Monday, February 29, 2016

February Summary

Tundra Swans over the cranberry bogs in South Toms River
The extra day in February didn't help me add any birds, despite looking all over Whitesbog this morning for Wood Ducks which I'm still missing. I know they're there--I just couldn't find them. I added 16 birds to the year list this month and most of them are considered rarities--some just for the date, but many, like Greater White-front Goose, Sandhill Crane, and HARRIS'S SPARROW (our adventures regarding this lifer are detailed here & here) are rarities any time of year in NJ.

Today, I listed my 60th species for Bird A Day. It was a Northern Harrier. My choices were the harrier, Bald Eagle, or Killdeer (I'm staying away as long as possible from birds I could seen through the window). Already it is getting difficult to find a unique bird and many appointments in March is going to make this contest a challenge until spring migration gets up to speed.

For the month I listed 118 species. Once again, I didn't leave the state.
Counties birded: Atantic, Mercer, Monmouth, Ocean
Species                                   First Sighting
Greater White-fronted Goose   Island Heights baseball field
Snow Goose   New Egypt
Brant   Manasquan Inlet
Canada Goose   Double Trouble State Park
Mute Swan   Manasquan Reservoir IBA
Tundra Swan   Cranberry Bogs--Dover Rd
Gadwall   Lake Takanassee
American Wigeon   Lake Takanassee
American Black Duck   Great Bay Blvd
Mallard   Double Trouble State Park
Northern Shoveler   Brig
Northern Pintail   Brig
Green-winged Teal   Poplar St Boat Launch
Canvasback   Riverfront Landing
Ring-necked Duck   Riverfront Landing
Greater Scaup   Brig
Lesser Scaup   Harvey Cedars--Sunset Park
Common Eider   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Harlequin Duck   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Surf Scoter   Monmouth Beach
White-winged Scoter   Sandy Hook
Black Scoter   Monmouth Beach
Long-tailed Duck   Monmouth Beach
Bufflehead   Double Trouble State Park
Common Goldeneye   Harvey Cedars--Sunset Park
Hooded Merganser   Double Trouble State Park
Common Merganser   Trenton Sewer Utility
Red-breasted Merganser   Great Bay Blvd
Ruddy Duck   Lake Takanassee
Red-throated Loon   Monmouth Beach
Common Loon   Monmouth Beach
Pied-billed Grebe   Sands Point--Dock Ave
Horned Grebe   Waretown--Baltic Av
Western Grebe   Allenhurst--Corlies Ave
Northern Gannet   Seven Presidents Park
Double-crested Cormorant   Sands Point Preserve
Great Cormorant   Monmouth Beach South
Great Blue Heron   Great Bay Blvd
Black Vulture   Lake Takanassee
Turkey Vulture   New Egypt
Northern Harrier   New Egypt
Sharp-shinned Hawk   Lake Takanassee
Cooper's Hawk   Great Bay Blvd
Bald Eagle   Sands Point--Dock Ave
Red-shouldered Hawk   Brig
Red-tailed Hawk   Crestwood Village
American Coot   Lake Takanassee
Sandhill Crane   New Egypt
American Avocet   Absecon Creek
Black-bellied Plover   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Killdeer   Brig
Greater Yellowlegs   Eno’s Pond
Lesser Yellowlegs   Absecon Creek
Ruddy Turnstone   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Sanderling   Allenhurst--Corlies Ave
Dunlin   Sands Point Preserve
Purple Sandpiper   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Razorbill   Manasquan Inlet
Bonaparte's Gull   Manasquan Inlet
Ring-billed Gull   Monmouth Beach
Herring Gull   Monmouth Beach
Great Black-backed Gull   Great Bay Blvd
Rock Pigeon   Manasquan Inlet
Mourning Dove   35 Sunset Rd
Belted Kingfisher   Eno’s Pond
Red-headed Woodpecker   Colliers Mills WMA
Red-bellied Woodpecker   Colliers Mills WMA
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker   Colliers Mills WMA
Downy Woodpecker   Colliers Mills WMA
Hairy Woodpecker   35 Sunset Rd
Northern Flicker   Poplar St Boat Launch
Merlin   Monmouth Beach
Peregrine Falcon   Brig
Blue Jay   Colliers Mills WMA
American Crow   35 Sunset Rd
Fish Crow   Trenton Sewer Utility
Common Raven   Rt 539-MDL
Horned Lark   Jackson Liberty HS
Tree Swallow   Trenton Sewer Utility
Carolina Chickadee   Colliers Mills WMA
Tufted Titmouse   35 Sunset Rd
Red-breasted Nuthatch   Bamber Lake
White-breasted Nuthatch   Colliers Mills WMA
Brown Creeper   Trenton Sewer Utility
Carolina Wren   35 Sunset Rd
Golden-crowned Kinglet   Trenton Sewer Utility
Ruby-crowned Kinglet   Trenton Sewer Utility
Eastern Bluebird   Colliers Mills WMA
American Robin   Colliers Mills WMA
Gray Catbird   Assunpink WMA
Northern Mockingbird   Sandy Hook
European Starling   Colliers Mills WMA
Orange-crowned Warbler   Manasquan Reservoir IBA
Nashville Warbler   Trenton Sewer Utility
Palm Warbler   Trenton Sewer Utility
Pine Warbler   Trenton Sewer Utility
Yellow-rumped Warbler   35 Sunset Rd
Yellow-throated Warbler   Trenton Sewer Utility
American Tree Sparrow   Colliers Mills WMA
Chipping Sparrow   Colliers Mills WMA
Fox Sparrow   35 Sunset Rd
Dark-eyed Junco   Colliers Mills WMA
White-crowned Sparrow   Assunpink WMA
HARRIS'S SPARROW   Old Washington Crossing Rd
White-throated Sparrow   Colliers Mills WMA
Savannah Sparrow   Colliers Mills WMA
Song Sparrow   Colliers Mills WMA
Eastern Towhee   Brig
Northern Cardinal   Colliers Mills WMA
Red-winged Blackbird   Colliers Mills WMA
Common Grackle   New Egypt
Boat-tailed Grackle   Great Bay Blvd
Brown-headed Cowbird   New Egypt
House Finch   35 Sunset Rd
Purple Finch   Old Washington Crossing Rd
Pine Siskin   35 Sunset Rd
American Goldfinch   35 Sunset Rd
House Sparrow   New Egypt
Snow Geese in New Egypt

