Friday, October 31, 2014

October Wrap-up

White-crowned Sparrow (juvenile) Great Bay Blvd.
Out with the warblers, in with the sparrows. This month I saw 13 sparrow species against 6 warbler species and preponderance of the latter were Yellow-rumped Warblers, which I think of as honorary sparrows anyway, since they arrive with the sparrows and often associate with them.

Of the 5 new species for the month, 3 were sparrows. There was one outstanding warbler: Orange-crowned Warbler, another late fall migrant and one I'd never seen in NJ. While I did get a Nelson's Warbler for the year up at Sandy Hook, that species continued to elude me Ocean County despite 5 (count 'em--5) trips to Great Bay Blvd, supposedly the most reliable site for them roundabouts.

One bird I did manage to add to the county list this month was found after numerous trips this autumn to impoundments in Barnegat--3 American Avocets. I was alerted to their presence when Karmela kindly called me to let me they'd shown up again and I was able to spot them (and take mediocre digital photos) in the rapidly fading light. One of my favorite birds and I like them even better this time of year when they lost their cinnamon colored breeding plumage and are start black & white birds.
American  Avocets with Black Ducks
White Peafowl
During my one non-birding excursion this month, to The Grounds for Sculpture up near Trenton, we came across this specimen, which I certainly can't count, but which seems
like a living oxymoron--an albino peacock.

I found myself yearning for ducks this month and while a couple of trips to Brig found a decent amount, what I really want is huge flocks to pick through. That will probably happen this month. But I'll also probably be looking at them in a stiff, on-shore breeze with my eyes tearing and my nose running. Ah, winter birding--that time of  year where I really question my sanity.

For the month I managed 125 species, down quite a bit from last month when migration was at its peak.

Counties birded:
New Jersey: Atlantic, Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth, Ocean
New York: New York
Species                    Location
Brant     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Canada Goose     Horicon Lake
Mute Swan     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Wood Duck     Whitesbog
Gadwall     Forsythe--Barnegat
American Wigeon     Brig
American Black Duck     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Mallard     Eno’s Pond
Blue-winged Teal     Brig
Northern Shoveler     Forsythe--Barnegat
Northern Pintail     Forsythe--Barnegat
Green-winged Teal     Assunpink WMA
Ring-necked Duck     Brig
Surf Scoter     Sandy Hook
Hooded Merganser     Eno’s Pond
Ruddy Duck     Assunpink WMA
Northern Bobwhite     Colliers Mills WMA
Wild Turkey     Whitesbog
Red-throated Loon     Island Beach SP
Common Loon     Sandy Hook
Pied-billed Grebe     Horicon Lake
Northern Gannet     Island Beach SP
Double-crested Cormorant     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Brown Pelican     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Great Blue Heron     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Great Egret     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Snowy Egret     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Tricolored Heron     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Green Heron     Cedar Run Dock Rd.
Black-crowned Night-Heron     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Black Vulture     Sandy Hook
Turkey Vulture     Whitesbog (Ocean Co.)
Osprey     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Northern Harrier     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Sharp-shinned Hawk     Whitesbog
Cooper's Hawk     Forsythe--Barnegat
Bald Eagle     Whitesbog
Red-tailed Hawk     Colliers Mills WMA
Common Gallinule     Brig
American Coot     Assunpink WMA
American Avocet     Forsythe--Barnegat
American Oystercatcher     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Black-bellied Plover     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Semipalmated Plover     Forsythe--Barnegat
Killdeer     Whitesbog
Greater Yellowlegs     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Lesser Yellowlegs     Cedar Run Dock Rd.
Dunlin     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Semipalmated Sandpiper     Brig
Western Sandpiper     Brig
Laughing Gull     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Ring-billed Gull     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Herring Gull     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Great Black-backed Gull     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Forster's Tern     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Royal Tern     Sandy Hook
Rock Pigeon     Bridge to Nowhere
Mourning Dove     Whitesbog (Ocean Co.)
Chimney Swift     Assunpink WMA
Belted Kingfisher     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Red-bellied Woodpecker     Whitesbog
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker     Colliers Mills WMA
Downy Woodpecker     Whiting WMA
Hairy Woodpecker     Whitesbog
Northern Flicker     Colliers Mills WMA
American Kestrel     Colliers Mills WMA
Merlin     35 Sunset Rd
Peregrine Falcon     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Eastern Phoebe     Whitesbog
Blue-headed Vireo     Sandy Hook
Blue Jay     Horicon Lake
American Crow     Horicon Lake
Fish Crow     Cedar Run Dock Rd.
Tree Swallow     Bridge to Nowhere
Carolina Chickadee     35 Sunset Rd
Black-capped Chickadee     Central Park
Tufted Titmouse     35 Sunset Rd
Red-breasted Nuthatch     35 Sunset Rd
White-breasted Nuthatch     35 Sunset Rd
Brown Creeper     Sandy Hook
House Wren     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Winter Wren     Ocean County Parks Offices
Carolina Wren     Whitesbog
Golden-crowned Kinglet     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Ruby-crowned Kinglet     Whitesbog (Ocean Co.)
Eastern Bluebird     Colliers Mills WMA
Gray-cheeked Thrush     Double Trouble State Park
Swainson's Thrush     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Hermit Thrush     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
American Robin     Whitesbog
Gray Catbird     Horicon Lake
Northern Mockingbird     Colliers Mills WMA
European Starling     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Cedar Waxwing     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Orange-crowned Warbler     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Common Yellowthroat     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Northern Parula     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Palm Warbler     Assunpink WMA
Pine Warbler     Colliers Mills WMA
Yellow-rumped Warbler     Assunpink WMA
Eastern Towhee     Whitesbog
Chipping Sparrow     35 Sunset Rd
Clay-colored Sparrow     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Field Sparrow     Whitesbog (Ocean Co.)
Savannah Sparrow     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Nelson's Sparrow     Sandy Hook
Seaside Sparrow     Sandy Hook
Song Sparrow     Horicon Lake
Lincoln's Sparrow     Colliers Mills WMA
Swamp Sparrow     Colliers Mills WMA
White-throated Sparrow     Colliers Mills WMA
White-crowned Sparrow     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Dark-eyed Junco     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Northern Cardinal     35 Sunset Rd
Red-winged Blackbird     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Eastern Meadowlark     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Common Grackle     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Boat-tailed Grackle     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Brown-headed Cowbird     Brig
House Finch     35 Sunset Rd
Purple Finch     Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Pine Siskin     Sandy Hook
American Goldfinch     Whitesbog (Ocean Co.)
House Sparrow     Assunpink WMA

