Saturday, January 31, 2015

January Wrap-up

Pine Siskin, outside Duluth
Photo: Shari Zirlin
Any month in which you can get seven life birds has to get SUCCESS rubber stamped in big letters across the calendar page. The trip to Minnesota we took mid-month accounted for all those lifers and is well-documented in previous posts. The rest of the month found us birding mostly in Ocean and Monmouth counties, where we managed to encounter a few rarities (underlined in the list below), like the Ross's Goose and Cackling Goose that were at Marshall's Pond on New Year's Day, as unprepossessing a spot as you can imagine--a retention pond on the side of a shopping center in front of Marshall's Department Store, though it has attracted rarities before--Pink-footed Goose a couple of years ago.

Because it was colder in New Jersey for most of the month than it was while we were in Duluth, I did a lot of backyard birding. We have two birds considered winter rarities turning up at our feeders regularly--a Chipping Sparrow and a Pine Warbler. We also had our first Yellow-bellied Sapsucker of the year during the recent snow. In all, we tallied 24 different species in the backyard (or overhead in the case of geese, gulls, and vultures), enough variety to keep me constantly checking what's going on outside.

Big misses this month were King Eider (try again tomorrow at Barnegat Light) and American Oystercatcher (they stick around we just haven't been where they are). In all I had 127 species this month beating last year's January total by 14 species--all of which could be attributed to Minnesota.

The complete month list:
Counties birded:
New Jersey: Atlantic, Burlington, Cape May, Monmouth, Ocean
New York: New York
Minnesota: Lake, St. Louis
Wisconsin: Douglas

Species               First Sighting
Snow Goose     Harry Wright Lake
Ross's Goose     Marshall's Pond
Brant     Sandy Hook
Cackling Goose     Marshall's Pond
Canada Goose     Crestwood Village
Mute Swan     Sandy Hook
Trumpeter Swan     Assunpink WMA
Tundra Swan     Cape May Point SP
Gadwall     Marshall's Pond
American Wigeon     Cape May Point SP
American Black Duck     Sandy Hook
Mallard     Lake Takanassee
Northern Shoveler     Cape May Point SP
Northern Pintail     Cape May Point SP
Green-winged Teal     Marshall's Pond
Canvasback     Riverfront Landing
Redhead     Cape May Meadows
Ring-necked Duck     Cape May Point SP
Greater Scaup     Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Lesser Scaup     Riverfront Landing
Common Eider     Sunset Beach
Harlequin Duck     Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Surf Scoter     Monmouth Beach
Black Scoter     Sandy Hook
Long-tailed Duck     Sandy Hook
Bufflehead     Cape May Point SP
Common Goldeneye     Duluth--Canal Park
Hooded Merganser     Lake Takanassee
Common Merganser     Manasquan Reservoir IBA
Red-breasted Merganser     Sandy Hook
Ruddy Duck     Cape May Point SP
Ruffed Grouse     Highway 7, St Louis County
Red-throated Loon     Sandy Hook
Common Loon     Sandy Hook
Pied-billed Grebe     Lake Takanassee
Horned Grebe     Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Red-necked Grebe     Sandy Hook
Northern Gannet     Sandy Hook
Double-crested Cormorant     Lake Takanassee
Great Cormorant     Sandy Hook
Great Blue Heron     Crestwood Village
Great Egret     Lake of the Lilies
Black-crowned Night-Heron     Forsythe--Brigantine Unit
Black Vulture     Dover Road, Berkeley
Turkey Vulture     Sandy Hook
Osprey     Coral & Yale, Cape May
Northern Harrier     Forsythe--Brigantine Unit
Sharp-shinned Hawk     Marshall's Pond
Cooper's Hawk     Cape May Point SP
Bald Eagle     Sandy Hook
Red-tailed Hawk     Sandy Hook
Rough-legged Hawk     Sax-Zim Bog
American Coot     Lake Takanassee
Black-bellied Plover     Manasquan Inlet
Ruddy Turnstone     Cape May Meadows
Sanderling     Sandy Hook
Dunlin     Maclearie Park
Purple Sandpiper     Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Razorbill     Manasquan Inlet
Bonaparte's Gull     Seven Presidents Park
Ring-billed Gull     Sandy Hook
Herring Gull     Sandy Hook
THAYER'S GULL     Duluth--Canal Park
Iceland Gull     Duluth--Canal Park
Glaucous Gull     Duluth--Canal Park
Great Black-backed Gull     Sandy Hook
Rock Pigeon     GSP Exit 0
White-winged Dove     Coral & Yale, Cape May
Mourning Dove     35 Sunset Rd
Snowy Owl     Forsythe--Brigantine Unit
NORTHERN HAWK OWL     Duluth--Jean Duluth Rd
GREAT GRAY OWL     Sax-Zim Bog
Belted Kingfisher     Cape May Point SP
Red-bellied Woodpecker     Cape May Point SP
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker     35 Sunset Rd
Downy Woodpecker     35 Sunset Rd
Hairy Woodpecker     Sax-Zim Bog
Northern Flicker     Assunpink WMA
Pileated Woodpecker     Old Vermillion Trail
Merlin     Great Bay Bvld WMA
Peregrine Falcon     Seven Presidents Park
Northern Shrike     Sax-Zim Bog
GRAY JAY     Sax-Zim Bog
Blue Jay     Crestwood Village
Black-billed Magpie     Sax-Zim Bog
American Crow     Sandy Hook
Common Raven     Sandy Hook
Tree Swallow     Sandy Hook
Carolina Chickadee     35 Sunset Rd
Black-capped Chickadee     Old Vermillion Trail
Tufted Titmouse     35 Sunset Rd
Red-breasted Nuthatch     Old Vermillion Trail
White-breasted Nuthatch     35 Sunset Rd
Brown Creeper     Manasquan Reservoir IBA
Carolina Wren     Cape May Point SP
Golden-crowned Kinglet     Double Trouble State Park
Ruby-crowned Kinglet     Cape May Point SP
Eastern Bluebird     Double Trouble State Park
Hermit Thrush     Manahawkin WMA--Beach Ave
American Robin     Cape May Point SP
Northern Mockingbird     Sandy Hook
European Starling     Cape May Point SP
Bohemian Waxwing     1740 W Knife River Rd
Snow Bunting     Highway 7, St Louis County
Pine Warbler     35 Sunset Rd
Yellow-rumped Warbler     Cape May Point SP
American Tree Sparrow     Assunpink WMA
Chipping Sparrow     35 Sunset Rd
Savannah Sparrow     Forsythe--Brigantine Unit
Song Sparrow     Assunpink WMA
White-throated Sparrow     Cape May Point SP
White-crowned Sparrow     Assunpink WMA
Dark-eyed Junco     35 Sunset Rd
Northern Cardinal     35 Sunset Rd
Red-winged Blackbird     Forsythe--Brigantine Unit
Common Grackle     Assunpink WMA
Boat-tailed Grackle     Bridge to Nowhere
House Finch     Sandy Hook
Purple Finch     Sax-Zim Bog
Common Redpoll     Old Vermillion Trail
HOARY REDPOLL     1740 W Knife River Rd
Pine Siskin     Old Vermillion Trail
American Goldfinch     35 Sunset Rd
Evening Grosbeak     Sax-Zim Bog
House Sparrow     Coral & Yale, Cape May

