Sunday, July 19, 2015

Waretown 7/19--Mississippi Kite Redux

Mississippi Kite, corner of Walker & Elizabeth, Waretown, NJ
I wanted Shari to see the Mississippi Kite, so after spending a good part of the day lolling around at Island Beach SP, we headed down to Waretown in the late afternoon, prime time for the Kite to make an appearance. Truth is, I also wanted to see it again, ideally, perched on the bare tree instead of just flying over. Obviously we did, but it wasn't easy.

When we arrived there were a couple of birders we knew there, one of them our friend Ken. The bird had made an appearance earlier in the day, but neither one was there then. Shari & I hung around for 15 minutes, but it was hot (which is why we went to the beach in the first place) and Shari, in her bathing suit, was hardly dressed for birding. I was hoping that the bird would've been already perched in the tree and it would be a quick hit. As we were leaving, Ken checked his phone to make sure he had my number so he could text me should the bird arrive. Yesterday, the bird came to the tree as I walked in the door, but I didn't turn around and rush down for it. I didn't think we would this time, but...

Waretown is Exit 69 on the Parkway. Heading north, we were just about a mile away from Exit 77 (Forked River) when the text came in from Ken: Kite overhead!  I knew Shari was tired, so I told her it was up to her, but already she was heading for the exit ramp. I texted Ken back: Landing? Answer: No.

I thought there was a fair chance the bird would finally come into its perch and we had only gone a couple of miles when another text came in: Kite pruning in the tree. 


Another text: Preening. I replied that we were on the way.

Then each time my phone buzzed we were afraid that the bird had flown, but no, Ken kept up a steady feed of Still in tree.

The last text came in after we were off the Parkway. I figured we were 5 minutes away. As we turned onto the side streets to get to the site, no text came in saying the bird was gone, so I was pretty confident we'd see it. When I saw Ken on the corner, talking to one of the neighborhood residents and pointing up, I knew we were good.

I had to angle around a little bit to get the sun at my back to get decent photographs and by doing that moved in front of a gate which set one of the local dogs barking, which bothered me and I was afraid would bother the neighbors, but it didn't bother the bird.

It is a beautiful bird, pearly gray with a black mask. It's only a couple of inches bigger than a Mourning Dove and I bet if I was just passing by that tree without knowing about the bird, I might just blow it off as that. New Jersey is an unlikely place for Mississippi Kite and this little corner of Waretown is as unlikely a spot in New Jersey as one could imagine but, as Myron Cohen used to say:
Everybody's gotta be someplace.

And by the way: Many, many thanks, Ken.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Waretown 7/18--Mississippi Kite

Back in early June, a Mississippi Kite (quite a rarity in NJ) was reported in Waretown, about 20 miles south of here. It was a flyover above someone's yard and my thought was, "That's pretty lucky," and I figured that was the end of it. But then she reported it again and again and within a few days it became obvious that this bird was staying somewhere nearby. After the Lakehurst trip Mike and I drove down there, hung around the quiet residential neighborhood with a woodlot in the middle of it for an hour or so, met a few other birders on the chase, and then moved on without finding the bird.

A few days later I was nearby and passed through the neighborhood again. I hate just looking for one bird. I don't have the sitzfleisch to wait for a bird to maybe show up. After what seemed like most of the day but was probably only a half hour, I gave up and went somewhere else that actually had birds.

Lately the bird has been reported almost daily and instead of flyovers, it was perching in a dead tree on the corner of Elizabeth and Walker. Now I was getting really twitchy. A county and state bird, 25 minutes away.

Yesterday, I was down at the Barnegat impoundments. I met Karmela, who lives across the street and she picked out one of my target birds, a couple of White-faced Ibises. The Waretown site is only about 15 minutes from Barnegat. She had seen and photographed the bird a few weeks ago from the backyard of the woman who originally reported the bird. It seemed to me that the bird was being seen mid-afternoon, but she thought it didn't think the bird was time-sensitive, so mid-morning I found myself up there for the 3rd time, staring a dead tree.

Broad-winged Hawk
And damn if a hawk didn't land on the bare branches! And damn if it wasn't a Broad-winged Hawk and not the bird I wanted. Now, any other time, I'd be thrilled to see a Broad-wing Hawk, especially a stationary bird. But yesterday it was just a junk bird to me. This is how warped one can get when one is chasing.

I left after 1 hour and 15 minutes. Of course, mid-afternoon, the time I thought more propitious for finding the bird, it showed up to the delight of those supplicants beneath the tree. Including Karmela. Much grinding and gnashing of teeth occurred in Whiting, NJ.

