Sunday, April 30, 2017

April Recap--Migration Begins

Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, Ocean City Welcome Center
Shorebirds and warblers started to come in this month. This is the time of the year that no matter where I am birding, I feel like I should be someplace else, especially when my phone starts pinging with alerts.

I ranged widely over the state in April, trying for departing as well as arriving birds. Of all the places I went, though, I think my favorite was the Ocean City Welcome Center, which overlooks a night-heron rookery. I went there twice, two days in a row. The first time I was wowed by the number of nesting herons. The second time, when I went back with Shari, I spent my time appreciating the butter yellow crowns of the night-herons and made a game of finding the Black-crowned Night-Herons that tucked in, here and there, with their supposedly rarer relatives.

Brig got a number of visits, Heislerville two, and I spent more time in Double Trouble this month than I have in a couple of years. In all I listed 162 species for the month and added 51 years birds to the list. There were a few so-called rarities (really just early birds for the most part) though the American Golden-Plover was extremely unusual for the spring and the Black-headed Gull counts as a continuing rarity at Brig. Alas, the one true rarity of the month, the Little Egret at Heislerville, I missed.

Counties birded: Atlantic, Burlington, Cape May, Cumberland, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Somerset
Species               First Listing
Snow Goose   Shelter Cove Park
Brant   Raritan Bay Waterfront Park
Canada Goose   GSP MM 88
Mute Swan   Lake Takanassee
Wood Duck   Great Swamp NWR
Gadwall   Manasquan-Brielle Rd
American Black Duck   Great Swamp NWR
Mallard   GSP MM 88
Blue-winged Teal   Brig
Northern Shoveler   Silver Lake
Northern Pintail   Heislerville WMA
Green-winged Teal   Great Swamp NWR
Ring-necked Duck   Great Swamp NWR
Greater Scaup   Raritan Bay Waterfront Park
Lesser Scaup   Silver Lake
Surf Scoter   Sandy Hook
Black Scoter   Raritan Bay Waterfront Park
Long-tailed Duck   Island Beach SP--South Beach to Inlet
Bufflehead   Raritan Bay Waterfront Park
Hooded Merganser   Great Swamp NWR
Red-breasted Merganser   Allenhurst--Corlies Ave
Ruddy Duck   Silver Lake
Wild Turkey   Colliers Mills WMA
Red-throated Loon   Great Bay Blvd
Common Loon   Raritan Bay Waterfront Park
Pied-billed Grebe   Silver Lake
Horned Grebe   Raritan Bay Waterfront Park
Northern Gannet   Raritan Bay Waterfront Park
Double-crested Cormorant   Sylvan Lake
American Bittern   Brig
Great Blue Heron   Great Swamp NWR
Great Egret   Wreck Pond
Snowy Egret   Holly Lake
Little Blue Heron   Island Beach SP
Tricolored Heron   Cattus Island County Park
Black-crowned Night-Heron   Ocean City Welcome Center
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron   Ocean City Welcome Center
Glossy Ibis   Shelter Cove Park
Black Vulture   Great Swamp NWR
Turkey Vulture   Great Swamp NWR
Osprey   Osborn Pond
Northern Harrier   Brig
Sharp-shinned Hawk   Sandy Hook
Cooper's Hawk   Belleplain State Forest
Bald Eagle   Double Trouble State Park
Red-shouldered Hawk   Great Swamp NWR
Broad-winged Hawk   Cranberry Bogs--Dover Rd
Red-tailed Hawk   Osborn Pond
Clapper Rail   Brig
American Coot   Lake Takanassee
American Oystercatcher   Island Beach SP
Black-bellied Plover   Island Beach SP
American Golden-Plover   Brig
Semipalmated Plover   Heislerville WMA
Killdeer   Raritan Bay Waterfront Park
Whimbrel   Brig
Stilt Sandpiper   Heislerville WMA
Sanderling   Raritan Bay Waterfront Park
Dunlin   Island Beach SP
Least Sandpiper   Brig
