Winging the Weekend

I had the entire weekend free of work so I made the most of it, birding 7 times.  Most of the birding was with fellow birders although Central Park was with my sister; she appreciated the turtles more than the birds.

Locations: Garrett Mountain Reservation, NJ; Clausland Mountain, NY; Rockland Lake, NY; Nyack Beach, NY; Piermont, NY; Central Park, NY; and Inwood Park, NY.

  • Waterfowl are mostly gone.  Buffleheads remained at Rockland Lake, but the rest have departed.
  • Warblers are slowly arriving: we had warblers at Garrett Mountain last weekend, but not this weekend; and in Central Park.  Palm, Yellow-rumped. and Pine have arrived.
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Swallows were spotted in multiple places.
  • Towees are back, Thrushes should return soon, hopefully.

Rather than recite what we saw where in fascinating, excruciating detail, I’ll just recap all 53 different species.

Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Wood Duck
Gadwall
Mallard
Bufflehead
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Green Heron
Black VultureTurkey Vulture
Broad-winged Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted
Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Brown Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Palm Warbler
Yelow-rumped Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

A Great Egret gracefully stalks through the water at Garrett Mountain. Photo taken on April 18th, 2014.

A Great Egret gracefully stalks through the water at Garrett Mountain. Photo taken on April 18th, 2014.

Female Brown-headed Cowbird at Garrett Mountain. Photo taken on April 18th, 2014.

Female Brown-headed Cowbird at Garrett Mountain. Photo taken on April 18th, 2014.

Unfortuantetly placed stick makes this Eastern Towhee appear irate!  Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on April 18th, 2014.

Unfortunately placed stick makes this Eastern Towhee appear irate! Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on April 18th, 2014.

At dusk this Brown Thrasher had a surprisingly vast repertoire for a Thrasher.  Clausland Mountain, NY. Photo taken on April 18th, 2014.

At dusk this Brown Thrasher had a surprisingly vast repertoire for a Thrasher. Clausland Mountain, NY. Photo taken on April 18th, 2014.

Tree Swallow claims the Bluebird nesting box. Rockland Lake, NY. Photo taken on April 19, 2014.

Tree Swallow claims the Bluebird nesting box. Rockland Lake, NY. Photo taken on April 19, 2014.

A Palm Warbler balances before jumping to the branch above. Central Park, NYC. Photo taken on April 20th.

A Palm Warbler balances before jumping to the branch above. Central Park, NYC. Photo taken on April 20th, 2014.

Views from Central Park, NYC.  Even the birds play tourist.  Photo taken on April 20th, 2014.

Views from Central Park, NYC. Even the birds play tourist. Photo taken on April 20th, 2014.

Collect Them All!

With the nicer weather, I am finally out birding more.  I managed to bird on Saturday and Sunday.  On Saturday, I picked up Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Red-bellied Woodpecker. Downy Woodpecker, and Northern Flicker.

Northern Flicker adds the finishing touches to this year's nest. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on April 12, 2014.

Northern Flicker adds the finishing touches to this year’s nest. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on April 12, 2014.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker breaks its fast. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on April 12, 2014.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker breaks its fast. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on April 12, 2014.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers abound at Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on April 12, 2014.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers abound at Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on April 12, 2014.

On Sunday, while listening to very active woodpeckers chase each other about the center and a couple calling Pileated Woodpeckers, I was quite content with my hall.

Then I received a text at work from an unknown number informing me of a bird I had been longing to add to my life list.  How awesome is that?!  I soon received a follow up email clarifying the identify of the sender.  A volunteer at the nature center was leading a bird walk locally  and had sighted a Red-headed Woodpecker.

Work ended. Did a bit of birding on site and then headed over in the fading light to Demarest. As I pulled up, I heard a funny chortle, looked up and then low and behold, this is pretty much the sight I saw:

Red-headed Woodpecker at the playground at Demarest Nature Center.  Photo taken on April 13, 2014.

Red-headed Woodpecker at the playground at Demarest Nature Center, NJ. Photo taken on April 13, 2014.

Never got a truly amazing look, just a reason to go back.

A Bad Case

We all get them from time to time. You’re minding your own business, happy with your birds and then it happens. From the corner of your eye you see it. A long lens on a camera, a swoon-worthy scoop. Whatever it is for you, it hits.

I was working a school science day this Friday.  It should have been a stellar day.  I was hanging out with an owl. Then I saw it.

Who doesn't want to hold an African Penguin? Taken on April 11, 2014.

Who doesn’t want to hold an African Penguin?
Taken on April 11, 2014.

A penguin.

There was a penguin at science day.

There are people, locally, who get to work with penguins.  See penguins. Every day. Who get to be bitten by penguins. Who get to know each penguin by call. Who get to smell the stench of fish continuously.  Know their genealogies and personalities. Get to lug around all 7-10 pounds of penguins.

