The Last Good Year

Was an epiphany I had the other week.  As I’ve birded this May, I’ve tallied lifer after lifer.  After my birding on May 1st where I was impressed with five lifers, I’ve broken that record several times.    Unless I visit/move to a new and distinct region, I’m not going to so easily accumulate life species with a single excursion.  I’m getting spoiled.

On Monday, our party grew to five for the final outing to Garrett Mountain.  It was a very pleasant excursion.  The weather started off threatening and dismal, but cleared to a very pleasant May morning.  (Initially it was so foggy, we couldn’t spot a single pigeon when overlooking an entire city!)

We met up at 8 and accomplished 4 hours of birding before we all had to depart for the duties of our daily lives.  (In my case, packing for Saturday’s move!)

Driving in I missed the parking lot entrance due to the call of a strange bird and the fog, so I had to do a full loop around the park in order to return as it’s all one-way driving.  But in doing so I picked up the sneaker squeak of a Rose-breasted Grosbeak..

In the woods by the pond, I got to see the Swainson’s Thrush AND the Gray-cheeked Thrush. Which made me very happy because the group picked these species up on a day when I was unable to bird.

Gray-Cheeked and Swainson's Thrush pal around together.

Gray-Cheeked and Swainson’s Thrush pal around together.

At the pond, we located two sandpiper species. Woo!

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The Solitary Sandpiper is solitary.

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Spotted, two Spotted Sandpipers are busy creating mini-spotted offspring.

We also did very well with warblers, but less so with warbler pictures as in I have none.  We picked up Black-throated Green, Tennessee and Nashville hanging out (appropriate, no?), Canada, Wilson, AND a Connecticut Warbler.

All of which are lifers for me in addition to the two Thrushes.  8 lifers in a day. There will never be another day quite like it.

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Overload: Too Much of a Good Thing

On Thursday of last week, John invited his students to bird Great Swamp with him.  This time, three of us took him up on the offer.  Meeting up at 7:30, we quickly picked up a Yellow Warbler, GBH, Black-and-white Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, and Scarlet Tanager.

Scarlet Tanager view #2.

Scarlet Tanager view #2.

The Great Swamp is a great big swamp which has a few boardwalks and blinds great for birding when not off-limits during the hunting season.   In the swamp proper, we picked up Wood Thrushes, Veery, Ovenbird, and Northern Waterthrush.

The Wood Thrush belts out its electronic melody.

The Wood Thrush belts out its electronic melody.

The other two didn’t want to play bird-by-ear, so all the questions and quizzes were directed at me.  Being on the receiving end of these quizzes is intense – I didn’t realize how much so at the time.

At the blind, we saw more warblers, spotting Yellow Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Swamp Sparrow (not a warbler, but appropriately placed, in the swamp!).   I might remember the Common Yellowthroat – an association with the Lone Range and translating the call to what-d0-we-do-what-do-we-do? I finally heard the call of the Willow Flycatcher. Fitz-phew!  John has talked about this call for years, so it was well overdue for me to hear it!  Haven’t laid eyes on it yet but some day!

Afterwards, our group size dropped by 1 and drove to a drier portion of the swamp where we spotted a Baltimore Oriole, Yell0w-billed Cuckoos flying by, lots of Gray Catbirds. (We affectionately call them Garys because that’s totally what the call sounds like!) and a punky Lincoln’s Sparrow.

I think the Lincoln's Sparrow looks more punk like Puck, than esteemed like Abe.

I think the Lincoln’s Sparrow looks more punk like Puck, than esteemed like Abe.

Baltimore Oriole takes advantage of the sun.

Baltimore Oriole takes advantage of the sun.

We wrapped up at the education center just in the next county where we picked up Blue-winged Warbler and Great Crested Flycatcher. At this point, all my photos become non-bird related and I think I was physically and mentally done with birds for the day. I can show you photos of painted turtles, bull frogs, scouring rush, and cyprus knees, but no more birds.

