Sunday, January 31, 2016

January Wrap Up

Bonaparte's Gull, Manasquan Inlet
American Woodcock in our backyard
January was a very satisfying birding month: I did a Christmas Count, a Pinelands Survey, saw some decent rarities (American Avocet, Barnacle Goose, Eurasian Wigeon, Snowy Owl, among others), birded with friends and my lovely wife and generally had a good time in mild winter weather, marred only by a weekend of 2 feet of snow. I would have to say that the highlight of the month happened in our backyard when we saw an American Woodcock feeding in the leaf litter one afternoon and then, two days later during the storm, huddling beneath a stunted pitch pine. That bird brought our backyard bird count up to 90 species and I would say it is tied with last year's Common Redpoll for most exciting species seen through the window.

There have actually been more exciting birds around than I could get to--today, while doing the Pinelands Survey at Whitesbog, I missed Razorbill at Manasquan Inlet and Western Grebe up in Monmouth County. Shari & I hope to try for them tomorrow. A new month with a clean slate. This month I had 122 species, which is more than a third of the number of species I usually get in a year. But it isn't just about listing (although it would be easy to get that impression from these entries); for sheer aesthetic pleasure, nothing beats seeing a Harlequin Duck off the jetty at Barnegat Light SP.
World's most unlikely looking duck
But I still feel compelled to paste in the month's list:
Counties birded: Atlantic, Burlington, Cape May, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean
Species            First Sighting
Snow Goose     Brig
Brant     Sandy Hook          
Barnacle Goose     Monroe           
Cackling Goose     Monroe
Canada Goose     Manchester      
Mute Swan     Lake Takanassee  
Tundra Swan     Brig          
Gadwall     Brig        
Eurasian Wigeon     Lake Takanassee   
American Wigeon     Lake Takanassee  
American Black Duck     Oceanic Bridge
Mallard     Lake Takanassee         
Northern Shoveler     Brig  
Northern Pintail     Brig      
Green-winged Teal     Cape May Point SP        
Canvasback     Lake Takanassee
Redhead     Marshall's Pond        
Ring-necked Duck     Marshall's Pond   
Greater Scaup     Riverfront Landing      
Lesser Scaup     Brig          
Common Eider     Barnegat Lighthouse SP       
Harlequin Duck     Barnegat Lighthouse SP     
Surf Scoter     Sandy Hook
White-winged Scoter     Sandy Hook      
Black Scoter     Sandy Hook         
Long-tailed Duck     Sandy Hook 
Bufflehead     Oceanic Bridge      
Common Goldeneye     Sandy Hook       
Hooded Merganser     Lake Takanassee
Common Merganser     Brig          
Red-breasted Merganser     Oceanic Bridge      
Ruddy Duck     Oceanic Bridge    
Wild Turkey     Crestwood Village
Red-throated Loon     Sandy Hook          
Common Loon     Sandy Hook     
Pied-billed Grebe     Manahawkin Lake  
Horned Grebe     Sandy Hook      
Northern Gannet     Sandy Hook 
Double-crested Cormorant     Sandy Hook        
Great Cormorant     Sandy Hook  
Great Blue Heron     Silver Lake   
Great Egret     Great Egg Harbor   
Tricolored Heron     Brig     
Black Vulture     Stafford    
Turkey Vulture     Sandy Hook     
Northern Harrier     Bridge to Nowhere   
Sharp-shinned Hawk     35 Sunset Rd   
Cooper's Hawk     Brig        
Bald Eagle     Oceanic Bridge            
Red-shouldered Hawk     Brig      
Red-tailed Hawk     Lakewood Wawa      
American Coot     Lake Takanassee        
American Avocet     Absecon Creek        
Black-bellied Plover     Sandy Hook        
Killdeer     Manahawkin Lake       
Greater Yellowlegs     Brig 
Ruddy Turnstone     Barnegat Lighthouse SP  
Sanderling     Barnegat Lighthouse SP  
Dunlin     Brig          
Purple Sandpiper     Barnegat Lighthouse SP  
American Woodcock     35 Sunset Rd    
Bonaparte's Gull     Barnegat Lighthouse SP    
Ring-billed Gull     Sandy Hook    
Herring Gull     Oceanic Bridge    
Iceland Gull     Sandy Hook          
Great Black-backed Gull     Oceanic Bridge       
Rock Pigeon     Lake Takanassee           
Mourning Dove     Stafford Avenue         
Eastern Screech-Owl     Beach Ave        
Great Horned Owl     Whitesbog     
Snowy Owl     Holgate        
Long-eared Owl     Beach Ave      
Belted Kingfisher     Cattus Island County Park
Red-bellied Woodpecker     35 Sunset Rd         
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker     Bamber Lake         
Downy Woodpecker     Cattus Island County Park       
Hairy Woodpecker     Bridge to Nowhere
Northern Flicker     Bridge to Nowhere    
Peregrine Falcon     East Bay Av 
Blue Jay     35 Sunset Rd  
American Crow     35 Sunset Rd  
Fish Crow     Union Transportation Trail 
Carolina Chickadee     35 Sunset Rd     
Tufted Titmouse     35 Sunset Rd
Red-breasted Nuthatch     Cranberry Bogs        
White-breasted Nuthatch     35 Sunset Rd        
Brown Creeper     Brig        
Carolina Wren     35 Sunset Rd   
Golden-crowned Kinglet     Cattus Island County Park           
Ruby-crowned Kinglet     Assunpink WMA        
Eastern Bluebird     Brig     
Hermit Thrush     Beach Ave         
American Robin     Cattus Island County Park  
Gray Catbird     Brig
Northern Mockingbird     Assunpink WMA         
European Starling     Oceanic Bridge     
Cedar Waxwing     Cattus Island County Park  
Snow Bunting     Sandy Hook      
Pine Warbler     Cranberry Bogs  
Yellow-rumped Warbler     Cattus Island County Park 
American Tree Sparrow     Cranberry Bogs--Dover Rd
Chipping Sparrow     35 Sunset Rd         
Field Sparrow     Cranberry Bogs 
Fox Sparrow     Beach Ave
Dark-eyed Junco     35 Sunset Rd           
White-crowned Sparrow     Assunpink WMA     
White-throated Sparrow     Beach Ave    
Song Sparrow     Beach Ave         
Swamp Sparrow     Bridge to Nowhere   
Eastern Towhee     Stafford          
Northern Cardinal     35 Sunset Rd         
Red-winged Blackbird     Cattus Island County Park   
Eastern Meadowlark     Brig          
Rusty Blackbird     Whitesbog       
Common Grackle     Barnegat Lighthouse SP  
Boat-tailed Grackle     Bridge to Nowhere           
Brown-headed Cowbird     St. Mary's Cemetery
House Finch     Sandy Hook        
Purple Finch     Beach Ave           
Pine Siskin     35 Sunset Rd         
American Goldfinch     35 Sunset Rd     
House Sparrow     Stafford

