Friday, September 25, 2015

Brig 9/25--Curlew Sandpiper

The renowned Dogleg Pool 
When I got an alert about the rarity at Brig on Monday I didn't rush down because I thought it would a low percentage chance of finding the bird and I didn't feel like being frustrated. On Tuesday, when I figured the bird to be a one-day wonder, it was still there. On Wednesday, when I was hoping the bird was gone so I wouldn't feel bad about not chasing it, I got an alert mid-morning that it was still there but again, I didn't go, even though Bob Auster had strongly suggested we try. I didn't go Thursday and was amazed it was still being found and now I was I hoping it would hang around until Saturday when I was going on Mike's field trip. Thursday night Bob again suggested that maybe we should try on Friday, so I finally relented this morning, even though I wasn't looking forward to trying to find a little gray bird with a curved bill in the expanse of grass, mud, and shallow water pictured above. Part of my reluctance was that it is such a nothing bird to look at.

I met Bob at 8 and we drove directly to the dogleg of the Brig's wildlife drive, about 5 miles, not stopping to look at any birds along the way. As soon as we pulled up we saw Dave & Lisa and, happily, instead of scanning and scoping for hours, looking through a multitude of distant birds, they had our target, a Curlew Sandpiper, in their scopes. It was fairly close to the road, only about halfway out in the pool and we were able to get the relevant field marks, such as they are, for the species--light supercillium, curved beak, more slender than a Dunlin, gray, not brown like a Pectoral Sandpiper, both of which were also in the pool for comparison.

Curlew Sandpiper is a rare visitor from Eurasia. One usually pops up annually in New Jersey, but mostly along the Delaware Bay coast. This the 3rd time I've seen the species--the first time was dumb luck: Shari & I were birding Cape May County and stopped to see what some birders were so intent about on Nummy Island. It turned out to be a CUSA. At the time I didn't understand the significance of the bird. The 2nd time we saw one was about 7 years ago at Jamaica Bay. I have a journal entry lamenting the lousy looks I got at it. Today, at least, my views were very good, though it was never close enough for a picture. So I didn't really mind that my camera battery died after I took the panorama photograph above of the dogleg pool. And if I did have a photo of it, you'd probably say "Meh."

Bob & I are still going on Mike's trip tomorrow, but for us, the pressure to find the bird is off. After we'd studied the bird for a while we finished out the loop and then made a 2nd circuit, birding the drive as it should be birded, that is to say, stopping and actually looking at the birds. Our takeaway: Ducks are coming back; Shorebirds are leaving. And so the water in the impoundments, after being low for about 20 minutes, are high again.

I had 49 species for the day. They were:
Canada Goose  75
Mute Swan  15
Wood Duck  2
Gadwall  1
American Black Duck  50
Mallard  25
Blue-winged Teal  2
Northern Shoveler  2
Northern Pintail  5
Double-crested Cormorant  75
Great Blue Heron  2
Great Egret  25
Snowy Egret  30
Glossy Ibis  1     f/o
Turkey Vulture  4
Northern Harrier  1
Clapper Rail  1     Heard
Black-bellied Plover  4
Semipalmated Plover  15
Greater Yellowlegs  3
Curlew Sandpiper  1     
Dunlin  10
Least Sandpiper  5
Pectoral Sandpiper  5
Semipalmated Sandpiper  1
Short-billed Dowitcher  1
Laughing Gull  200
Ring-billed Gull  1
Herring Gull  50
Great Black-backed Gull  10
Caspian Tern  3
Forster's Tern  25
Black Skimmer  4
Downy Woodpecker  1     Heard
Peregrine Falcon  2
Blue Jay  2     Heard
American Crow  1
Tree Swallow  25
Gray Catbird  1     Heard
European Starling  1000
Common Yellowthroat  1     Heard
American Redstart  1
Yellow Warbler  1
Prairie Warbler  1
Savannah Sparrow  1
Northern Cardinal  2     Heard
Red-winged Blackbird  4
Boat-tailed Grackle  100
American Goldfinch  2

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Sandy Hook 9/19--Sora

Sandy Hook is a great place to bird almost any time of the year, but I need an impetus to get my behind up there (anything north of I-195 seems like a long boring drive to me). NJ Audubon's field trip with Scott and Linda provided enough incentive to get me up there. I drove up the extremely foggy Parkway, arriving early and met Bob Auster at the Road to Nowhere where the predominant species was my one of my faves, Cedar Waxwing.  I was hoping for warblers, but all we could pull out was a lone parula that Bob pointed out.

