glossy Ibis     Cattus Island County Park
Turkey Vulture     Whitesbog
Osprey     Cattus Island County Park
Broad-winged Hawk     Bog Pond
Red-tailed Hawk     Cattus Island County Park
Clapper Rail     Cattus Island County Park
American Oystercatcher     Brigantine
Black-bellied Plover     Brigantine
Semipalmated Plover     Forsythe--Barnegat
Piping Plover     Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Killdeer     Sandy Hook
Spotted Sandpiper     Whitesbog Ocean County portion
Solitary Sandpiper     Whitesbog
Greater Yellowlegs     Brigantine
Willet     Cattus Island County Park
Lesser Yellowlegs     Brigantine
Whimbrel     Sandy Hook
Ruddy Turnstone     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Stilt Sandpiper     Brigantine
Sanderling     Great Sedge Island
Dunlin     Sandy Hook
Least Sandpiper     Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Semipalmated Sandpiper     Sandy Hook
Western Sandpiper     Brigantine
Short-billed Dowitcher     Brigantine
Long-billed Dowitcher     Brigantine
Laughing Gull     Cattus Island County Park
Ring-billed Gull     Brigantine
Herring Gull     Cattus Island County Park
Great Black-backed Gull     Cattus Island County Park
Least Tern     Sandy Hook
Gull-billed Tern     Brigantine
Caspian Tern     Brigantine
Black Tern     Brigantine
Common Tern     Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Forster's Tern     Cattus Island County Park
Royal Tern     Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Black Skimmer     Brigantine
Mourning Dove     Cattus Island County Park
Yellow-billed Cuckoo     Cattus Island County Park
Black-billed Cuckoo     Union Transportation Trail
Great Horned Owl     Brigantine
Common Nighthawk     35 Sunset Rd
Eastern Whip-poor-will     35 Sunset Rd
Chimney Swift     Sandy Hook
Ruby-throated Hummingbird     35 Sunset Rd
Belted Kingfisher     Cross Place Road
Red-bellied Woodpecker     Brigantine
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker     Cross Place Road
Downy Woodpecker     Brigantine
Hairy Woodpecker     Cattus Island County Park
Northern Flicker     Ernest L. Oros Wildlife Preserve
American Kestrel     Savoy Rd--Windsor
Peregrine Falcon     Brigantine
Eastern Wood-Pewee     Cattus Island County Park
Willow Flycatcher     Brigantine
Eastern Phoebe     Whitesbog
Great Crested Flycatcher     Whitesbog
Eastern Kingbird     Cattus Island County Park
White-eyed Vireo     Whitesbog
Red-eyed Vireo     Eno’s Pond
Blue Jay     Cattus Island County Park
American Crow     Brigantine
Fish Crow     Whitesbog
Northern Rough-winged Swallow     Brigantine
Purple Martin     Brigantine
Tree Swallow     Whitesbog
Bank Swallow     Sandy Hook
Barn Swallow     Cattus Island County Park
Carolina Chickadee     Cattus Island County Park
Black-capped Chickadee     Cross Place Road
Tufted Titmouse     35 Sunset Rd
White-breasted Nuthatch     35 Sunset Rd
House Wren     Cattus Island County Park
Marsh Wren     Cattus Island County Park
Carolina Wren     Brigantine
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher     Whitesbog
Eastern Bluebird     Whitesbog
Wood Thrush     Union Transportation Trail
American Robin     Cattus Island County Park
Gray Catbird     Whitesbog
Brown Thrasher     Whitesbog Ocean County portion
Northern Mockingbird     Barnegat Lighthouse SP
European Starling     Ernest L. Oros Wildlife Preserve
Cedar Waxwing     Sandy Hook
Ovenbird     Whitesbog
Black-and-white Warbler     Whitesbog
Common Yellowthroat     Whitesbog
American Redstart     Sandy Hook
Yellow Warbler     Brigantine
Pine Warbler     Whitesbog
Prairie Warbler     Whitesbog
Eastern Towhee     Whitesbog
Chipping Sparrow     Whitesbog
Field Sparrow     Sandy Hook
Grasshopper Sparrow     Negri-Nepote Grasslands
Saltmarsh Sparrow     Cattus Island County Park
Seaside Sparrow     Cattus Island County Park
Song Sparrow     Whitesbog
Scarlet Tanager     Colliers Mills WMA
Northern Cardinal     Whitesbog
Rose-breasted Grosbeak     Ashuwillticook Rail Trail
Blue Grosbeak     Whitesbog
Indigo Bunting     Brigantine
Dickcissel     Negri-Nepote Grasslands
Red-winged Blackbird     Whitesbog
Common Grackle     Whitesbog
Boat-tailed Grackle     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Brown-headed Cowbird     Whitesbog Ocean County portion
Orchard Oriole     Whitesbog
Baltimore Oriole     Ashuwillticook Rail Trail
House Finch     35 Sunset Rd
American Goldfinch     Whitesbog
House Sparrow     Barnegat Lighthouse SP

Brigantine 7/31--Stilt Sandpiper

Rose Mallow at Gull Pond
I was at Brig today for a mid-week trip with Pete. I had the awesome responsibility of filling in for Mike and drove the lead car as Pete surveyed the impoundments. I managed to keep us out of the marshes and found a few birds as well, so I think I acquitted myself with honor.

