The Hunt and the Hunted

Too much birding leaves too little time for blogging!

Swainson's Thrush. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 19, 2014.

Swainson’s Thrush. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 19, 2014.

On Monday, May 19th, I returned to Garrett Mountain with my birding partner in crime and another friend.  In trees fully leafed we sought warblers, tanagers, and thrushes.

Female Scarlet Tanger is not scarlet. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 19, 2014.

Female Scarlet Tanger is not scarlet. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 19, 2014.

A more agreeable Scarlet Tanager than the FOY Tanager at Saddle River. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 19, 2014.

A more agreeable Scarlet Tanager than the FOY Tanager at Saddle River. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 19, 2014.

We decided to swing by the cove where the Least Bittern was known to lurk.  We met a photographer who had been there since 5am waiting for the punctual bittern to arrive. The bittern was late.

As we were giving up hope and about to resume birding elsewhere we heard a cry from a newly arrived birder who noticed what none of us had seen previously.  The Least Bittern was remarkably well camouflaged in the branches where he fished every morning until he wearied of birders.

I got a few photos, including the one below.  Much better than what I had previously!  Best of all, I also got video.  Definitely click. Do enjoy.

Least Bittern hunts for fish. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 19, 2014.

Least Bittern hunts for fish. Click on photo for video link. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 19, 2014.

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Every Stranger is a Promise

After the disappointment of the Celery Farm, I decide to gamble on a late morning drive up to Doodletown.

Oh, Doodletown.

I’d seen it for weeks on the ebird reports of all the birds I was missing up at Doodletown.

“There is no better place in New York State to see both Cerulean and Hooded Warblers than Doodletown Road in Rockland County.” – Corey Finger, 1000birds.com

“Doodletown Road, along with it’s downhill neighbor, Iona Island, has been declared an Important Bird Area (IBA) by the National Audubon Society. A number of bird species deemed threatened or of special concern breed in this area. That’s how we found Doodletown, and why you might want to check it out yourself if you’re in the area.” – Mike Bergin, 1000birds.com

“This is where everyone goes to find their Hooded and Cerulean Warblers for the year. This area host many breeders and migrants. Best time is in May and very early June.” – Hudson River Audubon Society

“Other common warblers include Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, Chestnut-sided, Palm, Prairie, Yellow-rumped, Yellow, Black-and-White, Canada, American Redstart, Blue-winged, Common Yellowthroat, Louisiana Waterthrush, and Ovenbird. In all, 32 species of wood warbler have been seen.” – Rockland Audubon Society

Armed with such knowledge, teased with the daily reports, I was anxious to try my luck birding at Doodletown.  However, it’s a bit of a drive (all of an hour!), thus hard to squeeze in before work.  Saturday appeared to be my only opportunity in May.  So away I went.

The trail’s beginning is a unprepossessing break in the bushes leading to two trails: a wider trail and stream running down steep steps.  I opted for the steps and began making my way up the mountain.

Along the way up there are signs indicating the remains of a 200-year-old town.

The ruins of Doodletown. Doodletown Rd, Bear Mountain State Park. Photo taken on May 17, 2014.

The ruins of Doodletown. Doodletown Rd, Bear Mountain State Park, NY. Photo taken on May 17, 2014.

The woods were loaded with both bird and birdsong.  I slowly made my way up the slope.  There were a few quick IDs by ear (Tufted Titmouse, Ovenbird). The signs were there: it had the makings of a good great day. I got on a Hooded Warbler and photos!

Female Hooded Warbler, first of three Hooded Warbler sightings. Doodletown Rd, Bear Mountain State Park. Photo taken on May 17, 2014.

Female Hooded Warbler, first of three Hooded Warbler sightings. Doodletown Rd, Bear Mountain State Park. Photo taken on May 17, 2014.

Continuing up the trail, I got an as of yet unidentified species, followed by a FOY Indigo Bunting singing on a sunny branch.

Unidentified flycatcher. Doodletown Rd, Bear Mountain State Park. Photo taken on May 17, 2014.

Unidentified species. Doodletown Rd, Bear Mountain State Park. Photo taken on May 17, 2014.

Indigo Bunting belting out the blues. Doodletown Rd, Bear Mountain State Park. Photo taken on May 17, 2014.