White-rumped Sandpiper   Heislerville WMA
Pectoral Sandpiper   Brig
Semipalmated Sandpiper   Heislerville WMA
Short-billed Dowitcher   Brig
Wilson's Snipe   Shelter Cove Park
Spotted Sandpiper   Double Trouble State Park
Solitary Sandpiper   Cloverdale Farm
Greater Yellowlegs   GSP MM 88
Willet   East Point Lighthouse
Lesser Yellowlegs   Island Beach SP
Black-headed Gull   Brig
Laughing Gull   Deal Lake
Ring-billed Gull   Seven Presidents Park
Herring Gull   Raritan Bay Waterfront Park
Great Black-backed Gull   Seven Presidents Park
Least Tern   Heislerville WMA
Gull-billed Tern   Brig
Caspian Tern   Brig
Forster's Tern   Island Beach SP
Black Skimmer   Heislerville WMA
Mourning Dove   Great Swamp NWR
Eastern Screech-Owl   Cattus Island County Park
Chuck-will's-widow   Collinstown Rd
Eastern Whip-poor-will   35 Sunset Rd
Chimney Swift   Brig
Ruby-throated Hummingbird   35 Sunset Rd
Belted Kingfisher   Colliers Mills WMA
Red-bellied Woodpecker   Great Swamp NWR
Downy Woodpecker   Great Swamp NWR
Hairy Woodpecker   Double Trouble State Park
Northern Flicker   Great Swamp NWR
Pileated Woodpecker   Belleplain State Forest
American Kestrel   Mettlers Rd. (Franklin Twp.)
Merlin   Cranberry Bogs--Dover Rd
Peregrine Falcon   Island Beach SP
Eastern Phoebe   Great Swamp NWR
Great Crested Flycatcher   Brig
Eastern Kingbird   Double Trouble State Park
White-eyed Vireo   Double Trouble State Park
Blue-headed Vireo   Double Trouble State Park
Warbling Vireo   Colliers Mills WMA
Blue Jay   Great Swamp NWR
American Crow   Great Swamp NWR
Fish Crow   Wawa, Jackson
Common Raven   CR 539 near Bombing Range Rd
Northern Rough-winged Swallow   Sandy Hook
Purple Martin   Brig
Tree Swallow   Colliers Mills WMA
Bank Swallow   Sandy Hook
Barn Swallow   Brig
Carolina Chickadee   35 Sunset Rd
Black-capped Chickadee   Great Swamp NWR
Tufted Titmouse   35 Sunset Rd
Red-breasted Nuthatch   Colliers Mills WMA
White-breasted Nuthatch   Great Swamp NWR
House Wren   Sandy Hook
Marsh Wren   Heislerville WMA
Carolina Wren   Great Swamp NWR
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher   Whitesbog
Golden-crowned Kinglet   Great Swamp NWR
Ruby-crowned Kinglet   Whitesbog
Eastern Bluebird   Great Swamp NWR
Hermit Thrush   Belleplain State Forest
Wood Thrush   Collinstown Rd
American Robin   35 Sunset Rd
Gray Catbird   Collinstown Rd
Brown Thrasher   Brig
Northern Mockingbird   Seven Presidents Park
European Starling   Wawa, Jackson
Cedar Waxwing   Island Beach SP
Ovenbird   Belleplain State Forest
Louisiana Waterthrush   Belleplain State Forest
Black-and-white Warbler   Colliers Mills WMA
Common Yellowthroat   Brig
Hooded Warbler   Double Trouble State Park
Yellow Warbler   Amasa Landing Rd.
Palm Warbler   Whitesbog
Pine Warbler   Colliers Mills WMA
Yellow-rumped Warbler   Double Trouble State Park
Yellow-throated Warbler   Belleplain State Forest
Prairie Warbler   Colliers Mills WMA
Seaside Sparrow   Great Bay Blvd
Chipping Sparrow   Great Swamp NWR
Field Sparrow   Great Swamp NWR
Fox Sparrow   Double Trouble State Park
Dark-eyed Junco   Great Swamp NWR
White-throated Sparrow   Colliers Mills WMA
Savannah Sparrow   Sandy Hook
Song Sparrow   Great Swamp NWR
Swamp Sparrow   Brig
Eastern Towhee   Island Beach SP
Northern Cardinal   Great Swamp NWR
Rose-breasted Grosbeak   Island Beach SP
Indigo Bunting   Island Beach SP
Red-winged Blackbird   Great Swamp NWR
Rusty Blackbird   Great Swamp NWR
Common Grackle   Great Swamp NWR
Boat-tailed Grackle   Great Bay Blvd
Brown-headed Cowbird   Great Swamp NWR
House Finch   Seven Presidents Park
Purple Finch   35 Sunset Rd
American Goldfinch   Island Beach SP
House Sparrow   Wawa, Jackson