As to the birds, it was quiet. I saw a lot more species than I would any place in Ocean County, but 60 for late July is pretty slim pickings. Pete had a lot more birds on Saturday (when we were away) than today. Many of them left, but as he said, nothing new replaced them.

The only new bird (for me) was the Stilt Sandpiper in with some terns and gulls I was lucky enough to find on the second go-round. Being in the first car has its advantages. Pete didn't want everyone to get out of their vehicles because the bird was fairly close in (the only reason I managed to find it in the first place) and he didn't want it to spook. So I carefully exited the car and started to walk back to let the folks behind us know what we had. Of course, the bird flew. Pete said I started off slow, but when I picked up the pace, the birds got scared and flew off and so did the Stilt. We didn't find another for the group.

Other interesting birds along the way were a Whimbrel, a Ruddy Turnstone, & a couple of Gull-billed Terns. Birds Pete heard that I missed, among the many: Bobolink, Blue Grosbeak, Seaside Sparrow, Willet, etc., etc.

My "good way to end the month" list:
60 species
Canada Goose  50
Mute Swan  40
American Black Duck  10
Mallard  5
Double-crested Cormorant  2
Great Blue Heron  2
Great Egret  25
Snowy Egret  5
Little Blue Heron  1     Gull Pond
Glossy Ibis  20
Osprey  10     Many still on nests
Clapper Rail  3
American Oystercatcher  4
Black-bellied Plover  7
Semipalmated Plover  10
Greater Yellowlegs  5
Whimbrel  1
Ruddy Turnstone  1
Stilt Sandpiper  1
Semipalmated Sandpiper  600
Short-billed Dowitcher  500
Long-billed Dowitcher  3
Laughing Gull  100
Ring-billed Gull  2
Herring Gull  10
Great Black-backed Gull  20
Least Tern  2
Gull-billed Tern  2
Forster's Tern  50
Black Skimmer  30
Mourning Dove  2
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  2
Red-bellied Woodpecker  2
Peregrine Falcon  1
Eastern Phoebe  1
Great Crested Flycatcher  2     Heard
Eastern Kingbird  1
Blue Jay  2     Heard
American Crow  5
Fish Crow  5
Purple Martin  20
Tree Swallow  10
Barn Swallow  5
Carolina Chickadee  1     Heard
House Wren  1     Heard
Marsh Wren  1     Heard
American Robin  10
Gray Catbird  3
Northern Mockingbird  4
European Starling  50
Common Yellowthroat  2
Eastern Towhee  2     Heard
Chipping Sparrow  2
Song Sparrow  5
Northern Cardinal  1
Red-winged Blackbird  25
Common Grackle  1
House Finch  1
American Goldfinch  5
House Sparrow  3

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

My All-time, Absolute Favorite Advertising Blunder (So Far)

My friend Sue saved this full page ad from the local Berkshire County shopper's guide, knowing that it tops all the other typos and graphic blunders I've collected so far.
It leaves one breathless to consider how astonishingly ignorant everyone involved in this ad is about the very basics of U.S. history--I learned the Washington/cherry tree myth in first or second grade.

Enlarged text:

There is no hope.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Great Sedge Island 7/23--Brown Pelican, American Bittern

At the winter anchorage on Barnegat Bay
Greg & I took a canoe trip out to Great Sedge Island in Barnegat Bay off the southern end of Island Beach SP this morning. I've always wanted to explore that area, but until today, never had any way of accessing it. Greg's been curious too and asked me if I wanted to go along. I hadn't been in a canoe in years, can't steer, and am not much of an oarsman, but he took me along anyway and we had a fabulous time, recording some interesting birds that we would never have seen from shore, even with a scope.

We started out at high tide, which was not very high. I doubt the water ever got waist deep. Most of Barnegat Bay, in fact, is less than 5 ft deep. In theory, one could walk out to the island, but it would be quite a slog.