Indigo Bunting belting out the blues. Doodletown Rd, Bear Mountain State Park. Photo taken on May 17, 2014.

Just a bit further up the trail I hit the bird bonanza. It was a Canada Warbler that caught my eye, causing me to turn back and pursue the right branch of a trail.  As I stood there in wonder, I was joined by another birder who confirmed two of my IDs. While there I also witnessed a Magnolia Warbler, Indigo Bunting, American Redstarts, several Cedar Waxwings, and a lifer, Bay-breasted Warbler.

Cedar Waxwings dart back and forth. Doodletown Rd, Bear Mountain State Park. Photo taken on May 17, 2014.

Cedar Waxwings dart back and forth. Doodletown Rd, Bear Mountain State Park. Photo taken on May 17, 2014.

After watching for nearly half an hour, I continued up the trail.   I opted to pick the trail on the right as right proved bountiful previously.  150 feet up the path I paused to decipher the songs.

Up close and personal with an American Redstart.  Doodletown Rd, Bear Mountain State Park. Photo taken on May 17, 2014.

Up close and personal with an American Redstart. Doodletown Rd, Bear Mountain State Park. Photo taken on May 17, 2014.

I was approached by another birder.  I forget what we began by talking about first, but we quickly turned to the Tennessee Warbler singing.  He inquired if I could identify birds by ear, and acknowledged the Tennessee’s song.  I responded that the Tennessee’s song has three parts (thank goodness for learning that on Thursday!).  After conversing for a few moments, he offered to accompany me further up the path.  Having birded there for 24 years, he knew to the patch and tree where to find particular birds and freely shared his knowledge.

Along the way he pointed out Cerulean Warbler calls, found one fluttering in the tree tops, and talking to other birders we learned there was a Kentucky Warbler.  So we went and listened to him sing for a while.  Steve, as I eventually learned his name was, continued to show me the lay of the land.

We talked birds and shop.  It turns out Steve is in the process of establishing Hudson Valley Nature Excursions.  We discussed conservation, mindset, and tailoring nature walks for each particular audience.

Bay-breasted Warbler sits next to a Cedar Waxwing. Doodletown Rd, Bear Mountain State Park. Photo taken on May 17, 2014.

Bay-breasted Warbler sits next to a Cedar Waxwing. Doodletown Rd, Bear Mountain State Park. Photo taken on May 17, 2014.

Doodletown Rd was a definite success which I look forward to repeating.

Until the Last Minute

After the wonderful day spent birding Great Swamp, we parted ways in the early afternoon.  Two of us went to a late lunch/early dinner and then went homeward….

Turns out neither of us went home.  She went to Saddle River County Park and while I was sitting, stuck in traffic next to Garrett Mountain, figured I’d swing by and try my luck at better Least Bittern views.

The birding was quiet. Strike that, looking at my ebird list, I had 32 species which isn’t so bad considering conditions!  Best, yet I finally found the Hooded Warbler of Garrett Mountain.  I had heard about this fellow for almost a week now and finally got a glimpse through the foliage.

I think the Hooded Warbler should hang out with the Common Yellowthroat.  They both strive to hide their identities.

First views ever of a Hooded Warbler. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 17, 2014.

First views ever of a Hooded Warbler. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 17, 2014.

Stalking Birds at the Celery Farm

On Saturday due to a last minute location change, I met up with my birding partner-in-crime at the Celery Farm, first visited a few weeks ago (written up here.).

What ebird has shown to be a promising hotspot didn’t hold for the day.  It was remarkably quiet.  Granted, the morning was cool.  We did a quick loop around.  We hoped for Common Nighthawks and American Bitterns, but came up with Vultures and Vireos instead.

However it was a good morning for improving our birding by ear.  Although after a stretch of several days hard birding (or at least early birding), we were both feeling it.  She and  I both had new calls to listen for and exchanged many a bleary and befuddled look of “I-knew-that-call-yesterday,-but-can’t-recall-it-today….”

Early into the loop, we heard the exciting dee-dee-dee-dee song of the blackpoll.  Upon “developing” the photo in lightroom, it appears our warbler did a switcheroo with a chickadee.

Black-capped Chickadee switches with a Blackpoll moments before the shutter click. The Celery Farm, Allendale NJ. Photo taken on May 17, 2014.

