Monday, August 21, 2017

Sandy Hook 8/21--Wood Stork

Wood Stork
Generally, I avoid Sandy Hook between Memorial Day and Labor Day and I especially don't want to go there on a hot, sunny day in August, so I just watched the alerts roll in yesterday from those brave souls who were willing to put up with the traffic (both to & fro), the possibility that the park would be closed when they got there (which it was for a while), and then the long, "death march" out to the tip area, to get the latest rarity to hit NJ.

Most of the time Wood Storks are reported as flyovers down in Cape May (there was a report just last week; who knows, it might be this bird), so one just feeding in a relatively small body of water was just too hard to resist, especially when I got an early A.M. text from Bob Auster who'd detoured on his way to work to get the bird. So, after I got rid of the sprinkler repairman this morning, I packed some water and an energy bar and drove up to the Hook. The trudge through the sand was as unpleasant as it always is, but, I was propelled forward when I met a birder coming out who confirmed that the stork was still present.

Not far from Raritan Bay
A lot of birders don't even know about this little pond. Until a few years ago, I didn't know about it either, but it is a great rarity spot--Soras are often spotted in there and in migration warblers pass through. When I made the left onto the obscure little path off the main trail I saw, in the distance, a couple of other birders high on the dune overlooking the pond. Of course, the bird was hidden, but it was very close--we just couldn't see it over the phragmites. We watched the vegetation move as it foraged its way eastward, sometimes catching a glimpse of its big white body. Then, suddenly, it moved to the center of the pond and then to the back shore and the drive and the walk became worth the trouble. You can't exactly say that this ungainly bird is a good looking one, but it is striking. Shifting into "bird watching" mode instead of just being a lister, I was interested to watch it feed, shaking a leg to stir up the fish in the water.

After about a half hour of observation, I started walking back. The eclipse, which didn't interest me much, was starting. Someone offered me glasses to look at it on my way to the parking lot, but I have enough trouble with my eyes without taking glasses from strangers. At the parking lot a couple of guys had set up a telescope and were projecting the eclipse onto a piece of cardboard. It was about 30% when I got there. That was neat and now I can say I saw the eclipse of 2017. By the time the eclipse was at its maximum in NJ, 75%, I was stuck in traffic in Long Branch.

But seeing my first New Jersey Wood Stork (unpredictable) was much more interesting than seeing a very predictable celestial event.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Brig 8/19--Bobolink

Ideally, I would have seen a Bobolink by now in breeding plumage, looking like it's wearing a backwards tuxedo, but despite much searching through the spring and early summer, I didn't come up with one. Brig, in late summer, is a good place to hear Bobolinks as they migrate overhead. They go "plink." "Plink" is not very satisfying.

I went down to Brig with Mike today for his NJ Audubon trip, giving myself a break from Whitesbog for a day. We had a fabulous day on the dikes, with 19 shorebirds, including the continuing Wilson's Phalarope (rare), 3 Marbled Godwits, a couple of Long-billed Dowitchers, and some shorebirds that are dwindling in numbers this time of year, Whimbrel and Willet. Bob Auster met us there; he still needed the phalarope, which has been pretty constant between goose markers 4 & 5, a distance of maybe an 1/8 of a mile. Our 3 car caravan parked around #4 and Bob and I walked up to #5 where we saw a small congregation of birders--we felt sure the phalarope would be there. It wasn't. Supposedly it had flown back toward where we started. Bob headed back, but I stuck around, counting Stilt Sandpipers which were in ridiculous, eBird flagging numbers. I quit after about 30; the birder next me quit around 62. Then a great birder we know, who was also there called out that he had a Bobolink on the phragmites. No way to describe where it was in that undifferentiated mass of vegetation but he took pity on me and since he is a lot taller than I am, he kindly lowered his scope and I got a good look at the bird, which though it had molted into basic plumage and looked like a big buffy sparrow, was still better to see than to hear "plink." Unfortunately, Mike, who also "needed" the bird, was an 1/8 of a mile back. The bird flew and disappeared.