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Ocean County Parks Offices 10/25--Winter Wren

I had an hour or so to kill this morning while Shari was at the gym, so I  headed over to the OC Parks Offices ground, which is actually the northern part of Cattus Island, but I like to make the distinction. I figured I had just enough time to walk the yellow trail, a loop that goes through woods, marsh and field, so a lot of diverse habitat in a relatively short walk.

Best bird: Winter Wren. I stumbled on this little mouse-like bird soon after I entered the trail. Tiny cocked tail was the give-away. Just to be sure, I looked it up in Sibley (I don't see but one or two a year) and his description of habitat (wet, swampy areas, running over around logs) nailed the location of the bird exactly.

Most impressive sight: Two huge flocks of grackles chattering and feeding on the forest floor, ascending into the trees with great whooshes whenever I approached too near for their comfort. I saw a few starlings mixed in with them, but oddly no other blackbirds (though I did see one female red-wing along the boardwalk in the marsh). I tried to look through the massive flocks to find something other than Common Grackle, but they were not in the mood for standing still.  It would be good habitat over there for Rusty Blackbird. I'm going back tomorrow with Shari & Joan, maybe their more patient eyes will pick out something.

For the hour & five minutes I spent there I  had 21 species:
Canada Goose  4
Mourning Dove  2
Belted Kingfisher  1     Heard
Red-bellied Woodpecker  2
Blue-headed Vireo  1
Blue Jay
American Crow  3
Carolina Chickadee  3     Heard
Tufted Titmouse  2     Heard
White-breasted Nuthatch  1     Heard
Winter Wren  1
Hermit Thrush  2
European Starling  20
Yellow-rumped Warbler  4
Eastern Towhee  1     Heard
Song Sparrow  4
Swamp Sparrow  6
White-throated Sparrow  5
Dark-eyed Junco  1
Red-winged Blackbird  1     
Common Grackle  1000

Friday, October 24, 2014

Colliers Mills WMA 10/24--Lincoln's Sparrow

Where the sparrows are.
After 2 days of rain, I was ready to get out of the house. I wanted to see what sparrows I could find at Colliers Mills. There is a field bordered by brush just off Range Road (the road to the firing range) that held a lot of sparrows last time I was there. Once you find a good spot, you always want to check it out, even if it never produces another bird. There's always that chance for an interesting bird. Today I had that chance.