Black-capped Chickadee switches places with a Blackpoll Warbler moments before the shutter click. The Celery Farm, Allendale NJ. Photo taken on May 17, 2014.

At the far side of the loop, I stopped abruptly when I heard “fitz-phew”.  I climbed on something that made me taller (it was metal and held my weight, so it didn’t garner any additional attention).  I scanned into the sun-drenched branches until I found my prey:

Willow Flycatcher not distinguishable in appearance from Alder Flycatchers or from any other flycatcher by this photo. The Celery Farm, Allendale NJ. Photo taken on May 17, 2014.

Willow Flycatcher, not distinguishable in appearance from Alder Flycatchers, or from any other flycatcher by this photo. The Celery Farm, Allendale NJ. Photo taken on May 17, 2014.

A Willow Flycatcher, hanging out, at the water’s edge where a willow could grow. A moment later, a Red-winged Blackbird took it’s place and we couldn’t relocate it although it continued to call.

With the farm being a bust, we headed over to a pond called Zabreski which had  a generated a RBA featuring a Barrow’s Goldeneye, but that bird was long gone.  So, disappointed, we called it a day and parted ways with fevered promise to try our luck on the morrow.

Great Birding, Great Swamp

On Thursday, we made our second annual spring pilgrimage to the birding mecca known as Great Swamp.  The weather was indecisively cool and drizzly, threatening rain, but never quite following through.

The trip wasn’t so much about photos – hard to do when the birds remain out of sight, but really working on birding by ear.  Like last year, Great Swamp was filled with a resounding refrain of Wood Thrushes, Ovenbirds, Northern Waterthrush, and Veeries.  Throughout this repertoire we could pick out a round of vireos: Red-eyed, Warbling, and Yellow-throated. Pileated accompanied by Red-bellied, Downy and  Northern Flicker for percussion. Stepping in for the strings we had Eastern Wood-Pewees, Great Crested Flycatchers, Eastern Phoebe, Willow Flycatcher and a lone Arcadian Flycatcher*.  Warblers carried the ever changing melody and we meandered.  Over the course of the day we picked up Blue-winged, Black-and-white, Tennessee, Common Yellow-throat, American Redstart, Northern Parula, Yellow, Chestnut-sided*, Blackpoll, Canada*, and Wilson’s*.

For the day, my records indicate I had  74 species though I may be missing one or two (will verify with paper records at some point).  There were a few I didn’t get on and thus didn’t think should count for either ebird or the bet.

However, I did get a few photos, so enjoy:

Wood Thursh. Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, NJ. Photo taken on May 15, 2014.

Wood Thrush. Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, NJ. Photo taken on May 15, 2014.

First Eastern Bluebird of the year. Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, NJ. Photo taken on May 15, 2014.

First Eastern Bluebird of the year. Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, NJ. Photo taken on May 15, 2014.

Bobolink in surprising microhabitat. Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, NJ. Photo taken on May 15, 2014.

Bobolink in surprising microhabitat. Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, NJ. Photo taken on May 15, 2014.

The Least I Can Do

On most days, 6:30 is the time I’m beginning to wake up, not arriving at the morning birding site. But spring is different. Even if I wanted to, most days I couldn’t sleep in: too many birds to see, including a mystery bird as I was soon to discover!

Monday started off no differently from any other Monday in May for people who like birds and live in northern NJ. At 6:30 I was driving the last of the way up Garrett Mountain.  My first priority was adding the reclusive and exciting Least Bittern to the year and life list.  I had dipped on the bird previously, when I had first learned of it’s arrival at Garrett Mountain. However, my birding-partner-in-crime knew where it was to be found on most mornings, so we agreed to meet earlier than normal to locate the bittern before beginning the day’s official birding.

We nearly flew down the slope to the pond and beheld the Least Bittern exactly where she anticipated it.  The least I could do was get a lousy photo of it crouched and stretching behind all the brush before it fled further away, out of view.

Least Bittern stretches its wings in the morning light. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 12, 2014.

Least Bittern stretches its wings in the morning light. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 12, 2014.

Then I became distracted by a female Common Yellow-throat.  This Monday, I didn’t have time to do much birding because I had to be at work for a morning program.

Female Common Yellowthroat. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 12, 2014.