Pinelands Winter Survey @ Whitesbog 1/31--Great Horned Owl, Rusty Blackbird

Tundra Swans @ Whitesbog
A large swath of the Pinelands (the politically correct/real estate euphemism for the Pine Barrens) lies outside any Christmas count circles, so Jim Schill, one of the area's top notch birders, got the idea to do a mid-winter survey of most of the hot spots. Whitesbog was, of course, included, and was the only section of Ocean County included in the survey, the rest of which was in Burlington. I, Joe Yohannen, and Bernie Knaupp met just before sunrise and started looking for birds. Our first score was a Great Horned Owl calling in the village (not, technically, our area, but why stand on ceremony?) We tried for screech-owl, both in the village and out on the bogs, but none were attracted our playback.

On my last few visits to Whitesbog, birds have been scarce, so my expectations for the day were low; when we came up with Red-shouldered Hawk, Rusty Blackbird on the Ocean County side (good county bird) and a couple of Ruby-crowned Kinglets in a little flurry of mixed flock activity, my expectations were "met or exceeded."

For the day I had 22 species, 20 in our area and two in the village (the owl and a couple of Black Vultures Bernie and I saw while eating lunch on the General Store porch). If the idea of a survey is to find both what is and isn't around, well, now we know.
Canada Goose  5
Tundra Swan  27
Black Vulture  2
Turkey Vulture  3
Red-shouldered Hawk  1
Herring Gull  125
Great Horned Owl  1
Downy Woodpecker  1
Blue Jay  3
American Crow  2
Carolina Chickadee  5
White-breasted Nuthatch  2
Golden-crowned Kinglet  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  2
Eastern Bluebird  1
Hermit Thrush  1
American Robin  37
Chipping Sparrow  1
Swamp Sparrow  2
Rusty Blackbird  1
American Goldfinch  2

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Brig 1/30--Red-shouldered Hawk, Gray Catbird + Wild Turkeys at Home

Gray Catbird
Photo: Shari Zirlin
Shari & I took a run down to Brig today; what with her busy schedule, she hadn't been there yet this year. The skies were clear, the temperatures were moderate, the winds were calm, and the Wildlife Drive was relatively smooth; all in all, perfect mid-winter conditions.