Royal Tern
Photo: Greg Prelich
We were interested in finding terns, particularly any rare ones. Almost immediately we had a Royal Tern screaming overhead and on a sand bar we found a small flock of them, including a juvenile begging for food.
Mystery Tern
Photo: Greg Prelich

Both Roseate and Sandwich Tern have been reported in the vicinity but we didn't find either. At least we're pretty certain we didn't find either. We did spend an inordinate amount of time looking at one tern with a black bill and orange feet that at first glance I thought might be Sandwich and at second glance thought might be Roseate, but in the end we both think it is probably a Common Tern molting, either a juvenile molting to adult plumage or an adult molting to winter plumage. (Update 7/24: We were wrong. It is a Forster's Tern molting into winter plumage--thanks to Pete Bacinski for setting us right)

Hen Red-breasted Merganser
Photo: Greg Prelich
This summer has been one of out-of-season waterfowl for me and it continued when Greg spotted a bird sitting at the edge of the water in some grass. At first, seeing mostly a long red bill, we thought it was a juvenile oystercatcher but as we paddled in closer we were surprised to have found a hen Red-breasted Merganser, a duck that should have been out of here long ago (or has arrived extremely early). On our return trip the duck was still in the same spot, but moved into the water, tried flying for a bit, then just swam off.

We made it out around one of the grassy isles and were just outside Barnegat Inlet when we stopped for a snack in a little cove. Within a few minutes we had sightings of Green Heron, Clapper Rail, Greater & Lesser Yellowlegs, Whimbrels and best of all, our first-of-year Brown Pelicans, first a single bird, then another, and as we were leaving, two more, an adult and juvenile flying together.

With the pelicans the day was made; we didn't figure to find anything else as impressive. We figured wrong, because a few minutes later we both watch a large brown heron fly into the reeds. We both knew it wasn't another Green Heron--too big, coloration all wrong--and when we spotted it again it was standing with its bill pointing straight up, and we clearly saw the stripes on the neck of the American Bittern, "hiding" in the tall grass. I don't know why, but bittern is considered a rarity this time of year in this area. I consider it a rarity all year long!

Greg mapped our trip on his phone; according to the program we went 3.6 miles (a lot of it was walking while dragging the canoe. Our route looks like one walked by the proverbial drunken sailor. It's a little hard to tell, but we started at the right, went south, turned west, made it to the far side of the island, turned around, explored a dead end channel then came back around on the northern part of the loop.

We had absolutely perfect conditions for our jaunt--virtually no wind until the very end of the tour, moderate temperatures, and, amazingly, given the location, no bugs.

Day list:
Red-breasted Merganser  1     
Double-crested Cormorant  10
Brown Pelican  4     Barnegat Inlet
American Bittern  1     
Great Blue Heron  3
Great Egret  25
Snowy Egret  5
Little Blue Heron  2
Tricolored Heron  1
Green Heron  1
Black-crowned Night-Heron  2
Glossy Ibis  10
Osprey  25     most on nests
Clapper Rail  3
American Oystercatcher  10
Semipalmated Plover  2
Greater Yellowlegs  1
Willet  2
Lesser Yellowlegs  4
Whimbrel  3
Photo: Greg Prelich

Sanderling  1
Semipalmated Sandpiper  50
Short-billed Dowitcher  4
Laughing Gull  20
Herring Gull  50
Great Black-backed Gull  10
Common Tern  50
Forster's Tern  5
Royal Tern  9
Peregrine Falcon  1
Bank Swallow  1
Barn Swallow  1
Seaside Sparrow  10
Song Sparrow  1     Heard
Red-winged Blackbird  2
Boat-tailed Grackle  5

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Brigantine 7/19--Western Sandpiper, Black Tern

Scott Barnes and Linda Mack led a trip around Brigantine's dikes today and besides the many "quality" birds we found, there were some interesting identification lessons. My two new FOY birds were both species that, unless I am standing right on tip of them in good light, I'm reluctant to call. The first, Black Tern, has been hanging around for at least the last week, so it wasn't a surprise find. At first it was over the marsh pretty far out, and while I was eventually able to get it in our scope, it was essentially a gray bird (this was a juvenile) without any solid field marks. But, happily, the bird decided to fly toward us and fish over the mud on the cove side and there we were able to distinguish it as something more than a little tern that didn't look like the rest of the terns flying around.

The 2nd FOY was Western Sandpiper, always hard to pick out from among the thousand other peeps scurrying around on the mud flats. How Scott picks them out to begin with is a marvel to me. We had two today in the same area and, once you look at it, they stood out well from the surrounding gray birds since they still had a lot of rufous breeding plumage on them. Who knows how many Western Sandpipers I overlook in the course of a summer.

I know that today I overlooked quite a few Bank Swallows among the dozens of Barn Swallows roosting in the reeds. I'd already seen one or two BANS so I didn't spend anytime picking through all the BARS that I saw when I had the chance.

Common Tern
Photo: Shari Zirlin
This tern actually made me feel good about my i.d. skills. The usual tern at Brig is Forster's Tern, a tern of the marsh and wetlands. There were lots there today. Common Tern is anything but at Brig, though the place to look for them is at the turn onto the north dike, by the sluice gates.