Great Crested Flycatcher before he flew away.  We heard him at Great Swamp, but got good looks at Lord Stirling Park.

Great Crested Flycatcher before he flew away. We heard him at Great Swamp, but got good looks at Lord Stirling Park.

Afterwards, when I got home, all the birds sounds were jumbled up in my head and I couldn’t hear myself think over the cacophony.   By evening, I had the worst headache of my life: nauseous, room spinning – no bueno.   I suspect it was some product of audio overload, too much glare, or not enough water.  So I took some time off from birding to recuperate. I gave it a couple days and am slowly working my way through the calls trying to retain them in my memory.  I’ve lost some of the ones I had recently acquired, so I need to refresh some older ones and drill some new ones.

Great Swamp List: (lifers denoted with *)

  • Canada Goose
  • Wood Duck
  • Mallard
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Black Vulture
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Mourning Dove
  • Yellow-billed Cuckoo
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee*
  • Willow Flycatcher*
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Great Crested Flycatcher*
  • Yellow-throated Vireo*
  • Warbling Vireo
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  • Barn Swallow
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Veery*
  • Wood Thrush
  • American Robin
  • Gray Catbird
  • Ovenbird
  • Northern Waterthrush*
  • Blue-winged Warbler*
  • Black-and-white Warbler
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • American Redstart
  • Magnolia Warbler*
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Blackpoll Warbler*
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Field Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • Lincoln’s Sparrow
  • Swamp Sparrow
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Common Grackle
  • Orchard Oriole
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • American Goldfinch

New for the day at Lord Stirling Park:

  • Turkey Vulture
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Eastern Kingbird*
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • House Finch

Marvels on Mother’s Day

As I work every Sunday, I did not get to spend Mother’s Day with my mother.  For some reason she didn’t want to get up early to go on a Mother’s Day hike at the center.   However, I went in extra early to do a bit of birding with two other birders.  We had a lovely time despite the dearth of mothers.  The target birds were the Scarlet Tanager and Rose-breasted Grosbeak, both of which we got within 15 minutes.  We got most of the birds early in on the Red Trail and along the pond.  At the pond, we spent some time stalking the green heron.  We were scouting for better looks at the green heron, and heard the wood ducks fly in.  We may have had as many as three green herons, but definitely two.  As we moved to the white trail which had less in the way of bird life to interest us, but more to speculate regarding plants, we found miniature broccoli bits strewn along the trail.  It took us awhile to confirm our suspicions, but the broccoli-like bits were the sweet gum flowers!

More reading on the “lofty, maligned sweet gum“!

Also, on the white trail we were treated to some closer looks at the singing Wood Thrush.  We returned to the main trail instead to watch a domestic dispute between two Baltimore Orioles.   As we were approaching the yellow trail, I heard the distinctive teacher, teaCHER, TEACHER! of the Ovenbird.  As we were currently chasing a Common Yellowthroat (which we dipped on) the other two were skeptical, but when the call repeated, they became believers.  It took several good minutes of tracking, but we did finally locate the Ovenbird scampering away into the bush on its scrawny legs.  I missed out on seeing the Ovenbird on the day of my defense. So I was very excited to move the bird to a bona fide lifer instead of just a lifer by ear.

Morning’s List:

  • Canada Goose
  • Wood Duck
  • Wild Turkey
  • Green Heron
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Mourning Dove
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Warbling Vireo
  • Blue Jay
  • Tree Swallow
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Carolina Wren
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Wood Thrush
  • American Robin
  • Gray Catbird
  • Ovenbird
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Common Grackle
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Baltimore Oriole

The Birding I Didn’t Do

Resulted in two lifers!

Saturday was the World Series of Birding.  Being a birder in New Jersey, one can’t help but be aware of the World Series of Birding.  My introduction to it came in the form of my undergraduate ornithology class where each lab was structured like the WSB.   I also know multiple people who have participated.