Dickcissel, Plum Island
We went back down to the Bayberry lot and met the group. The trip started across the street at Plum Island, where we were looking for interesting sparrows. We found none but we did come across a couple of Dickcissels, which was a surprise. Year bird for Bob. County bird for me. When this month started I had given up on seeing the bird this year and now I've had it twice in one week. The first one we saw drab and probably a female. The one I managed to get a documentary shot of is a male. It had enough yellow on its breast that my first impression was meadowlark until I actually looked at the whole bird.

We drove up and down the peninsula, picking up a variety of land birds and a few raptors. Warblers were scarce. Apparently there is a front blocking migration. After lunch we drove up to the "L" lot and made the mile-long "death walk" to the beach on the fisherman's trail. And, despite all my visits to Sandy Hook over the years, Scott brought us to a place I'd never been before by veering a little to the west about 1/3 of the way up the trail. This was the "North Pond" of song & legend which I'd never known how to find. At first not much was on it--a swan and couple of ducks, a kingfisher, and thousands of Tree Swallows roosting in the trees and swirling overhead. We had a great aerial display when a Merlin came a-hunting, cutting out one poor swallow from the flock and continuously dive bombing it, clipping it once or twice, hoping to exhaust the bird. Yet, somehow, it made its escape. Perhaps a young, inexperienced falcon that learned a lesson today.

Black-crowned Night-Heron at North Pond
We were high up on a hill overlooking the pond when Ken Walsh said he'd spotted a bird in the reeds. The group meandered down the hill to the shore of the pond and after much looking and much frustration we managed to finally see Ken's bird, a Sora (a rail species for the uninitiated). It was really hard to find it as slipped behind the phragmites but finally Scott was able to get it in my scope and I got a sweet look at it before I tipped down the eyepiece so the rest of the group could get a view. I probably haven't seen a Sora in a couple of years. It was another bird I'd pretty much conceded for the year.

We then walked out to the beach, know as the "False Hook" despite it being the only hook know that the ocean and wind have eroded the tip of the peninsula. Not much to see how there at first--a few Black-bellied Plovers and lots of gulls.  I'd noticed one immature gull that looked "different," but immature and winter plumaged gulls, brown gulls, as I think of them, are not my forte by any means, so I just let it go. Scott is obviously a much more competent and confident birder than I, and he pointed out the bird I saw as a juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull, a good bird to find, not really a rarity, but one that is just uncommon enough to be a "find."

The photo shows the size comparison between the juvenile Lesser, on the left, next to a juvenile Herring Gull,
Despite the paucity of warblers, I still managed to list 55 species for the day and learned a thing or two in the bargain.
Mute Swan  1     North Pond
Mallard  2     North Pond
Double-crested Cormorant  8
Great Blue Heron  3
Great Egret  1
Snowy Egret  2
Black-crowned Night-Heron  1     North Pond
Turkey Vulture  1
Osprey  2
Cooper's Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Sora  1     
American Oystercatcher  6
Black-bellied Plover  4
Semipalmated Plover  6
Laughing Gull  50
Ring-billed Gull  2
Herring Gull  50
Lesser Black-backed Gull  1    
Great Black-backed Gull  25
Royal Tern  4
Mourning Dove  5
Belted Kingfisher  3
Downy Woodpecker  1     Heard, Road to Nowhere
Northern Flicker  1     Heard, Road to Nowhere
American Kestrel  1
Merlin  2
Eastern Wood-Pewee  1
Eastern Phoebe  1
White-eyed Vireo  1     Heard, Road to Nowhere
Red-eyed Vireo  4
Tree Swallow  2200
Barn Swallow  1
House Wren  1     Heard, Road to Nowhere
Marsh Wren  3
Carolina Wren  1     Heard, Guardian Park
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
American Robin  10
Gray Catbird  15
Brown Thrasher  1
Northern Mockingbird  2
European Starling  1
Cedar Waxwing  20
Common Yellowthroat  5
American Redstart  1
Northern Parula  1
Yellow Warbler  2
Field Sparrow  1
Song Sparrow  2
Eastern Towhee  2
Northern Cardinal  1     Road to Nowhere
Dickcissel  2      Possibly 3. 
Red-winged Blackbird  10
House Finch  3
American Goldfinch  4

