Small World

I generally work on Sundays at the nature center.  I currently do the maple sugaring programs, lead guided nature walks and interact with the public.  This Sunday was no different from any other.  Or so I thought… (as if that needed saying since I’m writing about it!)

While I was bustling about, the door opened and in walked my future colleague who will be joining us for the summer programs we operate.  He and his current co-worker were spending sometime birding because both happen to be birders.  They started the day walking along the Pier which is a local hot spot.  The local Audubon frequently leads walks there and you’re generally guaranteed something – somedays it’s as awesome as an Iceland Gull or a seal. As we were discussing where they had birded, it turns out they had birded at one my patches – the pond across the street from my folk’s place.  And they even saw my Dad grabbing the Sunday paper.  Even cooler than that, they saw a Wood duck!


Great Blue Heron returns to Ferdon Pond.

Wood ducks are new for the pond.  So I was super-excited to check it out for myself when I’d head over there later this week.  (Last year there was also an immature Black-crowned Night Heron in the further downstream – I’ll need to be on the lookout!)

As we’re talking, turns out that we went to the same high school.  The coworker was in the same year as my sister.  Small world.


Wood duck tries out the role of ugly duckling with the Mallards.

Today when I stopped in, I found the Wood Duck – grabbed the camera out of the car and sprinted over there in case he decided after 2 days he had enough!

Then later as I was getting ready for work, I caught sight of the Great Blue Heron stopping in, but didn’t have time to go over to properly document the arrival.

The Moment You Knew

Everyone has that moment of clarity when they realize their calling to bird.  When I figure out what mine was, I’ll let you know.  (We all have those moments, we just don’t all remember them!)  What I wanted to recall today was watching someone else’s moment.

At work we will frequently all run to one side, not because the building is listing, but because someone has just spotted a noteworthy bird.    We spent nearly a week determining whether our visiting hawk was a Red-Shoulder or a Cooper’s Hawk.  Every time the bird appeared, there’d be a run to the windows and a phone call to the lower offices to alert them as well.  This is what happens when you work at a nature center.

The only avian activity this week has been the woodpeckers.  Apparently there was a false alarm a few days ago regarding a Pileated Woodpecker sighting.  We do have them, but bird in question happened to be a Red-bellied Woodpecker.    So today, when the real Pileated made an appearance close to the center my co-worker was elated.   He was the one to spot it and had enough time to run inside to grab binoculars for a better look.    Standing in the cold sans coats, we watched a Red-bellied and Pileated systematically climb up the snags searching for grub.  When he walked in well after the rest of us, he was glowing and not from the cold.  In his future he perceived making plans and investments for a continued search for feathered friends.

Another birder is born!  Trips to the Meadowlands are closer than they appear.  Then Cape May, Hawk Mountain, and then the world!

In other news, “thesis” outline submitted to adviser!

The Great Backyard Bird Count Recap

I had a bit of a chance to contribute to the #gbbc from four different yards as I went about my weekend.   I’ll just summarize my list here:

Date 2-15 2-17 2-18
#spp 18 11 10
#individuals 89 44 24
#lists 3 2 2
species list
wild turkey
mourning dove
belted kingfisher
red-bellied woodpecker
downy woodpecker
blue jay
black-capped chickadee
tufted titmouse
white-breasted nuthatch
european starling
song sparrow
dark-eyed junco
northern cardinal
red-winged blackbird
american goldfinch
house sparrow
turkey vulture
rock pigeon
red-bellied woodpecker
blue jay
black-capped chickadee
tufted titmouse
white-breasted nuthatch
european starling
dark-eyed junco
northern cardinal
house sparrow
cooper’s hawk
mourning dove
black-capped chickadee
tufted titmouse
white-breasted nuthatch
dark-eyed junco
northern cardinal
american goldfinch
house sparrow

Total species: 21

I did spot Ring-billed Gulls around the Driscoll Bridge and along the rest-stops further south as well as Turkey Vultures, but I didn’t include those on Saturday.  However, on Saturday, as part of a baby shower I did draw a picture of a wren using fabric markers:


Wren with fabric markers contrasted with a real-life wren.

The baby to be will be named Wren, so a wren drawing seemed fitting.