I didn’t do the World Series of Birding.  I wanted to but (1) work and (2) knowledge that I wasn’t fully ready for such an adventure prevented me.  But it’s a life goal. So someday.  That didn’t make seeing people running up and down our trails with binoculars while I was working any easier!  (Granted they could have been just birding, but still!)

As I was wrapping up work and getting ready to meet my family for shenanigans, one of my coworkers yelled Scarlet Tanager and sprinted for the window.  Needless the other two of us in the room belted for the windows as well.  For both of us, it was a lifer.  Between the three of us, we had 1 set of binoculars and 1 cell phone.  However, the Scarlet Tanager was very accommodating, staying long enough for each of us to get a prolonged view with the binoculars and some group work achieved this:

Digi-binning a lifer: Scarlet Tanager

Digi-binning a lifer: Scarlet Tanager

I was holding the binoculars and camera, while a coworker steadied my elbow.  As we were drifting back towards work, another new bird flew in!  a female Black-throated Blue Warbler who boasts neither a black throat nor blue.  But she shares the same abrupt white wing bar as her male conspecifics.   She wasn’t as cooperative so no fancy photo of her!

If a tree falls,

…in the woods and you’re there to witness the momentous occasion, how cool is that?   I didn’t actually see the tree, but I heard it fall while I was out birding on Thursday after the rains let up.  Two days of rain – what a relief!   I think it’s the first rain we’ve had since Easter and it was much needed!   There have been at least two brush fires in the area (and we’re not talking about Colorado or California here, it’s New York and New Jersey!)

As soon as the rain let up Thursday, I headed out to see what birds were active.  It was about 5pm so it would coincide with the natural uptick in activity.   I decided to go on foot because there’s really no good parking near where I wanted to go.  (The nearest lot is about as far as the house, so walking made more sense.)

There was some activity on the way, but nothing I didn’t see in the park, so I didn’t log it.

Getting to the entrance though was a different story!  On park lands, I could look under the bridge leading past the park to watch Northern Rough-winged Swallow and Barn Swallows swoop in and out.  I was mostly hidden by the trees along the bank so I wouldn’t disturb them.  Nearly all my photos are blurry because they’re swift swallows (not swalling swifts), but I do really like this one:

Barn Swallow reflection.

Barn Swallow reflection.

You see the lower image and think it’s the bird, but no it’s only the reflection. The actual bird is the blob on top.  Love it.  I also love how murky and plain the backdrop is; the clouds were actually working with me for once!

I headed into the park where it was hard to pick up anything due to the roar of Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds, but peering into the marsh I did pick up a Canada Geese family and a Great Egret.

I didn’t have much luck until I reached the pool area.  At the pool, I climbed the slope so I could be at eye level with the trees, and plunked myself down for a bit to watch the wildlife. I know there’s more there than what I saw, but I am very excited by what I did see!  I got my first really good looks of a yellow warbler!

Yellow Warbler laments a lack of leaves.

Yellow Warbler laments a lack of leaves.

Isn’t he beautiful? Praising the sun gods for their return no doubt.  There were other birds flitting in and out of the woods, but my next exciting visitor was the Eastern Phoebe.  It was my second chance to get a good glimpse, and my first with my camera handy!

Proud Phoebe of the eastern variety.

Proud Phoebe of the eastern variety.

So distinguished!   I had some good views of him on the ground, and on a roof, so I’m excited that the one with the green in the background captured him the best!

Common Yellowthroat whose name I will likely never remember.

Common Yellowthroat whose name I will likely never remember.

Then my last exciting little fellow came about from some movement in the rushes below.  It took a white to spot him and longer to get his appearance on camera, but voila, a Common Yellowthroat!  And a lifer, too!   I spotted two males and one female.  It took me awhile to figure out the second was a female, but nothing else felt quite right.

After that I decided to wander away from the water in the hopes that I’d hear better, so I began moving up the mountain slope.   In the woods I didn’t have much beyond Blue Jays, and American Robins, although I did hear one American Crow fly over and come across a flock of White-throated Sparrows.

