Tuesday, January 31, 2017

January: 10 Rarities

Ross's Goose, Deerhead Lake
I birded almost every day this month. The weather, aside from a brief cold snap, was kind. I probably picked up close to 40% of the birds I'll see in New Jersey this year in the first month. That's not an accomplishment. I did, however, see 10 rarities, for New Jersey, this month, and 40% of those rarities were white: American White Pelican on the first day of the year, the Ross's Goose I found at Deerhead Lake, a Trumpeter Swan at Assunpink (a pretty dingy white, but nonetheless white) and the Snowy Owl on Holgate. I'm not even counting the Pine Warblers at the Trenton Sewer Utility (the "poo ponds" as I have heard them called) as rarities because those birds are more prevalent than eBird allows.

I started the month at Tip Seaman Park in Tuckerton where the pelican carried over from the last day of December and ended the month there, sorting through the Canada Goose flock hoping for a rare goose that has made a couple of brief appearances in the county--Pink-footed Goose. There's a very easy PFGO in Cape May, but local birds are so much more satisfying. While looking through the flock I found one goose that was banded. I noticed that the flock, like many of the goose flocks in winter, had two distinct types of Canada Geese--the ones like the banded goose are very big with thick necks, while the other geese, which I presume are local and don't migrate, are probably a little smaller overall, but their necks are distinctly thinner. I reported the goose to the USGS and mentioned that they might want to find a way to differentiate between the characters "zero" and "O" in their typography. I'm ever the printer.

The year is off to an excellent start. I was a little concerned in December when I felt my birding spirits flagging, but the prospect of finding new birds for the year seems to have revived them. I've been thinking that the listing part of birding, at least, is similar to collecting baseball cards--every pack (read day) had the potential for a great card (bird). The Pink-footed Goose would be a Mickey Mantle in my day. The European Starling is Choo-choo Coleman.

