Friday, June 30, 2017

June and Its Supposed Doldrums

Black Skimmer, Brig
The objective correlative of June birding
June is notorious for its birding doldrums. Migration is over and the birds that are here are breeding and quiescent. Your choices are basically two: take long walks in the cool of the morning for the pure enjoyment of finding what you can, or chase rarities. I did both.

The rarities have been written about below--in that regard it was great month, with LITTLE GULL, Little Egret, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Purple Gallinule, and Black-bellied Whistling Duck among the rare birds chased and found. Little Gull, along with the GREAT SHEARWATER I saw at Cape May, were lifers, so a number of "interesting" days were interspersed with the walking around days. Actually, I think the best day I had was the 2nd day of the month when I took a long trek through Colliers Mills and found all the colorful and/or localized birds to be found there: Red-headed Woodpecker, Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, Warbling Vireo, and Grasshopper Sparrow. I ended the month there today and only found the last two.

June is also the one  month that I bird NJ top to bottom--a couple of trips up to the Delaware Water Gap and a couple of trips down to Cape May. All that traveling, plus a couple of day trips to the state of Delaware, brought my month list to 160, which is impressive, since, according to eBird, for the previous 4 Junes I have averaged only 134 species per month. Doldrums indeed!

Counties Birded
Delaware: Kent
New Jersey: Atlantic, Burlington, Cape May, Mercer, Monmouth, Ocean, Sussex, Warren