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Old Washington Crossing Rd 2/28--Shari Gets a Life Bird (Finally)

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There's no point in being a damn fool about it.
                                                                                                                                             --W.C. Fields

This morning found us at the Harris's Sparrow site for the third time. I told Shari that if we didn't see it today we were turning the car west and heading to Oklahoma or Kansas or wherever in the mid-west the bird spends its winter. Happily, we didn't have to pay all those tolls. We pulled up behind a couple of cars between #43 & #51 and began our wait, watching the feeders at #43.

Waiting patiently is not my game. After about 5 minutes, I got out of the car and walked back toward #51 where I saw the bird about 10 days ago. Again, I was playing out the conundrum of stay or search. I was looking on the lawn of the #51 when the homeowner half-opened her door and asked me if I was looking for the sparrow. I was hoping she wasn't going to give me gas, though I could certainly understand why she might be sick of birders by now. Instead, she said, "The sparrow is right there, atop the forsythia bush."

Three problems:
1) I don't know what a forsythia bush looks like when it isn't in bloom.
2) Shari was still down the block
3) The sun glare was terrible.

I signaled to Shari to come up toward me and then noticed she was accompanied by our friend Bob Auster, who had been in the car in front of us. I should know Bob's car by now, but I didn't this morning. So, while I was happy to see him, my main focus was on finding the bird and getting Shari on it.

We still couldn't see the bird from our spot in the street. The lawn is up a small hill, making viewing difficult. The owner said the bird was still there, but we were blocked. Shari asked if we could come up her driveway and she very kindly permitted us and a couple of other birders who were hustling up to the house to stand in the drive and from there we all got tremendous views of the bird, which was also a lifer for Bob.