I ended the month with 122 species (96 in Ocean County). They were:
Species             First Sighting
Snow Goose   Colliers Mills WMA
Ross's Goose   Deer Head Lake
Brant   Cape May Harbor
Barnacle Goose   Etra Lake
Canada Goose   35 Sunset Rd
Mute Swan   Tip Seaman CP
Trumpeter Swan   Assunpink WMA
Tundra Swan   Cape May Meadows
Wood Duck   Cranberry Bogs--Dover Rd
Gadwall   Cape May Point SP
Eurasian Wigeon   Shark River
American Wigeon   Cape May Point SP
American Black Duck   Cape May Point SP
Mallard   Cape May Point SP
Northern Shoveler   Cape May Point SP
Northern Pintail   Cape May Point SP
Green-winged Teal   Lily Lake
Canvasback   Riverfront Landing
Redhead   Silver Lake
Ring-necked Duck   Lily Lake
Greater Scaup   CMBO Northwood Center
King Eider   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Common Eider   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Harlequin Duck   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Surf Scoter   Two Mile Beach
Black Scoter   Cape May Meadows
Long-tailed Duck   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Bufflehead   Lily Lake
Common Goldeneye   Harvey Cedars
Hooded Merganser   Cape May Point SP
Common Merganser   Manasquan Reservoir IBA
Red-breasted Merganser   Cape May Harbor
Ruddy Duck   Cattus Island County Park
Wild Turkey   Assunpink WMA
Red-throated Loon   Coral Ave. dune crossing
Common Loon   Cape May Harbor
Pied-billed Grebe   Manasquan Reservoir IBA
Horned Grebe   Sunset Lake
Red-necked Grebe   Sunset Lake
Northern Gannet   Coral Ave. dune crossing
Great Cormorant   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Double-crested Cormorant   Cape May Point SP
American White Pelican   Tip Seaman CP
Great Blue Heron   Cape May Point SP
Great Egret   Cape May Point SP
Black-crowned Night-Heron   Lake Como
Black Vulture   Lake Barnegat
Turkey Vulture   Tip Seaman CP
Northern Harrier   Assunpink WMA
Sharp-shinned Hawk   Assunpink WMA
Cooper's Hawk   Lily Lake
Bald Eagle   GSP MM 48
Red-shouldered Hawk   Cape May Point SP
Red-tailed Hawk   Colliers Mills WMA
American Coot   Cape May Point SP
Black-bellied Plover   Holgate
Killdeer   White's Bogs
Ruddy Turnstone   Coral Ave. dune crossing
Sanderling   Coral Ave. dune crossing
Dunlin   Two Mile Beach
Purple Sandpiper   Sunset Beach/Concrete Ship
Bonaparte's Gull   Sunset Beach/Concrete Ship
Ring-billed Gull   Cape May Point SP
Herring Gull   Tip Seaman CP
Lesser Black-backed Gull   Manasquan Inlet
Great Black-backed Gull   Cape May Meadows
Rock Pigeon   Cape May Point SP
Mourning Dove   35 Sunset Rd
Great Horned Owl   35 Sunset Rd
Snowy Owl   Holgate
Belted Kingfisher   Eno’s Pond
Red-headed Woodpecker   Colliers Mills WMA
Red-bellied Woodpecker   CMBO Northwood Center
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker   Assunpink WMA
Downy Woodpecker   CMBO Northwood Center
Hairy Woodpecker   Assunpink WMA
Northern Flicker   Cape May Point SP
American Kestrel   Bridge to Nowhere
Merlin   Tuckerton--Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Peregrine Falcon   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Blue Jay   Cape May Point SP
American Crow   35 Sunset Rd
Fish Crow   Colliers Mills WMA
Tree Swallow   Cape May Meadows
Carolina Chickadee   Cape May Point SP
Tufted Titmouse   CMBO Northwood Center
Red-breasted Nuthatch   Harvard Ave
White-breasted Nuthatch   35 Sunset Rd
Brown Creeper   Assunpink WMA
Carolina Wren   Cape May Point SP
Golden-crowned Kinglet   Whiting WMA
Ruby-crowned Kinglet   Assunpink WMA
Eastern Bluebird   Cattus Island County Park
Hermit Thrush   Crestwood Village
American Robin   Coral Ave. dune crossing
Gray Catbird   Cape May Point SP
Northern Mockingbird   Cape May Pt SP
European Starling   Cape May Point SP
Cedar Waxwing   Cape May Hawkwatch Platform
Orange-crowned Warbler   Manasquan Reservoir IBA
Palm Warbler   Cattus Island County Park
Pine Warbler   Trenton Sewage Ponds
Yellow-rumped Warbler   Cape May Point SP
Yellow-breasted Chat   Cape May Point SP
American Tree Sparrow   Assunpink WMA
Field Sparrow   Marshall's Pond
Fox Sparrow   CMBO Northwood Center
Dark-eyed Junco   35 Sunset Rd
White-crowned Sparrow   Assunpink WMA
White-throated Sparrow   Cape May Point SP
Savannah Sparrow   Cattus Island County Park
Song Sparrow   Cape May Point SP
Swamp Sparrow   Cattus Island County Park
Northern Cardinal   Cape May Point SP
Dickcissel   Assunpink WMA
Red-winged Blackbird   Cape May Point SP
Common Grackle   Coral Ave. dune crossing
Boat-tailed Grackle   Great Bay Bvld. WMA
Brown-headed Cowbird   Coral Ave. dune crossing
House Finch   35 Sunset Rd
American Goldfinch   35 Sunset Rd
House Sparrow   Lehigh Ave
Some birds in flight:
Snow Geese over Colliers Mills
Tundra Swans over the cranberry bogs in South Toms River

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Holgate 1/25--Snowy Owl

I did a Blanche DuBois this morning at Holgate, relying on the kindness of  a stranger. After 2 1/2 days of rain, I was ready for a good walk and at the suggestion of Mr. Robert Auster, I decided to walk the beach at the southern end of LBI. I figured there were a few new birds I could possibly get and there was always the possibility, as Bob pointed out, of a rarity.

The weather, for winter, was decent, in the 40's with only a breeze instead of a wind. I  wasn't long into my trudge through the sand when I stopped to scope the bay side. A great raft of Brant was floating out there and on the mud flats, along with the various gull species, I spotted my first year bird, Black-bellied Plover. It seems pretty late to finally get that one, but I'll take it.

I walked the beach, zig-zagging to scope now the beach and ocean, now the bay. I saw a huge flock of Dunlin and a little flock Long-tailed Ducks, but nothing I was hoping for (e.g. oystercatcher, White-winged Scoter, Lesser Black-backed Gull) was showing up.

