Saturday, December 6, 2014

Bird Detective

My birding for the first week of December got off to a slow & frustrating start in both quality and quantity. But I seem to have assumed a new role as bird detective. Last week while I was on his field trip, Scott showed me a couple of photos of what could have very possibly been Trumpeter Swans that were taken at Whitesbog. Whitesbog is renowned for its flock of Tundra Swans, but Trumpeters are extremely rare in NJ (there are currently 3 in Assunpink, presumably the same trio as last winter), so he suggested that I go take a look. I  had planned to go to Whitesbog on Monday anyway, so, after studying up on the differences between the two species, I spent a couple of hours looking through 75 Tundra Swans in two bogs and came up empty. That's not to say that Trumpeter Swans hadn't been at Whitesbog previously. It only says they weren't there Monday.

Tuesday I drove down to Parker Preserve under threatening skies to meet Bob D and look for the Sedge Wren that Greg found a couple of weeks ago. We spent two hours walking up and down the same 400 foot section of the trail and while we might have heard the little bugger, we never caught a glimpse of him. Naturally, since that day, it seems that everyone and his uncle has seen the bird.

Thursday was more successful though it had its own frustration. Mike had emailed me about an interesting quail at a home near Colliers Mills. It wasn't a bobwhite (which are sometimes, though not this year, stocked in the WMA for hunting) and it wasn't a Chukar (which the hunters sometimes release to train their dogs), so, instead of looking for the Sedge Wren again, I called up the homeowner and, after not finding meadowlarks in the once-famous lapwing field in New Egypt, I drove over to her place.

They keep a small flock of chickens and she said that about 3 weeks ago her husband noticed the quail feeding with the hens. At night, when the chickens went to their coop, he found the quail nestled down with them. The bird (a hen, naturally) has been living there ever since, following the chickens around the couple of backyards they roam in, eating the oatmeal flakes they're fed, and generally living large.

I knew immediately the bird wasn't "countable" because it had a forelock, and only western quail, which don't migrate, have them. The only question was whether it was a California Quail or a Gambel's Quail and the lack of a scaly breast and the coloration indicated Gambel's. I've seen both species out west. The first time I ever saw a Gambel's it ran between my legs at the Tucson Botanical Gardens, so they're not particularly shy.

Too bad the bird isn't countable, it would be a great one to have on the NJ list, but it is probably someone's escaped pet. Yes, I was surprised to find that people do keep quails as pets. Or possibly it's a fugitive from Great Adventure which is about 5 miles away from the house. I didn't put this "sighting" on JerseyBirds because the homeowners didn't really want a lot of people coming around since they have dogs they let loose in the yard. Since it wasn't a bird anyone could put on their list, I didn't feel guilty about keeping the location to myself.

Luxury Chicken Coop
The funniest part was the chicken coop. When it was pointed out to me, I said that looks like a playhouse. Yes, I was told, it was her daughter's playhouse, then her son's fort, and now a very nice apartment house for 9 chickens and one very happy quail.

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