Double Trouble SP 4/30--Eastern Kingbird, Hooded Warbler

Eastern Kingbird
With the windows open, the birds woke me up early this morning, so I was able to go to Double Trouble before a social engagement later today. I had a couple of birds I was hoping for and got them both. The first was the Eastern Kingbird. I saw two of them flying around the reservoir at the intersection of Mud Dam Road and Sworden's Pond Road (I just like the names).

Warblers, especially Ovenbirds, were singing all over the place, but I was only interested in one species and as I walked down Mud Dam Road, to the spot where Hooded Warbler has been historically located (and probably nests) I ran into a friend. "Any Hoodeds?" I joked. "Yes, I just saw one," he replied. He's a photographer and was annoyed that the bird flew before he could get a picture. My job is easier. I just have to see or hear it. Hooded Warbler has a pretty distinct song, so while we stood around, hoping one would appear, we eventually did hear one sing what I would transcribe as "Weety weety weet tee o." Luck is the residue of design.

28 species
Canada Goose
Spotted Sandpiper
Laughing Gull
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Kingbird
White-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
Fish Crow
Carolina Chickadee
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Wood Thrush
Gray Catbird
Black-and-white Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler
Pine Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
American Goldfinch

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Brig 4/29--Gull-billed Tern, Chimney Swift, Great-crested Flycatcher

Gull-billed Terns
Larry: What do you wanna do today?
Shari: I dunno, what do you wanna do today?
Larry: I dunno, what do you wanna do today?

So we went to Brig. Can't go wrong going to Brig, even on a day when the parking lot is crammed because the refuge is having a combination Migration Celebration/Refuge Clean-up event.  But once we got out on the dikes all was normal. We had shorebirds, but not in the big numbers I had yesterday at Heislerville. They were scattered around in two's and three's mostly, except for big flocks of Dunlins. But even the Dunlins only numbered in the hundreds instead of the thousands like yesterday.

We were about a half-way to the observation tower on the south dike when we started to get interesting birds on the sand bar that terns like to roost on. It had a good number of Black Skimmers (always a fun bird), a couple of Caspian Terns, Forster's Terns, and our first Gull-billed Terns of the year. These seemed a bit early but I don't know if they really are. I also re-found the long-staying Black-headed Gull there and excitedly called Shari over to see it in the scope. I was so proud to get here this rarity until she deflated me by reminding me that she'd seen plenty of them in Iceland in March.
Black-headed Gull
Beyond that we didn't see much that was notable. An American Oystercatcher was sitting on its scratched out nest off the drive, "protected" by orange traffic cones, so that made Shari happy.  On the upland section we heard a "weep!" and recorded our first Great-crested Flycatcher of the year. And after lunch, we looked up from the picnic tables to see a single Chimney Swift fly around for a moment or two.