Friday, January 30, 2015

Great Bay Blvd 1/30--Merlin

Birding is just like life: Every day you go out hoping something great will happen. It hardly ever does but there's always the possibility that keeps you going. If something great doesn't occur, then perhaps, at the least, something interesting appear. That's slightly more likely, because "interesting" takes in a wide swath (remember the apocryphal Chinese curse).

All this leads up to the last bird I saw on Great Bay Blvd this morning. It was just over the freezing line but very windy, so I suspect a lot of birds were hunkering down. I saw 5 species of ducks, but nothing that I'd get excited about--exasperated, yes, in the case of the scaup flock that sat just far enough off shore to make identification a real chore, especially with the scope vibrating in the wind.

After checking the inlet twice and finding nothing new for the year or even the county, I was driving back north up the road when I glanced to my left and saw, sitting on a post, a Merlin. Not great, but interesting, especially since it didn't seem to mind me staring it, although as soon as I rolled down the window to take a picture, it disappeared.  Exasperated again!
Merlin in flight
At least I got out and took a decent walk today. It was the most pleasant day of the week. For my 2 hours on the Boulevard of Broken Asphalt I managed 17 species, a decent winter count.
Brant  90
Canada Goose  20
American Black Duck  18
Greater Scaup  200
Lesser Scaup  2
Bufflehead  55
Red-breasted Merganser  6
Great Blue Heron  1
Turkey Vulture  1
Northern Harrier  1
Ring-billed Gull  5
Herring Gull  15
Great Black-backed Gull  5
Merlin  1
European Starling  150
Yellow-rumped Warbler  2
Boat-tailed Grackle  225     Huge numbers of Boat-tailed Grackles are not uncommon here. Had a flock of about 100 at first bridge (new bulkhead), a 2nd large flock near first wooden bridge, then about 25 on the beach of the inlet. Many starlings were mixed in, but I accounted for them.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Backyard 1/28--Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

The inevitable question I get when I tell a non-birder about my "hobby" is, "Have you ever seen a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker?" When I tell them of course I have they are either amazed that such a bird really exists, or else suspicious that I'm kidding them back. Often I follow up with, "And there a lot of birds with funnier names than that." My current favorite, which we saw in the Camargue in France is the Zitting Cisticola, which sounds like a kind of suppurating wound to me but is really a plain little brown bird of the marshes that "zits" when it sings.

Since Monday, the beginning of the "historic" blizzard that avoided New Jersey but still managed to dump about 8 inches of snow around here, I've been backyard birding with the help of my cat, who will leap onto the desk whenever she sees something of interest outside (and it is all interesting to a cat).
My & Peeve's view the last few days
While the bird life has been lively and has included our semi-rarities (Pine Warblers & Chipping Sparrow), there hasn't been anything new until this morning when I spotted the aforementioned sapsucker climbing on the low part of a pine tree. No good angle or time for a photo. Coincidentally, it was after last year's first big snowfall that I saw my first sapsucker of 2014. The snow is good for something, I suppose.