Species                                      First Sighting
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck   Shunpike Rd. pond
Canada Goose   Stanley H. 'Tip' Seaman County Park
Mute Swan   Forsythe-Barnegat
Wood Duck   Colliers Mills WMA
American Black Duck   Old Mine Road IBA
Mallard   Old Mine Road IBA
Northern Shoveler   Ocean City Preserve
Black Scoter   Cape May Point SP
Common Merganser   Old Mine Road IBA
Northern Bobwhite   Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge
Wild Turkey   35 Sunset Rd
Red-throated Loon   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Double-crested Cormorant   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Brown Pelican   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Least Bittern   Mercer Corporate Park
Great Blue Heron   Great Bay Blvd
Great Egret   Holly Lake
Little Egret   Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge
Snowy Egret   Holly Lake
Little Blue Heron   Forsythe-Barnegat
Tricolored Heron   Great Bay Blvd
Green Heron   Lakehurst NAES
Black-crowned Night-Heron  
Glossy Ibis   Great Bay Blvd
Black Vulture   Old Mine Road IBA
Turkey Vulture   Great Bay Blvd
Osprey   Great Bay Blvd
Northern Harrier   Smyrna Leipsic Rd
Cooper's Hawk   Forest Resource Education Center
Bald Eagle   Old Mine Road IBA
Red-shouldered Hawk   Old Mine Road IBA
Broad-winged Hawk   Old Mine Road IBA
Red-tailed Hawk   Colliers Mills WMA
King Rail   Mercer Corporate Park
Clapper Rail   Great Bay Blvd
Purple Gallinule   Ocean City Preserve
Black-necked Stilt   Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge
American Avocet   Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge
American Oystercatcher   Great Bay Blvd
Black-bellied Plover   Brig
Semipalmated Plover   Great Bay Blvd
Piping Plover   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Killdeer   Colliers Mills WMA
Upland Sandpiper   Lakehurst NAES
Ruddy Turnstone   Great Bay Blvd
Dunlin   Great Bay Blvd
Least Sandpiper   Great Bay Blvd
White-rumped Sandpiper   Brig
Semipalmated Sandpiper   Holly Lake
Short-billed Dowitcher   Brig
Greater Yellowlegs   Great Bay Blvd
Willet   Great Bay Blvd
Lesser Yellowlegs   Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge
Black-headed Gull   Brig
LITTLE GULL   Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge
Laughing Gull   Holly Lake
Ring-billed Gull   Brig
Herring Gull   Great Bay Blvd
Great Black-backed Gull   Great Bay Blvd
Least Tern   Great Bay Blvd
Gull-billed Tern   Brig
Caspian Tern   Brig
Common Tern   Brig
Forster's Tern   Holly Lake
Black Skimmer   Great Bay Blvd
Rock Pigeon   Union Transportation Trail
Mourning Dove   Holly Lake
Yellow-billed Cuckoo   Colliers Mills WMA
Black-billed Cuckoo   Colliers Mills WMA
Barred Owl   Lakehurst NAES
Common Nighthawk   Lakehurst NAES
Eastern Whip-poor-will   35 Sunset Rd
Chimney Swift   Mercer Corporate Park
Ruby-throated Hummingbird   Old Mine Road IBA
Belted Kingfisher   Colliers Mills WMA
Red-headed Woodpecker   Colliers Mills WMA
Red-bellied Woodpecker   35 Sunset Rd
Downy Woodpecker   35 Sunset Rd
Hairy Woodpecker   Cattus Island County Park
Northern Flicker   Colliers Mills WMA
Pileated Woodpecker   Old Mine Road IBA
American Kestrel   Lakehurst NAES
Peregrine Falcon   Brig
Eastern Wood-Pewee   Great Bay Blvd
Acadian Flycatcher   Barnegat Lighthouse SP
Alder Flycatcher   Great Bay Blvd
Willow Flycatcher   Great Bay Blvd
Least Flycatcher   Old Mine Road IBA
Eastern Phoebe   Old Mine Road IBA
Great Crested Flycatcher   35 Sunset Rd
Eastern Kingbird   Great Bay Blvd
Fork-tailed Flycatcher   Cape May Point SP
White-eyed Vireo   Brig
Yellow-throated Vireo   Old Mine Road IBA
Warbling Vireo   Colliers Mills WMA
Red-eyed Vireo   Colliers Mills WMA
Blue Jay   35 Sunset Rd
American Crow   Old Mine Road IBA
Fish Crow   35 Sunset Rd
Horned Lark   Lakehurst NAES
Northern Rough-winged Swallow   Old Mine Road IBA
Purple Martin   Brig
Tree Swallow   Great Bay Blvd
Bank Swallow   Delaware Water Gap NRA
Barn Swallow   Great Bay Blvd
Carolina Chickadee   35 Sunset Rd
Black-capped Chickadee   Worthington State Forest
Tufted Titmouse   35 Sunset Rd
White-breasted Nuthatch   35 Sunset Rd
House Wren   Old Mine Road IBA
Marsh Wren   Forsythe-Barnegat
Carolina Wren   Colliers Mills WMA
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher   Colliers Mills WMA
Eastern Bluebird   Colliers Mills WMA
Veery   Old Mine Road IBA
Wood Thrush   Colliers Mills WMA
American Robin   Stanley H. 'Tip' Seaman County Park
Gray Catbird   Great Bay Blvd
Brown Thrasher   Colliers Mills WMA
Northern Mockingbird   Cattus Island County Park
European Starling   35 Sunset Rd
Cedar Waxwing   Colliers Mills WMA
Ovenbird   Colliers Mills WMA
Worm-eating Warbler   Worthington State Forest
Louisiana Waterthrush   Worthington State Forest
Blue-winged Warbler   Old Mine Road IBA
Black-and-white Warbler   Colliers Mills WMA
Common Yellowthroat   Great Bay Blvd
Hooded Warbler   Old Mine Road IBA
American Redstart   Old Mine Road IBA
Cerulean Warbler   Old Mine Road IBA
Northern Parula   Old Mine Road IBA
Blackburnian Warbler   Stokes Forest
Yellow Warbler   Great Bay Blvd
Chestnut-sided Warbler   Old Mine Road IBA
Pine Warbler   Old Mine Road IBA
Prairie Warbler   Colliers Mills WMA
Grasshopper Sparrow   Colliers Mills WMA
Saltmarsh Sparrow   Great Bay Blvd
Seaside Sparrow   Great Bay Blvd
Chipping Sparrow   35 Sunset Rd
Field Sparrow   Colliers Mills WMA
Song Sparrow   Holly Lake
Eastern Towhee   35 Sunset Rd
Scarlet Tanager   Colliers Mills WMA
Northern Cardinal   35 Sunset Rd
Rose-breasted Grosbeak   Old Mine Road IBA
Blue Grosbeak   Colliers Mills WMA
Indigo Bunting   Colliers Mills WMA
Red-winged Blackbird   Holly Lake
Eastern Meadowlark   Lakehurst NAES
Common Grackle   Colliers Mills WMA
Boat-tailed Grackle   Great Bay Blvd
Brown-headed Cowbird   35 Sunset Rd
Orchard Oriole   Colliers Mills WMA
Baltimore Oriole   Colliers Mills WMA
House Finch   35 Sunset Rd
American Goldfinch   Colliers Mills WMA
House Sparrow   Stanley H. 'Tip' Seaman County Park
Ruddy Turnstone, Brig

