Friday, September 30, 2016

September Summary

Black-throated Blue Warbler, Sandy Hook
Any month with a life bird (LARK BUNTING) has to be considered a success and doubly so when that lifer is found in NJ. Along with that bird I managed to add 8 additional year birds to the list, some of them, like Parasitic Jaeger and Winter Wren tough ones (for me). 

With the closing of Brig and fall migration underway, I spent a fair amount of time at Sandy Hook and though I never hit a huge warbler fall out I did manage to add some from that family to the year list as well as getting my first NJ Philadelphia Vireo there. 

Since I finally ran out of birds to list for Bird A Day earlier in the month, the birding has been a bit more, shall we say, relaxing. I haven't done any birding for the last two days because of long lingering rainstorm that seems to want to stay into October. My last foray was on Wednesday at Island Beach where, while the birding tended to be sparse, I did manage to get another look at our local mega-rarity, the Reddish Egret, which will occasionally show itself dancing around the sand bar that can be viewed from the winter anchorage. A very poor digiscope is to the left. I also came across a small flock of White-throated Sparrows along the Spizzle Creek trail which officially closes out summer and can even be considered the end of the beginning of migration. 

This month I also added a new yard bird to our list (bringing us up to 93). The other day I heard a lot of noise on the roof and just as I was about to get up to investigate I saw a vulture fly down onto the ground. That isn't that unusual, but this bird happened to be a Black Vulture. There were a few of them mixed in with the much more common Turkey Vultures. I went outside to take pictures of the flock, which was moving around from rooftop to rooftop, but kept a certain distance as their defense mechanism consists of projectile vomit. Even though they are harmless (aside from the vomit), they are inescapably creepy, especially when roosting 'round your roof.
Turkey Vulture at sunset on Sunset Rd.
 For the month I had 158 species, all in NJ.
Counties birded: Atlantic, Burlington, Monmouth, Ocean, Union
Species                     First Sighting
Canada Goose   Forsythe-Barnegat
Mute Swan   Lake of the Lilies
Wood Duck   Colliers Mills WMA
American Black Duck   Whitesbog
Mallard   Whitesbog
Northern Shoveler   Forsythe-Barnegat
Red-breasted Merganser   Sandy Hook
Wild Turkey   35 Sunset Rd
Common Loon   Island Beach SP--Reed's Road
Pied-billed Grebe   Double Trouble State Park
Double-crested Cormorant   Island Beach SP
Brown Pelican   Island Beach SP--Winter Anchorage
Great Blue Heron   Whitesbog
Great Egret   Island Beach SP
Snowy Egret   Island Beach SP
Little Blue Heron   Brig
Tricolored Heron   Island Beach SP
Reddish Egret   Island Beach SP--Winter Anchorage
Green Heron   Cloverdale Farm
Black-crowned Night-Heron   Brig
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron   Great Bay Blvd
Glossy Ibis   Great Bay Blvd
Black Vulture   Sandy Hook
Turkey Vulture   35 Sunset Rd
Osprey   Island Beach SP
Northern Harrier   Brig
Sharp-shinned Hawk   Sandy Hook
Cooper's Hawk   Gordon Road Reed's Sod Farm
Bald Eagle   Whitesbog
Red-tailed Hawk   Crestwood Village
Clapper Rail   Sandy Hook
Common Gallinule   Lake of the Lilies
American Oystercatcher   Sandy Hook--Spermaceti Cove area
Black-bellied Plover   Sandy Hook
Semipalmated Plover   Great Bay Blvd
Piping Plover   Sandy Hook
Killdeer   Whitesbog
Whimbrel   Sandy Hook
Hudsonian Godwit   Brig
Sanderling   Island Beach SP
Dunlin   Sandy Hook
Baird's Sandpiper   Sandy Hook
Least Sandpiper   Whitesbog
White-rumped Sandpiper   Brig
Buff-breasted Sandpiper   Gordon Road Reed's Sod Farm
Pectoral Sandpiper   Whitesbog
Semipalmated Sandpiper   Whitesbog