Sparrows (and a few other passerines) were hopping, jumping, and flying through the tangles along the edge of the field. Quickly I identified junco, chipping, white-throated, swamp, towhee, yellow-rump and bluebirds. Then a pretty little sparrow popped up on a bare branch, very close and allowed me very long looks, long enough to dismiss my initial impression of a Song Sparrow and replace it with my first Lincoln's Sparrow in the county and state. The buff breast with the streaks ending where the buff became white and the striped crown were the field marks I noticed and they all lined up for Lincoln's.

I skirted the edge of the firing range and almost stepped on a couple of Northern Bobwhites. They scurried into the grass, which didn't look especially high, but I couldn't find them. Which is why you need dogs to flush them, I guess.

A couple of times I stopped to pish and was able to call in all the expected little birds--titmice, chickadees, nuthatches, both kinglets. A Brown Creeper was probably just in the vicinity and not attracted by my noise-making. 

It is getting close to hunting season--lots of guys out running their dogs--so I suspect that this WMA will have to become a Sunday destination very soon. Too bad, because I expect the ducks and other waterfowl to return pretty soon.

Only 22 species for the day. Next target sparrow there: Vesper.
Canada Goose  5     f/o
Northern Bobwhite  2
Turkey Vulture  3
Red-bellied Woodpecker  4
Blue Jay  6
Carolina Chickadee  5
Tufted Titmouse  10
White-breasted Nuthatch  4
Brown Creeper  1
Carolina Wren  1     Heard
Golden-crowned Kinglet  6
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  4
Eastern Bluebird  7
American Robin  2
Yellow-rumped Warbler  15
Eastern Towhee  1     Field near Range Road
Chipping Sparrow  5
Song Sparrow  5
Lincoln's Sparrow  1
Swamp Sparrow  8
White-throated Sparrow  5
Dark-eyed Junco  10

Monday, October 20, 2014

Great Bay Blvd WMA 10/20--Purple Finch

Favorable winds last night sent me down to Great Bay Blvd this morning with Greg & Karmela.  I was hoping for a county bird; I came away with a state bird and year bird instead.

Greg & I met Karmela at the north end of the WMA, just after the first bridge & it immediately became apparent that the road was inundated with yellow-rumps and both kinglets. My counts for all 3 are extremely conservative. After thoroughly checking the cedars and reeds we moved on down to the north side of the fifth bridge, where besides hundreds of Boat-tailed Grackles, we began to see sparrows. The one sparrow, however, that I really wanted wouldn't be found in that habitat (supposedly, although, as the day progressed, we began finding birds where they "shouldn't" be) so we moved on down to the inlet at the south end of the road.

It was here, in the marsh grass or reeds we (I especially) were hoping to find Nelson's Sparrow, which has become my county nemesis bird. As I said in my last post, I've bracketed this bird in Atlantic and Monmouth Counties, but still need it for the all-import Ocean County list. I'd seen reports of multiple birds in the last few days, but despite slogging through mud and grass we weren't able to turn up any of this elusive bird. In face, we couldn't even find the very closely related, but much more common, Seaside Sparrow.

But, in the "not supposed to be there" category, Greg pointed out a large bird flashing white on its tail feathers that turned out to be an Eastern Meadowlark. One of the memorable lines in Peterson's Field Guide to Eastern Birds regards habitat: "a meadowlark needs a meadow." Not this one. Mud flats at low tide do not a meadow make.  A fisherman's loose dog scared the bird into the grass but we later saw it much clearer and for longer flying to our right.

So I thought the meadowlark would be the consolation prize--I always say I only need one good bird to make it a successful day in the field. The birding, though, go really interesting as we walked up from the inlet to the fifth bridge, a distance of about 6/10 of a mile. Just south of the bridge, Karmela photographed a very fresh looking male Northern Parula which then flew low into some bushes where all three of us got great looks. A small stand of trees held Cedar Waxwings, innumerable butterbutts and kinglets and a Brown Creeper.