I had walked a little over a mile when I saw a black pick-up truck approaching from the south. Since Holgate is so long (3.4 miles according to my latest information) I sometimes find myself wishing I could drive the beach, though that would obviate the exercise I also want. Usually the trucks give me a wide berth, but this one crossed a little rivulet and drove right up to me. Guys in pick-up trucks are usually not going to have anything interesting to tell me, but here, here was the exception. "There's a Snowy Owl down at the tip," he told me.

"That figures," I said. I didn't think I was going to walk another 2 1/2 miles to possibly see an owl and then walk all the way back, probably in a disgruntled state.

But then he said, "I'll drive you down there, if you want." Don't tell my mother, but I got into a truck with a stranger without even thinking about it. What would have taken me about an hour to walk he drove in 10 minutes, plus he knew exactly where to look. He positioned the truck just close enough for me to get some decent photos while not spooking the owl.

I knew an owl had been found on Holgate about two weeks ago, though the poster (a birder I know) delayed his post. This was the rarity Bob was alluding to. I also delayed my post to eBird, as I did this entry, and cropped the photo above so that the obvious landmark is not shown. I don't want the responsibility of an army of photographers crawling on their bellies to closer, closer, closer to the owl. If they can't see its pupik, they're not happy.

He drove me back about 1/2 way up the beach and I walked the rest of the way. I found a few more ducks and some loons, but nothing out of the ordinary. And I have exploded theory, held by a birding friend of mine, that black pick-up trucks are essentially evil. Meanwhile, my "eagle/pick-up truck" law still holds, since it states "if a guy in a pick-up truck asks you if you've seen any good birds..." while this driver told me about a great bird. And delivered me to it.
14 species
Brant  1000
Canada Goose  30
American Black Duck  15
Long-tailed Duck  20
Bufflehead  4
Common Loon  12
Black-bellied Plover  2
Sanderling  20
Dunlin  800
Ring-billed Gull  5
Herring Gull  500
Great Black-backed Gull  75

Snowy Owl  1
Boat-tailed Grackle  5

Pinelands Survey at Whitesbog 1/29--Killdeer

Cooper's Hawk, Whitesbog Village
The 2nd annual NJ Pinelands Winter Bird Census found me very pre-dawn this morning in an old bog at Whitesbog with Greg, where we were listening for screech-owls. Judging from the eBird lists I'm seeing, everyone else doing the survey in different parts of Burlington County found owls--screech, great horned, and barred, but we struck out, trying for them in a few different spots. I was a little disappointed because last year, at least, I heard GHO hooting from the parking lot. If I'm going to rise at 5 A.M., I'd like to be rewarded with a "hoo-hoo" or a whinny.

Despite being owl-less, Greg and I did pretty well in our wanderings around the bogs, reservoirs, and woods, particularly when you consider that on Friday I had walked about 7 miles there and come up with precious little for all those miles. For me the two highlights came fairly early. While we driving out to the double-laned road on the Burlington/Ocean County border we flushed a flash of white off the dike between Union Pond and the Middle Bog. My first reaction was wrong--Snow Bunting which Greg and I had once flushed from just about the same spot. The bird landed down the road a bit and froze--we had a Killdeer in the headlights.

I was surprised to find the water so stiff. It wasn't frozen on Friday, Saturday wasn't that cold, and this morning the temperature was just a tad below freezing. This bode ill for waterfowl again, as it had last year when the temperatures had been much colder. However, out in the bogs we counted 79 Tundra Swans, a goodly number, but not out of the ordinary for Whitesbog. At least for Whitesbog, Burlington County. Later, when we were at the Upper Reservoir, in Ocean County, a flock of swans flew in, presumably the same flock, and when I listed 69 eBird flagged it as a large number for the county. This is one of the flaws of eBird that it isn't granular enough to account  borders. Obviously, the swans don't care what county they're in and fly back and forth. I've had Rusty Blackbird (likely in Burlington County) flagged as rare 100 feet on the other side of the border in Ocean. For the purposes of the Pinelands Census we listed 88 Tundra Swans--the big flock we first saw and then another 9 we found mid-afternoon on Otter Pond.

The second highlight of the day came in the village, after we had walked Whitesbog Road almost up to Fort Dix--a Cooper's Hawk was sitting in a big tree just next to the General Store and seemed to think that there was something very interesting either around or in the tree, because it did a behavior neither of us had ever seen, flying--actually fluttering--in a spirals around the trunk of the tree, then landing on picnic bench, checking out the ground, before flying back into the branches of the tree where it hopped from limb to limb.

