All the Broken Things

Arizona Series Post #3

Down in the borderlands birders flock for the unusual sightings are more likely here than elsewhere.  A chance encounter at the Phoenix airport where I sat reviewing western flycatchers led to a discussion of birds with a Tucson-based birder. She recommended Miller Canyon.  Miller Canyon.  Miller Canyon.  Where all the birders go, eventually.  It’s rather like paradise for both birders and birds. My final destination.

View of the Canyon and its secrets.  Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

View of the Canyon and its secrets. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

The morning started off less than auspiciously. Carrying my gear, I caught my camera on the hotel exit.  While the lens was retracted and the camera was off, it now makes a funny sound and stutters as I zoom in and out.  (After note, camera generally has a fuzzy focus at maximum optical zoom, 35x).

I drove the 90 minutes south towards Mexico.  Driving into the canyon, the GPS failed me and I was on my own.  One wrong turn and I’d probably end up in Mexico.  I pulled into the first lot, gazing around me. A solitary car was the only evidence that people might be about.  Behind was a sandy-rocky, sun-baked slope, before me was a forest.  With no additional knowledge to guide me, I waited, wondering which way to go.  As Miller Canyon was a last minute change of plans, I hadn’t thoroughly researched it. (Research extended to I found it on a map, and remembered Laurence, of Butler’s Birds, has been here).

As I deliberated, a third car pulled into the lot.  An older couple emerged.  Noting their binoculars I sought some direction.  Very kindly they suggested I follow them up to Beatty’s Guest Ranch.  We visited with Tom Beatty, Jr. who described the locations of the most sought out species: The Spotted Owl(s), Northern Goshawk, and Northern Pygmy Owl.

We set out through the Guest Ranch, towards the canyon.  Very quickly, the woman lagged behind before deciding to turn back.  Knowing this to be my first trip to the area, the man decided to continue forward.   Soon he decided to turn back as well, concerned for his partner.  He promised to at least get me to the location of the Spotted Owl, before returning to his partner. Then, I was alone.

In the location of the owl, there was the remains of a building and a dried up creek.  I wandered along the creekbed peering into the trees.  When that didn’t pan out, I scrambled to the other side of the creek and began working my way along paths that quickly degraded into mouse paths.

I did find a reptile though. So that was something.

Unknown reptile. (Not a herptologist!) Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Unknown reptile. (Not a herptologist!) Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

When I heard voices, I turned around, returning to the foundations.  A family from Illinois staying at the guest ranch had arrived to seek the owl.  The granddaughter was inclined to scramble over rocks while her grandparents rested on the foundation scanning boughs.

After chatting awhile, we were joined by a birder from Vermont.  We compared notes as to who had heard which helpful hints for finding this owl. Eventually the Vermont birder decided to investigate the lower portion of the stream bed and I followed.

Back in the streambed, the Vermont birder elected to go north and I traveled south, coming across his fellow travelers.  Quite soon they located white wash, and voila, there were the spotted owl babies!  Both of them sitting in a tree, cute as can be.

Baby spotted owls sit together in the tree. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Baby spotted owls sit together in the tree. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

We clicked and we clacked away and I’m sure the babies did as well, but we kept a safe enough distance away that we couldn’t hear any of their vocalizations.

Baby spotted looks down from its perch. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Baby spotted looks down from its perch. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Yet another Spotted Owlet photo. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Yet another Spotted Owlet photo. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Fuzziest baby ever: Spotted Owl! Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Fuzziest baby ever: Spotted Owl! Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Once we had our fill of baby spotted owls (is that even possible?) the others elected to return down the canyon while I proceeded upward.

As best as I could remember a quarter mile up the stream there was said to be a large rock in the stream with a tree growing from it where the Northern Goshawks lurked.  A quarter mile beyond that there was a large tree with a hole in it where a Northern Pygmy Owl lived. These seemed admirable goals.  And should I fail in this mission, there was always remarkable scenery and other birds (hopefully) to console myself with.  And, baby Spotted Owls.