With that bird ticked with a very big check mark, it was still not even 9 o'clock, which left the question of where to next. "Bob," I said, "Have you been to the Trenton Sewer Utility?" He allowed as how he had not, so we agreed to caravan down there with another birder who was also interested but had never been there. It was only about 15 minutes away and within a few minutes of our arrival we had both the Orange-crowned Warbler (which gave spectacular looks for relatively long periods of time--for a twitchy warbler) and the Palm Warbler, as well as both kinglets and again numerous yellow-rumps. The first two warblers were also year birds for Bob. The other warbler rarities that have been reported there were not present and I suspect they have moved on in one sense or the other.

We also scanned the Delaware River which is across the road from the TSU. Some Common Mergansers (technically, these were probably in Pennsylvania) and a fine-looking Bald Eagle flying above the minor league stadium were nice additions for the day. It also occurred to me take a photo of what I like to call the most petulant sign in America:

After about an hour at the TSU, we drove over to Assunpink where there wasn't much of interest and then afterwards, Bob & I made a visit to Riverfront Landing to see if he could add Canvasbacks to his year list. He could, but they were hard to see. For some reason, no matter what the time of day is, the light is always terrible. Bob was also missing Pine Siskin for the year. A stop in our backyard filled that lacuna.

I'm very happy that Shari and Bob got life birds. I was feeling guilty (about Shari; Bob's on his own). 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Rt 539 2/27--Common Raven

We were driving home along Rt 539 which runs, technically, inside the Joint Base-MDL (McGuire, Dix, Lakehurst), when a huge corvid flew over the car from the Lakehurst side to the Dix side. It was as big as  hawk and had no white markings on the underwings, eliminating either of the vultures. We saw a huge beak. It could only be a Common Raven, which, though considered rare in the county, actually nest in one of the hangars at Lakehurst, so seeing one at that location is not too startling. Ravens are making a comeback in south Jersey. I've seen them at Lakehurst, I've seen them at Whitesbog, and once, last year, I even heard one in the WMA behind the house while I was puttering around in the yard.

Three year birds in one mid-winter day is not bad, not bad at all.

Trenton Sewer Utility 2/27--Tree Swallow

Shari's first visit to this birding hot spot
It was only about noon when Mike's trip ended, so Shari decided that we should try, again, for the Harris's Sparrow up in Hopewell. I wasn't very hopeful, but we gave it a shot and for the 2nd time it was a futile trip. This is a life bird for Shari, so we'll try again, tomorrow. So it shouldn't be a total loss, we stopped off at the Trenton Sewer Utility which was only about 10 or 15 minutes south of the sparrow spot. I'd been there earlier in the month and thought Shari would like the place. We walked up the short driveway to where the trees climb up the highway ramp and within a few minutes we had both the continuing Palm Warbler and the Orange-crowned Warbler (a rarity for the state, especially this time of year) as well as a ginormous number of Yellow-rumped Warblers. There were so many yellow-rumps that after a while I was getting yellow-rump burnout--you'd see a bird fly out of a tree hawking some invisible midge and then fly back into the tangles and you'd know it was a yumper without putting up your binoculars.

But the birds that really interested me today were our first Tree Swallows of the year. There were two (maybe three) flying over the settling ponds, eating, I can only assume, the little bugs that keep hatching out of the water, the same bugs which, presumably, have kept the warblers there all winter.

The other great sight was a murmuration of starlings that a Red-tailed Hawk scared up for a minute or so before they all settled down again atop a giant stirring mechanism in a around tower.
Northern Mockingbird

There was also a Northern Mockingbird picking away at a bag of suet that a kindly birder has hung up. I've never seen a mockingbird eat suet before.