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

IBSP 9/15--Dickcissel

Dumb luck. That's all it was.
I went to Island Beach SP this morning, hoping for a warbler fall out along Reed's Road. There was some decent activity, but nothing like I was hoping for. Of course, I got there late--7:30. A couple of of more determined Ocean County birders were there at dawn and they had a Connecticut Warbler and a Cape May Warbler, both of which would be great county birds for me. 

So after finding my few warbler species and a couple of other goodies in the maritime forest, I headed south, intending to walk the Spizzle Creek trail. When I pulled into nearby lot A20 a bird flew in front of the car and landed in a tree to the left. My snap reaction was mockingbird, because I see mockingbirds in that lot frequently, but when it landed it obviously wasn't that. I didn't know what it was and since it was cooperatively posing, I took some photographs. It then flew off and I couldn't find it again. I pondered. It looked like a Dickcissel to me in shape, size, and bill, but the coloring wasn't right. Of course, I don't know Dickcissels' various plumages well enough to say it wasn't a Dickcissel either. I thought maybe Vesper Sparrow because of the eye ring, but I knew that was all wrong. Weird Field Sparrow? I pondered all along Spizzle Creek and at the Winter Anchorage (where I saw 3 Marbled Godwits, still hanging out on the sand bar), and all along the 1 1/2 mile walk to the jetty along the beach (where I saw a couple of hundred Sanderlings with a few turnstones and plovers mixed in.) 

By the time I got back to the car, I'd pretty much landed on Dickcissel as the only possible bird--eye ring, tinge of yellow, brownish face, big finch-like bill. When I got home, I sent out the photos to a few friends and they confirmed my i.d. So: Year bird PCounty bird lifer P.

Dickcissel profile
Other interesting birds along the way:
Scarlet Tanager (non-breeding plumage) grove north of Reed's Road
Great Crested Flycatcher, Spizzle Creek
Ruddy Turnstone on the jetty while I was eating lunch
Osprey leftovers, Spizzle Creek
I think I had 56 species for my four stops: Reed's Road, Spizzle Creek, the Winter Anchorage, and the long walk south to the jetty.
Double-crested Cormorant    38
Brown Pelican    14
Great Blue Heron    3
Great Egret    27
Snowy Egret    2
Little Blue Heron    2
Osprey    19
American Oystercatcher    2
Black-bellied Plover    50
Semipalmated Plover    6
Willet    3
Marbled Godwit    3
Ruddy Turnstone    4
Sanderling    225
Laughing Gull    75
Ring-billed Gull    2
Herring Gull    115
Great Black-backed Gull    50
Caspian Tern    14
Forster's Tern    102
Royal Tern    19
Mourning Dove    2
Belted Kingfisher    2
Red-bellied Woodpecker    1
Downy Woodpecker    2
Northern Flicker    4
Peregrine Falcon    1
Great Crested Flycatcher    1
White-eyed Vireo    4
Red-eyed Vireo    1
Blue Jay    5
American Crow    2
Tree Swallow    28
Barn Swallow    1
Carolina Chickadee    12
Tufted Titmouse    1
House Wren    1
American Robin    1
Gray Catbird    15
Brown Thrasher    3
Cedar Waxwing    1
Ovenbird    1
Northern Waterthrush    1
Black-and-white Warbler    1
Common Yellowthroat    6
American Redstart    5
Yellow Warbler    1
Palm Warbler    1
Black-throated Green Warbler    1
Song Sparrow    1
Eastern Towhee    1
Scarlet Tanager    1
Dickcissel    1
Common Grackle    1
House Finch    5
American Goldfinch    1

