Saturday, October 24, 2015

Avalon Seawatch 10/24--Parasitic Jaeger

Shari & I decided to do a little sea watching today, and the best place for that is down at the Avalon Seawatch in north Cape May County. The seawatch has recently been relocated 2 blocks south onto the beach, with a neat little blind built for the seawatcher to protect him (her) from inclement weather. It also affords a much wider view of the ocean than the old location. The weather was perfect with virtually no wind and bright skies. But, much like hawk watching, sea watching can be very frustrating if you don't do it a lot. We have a little pamphlet called Ducks at a Distance, and I always think of it when I see a long skein of ducks whipping south, and the sea watcher is calling out the different ducks in the flock when I'm only able to identify perhaps half of them. It isn't just my i.d. skills that hamper me; my eyesight isn't as sharp as I'd like it to be and I can't hone my skills for very long because even standing on a beach, looking at the ocean through a scope makes me seasick.

The highlight of the day was seeing--at a distance--two Parasitic Jaegers flying low along the waves. The absolute low light of the day was watching a loon fly by (I was using binoculars) and other than knowing it was a loon, getting absolutely no field marks on it, only to hear the sea watcher call it out as Pacific Loon (a nice rarity for the east coast) after I'd lost it in the sky. So, while I can say I saw a Pacific Loon, I can't, in good conscience, count it because if I was asked to describe the sighting, all I could say was that I knew it was some kind of loon.

After almost 2 hours I was pretty dizzy, so we left for lunch. We'd planned to go the Wetlands Institute a few miles south after eating but I'd heard someone at the sea watch talking about the 48th Street maritime forest, so we detoured there and were very happily surprised to find, after walking a short distance through the forested dunes, a plethora of shorebirds that were impervious to the disruptions of beach strollers. In one enormous flock we had Dunlins, Red Knots, Sanderlings, a few Semipalmated Sandpipers and Black-bellied Plovers and one Ruddy Turnstone, as well as a trio of Royal Terns sitting at the water's edge.

Then we drove to the Wetlands Institute where a large flock of shorebirds was wading in the eastern marsh.  We walked to end of the trail and made the day an official success when I found for Shari a couple of American Oystercatchers pressed up against the reedy shore. The day became a social success when on the way back we ran into Pete Bacinski and Joanne Hall. Of course, Pete picked out some Short-billed Dowitchers that I'd like to think had just flown in but that I probably had just overlooked.

I also, unexpectedly, was able to add to my Wawa collection. Shari found an oddball Wawa in Avalon--I don't know the story behind it, but it looks like the Wawa that time forgot, with a logo that is a complete outlier to any of the other standard logos that Wawa uses. There was a time in my life when I could tell you the name of this typeface, but it didn't take long for me to empty my brain of that sort of thing after I left the printing biz. I was inordinately pleased to stop there and buy a big cup of coffee and put the store on my Wawa life list.

For our meandering day we managed 38 species. Respectable for mid-day birding.
Species               First Sighting
Brant     Avalon Seawatch
American Black Duck     Wetlands Institute
Green-winged Teal     Avalon Seawatch
Surf Scoter     Avalon Seawatch
Black Scoter     Avalon Seawatch
Red-throated Loon     Avalon Seawatch
Double-crested Cormorant     Avalon Seawatch
Great Blue Heron     Wetlands Institute
Great Egret     Wetlands Institute
Snowy Egret     Wetlands Institute
Little Blue Heron     Wetlands Institute
Northern Harrier     Wetlands Institute
Bald Eagle     Wetlands Institute
American Oystercatcher     Wetlands Institute
Black-bellied Plover     Avalon Beach
Greater Yellowlegs     Wetlands Institute
Willet     Wetlands Institute
Lesser Yellowlegs     Wetlands Institute
Ruddy Turnstone     Avalon Beach
Red Knot     Avalon Beach
Sanderling     Avalon Seawatch
Dunlin     Avalon Beach
Semipalmated Sandpiper     Avalon Beach
Short-billed Dowitcher     Wetlands Institute
Parasitic Jaeger     Avalon Seawatch
Laughing Gull     Avalon Seawatch
Ring-billed Gull     Wetlands Institute
Herring Gull     Avalon Seawatch
Great Black-backed Gull     Avalon Seawatch
Forster's Tern     Avalon Seawatch
Royal Tern     Avalon Seawatch
Mourning Dove     Wetlands Institute
Northern Mockingbird     Wetlands Institute
Palm Warbler     Avalon Seawatch
Yellow-rumped Warbler     Avalon Beach
Song Sparrow     Wetlands Institute
Red-winged Blackbird     Avalon Beach
House Finch     Wetlands Institute

Friday, October 23, 2015

Great Bay Blvd WMA 10/23--Nelson's Sparrow, Clay-colored Sparrow

A walk along Great Bay Blvd WMA (aka: the Boulevard of Broken Asphalt) from the inlet to the middle of the 2nd bridge yielded 12 sparrow species, including Nelson's Sparrow (my Ocean County nemesis bird), Clay-colored Sparrow (in the same spot I found one last year) and Vesper Sparrow (another county bird). I emphasize walk, because birding by car, looking for these sparrows would be impossible since they flush and hide so readily. It is difficult enough walking along the road to see them before they dive for cover.