Our list for standing around the utility:
13 species
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Ring-billed Gull  5
American Crow  1
Tree Swallow  2
Carolina Chickadee  2
Golden-crowned Kinglet  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  3
American Robin  4
Northern Mockingbird  1     
European Starling  500    
Orange-crowned Warbler  1     
Palm Warbler  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler  25

Jackson 2/27--Horned Lark

Mike leads a series of trips, The Birds of Jackson, for the Jackson Community School and today was the initial foray to some of the hot spots in the 100 square mile township. Jackson is big. Some of the spots are well known destinations, like Colliers Mills and Prospertown Lake, but others are not frequently birded, like the Forest Resource Education Center (FREC) or Lake Enno.

Mike's method is to go to the same places each trip to show how the birding changes as the habitats change, but today he started off at a place he wouldn't normally go, Jackson Liberty HS, because he'd spotted Horned Larks in the field there. Horned Lark is a very good Ocean County bird--the only place in the county I've seen them is the Lakehurst Naval Base around the jump circle. So, after stopping for a nice flock of Killdeers in the high school's playing fields, we got great scope looks at 4 (at least) larks in another field. It is funny how such a beautiful bird can blend in so perfectly with it's grassy surroundings. Unfortunately, they were way too far to even attempt a photo.

We then proceeded to make the rounds, including the above mentioned stops as well as Butterfly Bogs and some retention ponds. Probably the most unusual bird we found, after the larks, was a Common Loon on Prospertown Lake. We managed a good number of ducks at the various ponds, and found Red-tailed Hawks at about half the places we looked. I listed 34 species for the morning's birding; there were a few more, like grackles and White-throated Sparrows, along the way that I didn't bother to list.

Locations birded:
Jackson Liberty HS, Veterans Hway Retention Pond, Butterfly Bogs, FREC, Jackson Mills Pond, Lake Enno, Prospertown Lake, Colliers Mills
Canada Goose   139
Gadwall   5
American Black Duck   3
Mallard   9
Ring-necked Duck   15
Hooded Merganser   3
Common Loon   1
Great Blue Heron   1
Turkey Vulture   4
Red-tailed Hawk   3
Killdeer   11
Ring-billed Gull   1
Mourning Dove   6
Red-bellied Woodpecker   2
Downy Woodpecker   2
Hairy Woodpecker   1
Northern Flicker   1
Blue Jay   1
American Crow   2
Fish Crow   1
Horned Lark   4
Carolina Chickadee   5
Tufted Titmouse   5
White-breasted Nuthatch   2
Carolina Wren   1
Eastern Bluebird   4
American Robin   30
European Starling   12
Yellow-rumped Warbler   1
Dark-eyed Junco   15
Song Sparrow   2
Northern Cardinal   1
Red-winged Blackbird   2
House Sparrow   1

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Absecon Creek 2/20--Lesser Yellowlegs

I rode down to Brig today with Mike & Pete for the monthly NJ Audubon trip 'round the impoundments and in between the first loop and lunch the group drove down to Absecon Creek for the continuing rarities, two American Avocets. Some in the group hadn't seen the species yet this year; others, like me, just like to see these really cool birds.
American Avocets
These were again "roll up" birds; the cars hadn't even braked before we were all on the birds. After everyone got good scope views and all the pictures they wanted, we were going to head back up to Brig. Driving along the creek to get back to Route 9 we saw the usual ducks, geese, gulls, what not, plus a Fish Crow that vocalized for us, confirming its identity. Then Mike spotted what he at first thought was a Dunlin--shorebirds were non-existent at Brig, so this was a big deal to us. With the car stopped the bird quickly became a yellowlegs. A little more examination (size of bird, size of bill) and we all concluded that we had a Lesser Yellowlegs across the channel. My only year bird for the day and a supposed rarity in Atlantic County this time of year. As to its rarity, I'm dubious--they aren't flagged in Ocean County, but I'm nevertheless happy to get another shorebird on the list.
Lesser Yellowlegs
Small Snow Goose with "grin patch"
We also had an excellent day at Brig, with many more species than we originally expected. The most unusual duck species we saw there as a large flock of Canvasbacks--it isn't unheard of to find a few at Brig, but we had well over 40 birds. (On Wednesday, when I was there with Shari, we had 65 Cans.) As usual, Snow Geese were in the thousands but try as we might we couldn't find a Ross's Goose in the flocks, despite waiting a couple of times for smaller geese to wake up and take their heads out of their feathers. If you see a "grin patch" then it doesn't matter how small you think the goose is.

