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

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