Today, during the Brig trip, there were a number of birders who wanted the bird, one of whom, like me, had already made multiple, futile visits. So after the 2nd loop we all decided to head up to Waretown, only about a hour north. We all arrived around 2:45, which seemed like a likely time to find the bird, and met a few people standing at the magic spot and heard the dreaded words, "Oooh, you just missed it." By 20 minutes or so. "But it'll come back," was the group mantra.

5 minutes later, Scott pointed up and there, finally, soaring overhead, was a small falcon-like bird with pointy wings against the blue sky. Laughing Gulls caused some interference in viewing, but we all got good looks at the silhouetted bird. I saw it better than I see most hawks. But it didn't land in the tree.

We all waited for about another 40 minutes. By then, even though I knew, just knew the bird would eventually come to perch in the tree, I left with most of the others. The stalwarts were rewarded. Almost as soon as I got home the phone rang and Dave told me the bird was in the tree. I wasn't about to turn around.

The real question regards whether the birds (didn't I mention that there are two?) are nesting in the area. No one has reported seeing them carrying sticks or nesting material, no one has seen them copulating, no one has seen them carrying food. The wood lot seems like it would have good nesting sites. But who knows if they're just inspecting the area, or if one doesn't know how to mate, or even if they of different genders. But, if in a couple of weeks someone reports a striped hawk in that dead tree, we'll know that NJ has its first successful nesting couple of this southern species.

Brig 7/18--Western Sandpiper

Mid-July and shorebirds are starting their southward migration. Unfortunately, for arcane research reasons, the waters are being kept high at Brig, leaving little available mud flats for shorebirds to feed. There are plenty of mud flats around, so says the head biologist; you just can't see them. Implication: Tough noogies.

Anyway, 3 trips around the dikes, two of them on an All Things Birds field trip, yielded a few interesting species and one new one for the year: Western Sandpiper. It was amazing to me, with so many excellent birders all peering through excellent optics, how damn difficult it was to decide whether this peep or that peep was actually a Western Sandpiper. Did it have chevrons or dots? Was there any rufous in the wings? Was it chesty and big-headed? All these field marks are pretty subjective. Yet, we did manage to pick out two in widely separated mud flats. I'm fairly confident in most of my i.d.'s, but when it comes to Western, unless I'm standing on top of the bird, I'll defer to someone else when it comes to calling one.

Another interesting debate regarded a juvie nigh-heron--black or yellow-crowned. My first reaction was yellow. The mnemonic for these two look-a-likes is: Yellow=black bill, Black=yellow bill. This one looked black to me, despite some lightness at the base. But again, it was surprising how much back and forth there was. And I wouldn't stake anything over a quarter on my i.d. Some would say this is what makes birding fun. Others, like me, would question if they really know anything about birds and then go on to expand the circles of what they really know until they spiraled down into the abyss of epistemological depression.

Anyway here's what I do know:  I listed 63 species for my 24 miles of travel around the dikes:
Canada Goose  40
Mute Swan  19
Wood Duck  1
American Black Duck  2
Mallard  13
Double-crested Cormorant  10
Great Blue Heron  1
Great Egret  50
Snowy Egret  40
Black-crowned Night-Heron  2
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron  1     East pool, south dike.
Glossy Ibis  20
Turkey Vulture  1
Osprey  9
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Clapper Rail  1     Heard
American Oystercatcher  4
Semipalmated Plover  10
Spotted Sandpiper  2
Greater Yellowlegs  3
Willet  1
Lesser Yellowlegs  2
Whimbrel  10
Least Sandpiper  2
Semipalmated Sandpiper  50
Western Sandpiper  2
Short-billed Dowitcher  20
Laughing Gull  200
Herring Gull  10
Great Black-backed Gull  15
Least Tern  1
Gull-billed Tern  2
Caspian Tern  1
Forster's Tern  10
Black Skimmer  15
Mourning Dove  1     Heard
Downy Woodpecker  1     Heard
Northern Flicker  1
Peregrine Falcon  1
Eastern Phoebe  2
Great Crested Flycatcher  1     Heard
Blue Jay  2     Heard
crow sp.  4
Purple Martin  20
Tree Swallow  25
Barn Swallow  15
House Wren  1
Marsh Wren  5     Heard
American Robin  2
Gray Catbird  10
European Starling  100
Common Yellowthroat  5
Eastern Towhee  2     Heard
Chipping Sparrow  3
Seaside Sparrow  2
Song Sparrow  3     Heard
Northern Cardinal  1     Parking lot
Blue Grosbeak  1     North dike
Red-winged Blackbird  150
Common Grackle  3
Brown-headed Cowbird  1     Headquarters
Orchard Oriole  1
House Finch  2
American Goldfinch  10