For the 3 days I've listed 22 species in the backyard or flying over the house--not bad for a forced mid-winter "Big Sit" but I'm hoping to actually get outside tomorrow to find something that isn't attracted to a feeder.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Manasquan Reservoir 1/25--Common Merganser, Brown Creeper

I was very surprised--and disappointed--to find about 90% of Manasquan Reservoir iced over. I didn't think it had been cold enough to keep this deep body of water frozen. There were a few pockets of open water, the largest one, that we could see, was from the walkway along Georgia Tavern Road. There we found a large flock of coots, some Ruddy Ducks, a few Pied-billed Grebes, a duo of drake Buffleheads and my target bird for the day, a decent flock of Common Mergansers. I've seen literally thousands of these big ducks from that vantage point when the water was open; Shari first found a few landing in with the Ruddy Ducks, then farther out, well over 30 more. Bald Eagles were on the ice, one eating a bloody lunch of what looked like gull.

We took a walk through the woods and (very) wetlands along the Cove Trail, finding decent numbers of the usual birds, the highlight being our first Brown Creepers of the year. At the feeders we had one female Purple Finch, not a year bird but a good one for the state list.

In all we managed 29 species on this relatively warm winter day. Now we await the blizzard.
Canada Goose  100
Bufflehead  2     
Common Merganser  36
Ruddy Duck  20
Pied-billed Grebe  4
Double-crested Cormorant  2
Turkey Vulture  1
Bald Eagle  4     
Red-tailed Hawk  1
American Coot  71
Ring-billed Gull  5
Rock Pigeon   20
Mourning Dove  2
Red-bellied Woodpecker  5
Downy Woodpecker  4
Blue Jay  2
American Crow  10
Carolina Chickadee  10
Tufted Titmouse  4
White-breasted Nuthatch  5
Brown Creeper  2
Carolina Wren  2     Heard
Golden-crowned Kinglet  2
Song Sparrow  1
White-throated Sparrow  5
Dark-eyed Junco  10
House Finch  10
Purple Finch  1     
American Goldfinch  10

Friday, January 23, 2015

Manasquan Inlet 1/23--Black-bellied Plover, Razorbill

"You can't ask for better weather," I  heard one fisherman say to another at the Manasquan Inlet. "Not strictly true," I said to myself. I could always ask for better weather in winter, but with temperatures just above freezing and, more importantly, no wind, at least the conditions didn't bother me. I drove up to Point Pleasant with the hopes of snagging a couple of new birds for the year, but when I got there it didn't look promising. From the boardwalk, all I could see on the ocean were Common Loons. More loons in the inlet itself, along with one Red-breasted Merganser.  Where Common Redpolls had been reported on Wednesday there were construction vehicles, so that squelched that idea.

Then I saw a small flock of shorebirds whip around the end of the  jetty--they could have been any of about 3 or 4 winter species--on the wing, at a distance, I'm not that good--so I walked back to the beach entrance and started off toward the jetty. About half-way there I practically walked into this little flock of Black-bellied Plovers and Dunlins  They appeared perfectly comfortable and didn't flinch when I shifted position to get the light better for photos.
Black-bellied Plovers and Dunlins
With no wind to make ocean view difficult I climbed up on to the jetty and walked to the end, a pleasure compared to Barnegat Light, as the top of this jetty is like a concrete sidewalk. I had a great of view of an empty, calm ocean. Just a few loons spotted about. I saw one bird that didn't look loon-like; or gull-like; or duck-like. It was an alcid, my first Razorbill of the year and a bird I managed to miss all of last year. Manasquan Inlet is an excellent location to spot these birds (I've seen them there in the past) but I'd forgotten about this possibility of sighting one, so I had an unexpected bird for the day--the best kind. It isn't much of a digiscoped picture (it was much clearer in my scope) but you can see the general shape of the bird and its beak. 

I spent about 40 minutes on the jetty and with nothing else showing up except 30 or so flyover Brant, I decided to walk tot he western end of the inlet where ducks often hang out. Before I left I saw another intriguing flock of shorebirds fly to the back side of the jetty on the Monmouth County side to the north--they looked like Purple Sandpipers to me, but after a decent wait they never came back and I left. 

Down at the west end of the inlet channelthere were some Bufflehead and Red-breasted Mergansers and a large flock of Brant. There was also a single drake Black Scoter mixed in with the mergansers. This struck me as unusual as scoters are always seen in the ocean, never, in my experience, this close to shore near a beach. I wonder if the bird is ill which would explain why it was so close in? 