The penguin is an African Penguin.  The Jenkinson’s Aquirium has several penguins in their exhibit. These penguins prefer room temperatures, live in large colonies and can eat 20 fish in a swimming.  They need to live with at least 5 other penguins to be happy.  They can tell individual people apart and have preferences for certain people over others.  Some prefer people to other penguins.

 

Ooooh, the envy!

During one of my breaks I got to catch their workshop.  I caught up with them right before they left so I got to be up close with a penguin! I even saw penguin love from a mere foot or two away.  They make a twittery sound and lower their bobbing heads to show affection.  (Owls just balefully disdain you from afar.)

It looks horrible, but context is important! African Penguin in a traveling case to return to its aquarium. Taken on April 11, 2014.

It looks horrible, but context is important! African Penguin in a traveling case to return to its aquarium. Taken on April 11, 2014.

Turns out the woman who working with the penguin was experiencing similar angst.  She had a thing for owls the way I have a thing for penguins (and owls).

By the way, the owl and penguin weren’t sure what to think of each other.  Perhaps never in this history of this planet has an African Penguin met a Barred Owl.

Searching for Spring

On Saturday, Tara and I original intended to go to Garrett Mountain – a local migration hotspot to see what was arriving.  I hard heard that earlier in the week there wasn’t much, but it seemed worth a visit, if for no other reason then getting a chance to say farewell to our winter birds.

However on Friday our plans changed when we were invited to join Montclair State University’s Herpetology class on their field trip.  We decided instead to go up to the school of conservation.  It was supposed to be 60 and sunny – sounded lovely.

Well, it wasn’t.

Despite the calender proclaiming April, ice and snow continue at the School of Conservation. NJ. Taken on April 5, 2014.

Despite the calender proclaiming April, ice and snow continue at the School of Conservation. NJ. Taken on April 5, 2014.

The weather was just cloudier, colder, and winder than forecast.  Not ideal for migrating birds nor for luring herps from their winter hideaways. Plus, there. was. still. ice.

Our first stop was at Culver’s Lake – a good spot for winter ducks, particularly the Common Goldeneye.  We didn’t stay long – blackbirds, robins, and cardinals were in better attendance than ducks.  The whipping wind had caused the ducks to seek shelter elsewhere.  We had a few Buffleheads and Common Mergansers.  As we were doing a final perimeter check, we did witness a disagreement between a crow and a Sharp-shinned Hawk.  having arrived at the scene belatedly, I cannot say who was the instigator, but it was clear each felt right and might were on their side.

We headed into state park land in hopes that trees would provide a more sheltered environment for the birds and ourselves.  It was also the first day of Trout season apparently.  So there were fishermen there.  One had a bird cage.  It even had a perch.  My friend insists it was an eel trap.  As she works with fish (in addition to herps, and now birds) I will believe her.

We went to the Steam Mill Area first.  Again, empty, although we did get our first Mallard of the day. (3rd water body, too).  He looked confused.  A Belted Kingfisher was about, defending territory.  I also caught the welcome chimes of a Eastern Phoebe before we located it in the trees.

At the school of conservation, we did a bit of hiking – checking for herps in preparation for the class and looking for birds before too many people pressured the birds into silence.    We heard additional phoebes and possibly a kinglet. Our nicest find was a Brown Creeper.  While not a spring bird by any stretch, it was missing from the year list so it was nice to see the numbers slowly creep up.

Brown Creeper searches for a morning meal. School of Conservation, NJ. Taken on April 5, 2014.

Brown Creeper searches for a morning meal. School of Conservation, NJ. Taken on April 5, 2014.

After hiking we stopped at Big Timbers cabin to watch the feeders where the staff insisted we take hot beverage and brownies.  There we got some great views of American Goldfinch transforming into their summer plumage – they look so silly with their mottled plumes right now.   There were between 40-50 goldfinch on the feeder in addition to a House Finch, 1-2 White-breasted Nuthatches, 1-2 Tufted Titmice, a Red-winged Blackbird, and a Downy Woodpecker. At one point a Coopers Hawk slammed into the feeding area causing a quick exodus. This allowed us to drink and nibble before the birds returned.

Tufted Titmouse at the feeders.  School of Conservation, NJ. Taken on April 5, 2014.

Tufted Titmouse at the feeders. School of Conservation, NJ. Taken on April 5, 2014.

American Goldfinch are molting into their alternate/summer/breeding plumage. Take your pick of bird jargon. School of Conservation, NJ. Taken on April 5, 2014.

American Goldfinch are molting into their alternate/summer/breeding plumage. Take your pick of bird jargon. School of Conservation, NJ. Taken on April 5, 2014.