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Cape May 6/20--Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks
Photo: Shari Zirlin
About 1:30 this afternoon, with the report of the Black-bellied Whistling Ducks on Shunpike Road, Shari could stand it no more and decided right then that we were going to Cape May. Which was fine with me, because last year, when the ducks showed up at this very same pond, I dithered so long about making the drive that when I finally decided to go, they were gone.

What there is about this little private pond that attracts these ducks, other than habit, is obscure to me. But there they were, among the geese, Mallards, and Laughing Gulls, looking goofy as always. This species turns up on almost annual basis in NJ, and they're always worth the trip to me. I love the way they look.

It didn't take any time to find them either--Shari leaned out the car window and found them naked eye. So we drove an hour and 45 minutes for a 1 minute bird (we actually spent 5 minutes admiring them). Then we drove over to the state park.

Things did not go as well over there. We spent two hours overlooking the beach, waiting for the Fork-tailed Flycatcher to reappear. It finally did--an hour and half after we left. Nor were there any shearwaters for Shari to add to her life list. We did, however, hear the piercing call of the Northern Bobwhite in the maintenance yard. It sounded like it was in the same tree as on Sunday, but this time there was no kind person to let us into the yard to view the back side of the tree.

Everything else we saw would be expected species; two American Oystercatchers, on the beach, one sitting in the sand as if on nest, filled out Shari's day. 2 out of 4 targets--not bad for a spur of the moment trip.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Cape May 6/18--GREAT SHEARWATER, Fork-tailed Flycatcher

Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Cape May SP
Mike and I made a rarity run today and we did pretty well. Despite some trepidation about the traffic, we drove down to Cape May State Park to see if we could get the Fork-tailed Flycatcher that showed up yesterday. Unlike the two rarities Shari & I saw at Bombay Hook on Friday, this, with its tail about one and a half times longer than its body, is a "Wow" bird, visiting from South America.

The location of the bird wasn't hard to figure out once we saw the line of birders on the ramp to the beach. Naturally, the bird hadn't been seen for about 15 minutes--we really didn't want a long wait because the light traffic we had coming down wasn't going to last all day, especially going back. Meanwhile, birders with scopes were calling out shearwaters in the rips. We hadn't taken our scopes out of the car, so we went back for them, Mike making a detour. I was scanning the ocean, hopelessly, looking for any birds on, in, or over the water, when Mike came back saying that he had seen the Northern Bobwhite that has been resident in the park for a couple of months. I knew the bird was there but he'd forgotten about it. It was a year bird for him, but I'd heard one just on Friday and seen one at Colliers Mills earlier in the year. Still, always a good bird, so I went back down the ramp to find it, behind the line of buildings. Just as I was peering into the maintenance yard, I heard a roar go up and knew I was missing the flycatcher. I ran back. Bird was gone. Mike was chuckling. Now I was 0 for 2. My bad mood lasted only a moment because the flycatcher returned and I got great looks and decent pictures.

Then we turned our attention to the sea. Mike was describing where the shearwaters were, in the flocks of gulls, but no matter how hard I looked, my eyesight was glaucous without the gull. Finally I saw some white specks flying low over the water and realized people were identifying them as species~! Then Mike and another guy were describing the flight of a GREAT SHEARWATER and I had no clue as to where in the vast ocean they were looking when the first miracle of the day occurred--the bird flew right into my scope view and I was able to track it for 20 or 30 seconds. Compared to the specks I was seeing this was at least identifiable as a bird, with dark wings and white band on its rump. Good enough to take as a life bird. Great Shearwaters are not considered rare this time of year but they don't often come in close enough to shore to view. You need to go on a pelagic and Larry don't do pelagics.