Western Sandpiper   Great Bay Blvd
Short-billed Dowitcher   Whitesbog
Wilson's Phalarope   Holmdel-Willowbrook Rd
Spotted Sandpiper   Cloverdale Farm
Solitary Sandpiper   Cloverdale Farm
Greater Yellowlegs   Whitesbog
Willet   Sandy Hook
Lesser Yellowlegs   Forsythe-Barnegat
Parasitic Jaeger   Sandy Hook
Bonaparte's Gull   Sandy Hook--Spermaceti Cove area
Laughing Gull   Island Beach SP
Ring-billed Gull   Sandy Hook
Herring Gull   Island Beach SP--Reed's Road
Lesser Black-backed Gull   Sandy Hook
Great Black-backed Gull   Island Beach SP
Caspian Tern   Sandy Hook
Common Tern   Sandy Hook
Forster's Tern   Great Bay Blvd
Royal Tern   Sandy Hook
Black Skimmer   Brig
Rock Pigeon   Gordon Road Reed's Sod Farm
Mourning Dove   35 Sunset Rd
Yellow-billed Cuckoo   Sandy Hook
Black-billed Cuckoo   Cattus Island County Park
Common Nighthawk   35 Sunset Rd
Eastern Whip-poor-will   35 Sunset Rd
Chimney Swift   Colliers Mills WMA
Ruby-throated Hummingbird   35 Sunset Rd
Belted Kingfisher   Forsythe-Barnegat
Red-headed Woodpecker   Cloverdale Farm
Red-bellied Woodpecker   Whitesbog
Downy Woodpecker   35 Sunset Rd
Hairy Woodpecker   Cloverdale Farm
Northern Flicker   Forsythe-Barnegat
American Kestrel   Forsythe-Barnegat
Merlin   Whitesbog
Peregrine Falcon   Great Bay Blvd
Eastern Wood-Pewee   35 Sunset Rd
Eastern Phoebe   Whitesbog
Great Crested Flycatcher   Cloverdale Farm
Eastern Kingbird   Brig
White-eyed Vireo   Sandy Hook--Spermaceti Cove area
Yellow-throated Vireo   Sandy Hook
Blue-headed Vireo   Sandy Hook
Philadelphia Vireo   Sandy Hook
Warbling Vireo   Island Beach SP
Red-eyed Vireo   Island Beach SP--Reed's Road
Blue Jay   35 Sunset Rd
American Crow   35 Sunset Rd
Fish Crow   35 Sunset Rd
Purple Martin   Whitesbog
Tree Swallow   Whitesbog
Bank Swallow   Island Beach SP
Barn Swallow   Great Bay Blvd
Carolina Chickadee   35 Sunset Rd
Black-capped Chickadee   Sandy Hook
Tufted Titmouse   35 Sunset Rd
Red-breasted Nuthatch   Island Beach SP--Reed's Road
White-breasted Nuthatch   35 Sunset Rd
House Wren   Colliers Mills WMA
Winter Wren   Ocean County Parks Offices
Marsh Wren   Sandy Hook
Carolina Wren   Island Beach SP--Reed's Road
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher   Cloverdale Farm
Ruby-crowned Kinglet   Sandy Hook
Eastern Bluebird   Cloverdale Farm
Veery   Sandy Hook
Swainson's Thrush   Linden Hawk Rise Sanctuary
American Robin   Whitesbog
Gray Catbird   Whitesbog
Brown Thrasher   Horicon Lake
Northern Mockingbird   Island Beach SP--Reed's Road
European Starling   Whitesbog
Cedar Waxwing   Sandy Hook
Northern Waterthrush   Sandy Hook
Black-and-white Warbler   Brig
Nashville Warbler   Sandy Hook
Mourning Warbler   Sandy Hook
Common Yellowthroat   Whitesbog
American Redstart   Island Beach SP--Reed's Road
Northern Parula   Sandy Hook
Magnolia Warbler   Linden Hawk Rise Sanctuary
Bay-breasted Warbler   Linden Hawk Rise Sanctuary
Yellow Warbler   Brig
Black-throated Blue Warbler   Sandy Hook
Palm Warbler   Linden Hawk Rise Sanctuary
Pine Warbler   Whitesbog
Yellow-rumped Warbler   Sandy Hook
Prairie Warbler   Island Beach SP--Reed's Road
Black-throated Green Warbler   Cloverdale Farm
Wilson's Warbler   Sandy Hook
Saltmarsh Sparrow   Great Bay Blvd
Seaside Sparrow   Great Bay Blvd
Chipping Sparrow   35 Sunset Rd
Field Sparrow   Sandy Hook
White-throated Sparrow   Island Beach SP
Savannah Sparrow   Sandy Hook
Song Sparrow   Whitesbog
Eastern Towhee   35 Sunset Rd
Scarlet Tanager   Sandy Hook
Northern Cardinal   35 Sunset Rd
Blue Grosbeak   Union Transportation Trail--North
Bobolink   Island Beach SP
Red-winged Blackbird   Great Bay Blvd
Common Grackle   Cattus Island County Park
Boat-tailed Grackle   Great Bay Blvd
Baltimore Oriole   Colliers Mills WMA
House Finch   35 Sunset Rd
American Goldfinch   35 Sunset Rd
House Sparrow   Wawa Rt 70 & CR 530