For the day I had 53 species--I missed a few birds along the way, but nothing I didn't already have for the year.
50 species (+1 other taxa)
Snow Goose  2000
Brant  55
Canada Goose  150
Mute Swan  4
Tundra Swan  2
Gadwall  20
American Wigeon  25
American Black Duck  1000
Mallard  100
American Black Duck x Mallard (hybrid)  1
Northern Shoveler  10
Northern Pintail  40
Green-winged Teal  55
Canvasback  45     
Ring-necked Duck  7
Greater Scaup  5
Bufflehead  40
Hooded Merganser  30
Common Merganser  4     Three gull pond, one exit pond
Red-breasted Merganser  5     Turtle Cove
Great Blue Heron  4
Black Vulture  2
Turkey Vulture  3
Northern Harrier  4
Bald Eagle  3
Red-shouldered Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk
Killdeer  1
Ring-billed Gull  3
Herring Gull  200
Great Black-backed Gull  7
Mourning Dove  2
Red-bellied Woodpecker  2     Heard, upland section and parking lot
Peregrine Falcon  1
Blue Jay  2     Heard
American Crow  7
Carolina Chickadee  2     Heard
Tufted Titmouse  1     Heard
White-breasted Nuthatch  2     Heard
Carolina Wren  2     Heard
Eastern Bluebird  2
American Robin  30
Yellow-rumped Warbler  10
Savannah Sparrow  1
Song Sparrow  1
Eastern Towhee  2     Heard upland section
Northern Cardinal  2     Heard
Red-winged Blackbird  40
Boat-tailed Grackle  1
House Finch  3
American Goldfinch  3
Absecon Creek
10 species (+1 other taxa)
Canada Goose  10
Mallard  50
Bufflehead  1     with HOME
Hooded Merganser  10
Double-crested Cormorant  1
American Avocet  2    
Lesser Yellowlegs  1     
Great Black-backed Gull  1
gull sp.  25     didn't bother scoping these.
Blue Jay  1     Heard
Fish Crow  1

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Old Washington Crossing Rd 2/18--HARRIS'S SPARROW

Driving through Trenton this morning, which I've done more this month than I've done in my life, I was thinking that I don't have an especially large Mercer County list, but I do have a lot of tasty birds on it--Greater White-fronted Goose, Barnacle Goose, Crested Caracara, Red Phalarope, White-winged Crossbill--and now, HARRIS'S SPARROW, a lifer for me.

This bird was first reported over the weekend, during the Great Backyard Bird Count, when a lot of casual birders list birds over the long President's Day weekend. So I was dubious about the listing, because a lot of birds get reported that are simply wrong. And a mid-west species in New Jersey seemed unlikely. But a few birders gave it a shot and it turned out to be real, so I finally got in the car this morning and drove up to this quiet residential neighborhood and set myself up at the feeder in front of the house where it had been reported. I told myself I'd give it an hour to show. I really hate staking out a bird. There's always a conundrum as to whether you should stick in one place or walk around looking for the bird. I chose to stick--I didn't like the idea of walking up and down a residential street with my binoculars, even though by now the residents seem to be used to the birders. There is a weedy patch across the street from the house, where a lot of White-throated Sparrows were digging around in the dirt, so I split my time between watching them and watching the activity beneath the feeder. A couple of other birders were present.  After about a half hour a guy I know drove up in his pick up and told us that the bird was actually up the block a few houses. He suggested using our cars as blinds, since the bird was skittish. I drove up there and after a few minutes, to my delight, I found the bird. Usually in these cases, someone else sights it first and then I have a hell of a time following their directions to the bird. Shari can attest to this very well.

The bird was skittish and after a couple of us got very good looks, it dove back into a tangle. It came back out briefly and vanished before I could get my camera set up. By now a few more birders had shown up and the street was getting crowded. I would have left but there were a couple of guys standing in front of my car and I didn't want to disturb them. Good thing, too, because one of them found the bird on the lawn across the street from where we'd been looking. The bird ran along the front of the house and I was able to get, let us call them "documentary shots" of the bird, proof to eBird that I saw the sparrow. 