As night fell, it became more of a hike and less of a birding excursion, which is fine.  It was about two years since I had last traveled those trails so it was nice to see them again.  I wanted the one that looked over the Hudson, so it took some doing, but I did find it and was reward with my first Bald Eagle viewing of the month.  With the bluffs above the Hudson, I knew it was pretty good for Bald Eagles!   Soon the calls of the frogs, lured me onward.

At the western portion of the park, there are a number of “ponds” or artifical constructs that have since become ponds.  They’re quite lovely to hike along.  So I headed over to investigate the frog calls and picked up a Wood Duck and a Hermit Thrush.

From there I continued to the southern most portion of the park, and then after the sunset and a gentle rain began to fall, I made my way along the main trail about 1.9 miles to home.

Victorious!

Entering the Lost Brook Preserve.

Entering the Lost Brook Preserve… Feels more like a lost world.

Now that the thesis is over, I’ve been making up for my lack of birding!  After work on Tuesday, I decided to do some birding on site. (Seems silly to go elsewhere when one works at at nature center known for its warblers!) I did about 90 minutes, seeing new trails and picking up 1 new species for the year, the Gray Catbird.  However, I was most excited about identifying the Brown Thrasher by call.

Thrasher sings at the top of the tree.

Thrasher sings at the top of the tree.  Merry, merry king of the bushes, he!  Digiscoped with the binoculars… Can one still say scoped if one uses binoculars?

We had encountered the Brown Thrasher twice at Garrett Mountain.  On the first visit, we didn’t get a visual, but we were luckier on the second.  The second visit also gave me the clue to look at the very top of the trees to locate him.   On both visits, he sounded like a hyperactive mockingbird which shorter snippets in the repertoire.

I had about 21 birds identified.  One unidentified wren; along with a few songs I didn’t know – so not so bad!

Defended!

On Monday, I successfully defended my thesis once we found a sufficiently warm classroom and  had the technology successfully up and operational.   I’m including the opening slide.  Voila!

defense-kestrel-intro

The day of my defense, I began the morning by joining my advisor and a friend for two hours of birding back at Garrett Mountain.  This time around we picked up 43 species, including Spotted Sandpiper, Ovenbird, Red-eyed Vireo,  Yellow Warbler, Prairie Warbler, and Baltimore Oriole which were lifers, and Greater Yellow Legs, which was new for the year.

So now that the thesis is out of the way; the only changes I’ll need to make are the fine-tuning revisions as we prepare for publication, I can return to birding!

 

5 Star Day

Or perhaps, this post should be called the 5 Bird Day post.

Recovering from my sudden bout of the flu last week, I submitted up final thesis edits on Monday night.  Last night I received approval to distribute my thesis to the committee.  Which I did and then promptly vomited.  (I’m chalking that one up to brushing my teeth too soon after drinking orange juice.)    Really sounds like a five star day, doesn’t it?

I also received a second email from my adviser last night inviting select students for an impromptu birding excursion this morning to Garett Mountain Reservation.   Two of us took him up on the offer and we met up at 7am.  (Well I made it there by 7:10 since I had an unnecessary detour through Paterson.)

Birding with John is an experience typical of birding with most master birders.  He does much of his birding by ear.   We were joined by one other student, the one who runs the turtle research at the SOC.   She’s “more interested in animals” (her phrase) than birds and has only birded the last year or two.  She was overwhelmed by the cacophony of sounds and he was underwhelmed by the lack of it.   I am getting most of the common birds at this point, if not all their variations, I at least have a number for which I am approaching adept.  The really high pitched buzzy, trill stuff does not even register on my radar.  It didn’t help that there was lots of landscaping going on!

John had 38 birds on his list.  I had 33.  I dropped 5 because there were a number I didn’t get eyes/ears on so I figured it wasn’t fair to count – especially if they were FOY or lifers.  But we did pick up five lifers, so it was definitely a good morning.  New for me were the Warbling Vireo, Wood Thrush, Eastern Towhee, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Orchard Oriole.   So that was a very good day.