Saturday, April 22, 2017

Brig 4/22--American Golden-Plover, Whimbrel, Least Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher

American Golden-Plover (digiscope detail)
Earlier in the week I thought today might be a good day to walk the 8 mile wildlife drive at Brig--relatively cool weather and no bugs at this time of year. The weather was supposed to be ideal. The weather was anything but...rain showers, cold, windy. So, I drove, my rationale being that I wasn't going to get a walk in anyway, I might as well see if could find some new birds for the year.

I knew there was one rarity being reported there, but I didn't have a lot of confidence in finding it. It was the easier shorebirds I was looking for and I found the first couple right away--a small number of Least Sandpipers in the channel off the the south dike, and fair number of Short-billed Dowitchers that were mixing in with the numerous Dunlins all around the refuge.

Short-billed Dowitcher with Dunlins
Along the way I studied each Black-bellied Plover I found fairly carefully instead of just blowing by them. By the time I was past the dogleg I had a good search image of what not to look for in case I came across the American Golden-Plover that has been there for a few days. When I saw a line of cars up ahead (look for the birders, not the bird) I knew I had a chance. I met a birder I knew who said we were at the area where it had recently been seen. I didn't want to hear "recently." But then he spotted it again and I didn't even need my scope to clearly see the difference of this plover from all the black-bellies--a very prominent supercilium and a dark cap. If the light hadn't been so overcast I'd probably be able to see the gold flecks in the feather but the first two field marks were enough for me. I was even able to get decent digiscope photos. American Golden-Plover is always a rarity in NJ, but we usually see them in during fall migration (late August/early September) when they're on the sod farms in central part of the state. A northward migrating bird in spring is extremely rare. I think I missed this species altogether last year, so it's great to get it on the list so early this year and not have to worry about chasing it (unless one turns up in Ocean County!).

Black-headed Gull
I was about halfway to the observation tower when I spied the continuing Black-headed Gull on the drive. Like last month with Mike, it seems to like to promenade on the road during the rain. I saw a truck coming up behind me in the murk and thought it was a birder I knew so I flagged it down, to show him the bird. It turned out to be a Wildlife Refuge Officer (gun and all) who thought I had something important to say. I told him the gull ahead was a rarity and he was, to put it politely, apathetic. The bird flew into Turtle Cove, where I got better pictures of it, then flew back toward the guy I thought I was stopping. When he caught up with me, I asked him if he'd seen the gull--he'd seen it, but didn't realize what it was. Later, on our second trip, he got the bird and was satisfied.

There was one other species I was looking for, but didn't see it on the first circuit. I met some friends at the golden-plover spot and they told me that I had driven past the birds the first time. Not surprising since with the on and off squalls, I was disinclined to get out of the car and set up the scope unless I saw something very interesting. However, on the second trip, know where they were, I and another birder stopped right before the first turn onto the east dike and after searching through the high grass we came upon a flock of Whimbrels. So that made four year birds. "The best birding is in bad weather," so they say.

I was hanging around the picnic area after my second trip, looking for any stray warblers or woodpeckers to add to the list, when one of the guys came up and said he'd added a bird to his Brig list, something he'd never seen there before--a Piping Plover. There are only a limited number of place in NJ to find these threatened birds and Brig is certainly not on the list. "Oh man, don't make me go around again," I whined. But he told me right where they'd seen it (I had pass by that spot and found oystercatchers) and, since it is really the only sandy beach in the whole refuge, it seemed a good spot for a Piper if one was going to be there. Off I went in search. I didn't find it. It probably just touched down, realized this wasn't the ideal spot to be and moved on. I did, however, take the opportunity to make at least one very good photo of Shari's favorite species, American Oystercatcher.
American Oystercatcher
I also, on the third time around, found a single Boat-tailed Grackle, which brought my total list up to an even 60. Considering that I didn't even feel like going out into the miserable weather this morning, I'm glad the phrase "use your car as a blind" surfaced to the top of my brain.
Snow Goose 8 One blue morph
Brant 275
Canada Goose 20
Mute Swan 2 Gull Pond
American Black Duck 13
Mallard 12
Blue-winged Teal 3 Past dogleg
Northern Shoveler 11
Green-winged Teal 5
Bufflehead 3 one hen from south dike, two at exit pond
Red-breasted Merganser 4
Double-crested Cormorant 25
Great Blue Heron 1
Great Egret 15
Snowy Egret 10
Glossy Ibis 1
Osprey 10
Red-tailed Hawk 1
American Oystercatcher 7 Turtle Cove
Black-bellied Plover 22
American Golden-Plover 1
Whimbrel 8
Dunlin 340 Probably a low count
Least Sandpiper 6 South dike
Pectoral Sandpiper 2
Short-billed Dowitcher 23 Associating with Dunlin
Greater Yellowlegs 11
Willet 12
Lesser Yellowlegs 2
Black-headed Gull 1
Laughing Gull 1
Ring-billed Gull 1
Herring Gull 50
Great Black-backed Gull 4
Forster's Tern 30
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1 Heard
Peregrine Falcon 1
American Crow 3
Fish Crow 4
Tree Swallow 10
Barn Swallow 10
Carolina Chickadee 2
Tufted Titmouse 2 Heard
Red-breasted Nuthatch 2 Parking lot
Carolina Wren 1 Heard
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 2 Parking lot
American Robin 5
European Starling 1
Common Yellowthroat 4 Heard
Seaside Sparrow 5
Chipping Sparrow 4
White-throated Sparrow 3
Savannah Sparrow 1 Upland section
Song Sparrow 1
Eastern Towhee 4 Heard
Northern Cardinal 5
Red-winged Blackbird 30
Boat-tailed Grackle 1
Brown-headed Cowbird 1
American Goldfinch 2 Heard 

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