And it paid off in great birding. We had just crossed the refuge's border when we had a year-bird--a Gray Catbird in the cedar tree on the bridge over the entrance ponds. I had seen that one of these "half-hardy" birds had been reported yesterday but I didn't really expect to find it and yet, without really looking, there it was!

Red-shouldered Hawk
Photo: Shari Zirlin
We drove down to the Gull Pond first, as always. Not much duckage around, though we did find one American Coot. However, perched on a small tree across the water we found our first Red-shouldered Hawk of the year, which posed quite nicely, allowing this distant photo. Shari also got her first Eastern Bluebirds in the cedars near the water.

I would estimate that about 30% of the impoundments were frozen over, which tended to concentrate the ducks into big flocks. We found most of what you'd expect this time of year, though Tundra Swan was a big miss. Northern Shovelers were also absent, though they're not as regular as the swans. There were no shorebirds to be found.

Our circuit around the impoundments yielded 40 species:
Snow Goose  800
Canada Goose  300
Mute Swan  4
Gadwall  15
American Wigeon  30
American Black Duck  1000
Mallard  100
Northern Pintail  30
Green-winged Teal  15
Ring-necked Duck  4
Bufflehead  20
Hooded Merganser  15
Common Merganser  2     north dike, near end of trail
Ruddy Duck  11
Great Blue Heron  2
Turkey Vulture  1
Northern Harrier  2
Bald Eagle  2     both from north dike
Red-shouldered Hawk  1   
Red-tailed Hawk  1
American Coot  1     
Ring-billed Gull  5
Herring Gull  10
Great Black-backed Gull  2
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1     Heard, upland section
Peregrine Falcon  2
Blue Jay  2
American Crow  3
Carolina Chickadee  1     Heard, Jen's Trail
Carolina Wren  1     Heard upland section
Eastern Bluebird  3     
American Robin  15
Gray Catbird  1     
Yellow-rumped Warbler  2
Dark-eyed Junco  1
White-throated Sparrow  2
Song Sparrow  3
Red-winged Blackbird  20
House Finch  4
American Goldfinch  5

American Avocets
But wait, there's more! After a quick lunch from Wawa, we drove south to Absecon Creek. The two American Avocets that I saw on January 9th were still reported there yesterday, so I wanted Shari to get them on her year list. When I saw them earlier in the month they were drive up birds. I saw them before I was out of the car. This time it was another case of "you won't see the bird until you sincerely give up."  We stopped and scanned for the birds in a couple of spots and came up empty. I was disappointed, but Shari took it philosophically--only missing a life bird would really upset her, she being much more rational about these things than I am. A state rarity rates an "Oh well."  We drove on to make the turn back to the main road when I looked to my right, and said, "There they are." Just on the end of a spit of land were the two avocets, heads tucked in but unmistakable. 

The day was bookended by our FOY Wild Turkeys. As we were leaving this morning, 3 of them were crossing Milford just as were turning on to it from Sunset. When we came home, around 4:30, there were 22 in the backyard, having finally discovered all the seed we've been throwing onto the snow. Last year it took us until March to find turkeys, so I'm glad to get them on the January list.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Backyard Blizzard 1/23; American Woodcock Continues

Backyard 8:52 AM
About a foot of snow had fallen by the time I got up this morning and it looks like there's another 12 hours of snow, so I knew all birding would be confined to the backyard. I threw out a few cupfuls of seed. Every time it snows heavily I hope that we don't lose that pine tree in the back of the photo--the one touching the ground that is usually 20 feet high.