Monday, September 26, 2016

Ocean County Parks Offices 9/26--Winter Wren

Having spent the weekend birding Sandy Hook, I stayed local today because I had a late morning appointment in Toms River. I birded close-by Cattus Island CP, where I hadn't been in months, and then, having some more time, drove a mile north to bird the loop at the Ocean County Parks Offices.

It was pleasant today to just walk around and see what I could find, rather than putting a lot of pressure on myself to find more warblers than the next guy up at Sandy Hook, a losing game, guaranteed, for me. I was a little frustrated yesterday, especially when I ran into some birders I know and we all went into the Tennis Courts to find a Tennessee Warbler. Everyone saw it but me, despite all their directions about horizontal branches above fallen trunks in the sunlight. Sometimes, when I'm birding with a group of people, I feel like I'm blind. Either I can't focus quickly enough, or I don't understand the directions quickly enough, but it not only bothers me then, but festers in my mind the rest of the day and makes me wonder what I'm not seeing when I'm alone, especially after reading other's reports where 15 parulas are listed and I managed one.

So today I was delighted to find a Winter Wren in the wet woods adjacent to the parks offices. It restored just a little bit of confidence in myself as a birder. These are notoriously skulking birds, so to kick up one by myself and get a picture I consider an accomplishment. I have to admit that, while I was not finding the Tennessee Warbler yesterday, I briefly considered just giving up birding altogether. I start to question myself: After all these years, am I going to get any better at this? Am I having fun? Why do I feel compelled to find this drab little bird? Why don't I just throw these fricking binoculars into the fricking woods?

I got home early enough yesterday to watch the Mets redeem themselves after a terrible loss the night before by beating the Phillies like a rented mule, 17-0. In that vein, to make a baseball analogy, this morning I hit a solid double to the wall after being in a slump and striking out 3 times yesterday. Maybe that, as the broadcasters say, will "get me going."

