Friday, March 31, 2017

March Birds: Going Out & Coming In

Pine Warbler, Whitesbog
March is a transitional month for birding: Last chance to get those ducks and rare gulls until late autumn while at the same time, you get the first hints of spring migration.

The warblers aren't back yet unless you count the many Pine Warblers making their presence known, but in truth, a lot of them overwinter, they're just hard to find when they don't sing. But Eastern Phoebes were suddenly everywhere (Shari & I had 6 yesterday on a short walk at the northernmost section of Forsythe in Brick), and Ospreys are sitting on their platforms. We heard our first Clapper Rail last week. Pectoral Sandpipers are showing up--early migrants--and it's good to get them on list instead of searching for them in August.

In March I was able to add 2 winter gulls (Glaucous and Iceland), one in-coming gull (Laughing) and one rarity (Black-headed). I also finally got American Pipit and Snow Buntings on the list, so I don't have to "worry" about them anymore--except I'd like to have them both for Ocean County.

Swamp Sparrow in our backyard
Chipping Sparrow was an embarrassment--I mistook a Swamp Sparrow for one because I just couldn't believe we'd have a Swamp Sparrow in our backyard. But birds have wings and can wind up just about anywhere. Now, of course, Chipping Sparrows are everywhere and will spend the rest of the spring confusing everyone when they sing--was that a Pine Warbler or a Chipping Sparrow? Throw in Worm-eating Warbler and the fun trebles.

Well-known winter hater that I am, I have to concede one benefit of winter birding now that we'll soon be shifting into warbler/vireo mode--you don't have to get up early in the winter to get the birds. Ducks and gulls don't keep early hours. The sparrows are smart--they wait for the day to warm up before they become active. But those days are over for the next few months.

For March I had 126 species, a few more than I was getting the first two months of the year. All my birding was in NJ except for one stroll through Central Park.