After seeing the birds from work featured on Fox and Friends, my folks decided to participate.  Their contribute was to tell me the list verbally when I stopped by on Monday afternoon.   My folks have gotten so much pleasure from their new bird feeder!

Better Late Than Never

So it’s the Great Backyard Bird Count this weekend!  Unfortunately, a combination of extra hours at work, exams and a baby shower has kept me away from windows and the outdoors this weekend so my participation has been limited.  But work was invited to help kick off the gbbc in a big way.

On Friday, Fox and Friends did a segment with Wild Birds Unlimited.  The Tenafly Nature Center, where I work, was invited to participate in this component by contributing two of our Animal Ambassadors: Mitzi, the Barred Owl, and Ruby, the Red-tailed Hawk.

Video: Fox and Friends Segment: February, 15, 2013.

More about our birds: Mitzi, gender unknown, was a wild bird who was injured as an adult.  The left wing was injured and s/he can’t sustain flight.  However, s/he gets great exercise whenever we enter the aviary as s/he practices evasion maneuvers.

Ruby, was injured as a juvenile, thus is more tolerant of human presence.  She dislikes being outdone by Mitzi and performs back flips for attention or to avoid annoying tasks.  Ruby is blind in her left eye.

And yes, we at the center immediately noted that Barred Owl was misspelled.  However, most important, I believe, is the exposure the gbbc, birding, and conservation had their 3 minutes of fame on Fox news.

New Visitors

Not too much birding this week with the snow, work and school, but there were two new visitors!  At the folk’s place where the only ducks I’ve ever seen are mallards and the domestic ducks that have cross-bred with the mallards, but I finally saw something new and different!  So exciting! Unfortunately, I was the only one in at the time to witness it.

Hooded Mergansers swim upstream in the creek next to the pond.

Hooded Mergansers swim upstream in the creek next to the pond.

Then yesterday at work, when I was supposed to be leaving for class, I was called into the office.  Truth be told, I was lured in by the sound of excited murmurs.   They happened at the same time.  Lo and behold the unidentifiable surprise visitor from yesterday afternoon returned.    Everyone was excited I was there to help solidify the identification.  Speculation was between a Northern Goshawk or a Rough-legged based on the field marks people picked up previously.  However, with my camera capturing the detail for better study, we settled on a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk.  [However, after receiving comments regarding the photo, it appears it’s actually a Cooper’s Hawk.] Still exciting!  Anyway, how awesome is it to wish to spend more time at work in order to see birds?


Red-shouldered Hawk  Cooper’s Hawk rests in a tree near sunset in Tenafly, NJ.

Also, finalized “thesis” defense committee, have people who actually want to attend, and submitted data (again!) So progress!

Wild Goose Chase

Last Sunday, NJBIRDS reported Pink-footed Goose sightings in Bergen Co.  There have been 2-3 Pink-Footed Goose sightings confirmed in the NJ-PA region this winter. I was fortunate enough to see the first pink-footed goose early on when it appeared in Hunterdon, Co.  So, while I already have the pink-footed goose on my life list, I don’t have it on my 2013 list.  More importantly, being able to locate the pink-footed goose on my own, would further strengthen my identification skills.

The goose was spotted in Overpeck Park which I drive through on my commute to work.  Previously I thought it would make for some good birding, but hadn’t yet a chance to stop and confirm.  So following class on Monday, I headed over to the park. (The park is about a ~20 minute drive from Montclair).  I scanned the geese on the water and in the soccer field of the Henry Hoebel area, drove through “New Overpeck Park”, but no luck in spotting the goose.  When I got home and checked ebird, it turns out the goose had been there about 10 minutes before I reached the park, but was in a region I hadn’t known to check.

So on Thursday, having better done my homework, I returned to the park, beginning with “New Overpeck Park” and scanned every goose flock, every goose, every angle (almost) from the entrance to Challenger Road. I probably scanned between 400 and 500 ordinary geese.  When scanning large numbers of birds, looking for a rarity, I find it helps to count them… so I am more attentive in my scanning.  With the geese, I count the black necks.   If anyone knows other methods to improve scanning skills, by all means, please let me know!)