I'm seeing more birds in my backyard today than I did walking close to 5 miles in Whitesbog yesterday. This morning, Shari wondered where the woodcock went in the snowstorm. "Hunkered down somewhere I guess," I said. A little later I looked out the window, beneath a slanting pine tree, and there in a little sheltered nook, I saw a bird breathing heavily and ruffling its feathers. My first reaction was again, Mourning Dove.  Looking more closely, I saw that it was, indeed, the woodcock, hunkered down. I'm thinking this bird might become a resident.
AmericanWoodcock, hunkered down
Photo: Shari Zirlin
So far, 16 species for the backyard today, all but the hawk and woodcock voraciously seeking seed or suet:
Cooper's Hawk  1
American Woodcock  1
Mourning Dove 3
Downy Woodpecker 1
Blue Jay  1
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1
White-throated Sparrow  1
Dark-eyed Junco   18
Northern Cardinal 5
Common Grackle 5
Brown-headed Cowbird  2
House Finch 2
Pine Siskin 5
American Goldfinch  3

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Backyard 1/21--American Woodcock

I was glancing out the back window, as I do about 50 times a day, when I saw a bird skulking in the leaf litter, near an old roasting pan we use as a bird bath. "That's not a Mourning Dove," I said to myself. Grabbing the binoculars I saw what it really was, shouted, "Shari, come here NOW!" (she must have thought I was having a heart attack) and showed her the first American Woodcock to show up in our backyard. At least the first American Woodcock I'm aware of. When it hunkered down beneath a log it was almost perfectly camouflaged.

Perfectly camouflaged woodcock
Larger pix:

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Barnegat Light SP 1/17--Common Eider, Harlequin Duck, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Purple Sandpiper, Bonaparte's Gull, Common Grackle

Harlequin Ducks--what we go for
Shari & I joined a lot of our birding buddies on an NJ Audubon trip to Barnegat Light SP today, led by Scott Barnes & Linda Mack. I'd been holding off going there "all year," in anticipation of this trip. Target birds, as always at this time of year are Harlequin Ducks (see above) and Purple Sandpipers.

We were very lucky today because the Harlequins were close enough to the concrete end of the walkway for everyone in the group to get good looks without risking life & limb on the jetty itself and we were able to see them before the bad weather set in. I can't resist taking pictures of these ducks. Few can. Scott says they are, without a doubt, the most photographed Harlequin Duck flock in the world. There aren't too many places where you can get this close to them and they are remarkably tame, often standing atop the jetty, posing for photos.

Drake Harlequin Duck
Overcast skies didn't provide ideal lighting. Still, the light was good enough for those a few in the group who needed them as lifers to get very satisfactory looks at these very unlikely looking ducks.

Shari spotted a Surf Scoter in the inlet, just behind the the flock of Harlequins. You can see why these ducks are nicknamed "skunk heads."
Drake Surf Scoter
Another FOY bird today was Ruddy Turnstone, also very tame. They were  picking at who knows what on the rocks beside the concrete walk and had no concerns about the gawkers along the railing.
Ruddy Turnstone
Also new for the year were a couple of Bonaparte's Gulls which swept up the inlet very close to the walk and low, just about skimming the water. You don't often get a chance to look down on these gulls.

Instead of walking out along the treacherous jetty, Scott wisely has the group drive a short distance from the park over to the 9th Street, where there is beach access. Then we bird along the beach, making our way down to the end of the jetty. We had a lot of winter ducks fairly close in, including a small number of Common Eider including one very handsome, full breeding plumaged drake. A few Sanderlings skittered along ahead of on the beach. By the time the group reached the end of the jetty a snow squall had started. A few Purple Sandpipers were on the jetty and I finally was able to scope out one of them before the viewing conditions got, let us say, less than optimal. The group trudged back to 9th Street. The wintry mix seemed to be abating but by the time we all gathered again at the parking lot the rain & sleet combo was pelting us and we all agreed that searching out any more birds on the bayside was not a pleasant prospect. Having added 7 year birds (including, surprisingly for me, Common Grackle which I assumed I'd already seen), as well as 10 more birds for the county list, I was very  happy with the morning's "work."
26 species (+1 other taxa)
Brant  110
Common Eider  5
Harlequin Duck  9
Surf Scoter  1     Inlet
Black Scoter  5
Surf/Black Scoter  100
Long-tailed Duck  25
Red-breasted Merganser  5
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon  25
Northern Gannet  6
Double-crested Cormorant  1
Great Cormorant  2
Black-bellied Plover  1
Ruddy Turnstone  20
Sanderling  3
Purple Sandpiper  1

Bonaparte's Gull  2
Ring-billed Gull  200
Herring Gull  300
Great Black-backed Gull  5
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1     Heard
White-throated Sparrow  1
Northern Cardinal  1     Heard
Common Grackle  4
Boat-tailed Grackle  1
House Sparrow  10

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Monroe 1/16--Barnacle Goose, Cackling Goose

Barnacle Goose, in the middle of the flock
Wild goose chase today. Two-thirds successful.