Someone mentioned that a Purple Gallinule had been reported in Ocean City, about 30 miles north. At first I thought they were talking about the bird that was in Ocean Grove last month, but no, this was a different place (definitely) with a different bird (possibly). Mike missed last month's bird, so we decided to drive up to Ocean City traffic be damned. But first, let's find that bobwhite.

Northern Bobwhite
It was calling really loudly in the maintenance yard but we couldn't find it. A worker there said it was in a tree and kindly let us into the yard providing we didn't linger. We found the bird, I took a few quick shots and one of them turned out well. The provenance of this bird can be disputed. The coolness of it cannot. The score so far: 2 rarities, 2 year birds, 1 life bird. Not yet 10 o'clock.

Northern Shoveler
I had a vague notion of where the Ocean City Preserve was, having been there once about 8 years ago, but the Google directions, unfortunately took us to the back of the refuge. After some lefts and rights, we eventually found the little boardwalk to the observation tower that I remembered. There were a few birds in the wetlands, but the place wasn't jumping. The most interesting bird we noticed was a very out of season drake Northern Shoveler. Nice to see, but not a bird you'd drive into Ocean City for.

Purple Gallinule (digiscoped)
We'd met one of our birder friends down at the state park, where the flycatcher and bobwhite had been lifers for her and now she came up to the deck, hoping to add a third. There were a lot of reeds, bushes, and high grasses that the gallinule could be hiding in. It wasn't going to be like the Ocean Grove bird, wandering around the street. We three were talking and looking for about 10 minutes when the second miracle of the day occurred--I found the bird. When I'm by myself, obviously, I find birds. But when I'm in a group, I almost never find the target. In fact, if I can get on the bird without tedious directions about angled tree limbs or open patches of darker water, that's an accomplishment. But today, I was scanning and bang--the bird was across the water on a little island. Mike and Lisa both got on the bird immediately with only some rudimentary range-finding from me--"over there" and the score for rarities rose to 3 1/2 (the shoveler doesn't count as a full-blown rarity). This is another great looking bird--unfortunately, my photographs (digiscope and digital) don't do it justice.

Back on to the Parkway, heading north, where the traffic around Atlantic City was in mid-summer form. We did a loop of Brig (our original destination) where we weren't able to locate the Wilson's Phalarope of last week but where we did get the long-staying Black-headed Gull, which has molted into full breeding plumage, making it much more difficult to differentiate from the hundreds of Laughing Gulls--the trick is find the gull with a brownish hood (Black-headed Gull with a brown hood, yeah, that makes sense) that does not come all the way down the nape of its neck. For the day we had around 80 species, but it was quality not quantity that made it fun--especially considering that June is notoriously a "slow" birding month. As I said, we did very well. And beat most of the traffic.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Bombay Hook 6/16--Little Egret, American Avocet, LITTLE GULL

Little Egret looks pretty much like a Snowy Egret
until you see those TWO plumes sticking up
When Shari & I lived in Brooklyn, the trip to Brig was long, at least a couple of hours each way, but we always did it in one day. When we moved down here, much closer to Brig (45 minutes), we realized that Bombay Hook in Delaware, about 2 1/4 hours away, could be done as a day trip, but up until today, when because of some musical festival in Dover we couldn't find a motel room to reserve, we never had. And we really wanted to go there because there were two cool birds that had been hanging around for over a week and we didn't want to miss them.

I chased Little Egret in New Jersey a couple of months ago and missed it in Heislerville, so another one showing up in Delaware was a second chance I didn't want to pass up. And it is "another" because the Jersey bird, I'm told, is possibly a hybrid, since it had a couple of blue spots on its plume and head that this bird clearly does not have. We arrived around 10:30 and went straight to the Raymond Pool, the first pool on the meandering drive and saw 3 small white egrets, one of which, we were convinced was the Little Egret, (absence of yellow lores) but it wasn't wholly convincing. Another birder there had seen many of them, he said, in Taiwan (hey, that's why it's a big deal rarity here) and when he took a close look he nixed the bird. Meanwhile, we did see, very distantly in our scopes, a LITTLE GULL, the other rarity we came for and a life bird. Little Gull shows up in NJ on fairly regular basis, but almost always in places I don't go and usually in big flocks of gulls where my chances of finding it are small. Here, it was the only gull we saw all day. It was far back at the edge of the pool and in our scope we could see enough of detail to call it a Little Gull, but it wasn't the most satisfying of looks for a life bird.