What started out as an unpromising trip ended up with two "good" birds (I only need one "good" bird a day). Still wish those redpolls had been around, though.
16 species
Brant  350
Black Scoter  1    
Bufflehead  6    
Red-breasted Merganser  8
Common Loon  9
Black-bellied Plover  6     
Dunlin  11
Razorbill  1
Ring-billed Gull  2
Herring Gull  100
Great Black-backed Gull  10
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  1
American Crow  1
Northern Mockingbird  1
European Starling  15
House Sparrow  2

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Double Trouble SP 1/21--Golden-crowned Kinglet, Eastern Bluebird

Back to local birding. I drove over to Double Trouble about noon to get a walk in before the snow began. I figured with Whitesbog frozen over, the Tundra Swans had to go somewhere and the biggest body of open water nearby would be the reservoir at the park. I was right; there were 53 swans there by my "exact" count. eBird's filter flags that as a high count. I don't know when these filters were written, but Tundra Swans are not rare in this area and 50 swans is not a particularly large flock.
24 swans right here, by my count

& a few more:
The weather was holding so I took my usual walk around the bogs, reversing my usual route to stave off boredom. It seemed pretty quiet there and I wasn't expecting much of anything else to turn up. Walking back on the other side of Cedar Creek I heard a high-pitched call note. I stopped, pished, and a single Golden-crowned Kinglet popped up on a cedar branch. I walked a couple of hundred feet along the trail before I realized that was an FOY bird. 

Along the dikes of the back bogs, on Sweetwater Lane to be specific, I heard what I thought was a bluebird. It, to my ear, is a mournful little sigh, almost like wind sloughing. I should, by now, have more confidence in my ear, but I don't like to "count" calls in any event. It didn't matter, because, just before I put my bins up to look at four sparrows on the road, a beautiful male Eastern Bluebird flew from one side of the bog to the other. Later, I saw two males flying back the other way. Both birds seemed to me surprisingly bright blue with deep red breasts. The sky was very gray by then, so it wasn't sunlight playing tricks on me. Both birds were too far and too fast to even attempt a photo. 

Two more birds for the years, 3 more for the county and I got back before the snow started to fall.

10 species
Tundra Swan  53     
Ring-billed Gull  21     f/o
Carolina Chickadee  2
White-breasted Nuthatch  1     Heard
Golden-crowned Kinglet  1
Eastern Bluebird  2     
American Robin  1     Heard
Song Sparrow  5
Dark-eyed Junco  12
American Goldfinch  1

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Minnesota in Winter

Great Gray Owl
Photo: Shari Zirlin
Mike Mandracchia organized a group of Jersey and Philly birders to take a trip to what turned out to be only the semi-frozen north of Duluth, Minnesota, led by his friend Kim Risen of Naturescape Tours.

Since I hate traveling, hate winter, hate the cold and hate the wind, I had more than a few qualms about taking this trip, but the prospect of 11 potential life birds, a couple of which I knew I had absolutely no chance of scoring in the east, overrode my trepidation.

Whatever you're worrying about usually doesn't happen, so since I was worried about everything, it all worked out fine. The weather, while cold, wasn't any colder than it can get in NJ and the winds, for the most part were mild. The coldest day we had started out at about 5 degrees and warmed up all the way to 20. The other days started in the 20's and warmed up past the freezing mark.
If my coat is open, it can't be that cold. 
You can't rack up huge numbers of species in Northern Minnesota--St Louis County, for the year, has recorded about 65 species so far. Contrast that to Ocean County where I already have 79 species and the total number of species in the county is well over 100. But, we weren't going for quantity; we wanted birds that you just don't see in the mid-Atlantic region like Gray Jay, Boreal Chickadee, and the owls. I was hoping for two species of woodpeckers but got shut out on those. Two species of grouse were also no-shows. But of the 11 target birds we got 7 and I think that's a pretty good percentage.

We made a couple of brief forays into Wisconsin, spent some time looking at gulls on the Duluth waterfront, ran up to Superior National Forest for half a day, but spent most of time birding the legendary Sax-Zim Bog.

Individual reports can be found here:
Duluth--Canal Park 1/15--Common Goldeneye, THAYER'S GULL, Glaucous Gull
Jean Duluth Road 1/16--NORTHERN HAWK OWL
Sax-Zim Bog 1/17--Purple Finch, Evening Grosbeak
Duluth--Canal Park 1/17--Iceland Gull
W Knife River Rd 1/18--Bohemian Waxwing, HOARY RED...
Sax-Zim Bog 1/18--GREAT GRAY OWL

Our complete list for the trip: Underline=Rare; Bold Italics=FOY; ALL CAPS BOLD=Life Bird
Species                                    First Sighting
American Black Duck     Duluth--Canal Park   
Mallard     Duluth--Canal Park   
Northern Pintail     Duluth--Canal Park   
Common Eider     Duluth--Canal Park   
Common Goldeneye     Duluth--Canal Park   
Ruffed Grouse     Highway 7, St Louis County   
Bald Eagle     Hwy 53, MM14   
Rough-legged Hawk     Sax-Zim Bog   
Herring Gull     Duluth--Canal Park   
THAYER'S GULL     Duluth--Canal Park   
Iceland Gull     Duluth--Canal Park   
Glaucous Gull     Duluth--Canal Park   
Rock Pigeon     East Duluth   
Snowy Owl    Richard Bong Airport
NORTHERN HAWK OWL     Duluth--Jean Duluth Rd   
GREAT GRAY OWL     Sax-Zim Bog   
Downy Woodpecker     Sax-Zim Bog   
Hairy Woodpecker     Sax-Zim Bog   
Pileated Woodpecker     Old Vermillion Trail   
Northern Shrike     Sax-Zim Bog   
GRAY JAY     Sax-Zim Bog   
Blue Jay     Highway 7, St Louis County   
Black-billed Magpie     Sax-Zim Bog   
American Crow     Duluth--Jean Duluth Rd   
Common Raven     Duluth--Jean Duluth Rd   
Black-capped Chickadee     Old Vermillion Trail   
Red-breasted Nuthatch     Old Vermillion Trail   
White-breasted Nuthatch     Highway 7, St Louis County   
Bohemian Waxwing     1740 W Knife River Road   
Snow Bunting     Highway 7, St Louis County   
PINE GROSBEAK     Sax-Zim Bog   
Purple Finch     Sax-Zim Bog   
Common Redpoll     Old Vermillion Trail   
HOARY REDPOLL     1740 W Knife River Road   
Pine Siskin     Old Vermillion Trail   
Evening Grosbeak     Sax-Zim Bog    