Then the phalarope reappeared in front of us and I called Bob to get him back up the drive. Bobolinks are practically a backyard bird for Bob so he was amused and amazed that it had taken me this long to find one this year. Yeah, yeah, you wanna see this phalarope or not?

Earlier, before the trip started, Mike and I had 3 Black Terns (a quantity that was also flagged on eBird) at the Gull Pond. The rest of our group missed them, but on the 2nd trip around, back on the south dike, we came across a nice flock of gulls and terns in which there was one Black Tern. The best landmark for the Black Tern was another bird--"the largest tern in the world," as all trip leaders are required to say, a Caspian Tern. The size disparity is striking:
Caspian Tern in back, Black Tern middle, flanked by Stilt Sandpipers, with Black Skimmers in foreground. 
I had 85 species for the day (the trip list was 90) and that was with missing some supposedly easy birds like robin, towhee, oystercatcher, and Red-tailed Hawk.
Snow Goose 2 Continuing injured one w broken right wing the other w broken left wing
Canada Goose 15
Mute Swan 5
Wood Duck 6
Blue-winged Teal 12
Mallard 4
American Black Duck 8
Northern Pintail 2 Smaller, scalloped back, brown head, black bill
Hooded Merganser 1 Small duck with sawtooth bill. All gray. Hen Continuing?
Pied-billed Grebe 1 Gull Pond
Double-crested Cormorant 65
Great Blue Heron 5
Great Egret 35
Snowy Egret 15
Green Heron 3
Black-crowned Night-Heron 7
Glossy Ibis 25
Turkey Vulture 2
Osprey 10
Bald Eagle 1 In tree line at end of drive before Jen's Trail
Clapper Rail 1 Heard
Black-bellied Plover 3
Semipalmated Plover 50
Killdeer 1
Whimbrel 1
Marbled Godwit 3
Stilt Sandpiper 40 Undercount probably by half
Dunlin 1
Least Sandpiper 1
White-rumped Sandpiper 1
Pectoral Sandpiper 2
Semipalmated Sandpiper 300
Western Sandpiper 2
Short-billed Dowitcher 65
Long-billed Dowitcher 2 Two very humpy birds, long straight bills,barring up to vent.
Wilson's Phalarope 1 Continuing @ goose marker 5
Spotted Sandpiper 2
Greater Yellowlegs 25
Willet 1
Lesser Yellowlegs 15
Laughing Gull 175
Ring-billed Gull 1
Herring Gull 10
Great Black-backed Gull 5
Least Tern 6
Caspian Tern 7 one on south dike, balance off north dike
Black Tern 3 Exact count
Common Tern 5 At NE corner
Forster's Tern 40
Black Skimmer 35
Mourning Dove 3
Chimney Swift 1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 1
Belted Kingfisher 1
Downy Woodpecker 1
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 1
Peregrine Falcon 2
Eastern Wood-Pewee 1 Heard
Eastern Phoebe 1
Eastern Kingbird 3
White-eyed Vireo 1 Heard
Red-eyed Vireo 1 Heard
Blue Jay 1 Heard
American Crow 2
Fish Crow 1
Purple Martin 1
Tree Swallow 500
Carolina Chickadee 3
Tufted Titmouse 1 Heard
Carolina Wren 2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 2
Gray Catbird 1 Heard
European Starling 20
Common Yellowthroat 1 Heard
American Redstart 1
Pine Warbler 1
Song Sparrow 2
Northern Cardinal 1
Blue Grosbeak 4 Juveniles: one in parking lot, one upland, 2 just before start of Drive
Bobolink 1
Red-winged Blackbird 6
Brown-headed Cowbird 1
Boat-tailed Grackle 2
American Goldfinch 2

Monday, August 14, 2017

Whitesbog 8/14--Canada Warbler

Another morning at Whitesbog. I walked a figure 8 pattern around the 3 drained bogs, finding the usual assortment of shorebirds and waders. The Buff-breasted Sandpiper wasn't to be found. No unusual shorebirds were feeding in the bogs. But there's always the potential for something rare and that's a good part of the appeal, along with the quiet and emptiness.