Being completely new and unfamiliar with Miller Canyon I had little sense of where these locations spent many segments of canyon double checking my surroundings.  I did eventually find a tree that might have been the Northern Goshawk tree.  However, the area was quiet.   No tanagers, pewees, or warblers as consolation prizes.

Northern Goshawk tree; no goshawks. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Northern Goshawk tree; no goshawks. (If this isn’t the tree, I clearly don’t know what was!) Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

I saw, contemplated, and slowly savored some of my water.  Did I mention I had very limited water?  This may have been the moment I realized that I hadn’t refilled my water bottle after the last excursion.  (When I had arrived I noticed that the back up bottle in the car had sprung a leak and now longer could function as the back up.) Oops.  I had less than a bottle with me.

This is where I became mixed up.  Being overwhelmed, first by being here, and second by the complicated directions that referred to landmarks existed more in time than space, I mixed up the sequence for these target birds.  I continued up the canyon path looking for the Pygmy Owl which was actually already well past me.  Alas.

However, it was a beautiful, serene walk as the elevation became to climb more sharply.  The canyon path separated from the canyon floor, bringing me up into the canopy.

Birds even graced the path, so major win.  Arizona Woodpeckers (the most common woodpecker ever?), additional views of Plumaceous Vireo, Hermit Thrush, and the all-American Robin, plenty of Painted Redstarts (properly red ones!),  and I even figured out a Canyon Wren by call.  I also picked up towhee, tanagers, and grosbeaks, oh my! Spotted, Western, and Black-headed.   Each a delight once I determined what I was looking at.

At one time I did hear a loud and continuing raucous on the far side of the creekbed.  Every time of bird in the vicinity clamored in consternation at some sight beneath me.  I stopped and peered endlessly, but the most I saw was something of a moderate size and gray in the shadow, slink between two bushes.  I was very tempted to tumble down the canyonside to immediately get closer and investigate.  The only thing that held me back was the realization I’d have to climb back up.  Secondary, and only a bit later was the notion that perhaps one should not chase after predators unprepared.

As my heart rate calmed once more I had a visitor who was probably coming in to determine what the raucous was about.  This particular feather friend landed so close that I almost couldn’t zoom back enough to get it into focus.  But there you, Red-faced Warbler.  One blurry photo (not shown) and this one below.

Aptly named Red-faced warbler.  Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Aptly named Red-faced warbler. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

As my water ran low, I contemplated turning around with each step I took.  I would set myself a destination as my turn around point, but keep going just a bit further.  Eventually, such persistence paid off.  I caught a flash of bold yellow, back down in the creekbed:

Sulfur-bellied Flycatcher.  Score. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Sulfur-bellied Flycatcher. Score. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

As best I can tell, this is a Sulfur-bellied Flycatcher.  I don’t see any other flycatcher that looks this bold.  A short while later (at this point it was sometime in the afternoon),  I turned around and made my way more quickly back the canyon.

I searched in vain once more for the Northern Pygmy Owl… in vain because I was entirely on the wrong section of trail. I decided to swing by the Spotted Owls because they’d make a lovely consolation prize (not that one was needed!), but a sweet note to end my excursion and trip on.

The babies were nowhere to be found.  Too well camouflaged perhaps.  But I did find one of the adults.  From my vantage point I could only catch a profile glimpse.  But I wanted more.  I scrambled around her, moving 90 degrees with her as the center of my circle, but from head on, I couldn’t locate her.  The angle was too different.  I retreated and tried my luck, stopping every few paces to reorient myself.  I decided scrambling on a tree would be a smart idea to help me better view the owl.  Scrambling off the tree I’m  not entirely sure what happened, but there was a tumble.  I did protect all my gear as I topped into the empty creekbed but I fear my pride was injured.

