Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Horicon Lake 5/24--Summer Tanager

I get by with a little help from my friends
Yesterday, like just about every day I suppose, had its frustrations and rewards, and one of its rewards came belatedly. I started the day by driving up to Brick to look into a "new" WMA that the local birders have suddenly started to visit. A lot of good birds have been reported there in the last two weeks. The place is kind of a pain for me to get to, with a lot of unfamiliar roads like Burnt Tavern & Sally Ike, but I eventually made it there with only a few wrong turns (road construction in the area has made my GPS out of date), just in time for the persistent drizzle that began half way there to turn to a steady rain. I didn't see rain in the forecast or else I wouldn't have gone. But being there already, I started out, not really sure where to look. I'm of two minds about birding new spots. On the one hand, I like to discover it for myself. On the other, it really helps if someone with experience can point you the way to go.

Whether it was the weather, my lack of knowledge of the place, bad luck, or a combination of all three piled on top of my mediocre birding skills, I didn't see (or certainly hear) nearly the birds everyone else has. I did, however come out of the spot with two good experiences. Firstly, I found, almost immediately, an Indigo Bunting, new for the county. Secondly, while working a wooded trail I heard what I identified as a Hooded Warbler: "weeta-weeta-weet-teeyoo." The bird was loud and continued to sing and I couldn't find it. It sang so much and so long that I began to doubt my identification, until finally, while scanning through the leaves I came up with the bird exposed in a "window" singing heartily and with all the field marks of the bird I thought it was. A victory for ear birding.

There was a large field that I walked around, finding few interesting birds. About 2/3 of the way around the rain, which had stopped for a while, returned much more forcefully and I covered my binoculars and got back to the car as fast as I could. I was soaked when I unlocked the door.

Of course, as I was driving home the rain stopped and there was even a hint of sun, so I thought I'd continue birding and getting my walking in, by doing a couple of miles on the Lakehurst RR tracks. Think again. They're doing some kind of construction there/rehabilitation there and the tracks were busy with workmen and yellow vehicles with big tires.

Horicon Lake was my next option, not usually a very birdy place this time of year, but at least I could walk for a while. Guess again. I had just reached the end of the paved road, was about to walk in the woods, when the rain returned. I retreated to the car. Just before I reached it, I heard a bird singing a song I couldn't identify (nothing unusual there), looked up and found the bird (that is unusual) and through the rain drops and general gloom found that it was a tanager. A Scarlet Tanager, I presumed. I took some photographs (only I can get a bird back lit in an overcast) and finally, sick of being wet, drove home.

When  I looked at the photographs I took, the tanager didn't look right to me. I couldn't see any black on the wings (but that could just be a function of light and lousy photography) and the bill looked all wrong. The song, as I remembered it, didn't match the songs I found on the internet (if the AP can decapitalize the word, so can I).

Happily, I have the good fortune to be friends with Pete Bacinski. I sent him the photo and today he confirmed my suspicion--it was indeed a Summer Tanager, an all red tanager with a heavy bill and one that it much more sought after in NJ and especially in the county as it is fairly rare here. It was not only a year bird for me, but somewhat more importantly, a life county bird. It was especially happy news to read after returning from yet another Yellow-breasted Chat-less expedition to Assunpink.

Ironically, Horicon Lake held more birds for me than did the big WMA in Brick, which I will have to explore more, now that I have something of a feel for the place.

My Horicon Lake list:
28 species
Canada Goose  10     
Turkey Vulture  1
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Mourning Dove  1
Chimney Swift  2
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1     Heard
Eastern Phoebe  4
Great Crested Flycatcher  3
Eastern Kingbird  3
Tree Swallow  2
Barn Swallow  1
Carolina Chickadee  1
Carolina Wren  1     Heard
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  5
Wood Thrush  1     Heard
Gray Catbird  18
Cedar Waxwing  3
Ovenbird  2     Heard
Black-and-white Warbler  1
Common Yellowthroat  2
Prairie Warbler  1     Heard
Song Sparrow  1
Eastern Towhee  2
Summer Tanager  1     In dead tree near parking lot
Northern Cardinal  1     Heard
Red-winged Blackbird  1     Marsh
Common Grackle  6
Brown-headed Cowbird  3

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