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Brig 9/5--Hudsonian Godwit, Wilson's Snipe

As my friend Bob Auster pointed out, two year birds in September is pretty good. Shari & I did a loop around Brig today, starting around 1 o'clock. The tide was high and the birding pretty ordinary along the south dike, although 12 Wood Ducks at the Gull Pond was a treat. The water levels in the impoundments didn't look especially low to me. We spent some time scanning the flats at near the observation tower, looking for grasspipers, but came up empty.

At the dogleg a few birders were gathered and one lady pointed out an American Golden Plover way back in the vegetation. She was from England and very happy because it was a lifer for her. I was happy because it was a state bird for us. After she and her friend left, Shari kept scanning and came up with, finally, our year (maybe two year) Hudsonian Godwit. I spent quite a while looking at it through the scope to make sure I wasn't misidentifying it; I've seen enough Marbled Godwits to know that it wasn't one of those, but, distance, heat shimmer, scope eye fatigue, all add an element of uncertainty to a rarely seen bird's i.d.

We drove along and caught up to the the plover women and told them about the Hudwit. Shari & I once backed up about 3/4 of a mile to the dogleg from about the spot we were in to see  Baird's and Buff-breasted Sandpipers there (as if backing up didn't violate the one-way restrictions on the drive). The ladies didn't do that--they'd planned on doing two loops anyway.

We continued on and just before the drive went into the woods at Jen's Trail we came upon a couple of birders avidly scoping. They had North Carolina plates, so I figured they were seeing something that doesn't get down south much, but it turned out to be a rental car to two birders from Spain. When we first made eye contact the look he gave me with a shrug said we had to look at what he had. It turned out to be a Wilson's Snipe, another year bird (a lifer for them). It was fairly distant, of course, but the long bill, the striped head, and the feeding motion were all there in the scope. I looked at it for a long time while Shari gave them birding hot spots they should consider. I don't see many snipes in a year.

All these cool birds were too distant for photography.

In all we had 49 species for our loop. They were:
Canada Goose  100
Mute Swan  25     many cygnets
Wood Duck  12
Gadwall  5
American Black Duck  50
Mallard  75
Blue-winged Teal  25
Double-crested Cormorant  30
Great Blue Heron  3
Great Egret  75
Snowy Egret  50
Little Blue Heron  2     Gull Pond
Black-crowned Night-Heron  1     Dogleg
Glossy Ibis  3
Osprey  5
Northern Harrier  2
American Oystercatcher  2
American Golden-Plover  1     dogleg
Semipalmated Plover  50
Greater Yellowlegs  6
Lesser Yellowlegs
Hudsonian Godwit  1     dogleg
Dunlin  3
Least Sandpiper  10
Semipalmated Sandpiper  100
Semipalmated/Western Sandpiper  2
Short-billed Dowitcher  15
Long-billed Dowitcher  2
Wilson's Snipe  1     North dike, south side, just before Jen's trail
Laughing Gull  300
Ring-billed Gull  1
Herring Gull  100
Great Black-backed Gull  10
Caspian Tern  15
Forster's Tern  100
Black Skimmer  7
Mourning Dove  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1     Heard, picnic tables
Peregrine Falcon  1
American Crow  15
Tree Swallow  50
Barn Swallow  25
Carolina Chickadee  1     Heard, upland portion
Tufted Titmouse  1     Heard, picnic tables
Gray Catbird  1     Heard, picnic tables
European Starling  25
Cedar Waxwing  1     Heard, picnic tables
Seaside Sparrow  2
Red-winged Blackbird  100
Brown-headed Cowbird  2

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Colliers Mills WMA 9/2--Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker, Success(!) Road, Colliers Mills WMA
One of the my crack-brained theories (you might call it a superstition) I have often promulgated here about birding is that one never sees the bird one is looking for until one has sincerely given up trying to find it. You can't just say you give up and still look for it.