As the day warmed more water opened up and we did decently with waterfowl--we had Mallard, black duck, hoodies, Buffleheads, and Ring-necked Ducks, plus a dozen Canada Geese. There was one duck far out on the Upper Reservoir that looked very interesting but we didn't have a scope with us and by the time we went back to the car to fetch it and drove back it was gone. We had our guesses, based on our wishes, but we really have no idea what it was. Passerines were a little difficult to find--it took us forever to find a sparrow with the word "sparrow" in its common name.

By around 2 P.M. things had quieted down (not that they were ever that active) and since we had covered our territory pretty thoroughly, checking out some hot spots a couple of times, we called it a day with 27 species, 5 more than I had last year. Aside from vultures and the Coop, no raptors, which was surprising. No Rusty Blackbirds. But a good day in the field. I'm very curious to see the total numbers for the census.

12 Canada Goose 
88 Tundra Swan 
5 American Black Duck 
1 Mallard 
4 Ring-necked Duck 
2 Bufflehead 
19 Hooded Merganser 
2 Wild Turkey 
2 Black Vulture 
17 Turkey Vulture
1 Cooper's Hawk 
1 Killdeer
10 Herring Gull 
4 Downy Woodpecker 
2 Blue Jay 
15 American Crow 
2 Fish Crow
17 Carolina Chickadee 
7 Tufted Titmouse 
4 Red-breasted Nuthatch 
11 Golden-crowned Kinglet 
42 American Robin 
1 European Starling
23 Dark-eyed Junco 
2 Song Sparrow 
3 Northern Cardinal 
100 Red-winged Blackbird 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

North Shore Ponds & Inlets 1/28--Eurasian Wigeon, Redhead, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Lesser Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull, Manasquan Inlet
I awoke fifteen minutes before my alarm from a dream of someone blowing into the handlebars of a bicycle, making a hollow, bassoon-like tone. When I still heard the "hoo-hoo" of the dream with my eyes open, I realized that it had been induced by 2 Great Horned Owls calling to each other from the woods behind the house. They must have been fairly close, or very loud, in order to wake me up through the closed windows.  (The idea itself of bicycle as musical instrument was left over in my brain from seeing a YouTube video of Frank Zappa "playing" a bike on the old Steve Allen show, long before he was famous.)

Had to get up early so we could get to Mike's house and then drive with him to Point Pleasant Beach, the starting point of Carol Hughes' geographically challenged southern North Shore trip, in which we wended our way from Manasquan Inlet up to the Shark River, stopping a various ponds and look out spots along the way. Starting on the Ocean County side of the inlet we found, thanks to a tip from  fellow birder, a very nice looking Lesser Black-backed Gull, though, because it seemed a little larger than normal, or its head shape wasn't quite right, created some controversy before we settled on that species and not something more exotic and exciting. I never thought otherwise, using Occam's Razor of the simplest explanation usually being the right explanation.

While the weather was sunny, at first, and in the low 40's, the wind made it seem much colder, and it was on the Monmouth County side of the inlet where the cold began to seep into my bones. The only real bird of interest on that side was a Greater Scaup at the very tip of the jetty.

We stopped at Wreck Pond with nothing out of the ordinary, then moved on to Spring Lake with similar results, though on the ocean side where the outlet pipe juts into the water about a hundred feet we came upon a mixed flock of shorebirds with some Purple Sandpipers in it, a county bird for me.

Every beach town from Manasquan to Long Branch seems to have its own "lake" and after a while they all seem to blend into one, so it's good to have eBird keep track of where you are for you. The next town up, Lake Como, we birded the eponymous lake where someone's sharp eye espied a Black-crowned Night Heron juvenile perched at the bottom of a conifer.

The next lake, Silver Lake, in Belmar, produced a fairly difficult NJ duck--a drake Redhead. These lake are all hit and miss. Sometimes they have nothing, sometimes they're loaded and there don't seem to be any reasonable explanations as to why one lake a mile down the road is empty water and another, like this one, is full of shovelers, wigeons, Gadwalls, and even one American Coot.