When I first saw this tern it's bill immediately called itself to my attention because of the reddish cast, but I dismissed the idea of it being anything other than a Forster's. Then it flew and I thought again, because it appeared darker, that it might be a Common, but I wasn't sure and started looking through the shorebirds in my scope. I became aware that Scott was leading a discussion about the bird, trying to decide if it was COTE or FOTE. "Man," I thought, "if Scott has a hard time with this bird, what are my chances?" Still, I looked again and pointed out the tail feather to Scott, how much darker they appeared than the other terns and that "turns out" to be a good field mark, since Common Terns have dark outer tail feathers, while Forster's have dark inner tail feathers. So, instead of subjective field marks like bill color and structure, we had an objective field mark and agreed that we had one Common.

It was a good day for terns--if we had had Royal, we'd have made a clean sweep of the expected terns at Brig for this time of year. As it was we had Least, Gull-billed, Common, Forster's, Black, Caspian and Black Skimmer.

My tally for the day was 63--we kind of sped through the upland portion the 2nd time around as a drizzle started, so that kept the passerine count down a bit.
Canada Goose  50
Mute Swan  12
Wood Duck  10
Mallard  15
Double-crested Cormorant  5
Great Blue Heron  2
Great Egret  25
Snowy Egret  5
Little Blue Heron  1
Tricolored Heron  1
Black-crowned Night-Heron  4
Glossy Ibis  25
Turkey Vulture  1
Osprey  15     most on nests
Clapper Rail  3     Heard
American Oystercatcher  1
Black-bellied Plover  4
Semipalmated Plover  1
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Greater Yellowlegs  3
Willet  10
Lesser Yellowlegs  2
Whimbrel  5
Least Sandpiper  2
Semipalmated Sandpiper  1000
Western Sandpiper  2
Short-billed Dowitcher  100
Laughing Gull  200
Ring-billed Gull  1
Herring Gull  10
Great Black-backed Gull  25
Least Tern  2
Gull-billed Tern  5
Caspian Tern  1
Black Tern  1
Common Tern  1     
Forster's Tern  70
Black Skimmer  30
Peregrine Falcon  1
Eastern Kingbird  1
Blue Jay  1     Heard
American Crow  2
Fish Crow  1
Purple Martin  20
Tree Swallow  2
Bank Swallow  5
Barn Swallow  100
Marsh Wren  3     Heard
Carolina Wren  1     Heard
American Robin  3
Gray Catbird  4
European Starling  75
Common Yellowthroat  4
Eastern Towhee  1     Heard, upland portion
Chipping Sparrow  1     Heard, picnic tables.
Seaside Sparrow  5
Song Sparrow  4     Heard
Northern Cardinal  1     Exit ponds
Blue Grosbeak  1     South dike
Red-winged Blackbird  50
Boat-tailed Grackle  1
House Finch  4     Visitor Ctr Feeders
American Goldfinch  1

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Couple of Howlers

It's been a while since I posted any inanities that I come across in my daily reading, but today's blunders, being on consecutive pages of the Defenders of Wildlife Magazine that I receive, just could not go unremarked:

Here is an example of a phrase that the writer has only heard and never seen in print. It is like "for all intensive purposes." Of course, a moment of thought would show the writer that the phrase makes no sense, but a moment of thought is usually asking a lot. That's why there used to be proofreaders and copy editors.

That Vladimir Nabokov was an amazing guy. Not only did he discover a new species of butterfly 37 years before he was born, he was able to do it 14 years before even his mother was born.

I think I'm only donating my money to organizations that can pass a literacy test from now on.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Negri-Nepote Grasslands 7/13--Dickcissel

It looked for a while that today's target bird wasn't going to make its annual appearance at Negri-Nepote Grasslands this year, but finally, about a week ago, a female Dickcissel was found to be feeding a couple of juveniles. Where the male is or was and the sudden appearance of the nest remain a mystery. A female DICK isn't as satisfying as a singing male, but it is a rarity, so it seemed worth trying for.

I drove up there this morning with no great hopes of finding the bird, but, if you don't look, you definitely won't find it. I was happy to run into my friends Joe & Elizabeth who had an odd bird in their scope. We were trying to turn it into a juvenile Dickcissel when a local birder came by and told us we had a juvenile cowbird. I was a little dubious about that, not seeing any striping on the bird, but we knew we didn't have the Dickcissel. A few minutes later, the same birder called out "There it is," and a few feet before us, perched on the top of very small tree, was the female DICK, with all the appropriate field marks. Great. "Now," I said, "I can do some birding."

Except I couldn't because, as we were walking to the little pond on the property to see if any shorebirds were around, the overcast sky became more threatening and then rain began, so, after a cursory look at the pond, and finding nothing but some Tree Swallows swooping over the surface, we headed back to the parking lot. So I got my target bird and pretty much nothing else.