I started the day up at Etra Lake, hoping for the Greater White-fronted Goose that has been there the last few days, but by the time I got there, not too many geese were left on the lake. Nothing more disheartening that seeing geese flying away as you're pulling up. I also planned to drive up to Monroe Township, hoping for an even better rarity, but first I decided I may as well see what Etra Lake Park had to offer. With the exception of a juvenile White-crowned Sparrow and a nice little flock of Field Sparrows mixed in with juncos, not much.

After making the loop I was heading back to the parking lot when I ran into my buddy Bob Auster who'd also come to look for the GWFG. He threw a monkey wrench into my plans, since he'd just come from the ponds up in Monroe and they were empty.

So he & I birded around Etra Lake Park again, and again, didn't turn up much. We decided to brave the hunters at Assunpink and spent a couple of hours there. Bob got the White-crowned Sparrows that frequent the farm driveway on Imlaystown Road for his year list, and beyond that, the place was very quiet.

By this time it was about one-thirty. We'd heard that the geese return to the ponds in the corporate park in the afternoon, so we decided to make a run up there anyway. The ponds are just retention basins in a huge corporate park. We scanned the first one, which had about 200 Canada Geese on it and saw nothing we wanted. We drove about 1/4 mile down the road, looked through about 100 more geese and still came up with nothing. Bob suggested bouncing back and forth, since the geese continued to arrive so we returned to the first pond. I started on one end, Bob on the other and within in a minute he'd found the Barnacle Goose we were looking for. And since it was associating with a couple of obvious hybrid geese, we knew we had a "clean" one, unlike the goose I had to take off my list last year from Etra Lake.

A couple of birders pulled up and we got them on the Barnacle Goose; it was a lifer for both of them so they were thrilled.

Bob sees a lot of Cackling Geese up in his home county of Somerset and comfortable identifying them so I set him the challenge of finding me one. It took a little looking, but he found one very obvious goose that was good for Cackling. Unfortunately, by the time I found it in my camera lens, it had tucked its head into its feathers and a photo would have been useless. This is a tough bird for me. I though I had one last week at Prospertown Lake, but upon further review, it turned out to just a "lesser" sub-species of a Canada.

Barnacle Goose makes it as Bird of the Day. With luck, I'll find another Cackling Goose while I'm still in the game.
Barnacle Goose with hybrid behind it.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Riverfront Landing 1/15--Greater Scaup

One of the many bad angles to view ducks at Riverfront Landing
I started the birding morning over at Riverfront Landing in Toms River, figuring to get the Bird of the Day out of the way. Canvasbacks are pretty reliable there--problem is finding the right angle to view them. When I first arrived I saw plenty of Ruddy Ducks (in the photo you can see ruddies, a Mallard, and Ring-necked Duck if you click on it to make it large) from the parking lot, but no Canvasbacks. I moved over to the park itself and still didn't see any of those big ducks, but did come up with a couple of Buffleheads and two species that weren't really on my mind--Lesser Scaup and FOY Greater Scaup. I spent more time than I like separating the two, but finally convinced myself by head shape that both species were present. They are devilishly hard to distinguish but once I saw the "peaks" of the head I was fairly confident in my i.d. Ring-necked Ducks mixing with them were both a help and a hindrance.

I moved up the block to the area of the private marina (don't even think about entering here), standing on the high ground of the sidewalk and was finally able to locate the Canvasbacks. Of course, I couldn't get a picture of them, but what a nice duck!  Big, with a red head and huge, slooping, swan-like bill, black & white body.  100 pts if you shoot one, which means you're done for the day. Read any Edith Wharton novel, or really any American novel of manners set in the late 19th century and you're sure to come across Canvasbacks on the menu when dinner is described.

Eastern Bluebird on mysterious measuring devices

From there I was going to go over to Cattus Island for my vigorous walk, but the park was closed today for prescribed burning, so I continued north a little bit and walked the trails at the Ocean County Parks Offices. The bay was pretty much frozen, so there wasn't a lot of variety on the water, and the woods were fairly quiet. However, when I came out of the woods and walked the large open field, birds were actively feeding in the grass including this female Eastern Bluebird.  Lots of of yellow-rumps, robins, and blackbirds around the offices too. 

