Sunday, February 8, 2015

Mercer Sod Farm IBA 2/8--Fish Crow

Mercer Sod Farm, which is, perplexedly, in Burlington, not Mercer, County is a hard place to bird since you are not actually allowed on the property. Instead, you can only bird the periphery. I don't understand why, since it is supposedly part of the Burlington County Parks Department, though I've been told that the active eagle's nest has something to do with the ban.

American Tree Sparrow
Photo: Shari Zirlin
We drove over there after lunch, having birded Shelter Cove briefly, looking for Horned Larks which didn't appear, Cattus Island, where the feeders were active and Shari was able to take a good photo of an American Tree Sparrow, but the water was frozen and the woods were dead, and Marshall's Pond just to reassure ourselves that the laughable sighting of 3 (THREE!) Tufted Ducks was indeed just that. It was; they turned out to be, of course, Ring-necked Ducks.

Last year we looped around the fields that make up the sod farms probably a dozen times on a number of trips, trying to find a Rough-legged Hawk before we were finally successful. Today we got it on the first try but only after a false alarm. When we first drove onto Warner Road, in the back of the fields, Shari pointed out a hawk above and it was white beneath with black wingtips and I thought it was a Roughie until it landed in the field and I saw a white rump and I realized that instead we had a very beautiful "Gray Ghost" Northern Harrier. It wasn't the bird I wanted it to be, to paraphrase Pete Bacinski.

We drove around to the Burlington County Fairgrounds on the corner of Rt 206. From the parking lot you can view the fields pretty well. It always feels like we're trespassing when we drive onto the empty grounds, but apparently it is perfectly legal. There were other cars there, one couple monitoring the Bald Eagles on their nest and a family riding their bikes. I was also looking at the eagles and the swirl of starlings in the field below them when I realized, after about 10 seconds, that I was hearing a familiar call, one I hadn't heard in quite a few months. "Heh-heh." I looked up and flying just above me was a huge flock of Fish Crows. For some reason, in the winter you're more likely to find these crows which are usually around water (where else are they going to get fish?) inland rather than on the coast. All I've seen in Ocean County are American Crows. My first Fish Crows last year were in this area too--across the street in the Pandora Diner's parking lot. (BTW, who had the idea of naming their Greek Diner after the woman who let all the woes of the world escape from her box?)

It seemed like every time I saw a hawk fly in the field it was another Harrier. Finally, looking over the tree line on the east side of 206, I saw more crows mobbing a larger bird. At first I thought it was a Turkey Vulture, but I've never seen crows bother with vultures and the bird didn't look right for vulture. It had white linings under its wings, similar to a TUVU,  but Turkey Vultures don't have white bases to their tails as this one did. Watching it and watching it I realized it didn't fly like a vulture either. I watched it some more and finally was able to convince myself that I did have a Rough-legged Hawk in the scope. Not a year bird; we saw 3 in Minnesota, but it is a new one for the state.

So, only 7 species for the spot. I sure would like to walk the fields but the guys I know who did both had run-ins with the police.

Turkey Vulture  6
Northern Harrier  4
Bald Eagle  3     Two on nest
Rough-legged Hawk  1     
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1
Fish Crow  70
European Starling  500

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