Metal Rods Attract Unusual Nighttime Visitors

So that last post garnered little attention.  Not that surprising considering it’s technical nature and dearth of birds!

As the semester wraps up for me, things are rather busy with two presentations on Monday, a final to proctor and all the data to pull together before Friday.  (This is the last week for me anyway since I take off on Sunday for a two-week bird banding workshop).

Campus in bloom. Rutgers University - Newark. Photo taken on April 26, 2015.

Campus in bloom. Rutgers University – Newark. Photo taken on April 26, 2015.

I do get a little bit of green and birds as I move between campuses.  I heard a Warbling Vireo earlier this weekend!

Campus in bloom. Rutgers University - Newark. Photo taken on April 26, 2015.

Campus in bloom. Rutgers University – Newark. Photo taken on April 26, 2015.

However, as I couldn’t go to the birds, the birds came to me.

On Friday, I learned through the grapevine that an Eastern Whip-poor-will appeared on campus.  On my way home, I stopped to look for it.

I did find it, exactly where it had been all day.  I’m not sure what it thought about the disconcerting concert taking place 150 feet away.  It flushed as soon as it realized I had spotted it and I couldn’t relocate it. So no pictures.

When I arrived Saturday morning, I poked around looking for it, but it seemed to have vanished/moved on/concealed itself really well.

Then last night leaving campus (yes on a Saturday), we stumbled across it again.

Eastern Whip-poor-will.  Rutgers University - Newark. Photo taken on May 2, 2015.

Eastern Whip-poor-will. Rutgers University – Newark. Photo taken on May 2, 2015.

This time I had an opportunity to go back to my car, get my camera (and monopod!) and get a few shots as it hunted from one of the poles holding up our mist nets.  I had a chance to watch it take off and return a few times.

Eastern Whip-poor-will from another angle. Rutgers University - Newark. Photo taken on May 2, 2015.

Eastern Whip-poor-will from another angle. Rutgers University – Newark. Photo taken on May 2, 2015.

Not quite as cool as last year’s Chuck-will’s-widow (check out May 6 and 7 entries 2014) which also appeared briefly in May and perched on metal poles.

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Life Changes

As you may have noticed, posts dropped precipitously this fall.  While the season was  steeped in birds, I just didn’t have enough time to write about it!  In September, I began a PhD program in Biology at the urban Rutgers University campus located in Newark, NJ.   For several weekends, I joined Montclair State University’s ornithology class as they traveled around the state to stellar birding locations such as Brigantine and Cape May.

At Rutgers my focus will be birds. (Dear reader, do you expect anything else?) During the first semester, we were required to join a lab for mentoring purposes and pick a small project or skill to build upon.  My adviser and I identified banding passerines for my mentoring project.  Most of the following photos were taken by cellphone since the purpose of the activities were science, not photography.

Early in the season, I joined the New Jersey Meadowland Commission’s (NJMC) banding project:

In 2013, the NJMC banded 5,503 birds. More than 26,000 birds have been banded since the program began in 2008. The information helps researchers learn more about how habitats in the Meadowlands benefit migrating birds. (link)

The NJMC runs an extensive operation with as much as a dozen nets operating at once, capturing 200+ birds on a busy morning.  On these days, they may have as many as 10-12 volunteers running the nets and banding the birds (hopefully!).  Some nets require a quick bike ride to reach.  It’s quite the challenge to bike and bird, but a greater challenge to bike and carry birds over one’s shoulder.

Early in the season I was at the Meadowlands about once a week, but as the season lengthened, things got busier and I was mostly at the Rutgers Station, pictured below.

Location of RUNBO:  Rutgers Newark Banding Observatory. Note the cart at the top of the stairs to the right.  October 2014.

Location of RUNBO: Rutgers Newark Banding Observatory. Note the cart at the top right of the stairs. October 2014.

Claus and I decided to run the station twice a week, on Wednesdays and Fridays, opening on Mondays if a day had been rained out.  Compared to the Meadowlands set up, you might think our set up was rather drab, but how many banding observatories do you know of with a Starbucks close enough to hit between net runs?

On my first day in the Meadowlands, one of our first captures was an American Kestrel. As my previous research focused on the kestrel, the other banders decided this was most auspicious.

Early catch at the Meadowlands. Meadowlands Banding Program.  September 2014.

Early catch at the Meadowlands. Meadowlands Banding Program. September 2014.

At Rutgers, in addition to banding birds twice weekly, we conducted two point counts, a deathwalk, and Claus leads bird walks on Wednesdays in October and May.  I’ve outlined our fieldsite below in classy yellow.

RUNBO field site located in urban Newark, NJ.

RUNBO field site located in urban Newark, NJ.

The above map indicates the location of our banding station, “RUNBO”, the Rutgers University Banding Observatory, our fancy name for our banding cart; the location of our two nets (in previous seasons there was a Net 2); and the path we walk on our deathcount, or deathwalk.