We made a stop at the Shark River inlet, which didn't have anything we hadn't seen before, then took a turn around Sylvan Lake in Avon-by-the Sea (pronounced, pretentiously, "Ahvon," not like the cosmetics company) where we saw our 2nd Lesser Black-backed Gull of the day. I can go a year without seeing one of these species and today I get two, in two different counties. That's what makes it all interesting. This bird, we agreed, was a third cycle bird, meaning it was not quite mature. It certainly wasn't as handsome as the first one this morning.
Lesser Black-backed Gull, 3rd cycle
Our final stop was the Shark River estuary. It was very low tide and geese and ducks abounded, but Carol had only bird in mind which we had to wind around the roads bordering the river to get to the proper viewing point, but it was worth the drive, because in with about 200 American Wigeons was an oxymoronic common rarity, a drake Eurasian Wigeon, a bird that has been "continuing" there since late last year. It was much too far out to take a picture of it, but the scope views were excellent.

With that the trip ended on a high note. For the day I had 41 species, not counting the wake-up owls.
1): Manasquan Inlet
(2): Manasquan Inlet North Side
(3): Wreck Pond
(4): Spring Lake-9-13 Brown Ave - 40.1392x-74.0271
(5): Spring Lake Park
(6): Lake Como
(7 & 8): Silver Lake and Ferruggiaro Park
(9): Shark River Inlet
(10): Sylvan Lake
(11): Shark River

403 Brant -- (2),(9),(11)
220 Canada Goose -- (5),(6),(10),(11)
100 Mute Swan -- (11)
27 Gadwall -- (8),(11)
1 Eurasian Wigeon -- (11)
221 American Wigeon -- (7),(8),(10),(11)
105 American Black Duck -- (2),(7),(11)
13 Mallard -- (5),(7)
40 Northern Shoveler -- (8)
1 Northern Pintail -- (11)
1 Redhead -- (8)
1 Greater Scaup -- (2)
4 Black Scoter -- (2)
12 Long-tailed Duck -- (1),(2),(9)
34 Bufflehead -- (2),(3),(4),(11)
23 Hooded Merganser -- (6),(7),(8),(11)
17 Red-breasted Merganser -- (2),(3),(6),(11)
4 Ruddy Duck -- (7),(11)
1 Red-throated Loon -- (1)
30 Common Loon -- (1),(2),(4),(9),(11)
1 Northern Gannet -- (1)
1 Double-crested Cormorant -- (5)
4 Great Blue Heron -- (3),(8),(11)
1 Black-crowned Night-Heron -- (6)
1 Bald Eagle -- (11)
1 Red-shouldered Hawk -- (6)
1 Red-tailed Hawk -- (11)
1 American Coot -- (8)
14 Sanderling -- (2),(4),(9)
20 Dunlin -- (4)
5 Purple Sandpiper -- (4)
44 Ring-billed Gull -- (1),(3),(6),(7),(10),(11)
1467 Herring Gull -- (1),(2),(4),(5),(6),(9),(10),(11)
2 Lesser Black-backed Gull -- (1),(10)
102 Great Black-backed Gull -- (1),(2),(3),(9),(10),(11)
7 American Crow -- (3),(6),(8),(11)
1 American Robin -- (4)
50 European Starling -- (3)
1 Song Sparrow -- (9)
1 Red-winged Blackbird -- (4)
11 House Sparrow -- (6),(8)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Barnegat Light SP 1/16--King Eiders

Purple Sandpipers
After a stop at a new Wawa in Hamilton, it took us about an hour to get over to the coast and Barnegat Light. I just realized that we literally drove across the state from the Delaware River to the ocean. All for birds. Along the way we spotted a big flock of Snow Geese over the sod farms and Mike picked out a kestrel on the wire at 50 mph.

Aside from the usual attractions at Barnegat Light, we had seen reports of a King Eider just outside the inlet. We both missed this species last year. One was around Barnegat Light last year off and on, but it was a hen and they can be notoriously difficult to pick out in a Common Eider flock bobbing in the swells. This one was an immature male, not a whole lot better. To make the degree of difficulty even harder, we decided to walk the jetty without our scopes. It is a lot easier and safer that way, but makes it almost impossible to find distant ducks. I did have hope in my back pocket though and when we got almost to the end of the jetty (about a mile of rock hopping) we found a birder friend who was more spry (or crazy) than us who had his scope set up. He also had the birds. In the plural. Two immature King Eiders, visible out by the white buoys, distinct enough to show the proper field marks.

