Friday, April 3, 2015

Hunterdon County 4/3--Neotropic Cormorant, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Neotropic Cormorant (front) with Double-crested Cormorants, Demott Pond, Clinton, NJ
Opportunity is supposed to knock once. Last year, when a Neotropic Cormorant spent a couple of months up in Hunterdon County and I didn't drive up for it, I figured I had lost my chance to add it to my state list. Amazingly, last week, presumably the same bird showed up in the same place as last year. So when Mike emailed me yesterday, asking if I was interested in chasing it today, along with a Thayer's Gull that had been reported nearby, I responded with an enthusiastic YES!!!

It was raining when we left but up in the northwest section of the state is was just cloudy. Our first "good" bird was a Wild Turkey running across the road just after we turned off I-78. Hunterdon County was one of two counties in NJ that I've never birded and I've only passed through it on the interstate, so I had no idea where we were or where we were going. Fortunately, Mike did.

Our first stop was in Clinton on an overpass above the South Branch River. There were cormorants in the water and roosting on snags, but they were all of the double-crested variety. We tried a few different vantage points but the bird wasn't there. We were hoping it would be an easy "get" so we could concentrate on finding the Thayer's Gull among the huge flock of gulls we expected on the Spruce Run Reservoir.

Planning to come back for the cormorant, Mike drove us over to the reservoir's boat launch, of which I have heard and read much about as a great place to see gulls. Yesterday someone posted that there were 2400 gulls to sort through. Today there were...28: 26 Ring-bill Gulls, 1 immature Herring Gull and 1 adult Lesser Black-backed Gull.  This was not going well. At least I had the consolation that every bird I saw or heard was a county bird.

We gave up there after about a half hour when the few gulls on the water flew off and drove back to Clinton. We looked briefly at the first spot, where even the Double-crested Cormorants had disappeared, then drove another couple of miles to Demott Pond where the bird has also been hanging out.

And there we found it. It was at first roosting in a tree with drying its outspread wings. It was obviously smaller than the Double-crested Cormorants on the pond, had a shorter tail, was browner and had no coloring on its face. It then plunged into the water, dove, and came up with a fish. We lost sight of it for a moment when it swam around to the back of a little island, but then it appeared as I photographed it above, roosting with the other cormorants, giving us great comparison views. We had our bird.

Bonus bird: I heard my first state Black-capped Chickadee. Mike & I had plenty of them when we were in Minnesota in January.

We also had Thayer's Gull there (3 in fact), but we still wanted it for our state list, so back to Spruce Run we went. There were now no gulls on the water, or the land, or the air. If you're going to miss a bird, then missing it by a mile is better than looking through thousands of gulls with the nagging thought that it is there, but you just don't see it.

Bonus birds: As we were driving out we saw a couple of birders pulled off to the side of the rode checking out the bare trees. We didn't see any raptors up there; they were looking at small birds that they thought might be warblers. The birds were small, too small to be warblers, and when we heard "zeep zeep" and saw one fly, we knew we  had our FOY Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. While they're listed as expected this time of year in south Jersey, in that part of the state they're still flagged as rare.

As we drove on toward the exit I saw a raptor in a tree close to the road. Mike stopped the car and we got a very close look at a Red-shouldered Hawk, a bird I don't see very much and certainly not as near as this one was. However, by the time we were able to get to our cameras, it disappeared--neither of us saw it fly away.

My Hunterdon County life list may be small (28 species) but there are some real goodies on it.
Species                      First Sighting
Canada Goose     S. Branch overpass, Clinton
Mallard     S. Branch overpass, Clinton
Ring-necked Duck     Demott Pond
Wild Turkey     White House
Common Loon     Spruce Run Reservoir
Neotropic Cormorant     Demott Pond
Double-crested Cormorant     S. Branch overpass, Clinton
Turkey Vulture     Demott Pond
Red-shouldered Hawk     Spruce Run Reservoir
Ring-billed Gull     Spruce Run Reservoir
Herring Gull     Spruce Run Reservoir
Lesser Black-backed Gull     Spruce Run Reservoir
Mourning Dove     Spruce Run Reservoir
Belted Kingfisher     Spruce Run Reservoir
Red-bellied Woodpecker     Spruce Run Reservoir
American Crow     S. Branch overpass, Clinton
Fish Crow     S. Branch overpass, Clinton
Tree Swallow     Spruce Run Reservoir
Black-capped Chickadee     Demott Pond
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher     Spruce Run Reservoir
Eastern Bluebird     Spruce Run Reservoir
American Robin     S. Branch overpass, Clinton
Chipping Sparrow     S. Branch overpass, Clinton
Song Sparrow     S. Branch overpass, Clinton
White-throated Sparrow     Spruce Run Reservoir
Northern Cardinal     S. Branch overpass, Clinton
Common Grackle     S. Branch overpass, Clinton
House Sparrow     S. Branch overpass, Clinton

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