Ruddy Duck, Marshall's Pond
Next stop was Marshall's Pond, just for the heck of it and too see if the Redhead was still there. It was, completing the aythya sp sweep. I didn't spend a lot of time sorting through the geese, which were all standing on the frozen eastern end of the pond. That cut back on the number of ducks in the pond; a single Ruddy Duck seemed out of place and a bit lonely considering the big flocks of them that are around>

I was on my way home when I decided one more stop was in order, so I continued along Dover Road over to Bamber Lake. Apparently, earlier in the day the place was loaded with birds, but by noon, all I found were 18 Tundra Swans and 4 Hooded Mergansers. I'm keeping track of the Tundra Swans whereabouts so I can use them in a pinch for Bird A Day. I totaled 36 species for the morning, which considering we found 40 all day in Cape May yesterday, seems pretty good to me.
Tundra Swans, Bamber Lake

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Cape May 1/14--Green-winged Teal; Great Egg Harbor--Great Egret

Shari suggested a drive down to Cape May and I readily agreed. It occurred to me that we hadn't made it down there yet in the new year, very unusual for us.

We didn't get there until late morning and started off at the CMBO Center across from Lily Lake. While Shari got our new Beanery permit labels, I scoped out the lake, finding lots of waterfowl, but nothing new. We then made our way over to the state park where we scoped the pond from the hawkwatch platform. A Tundra Swan (certainly not a new bird, but always a good bird to see) was the highlight there, especially since it took about 15 minutes for it to raise its head so we could determine species. They must be able to hold their breath a very long time!

We walked through the park where the dominant bird was Yellow-rumped Warbler. Every where we looked they were flying in and out of cedars, scratching in the leaf litter, and chasing one another about. It wasn't until we had almost completed the loop and were walking on the side of the hawkwatch pond that Shari finally found us a year bird--3 Green-winged Teal way in the back and out of camera range. These tiny ducks are a particular favorite of Shari--their cream, green, and chestnut color combination she finds attractive.

After lunch we took a look at The Meadows but aside from House Sparrows and a Northern Mockingbird, didn't add anything new. We drove around the streets a little bit and looked scoped from one of the dune crossings, but came up empty. Our final stop was The Beanery where Shari spotted a Cooper's Hawk waiting to greet us as we pulled into the lot.

It wasn't the birdiest day we've ever had down there but the conditions were fine for a mid-winter day and we passed my "are we having fun?" test.

I had sort of been hoping to come up with a white wader while we were down there, especially while we are The Meadows, but there were none to been seen. Then as we were cross the bridge over Great Egg Harbor, I looked down on the shore and at the edge of the water I saw a Great Egret. Perhaps two, or perhaps the other bird, which looked smaller, was a Snowy Egret (which would be rare), but at 65 mph, I'll count the sure bird and let the other one go.

Our Cape May List: 39 species.
Species                     Location
Canada Goose     Lily Lake
Mute Swan     Lily Lake
Tundra Swan     Cape May Point SP
Gadwall     Lily Lake
American Wigeon     Lily Lake
American Black Duck     Cape May Point SP
Mallard     Lily Lake
Northern Shoveler     Lily Lake
Northern Pintail     Cape May Point SP
Green-winged Teal     Cape May Point SP
Ring-necked Duck     Lily Lake
Hooded Merganser     Lily Lake
Red-breasted Merganser     Lily Lake
Ruddy Duck     Cape May Point SP
Double-crested Cormorant     Lily Lake
Great Blue Heron     Lily Lake
Black Vulture     Cape May Point SP
Turkey Vulture     Lily Lake
Cooper's Hawk     Cape May Point SP
American Coot     Cape May Point SP
Ring-billed Gull     Lily Lake
Herring Gull     Cape May Point SP
Great Black-backed Gull     Sunset Beach/Concrete Ship
Rock Pigeon     Cape May Point SP
Mourning Dove     Cape May Point SP
Downy Woodpecker     The Beanery
Northern Flicker     The Beanery
Blue Jay     Lily Lake
American Crow     Lily Lake
Carolina Chickadee     Lily Lake
Carolina Wren     Cape May Point SP
American Robin     Cape May Point SP
Northern Mockingbird     Cape May Meadows
Yellow-rumped Warbler     Cape May Point SP
Dark-eyed Junco     Cape May Point SP
White-throated Sparrow     The Beanery
Song Sparrow     Cape May Point SP
Northern Cardinal     Cape May Point SP
House Sparrow     Cape May Meadows

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Union Transportation Trail 1/12--Fish Crow

My main destination this morning was the Union Transportation Trail (UTT) in Upper Freehold, a "rails to trails" conversion. The trail was once the right of way for the Pemberton & Hightstown Railroad which ran along Cream Ridge, picking up milk from the dairies that use to operate there. Now it runs through a number of different habitats, passing by horse farms, tree farms, and over a number of creeks. I like it because I can gauge my progress by the mile markers and because a lot of birds can be found as you progress from tangles, to woods, to wet lands, to open farm land.