My first glimpse of the mother (assumption) Spotted Owl. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

My first glimpse of the mother (assumption) Spotted Owl. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Now I was determined to press on and get a better view.  Resolute, I pushed forward.  Finding a better view in the creekbed (I had been looking in the wrong tree the first time!), I squatted down to set up the camera and. rrrrriiiiippppp….. there went my favorite hiking pants.  They had embroidery and pockets, and they fit (the last one being harder to find than the embroidery)!  A rip beyond salvation.  Photos, must get photos.  Must make the sacrifice of pants and pride worthwhile.

Mama Spotted Owl. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Mama Spotted Owl. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Please tell me it was.

After this, I said good bye to the owls, and made my way down the trail.  Here I had an epiphany.  Now, I am one of those people who tend to be *really* well prepared, except for the times I’m not at all.  This fortunately was a really well prepared time.  I happened to have a change of clothes in my pack.  So I was about to swap out the ripped pants. Then, I continued down the trail to the Hummingbird feeders to end my day, and my trip.

So this is the tale of all the broken things, many months later. Hopefully the wait was worthwhile.

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Oooooh for Owls

Arizona Birding Series: #3

I meant to share this the other week, but while I am working on the conclusion to my Arizona series, I thought I’d link to this for your viewing pleasure, cause there aren’t enough owls in the world. (That’s a fact).

Staring Contest. Burrowing Owl Stakeout, Tucson, Arizona. Photo taken on June 14, 2014.

Staring Contest, now with video. Burrowing Owl Stakeout, Tucson, Arizona. Photo taken on June 14, 2014.

Unfortunately, Flickr and WordPress continue to not play well so I can’t actually imbed videos.

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Sunrise Stakeout

Arizona Birding Series: #2

Dreams do come true.  When researching my impending (now long since passed!) trip to Arizona, I was determined to see a Burrowing Owl.  Such indelible birds were not to be missed!

Research through the annals of ebird revealed that Burrowing Owls were to be found on Lisa Frank Avenue, right in Tucson, a mile from our hotel!  Clearly this was meant to be.  I was out the door by 7am the first morning, alone, as my sister reneged on her agreement to accompany me. (You did!)

The streets leading to the stakeout where a mixture of desert scrub and industrial complex beneath a rising sun. I wasn’t sure entirely what to expect or how hard finding Burrowing Owls would be.  So I headed at out at the earliest opportunity to maximize my chances of spotting an owl.

King of the Fence. Burrowing Owl Stakeout, Tucson, Arizona. Photo taken on June 14, 2014.

King of the Fence. Burrowing Owl Stakeout, Tucson, Arizona. Photo taken on June 14, 2014.

Lo and behold, there was a Burrowing Owl on a fence post. Right outside the Lisa Frank Building*  Not at all where one expects to find an owl. I might have easily walked past as blinded by the building as I was.  The fence was much closer to the road than the building.  Had I longer arms I might have touched the owl. (If I could have, I would have hugged it! Reached that is, if I could have reached. All owls want to be hugged. It’s a fact.)

Hike and Seek. Burrowing Owl Stakeout, Tucson, Arizona. Photo taken on June 14, 2014.

Hide and Seek. Burrowing Owl Stakeout, Tucson, Arizona. Photo taken on June 14, 2014.

I walked to the far side of the street to sit and watch in amazement. (I might have texted a fellow birder or two back east to share my amazing fortune!)  Then I noticed there were more owls.  And they made sounds!  It was almost too much to bear.

Ruffled Feathers. Burrowing Owl Stakeout, Tucson, Arizona. Photo taken on June 14, 2014.

Ruffled Feathers. Burrowing Owl Stakeout, Tucson, Arizona. Photo taken on June 14, 2014.

There were times they appeared to stare at me, and other times they appeared utterly disinterested.  The above owl seemed more concerned with letting the wind blow through its feathers than the whirl of my camera hard at work.

Pounce? Burrowing Owl Stakeout, Tucson, Arizona. Photo taken on June 14, 2014.

Pounce? Burrowing Owl Stakeout, Tucson, Arizona. Photo taken on June 14, 2014.