On the other side of the bridge many juncos were the in pullout area, but we lost interest in them quickly enough when Greg pointed out a Purple Finch that flew into a cedar. It was a little difficult to get on the bird in the dense vegetation, but eventually Karmela and I found it and then the female came in. Again, from Peterson: "a sparrow dipped in raspberry juice."

The cedars and dead trees in this area act as a night-heron roost, so we spent some time trying to find one but came up empty until Greg found a juvenile hunkered down in an indentation in the marsh reeds. We agreed it was of the black-crowned variety.

Crossing back over the bridge is when things got really weird. First we found another female Purple Finch. Then another; and another! And while they flew around, Greg pointed out a Wood Duck in the middle of the channel. There is no way a Wood Duck should be in Little Sheepshead Creek. Yet, there it was.  It didn't stay long though. We turned our backs and it was gone as if in a dream.

We stopped worrying about it when Greg spotted a warbler on some goldenrod. This was a gray, plain, nondescript, warbler, the most nothing warbler you'll ever see and it was an Orange-crowned Warbler and a state bird for me.

So, while I'm still light a Nelson's Sparrow for the county, it was an extremely rewarding and surprising (if somewhat tiring) 6+ hours of birding along the boulevard of broken asphalt.

My list. Karmela's and Greg's lists vary somewhat.
47 species (+1 other taxa)
Brant  50
Wood Duck  1
American Black Duck  20
Common Loon  1
Double-crested Cormorant  300
Brown Pelican  1
Great Blue Heron  3
Great Egret  25
Snowy Egret  1
Black-crowned Night-Heron  1     Marsh before fifth bridge
Turkey Vulture  6
Northern Harrier  1
Sharp-shinned Hawk  2
Greater Yellowlegs  20
Dunlin  15
Laughing Gull  5
Herring Gull  25
Great Black-backed Gull  20
Belted Kingfisher  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker  2
Downy Woodpecker  1     Trees before fifth bridge
Northern Flicker  2
Eastern Phoebe  2
Brown Creeper  2
Golden-crowned Kinglet  5
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  20
Swainson's Thrush  1
Hermit Thrush  1
American Robin  1
European Starling  20
Cedar Waxwing  3
Orange-crowned Warbler  1
Northern Parula  1     South of fifth bridge
Palm Warbler  3
Palm Warbler (Western)  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler  30
Field Sparrow  2
Savannah Sparrow  5
Song Sparrow  5
Swamp Sparrow  2
White-throated Sparrow  5
White-crowned Sparrow  4
Dark-eyed Junco  10
Northern Cardinal  1
Red-winged Blackbird  5
Eastern Meadowlark  1
Boat-tailed Grackle  200
Purple Finch  5   

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Sandy Hook 10/18--Nelson's Sparrow

We went on a field trip with Scott and Linda up at Sandy Hook--with 30 people it's hard to do real serious birding, but we did explore a couple of areas that Shari & I rarely get to (Plum Island and Gunnison Beach) and one area (the proving grounds) that we'd never birded before. For a skinny peninsula, there's a lot of varying habitat tucked away in obscure areas.

Highlight of the day was one of the first birds found on Plum Island, a Nelson's Sparrow, seen decently through a scope. There seemed to be quite a few in the reeds there, but they are elusive. Now I have bracketed the sparrow in Atlantic County to the south and Monmouth County to the north. I need it for this county and haven't had any luck in the "traditional" spot for them, Great Bay Blvd. It's a winter sparrow, so there's time, I suppose.

The other bird I was happy to at least hear was a Pine Siskin which flew over our heads on Plum Island. I couldn't remember if I'd encountered them this year. Checking eBird, I hadn't--in New Jersey. In New Mexico, this spring, we had a slew of them. They were so common there I guess that they didn't make much of an impression.

Raptors made a decent show--accipters, falcons, and vultures.

I feel like we have to enjoy Sandy Hook while we can--the National Parks Service seems determined to destroy as much habitat as they can, either with ill-thought out recreational development (RV camps on the beach where the Piping Plovers nest--there's a swell idea) or else by building themselves a nice shiny maintenance yard & building right in the middle of the largest holly forest in New Jersey. Their last building got flooded by Sandy, so naturally they want to move into an area that also was completely flooded, spending millions of taxpayer dollars to do so. Habitat can recover from Sandy; it can't against the Parks Service.