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Great Sedge Island 7/8--Marbled Godwit, Royal Tern

Marbled Godwit
Photos: Greg Prelich
Today, Greg & I took our first canoe trip out to Great Sedge Island, off Island Beach SP. Conditions were almost ideal--slightly overcast, a mild breeze, temperature in the mid-70's. We still haven't figured out the tides though. We've been told that low tide around the island is about 3 hours after low tide on the ocean side. At first we thought we'd hit it perfectly, because as we paddled out toward the islands, the water was low and there were many sandbars exposed. But as we made our way along Snake Ditch to get to the inlet, we found ourselves paddling against the incoming tide. It wasn't too bad because the wind wasn't a factor, but we also
didn't find a lot of beach (or
Royal Terns w sterna sp.
roosting birds) at the head of the inlet.

My target bird for the day was Royal Tern, a bird I've spent quite a few hours searching for while walking the beach at the park. We had 4 almost immediately on the first sand bar we put our binoculars on.  We stood in ankle deep water (still low tide) scanning the exposed sand and came up with the expected birds like American Oystercatcher, cormorants, the usual gulls and egrets. Then, just as were about to get back into the canoe Greg saw a large shorebird fly behind us. Our initial thought was a Willet, but it was way too big and  when it landed we could easily see it was a Marbled Godwit , unconcerned by our proximity and here we go again. Marbled Godwit is considered rare in the county, but last year Greg & I saw multiple birds multiple times in the same spot, to the consternation of some boat-less birders. Then, apparently out of nowhere, it was joined by 5 more shorebirds that also weren't Willets, but were Whimbrels, their decurved bills making a nice contrast to the Godwit's bi-colored upturned bill.

We beached the canoe at the inlet and had to pull the canoe up the sand a couple of times as the tide was coming in fast. We saw a few pelicans out on a sandbar, but the water was pretty high and aside from finally seeing actual Willets, we didn't find any more shorebirds or waders that we hadn't seen.

We spent a lot of time sorting through the sterna genus trying to separate the Forster's from the Common, which is easy in theory, not so easy when the birds are at a distance or the light isn't perfect. Is that bill orange-red or red-orange? Can't see the frosty wingtips on that bird. We finally were able to come up with a small flock of what we thought were indisputably Common Terns--all the rest went as Forster's.

We were out there for just under 3 hours, the predicted thunderstorms didn't hit until we were long gone and we found about 30 species. A very satisfying voyage.
Mallard  4
Black Scoter  2     Near boat launch. Continuing birds
Double-crested Cormorant  40
Brown Pelican  5
Great Blue Heron  5
Great Egret  15
Snowy Egret  5
Tricolored Heron  3
Black-crowned Night-Heron  1
Glossy Ibis  50
Osprey  10
Clapper Rail  3     Heard calling.
American Oystercatcher  8
Willet  10
Whimbrel  5
Marbled Godwit  1     
Semipalmated Sandpiper  5
Short-billed Dowitcher  1
Laughing Gull  50
Herring Gull  50
Great Black-backed Gull  30
Least Tern  1
Common Tern  10
Forster's Tern  25
Royal Tern  12
Barn Swallow  2
Seaside Sparrow  5
Song Sparrow  1     Heard
Red-winged Blackbird  1
Boat-tailed Grackle  5

Friday, July 3, 2015

Ocean City Visitor's Center 7/3--White Ibis

White Ibis
What we won't do for a bird. Where is the last place you want to be on July 3rd?  How about crawling along in holiday traffic on the causeway to Ocean City with a few thousand people "going down the shore." That's where we were at noon today. The reason is above. White Ibis is a very rare visitor to New Jersey and when one shows up, you gotta go.

Shari & I have been to Ocean City a few times, but we've always gone in about 5 miles further south than today's trip on the causeway, so we were both unaware of the OC Chamber of Commerce's Visitor's Center, along with its beautiful adjacent wetlands, complete with heron rookery. In fact, it seems that a lot of Jersey birders were unaware of this spot. When we arrived, we ran into a few people we knew, none of whom had seen the bird (though it had been reported early in the day) and one of whom had been there since 7 in the morning. He didn't want to leave, but he was getting tired of searching. When I got out of the car, I immediately scanned the rookery in front of us, hoping the bird would be in there, but I "only" found both night-herons, in good numbers and in all stages of maturity.
Black-crowned Night Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, adult and immature
More Yellow-crowned Night-Herons
Then I moved on and was scanning a distant flock of Glossy Ibises, hoping that the White Ibis would be associating with them when the call went out--the bird was found. Walking back a 100 paces to where I started another duo of birders, found the bird almost immediately upon arrival. It was roosting in a notch between trees and at first all we could see was its white back, but then it lifted its head and there it was.
The bird can be well hidden. All it takes is for it to jump down a foot or so to be completely lost in the foliage, as we found out after about 20 minutes when it did disappear deeper into the tree. By then, we'd all had excellent looks and we prepared to brave the traffic into Ocean City so that we could turn around to get out of Ocean City.