After refreshment, we joined the arriving herp class. It must be so much easier to be a herp person than a bird person…. you can roll up at 12:30, no early mornings required!   We didn’t have much time left before we had to return home for unavoidable commitments.  We did locate a Red Phase Red-backed Salamander and Dusky Salamanders while  a Great Blue Heron coursed low over a stream.  I searched the hemlock and pines for slumbering owls, but no luck there.  Then it was onward home.

The slender Red Phase Red-backed Salamander and the bulky Dusky Salamander.   School of Conservation, NJ. Taken on April 5, 2014.

The slender Red Phase Red-backed Salamander and the bulky Dusky Salamander. School of Conservation, NJ. Taken on April 5, 2014.

Wings After Work

At work on Monday, our social media guru called the staff’s attention to a local RBA – a Yellow-Head Blackbird visiting the Meadowlands.  (The Meadowlands being my new local birding hole.) This particular Yellow-headed Blackbird was first spotted on the 27th.  (If you recall, I had birded the Meadowlands at Dekorte on the 29th.)  All the other RBA announcements pertaining to Yellow-headed Blackbirds were in south Jersey, thus a good drive away. However, an RBA within your stomping grounds deserts an effort at locating it.

So that being decided, I threw my boots and binoculars in my car for after class on Tuesday.  Now the days are longer and warmer, I have time to bird after class.

The scenic Meadowlands. Taken on April 1, 2014.

The scenic Meadowlands. Taken on April 1, 2014.

I got there around 4 in the afternoon.  I wandered through the Kingsland Overlook trail which is where the bird was frequently spotted according to ebird.  Without success, I decided to go do the embankment loops.  The day was pleasant – a hint of cool, but a vastly superior day compared to the last 80!  There were fewer birds today than on Saturday.  Mute Swans were most prominent in the pool, a Great Egret hunted along one bank.  In the back, along the New Jersey Turnpike, Redwing Blackbirds were staking out territories as American Robins, Song Sparrows, and American Tree Sparrows grazed along the path.  Rabbits scampered further out of sight as I approached, the only indication of their presence being the sounds of rabbit pitter-patter crashing through the reeds. At the end, I found a scattering of Buffleheads who appear to appreciate the seclusion of the reeds. Turning back, I saw a male and female Common Merganser coasting along in tranquility.

Common Mergansers at the Meadowlands. Taken on April 1, 2014.

Common Mergansers at the Meadowlands. Taken on April 1, 2014.

I walked the second embankment, studying the pools. A number of birds were at the far distance, black specs against a descending sun.  On the far shore, a solitary deer made its way through the mud.  In the interior waters however I found a slew of ducks: Northern Pintails, Mallards, American Black Ducks, Nothern Shovelers, more Buffleheads, Green-winged Teal, a Gadwall.

Great Black-backed Gull and a Mallard take advantage of the low tide. Meadowlands. Taken on April 1, 2014.

Great Black-backed Gull and a Mallard take advantage of the low tide. Meadowlands. Taken on April 1, 2014.

As I walked closer, I heard a curious call – like a garbled Killdeer.  Knowing Killdeer to be in the area, I listed again, but the caller did not repeat itself.

Attempting to watch a gull manage landing on the surface, my camera caught sight of three Greater Yellow-legs scurrying past.  I followed them with my eyes as they moved with purpose.  Then they called confirming the odd call heard earlier as the Greater Yellow-legs.  As a dog and its owner moved closer, the birds, five in total flew up and over the path into the duck pond.  Two more Greater Yellow-legs called from the far shore where the deer had been.

I finished walking the embankments and returned to the inhabited region of DeKorte where birders were beginning to arrive.   As I suspected, they were all there in hopes of seeing the Yellow-headed Blackbird.  In speaking with them, I learned that the bird would come in around the day’s end with a flock of Cowbirds.

In mingling with the birders, I ran into a familiar face – a birder who I had first met nearly a year ago when working a gig at the locally owned bird store – Wild Birds Unlimited, one of the top Bergen Birders.  I tagged along with him, learning a little more of the Blackbird’s recent movements, other choice birding areas within the county, and a who’s-who of the birders present.  For over three hours we scanned the skies and the trees from the parking lot, roads, and later the Kingsland Overlook.

This Yellow-headed Blackbird appeared by all accounts to be an obliging fellow – posing in trees and puddles easily accessible for birders.  Some birders had amazing views from their cars!

However, that was not to be our luck on this evening.  Despite the dozen or so sentinels keeping watch in the area, no evidence of the bird was seen.  Our best show of the evening  were the hundreds of Canada Geese streaming overhead and a hunting Osprey.  But here’s a consolation video I took of the Yellow-legs.