They appeared very amicable birds, interacting and moving amongst each other.  They’d sit together, then rearrange themselves.  Sometimes darting across the street to chat with a neighbor, other times ducking into the burrow.

Burrowing Owl surveys the landscape at it's burrow. Burrowing Owl Stakeout, Tucson, Arizona. Photo taken on June 14, 2014.

Burrowing Owl surveys the landscape at it’s burrow. Burrowing Owl Stakeout, Tucson, Arizona. Photo taken on June 14, 2014.

I sat there for half an hour or so, rapturing in owls.  A few people stopped to speak to me about it – the owls here are a locally-known phenomenon.   I guess they get a good number of birders.

Staring Contest. Burrowing Owl Stakeout, Tucson, Arizona. Photo taken on June 14, 2014.

Staring Contest. Burrowing Owl Stakeout, Tucson, Arizona. Photo taken on June 14, 2014.

There were at least 6 owls.  I stayed as long as I could and then hurried back for family engagements.

*Lisa Frank Avenue and Building, of course, the headquarters for the company responsible for the purple and pastel unicorn and fantasy themed binders and trapper-keepers on the market in the 90s aimed at pre-teen girls.

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Key to Life

Arizona Birding Series: Post #1

The desert is a dead place.   I suspect many people believe this. Harsh. Stark. Unforgiving.  These descriptions are more appropriate.   A desert is defined only by the amount of precipitation it receives.  Water is the key to life.  Nowhere is this more evident than the desert.

There are also many types of deserts.  Many people associate sand with deserts: sweeping sand dunes and camels.  This is not an American desert.  Much to the chagrin of school children across the country, the American West does not have camels. Nor are sand dunes much good for  sledding.

There are four deserts in the United States: all of which pass through Arizona. These are the Great Basin, the Mohave, the Sonoran, and the Chihuacuan. The Chihuacuan is a Mexican desert that just stretches north into the states.   The Great Basin begins near the Grand Canyon and progresses upwards to Idaho and Oregon.  Did you know there are deserts in Oregon?  Most people don’t realize this because they assume the Pacific Northwest is too cold and universally rainy.  In fact, the Cascade Mountain Range creates a rain shadow.  As the winds carry the air up, the airs cool, condensation forms, and the clouds release their moisture on the western slopes.  Crossing the caps of the Cascades, the moisture from the clouds is depleted, leaving parched lands to the east.  This is the Great Basin Desert.  Deserts can be very cold in the winter, at night, or even throughout the year.  Take Antarctica.  Yep, another desert.  This one a polar desert.

These deserts vary by temperature, by precipitation (combined we call this climate), by elevation, by botany.  Some deserts receive more precipitation than others. The Atacama Desert of Chile receives 0.04 inches annually while the Sonoran Desert averages  3 to 16 inches of rain a year.  Typically deserts receive less than 10 inches per year. Regarding botanical differences, cacti are only found in Western Hemisphere deserts.  There are no cacti in Africa. Apparently you can have camels, or cactus, but not both.   That’s evolution for you.

Elevation plays a surprisingly important role in deserts and with birds.  Did you know some migrations are elevation-based?  E.g. Pine Warblers are known to do this as are Anna’s Hummingbirds. Anna’s Hummingbird breeds in the dry California lowlands, vacations in the mountains, and winters in the deserts of Arizona and Mexico.  

Particularly in the Sonoran Desert, as you climb a mountain, it’s akin to traveling North.  With a tall enough mountain, climbing a couple thousand feet in the air is botanically similar to traveling a couple thousand miles north: you’ll pass thought the same vegetative transformations.  The geologic presence of mountains creates desert islands: Isolated regions of greenery within a desert sea.  This is where the birders go.

Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken June 16, 2014.

Elephant Head from Proctor Road. Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

I began my Arizona Birding Excursion at Proctor Road earlyish in the morning.  I figured I’d do Proctor Road before the day grew too warm.

Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken June 16, 2014.

Yep. Waiting on the ID. Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

It was…. disappointing.  There were few birds calling and fewer birds moving.  A few times I’d catch a glimpse of something flying by, but never enough for a positive identification. I stuck with it though for over an hour.  Enjoying the dramatic change in scenery from the east coast.

Canyon Tohee is well hidden in the underbrush.  This was key to identification. Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken June 16, 2014.

Canyon Towhee is well hidden in the underbrush. This was key to identification. Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

The above bird is one of the few I saw along Proctor Road.  My best guess is Canyon Towhee based on color/size/habitat.   The markings along the face threw me for awhile until I realized it wasn’t tribal paint or distinctive plumage, but a blurry branch.

Hurray for Bat Conservation everywhere!  Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken June 16, 2014.

Hurray for Bat Conservation everywhere! Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Eventually I decided staying in an area with few birds was pointless and moved further up the mountain where at least there were more identifiable birds.

I had birded in Madera Canyon a decade ago.  It was enough to remember the name, but not where in the canyon we were.  So I picked a trail that seemed to hold promise.  And headed up.

Have we met before?  A Hermit Thrush pauses in puzzlement at the East Coast Birder. Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken June 16, 2014.

Have we met before? A Hermit Thrush pauses in puzzlement at the East Coast Birder. Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

At least there were more birds.  One of the earliest I ran into was this quite familar Hermit Thrush.  I found it and identified it.  The day was looking better.

For awhile there was doubt as I called into question my skills.  But that’s how the rough patches go.  It helped to run into two other sets of birders who gave me a sense of what was further down the road: not much.  It wasn’t be.  They did tell me of one or two, which I was fortunate enough to come across.

The first Painted Redstarts were exciting and encouraging views even if they proved to be exceedingly common. Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken June 16, 2014.

The first Painted Redstarts were exciting and encouraging views even if they proved to be exceedingly common. Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken June 16, 2014.

One of the promised birds were Painted Redstarts which is a fine specimen of a redstart, if only because they actually have red.  Our east coast American red-UP-starts can only boast orange which makes the name seem silly.  Thus it was uplifting to see properly red redstarts.

Plumbeous Vireo scans for insects. Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken June 16, 2014.

Plumbeous Vireo scans for insects. Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken June 16, 2014.

This bird was also an exciting find: a vireo near the ground and photographable: call the papers!

So about those flycatchers.... the East Coast ones are hard enough! Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken June 16, 2014.

So about those flycatchers…. the East Coast ones are hard enough! Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken June 16, 2014.

Both sets of birders told me about one particular stretch with flycatchers.  No particulars, just there were flycatchers.

It was a quiet day.  The canyon trail was empty beyond the birders I saw towards the trailhead.  I enjoyed the scenery and the trek up, and then back down.

Upwards view of  Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken June 16, 2014.

Upwards view of Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

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Meeting at the Meadowlands II

On a Thursday early in June as I was leaving work, I was debating whether I should go birding (obviously) or go home and do research on my upcoming trip to Arizona where I would get a few days to bird.  So tough call.  As I was debating, I got a text from my birding partner in crime, suggesting we hit up the Meadowlands briefly.  Birding was meant to be.

Osprey carrying fish past the NJTP. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on June 5, 2014.

Osprey carrying fish past the NJTP. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on June 5, 2014.

That blip against the building is an osprey.  Normally, the Meadowland photos don’t do justice to the true nature of NJ wildlands.  The wilds of New Jersey are not often tucked in far away, remote corners (as there aren’t too many of those in the state!), but in close, obvious areas such as along major American arteries.  Here you have the NJTP (New Jersey Turnpike) which connects Philadelphia and New York. Beyond these cities, it’s I-95.  Despite the high volume of traffic, this region is a thriving haven for many marsh and grassland species.

Osprey carrying fish. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on June 5, 2014.

Osprey carrying fish. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on June 5, 2014.

