Saturday, February 6, 2016

North Shore 2/6--Western Grebe, Merlin

Merlin, Monmouth Beach
There are a lot of good birding spots along the North Shore, which encompasses Monmouth County's oceanfront, inlets and artificial ponds. I can rarely motivate myself to visit more than two or three of them at a time and then I always feel like it's either the wrong spot or the wrong time, so I took the opportunity to go on the NJ Audubon field trip, led by Scott and Linda, where we methodically worked our way south from Sandy Hook to Allenhurst. I was also hoping for another shot at the rarity I missed last week, but when we didn't see it from the platform at Monmouth Beach, I figured I was SOL on that one. I was happy to settle for the FOY Merlin perched on a chimney across the street from the platform.

Monmouth Beach was our first stop after surveying the ocean from Sandy Hook. There was a nice flock of White-winged Scoters there, as well as the ubiquitous Black Scoters and Long-tailed Ducks. We completed the scoter sweek at Monmouth Beach with a good number of Surf Scoters (popularly known as skunkheads).

Next stop, farther south on Monmouth Beach yielded a couple of Great Cormorants far out on a buoy. The i.d. for these birds is always amusing--you can see that they're obviously cormorants but you can't get any field marks on them, so, how do you know that they're Great Cormorants?  Well, for one thing, Great Cormorants tend to perch much farther out than their smaller cousins. And, if I can see them from so far away, then they must be big enough to be Great Cormorants.

We took a look at Lake Takanassee and came up with our puddle ducks for the day. Stops at the dead end streets off Ocean Avenue that overlook the sea had the usual inventory of sea ducks, loons, and a few diving gannets. A couple of spots turned up Razorbills. In one place they were so distant that I wasn't going to count them because they looked like flying spots, but at Marine Place I was able to get them well enough and big enough in the scope to identify them. It is hard looking for birds on the ocean since there are few "seamarks" for the one who has first found the bird to use as guidance. Oddly, we used a Staten Island Ferry that was being tugged back and forth far way from its home ports as our guide.

We ended up on the Allenhurst boardwalk around 2 PM.  There we finally got some shorebirds--a little flock of Sanderlings skittering along the beach and jetty. We were all scanning the usual birds and chatting as it felt like the trip was winding up when Carol Hughes said, "Scott, come here now."

She had found the Western Grebe which has been reported along the shore for the last week or so. It took some doing, but eventually everyone on the trip got to see the grebe, an annual winter rarity along the shore, as it cooperatively drifted north and closer in. Persistence paid off. I doubt I would have forced myself to visit so many spots looking for this bird, so being on the trip was my good idea of the week.

For the day I garnered 38 species and 2 year birds (counts are cumulative):

Locations:  Allenhurst--Corlies Ave : Deal--Marine Place : Lake Takanassee : Monmouth Beach : Monmouth Beach South : Sandy Hook : Seven Presidents Park

Canada Goose  200
Gadwall  2
American Wigeon  7
Mallard  10
Surf Scoter  86
White-winged Scoter  20
Black Scoter  500
Long-tailed Duck  120
Bufflehead  4
Hooded Merganser  4
Red-breasted Merganser  11
Ruddy Duck  1
Red-throated Loon  27
Common Loon  100
Western Grebe  1
Northern Gannet  11
Double-crested Cormorant  1
Great Cormorant  2
Black Vulture  1
Turkey Vulture  1
Cooper's Hawk  1
American Coot  10
Sanderling  8
Razorbill  2
Ring-billed Gull  135
Herring Gull  460
Great Black-backed Gull  3
Rock Pigeon  5
Mourning Dove  2
Merlin  1
American Crow  3
Carolina Wren  1
Northern Mockingbird  1
European Starling  5
Yellow-rumped Warbler  8
Song Sparrow  1
American Goldfinch  1

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