Duluth--Canal Park 1/15--Common Goldeneye, THAYER'S GULL, Glaucous Gull

Our plane landed in Duluth at just about 3 PM, with no problems along the way. We called Kim and Mike and they said they'd pick us up in about 10 minutes. I expected they'd just ferry us back to the motel since it was pretty late in the day. Instead, the van was almost full with the rest of the group and after some very brief greetings to those we knew and introductions to those we didn't, we were whisked off to the Duluth waterfront, where a canal comes in from Lake Superior, called, appropriately, Canal Park.

I don't recall if the first bird I saw in Duluth was a Mallard or a Herring Gull, but there were plenty of them close in along the canal's wall. The next bird I found was a single drake Common Goldeneye, much farther out but still well-seen. The big duck news in Duluth, however, is a hen Common Eider mingling with the Mallards. The last time an eider was in Duluth was either during the Eisenhower or the Johnson Administration; there was some disagreement as to who was president when but I wasn't there to teach a history lesson. Whenever it was it had been a while. There were also 4 Northern Pintail (2 drakes, 2 hens), always nice to see, and, it turned out, yet another rarity for Duluth.

Kim was sorting through the gulls and picked out a few Glaucous Gulls for us and soon, not even in Duluth for 45 minutes, we got our first lifer of the trip, a gull with pink feet and an amber eye--THAYER'S GULL. Shari shot a video of the bird on her phone.

So,I was pretty impressed. I was also a little underdressed, since I hadn't even had the chance to change shoes from my sneakers and I was only wearing a couple of layers. Still, the temperatures were just above freezing so it seemed very much like winter in NJ.

Common Eider (hen)
After this stop, we still weren't done. There aren't a lot of hours of daylight in Duluth in winter so you after to use all them all. We all piled back into the van and drove over the border to Superior, Wisconsin and drove the perimeter of the Richard I. Bong Airport (not making up the name) to look for Snowy Owls. They weren't hard to find. It seem like every light pole, utility pole, tall pipe or tree had an owl atop it. We counted 6 in a brief run around the area, only stopping a couple of times. And unlike New Jersey, where I've been feeling pretty skeevy about looking for Snowies because they're down on the ground and easily disturbed, these were pretty much out of                                                                                                    range of being bothered.
Common Goldeneye (drake)
Finally, with the sun down we headed back to Minnesota, with 8 birds to kick off the trip, including 1 lifer, + two others as year birds.

Mallard  50
Northern Pintail  4     
Common Eider  1     
Common Goldeneye  2
Herring Gull  70

Glaucous Gull  1 
Snowy Owl   6
Glaucous Gull

Northern Pintail (drake)

Jean Duluth Road 1/16--NORTHERN HAWK OWL

We were up & out well before dawn on Friday, the official start of the tour. We drove along Jean Duluth Road north and east out of town. Kim knew that along the road NORTHERN HAWK OWL could be seen. How well they'd be able to be seen, if we found them, was the question. The answer: Very well. This is the first one we saw. There was a 2nd bird along the way too.

And so, not long after dawn we had our 2nd lifer of the trip. This was seeming just a little too easy. 


Photos: Shari Zirlin

 Situated between the two ghost towns of Sax & Zim, the Sax-Zim bog is approximately 100 square miles of forest and fields cut through by county roads. Farming here was pretty much a failure because of the acidity of the peat that makes up much of the area's soil. Though I did find the trivia that at one time the celery for Chun-King products was grown there. When was the last time you thought about Chun-King?

The bog is the big draw, the main reason to bird Northern Minnesota, the place to get the boreal birds you aren't ever going to get in NJ.

So, after picking up another van and the last two people in our party at the airport we drove up to the bog in the afternoon. We were always birding along the roads and on the way we picked up some nice species like multiple Northern Shrike and 6 or 7 Ruffed Grouse

I think our first bird once we were with in the boundaries of the bog was a beautiful light morph Rough-legged Hawk, only the 2nd one Shari & I had seen. (We were to get a couple of others on the trip.)  Kim was always on the lookout for owls, but frankly, I was more interested in what might be at the feeders. There was one on Admiral Road that we stopped at. Kim smeared some peanut butter on on the stick holding the feeders and within a few minutes the bird I really wanted to see more than any other on this trip finally showed up--two of them in fact, the very striking GRAY JAY.
I was thrilled to finally get this bird--we missed it last year in New Mexico and trips to the Adirondacks just have not meshed with our schedule.