Here’s the same Osprey captured against the sky.  If the Osprey doesn’t care about the traffic, why should we?

Although, there was quite a bit of traffic in the sky that day.  Soon after, three Mallards flew by.

Mallards in flight. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on June 5, 2014.

Mallards in flight. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on June 5, 2014.

There was also avian activity closer to ground.  As we checked out the marshlands along the turnpike we heard, then located, a Willow Flycatcher.  Unlike its predecessors, this one was sitting out on a conspicuous perch.  Clearly didn’t get the memo: hide, hide, hide.

Finally got a flycatcher: Willow Flycatcher perches in the open. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on June 5, 2014.

Finally got a flycatcher: Willow Flycatcher perches in the open. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on June 5, 2014.

Wandering back, we learned that one of the Sandy-damaged meadow trails was finally reopened.  We took it as far as we could and were rewarded for our curiosity.

Marsh Wren singing in the marsh.  NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on June 5, 2014.

Marsh Wren singing in the marsh. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on June 5, 2014.

The Marsh Wrens we’ve been hearing for some weeks now were finally visible along this trail.

Complete List:

Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Gadwall
Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Red-tailed Hawk
Killdeer
Herring Gull
Forester’s Tern
Black Skimmer
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Willow Flycatcher
Warbling Vireo
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Marsh Wren
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

It was a lovely few hours….. easy enough to say now that I’m inside and well away from the swarms of 10,000s of gnats that infested the walkways.  But the birds were worth it. They always are.

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Birding Brigatine

On the final day of May, NJ Audubon offered an evening tour of Brigantine. It was a lovely chance to bird Brigagtine during a time of year that I typically don’t get south or shoreward.  An evening tour was even better!

Pete [Bacsinski]’s annual trip to Brig where we take a couple of tours around the dikes in search of shorebirds, terns, passerines and waders and at dusk listen for Whip-poor-wills and Chuck-wills-widows and if we are lucky we could hear or see an owl or rail.

I posted this annoucement on facebook at the end of April where a couple of fellow birders indicated their interest in going.   Thus it was settled.  It was nice that a group of us could go because we were the youngest people there.  Which is what happens when you don’t fit the typical bird demographic.

The group assembled numbered something near 30.  Unfortunately, this meant taking a dozen cars around the loop as we didn’t carpool effectively.  However, my birding partner-in-crime and I did our part and carpooled with two other female birders who were as excited to bird with us as we were with them.  We had lots of academic knowledge about the birds and they had a scope, it was a lovely arrangement.

Pretty much as soon as the cars rolled out and rolled to the first stop moments later, did we get good birds.  You know the ones that actually stay long enough to get photos. Those birds.

A Tundra Swan lingers at Brig long after it should have migrated. Brigatine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

A Tundra Swan lingers at Brig long after it should have migrated. Brigatine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

A Tundra Swan was mixed in with a few Mute Swans, an ugly duckling that was really a weirdly molted swan?  We also  heard Marsh Wren at this time. We drove a few more minutes and continued scanning.

A grumpy Snowy Egret contrasted next to a foraging Glossy Ibis. Brigatine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

A grumpy Snowy Egret contrasted next to a foraging Glossy Ibis. Brigatine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

Egrets and Ibis abounded the National Wildlife Refuge. Having now seen the Glossy Ibis in flight I can understand the RBA alert I read last year about IDing an ibis in flight!

Convenient contrast between a Gull Tern (lifer) and Forster Tern. Brigatine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

Convenient contrast between a Gull Tern (lifer) and Forster Tern. Brigatine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

While many of the birds were familiar friends or at least better views than I had ever had previously, there were lifers in store.  First up was the Gull Tern whose only nesting site in all of NJ is near Brig.

Ruddy Turnstone stalks the mudflats. Brigatine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

Ruddy Turnstone stalks the mudflats. Brigatine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

I believe this intent Ruddy Turnstone may also be a lifer.  I don’t believe I had ever seen one before.  I can no longer say that.  In fact, I saw at least 20.