Female Common Yellowthroat. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 12, 2014.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the trip list until several days and excursions later, so my recollection regarding what I saw before I departed and what the group saw is a bit rusty.  However, I definitely saw Least Bittern, Common Yellowthroat, and Kingbird since I have photos.

Kingbird sings its heart out. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 12, 2014.

Kingbird sings its heart out. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 12, 2014.

And then there’s this next photo.

It’s actually a screen capture from a video I have yet to fully process.  It’s the best image I’ve isolated thus far.  This bird was spotted in the brush along a small stream, low to the ground, darting in and out of the shrubbery.

Three of us were on it.  Initial conversation suggested warbler.  Something like a female Tennessee. In the moment, my sense was chunkier and stouter than a warbler, particularly around the bill.  My thoughts were Vireo.

Mystery bird. Female Black-throated Blue, Warbling Vireo, or Philadelphia Vireo. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 12, 2014.

Mystery bird. Female Black-throated Blue, Warbling Vireo, or Philadelphia Vireo. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 12, 2014.

Ultimately the birder with the most experience called it as a Philadelphia Vireo given the marks around the eye, lack of wing-bar or other distinction on the wing, and the washed yellow belly.

While the group was enjoying the bird, I literally had to run to make it to work on time.  Leaving early resulted in my not getting the day’s tally until several days had past, thus I didn’t submit our speculation, photo or list to ebird promptly.

I got tired of waiting for the list when the weekly RBA went out on Wednesday stating the discovery of a Philadelphia Vireo in the same park on Tuesday.  I posted what I could remember.

As I anticipated, the ebird sighting was flagged and I received a note from a reviewer, based on the above photo suggesting female Black-throated Blue…. which seems possible.  However, the only reason why I’m not sold is the tell-tale wing spot.  From what I can tell, the white spot is always distinct male or female.  While the primaries pale a bit where the coverts end, I’m not convinced that this is a distinct spot distorted by the bird’s movement as none of us noted any marking on the wing at the time.

However, with my posting of this photo after the public announcement regarding a regionally rare bird, it looks as though I’m jumping on the band wagon… at this point I just want to know what the bird is!  The more I think  about it, the less I’m certain.

Mothers’ Day at the Meadowlands

Mother’s Day at the meadowlands was a quiet affair.  A few couples graced the Richard DeKorte Park in the early morning hours taking in the waters.  On the Peninsula, a few families relaxed on the grass where the young frolicked and the parents were moderately vigilant.

Families of Canada Geese choose to raise their young in the safety of the marshlands. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on May 11, 2014.

Families of Canada Geese choose to raise their young in the safety of the marshlands. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on May 11, 2014.

I, the solitary interloper, had been warned by a man returning to his vehicle with his dog that it was a quiet day.  One of my early IDs was an Osprey flying past. Hopeful, I did a quick pass through Teal Pool and the Saw Mill Mudflats.  A few Mallards, Northern Shovelers, Gadwall, American Black Duck, and a Common Merganser.  Pretty quiet in numbers compared to sunset, but well-rounded in duck diversity!

Barn Swallow rests from romantic pursuits. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on May 11, 2014.

Barn Swallow rests from romantic pursuits. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on May 11, 2014.

Back on the Peninsula, I had views of Tree Swallows and Barn Swallows as well as a punky Lincoln’s Sparrow in the bush (bad views and worse photos, alas!).  A few warblers zipped and zoomed through the trees: Common Yellowthroat, Black-and-white, Yellow-rumped.

A final scan of the water found two Great Egrets.

Heading up to Kingland Overlook I picked up American Redstart, Magnolia, Yellow, and Northern Parula.

Two male Brown-headed Cowbirds pose as Audubon might have positioned them. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on May 11, 2014.

Two male Brown-headed Cowbirds pose as Audubon might have positioned them. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on May 11, 2014.

Instead of taking the wooded Transco Trail back, I decided to walk back along Disposal Rd to see if I could get any of the field birds that had been spotted: Kestrels, Bobolinks, Blue Grosbeak (!), or the infamous Ring-necked Pheasant.

I dipped on most but did get Cowbirds, first by ear, then by sight, and photo.  I finally got the Ring-necked Pheasant.  It was hiding in the phragmites of the Bus Parking lot. I spotted it, heard it call twice, but then it hid in the reeds without a further peep.