The Harlequin Ducks were at first hard to find but then they started to show up in singles and pairs and finally about 10 of them floated by. The "rockpipers" abounded, Dunlin, Ruddy Turnstones, and Purple Sandpipers all picking at the shell encrusted rocks. We were fortunate that it was low tide. We had a big flock of Common Eiders and decent numbers of Black Scoters Red-breasted Mergansers and Long-tailed Ducks. One immature Surf Scoter was very close to the jetty.

Cedar Waxwings
The parking lot, before we started out for the water was full of birds too, the happiest surprise being a large flock of Cedar Waxwings. Not a year bird, but a county bird.

By the end of the day we had tallied over 70 species, which is pretty good for mid-winter birding.
22 species
King Eider  2     Imm males, light brown birds with orange bills, north of jetty,
Common Eider  30
Harlequin Duck  10     On and around jetty
Surf Scoter  1     Inlet near jetty
Black Scoter  20
Long-tailed Duck  16
Red-breasted Merganser  20
Common Loon  2
Great Cormorant  5
Ruddy Turnstone  20
Dunlin  100     Jetty
Purple Sandpiper  6     Jetty, mixing with turnstones and Dunlin
Herring Gull  1000     
Great Black-backed Gull  10
American Crow  4
American Robin  2
Cedar Waxwing  14     Parking lot
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1
White-throated Sparrow  2
Northern Cardinal  3
House Finch  1     parking lot
House Sparrow  1

Trenton Sewer Utility 1/16--Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler
Any warbler in winter is interesting. A flock of warblers in winter is an attraction and so the Trenton Sewer Utility has become a winter hot spot, literally and figuratively. Mike & I did a day of birding, starting at Assunpink, where we dipped on the Dickcissel but did add an American Tree Sparrow to our respective lists, went up to Etra Lake, where the previous day's Barnacle Goose was not in evidence, then drove west to the sewage ponds in search of little birds. We found them in abundance. Aside from 4 or 5 Pine Warblers (supposedly rare in winter though I sometimes come across them in the woods), Palm Warblers and Yellow-rumped Warblers, there were also both kinglets and a Brown Creeper.

There was also one weird bird that the little group we were standing with could not identify. It was a small, sparrow-like bird, all black, with, depending on who was looking at it, a pink or a white/silver beak. Mike's and my first impression was that of a junco, it didn't have any markings on the back and didn't display white outer tail feathers. There are cases of melanism where birds have too much pigment in their feathers and become dark all over and I'm inclined to attribute the blackness of the bid to that, because I don't a Rosy Finch has suddenly appeared in Trenton, NJ, though stranger things have happened.

We "just missed" the Orange-crowned Warbler and the reported Northern Rough-winged Swallows were absent. The former I have for the year, the latter I'm not worried about.

10 species
Ring-billed Gull  5
Brown Creeper  1
Golden-crowned Kinglet  4
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  3
European Starling  10
Palm Warbler  2
Pine Warbler  4     Double wing bars yellow breast pointy bill
Yellow-rumped Warbler  4
White-throated Sparrow  1
Northern Cardinal  1

The birds can be found just in front of the entrance ramp wall to the highway. I noticed, for the first time these tree growing out of the seams in the wall. It just proves how tenacious nature can be given a little dirt and enough water.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Etra Lake 1/15--Barnacle Goose

Barnacle Goose in back of Canada Geese
in a really lousy digiscoped photo
Last week I was watching reports from all over NJ reporting rare birds, but as the weather was just too frigid, I chose to stay an armchair birder, though I wasn't happy about it. Even though I always say that I don't worry about winter rarities in the beginning of the year because I know I'll have a second chance at them late in the year, the reports of rare geese from Allentown, about 40 minutes from here, really hurt.

Today, while we were up in the Norway Spruce grove at Assunpink, someone got an alert about a Barnacle Goose at Etra Lake, about a 15 minute drive from our location. A second chance!

Etra Lake mysteriously attracts rare geese. It also attracts huge numbers of Canada Geese. I didn't relish looking through what turned out to be easily a 1000 Canadas, but when I got there, I set up the scope and methodically started at the left side of the goose flock and scanned to my right. Fortunately, the light was perfect, with sun behind us illuminating each goose (and a few ducks) but I had gone through about 500 geese with no luck. And then, there it was, a much smaller goose with silvery stripes on its back, a creamy cheek, and a stubby bill. It is always a thrill to find the bird yourself. It is also, in a way, easier than having someone try to give you directions as to where the bird is in the flock: "Go to the corner of the white building across the lake, then come down into the water where it is blue instead of black."