Black-capped Chickadees were all about the feeders, but Kim said to wait for about 15 or 20 minutes for the other chickadee in Minnesota to show. The jays kept swooping in for food, so I was amiably distracted when I suddenly saw on the stick a chickadee with brown flanks and very little cheek patch showed up--BOREAL CHICKADEE, another lifer at the same feeder. Interestingly, Sibley says that these chickadees, unlike their more social cousins, rarely visit feeders. I'm glad this one made an exception.

Those two life birds sort of made up for the one I had missed earlier in the day at a feeder along Highway 7. However, I got my 2nd chance as the group drove along the road and when Kim announced on the walkie-talkie PINE GROSBEAK, I bolted from the car and with Shari's help finally found it at the very tip of a tall spruce. Not a great look in the gloaming, but one I could use. (Happily, we saw more as the trip progressed.)

So, just in Sax-Zim we had 3 more lifers. The list for just the bog itself:
Rough-legged Hawk  1
Downy Woodpecker  1
Hairy Woodpecker  1
Northern Shrike  2
GRAY JAY 2     
Black-billed Magpie  2
Common Raven  2
Black-capped Chickadee  5
Red-breasted Nuthatch  2
Common Redpoll  30

Sax-Zim Bog 1/17--Purple Finch, Evening Grosbeak

Pre-dawn pit stop at Superamerica
We returned to the bog early Saturday morning. Still no owls to be found, despite driving up and down what were either the same roads repeatedly, or different roads that all looked the same. Looking for "target birds" is not one of my favorite ways of birding (until we find the bird). I'd rather go to a spot where the birds are and look through them, hoping for something interesting, rather than drive around looking for one bird. There is a fine line between persistence and stubborness--happily, Kim doesn't cross that line.

I'm not sure what governmental status the bog has, but there is a small population scattered throughout and some of the residents have made their yards into big feeder stations and it was one of those spots that we picked up a bird I had forgotten about but that is one of my favorites--Evening Grosbeak. I listed 10 of these big yellow birds, but there were probably more than 30 in the trees around the property. A "by the way" FOY bird was Purple Finch.
Purple Finch, Pine Siskin, Evening Grosbeak

Evening Grosbeak
Common Redpoll, Visitor's Ctr

Purple Finch, Visitor's Ctr
We also stopped at the Visitor's Center where there were at least a 100 Common Redpolls. We tried to make one of them into a rarer finch but Kim kept saying no. Having a leucistic Redpoll in with the flock didn't help matters.

13 species
Downy Woodpecker  1
Hairy Woodpecker  1
Northern Shrike  3
Blue Jay  1     Heard
American Crow  1
Common Raven  4
Black-capped Chickadee  4
Boreal Chickadee  2
White-breasted Nuthatch  2
Purple Finch  4    
Common Redpoll  130    
Pine Siskin  25
Evening Grosbeak  10   

Duluth--Canal Park 1/17--Iceland Gull

World's largest lift bridge, Duluth's Canal Park
After lunch we drove back into Duluth to give the couple of birders who came in late a chance to see the Thayer's Gulls. As we were driving into the parking lot a huge completely white gull flew over the cars--a gorgeous adult Glaucous Gull. They are almost as large as Great Black-backed Gull and, to my mind, the most magnificent looking gull that I've seen.

We found the Thayer's Gull(s) pretty easily this time, as well as 4 more Glaucous Gulls in varying stages of immature plumage. A big gull like Glaucous might take 4 years to come to full maturity, so with two molts a year, there are potentially 8 different "looks" the gull can give you. I'm happy just to be able to pick out the common field marks that make it a Glaucous (or whatever the gull in question). I'm not too interested if it is 2nd or 3rd year. (I know all the arguments why this is a bad attitude. I'm also not too interested in those arguments.)

However, there was yet another gull to be found--an Iceland Gull. Coffee-with-cream colored except for white wing-tips which form a white triangle when it is swimming and an all black bill make this one probably a 2nd year bird.

What I enjoyed about seeing all these gulls was the close looks we were able to get. Usually, when you're looking at gulls, the conditions stink--they're far off, moving around, the wind is in your face, the light is bad--the two trips to Canal Park had none of those problems, so for once, I was able to enjoy gulls with a minimum of frustration.
Canal Park Smile
We repeated our trip to Superior Wisconsin, once more driving the roads around the Bong Airport. This time I counted 7 Snowy Owls. The group counted 10. Somewhere, I missed 3 but, as I always say, "I only need one." I'm not that concerned with going for a record number of snowies, but it was a good lesson in distinguishing between males, females, adults and immature birds. Shari took a photo of this pure white male just before the light totally faded on us.
Photo: Shari Zirlin
11 species (+1 other taxa)
American Black Duck  1
Mallard  100
American Black Duck x Mallard (hybrid)  2
Northern Pintail  4     
Common Eider  1     
Common Goldeneye  2     
Herring Gull  100
Thayer's Gull  3     
Iceland Gull  1    
Glaucous Gull  5    
Snowy Owl   7
American Crow  2

W Knife River Rd 1/18--Bohemian Waxwing, HOARY REDPOLL

Bohemian Waxwings
Photo: Shari Zirlin
We started the day very early, leaving the hotel at 6:15 for the long trip up to the Superior National Forest--pristine boreal forest. Not much has changed up there in 200 years. Unfortunately, there were no birds to speak of. A little of this and a little of that. The highlight for me was when 4 Pine Grosbeaks landed on the road and I was able to finally get the field guide looks at them that I hadn't had before. But there was nothing new for the trip. Lots of ravens.