The first time this phenomenon occurred to me was years ago on Martha's Vineyard, when I went back to a spot where the previous day I had seen my first Green Heron. It was my last day on the island and I said aloud, "Well, I guess I won't see that bird again." Immediately a Green Heron flew in.

The last time until today this theory came into play involved a Yellow-breasted Chat at Assunpink.  Today I found a bird I had given up looking for weeks ago.

I didn't need Red-headed Woodpecker for the year, since I saw a few in Ohio, but the last couple of years I have seen them at Colliers Mills. These birds are relatively scarce in New Jersey and always a notable find. Others had found them there, in a spot I hadn't investigated before, so, when after a couple of months searching fruitlessly in the places I had seen them before, I spent another few weeks tramping around the "Dog Training Area" looking for the elusive woodpecker and never found a hint of one. Finally, I gave up and a couple of weeks ago drove down to New Lisbon in Burlington County. I had very precise instructions as to how to find one in an area know on eBird as "4 Mile--Tornado Damage Area."

On the hotspot map it looks as though the area is accessed from a road that leads into some kind of state penal institution where there are No Trespassing signs at the entrance, but you actually have to park your car on the shoulder of Rt 72 and look for utility pole #184. I parked as instructed, right before the New Jersey Department of Corrections sign, found utility pole #185 right next to my car and figured the next pole down would of course be #184. I walked down to that pole. It was numbered #184 1/2. I walked down to the next pole. That was #184. I walked in a little overgrown trail about 200 yards until I couldn't go any further, looked up in the dead trees, saw two nuthatches and was about to give up when a Red-headed Woodpecker appeared out of nowhere. Good. I had my Jersey RHWO.

Today, at Colliers Mills the morning was foggy and the birding was slow. I walked through the woods along Hawkin Road and kept walking around Turnmill Pond, hearing some birds, but seeing hardly anything. When I was behind the state target range I decided to walk right instead of finishing the circle I usually make, just to see if there was anything of interest that way. I found a long path that eventually brought me out to Success Road, just before it goes into the woods, about a quarter of mile away from where I had been parking when I was walking in the dog training area. Starlings were flying overhead. I saw a bird fly to a pine tree that wasn't a starling. I thought maybe Blue Jay. It was, of course, the bird I wasn't looking for.

My camera wasn't on the right settings and the fog didn't help, but I did get one acceptable, documentary photo. I only ask for one good bird a day so I was satisfied with my trudging. I continued down the aptly named Success Road, turned right at Colliers Mills Lake and looked into the north end, which, due to the lack of rain, is turning muddy. I was surprised to find the first Greater Yellowlegs I've ever seen at CM.

I continued up the road, past the power line cut and looked into the first bog and found nothing. I persisted up the road and checked out the second bog and found it fully of lily pads but birdless. Finally, The path I was on separated the two bogs, so I turned around and looked into the north end of the first bog and found, sitting on dead tree trunks, 3 Wood Ducks. Wood Ducks are reliable at Colliers Mills, but sometimes you really have to look hard.

Today's list. Seen and mostly heard.
25 species:
Wood Duck  3     
Turkey Vulture  1
Greater Yellowlegs  1     
Mourning Dove  30
Red-headed Woodpecker  1     N
Red-bellied Woodpecker  5
Downy Woodpecker  1     Heard
Northern Flicker  1
Eastern Wood-Pewee  3
Eastern Kingbird  1
White-eyed Vireo  1     Heard
Blue Jay  5     Heard
Tree Swallow  10
Carolina Chickadee  1     Heard
Tufted Titmouse  3
White-breasted Nuthatch  2
American Robin  2
Gray Catbird  15
European Starling  75
Common Yellowthroat  3
Pine Warbler  1
Eastern Towhee  1     Heard
Scarlet Tanager  1
Northern Cardinal  1     Heard
American Goldfinch  2     Heard

The Official Pizza Box of the United States of America

Found at Colliers Mills WMA