Aside from a couple of Purple Finches (also new for the county), there was nothing else there that I couldn't see from our back window. Getting a life bird in New Jersey, though--that's pretty rare.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Manasquan Reservoir 2/15--Orange-crowned Warbler

Orange-crowned Warbler
My original plan to bird Barnegat Light SP was scotched by the weather--the snow arriving much earlier than I expected. Instead, I decided to try to out-run the storm by driving up to Manasquan Reservoir where I knew there was at least one interesting bird to be found.

The skies were iron-gray when I got there and the reservoir itself was about 95% frozen over, but the bird I was looking for was supposedly by the feeders at the Environmental Center. I walked around to the side of the building and planted myself there for about 10 minutes, getting all the birds I could just as easily see outside my window and getting very cold hands in the bargain. I went around the building to a little trail where I could scope the reservoir where I found a few Great Black-backed Gulls and Ruddy Ducks, & nothing else to keep me there.

Then, I had a "duh" moment when I realized that one could view the feeders inside the nice & warm Center. I set myself up by the window in front of the suet feeder and waited. This type of birding is kind of boring to me--I like to move--but at least I could feel my fingers. While I was just standing there I said to myself that I may as well set my camera to the right distance in the unlikely event that the bird showed up. As I was focusing on the suet cage a bird flew on to it. I automatically snapped a photo then looked naked eye and found my target bird--Orange-crowned Warbler, a tough bird at any time in NJ and really unusual in the winter. I took a couple of more photos through the glass in gray light. One of the volunteers there had said to me that though he'd seen the bird, he'd never be able to identify it by himself. I inwardly scoffed at that--at this time of year, just look for the drabbest bird in the crowd and that's your OCWA. Maybe in migration it might be tough when there are other warblers to contend with like Tennessee or even Pine, but right now it's a snap. Of course, in the best of times you rarely see the orange crown; certainly doesn't show now.

Bald Eagle (imm)
Having gotten my Bird A Day entry, I decided to drive over to the other side of the reservoir and look around there, hoping for some open water. There were a few patches right in the middle where I found a decent flock of Common Mergansers (but nothing like the 1000 that were reported yesterday) and a few more ruddies, along with very distant swans and large flock of noisy geese. I also found, on the ice, eating some kind of carcass, an immature Bald Eagle.

I walked about a third of the way around the reservoir as the snow started to come down heavily. It's a 5 mile loop but given the conditions and relative lack of birds, I turned around. One day, though, I'll do the loop.

It didn't seem to be snowing very heavily when I left the reservoir, so I decided to give Colliers Mills a try again. There has been a kestrel reported there that I keep missing. By the time I got there, though, the storm had arrived in force. Snow doesn't bother me like rain and there was relatively no wind, so I walked along Success Road with no success, then up the path to the "landing strip" where I'd seen the Red-headed Woodpecker on Friday. I heard a woodpecker that I knew wasn't any of the usual ones and after walking into the field and following the sound I was again rewarded with a very nice look at the bird. I wasn't carrying the camera; no point in that snow.

Having ticked two cool birds for the day, I walked on back to the car, where a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was on a tree across from the parking lot.

My Manasquan Reservoir list:
23 species
Canada Goose  300
Mute Swan  2
Common Merganser  70
Ruddy Duck  15
Bald Eagle  1     
Great Black-backed Gull  3
Mourning Dove  4
Red-bellied Woodpecker  3
Downy Woodpecker  1     Feeders
Blue Jay  5
American Crow  15
Carolina Chickadee  5
Tufted Titmouse  4
White-breasted Nuthatch  1     Feeders
Carolina Wren  2     One @ Feeders, one heard
American Robin  2
Northern Mockingbird  1
Orange-crowned Warbler  1    
Dark-eyed Junco  10
White-throated Sparrow  15
Northern Cardinal  4
House Finch  25
American Goldfinch  20