Counties birded:
New Jersey: Atlantic, Burlington, Cape May, Middlesex, Ocean
New York: New York
Species             First Sighting
Snow Goose   Brig
Brant   Spizzle Creek
Canada Goose   Manahawkin WMA
Mute Swan   Manahawkin WMA
Tundra Swan   Brig
Wood Duck   Bunker Hill Bogs
Gadwall   Forsythe-Barnegat
American Wigeon   Forsythe-Barnegat
American Black Duck   Forsythe-Barnegat
Mallard   Manahawkin WMA
Blue-winged Teal   Davies Sports Complex
Northern Shoveler   Forsythe-Barnegat
Northern Pintail   Brig
Green-winged Teal   Forsythe-Barnegat
Canvasback   Brig
Ring-necked Duck   Brig
Greater Scaup   Graveling Point
Lesser Scaup   Davies Sports Complex
Common Eider   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Harlequin Duck   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Black Scoter   Island Beach
Long-tailed Duck   Island Beach
Bufflehead   Barnegat Municipal Dock
Common Goldeneye   Colliers Mills WMA
Hooded Merganser   Manahawkin WMA
Common Merganser   Brig
Red-breasted Merganser   Barnegat Municipal Dock
Ruddy Duck   Brig
Wild Turkey   Crestwood Village
Red-throated Loon   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Common Loon   Island Beach
Pied-billed Grebe   Colliers Mills WMA
Horned Grebe   Graveling Point
Northern Gannet   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Great Cormorant   Island Beach
Double-crested Cormorant   Brig
Great Blue Heron   Manahawkin WMA
Great Egret   Brig
Snowy Egret   Holly Lake
Black Vulture   Colliers Mills WMA
Turkey Vulture   35 Sunset Rd
Osprey   Brig
Northern Harrier   Brig
Sharp-shinned Hawk   Spizzle Creek
Cooper's Hawk   Mud City
Bald Eagle   GSP MM 49.8
Red-shouldered Hawk   Whitesbog
Red-tailed Hawk   Manahawkin WMA
Clapper Rail   Brig
American Coot   Brig
American Oystercatcher   Spizzle Creek
Black-bellied Plover   Great Bay Blvd
Killdeer   Barnegat Municipal Dock
Sanderling   Villas
Dunlin   Forsythe-Barnegat
Purple Sandpiper   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Pectoral Sandpiper   Patriots County Park
Wilson's Snipe   Meadowedge Park
American Woodcock   Crestwood Village
Greater Yellowlegs   Eno’s Pond
Lesser Yellowlegs   Shelter Cove Park
Bonaparte's Gull   Cape May - Lewes Ferry Terminal
Black-headed Gull   Brig
Laughing Gull   Brig
Ring-billed Gull   Barnegat Municipal Dock
Herring Gull   Manahawkin WMA
Iceland Gull   Raritan Bay Waterfront Park
Glaucous Gull   Manasquan Inlet
Great Black-backed Gull   Barnegat Municipal Dock
Rock Pigeon   Bayview Marina
Mourning Dove   35 Sunset Rd
Belted Kingfisher   Manahawkin WMA
Red-headed Woodpecker   Colliers Mills WMA
Red-bellied Woodpecker   Manahawkin WMA
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker   Cattus Island County Park
Downy Woodpecker   Manahawkin WMA
Hairy Woodpecker   Forest Resource Education Center
Northern Flicker   Whitesbog
American Kestrel   New Egypt
Merlin   Colliers Mills WMA
Peregrine Falcon   Brig
Eastern Phoebe   Manahawkin WMA
Blue Jay   Manahawkin WMA
American Crow   Cloverdale Farm
Fish Crow   35 Sunset Rd
Common Raven   New Egypt
Tree Swallow   Wetlands Institute
Carolina Chickadee   Manahawkin WMA
Black-capped Chickadee   Central Park
Tufted Titmouse   35 Sunset Rd
Red-breasted Nuthatch   Cloverdale Farm
White-breasted Nuthatch   Manahawkin WMA
Brown Creeper   Forest Resource Education Center
Winter Wren   Forest Resource Education Center
Carolina Wren   Manahawkin WMA
Golden-crowned Kinglet   Forest Resource Education Center
Ruby-crowned Kinglet   Spizzle Creek
Eastern Bluebird   Cloverdale Farm
Hermit Thrush   White's Bogs
American Robin   Manahawkin WMA
Northern Mockingbird   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
European Starling   Barnegat Municipal Dock
American Pipit   Raritan Bay Waterfront Park
Cedar Waxwing   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Snow Bunting   Brig
Pine Warbler   Whitesbog
Yellow-rumped Warbler   Spizzle Creek
American Tree Sparrow   Jumping Brook Preserve
Chipping Sparrow   Forest Resource Education Center
Field Sparrow   Colliers Mills WMA
Fox Sparrow   35 Sunset Rd
Dark-eyed Junco   Cloverdale Farm
White-crowned Sparrow   New Egypt
White-throated Sparrow   35 Sunset Rd
Savannah Sparrow   Brig
Song Sparrow   35 Sunset Rd
Swamp Sparrow   35 Sunset Rd
Eastern Towhee   Brig
Northern Cardinal   Cloverdale Farm
Red-winged Blackbird   Manahawkin WMA
Common Grackle   Barnegat Municipal Dock
Boat-tailed Grackle   Meadowedge Park
Brown-headed Cowbird   35 Sunset Rd
House Finch   35 Sunset Rd
American Goldfinch   35 Sunset Rd
House Sparrow   Stafford
Song Sparrow, Cattus Island CP

Brig in the Rain 3/31--Black-headed Gull

Black-headed Gull
I went birding with Mike today. Apparently our motto is, "Once we make plans, neither rain, nor sleet, nor big rocks falling from the sky will prevent us from birding." Because it was raining lightly at 7 A.M. and gray as a gull's back when he picked me up and it went downhill from there, until, on the last leg of our trip around Brig the words "torrential" and "of biblical proportion" spring to mind.

Our original plan to go to Cape May was scotched and we decided to start local at Colliers Mills, hoping to find a reported meadowlark there. We even had a picture of the stump in the field where the meadowlark was last seen. However, yesterday that field was burned, as it is annually, and on the stump, instead of a meadowlark, was an American Kestrel (not a bad consolation prize). Chances of a meadowlark in burned stubble with a nearby kestrel? Zero.