Returning to the car, I got my one shorebird of the day at the puddles I was skirting: the Least Sandpiper, browsing through the mud and grass.  All together, I had 40 species which wasn’t so bad as to be called a quiet day in my books. (It was more than anyone else reported on ebird!)  Then, I went to work.

A Solitary Sandpiper is a nice surprise as I return to my car. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on May 11, 2014.

A Least Sandpiper is a nice surprise as I return to my car. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on May 11, 2014.

Close Encounters of the Bird Kind

After working 12 hours on Sunday, I promised myself I was going to sleep in on Monday. However, my birding posse had plans to return to Garrett Mountain.  I peaked my eyes open around 6:20, saw bright blue skies and popped out of bed!  With the bet on, I couldn’t let my adviser garner birds.

I jumped from bed to the kitchen where I made tea and ate quickly.   I was on site by 7:00 am, getting the parking spot of choice as I was the first car to arrive.  Not knowing if or when they would arrive, I headed down the slopes to collect some birds.

Birding at Garrett Mountain solo is a different experience.  I could go whichever way I wanted, stop when I wanted, linger when I wanted, talk to whoever I wanted. People were more inclined to talk to me!

Being on my own, meant I had a few fortunate opportunities to get really close to some of the birds, including orioles and warblers.  Met some really nice birders who helpfully gave me specifics on the location of some of the best finds at the mountain though I didn’t have a chance to follow up on them (Hooded Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Red-headed Woodpecker) or I dipped (Veery, Swainson’s Thrush, Least Bittern).

Ovenbird scurries along a fallen limb. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 5, 2014.

Ovenbird scurries along a fallen limb. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 5, 2014.

Orchard Oriole rests between chases with a Baltimore Oriole. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 5, 2014.

Orchard Oriole rests between chases with a Baltimore Oriole. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 5, 2014.

A second Orchard Oriole peers out from the new spring foliage. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 5, 2014.

A second Orchard Oriole peers out from the new spring foliage. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 5, 2014.

A Black-and-white Warbler intent on insects comes up close. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 5, 2014.

A Black-and-white Warbler intent on insects comes up close. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 5, 2014.

American Redstart forages in the foliage. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 5, 2014.

American Redstart forages in the foliage. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 5, 2014.

Hoofing it back to make it to training on time, I stopped and searched the phragmites for the least bittern when I saw a group of familiar birders arrive on the other side of the pond. I didn’t have time to say hello, but continued up the mountain.

Farming for Birds

Now that the bet was on, I needed to pile on the birds.  Nothing like a little extra motivation in May.

Leaving Garrett Mountain, I headed into work for awhile to run a program introducing Daisies to birding.  I had a group of 15 girls and parents.  Collectively we located 9 species: Canada Goose, Wild Turkey, Green Heron, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, American Robin, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, and a Crow sp.   Not so bad for a First Day (hour) of birding.

After work I decided to try birding at the Celery Farm where there is neither a farm nor celery, so I don’t know where the name comes from.

The Celery Farm is a 107-acre freshwater wetland in Allendale, New Jersey, and is open to the public during daylight hours every day of the year. Volunteers from Fyke are responsible for creating and maintaining the footpaths around the preserve, the three observation platforms and the nesting boxes.

Over 240 species of birds have been recorded here, and more than 50 are known to breed here. The wetlands and deciduous woods provide habitat for many mammals, fish, reptiles and insects. – website

The Celery Farm is the second most birded, bird-diverse area in the county according to ebird data.  I had never been so on a co-worker’s recommendation I decided to finish my day there.

A storm approaches. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

A storm approaches. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

The center is an open body of water along which a ~ 1 mile trail winds.  This trail switches between woodlands, a small stream, and a phragmite forest (phorest?). The day was ending, a thunderstorm was moving in, but I got a few birds.  27 all together, bringing the day’s total to 65 species, including Belted Kingfisher, Great Egret, Yellow Warbler which were new for the day.

Canada Goose checks the eggs. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

Canada Goose checks the eggs. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

Wood Ducks step away from their nest to enjoy a sunset swim. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

Wood Ducks step away from their nest to enjoy a sunset swim. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

Great Egret fishes along the shores. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

Great Egret fishes along the shores. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

Yellow Warbler dashes and darts through the buds and branches. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

Yellow Warbler dashes and darts through the buds and branches. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.