Hidden Pond
Until recently I didn't walk here in the fall or winter, so with the leaves off the trees, I've discovered a number of different ponds that were completely hidden by the foliage. Now I know why I often see herons on the trail and one little pond occasionally has black ducks on it. I'm hoping for Wood Duck sometime soon.

The tangles along the trail are great for attracting birds. They are not great for actually seeing birds. It can be frustrating watching the flitting forms behind the hedges, trying to pish them out only to have yet another White-throated Sparrow pop up.

Almost from the start I heard Fish Crows overhead. For some reason not well-explained, Fish Crows in winter are much more likely to show up inland than by large bodies of water. I have a fondness for Fish Crows, born from my first identification of one at Jamaica Bay many years ago when I realized that the crow I was hearing sounded "wrong" and then, looking up crows in my Peterson, realized that it was a Fish Crow. So whenever I hear that "eh-eh," I relive that happy moment.  I don't mind listing Fish Crows by ear (you do have to hear one before you can determine whether it is Fish or American) but, as with every bird, I do prefer to see them. It took a while but finally I heard a large flock overhead and managed to see them. Had they not been calling they would have gone down on the list as "crow sp." if they went down at all.

I walked a little over 5 miles (the mile markers farther apart than their mileage would indicate, but I have to trust them) and came back to the car with 18 species, all of them expected, some of them FOY for Monmouth County:
Canada Goose  40     Two f/o flocks
Turkey Vulture  4
Ring-billed Gull  9     f/o
Red-bellied Woodpecker  4
Blue Jay  5
American Crow  1     Heard
Fish Crow  15
Carolina Chickadee  2     Heard
Tufted Titmouse  2
Carolina Wren  1     Heard
Hermit Thrush  1
American Robin  200
European Starling  250
Yellow-rumped Warbler  3
Dark-eyed Junco  1
White-throated Sparrow  20
Song Sparrow  2
Northern Cardinal  7
Farm House

Monday, January 11, 2016

Backyard 1/11--Sharp-shinned Hawk

I took my typical 4+ mile walk around the bogs at Whitesbog this morning, the first trip out there this year and due to both the cold and lack of birds it was a brisk, good exercise. Highlights, such as they were: Northern Harrier hunting, a few Pine Siskins, 4 White-crowned Sparrows (somewhat unusual here) by the Upper Reservoir, a few American Tree Sparrows (Bird of the Day) and, on the way out, a 16 Tundra Swans that weren't there on the way in.

I could see more birds in my backyard. And I did. I have 13 species today for my Feederwatch list, including a Sharp-shinned Hawk that disappeared all the birds for about 10 minutes. As they almost always do, it perched, briefly, in a tree that hid it well from the camera.

I'll make do with some other birds through the window:
Pine Siskin and Dark-eyed Junco
Downy Woodpecker
Red-winged Blackbirds

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Lake Takanassee 1/10--Eurasian Wigeon

Eurasian Wigeon
Went looking for one rarity, came up with another. It rained all morning, but looked like it might break up, so Shari & I took a chance and drove up to Lake Takanassee to look for the Greater White-fronted Goose that had been there the last couple of days. We were quickly disappointed; another birder drove up behind us as I was starting to scan the geese to say the bird was gone. She'd already covered the lake a couple of times.

The lake is bifurcated by the NJ Transit railroad tracks. We decided to look into that part of the lake, so we walked under a rather dilapidated underpass and started to look around. First I saw a few Gadwalls, then a few wigeons and in with those wigeons I saw a Eurasian Wigeon, FOY and rare in NJ.

There always seems to be at least one Eurasian Wigeon in Monmouth County. The trick is to find it on the many artificial lakes and ponds that dot the seashore towns. This is the 3rd location reported for the species so far this year, but whether it is the same bird or multiple birds is unknown.