We drove up to Success Lake and back, hit four bodies of water within the WMA and came up with a very respectable 40 or so species considering the conditions. We then drove over to New Egypt where aside from a gazillion starlings we added a few easy birds like mockingbird and grackle, and one relatively hard one, White-crowned Sparrow, which seems to gravitate to one thicket just to the side of the cattle fields. Despite the flooded fields, there were no shorebirds or ducks occupying the puddles.

The weather was obviously not going to improve, so we headed down to Brig, figuring we could do almost all our birding within the dry confines of the car. Duck numbers are way down, as one would expect for this time of year, but the shorebirds are starting to pick up. We had both yellowlegs, Dunlins (which actually are more of winter bird there), a couple of oystercatchers, and a very close Wilson's Snipe.

But the highlight of the day, the bird the made the trip worthwhile, was the Black-headed Gull we found right on the road of the south dike. This is probably the same rarity (at least on this side of the Atlantic--in Europe they're common as rats) that has been hanging around the refuge since late last year, but it is the first time in 2017 that we managed to find it. And, happily, instead of being a distant bird, hard to pick out, it was right in front of us, easy to study, easy to photograph.

There was also one interesting raptor, far out on the NE corner, which was probably a Bald Eagle (we had a couple), but which we tried to make into a golden. Mike pulled out the scope, though I doubted that in the murk he'd be able to make anything out at the distance it was. Horizontal rain discouraged his efforts.

Still, I came away with 46 species for our waterlogged tour around the dikes and something like 72 for the wet but satisfying day.

Our Brig list:
Snow Goose 200
Brant 60
Canada Goose 20
Mute Swan 1 Exit Pond
Gadwall 25
American Black Duck 20
Mallard 4
Northern Shoveler 7
Green-winged Teal 10
Bufflehead 30
Hooded Merganser 6
Red-breasted Merganser 15
Double-crested Cormorant 50
Great Blue Heron 2
Great Egret 20 Exact count
Snowy Egret 8
Osprey 5
Northern Harrier 3
Bald Eagle 2
American Oystercatcher 2
Killdeer 1 Heard
Dunlin 100
Wilson's Snipe 1
Greater Yellowlegs 5
Lesser Yellowlegs
Black-headed Gull 1
Ring-billed Gull 3
Herring Gull 50
Great Black-backed Gull 3
Mourning Dove 1 Heard parking lot
Peregrine Falcon 1
Eastern Phoebe 1
American Crow 1
Fish Crow 1
Tree Swallow 20
Carolina Chickadee 2
Tufted Titmouse 2
Chipping Sparrow 1 Heard parking lot
White-throated Sparrow 7
Savannah Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 2
Swamp Sparrow 1 Heard Gull pond
Northern Cardinal 2 Heard
Red-winged Blackbird 15
Boat-tailed Grackle 1
House Finch 1 Heard parking lot

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Shelter Cove Park 3/30--Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs
Shelter Cove Park, in Toms River, a little south of Cattus Island CP, is a fairly small place with a lot of different habitats--beach, marsh, a couple of patches of woods, asphalt, and playing fields, although, with all the goose shit on the grass and the flooded areas overflowing from the marsh (and the floating goose shit in the flooded areas overflowing from the marsh), those must be some interesting soccer contests they have. The baseball fields look a little drier. It's a place you can handily cover in an hour and that's about what I had this morning.

The first bird I saw before I had barely parked the car was a Killdeer, a bird I always associate with Shelter Cove because my first county Killdeer was there, on the median in the parking lot. As I was leaving today, there was one standing in the gutter. Not a hard bird to find.

After all our recent rain, the fields were solidly soaked, with lots of puddles all around. In the past, I've seen snipe hunkered down in the instant marshes some of the fields become. Today, at a pool of standing water just past the fence line was a yellowlegs. I was pretty certain, as I rushed across the parking lot, that it was a Lesser Yellowlegs, and when I got close enough to view but not flush it that proved the case--short bill, no "knees" smaller, and more "dainty," as Greg would say, than a Greater. Eventually, as I was about to leave, it left too, with a little "do-do," not the 3 note call of a Greater.