Kim had also been taking us to places to look for Bohemian Waxwings, but couldn't track down a flock until Sunday afternoon on the way back from Two Harbors, where we had lunch. Waxwings move around a lot, finding a food source (buckhorn berries are popular right now), stripping the vegetation of the fruit and then moving on en masse. One of Kim's friends had told him he'd seen large numbers on his property, so we drove along the road his house is on and sure enough, a huge flock of about 300 BOWA (which is probably 30 times more waxwings than I've seen altogether) were rising and falling along the distant tree line at the back of his land. They finally swirled around close enough for us all to get good scope looks at them.

While we were all taking turns looking at the waxwings, there was some action behind us at the bird feeders. A few chickadees. Lots of Common Redpolls. And when Kim put his bins on them, finally, the elusive HOARY REDPOLL showed up. A great life bird to have for the trip. Especially to have the identification confirmed by an expert, because I don't see enough redpolls to have the confidence that one of them is different enough to be a another species. In the field guides the difference is obvious. In the field, not so much.

Only 5 species on this stop but 2 "quality" birds.
Common Raven  1
Black-capped Chickadee  5
Bohemian Waxwing  300     
Common Redpoll  10


Sax-Zim Bog 1/18--GREAT GRAY OWL

Look for the birders, not the bird. That strategy worked well when we drove back to Sax-Zim after first checking out the Northern Hawk Owl again, as well as stopping along the road to admire another Rough-legged Hawk. Along Highway 7 we came across a small flock of 20 Snow Buntings which flew back and forth along the railroad tracks enough times so that everyone in the two vehicles could get good views of them.

But it was an owl we were looking for now, and the day was getting late. We had heard from a couple of photographers at breakfast that they had seen the owl at 9 PM (using flashlights) at the feeder where we saw the jay and chickadee the other day. As we approached that feeder there was a long line of cars parked across from it. We stopped, all got out quietly (don't slam that door!) and approached from behind the line of vehicles and there, as if on display, was one magnificent mammal killing machine, the largest owl in the world, the GREAT GRAY OWL, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Sometimes the owl looked at me (or looked like it was) and it made me shiver. Sibley describes its gaze as "imposing," and he's right. At well over 2 feet tall this owl dwarfs the 22" Great Horned. We all stood around, taking pictures, whispering about how awesome this bird was, until some guy in a pick up stopped in the road right in front of the owl and asked "whatcha got," which flushed the bird. I didn't mind, but a few photographers were steaming.

As if that wasn't enough, we had a second bird about mile away, though the looks were more distant. But it is such a big owl that even at distance you can make it out well. Then, at dusk, we went back to our original location and the owl and come out again, posing magnificently atop the stump of a broken tree. Our 7th (and last) life bird of the trip.

5 species
Gray Jay
Black-capped Chickadee  2
Boreal Chickadee  1
Common Redpoll  75

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Riverfront Landing 1/13--Canvasback

I went out around lunchtime over to this little park in Toms River to see if I could finally get Canvasback on my year list.  It was a real anomaly, it seemed to me, to have had Redhead there early this month and still not see this much more common duck. Riverfront Landing is "go to" spot 'round here for this species. As it was last Saturday, most of the water close to shore and around the pier is frozen, but on the far edge of the ice and in a slice of open water, I managed to find 8 of the big, handsome ducks. Unfortunately, the light was terrible and they were too far out to take any photos that wouldn't be little silhouettes, but at least I have them for the year. Nothing else on the water that I wouldn't expect.

Pine Warbler (male) attracted to peanut butter
Our backyard continues to host at least one Pine Warbler. As I did last year, every time I see it, I try to take a photo and post it to eBird. Maybe some day they'll alter their filter and it won't be regarded as a "rarity" and I won't feel obligated to "prove" my sighting every time.

Monday, January 12, 2015

A Sad Typo

At the time I took this photo, while wandering around Ocean County Park (which was the old Rockefeller Estate), waiting for the car to be serviced, I thought it was just an oddity--a pet cemetery for police dogs. It wasn't until today, idly clicking through old photos that I noticed the typo and inept attempt to correct it. I'd like to have heard the finger-pointing arguments on this one! At the same time, I'm a little ashamed of myself for not noticing this glaring error when I first saw the sign. Used to be, you couldn't slip one that big by me. I guess the time away from the printing industry, when I was paid to care about this stuff, shows.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Barnegat Light SP 1/11--Greater Scaup, Harlequin Duck, Horned Grebe, Purple Sandpiper

To go to Barnegat Light in January and not have very much wind is a treat, particularly after our last trip there in December when the winds were blowing 30 mph. We met up with Scott Barnes and Linda Mack for a quickly re-scheduled trip to the Light, since their trip to Assunpink had to be cancelled; the lake is completely frozen.

