Saturday, June 27, 2015

Pole Farm 6/27--Bobolink

Photo: Mike Mandracchia
Mike & I went to the Pole Farm in Mercer County early this morning. Our target was Bobolink, year bird for Mike, year state bird for me. Neither of us had ever been to this 800 acre site which was formerly an AT&T transmission installation with thousands of poles supporting antennae--hence the name. Almost all the poles are gone now and what's left is grassland, perfect habitat for Bobolink, Grasshopper Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark...and Yellow-breasted Chat, which Mike saw fly into a tree even before we were out of the car in the parking lot. It took me 3 tries and miles of walking through tick-infested fields at the Assunpink Navigation Beacon to find my first chats this year and Mike get his year bird chat while parking the car! It's better to be lucky than good, but it is even better to be lucky AND good.

We found the chat after it flew out of the tree posted up in the field on a stalk of high grass and then, before we were out of the parking lot had 7 or 8 species including Blue Grosbeak. We walked out about 770 feet (I measured it on Google Maps) to the bathrooms and looked in the field to the left and both saw, almost at the same moment, a beautiful male Bobolink on a small bush, just where it was supposed to be. So in the space of 5 minutes, Mike had two year birds. That's pretty hard to do in June. As Mike said, all our chases should be this easy.

Meadowlarks were abundant in that field, flying and singing and being chased by blackbirds and we also saw a female American Kestrel come out of a nest box and perch up in a nearby tree. I think we both figured we would have to spend some time looking for the Bobolink and then, if we were lucky, we'd have 10 or 11 more species and then go somewhere else, but by the time we turned around we already had about 20 species on our list and we'd only been there 15 minutes. I had expected only grasslands, but looking around we saw more diverse habitat than I expected including woods. Another birder there told us that "30 paces" beyond the observation deck, about 1/2 mile away, there was a nesting Wood Thrush. I've heard plenty of Wood Thrushes this year, but I had yet to see one, so we decided to explore the area more thoroughly. We added plenty of Field Sparrows on our walk out there, as well an Indigo Bunting, plus towhees and other list builders. When we walked off our 30 paces where the thrush was supposed to be we found, instead, nesting Ovenbirds. Ovenbirds can be easily mistaken for thrushes if you're an inexperienced birder as this woman who gave us the directions admitted she was. Still, Ovenbirds are cool. We continued on the cinder trails, easy walking, and eventually did come upon a viewable Wood Thrush. We kept making rights but without a map in hand weren't sure if we were on a loop so after about a mile and half we retraced our steps. Mike had thought he'd heard a Scarlet Tanager at one point and when we came back to that part of the trail he heard it again. It wasn't until it started calling continuously that I was able to hear it. The usual description of the tanager's song is "a robin with a cold," but that is a little too poetic for me. However, once it sang multiple times, I was ready to list it.

We got back to the parking lot without having seen a robin, which seemed impossible. I saw a bird up in a bare tree which I thought might have been another sparrow but sure enough, Mike put his glasses on it and it was a robin. It took us 44 birds to get it, but we had one. We hadn't seen a Chipping Sparrow; one flew in while we were standing in the parking lot. A Carolina Wren sang. A Chimney Swift flew over. Then we saw a Black Vulture. I suppose if we stood there long enough we would have come up to 50 species on the day.

But the weather report for today was not an optimistic one; it had drizzled off and one while we walked. The weather was deteriorating by the time we returned to the parking lot and a look at the weather map didn't show any clear spots anywhere else. With 49 species, and about 20% of those what my old friend Peter in Brooklyn would call "quality" birds, we decided that despite the claim that the best birding is done in bad weather, we'd rather be inside. As I write this, a soaking rain is hovering over most of NJ.

Our Pole Farm list. We both think the place bears more investigation, especially during migration.
Great Blue Heron  3
Black Vulture  1
Turkey Vulture  1
Cooper's Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Mourning Dove  10
Chimney Swift  1
Downy Woodpecker  1     Heard
Hairy Woodpecker  1     Heard
Northern Flicker   1
American Kestrel  1    
Eastern Wood-Pewee  2     Heard
Red-eyed Vireo  1     Heard
Blue Jay  2     Heard
American Crow  2     Heard
Tree Swallow  10
Barn Swallow  5
Carolina Chickadee  10
Tufted Titmouse  2     Heard
White-breasted Nuthatch  1     Heard
House Wren  1     Field across from obs deck.
Carolina Wren  1     Heard
Wood Thrush  6
American Robin  1
Gray Catbird  20
Brown Thrasher  1
Northern Mockingbird  2
European Starling  25
Cedar Waxwing  1     Heard
Ovenbird  3     
Common Yellowthroat  10
Yellow-breasted Chat
Eastern Towhee  15
Chipping Sparrow  1
Field Sparrow  12
Grasshopper Sparrow  3
Song Sparrow  1
Scarlet Tanager  1     Heard
Northern Cardinal  3
Blue Grosbeak  1     Heard
Indigo Bunting  2
Bobolink  1     
Red-winged Blackbird  20
Eastern Meadowlark  5
Common Grackle  4
Brown-headed Cowbird  1     Heard
Orchard Oriole  1     Field behind parking lot
House Finch  2     Heard
American Goldfinch  1

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