Even though the wigeon isn't as rare as the goose, it is more satisfying to find a rarity on your own then to just chase one down. And it is easily the Bird of the Day.
American Wigeon with Eurasian Wigeon for comparison

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Absecon Creek 1/9--American Avocet

Our phones all beeped at the same time with the message that two American Avocets (rare in NJ any time and unheard of in winter), were on Absecon Creek. The only problem was, none of us really knew where Absecon Creek was. I figured it was down by Atlantic City (which is on Absecon Island) and when some in the group decided to chase my inclination was not to go--I didn't feel like being near Atlantic City on a Saturday night. But, it turned out that Absecon Creek, which empties in Absecon Bay, was only a couple miles south of us and so I followed Mike down Rt 9 for a few miles, made a left on E. Church St., and there, standing on the mud flats, were the two avocets. One male, one female. I didn't know you could sex avocets until today--the female has the longer, more up-curved beak. A very neat bird for January. For any month, actually. With the avocet I saw at Brig last month I have a nice little streak going with them. The avocets brought my month's total up to 101.

Brig 1/9--Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Lesser Scaup, Common Merganser, Cooper's Hawk, Greater Yellowlegs, Eastern Meadowlark

Snow Geese with Atlantic City as a gray silhouette
Common Merganser (drake)
What a difference a thaw makes. I went on NJ Audubon's monthly Brig trip with Mike & Pete today and with most of the water open, the ducks were back. I added 5 ducks to the list, the most interesting being Common Merganser, which is a relatively  hard bird to find at Brig. With one Red-breasted Merganser and lots of hoodies, we accomplished the merganser hat trick.

Bald Eagle (adult)
Shore-bird wise Brig was not as accomodating with only a good flock of Dunlins and one FOY Greater Yellowlegs. Of the raptors, a Cooper's Hawk soaring over the parking lot was new for the year. Eagles, while not new, are always welcome even if I do act blasé about them to new and non-birders. One adult was posing on an Osprey platform and was too cooperative not to take a photo.

But the real highlight of the trip around the dikes came when we stopped for a huge mixed flock of birds at the entrance to Jen's Trail, at the start of the upland section of the drive. While we were all sorting through the robins and waxwings, finding one dreaded (to some) Brown-headed Cowbird, Hank Burk turned around to the field behind us and and pointed out a huge flock of Eastern Meadowlarks, flying from a tree into the tall grass and back. An occasional meadowlark is an event. A flock of 30 (conservatively) is amazing for this beaten down species. None of us had ever seen that many at one time. I can probably go a full year without seeing that many.

We did a second loop, spending some time waiting for a smaller Snow Goose to lift its head and turn into a Ross's Goose. After about 10 minutes it did look up, but it was just a small Snow Goose. We were about 3/4 of the way around the drive when all our phones pinged. Rare bird alert. The story continues above this entry.

Meanwhile: my list for Brig:
48 species
Snow Goose  2000
Brant  250
Canada Goose  300
Mute Swan  3
Tundra Swan  50
Gadwall  20
American Wigeon  15
American Black Duck  500
Mallard  25
Northern Shoveler  1     North dike
Northern Pintail  20
Ring-necked Duck  3     Exit Ponds
Lesser Scaup  2     Near end of drive before Jen's trail.
Bufflehead  20
Hooded Merganser  25
Common Merganser  4     Gull Pond
Red-breasted Merganser  1     Bay, from north dike
Ruddy Duck  2
Great Blue Heron  3
Turkey Vulture  1
Northern Harrier  4
Cooper's Hawk  1
Bald Eagle  5
Red-tailed Hawk  1
American Coot  10
Greater Yellowlegs  1
Dunlin  60
Ring-billed Gull  50
Herring Gull  100
Great Black-backed Gull  15
Downy Woodpecker  2
Peregrine Falcon  1
Blue Jay  1     Heard, upland section
American Crow  10
Carolina Chickadee  1     Heard, upland section
Carolina Wren  1     Heard, upland section
Eastern Bluebird  2
American Robin  300
Northern Mockingbird  1     Entrance to Jen's Trail
Cedar Waxwing  20
Yellow-rumped Warbler  25
Eastern Towhee  1     Heard, parking lot
Red-winged Blackbird  10
Eastern Meadowlark  30
Boat-tailed Grackle  3
Brown-headed Cowbird  1     entrance to Jen's trail
House Finch  2
American Goldfinch  2     Heard