Meanwhile, after having our Little Egret sighting smashed to smithereens we continued on to the next pool, the Shearness. We saw a large flock of Snowy & Great Egrets very close to the road but now Little Egret mixed in. However, just ahead of us, the birder who knew whereof he spoke, signaled to us to drive up about 50 yards. There, nestled in the phragmites with about 6 snowies, was our bird. We'd seen one in France 10 years ago but this was our ABA bid.
In the middle--look for the plumes
Meanwhile, what normally would have been the two birds we especially look for at Bombay Hook, American Avocet and Black-necked Stilt, were instead, duly noted.

We drove around the other pools (Bear Swamp and Finis) and had lunch, then went back out to see what else we could pick up. At the Raymond Pool the Little Egret was back and close enough to get decent photos of it, especially photos showing the the two (as opposed to the Snowy Egret's one) breeding plumes. The Little Gull was still sitting at the back edge of the pool, too far for photography. Shari wondered if we could see it better from the observation tower that was back there. That seemed like a good idea and another birder there though it was two, so we drove all around the pool (it's one way on that section) to get back to the observation tower. Shari & I started down the road and were immediately met by a cloud of Greenhead Flies. We walked a few yards and Shari, being the more sensible one in this marriage turned back, figuring, "this is a bird, not God." I, of course, really wanting to see the bird better, ran the gauntlet of greenheads, followed soon by the other birder and it was a good thing she was there, spitting out flies with me, because I was disoriented and couldn't find the bird from our new position. I was look way too far out when it was actually comparatively close to us. Comparatively. It was still too far to get a decent photo, but I did see it's blotchy head, small bill, and dark, carpal bar on the wing. This is the best photo I could get:
It really isn't much to look at and neither, truth be told, is the Little Egret. They're not "wow" birds. They're white, slightly different birds than usual, and the real thrill goes to the birder who picks them out. All the rest of us are just chasing and checking but that's the game we play.

The one other notable bird was practically the first bird of the trip--we heard a Northern Bobwhite as soon as we got out of the car at the visitor's center. In NJ, bobwhite listings are looked at askance; in Delaware it is just another bird on the expected list.

It was a good trip despite the greenheads, which seemed particularly vicious, maybe because on the first day you encounter them you're just not prepared for the onslaught. After our 2nd trip around, where we managed to get the list up to 52 species, we drove the few miles into Dover and had dinner at our favorite Indian restaurant, Flavors of India, which is part of a Motel 8 on Du Pont Highway. Highly recommended.

Canada Goose 25
Mute Swan 2
American Black Duck 1
Mallard 15
Northern Bobwhite 1 Heard parking lot
Great Blue Heron 6
Great Egret 65
Little Egret 1
Snowy Egret 30
Glossy Ibis 15
Turkey Vulture 1
Bald Eagle 3
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Clapper Rail 1 Heard
Black-necked Stilt 5
American Avocet 1
Killdeer 2
Semipalmated Sandpiper 50
Greater Yellowlegs 8
Willet (Eastern) 1
Forster's Tern 1
Black Skimmer 2
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1 Heard
Downy Woodpecker 1 Heard Finis
Great Crested Flycatcher 1 Heard
Eastern Kingbird 2
Red-eyed Vireo 1 Heard Finis
Fish Crow 1
Purple Martin 20
Tree Swallow 5
Barn Swallow 1
Carolina Chickadee 1
Tufted Titmouse 1 Heard Finis
Marsh Wren 10
Wood Thrush 1 Heard
American Robin 3
Gray Catbird 10
Brown Thrasher 1
Ovenbird 1 Heard. Finis
Common Yellowthroat 15
Yellow Warbler
1 Heard
Field Sparrow 5 Heard
Eastern Towhee 1 Heard
Scarlet Tanager 1 Heard
Blue Grosbeak 2
Indigo Bunting 1
Red-winged Blackbird 30
Common Grackle 4
Brown-headed Cowbird 2
American Goldfinch 6
House Sparrow 4