In all it wasn't a bad day, though there was little warbler movement that I could see. But who know what I don't see? My day list:
(1): Cattus Island County Park
Date: Sep 26, 2016, 8:11 AM
(2): Ocean County Parks Offices
Date: Sep 26, 2016, 10:19 AM
37 species
17 Canada Goose -- (1),(2)
3 Mute Swan -- (1)
6 Great Blue Heron -- (1)
5 Great Egret -- (1)
2 Osprey -- (1)
1 Bald Eagle -- (1)
1 Red-tailed Hawk -- (1)
1 Ring-billed Gull -- (2)
7 Herring Gull -- (1),(2)
1 Black-billed Cuckoo -- (1)
1 Belted Kingfisher -- (1)
7 Red-bellied Woodpecker -- (1),(2)
5 Downy Woodpecker -- (1),(2)
6 Northern Flicker -- (1),(2)
1 Eastern Phoebe -- (1)
4 Blue Jay -- (1),(2)
1 Fish Crow -- (2)
17 Carolina Chickadee -- (1),(2)
1 Tufted Titmouse -- (1)
2 Red-breasted Nuthatch -- (1),(2)
4 House Wren -- (1),(2)
1 Winter Wren -- (2)
2 Marsh Wren -- (1)
2 Carolina Wren -- (1)
5 Eastern Bluebird -- (1)
2 American Robin -- (1)
10 Gray Catbird -- (1)
1 Brown Thrasher -- (2)
2 Palm Warbler -- (1)
1 Pine Warbler -- (1)
2 Yellow-rumped Warbler -- (1)
8 Song Sparrow -- (1)
2 Eastern Towhee -- (1)
3 Northern Cardinal -- (1),(2)
100 Common Grackle -- (1)
1 House Finch -- (1)
1 American Goldfinch -- (1)

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Sandy Hook 9/24--Philadelphia Vireo

On Thursday Scott sent out a notice that he was doing a "flash" field trip to Sandy Hook today. The predicted winds were propitious for migration and it was supposed to be a fine autumnal day. I left the house around sunrise and it was until I was about 10 miles up the Parkway that I realized that steely skies didn't mean the dawn had stalled. And then it started to drizzle and continued as I drove into the park. I was wearing a t-shirt, still in summer mode. The temperature was 60 with a wind-chill of I'd say 40, so I was definitely underdressed. I was going to be cold and wet it seemed. Fortunately, Lisa Fanning offered me an extra rain jacket which really saved me from a miserable first few hours.

We started off on Plum Island, not really expecting much because the predicted winds hadn't panned out but we immediately started to see migrants like Blue-headed Vireo, Nashville Warbler, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet, all month birds. A short ride up to Spermaceti Cove yielded the continuing Red-breasted Merganser hen, oystercatchers and a lone Dunlin. We walked around the bike path and the Road to Nowhere. What appeared to be a flycatcher silhouetted high in the bare branches of a tree turned out to be a female Scarlet Tanager. By this time the weather had warmed a little, the clouds dissipated, and there was a glimmer of sunlight.  By the time we'd eaten lunch conditions were 180 degrees from what we had in the morning. We all drove up to Battery Potter and walked in the garden where the warblers were starting to show themselves and then Bob found a vireo almost directly overhead which turned out to be a Philadelphia Vireo. I haven't seen one of those in 4 years. I've never seen one in NJ so I was ticking like a clock: Year bird, Jersey bird, county bird, month bird.

We moved over to the tennis courts (both these spots are heavily overgrown woodlots that, back in the halcyon days of Fort Hancock were actually a garden and tennis courts for the officers) where we tried to kick up a Connecticut Warbler (and where, a couple of weeks ago we had Mourning Warbler) but were only able to find more common warblers in ones or twos.

Finally, as the weather was sunny but cool, the remaining group made the "death march" on the fisherman's trail to the false hook, a walk of about 1/4 mile through deep sand. We were at first disappointed to have made all that effort to find high tide, non-birders in the way, and not much in the way of birds except gulls, but a little looking produced a Whimbrel and a Lesser Black-backed Gull. Finally, a walk to the Salt Pond turned up a previously reported Red-headed Woodpecker, one that had flown over a group of birders earlier in the day. It was perched up in a skinny dead tree and all the group was able to get on it for about 30 seconds before it flew off north. Red-headed Woodpeckers are rare in Monmouth County. I have to admit I was a little ho-hum about it since 'round here they aren't that hard to find if you know where to look and I know where to look. Still, another Monmouth County bird for my list.