Instead of doing another loop, I stowed the scope in the car and walked around Union Pond, hoping for what a regular there calls "tweety birds." I also detoured over to Ditch Meadow and managed to scare (literally) up one Wood Duck, a first for the month. Along the path that runs between Union Pond and Ditch Meadow there is a low, wet spot where I often see Common Yellowthroats, so I stopped there a pished. First a couple of catbirds came out, then a goldfinch, then a warbler that wasn't a yellowthroat. It was grayer on the back than a yellowthroat would be and had an eye ring like a whitewall tire. My first impression was Nashville Warbler, but that would be rare and it really didn't have a hooded appearance. Great. I'm struggling with shorebird identification this month and now I have to start working on the dreaded "confusing fall warblers."

There aren't that many grayish warblers with prominent eye rings, I just couldn't recall them. Phone apps are fine but flipping through Sibley's is a lot easier, so when I got home I did just that. Way at the end of the warbler taxonomy I found my bird--Canada Warbler. Appearance, habitat, time of year, all fit. It was probably a first year bird that arrived at Whitesbog on last night's favorable winds. I saw it a couple of time right below my feet, but it scrambled back into the undergrowth and the only other birds that responded to my pishing were yellowthroats.

One other bird of interest to me was more from a photographic angle than a birding one. I don't usually get very excited about eagles but when I first got on the bogs, I saw a nice adult roosting in one of the trees jutting out from Union Pond. Since it was just sitting there all teed up, I thought, Why not take a picture?  It was too far away for my camera to get a decent shot, so I digiscoped it.

50% of the time my digiscopes (hand held) don't come out at all and 49% of the time the picture I get is just good enough for documentation.

But 1% of the time the light is right, the hand is steady, and the bird is big enough to get a good picture. I even like the asymmetrical framing that inadvertently occurred when the lens found the eyepiece.

For my morning on the bogs and around other bodies of water I had 38 species:
Canada Goose 2 Union Pond. One apparently injured
Wood Duck 1 Ditch Meadow
Pied-billed Grebe 2 Union Pond
Great Blue Heron 6
Great Egret 10
Green Heron 3
Glossy Ibis 1 Middle Bog
Turkey Vulture 1
Bald Eagle 1
Semipalmated Plover 10
Least Sandpiper 25
Pectoral Sandpiper 3
Spotted Sandpiper 3
Solitary Sandpiper 3
Greater Yellowlegs 5
Lesser Yellowlegs
Gull-billed Tern 6 Middle Bog
Mourning Dove 2
Eastern Wood-Pewee 4 Heard
Eastern Phoebe 1 Union Pond
Eastern Kingbird 2
American Crow 1 Heard
Purple Martin 1
Tree Swallow 100
Barn Swallow 1
Carolina Chickadee 1 Heard
White-breasted Nuthatch 1 Heard
Carolina Wren 1 Heard
Gray Catbird 10
Cedar Waxwing 1
Common Yellowthroat 4
Pine Warbler 1
Prairie Warbler 1
Canada Warbler 1
Song Sparrow 2
Eastern Towhee 4
Red-winged Blackbird 5
American Goldfinch 1

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Brig 8/13--Wilson's Phalarope

Wilson's Phalarope among the Laughing Gulls
I almost felt like I was cheating this morning, going to Brig instead of Whitesbog, but when the Wilson's Phalarope continued for the 3rd or 4th day there, I just had to get it on the list. There was also a report from yesterday of a mysterious sandpiper that was being bandied about as a possible Little Stint, which would be a lifer for me. However, I was rather dubious that I'd be able to find that bird among the thousand plus Semipalmated Sandpipers along the drive, and even if I did happen upon it the oddity, there was no sure way to identify as a wanderer from Eurasia.