Anyway, rant over, here's the list.
40 species
Brant  10
Canada Goose  50
American Black Duck  4
Surf Scoter 8
Common Loon  1     f/o K lot
Double-crested Cormorant  5
Great Blue Heron  1
Black Vulture  1
Turkey Vulture  4
Sharp-shinned Hawk  2
Cooper's Hawk  4
Laughing Gull  3
Herring Gull  5
Great Black-backed Gull  2
Forster's Tern  2
Royal Tern  4
Rock Pigeon  20
Mourning Dove  2
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  1
Northern Flicker  1
Merlin  1
Peregrine Falcon  2
Eastern Phoebe  2
Blue-headed Vireo  1
American Crow  1
Tree Swallow  10
Brown Creeper  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  3
Northern Mockingbird  3
European Starling  10
Cedar Waxwing  8
Yellow-rumped Warbler  5
Nelson's Sparrow  1
Seaside Sparrow  1
Song Sparrow  2
Swamp Sparrow  1
White-throated Sparrow  1
Red-winged Blackbird  5
House Finch  10
Pine Siskin  1     Heard, f/o Plum Island

Friday, October 10, 2014

Great Bay Blvd WMA 10/10--Clay-colored Sparrow

I went looking for one bird today and found another.

Great Bay Blvd, from my understanding, is just about the only reliable place to find Nelson's Sparrow in Ocean County. Since I've only seen Nelson's Sparrow once in NJ (and for all I know, my life, because at one time it was con-specific with Saltmarsh Sparrow), I drove down there today, hoping to come up with at least one for the year and county list.

The tide was very high today, the water pushing up so far as to leave practically no beach, which means the water in the marsh was high too. So if there were going to be any Nelson's Sparrows running around like (as they do) they were going to be in the high reeds and hard to see.

However, the unexpected bird was found just before the 5th and last bridge, in an area that  has some kind of monitoring equipment that emits an incessant "beep" every 2 seconds. I saw lots of sparrows flying around the trees and bushes near the enclosure; they were mostly Song Sparrows. However, one popped up on the fence, very pale. My first reactions was "Ipswich Savannah Sparrow" but then I realized it had no stripes, so that let out that bird and then I noticed the very clean gray nape and realized I was looking at my first New Jersey Clay-colored Sparrow. I got decent looks at it before it flew down into the underbrush. While I pished a Savannah Sparrow (of the non-Ipswich variety) and a White-throated Sparrow appeared in the vicinity, but the Clay-colored was not to be found. I walked down the road to a stand of cedars that acts as reliable night-heron roost, figuring I'd give the bird time to make its way back into sight. I did come up with one Black-crowned Night-Heron, but when I turned back to the fenced off area, a huge flock of about 100 Boat-tailed Grackles flew in, drinking from the puddles, sitting on the fence, and hogging the trees. No chance for the little sparrow to come out with those brutes in place.

Already it seems that warbler migration is waning and sparrows are coming to the fore. While Great Bay Blvd is not exactly know as a migrant trap, there were large numbers of Yellow-rumped Warblers in all the bushes, and even larger numbers of Song Sparrows. A few other warblers and sparrows rounded out the list, as well as both kinglets.

Not much in the way of shorebirds and only the expected herons & egrets. Today's list.

34 species
Mute Swan  6     Northern marshes
Double-crested Cormorant  120
Brown Pelican  5
Great Blue Heron  4
Great Egret  50
Snowy Egret  10
Black-crowned Night-Heron  1
Osprey  1
Greater Yellowlegs  7
Laughing Gull  3
Herring Gull  50
Great Black-backed Gull  2
Forster's Tern  25
Belted Kingfisher  4
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  7
Peregrine Falcon  2
House Wren  1
Golden-crowned Kinglet  2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  4
American Robin  1
Gray Catbird  4
European Starling  100
Cedar Waxwing  1
Common Yellowthroat  4
Palm Warbler  4
Yellow-rumped Warbler  15
Clay-colored Sparrow  1
Savannah Sparrow  2
Song Sparrow  25
Swamp Sparrow  1
White-throated Sparrow  4
Red-winged Blackbird  6
Boat-tailed Grackle  300