The Nelson's was at the inlet. I finally managed to see one (possibly two or the same one twice) posted up in the reeds long enough to give a me a look at it's bluish bill and blurry breast streaks. A few Saltmarsh Sparrows helped with the comparison.

At the old concrete boat launch before the last bridge there were a number of different species, including junco, song, field and one sparrow that stood out, for a few moments before it was lost in the underbrush, a Clay-colored Sparrow. This is the same spot that I saw one last year. I first mistook it for Field but it didn't feel right for that sparrow and once I consulted Sibley's I knew I had the more desirable bird.

Vesper Sparrow
The areas right before the wooden bridges are the best places to seek out the sparrows--there is enough gravel and sand for them to feed while you scope from a discrete distance. At the foot of the first wooden bridge I came across another small flock, mostly juncos, white-throated, and song, but on the bridge itself I saw a Vesper Sparrow, with an eye-ring like a whitewall tire and white outer tail feathers. It flew off and behind me before I could attempt a picture, but, happily, on my way back down the road I found it again, feeding on the side of the road. The sun was directly behind the bird so my photos are not great, but the eye-ring is clearly apparent, as is white malar streak that wraps around to form a sort of "U."

Brant have returned
I didn't see any night-herons of either persuasion at the usual roost by the first wooden bridge. Perhaps it too late in the season. Only Great Egrets were in the marsh and not in the great numbers that were there earlier in the year. Surprising not to find any Great Blue Herons. Finally, Brant have returned. A big flock was off the sand bar in the bay as well as a smaller flock close to the beach.

For the walk and drive I managed 36 species, so  one third of what I saw belonged to the sparrow family.

The list:
Brant  240
Mute Swan  2
American Black Duck  2
Double-crested Cormorant  4
Great Egret  20
Northern Harrier  2
Black-bellied Plover  7
Killdeer  1
Greater Yellowlegs  45
Dunlin  26
Ring-billed Gull  2
Herring Gull  40
Great Black-backed Gull  15
Royal Tern  1
Mourning Dove  9
American Crow  4
Golden-crowned Kinglet  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  2
American Robin  1
Gray Catbird  1     Heard, inlet
European Starling  100
Yellow-rumped Warbler  30
Nelson's Sparrow  1
Saltmarsh Sparrow  3
Seaside Sparrow  1
Chipping Sparrow  3
Clay-colored Sparrow  1
Field Sparrow  2
Dark-eyed Junco  8
White-throated Sparrow  3
Vesper Sparrow  1
Savannah Sparrow  3
Song Sparrow  10
Swamp Sparrow  1
Red-winged Blackbird  1     South end of first wooden bridge
Boat-tailed Grackle  35

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Universal Law of Birding: Lark Sparrow

I have mentioned a number of times on this blog one my my crack-brained theories (read superstitions) about birding. Today I decided to upgrade it to a universal law of birding.

Yesterday, I went on an NJ Audubon trip to Brig with Mike. He & I arrived early and looked around the Gull Pond and other areas before the others in the group arrived. I heard bluebirds by the martin house field and wandered over there to see if I could find them. Sparrows were abundant yesterday and one, right in front of me, struck me as very unusual.
I was pretty sure I knew what it was, but I called Mike over to see what he thought. Immediately he confirmed my suspicion: Lark Sparrow, a relatively rare sparrow for New Jersey, and a great way to start the birding day. There was an Atlantic County Audubon walk nearby and Mike texted someone we knew on the walk and they hurried back up the road and all got great looks at this surprisingly cooperative bird.

Today I returned to Brig with Shari and our friend Christine. I didn't really expect to find the sparrow again, but while they went into the visitor's center, I looked around the area where the bird was yesterday and came up empty. However, when I went to the other side of the parking lot, behind the picnic tables, among the 100 or so Yellow-rumped Warblers, I saw the Lark Sparrow again in the bare branches of a tree. I tried to follow it as it flitted from one tree to the other, but by the time Shari & Christine found me, the bird was lost. We looked around the picnic area for a while but gave up and went around the Wildlife Drive where we saw a goodly number of birds, including some neat ones like Common Gallinule and American Golden-Plover. Before we left Shari & Christine looked around the same area again; they'd heard from another bird that a half-hour before the bird had been spotted. After a while Shari said, "Oh well, let's go." I was consoling her with the notion that she'd seen a couple this year in Ohio and Nevada, that she'd seen them before in New Jersey and since she doesn't care about county counting, didn't care if she saw one in Atlantic County when she said she thought she saw the bird near some tall grasses on the edge of the lot. I looked and saw Song Sparrows. "Oh well," she said again. Then, having officially given up on seeing the bird, it appeared at our feet! Both Shari and Christine got the field guide looks at the bird and we got in car very satisfied with the day list.