On our second go-round Shari almost ran over a silly Snow Goose that wandered onto the drive (we only saw one other swimming at the dogleg--a month ago there were thousands) and on the upland section a hen turkey pranced across the road.
Snow Goose

Wild Turkey
We spent most of the day there and left with a list of 74
Snow Goose 2 one on south dike, one at dogleg
Brant 125
Canada Goose 100 some on nests, some already with goslings
Mute Swan 1
Wood Duck 2 Gull Pond
Mallard 4
Ruddy Duck 10
Wild Turkey 1 Upland section
Double-crested Cormorant 60
Great Blue Heron 4
Great Egret 10
Snowy Egret 4
Glossy Ibis 25
Turkey Vulture 2
Osprey 20
Northern Harrier 2
Bald Eagle 1 F/O Gull Pond
Clapper Rail 2 Heard
American Oystercatcher 1
Black-bellied Plover 10
Semipalmated Plover 10
Whimbrel 2
Dunlin 310
Least Sandpiper 55
Semipalmated Sandpiper 1
Short-billed Dowitcher 10
Solitary Sandpiper 1 Gull Pond
Greater Yellowlegs 8
Willet 12
Lesser Yellowlegs 5
Black-headed Gull 1
Laughing Gull 50
Ring-billed Gull 1
Herring Gull 100
Great Black-backed Gull 1
Gull-billed Tern 6 Probably more, but they were moving around
Caspian Tern 2
Forster's Tern 50
Black Skimmer 20
Mourning Dove 3
Chimney Swift 1
Peregrine Falcon 1 hacking tower
Eastern Phoebe 1 Heard, picnic area
Great Crested Flycatcher 1 Heard, "weep" upland section
White-eyed Vireo 1 Heard, exit of drive
Blue Jay 2
Fish Crow 3
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 1
Purple Martin 10
Tree Swallow 7
Barn Swallow 1
Carolina Chickadee 3
Tufted Titmouse 5
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
House Wren 1 Upland section
Carolina Wren 2 Heard
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1 Heard, picnic area
Eastern Bluebird 2
American Robin 1 Heard, picnic area
Gray Catbird 6
Ovenbird 1 Heard, upland section
Common Yellowthroat 8
Yellow Warbler
3 Heard
Seaside Sparrow 4
Chipping Sparrow 3
Savannah Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 2
Eastern Towhee 3
Northern Cardinal 3
Indigo Bunting 4 3 near visitor's center, one on RR bed trail
Red-winged Blackbird 50
Boat-tailed Grackle 3
Brown-headed Cowbird 1 Heard, upland section
House Finch 1 Feeders

House Wren

Friday, April 28, 2017

Miscellaneous Locations 4/28--Chuck-Will's-Widow, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Wood Thrush, Yellow Warbler

It's a long boring drive back from Heislerville on the Parkway. I got the idea that I'd break it up with a stop at Amasa Landing Road, which is a peculiar corner of Burlington County. Ocean and Atlantic Counties border each other, but you can't get from one to the other without going through Burlington because where their borders touch is just salt marsh. The Parkway veers into Burlington as you pass from Atlantic then after a few miles goes into Ocean. At exit 50 there is a small pier in the salt marsh that is in Burlington County. It is here that you can get all types of birds supposedly rare in Burlington like Boat-tailed Grackle or some shorebirds. So I thought I might be able to build up my Burlington County list. No go on that because it was high tide and thus no shorebirds or herons, but I did hear, and eventually saw, my FOY Yellow Warbler. Tick.

I got home mid-afternoon and was sitting on our patio with Shari, looking at the feeders when a shape zipped by, hovered at hummingbird feeder (the water of which should really be changed) and then zipped away. Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Tick.

It was finally warm today. And it was relatively still. And it wasn't going to rain. It was, thus, a perfect night for Shari & me to go down to Collinstown Road in Barnegat after dinner at the Stafford Diner. We wanted Chuck-Will's-Widow and that is the perfect place to hear them. We arrived just as dusk was falling and were surprised, slightly to hear the beautiful "ee-o-lay" of a Wood Thrush. Chucks are crepuscular (what a great word) and just before it became dark one started to sing, then another. They were distant, but we were able to hear them fine in the stillness. Driving up the road we heard another that sounded like it was on top of us. This is what date night is like when you're a birder--a dark, isolated road, you're honey next to in the car, and a very loud bird that makes you both happy.

Tick. Tick.