However, the location deserves more visits--it is a great place to watch for egrets, herons, gulls, terns, and rails. Just not on a holiday weekend.

Our list:
20 species
Great Egret  10
Snowy Egret  1
Little Blue Heron  2
Tricolored Heron  1
Black-crowned Night-Heron  15     
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron  10    
White Ibis  1     
Glossy Ibis  10
Osprey  1
Clapper Rail  1
Laughing Gull  15
Herring Gull  10
Great Black-backed Gull  1
Forster's Tern  3
Rock Pigeon  2
Mourning Dove  1
Common Yellowthroat  1     Heard
Red-winged Blackbird  10
Boat-tailed Grackle  15
House Sparrow  1

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Island Beach SP 7/1--Brown Pelican

Common Terns
My 2nd trip in a week to Island Beach finally produced one of the two birds I've been looking for since the summer started: Brown Pelican. I walked all the way down the beach to the northern side of Barnegat Inlet, a distance of only, according to Google, 1.67 miles, but it seems longer. Along the way I didn't see much along the way, not surprisingly. Gulls and terns. The terns were for the most part Common Terns, though when I got to the inlet there were a few Forster's Terns. When I got to the inlet I turned to the west and scoped out the sand bars and beaches around Great Sedge Island. The birds were distant, but I could pick out cormorants and oystercatchers. Finally, scanning around the water I saw, at just about the limit of the scope's range, a pelican, a huge brown bird, flying away from me. Aside from seeing the color and knowing how they fly, one way I knew it was a pelican was because it was large enough for me to see it all, given the distance it was from me.

So I had my pelican for the year, but it wasn't a very satisfactory look. However, on the walk back I saw a pelican approaching over the water, flying fairly low over the breakers. I put down the scope and turned on the camera, but just then the ocean came up a little higher than I anticipated and I had to save the scope from the undertow. But, luck was with me, as another bird came flying south about 15 minutes later. This one I was able to get some silhouette-type pictures. See above &:
Actually, the most interesting species I saw today was earlier when I walked the Spizzle Creek trail. I was scoping from the blind when I came across two ducks, drake and hen. When the drake turned toward me, I saw a bright orange bill and was surprised to find lingering Black Scoters in the pool.
Drake Black Scoter
Drake & hen BLSC checked out by Great Egret
 It isn't absolutely amazing to find scoters in summer, but since you usually find them in the ocean, it was odd to find them paddling around like a couple of puddle ducks.

Saltmarsh Sparrow
The other happy find today along the trail was a Saltmarsh Sparrow that posted up nicely for me. At first I thought it was the Song Sparrow I'd been hearing, but no, that bird was a little further on and the buffy face on this bird made for an easy i.d. (You can click any of these photos for a larger rendition.)

I still need Royal Tern for the year and it was not to be found today. The tide was high, so the sand bar at the Winter Anchorage,where I might be able to scope one or two, was pretty much submerged today.

In all I had 34 species to start off July.
Spizzle Creek Blind Trail
31 species
Black Scoter  2     <
Double-crested Cormorant  1
Great Egret  10
Snowy Egret  2
Little Blue Heron  1
Tricolored Heron  4
Black-crowned Night-Heron  1
Glossy Ibis  6
Osprey  25     Conservative count
Willet  4
Laughing Gull  10
Herring Gull  1
Great Black-backed Gull  2
Forster's Tern  3
Mourning Dove  1
Peregrine Falcon  2     On hacking tower
Eastern Kingbird  1
Fish Crow  7
Barn Swallow  4
Marsh Wren  5
Gray Catbird  6
Brown Thrasher  1
Northern Mockingbird  2
Cedar Waxwing  1
Common Yellowthroat  6
Yellow Warbler
Eastern Towhee  1     Heard
Saltmarsh Sparrow  1     
Song Sparrow  1
Red-winged Blackbird  5
Boat-tailed Grackle  8
South Beach to Inlet9 species 
Double-crested Cormorant  7
Brown Pelican  3     
Osprey  3     Nesting on tower off Barnegat Jetty
American Oystercatcher  5
Laughing Gull  50
Herring Gull  25
Great Black-backed Gull  20
Common Tern  50
Forster's Tern  5