When I go to Etra Lake I always set up in a small parking lot right off the road where you can view the whole lake head on, but some of our group went into the park to look from shore. I don't usually like that vantage because you get blocks by tree branches and reeds, but I heard a cheer go up from my left and new that they too had found the bird. I walked over there, thinking that maybe I'd get a better picture of the bird, but true to experience, the bird kept drifting to the left and to the left were bushes and branches. I told Scott the Barnacle Goose was nice, but now find me a Cackling Goose. That is a project for which I have nil patience--looking through a 1000 geese for one that looks just like a Canada Goose but shrunk down to Mallard size. No thanks. Looking at everyone else's list tonight, there were, apparently, no Cacklers there today that could be picked out. I'll have to wait for one to show up in a small flock of geese.

Barnacle Goose brought my year list up to 109.

Assunpink WMA 1/15--Wild Turkey, White-crowned Sparrow, Dickcissel, etc

A Jake & a Tom
I did a little experiment before the start of Scott's Assunpink trip. I got there early and walked along the dirt road that hugs the lake. I found mostly White-throated Sparrows, a few cardinals, doves, and one Northern Harrier (which was my 100th species of the year).

This was the 2nd time in this week I walked in this field. Neither time did I find the rarity that was spotted in the sorghum field. Then I walked the road with the group with Scott in the lead. Boom! We weren't on the road 3 minutes before Scott pointed out the Dickcissel teed up on a branch in the back of the field. Dickcissel in spring in NJ is a much sought-after rarity. Dickcissel in NJ in winter is just weird.

We continued along the road, getting a little farther than I had walked, granted, but soon we had White-crowned Sparrows in the field, which was great because they haven't been hanging at their "historical" location this year, a farm driveway on the road into Assunpink. We also had a hen Canvasback on the lake seen from one of the turn offs along the road. Hadn't seen that either when I walked the road alone, though a scope certainly helped. Big flocks of blackbirds and grackles flew overhead. We had a couple of Sharp-shinned Hawks. A Brown Creeper made an appearance (I think I might have found this simultaneously with Scott). So walk alone, find a few birds. Walk with Scott, find many cool birds.

Royal Flush
We walked the fields by the navigation beacon, the two most interesting species there being the two Wild Turkeys at the edge of the road, watching them was a great way to pass the time while standing in line to use the Port-O-San and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker high in a spruce tree. The turkeys were a very large Tom, replete with snood, wattles, and beard, and an immature male, a "Jake." The adult kept displaying for the Jake, I guess to establish dominance, but the Jake seemed unimpressed. A walk up into the Norway Spruce grove really didn't produce much of anything, though owls are always hoped for, but they seem like a low percentage possibility when faced with hundreds of trees in which one could be roosting.

I was there from about 8:45 to 2:30 when we all took off to Etra Lake. In all, I had what I consider a surprisingly large number of species for the day. The controversial Trumpeter Swan was nowhere to be found--only two Mute Swans made a flyby appearance for me before I joined the group.

45 species
Canada Goose  98
Mute Swan  2
American Black Duck  9
Mallard  2
Canvasback  1     Lake
Common Merganser  1     Lake
Ruddy Duck  11
Wild Turkey  2     
Double-crested Cormorant  1
Great Blue Heron  1
Turkey Vulture  3
Northern Harrier  1

Sharp-shinned Hawk  2
Cooper's Hawk  1
Bald Eagle  6
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Ring-billed Gull  1
Herring Gull  2
Mourning Dove  22
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  1
Downy Woodpecker  2
Hairy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  1
Blue Jay  8
American Crow  1
Carolina Chickadee  4
Tufted Titmouse  1     Heard
Red-breasted Nuthatch  5
White-breasted Nuthatch  1     Heard
Brown Creeper  1
Carolina Wren  2     Heard
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  2
American Robin  1
Northern Mockingbird  1
European Starling  6
Yellow-rumped Warbler  2
White-crowned Sparrow  2
White-throated Sparrow  30
Song Sparrow  3
Northern Cardinal  7
Dickcissel  1     
Red-winged Blackbird  100
Common Grackle  250
House Finch  3
House Sparrow  2