Finding the phalarope was easy: Look for the birders. I parked the car close to the entrance of the Wildlife Drive, shouldered my scope and walked along, scoping out every Semipalmated Sandpiper but soon, when I got to to around 1000, got bored of looking at them. By that time I'd reached Goose Marker #4, which is becoming the hot spot at Brig (water levels seem to be best there for shorebirds) and within a minute I was onto the pretty little phalarope. Some rarities are truly rare--think Whooping Crane or Spoonbill Sandpiper, where their numbers are actually small. But most rarities are rare because they show up where they usually aren't. Wilson's Phalarope is a good example. You could, right now, go to the Great Salt Lake in Utah, and find literally thousands of them swirling around in the water. But here on the east coast, if a phalarope of any sort shows up, it's an event.

I only went around the drive once today and didn't even bother with the Gull Pond. The only other really notable bird I saw today was a Black Tern. I did stop by Whitesbog before I went home--the Buff-breasted Sandpiper was seen again today but I wasn't able to find it even though some birders had had it in the middle bogs only minutes before I arrived. I did, however, get my first Glossy Ibis of the season for Whitesbog--another bird that just popped up out of nowhere.

Glossy Ibis
Brig's day list:
43 species
Canada Goose 15
Mute Swan 2
Mallard 19
Wild Turkey 2 Entrance
Double-crested Cormorant 1
Great Blue Heron 1
Great Egret 70
Snowy Egret 19
Glossy Ibis 22
Osprey 10
Black-bellied Plover 8
Semipalmated Plover 60
Stilt Sandpiper 1
Least Sandpiper 5
Pectoral Sandpiper 1
Semipalmated Sandpiper 1500
Western Sandpiper 1
Short-billed Dowitcher 120
Wilson's Phalarope 1
Greater Yellowlegs 13
Lesser Yellowlegs
Laughing Gull 225
Herring Gull 40
Great Black-backed Gull 10
Least Tern 2
Caspian Tern 3
Black Tern 1 Goose Marker 4
Common Tern 3
Forster's Tern 80
Black Skimmer 50
Mourning Dove 3
Peregrine Falcon 1
American Crow 10
Purple Martin 2
Tree Swallow 2
Barn Swallow 5
Carolina Chickadee 1 Heard
Gray Catbird 2 Heard
Seaside Sparrow 2
Northern Cardinal 1 Feeder
Red-winged Blackbird 6
Boat-tailed Grackle 1
American Goldfinch 1 Feeder

The Phalarope

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Whitesbog 8/12--Buff-breasted Sandpiper

It's that happy time of year when the bogs are drawn down at Whitesbog and the shorebirds arrive to feed on the mud flats and shallow pools. I've been walking the dikes around the bogs almost every day for the last week. You can usually find 9 or 10 species of shorebirds on the 3 drained bogs, but it is the rarities that sneak in that are the real attraction. 2 years ago on this date, Greg, Jim, Ernie, and I had a spectacular day when both a Wilson's Phalarope and a Red-necked Phalarope appeared in the middle bog. Last year on this date Jim found a White Ibis in the lower bog and I was lucky enough to be nearby to see it. So you know where I was going to be today.

The day started off a little rainy, but by the time I got to Whitesbog it was merely murky. Jim was already there for a couple of hours by the time I arrived. We "met" on the breached dike between the middle and upper bogs, talking across the little channel and coming up with the expected species, plus 3 Short-billed Dowitchers which are considered a rarity in the mostly inland county of Burlington. After about a half hour of scoping, I was ready to walk around and said "The entertainment value of this section is just about played out." It couldn't have been a less prescient statement. I was about halfway down the dike when Jim called me back--he had a Buff-breasted Sandpiper in his scope. I ran back to the breach and set my scope up again. Normally, I'd just look in Jim's scope to get the bird and the location and then find it in mine (it's never really official until you see it in your scope) but I wasn't about to walk through 2 feet of water to get to his side, so I tried to follow his directions, but since a drained bog is pretty much a huge expanse of undifferentiated mud, grass and flattened water lilies, it wasn't easy for him to give me any landmarks. Somehow, probably through random chance, the bird popped up in my scope and I got long, satisfying looks at this very sharp looking juvenile bird.