I need to go to Barnegat Light to get my Harlequin Duck and Purple Sandpiper ticks on my list for the year and the county. The Purple Sandpipers were pretty easy--a small flock was flying around the end of the jetty (which we climbed up from the beach, none of us intrepid/crazy enough to walk its icy length anymore), but the it was touch and go on the Harlequins. Some people who had walked far out to the end of jetty said there were four of the little beauties out there. Only one of our group was brave enough to walk out there. However, with some patience (something I was too impatient to wait on line for when they were handing it out at birth) Linda managed to get one in her scope and I got a nice look at a male.

While it started out calm, by the time we got to the jetty and little bit of southeast wind had kicked up. Nothing I couldn't handle, but it did make the long trek back toward 8th Street a test of my cold weather gear.  The group had spent about a 1/2 hour looking through the large flock of Common Eiders close in to shore, hoping to spot the long-reported hen King Eider (oxymoron). I can honestly say that I looked closely at each hen and wasn't able to find it. Nor were Scott, Linda, Shari, or anyone else in our group with a scope able to spot it. If I'd had been by myself I'd be convinced that I overlooked it. With all those eyes, I'm satisfied that it just wasn't there.

For the trip I had 34 species, plus a huge flock of distant ducks that have to go down as Surf/Black Scoters. I added 4 species for the year and enough species for the county to get into the #3 position. Not that I'm counting.

Greater Scaup  1     Inlet
Common Eider  135
Harlequin Duck  1     Far end of jetty
Surf Scoter  1
Black Scoter  15
Surf/Black Scoter  2000
Long-tailed Duck  10
Bufflehead  9
Red-breasted Merganser  15
Ruddy Duck  1
Red-throated Loon  2
Common Loon  10
Horned Grebe  5
Double-crested Cormorant  1
Great Cormorant  5
Great Blue Heron  1
Northern Harrier  1
Ruddy Turnstone  20
Sanderling  1
Dunlin  15
Purple Sandpiper  25
Bonaparte's Gull  1
Ring-billed Gull  1
Herring Gull  500
Great Black-backed Gull  2
Belted Kingfisher  1
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  2
American Crow  2
Carolina Wren  1     Heard
Northern Mockingbird  1
European Starling  50
Yellow-rumped Warbler  10
Savannah Sparrow (Ipswich)  2
American Goldfinch  1

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Brig 1/10--Snowy Owl

It's been very cold the last 4 or 5 days, but it hasn't seemed cold enough to freeze Barnegat Bay, but that's what's happened. I started out the morning over at Riverfront Landing in Toms River, hoping for Canvasbacks, but most of the water there was frozen, so the only ducks I could get were Mallards and Ruddy Ducks. Later, I hear, a lot more ducks showed up. I have no idea where they were hiding while I was there.

My next stop was Marshall's Pond, which was, I'd estimate, about 75% ice. I was hoping to get another look at the Cackling Goose that's been there, but among the 300 or so geese in the water and on the ice I couldn't find it. I did come up with a nice Green-winged Teal, though.

Around noon we met up with Pete & Mike who were leading their annual Ocean County Roads trip, which usually goes down 4 or 5 marsh-lined roads. But since most of the water was of the solid variety, after a couple of stops in Manahawkin, they called and audible and the whole group headed down to Brig.

Our target there was on the North Dike and we found the Snowy Owl easily, getting great scope looks. I didn't attempt to photograph it--too distant. Snowy Owls are again turning up in NJ, not with the frequency and quantity of last winter, but still good numbers have been in the state. I'd like to get one for Ocean County.

New birds for the year at Brig included Northern Harrier (which I'd have thought I had by now) an immature Black-crowned Night-Heron, and a couple of Savannah Sparrows, behaving as though they were White-throated Sparrows, kicking in the leaf litter. I never saw that behavior from Savannah Sparrow before; nor had Pete. He thought it was because the ground was frozen.

We ended the day watching the sun set along Cedar Run Dock Road, back in Ocean County. We were hoping Short-eared Owls would make an appearance. But the Harrier working the day shift clocked out and his nocturnal counterparts never showed up.

Still for a frigid day we did all right--36 species and 7 new ones for the year.
Brant    25
Canada Goose    300
Mute Swan    2
Tundra Swan    110
Gadwall    2
American Black Duck    100
Mallard    100
Green-winged Teal    5
Bufflehead    20
Hooded Merganser    6
Ruddy Duck    200
Great Blue Heron    2
Black-crowned Night-Heron    1
Black Vulture    1
Turkey Vulture    1
Northern Harrier    1
Bald Eagle    1
Red-tailed Hawk    2
Herring Gull    2
Great Black-backed Gull    1
Mourning Dove    3
Snowy Owl    1
Belted Kingfisher    1
Red-bellied Woodpecker    1
Downy Woodpecker    3
Blue Jay    2
Carolina Chickadee    1
Hermit Thrush    2
American Robin    5
Yellow-rumped Warbler    3
Savannah Sparrow    2
Song Sparrow    1
Dark-eyed Junco    1
Red-winged Blackbird    1
Boat-tailed Grackle    3
House Sparrow    2