So, it is now a universal law of birding:
You will not find the rare bird you are looking for until you sincerely give up the idea of finding it.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Mercer Corporate Park 10/3--Red Phalarope

Two storms, one of them Hurricane Joaquin, have kept the East Coast socked in with rain and wind and have kept me indoors. Even though the hurricane is not going to hit us directly, it still creates excitement regarding "storm birds." Intrepid birders head out to the beaches of Cape May, the Avalon Seawatch, points on the Delaware Bay, etc, looking to find rarities blown off course by the storm. I, not liking rain and wind very much, am not one of those birders. Plus, my skills and eyesight also are not conducive to identifying some fast-flying tern or tubenose in the mist, in the distance.

So, I was sulking in front of the tv, watching a meaningless Mets game when, between innings, I saw a post on Jerseybirds that a Red Phalarope was at Mercer Corporate Park. I was out the door as if shot from a cannon. Red Phalaropes are mostly seen way off shore and for someone like me, who does't do pelagics, they are exceedingly difficult to see. I have seen, before today, exactly one, years ago, off a jetty at Shinnecock, Long Island, and it was an event. So, for one to be inland, in a nearby (40 minutes) pond was too good an opportunity to pass up. The rain had tapered off to drizzle when I left the house and had stopped when I pulled onto the corporate park's drive. Quite a number of birder's were already there. The bird was right across the pond, swimming near the opposite shore. I saw it well through the scope and got a documentary photo:
The thicker bill was the best field mark, and the rufous coloring told me that it was probably a juvenile bird. I hung around for around 40 minutes, chatting with Mary (who found it) and Vince (whose post I'd seen) and Steve, then made a quick spin around the other pond, finding nothing else.

As I was pulling out, I saw Steve photographing at the end of the pond. I stopped, scanned the water and couldn't find the bird. I couldn't find it because it was practically at our feet so I was able to get some decent photos of a bird that I will likely never get this close to again:

Thursday, October 1, 2015

September Round-up

It seemed to be a slow month. I essentially missed warbler migration (as did just about everyone else in NJ who wasn't in Cape May on the one day they had 56,000 warblers fly by) and only added 5 new birds to the year list. But they were good birds that tend to be elusive: Sora, Hudsonian Godwit, Curlew Sandpiper, Wilson's Snipe, and Dickcissel. To me, the Dickcissel was the most satisfying since I found it on my own in a place I wasn't looking for it.

I also added one more bird to my Ocean County life list--Eurasian Wigeon at the amazing little pond in front of Marshalls in Toms River, but it wasn't much of a look--I actually had to look at my photographs to make sure I'd seen it.

Birding was done entirely within the state of NJ. 145 species were listed. I did get some good photos this month with which to decorate an otherwise dry entry:

Bald Eagle, Whitesbog
Black Skimmer, juvenile, Island Beach
Black-crowned Night-Heron, Sandy Hook
Red-headed Woodpecker, Colliers Mills
Eastern Bluebird, Cloverdale Farms
Species             First Sighting
Canada Goose     Whitesbog
Mute Swan     Brig
Wood Duck     Colliers Mills WMA
Gadwall     Brig
Eurasian Wigeon     Marshall's Pond
American Black Duck     Brig
Mallard     Brig
Blue-winged Teal     Brig
Northern Shoveler     Brig
Northern Pintail     Brig
Wild Turkey     35 Sunset Rd
Pied-billed Grebe     Jarvis Sound
Double-crested Cormorant     Great Bay Blvd
Brown Pelican     Great Bay Blvd
Great Blue Heron     Whitesbog
Great Egret     Whitesbog
Snowy Egret     Great Bay Blvd
Little Blue Heron     Great Bay Blvd
Tricolored Heron     Great Bay Blvd
Green Heron     Whitesbog
Black-crowned Night-Heron     Brig
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron     Great Bay Blvd
Glossy Ibis     Brig
Turkey Vulture     Whitesbog
Osprey     Great Bay Blvd
Northern Harrier     Brig
Sharp-shinned Hawk     Brig
Cooper's Hawk     Whitesbog
Bald Eagle     Bridge to Nowhere
Red-tailed Hawk     Bunker Hill Bogs
Clapper Rail     Brig
Sora     Sandy Hook
American Oystercatcher     Brig
Black-bellied Plover     Brig
American Golden-Plover     Brig
Semipalmated Plover     Whitesbog
Killdeer     Whitesbog
Spotted Sandpiper     Whitesbog
Solitary Sandpiper     Whitesbog
Greater Yellowlegs     Whitesbog
Willet     Island Beach
Lesser Yellowlegs     Whitesbog
Hudsonian Godwit     Brig
Marbled Godwit     Island Beach
Ruddy Turnstone     Island Beach
Stilt Sandpiper     Whitesbog
Curlew Sandpiper     Brig
Sanderling     Island Beach
Dunlin     Brig
Least Sandpiper     Whitesbog
White-rumped Sandpiper     Brig
Pectoral Sandpiper     Whitesbog
Semipalmated Sandpiper     Whitesbog
Western Sandpiper     Brig
Short-billed Dowitcher     Brig
Long-billed Dowitcher     Brig
Wilson's Snipe     Brig
Laughing Gull     Great Bay Blvd
Ring-billed Gull     Brig
Herring Gull     Great Bay Blvd
Lesser Black-backed Gull     Sandy Hook
Great Black-backed Gull     Great Bay Blvd
Caspian Tern     Brig
Common Tern     Jarvis Sound
Forster's Tern     Great Bay Blvd
Royal Tern     Island Beach
Black Skimmer     Brig
Rock Pigeon     Jarvis Sound
Mourning Dove     Whitesbog
Yellow-billed Cuckoo     Whitesbog
Black-billed Cuckoo     Wells Mills Park
Common Nighthawk     Crestwood Village
Eastern Whip-poor-will     35 Sunset Rd
Chimney Swift     Whitesbog
Ruby-throated Hummingbird     35 Sunset Rd
Belted Kingfisher     Bunker Hill Bogs
Red-headed Woodpecker     Colliers Mills WMA
Red-bellied Woodpecker     Whitesbog
Downy Woodpecker     Whitesbog
Hairy Woodpecker     Whitesbog
Northern Flicker     Whitesbog
American Kestrel     Sandy Hook
Merlin     Brig
Peregrine Falcon     Great Bay Blvd
Eastern Wood-Pewee     Whitesbog
Eastern Phoebe     Whiting WMA
Great Crested Flycatcher     Whitesbog
Eastern Kingbird     Colliers Mills WMA
White-eyed Vireo     Whitesbog
Red-eyed Vireo     Double Trouble State Park
Blue Jay     Colliers Mills WMA
American Crow     Whitesbog
Fish Crow     35 Sunset Rd
Horned Lark     Reed's Sod Farm Main Office
Purple Martin     Great Bay Blvd
Tree Swallow     Whitesbog
Barn Swallow     Whitesbog
Carolina Chickadee     Whitesbog
Tufted Titmouse     Colliers Mills WMA
White-breasted Nuthatch     Colliers Mills WMA
House Wren     Union Transportation Trail
Marsh Wren     Brig
Carolina Wren     Cattus Island County Park
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher     Whitesbog
Ruby-crowned Kinglet     Union Transportation Trail
Eastern Bluebird     Bunker Hill Bogs
American Robin     Whitesbog
Gray Catbird     Whitesbog
Brown Thrasher     Island Beach
Northern Mockingbird     Union Transportation Trail
European Starling     Colliers Mills WMA
Cedar Waxwing     Cattus Island County Park
Ovenbird     Island Beach
Northern Waterthrush     Brig
Black-and-white Warbler     Island Beach
Common Yellowthroat     Whitesbog
American Redstart     Great Bay Blvd
Northern Parula     Sandy Hook
Yellow Warbler     Great Bay Blvd
Black-throated Blue Warbler     Bunker Hill Bogs
Palm Warbler     Island Beach
Pine Warbler     Whitesbog
Yellow-rumped Warbler     Whitesbog
Prairie Warbler     Whitesbog
Black-throated Green Warbler     Island Beach
Saltmarsh Sparrow     Great Bay Blvd
Seaside Sparrow     Cattus Island County Park
Chipping Sparrow     Double Trouble State Park
Field Sparrow     Sandy Hook
Savannah Sparrow     Forsythe-Barnegat
Song Sparrow     Great Bay Blvd
Eastern Towhee     Whitesbog
Scarlet Tanager     Colliers Mills WMA
Northern Cardinal     Colliers Mills WMA
Blue Grosbeak     Brig
Indigo Bunting     Union Transportation Trail
Dickcissel     Island Beach
Red-winged Blackbird     Brig
Common Grackle     Island Beach
Boat-tailed Grackle     Great Bay Blvd
Brown-headed Cowbird     Brig
House Finch     35 Sunset Rd
Purple Finch     35 Sunset Rd
American Goldfinch     Colliers Mills WMA
House Sparrow     Forsythe-Barnegat