Unlike most of the rarities that we find at Whitesbog which are just rare for the county, a buffy is always rare anyplace in NJ. This one seemed to be about a week or so earlier than normal for the state, but one, I see, has already been reported last week in central Jersey. Soon a couple of other friends showed up and we were able to watch the sandpiper as it actively fed in both bogs. We'd lose it for a while then find it again in a completely different spot in one of the bogs. It really is amazing how birds at Whitesbog seem to pop up int he bogs like myrmidons. A little channel of shallow water will suddenly have a flock of dowitchers feeding on it when a moment ago there were no birds. Or, 5 Black-bellied Plovers appear on a sandbar, stand there for 20 minutes, then just as mysteriously disappear. Sometimes I think there's a backstage area at Whitesbog where theybirds are out of sight until a stage manager give them a cue to make an appearance.

Now, today happens to be Jim's birthday, and what better birthday present for a birder than a rarity? Two years ago with the phalaropes was a fortuitous event, last year with the ibis was a coincidence, but three years in a row--that's a tradition.

I didn't stay as long as I normally do, nor did I walk as much today as I like, so I only had 27 species for the 3 hours or so that I was there; my usually number is in the low 30's. For the month, so far, though I have 61 species. It pays to go back almost every day because you never know what new arrivals you might find.
Canada Goose
Pied-billed Grebe
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Green Heron
Turkey Vulture
Cooper's Hawk
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Least Sandpiper
Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Spotted Sandpiper
Solitary Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Laughing Gull
Gull-billed Tern
Forster's Tern
Mourning Dove
Common Nighthawk
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
White-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Purple Martin
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Black-and-white Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Pine Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Orchard Oriole
American Goldfinch

Monday, July 31, 2017

July Wrap-up--Mostly Brig

Black-crowned Night-Heron, Brig
I went to Brig 9 times this month--more than twice a week by a fraction. I went by myself, with Shari, with Mike, with Bob, and on a couple of NJ Audubon field trips. Most of the birds I saw this month, I saw at Brig and all but one of my year birds were found at Brig this month. Doing the arithmetic, that means 128 miles of birding at Brig. Summer birding in NJ.

I did go other places, particularly early in the month when warblers and other passerines were still somewhat vocal, but once the weather gets really warm, it is hard in the woods to hold up your binoculars and swat away bugs at the same time.

While I had 143 species for the month, a respectable number, I only added 5 birds to the year list, my worst month so far by far. And I won't even go into the incredibly frustrating saga of the Roseate Spoonbill that spent two days eluding all but a handful of birders in Ocean County. And what did everyone say when we couldn't find it in Ocean County? "Oh, it'll probably turn up at Brig."