Nothing in “New Overpeck Park”, so I crossed the road to “Old Overpeck Park”.  This time there was no Red-tailed Hawk to entertain me with it’s landing approach in a snag while I waited for the light to turn.  I began at the soccer field where a large flock had congregated on Monday, but they weren’t present on  Thursday.   I saw a few fly in and land behind the construction. Thus, I got out my car and began walking the park.  There were a handful of geese in the water and a number on the baseball field.   I crept up to the hitter’s mound and crouched along the fence to scan the field. Walking up I had this feeling, “This time this is it! This is the time!”

No goose.  I returned to the river walk and continued toward the dog park.  There were 40-50 geese on the river.  It was difficult to scan due to the trees, but every few paces I would try.   I would also scan the sky as stragglers flew in.  Then I’d turn and scan the baseball field again from a  different angle.  I got to the bottleneck, and turned around.  Dejected I decided to scan the baseball field one more time from the bleachers.

Scan. Scan. Scan.  Finally, I saw a smaller, browner goose.  I “wooed!” and jumped for joy.  Both quite literally.  Then realized I lost sight of the goose.  I checked to see who witnessed my antics (no one) and settled to scan the flock again to find the bird.   Unfortunately I forgot to look for where the bird had been before I pulled my eyes away so I had to scan the entire flock again.  But I ultimately found the bird another 3 times.


Pink-footed Goose from behind. Note the white contrast along feather edges. Very striking in comparison to its larger brethren.


Pink-footed goose from the side. Smaller size is more evident. As are the pink-feet. Pink-feet! Do pink-footed goose have a preference for little pink socks?

Field Markers

  • smaller than the Canada Goose
  • pink-feet
  • back feathers appear white tinged along their edges

I found the last marker to be most helpful because how often are birds cooperative?

Species Spotted from Monday and Thursday’s Outings

    •  Pink-footed Goose
    • Canada Goose
    • Hooded Merganser
    • Common Merganser
    • Great Blue Heron
    • Bald Eagle
    • Ring-bIlled Gull
    • Herring Gull
    • Great Black-backed Gull
    • Rock Pigeon
    • American Kestrel
    • Fish Crow
    • American Crow
    • European Starling
    • Song Sparrow

Getting to Know You

There’s seeing a bird and then there’s seeing a bird.  Every so often you come across a bird that will throw you through a loop… like momentarily looking at a loved one with the perspective of a stranger.

I had two such encounters when I birded on Saturday.    While I was at Cushetunk Lake, I followed the stream path, came across a patch of activity so I plopped myself down on the sun-warmed bank and watched the activity.  Across the creek there was  a plump, rose colored gray bird that gave me good pause.  I didn’t have either my camera or my phone with me, so I had to note all details by memory.    When I returned to the car, I perused my Audubon guide and then at home I looked online for confirmation.  It took awhile and I was never fully satisfied with any individual photo, but a composite gets me there.

purple finch mystery

Photo credits: left birdzilla and right amcclab @ Points modified by moi. Accessed: 2/4/2013

  • Point A: The breast of the individual I observed had no streaking.  In fact the bird looked as though an artist had come by and smoothed away all streaking.
  • Point B: The beak was definitely yellow.  Inside too, I believe.  I was watching this bird eat the remains of berries on the bushes.
  • Point C:  This was the most puzzling part.  The head was predominantly brown with a rose patch… imagine a reverse of the right bird’s face.
  • Also, the wings appear to have some black and white more than the brown in either image.

For these points, I conclude I observed a Purple Finch.  I’ve not had

Gadwall swimming at Round Valley Reservoir, Hunterdon, NJ. 2/2/2013

Gadwall swimming at Round Valley Reservoir, Hunterdon, NJ. 2/2/2013

many encounters with them, but hopefully the next Purple Finch I spot will be an easier identification.

The second bird was a bit easier to figure out.  As I was finishing my time at Round Valley, I came across four ducks swimming in the one portion that wasn’t frozen.  They all bore striking resemblance to female Mallards, but they weren’t.  My phone wasn’t sufficient for a photo, so I ran back to the car and grabbed my dying camera.  I got a few shots – enough for me later on to identify it as a Gadwall.  Woo!

No new life birds, but two new birds for 2013: Purple Finch and Golden-Crowned Kinglet.  Currently at 71 species for 2013, and 31 for February.