So a day that started off looking bleak turned out to be just fine. Some were disappointed in the low numbers of each species, but I take the attitude of "I only need one." I'm not trying to break any records for most parulas seen. There was much discussion on how to pronounce this bird's name and much disagreement. A cursory search of the Internet shows you can pronounce it just about any damn way you want:

My day list totaled 60
Canada Goose  20
American Black Duck  2
Red-breasted Merganser  1     Continuing
Double-crested Cormorant  25
Great Blue Heron  5
Great Egret  1
Snowy Egret  1
Osprey  4
Northern Harrier  1
Cooper's Hawk  2
American Oystercatcher  23
Black-bellied Plover  3
Semipalmated Plover  3
Killdeer  1
Whimbrel  1
Sanderling  2
Dunlin  1
Laughing Gull  50
Herring Gull  60
Lesser Black-backed Gull  1
Great Black-backed Gull  5
Royal Tern  5
Rock Pigeon   10
Belted Kingfisher  4
Red-headed Woodpecker  1     Salt Pond
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  2
Merlin  2
Peregrine Falcon  1
Eastern Phoebe  2
White-eyed Vireo  1
Blue-headed Vireo  1
Philadelphia Vireo  1
Red-eyed Vireo  2
American Crow  1
Tree Swallow  2
House Wren  1
Carolina Wren  1     Heard
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
American Robin  2
Gray Catbird  5
Northern Mockingbird  4
European Starling  2
Cedar Waxwing  15
Northern Waterthrush  1
Black-and-white Warbler  2
Nashville Warbler  1
Common Yellowthroat  2
American Redstart  6
Northern Parula  5
Magnolia Warbler  1
Black-throated Blue Warbler  1
Black-throated Green Warbler  1
Wilson's Warbler  1
Song Sparrow  1
Eastern Towhee  2
Scarlet Tanager  1
House Finch  10
American Goldfinch  2
House Sparrow  5

Friday, September 16, 2016

Sandy Hook 9/16--Parasitic Jaeger, LARK BUNTING

It was back to Sandy Hook for the 3rd time in 8 days this morning. My destination was determined yesterday, while walking around the Linden Hawk Rise Sanctuary when Scott got a text about a rarity at Sandy Hook. You could almost see the entire group deflate--it was there and we were here. I had other things to do yesterday afternoon and it never occurred to me stop off at Sandy Hook on the way home to look for the bird. It did occur to others. Many others, including Scott. So, since there is a weekly walk there I decided to go up early this morning to try for the bird.

While I had never heard of this particular spot--the wood dump behind the old jail--someone had posted coordinates and looking at the map I saw exactly where it was. I headed over there after parking near the ferry terminal. When I came to a broken sidewalk, I saw, standing at the other end, Pete, Bob, and a couple of other birders I knew. They were silently pointing down to the concrete--there was the bird, a LARK BUNTING, feeding on the ground. I got distant looks at it with my binoculars, then decided to walk around the other side of the grove of the tree to get where they were standing, only to find out that the path Google had mapped out didn't actually exist. By the time I walked back to my original spot, the bird had flown off. I walked down the path and visited with my friends, but the bird didn't come back. "Bummer," I thought.

Lark Bunting is a big sparrow of the mid-west plains. This is only the 8th record for New Jersey. While the males in breeding plumage are a spectacular black with white wing patches, winter plumaged males and females are much drabber--sort of like female House Finches on steroids. I'm sure that if I had seen this bird on my own I would not have thought it a rarity. Yesterday I couldn't remember if Shari & I had seen this species in Texas. We hadn't, so it was a life bird. A life bird that so far I had only crummy looks at.

When I met up with Scott's group at the parking lot of Guardian Park it became apparent that many had come just for the bunting, so we all hied back up there. I thought that there was no way the bird would reappear with an army of birders standing around and making noise (humans are incapable of standing still and shutting up if a gun is not pointed at them) but I was wrong. After a few minutes the bird came out of the brush and started jumping and hopping around. It perched up on a fallen tree trunk and even with my slow-focusing camera, I was able to get some decent shots. I have to say, there is nothing like clear, satisfying looks at a life bird early in the morning to set you up for the rest of the day.