Counties Birded: Atlantic, Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth, Ocean
Species                  First Sighting
Snow Goose   Brig
Canada Goose   Brig
Mute Swan   Brig
Wood Duck   Brig
American Black Duck   Brig
Mallard   Brig
Blue-winged Teal   Brig
Green-winged Teal   Brig
Red-breasted Merganser   Island Beach SP
Wild Turkey   35 Sunset Rd
Pied-billed Grebe   Brig
Double-crested Cormorant   Brig
Brown Pelican   Island Beach SP
Least Bittern   Brig
Great Blue Heron   Baldpate Mt
Great Egret   Brig
Snowy Egret   Brig
Little Blue Heron   Brig
Tricolored Heron   Island Beach SP
Green Heron   Union Transportation Trail
Black-crowned Night-Heron   Brig
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron   Brig
White Ibis   Brig
Glossy Ibis   Brig
Black Vulture   Baldpate Mt
Turkey Vulture   Brig
Osprey   Brig
Mississippi Kite   GSP MM 69
Cooper's Hawk   Rt 539 New Egypt
Bald Eagle   Brig
Red-tailed Hawk   NJ-29 S, Trenton
Clapper Rail   Brig
Common Gallinule   Brig
American Avocet   Brig
American Oystercatcher   Brig
Black-bellied Plover   Brig
Semipalmated Plover   Brig
Piping Plover   Island Beach SP
Killdeer   Brig
Whimbrel   Brig
Marbled Godwit   Brig
Ruddy Turnstone   Great Bay Blvd
Stilt Sandpiper   Brig
Sanderling   Island Beach SP
Least Sandpiper   Brig
White-rumped Sandpiper   Brig
Pectoral Sandpiper   Brig
Semipalmated Sandpiper   Brig
Western Sandpiper   Brig
Short-billed Dowitcher   Brig
Long-billed Dowitcher   Brig
Spotted Sandpiper   Great Bay Blvd
Greater Yellowlegs   Brig
Willet   Brig
Lesser Yellowlegs   Brig
Laughing Gull   Brig
Ring-billed Gull   Brig
Herring Gull   Brig
Great Black-backed Gull   Brig
Least Tern   Brig
Gull-billed Tern   Brig
Caspian Tern   Brig
Black Tern   Brig
Common Tern   Island Beach SP
Forster's Tern   Brig
Royal Tern   Island Beach SP
Black Skimmer   Brig
Mourning Dove   Brig
Yellow-billed Cuckoo   Brig
Black-billed Cuckoo   Crosswicks Creek Park
Eastern Whip-poor-will   35 Sunset Rd
Chimney Swift   Baldpate Mt
Ruby-throated Hummingbird   Brig
Red-headed Woodpecker   Colliers Mills WMA
Red-bellied Woodpecker   Baldpate Mt
Downy Woodpecker   35 Sunset Rd
Northern Flicker   Baldpate Mt
Peregrine Falcon   Brig
Eastern Wood-Pewee   Baldpate Mt
Willow Flycatcher   Brig
Eastern Phoebe   Bright View Farm
Great Crested Flycatcher   Brig
Eastern Kingbird   Brig
White-eyed Vireo   Baldpate Mt
Yellow-throated Vireo   Baldpate Mt
Warbling Vireo   Mercer Sod Farm IBA
Red-eyed Vireo   Baldpate Mt
Blue Jay   35 Sunset Rd
American Crow   Brig
Fish Crow   35 Sunset Rd
Northern Rough-winged Swallow   Brig
Purple Martin   Brig
Tree Swallow   Brig
Bank Swallow   Brig
Barn Swallow   Brig
Carolina Chickadee   35 Sunset Rd
Tufted Titmouse   Brig
White-breasted Nuthatch   Baldpate Mt
House Wren   35 Sunset Rd
Marsh Wren   Brig
Carolina Wren   Brig
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher   Baldpate Mt
Eastern Bluebird   Bright View Farm
Veery   Baldpate Mt
Wood Thrush   Baldpate Mt
American Robin   Brig
Gray Catbird   Brig
Brown Thrasher   Brig
Northern Mockingbird   Mercer Sod Farm IBA
European Starling   Wawa-Jackson
Cedar Waxwing   Baldpate Mt
Ovenbird   Baldpate Mt
Blue-winged Warbler   Michael Huber Prairie Warbler Preserve
Black-and-white Warbler   Baldpate Mt
Common Yellowthroat   Brig
Hooded Warbler   Baldpate Mt
Yellow Warbler   Baldpate Mt
Chestnut-sided Warbler   Baldpate Mt
Pine Warbler   Whitesbog
Prairie Warbler   Whitesbog
Grasshopper Sparrow   Juliustown Rd
Saltmarsh Sparrow   Great Bay Blvd
Seaside Sparrow   Brig
Chipping Sparrow   Brig
Field Sparrow   Brig
Song Sparrow   35 Sunset Rd
Swamp Sparrow   Whitesbog
Eastern Towhee   35 Sunset Rd
Northern Cardinal   35 Sunset Rd
Rose-breasted Grosbeak   Baldpate Mt
Blue Grosbeak   Crosswicks Creek Park
Indigo Bunting   Baldpate Mt
Dickcissel   Juliustown Rd
Red-winged Blackbird   Brig
Eastern Meadowlark   Mercer Sod Farm IBA
Common Grackle   Brig
Boat-tailed Grackle   Brig
Brown-headed Cowbird   Brig
Orchard Oriole   Brig
Baltimore Oriole   Baldpate Mt
House Finch   Brig
American Goldfinch   Brig
House Sparrow   Wawa-Jackson
Green Heron, Union Transportation Trail