As I walked on the drier parts of the field, picking my way around the many goose gifts, I found a small of flock of said geese, and behind them, 7 Turkey Vultures, stretching their wings and basking in the sun.

Puddle Duck
Near a little grove of trees the ponding wasn't as extensive as the rest of the field, probably because some grading looking to be in progress. But there were a few Mallards making use of whatever water they could find, living up to their sobriquet of "puddle duck."

Sparrows, grackles, robins, starlings were all about and one Northern Flicker calling crazily as it sat on the fence. An Osprey on its nets, cheeping away.

For the 45 minutes or so I spent there I came up with 20 species. As I was driving back up the road there were a couple of more Mallards sitting in a puddle on the shoulder.
Canada Goose 18
Mallard 3
Turkey Vulture 7
Osprey 1 nest on point
Killdeer 2
Lesser Yellowlegs 1
Northern Flicker 1
Blue Jay 1 Heard
American Crow 1 Heard
Fish Crow 1
Carolina Wren 1 Heard
American Robin 50
European Starling 150
Chipping Sparrow 1
White-throated Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 10
Northern Cardinal 1 Heard
Common Grackle 25
Brown-headed Cowbird 6
House Finch 2 Ground feeding

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Holly Lake 3/29--Snowy Egret

Snowy Egrets
Holly Lake is really just a pond, and a drained one at that, all but hidden on Great Bay Blvd about a mile north of where the WMA starts. When it was full, there would be, at most, a couple of swans in it, maybe a Mallard. But now that it is mostly mud flats, with water toward the back, it is worth stopping and taking look. This morning there was a good variety of ducks on it, including 60 Green-winged Teal. After a few minutes of scoping, I continued onto the WMA, where the tide was coming in, so there wasn't much room for shorebirds. I did manage to find a couple of yellowlegs, about 30 Dunlin, and a couple of Black-bellied Plovers. Great Egrets are back in good numbers. I listed 20 and there were probably more. Two Ospreys were on a platform. The inlet itself was empty of birds.

It was dank and murky, with a wet wind. Normally, I'll walk from the inlet up to the first wooden bridge and back, but the marshes along there looked empty when I drove by and I just didn't feel like it. So I drove back north, figuring I'd hit a couple of other spots and maybe, as predicted, the sun would come out and I'd find a more productive place to walk. As I was driving by Holly Lake I took another look through the little opening where the culvert is. It is amazing, as Mike has pointed out, how, after a while, you can recognize a bird just by shape or behavior. I saw two white birds dancing at the back of the pond. "Those aren't Great Egrets," I said to myself. I pulled over, pulled out the scope, but even in my binoculars I could see the "golden slippers" of Snowy Egrets. They weren't there on the first pass. Nor was the Greater Yellowlegs standing on the mud flats in front of me, nor the Killdeer behind it. So, now Holly Lake is going to be a two stop spot.

Laughing Gull
I drove up to the Barnegat Municipal Dock, where the gulls like to sit in the parking lot. As I was hoping, there were a few Laughing Gulls there. Now they're on my county list. There were also at least 4 Horned Grebes out in the bay, one of them already having pretty much molted in breeding plumage. Much too far, and still too gray, for photography.

I decided to drive up to Cloverdale Farm to get my walk in, now that I had a couple of list birds. Just as I was about to make the left onto the dirt entry road, the sun came out. The most interesting bird I saw there was a Common Raven, supposedly rare in the county. It was harassing a Red-tailed Hawk before it it went on its way, flying right over me, a huge corvid with a big beak and wedge-shaped tail. What called my attention to it was the "gronk!" I heard overhead. At first I looked up, searching for a Great Blue Heron. No heron, only an aerial battle.