(Recordings of the Chuck and the thrush can be heard here)

Heislerville WMA 4/28--Semipalmated Plover, Stilt Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Least Tern, Black Skimmer

Semipalmated Plovers with Least Sandpipers
All those birds...and not the one I went for.

The holy grail of New Jersey heronry--a Little Egret--was found yesterday at the Heislerville WMA impoundments. I got the alert around 11:30 while I was on Island Beach. I knew I should go right then. Today, everyone else in the group of day-late birders I was standing with had a good excuse--work commitments, or a meeting, or a doctor's appointment--everyone but me, because mine was simply "I didn't feel like driving 85 miles."

Little Egret is an old world egret. A few turn up in North America, but this is the first one in NJ. There are a couple of birders in the state who have made it practically a life mission to find one. Those weren't the guys who found it, but they often said, Heislerville would be the spot.

Typical shorebird flock at Heislerville
So this morning, knowing I'd probably fail, I drove down there. I figured if nothing else, I'd get some new shorebirds for the year list. I'd stand around and wait and wait and chat until I couldn't stand it anymore and then I'd bird. And this plan worked out well because the weather was fine, the bugs weren't much of a problem, the conversation was pleasant, and just standing there at the edge of the impoundment scanning the huge flocks of shorebirds I added Semipalmated Plover, Stilt Sandpiper (rare this time of year), Least Tern (early, thus "rare") & Black Skimmer. The plovers were obvious, the stilts not too difficult to pick out, the skimmers distant but obvious once I looked in the right direction and the terns a surprise because I was looking at them for a while before I asked someone if those could be Least Terns, only to find out that, had I been paying attention to the conversation around me, I'd have realized they'd been discussing them while I was following the birds with my binoculars.

After about 2 1/2 hours of nothing doing I decided the bird was a one-day wonder and hoisted my scope on my shoulder, walking back to the car. Waiting for a bird to show is like holding a losing stock. You have to cede hope to reality: You're not going to make money; You're not going to see the bird.

Before I left I looked at a big flock of dowitchers and Least Sandpipers (many more than I was expecting) and found scattered among them a few Semipalmated Sandpipers. No big deal, but new for the year and, with the other shorebirds around them, they were more obvious than when they're just by themselves. Walking back to my car, I fell into conversation with another birder I know who was scoping the flocks and she was kind enough to show me a White-rumped Sandpiper, a bird I have no confidence in identifying. That will always be a toughie for me--looking through thousands of birds for the one oddball just doesn't fall into my wheelhouse.

In truth, I didn't really care that much about not seeing the Little Egret. It isn't an amazing looking bird--what makes it so sought after is that it looks so much like a Snowy Egret that those who seek it, have to protect against their own bias of wanting the rarity so badly. 99.9% of the small white egrets you see are going to be either Snowy or juvenile Little Blue. Besides--I've seen the species in France he said sourly.

39 species
Canada Goose 20
Mute Swan 25
American Black Duck 2
Mallard 3
Ruddy Duck 10
Double-crested Cormorant 125
Great Blue Heron 1
Great Egret 15
Snowy Egret 10
Black-crowned Night-Heron 25
Glossy Ibis 6
American Oystercatcher 2
Semipalmated Plover 26
Killdeer 2
Stilt Sandpiper 2 Curved bill eye stripe about the size of Lesser Yellowlegs
Dunlin 2000
Least Sandpiper 100
White-rumped Sandpiper 1
Semipalmated Sandpiper 3
Short-billed Dowitcher 500
Greater Yellowlegs 500
Willet 5
Lesser Yellowlegs 100
Laughing Gull 10
Herring Gull 100
Great Black-backed Gull 2
Least Tern 2 Tiny terns
Forster's Tern 20
Black Skimmer 32
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1 Heard
Fish Crow 2
Barn Swallow 5
European Starling 2
Ovenbird 3 Heard
Common Yellowthroat 1 Heard
Song Sparrow 1 Heard
Northern Cardinal 2
Red-winged Blackbird 5
Boat-tailed Grackle 3