The deathcount, or deathwalk, is a lap we do around the interior of the quad to collect any of the poor migrants who fly into the glass surfaces.  To date, we have a freezer with ~400 frozen bodies.

New friend; male Common Yellowthroat. Rutgers Newark Banding Observatory. October 2014.

New friend; male Common Yellowthroat. Rutgers Newark Banding Observatory. October 2014.

However, sometimes we find more than corpses.  This young fellow, an immature male Common Yellowthroat was only stunned.  I picked him up, and having nowhere else to put him safely where he could recovered from his befuddled state gave him a ride.  He stayed with me for most of the perimeter until we encountered a stunned (or stunning?) female Common Yellowthroat.  The immature male instantly recovered and demonstrated his prowess by immediately flying into a nearby window, not once, but twice.

Red-eyed Vireo. Rutgers Newark Banding Observatory. October 2014.

Red-eyed Vireo. Rutgers Newark Banding Observatory. October 2014.

We mostly catch Common Yellowthroats and various Sparrows, but sometimes we get an unusual visitor.  Pictured above was a silly challenge to identify correctly.  You don’t often get good looks at this fellow: a Red-eyed Vireo.  Note the lack of red-eye in this photo – very deceiving!

Male Black-throated Blue Warbler recuperates before departure on a cold morning.  Rutgers Newark Banding Observatory. October 2014.

Male Black-throated Blue Warbler recuperates before departure on a cold morning. Rutgers Newark Banding Observatory. October 2014.

After removing them from the nets, and placing a USGS band on the leg, we release them.  Sometimes however, they’re more content to remain in the hand, particularly when it’s a bit nippy out.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet.  Note the fiery red cap. Rutgers Newark Banding Observatory. October 2014.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Note the fiery red cap. Rutgers Newark Banding Observatory. October 2014.

This fellow looks quite fierce, but like the Black-throated Blue Warbler, he stayed in the hand before heading for the bush.

Rare Yellow-breasted Chat visits campus. Rutgers Newark Banding Observatory. October 2014.

Rare Yellow-breasted Chat visits campus. Rutgers Newark Banding Observatory. October 2014.

One of our most exciting captures was this Yellow-breasted Chat.  Not only did we get one, but we got two. (And we know they were different individuals thanks to the bands!) It was also a lifer.  (I saw it later perched in a London Plane tree.)

A common visitor, the American Woodcock. Rutgers Newark Banding Observatory. October 2014.

A common visitor, the American Woodcock. Rutgers Newark Banding Observatory. October 2014.

A surprising, but common find, are American Woodcocks.  What is most unusual about this one is the fact it is alive (or at least was at the time of the photo).  All too often we find these birds dead or dying due to collisions with the glass.

So why do wildlife studies in Newark? What’s the draw?  While tropical and remote sites are fascinating to visit (until you acquire a botfly!), many areas are highly developed requiring the wildlife to interact with them in novel ways.  So often we look to study pristine regions in hopes of conserving them and we forget about the natural places right close to home for most of us.

So lots of birds, just not lots of words.

Ghost Birds

This week I rejoined the birders of Rutgers Newark for the Wednesday Walks.  When I arrived, Claus immediately set off in pursuit of the Clay-colored Sparrow and Lark Sparrows he had discovered on his scouting excursion earlier that morning.

Well, we discovered sparrows galore! 200+ Chipping Sparrows, 100+ White-throated Sparrows, a few Song Sparrows, Dark-Eyed Juncos, and even Eastern Towhees and Swamp Sparrows.  We searched long and hard, high and low…. located an unidentifiable (due to distance) falcon… Probably the American Kestrel who frequents the campus and had been seen earlier in the morning, but looked a bit Merlin like for the hopeful.  Woodpeckers were also scarce this morning with only a lone Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in evidence.

It was a chilly morning!  I was grateful I had pulled a lazy birder and thrown clothes over my pajamas rather than change – it provided just the right amount of warmth.  But the two birds that would have been new for the list: the Lark Sparrow and Clay-colored Sparrows were lost in the host of sparrows (reference).  I did see my first American Woodcock of the year – dead, but it was still a woodcock.   (They’re already on my life list so I feel less guilty about counting it!)

Unfortunately as the campus became more active, the sparrows became more restless.  A few times the host swarmed when someone walked too close and a few would inevitably fly into the windows.  We walked through the fall zone, practicing avian triage.   My patient was inclined to scramble away from the others, but for some inexplicable reason tolerated me.

RecoveringChipping Sparrow catches a ride around campus on m arm.

Recovering Chipping Sparrow catches a ride around campus on my arm. Photo by Claus Holzapfel.

He rode on my arm for a bit before he went to rest in a planter to resume his recovery. Claus Holzapfel, excursion leader also writes up the Wednesday Walks. His write up can be found here.  Additionally you can see all the bird species that have been idenified on the urban Rutgers Newark Campus as well as their efforts at wilding an urban oasis to increase biodiversity.