Speaking of aerial contests, I also saw two Belted Kingfishers going at it with each other. Whether they were male and female doing a mating ritual, or two males fighting over territory I couldn't determine through the little window I had in the trees, but the rattling they made was extraordinary.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Brig 3/25--Osprey, Clapper Rail, Laughing Gull

The annual, obligatory Osprey photograph
Attention all photographers: It's over. Today I took THE photograph of an Osprey, the quintessential, definitive, nominative, photograph of an Osprey, so there is no need for anyone to take any more pictures of this species, anywhere, at any time. You can safely delete all the photographs you have stored on disk, on your computer, on thumb drives and in the cloud and can now go about taking pictures of butterflies or orchids or sunsets--whatever you like so long as it isn't an Osprey. No need to any longer clog up the road at Brig, or anywhere else, taking pictures of the bird on its nest because it is easy and sits still for hours while you hold down the shutter button on cameras with enormous, howitzer-likes lenses until your finger goes numb; no longer necessary to get bleary-eyed scrolling through the thousands of photos you shot in rapid-fire bursts, trying to determine if one picture taken 1/100 of second after the the previous picture is somehow "better" than the picture taken 1/100 of a second later. I have taken the only picture needed henceforth. I have performed this service selflessly, with all good intentions and with a pure heart. You're welcome. Now stop it.

Shari & I joined Mike on his semi-monthly tour de dikes of Brig today where Osprey was one of 3 year birds for us--we also heard a Clapper Rail (4 people in the group simultaneously named it when it called on the south dike) and saw, on the 2nd trip around the Wildlife Drive, 2 Laughing Gulls, perhaps a tad early, but not early enough to make a big deal out of them.

Shari, of course, was ready to go home when we found a trio of American Oystercatchers on the south dike. We had heard one that seemed to fly behind a muddy mound on the bay side while so I walked down the dike to get different angle and flushed a couple of Savannah Sparrows, which were year birds for some in the group, including Mike. Better yet, at least one of them was of the Ipswich sub-species.

There were still a lot of ducks there as well as Snow Geese. Tundra Swans have left. Shorebirds, aside from the oystercatchers and a couple of snipe that I missed were absent. Have the Dunlin already departed for northern climes? This will all change dramatically, one assumes, in the next couple of weeks. I may even take a walk in the woods there, one weekday, seeking early warblers.

Shari & I missed the big excitement of the day--a Golden Eagle flying over the exits ponds--a good number of our party got on it, but by the time I was even aware that the bird was being seen--I was searching for coots--it was "above the white cloud" and all I saw, looking into the blue, was floaters.

But 3 year birds at this time of year, before migration has begun, is a pretty good day. Our list:
Snow Geese with dirty faces

58 species
Snow Goose 1600 Spread out all through refuge
Brant 85
Canada Goose 30
Mute Swan 5
Wood Duck 2
Gadwall 20
American Black Duck 150
Mallard 20
Northern Shoveler 60
Northern Pintail 50
Green-winged Teal 50
Canvasback 23
Ring-necked Duck 5
Greater Scaup 10
Bufflehead 20
Hooded Merganser 2 SE Pool
Red-breasted Merganser 3
Ruddy Duck 2
Pied-billed Grebe 1
Double-crested Cormorant 18
Great Blue Heron 6
Great Egret 7
Turkey Vulture 5
Osprey 4
Northern Harrier 2
Cooper's Hawk 1
Bald Eagle 4
Clapper Rail 1 Heard
American Oystercatcher 7
Laughing Gull 2
Ring-billed Gull 2
Herring Gull 30
Great Black-backed Gull 5
Mourning Dove 1
Downy Woodpecker 1 Gull Pond
Northern Flicker 1
Peregrine Falcon 2 Hacking tower
Eastern Phoebe 2 Heard
Blue Jay 1
American Crow 4
Fish Crow 20
Tree Swallow 20
Carolina Chickadee 2 Heard
Tufted Titmouse 2 Heard
Carolina Wren 2 Heard
Golden-crowned Kinglet 1 Heard, parking lot
Eastern Bluebird 1 Box in field by Visitor's Center
American Robin 1
European Starling 5
Pine Warbler 2 Heard
Savannah Sparrow 2
Song Sparrow 2
Eastern Towhee 1 Heard
Northern Cardinal 2 Heard
Red-winged Blackbird 100
Boat-tailed Grackle 1
Brown-headed Cowbird 1 Heard
House Finch 2