Osprey parents feed at the nesting platform. Brigatine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

Osprey parents feed at the nesting platform. Brigatine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

The refuge is littered with nesting platforms which are about as frequent as bluebird boxes in a field.  Many of the platforms are in use, too!  I believe the Ospreys nest in higher densities here than they normally do.  (By the way, I absolutely adore this photo- it’s one in a series where the parents are alternatively ducking down to feed and scanning the horizon.)

All this was only on the first trip around!  We stopped back at the entrance, had food, mingled, and headed back out as the sun began sinking.  We did the second pass much faster as it was more to put ourselves into position for the nocturnal birds likely to be found at the end of the loop.

Ninja birds: Great Egret and Great Heron do battle over foraging grounds. Brigatine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

Ninja birds: Great Egret and Great Heron do battle over foraging grounds. Brigatine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

As we passed through the refuge we caught sight of a ruckus between herons and egrets.  While calamity reigned on, a Black-crowned Night-Heron intently waited to gobble down the fish.

Black-crowned Night-Heron prowls through the evening low tide. Brigatine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

Black-crowned Night-Heron prowls through the evening low tide. Brigatine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

Rolling through the refuge we could hear the cry of a rail signaling the approach of night.  Darkness descended quickly when we reached the forest as did the temperature.  While the day was never warm, the evening was in the 50s.  We stood in silence, or as silent as a group of 30-odd people who can’t actually stop shuffling can stand.

Far, far in the distance we could hear the faint cry of a Chuck-wills-widow (lifer).  Pete also called a Screech Owl, but to be fair I didn’t hear it, so it is not 192.  We drove a little further and in the coolness of the night we were the single call of an Eastern Whip-poor-will amidst the calls of tree frogs.  Thus concluded our spring trip to Brigantine.

The Brigantine List

Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Tundra Swan
American Black Duck
Mallard
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Glossy Ibis
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
Red-tailed Hawk
Clapper Rail
American Oystercatcher
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Killdeer
Spotted Sandpiper
Willet
Lesser Yellowlegs
Ruddy Turnstone*
Dunlin
Least Sandpiper
White-rumped Sandpiper*
Semipalmated Sandpipe
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Gull-billed Tern*
Caspian Tern
Forster’s Tern
Black Skimmer
Mourning Dove
Chuck-will’s-widow*
Eastern Whip-poor-will
Chimney Swif
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Warbling Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Fish Crow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Marsh Wren
Carolina Wren
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Common Yellowthroat
Northern Parula
Yellow Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Seaside Sparrow*
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Boat-tailed Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

*lifer

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Shoring Up the List

Having agreed to bird at Brigatine on Saturday, May 31st, my birding partner-in-crime and I decided to visit LBI on the way down: not for the beach, not for the fudge, but for the birds.

Light House at LBI. Long Beach Island, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

Light House at LBI. Long Beach Island, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

Sadly we thought this out poorly as there were few birds because there were too many bathers and boaters. However, we resuscitated the morning by trying out Manahawkin Wildlife Management Area .  We were to learn later that day that our whim was a portion of Brig known as the Bridge to Nowhere….

Bridge to Nowhere, Brigantine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

Bridge to Nowhere, Brigantine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

We had less than an hour to travel through / bird the area, but saw enough that we would definitely return. Mute Swans, Egrets, and Ibis fed throught the Marsh. Warblers sang their alluring songs from the forest.

Glossy Ibises feed in the marshes. Bridge to Nowhere, Brigantine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

Glossy Ibises feed in the marshes. Bridge to Nowhere, Brigantine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

Bridge to Nowhere List:

Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Mallard
Great Egret
Glossy Ibis
Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Forster’s Tern
Northern Flicker
Great Crested Flycatcher
Tree Swallow
Marsh Wren
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Ovenbird
Common Yellowthroat
Blackpoll Warbler
Red-winged Blackbird

Then we were off for our true destination: Brigantine.

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