Saturday, November 12, 2016

Sandy Hook 11/12--Northern Shrike

Officer's Club just after sunset
Shari, Mike, and I drove up to Sandy Hook late this afternoon, intending to do some owling. Just as we arrived, passing B lot, we got a nice surprise when we got the "giss" of Bob Auster crossing the road from Plum Island. We turned around, found him in the parking lot and accosted him. Even though he'd been at the Hook since early this morning, he agreed to join us on our quest, which was great since Bob has had some recent luck with owls there.

We started up at the Boy Scout Camp with the sun still up and though we searched assiduously, we could not come up with any owls; we were particularly looking for Saw-whet and the camp is a good place for them (Bob's heard them there) but they were in evidence today. We were going to try the tennis courts and the Officer's Club in the north part of Fort Hancock. Driving up there we lost Bob, who called me to tell us to turn around and come to the North Beach pavilion--we'd all seen Jason's giant red pick up truck, but he'd only managed to flag down Bob. And what he had was worth backtracking for.

It took a while for us all to get on it, but there, out in the brush just before the beach, was a Northern Shrike, a rare bird in NJ and especially rare at the Hook. While shrikes have been reported on and off for the last month there (same shrike or multiple migrating birds?) it is the first time in 10 years that they have. While the views were distant, the bird was unmistakable, especially with a nearby mockingbird for comparison. So that was a completely unexpected year bird.

By the time we all said our goodbyes to Jason the sun had just about set and it was back to the tennis courts to try for owls. After walking around for about 5 minutes as the temperature dropped we heard at first one distant Great Horned Owl, then another very close by and finally, probably in the Officer's Club itself, a female clucking in response to the male. We walked around the perimeter of the courts (for those of you unfamiliar with Sandy Hook, you'd never know that this overgrown acre once had tennis courts for the officers) to see if we could actually locate the hooter. After a time, Mike found a shape in the trees, backlit by the nearly full moon, that appeared to be our owl. It is hard enough to direct people to a bird in a tree in daylight. In moonlight it is next to impossible, but somehow I managed to happen upon the shape and just as the thought flipped into my mind as to whether that was the bird the shape flew about 10 feet and lost itself deeper in the branches.

We knew with 3 owls hooting that there was no chance for a Saw-whet to make itself known unless it had a death wish, so we drove back down to the Boy Scout Camp and when we had no luck there, to the Horseshoe Cove parking lot, where again, no little owls made any noise at all.

Still, 3 owls and a shrike is plenty of reward for some early evening birding. My little list from the Hook:
15 species
Brant  X     Heard
Canada Goose  X     Heard
Black Scoter  200
Cooper's Hawk  1     Boy Scout Camp
Herring Gull  20
Great Black-backed Gull  1
Great Horned Owl  3     Tennis Courts. 
Northern Flicker  1     Boy Scout Camp
Northern Shrike  1     North Beach pavilion 
American Crow  1
Golden-crowned Kinglet  1     Boy Scout Camp
American Robin  2
Northern Mockingbird  1     North Beach Pavilion
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1     Boy Scout Camp
Song Sparrow  1     North Beach pavilion

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