It also makes "regular" birding mundane. We birded around the area but it was essentially dead. Fall migration and we saw one warbler, an American Redstart. We saw a couple of Red-breasted Nuthatches which are having an irruption year. 2 RB Nuts, big deal. I had 7 of them walking around the Whiting WMA on Wednesday. We reassembled at Spermaceti Cover a few miles south to look for shorebirds and terns, and while we had Royal Terns, Black-bellied Plovers and oystercatchers, there was nothing there to set your heart a-throb.

Parasitic Jaeger
After the walk was over, a few of us decided to take the "death march" on Fisherman's Trail out to the tip and the tidal cut. Sometimes you can find a rare gull or tern out there and there were sure to be some shorebirds running around on the beach.

Having met some others at the parking lot who had been out there without much luck but who, after hearing how sparse the songbird pickings were decided to make the trek out again, we all gathered at the tip with our scopes and began scanning a large flock of terns and gulls to the east.

All of us except one, who, facing west and the water, thought he might have a jaeger. 8 scopes swung around 180 degrees and there, flying for a moment before settling down in the water, was a large, brown, "gullish" bird with a light colored area around its beak. We waited for a few minutes before it took off out of the water and we were all able to see it's distinguishing white fringes under the wings and pointed tail. It then flew straight at us before settling in closer to shore. By now, birding apps had been tapped to life on our phones and we were all convinced that of the 3 possible jaegers, this one was the "default" species, Parasitic Jaeger.

Parasitic Jaegers make their living harassing terns for their food and this one promptly flew over the big tern flock and got them going. I guess its strategy was to get them off the sand and hunting over the water so it would have something to steal. Its flight was acrobatic as it chased a tern, swooping and flipping around as it tried to get the tern to give up some food. Eventually it succeeded, but not before it was chased by two juvenile Laughing Gulls (turnabout is fair play) who probably didn't know its reputation as a bully. The trio flew without 20 feet of us and gave me the greatest views I've had of this species. Usually, if I see them at all, they are little flapping flecks far out over the water that you can tell are jaegers by behavior and the fleeing of terns.

This bird put on quite a show to the point where I could almost consider this my real lifer as the others were "OK" birds, as in "OK, that's a (fill in species) because you have better eyes than me."

So a relatively dull day of birding was bracketed by two terrific sightings.
My day list:
44 species
Canada Goose  5
Mute Swan  2     North Pond
Wood Duck  4     North Pond
Double-crested Cormorant  20
Great Blue Heron  1     Spermaceti Cove
Great Egret  2     Spermaceti Cove
Snowy Egret  3     Spermaceti Cove
Osprey  4
American Oystercatcher  10     Spermaceti Cove
Black-bellied Plover  14
Semipalmated Plover  4     Tidal Cut
Piping Plover  13     Tidal Cut
Killdeer  7     Ferry grounds
Sanderling  4     Tidal Cut
Parasitic Jaeger  1     
Bonaparte's Gull  1     Tidal Cut
Laughing Gull  100
Herring Gull  50
Great Black-backed Gull  15
Common Tern  100
Forster's Tern  1     Tidal Cut
Royal Tern  14     Spermaceti Cove
Rock Pigeon  5
Mourning Dove  1
Downy Woodpecker  2
White-eyed Vireo  3     Heard
American Crow  1     Heard
Tree Swallow  500
Black-capped Chickadee  1     
Red-breasted Nuthatch  1
House Wren  1     Heard
American Robin  2
Gray Catbird  2
Northern Mockingbird  1     Fisherman's trail
European Starling  10
Cedar Waxwing  1     Near Garden
American Redstart  1
Field Sparrow  1
Eastern Towhee  2     Heard
Red-winged Blackbird  3     Wood dump
Baltimore Oriole  1     Wood Dump
House Finch  2     Wood dump
American Goldfinch  1     Heard M lot