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 @ psych.wustl.edu 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.

Last Hurrah?

What a whirlwind the last ~24 hours have been!

I have picked up one additional new species for the 2013 list (hello, Killdeer!) and three new species for the life list!

I didn’t get a chance to write about it previously, but on the evening of the 18th, at dusk, I headed out to the fields where as the sunset I saw plenty of American Robins roosting in a tree, a few Red-tailed Hawks, and the long-awaited Short-eared Owl.  From a distance in the dimming list they look almost like Northern Harriers. It’s not helped that their habitats are identical!  However, the Northern Harrier’s flight tends to be more purposeful whereas the Short-eared Owl looks like a Harrier on lots of sugar flying here, then there, and everywhere all at once.

Then the following morning, I went on a sunrise stroll as noted previously and then spent the afternoon birding in Central Jersey.  I didn’t see lots of diversity, but diversified my list.   We drove down to New Egypt where we saw the Northern Lapwings.  I have National Geographic’s Birds of North America, and their sketch doesn’t do it justice.  In the cowpats, and mulepats, the birds were positively gleaming.  With the aid of borrowed scopes we had very nice views of the three lapwings amongst the Killdeer.  We also ran into other birders we knew!  Such a small world! Chris and Ray were arriving just as we were.

We stayed there for a bit before heading out to Colliers WMA in hopes of finding the feasting Red Crossbills, but despite driving around searching the premises for quite a good while, we had no luck.

From there we decided to head northward with the waning light and try our luck for the our old friend the Pink-footed Goose, as well as the Tundra Swans, Northern Shrike, and Barnacle Geese reported in the Assunpink  WMA.  We struck out on all four, alas, got a bit lost, but we did pick up a Red-throated Loon.  So all was not lost.  On Tuesday, it’s back to school again!  While school is local and I’ll still be in the area, my time will become much more constrained and I will be down to one day per week free.

So this was my last big hurrah bird-bird-bird day for time-being, but I’ll be checking my calendar to see when I can get out again.   And as the days get longer, I’ll have more opportunities for birding post work and class.

Early Morning Blues

I decided to walk myself over to Cushetunk Lake for a bit of birding by ear. (aka my binoculars were locked in someone else’s car!)

It was a very pleasant sunrise walk.  Solo birding is a different experience.  Because it’s based on your own inclination and there’s no distraction of company, you experience the world in a different way.  I had a very enjoyable hour, attempting to listen to calls and identity each individual.  Quite a number of blue birds!  No Belted Kingfisher or Eastern Bluebird to round out the blues mix, alas, but I did see a number of Blue Jays and a Great Blue Heron. I had luck identifying the American Crow, Blue Jay, Northern Cardinal, Carolina Wren, Tufted Titmouse, and White-breasted Nuthatch.

Lake Cushetunk:
Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Mallard
Great Blue Heron
American Crow
Turkey Vulture
Mourning Dove
Blue Jay
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal

After visiting the dam, I headed through a patch of woods before wandering back.  Among the branches I could hear a symphony of unidentifiable wonders.I could identify the 16 mallards swimming and great blue heron fishing in the stream.

I also saw four deer and a swimming muskrat!   So cool!  Following my hour ramble, I was in a much better frame of mind.  As I walked back into the house, I surprised a Carolina Wren who nearly flew into me in its haste to book it out of there.  Now I’m mentally all ready to hit the road for a day of birding in….. Central Jersey!

Avi’s Blue Heron

“Maggie walked back to the cottage, entered with caution, and climbed into the loft. As she lay in her bed she kept thinking of the heron. How beautiful it was. How magical. Never before had she experienced such a sense of magic, real magic.‎” – Blue Heron, Avi

One of my favorite childhood books, Avi’s Blue Heron tells Maggie’s fascination with the habits of the blue herons at a summer cabin on the lake.    In 2003, I had an opportunity to share some of Maggie’s experiences when I worked at the Pickering Creek Audubon Center.  During freetime, I would take a kayak to explore the creek and follow the herons as they silently stalked their prey.  It was definitely magic.

Which is why I was so excited when birding on the 15th to see so many herons!  Unfortunately, we came across one dead heron (really?! who sees a dead heron?) but we also saw three live ones.  We found the first two at Deer Path Park in Readington, NJ and the other two we witnessed at Cushetunk Lake in Whitehouse Station.

While the other half of the party focused on two bizarre looking Canada Geese. I marveled at the majestic manner in which the great blue heron slipped through the water.  I saw twice, the heron snatch at fish.  Unfortunately my camera was in the car, otherwise I might have tried for decent photos.  I did get one with my phone.

IMG_20130117_183241

Great Blue Heron fishing at Deer Park.

Rockafellows Mill Road:
Canada Goose
Mallard
Common Merganser
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed hawk
Blue Jay
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Carolina Wren
American Tree Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
American Goldfinch
Assiscong Marsh:
Canada Goose
Gadwall
American Black Duck
Mallard
Northern Pintail
Turkey Vulture
Ring-billed Gull
Blue JayDeer Path Park:
Great Blue Heron
Northern Flicker
Mallard
Gadwall
Canada Goose

Lake Cushetunk:
Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Gadwall
Mallard
Great Blue Heron (2)
Belted Kingfisher

S’no Buntings!

Alas! Today we went to the fields off E. Main St. in Annandale were hoping for an additional view of Horned Larks and to add Snow Buntings to my avian repertoire.  Others have seen Horned Larks and Snow Buntings there this past week. We spent nearly an hour there and picked up White-crowned Sparrow (new for the year) and American Tree Sparrow (life species), but despite our perseverance we couldn’t find any Snow Buntings.

Fields off E. Main
Canada Geese
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Northern Harrier
Bald Eagle
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Downy Woodpecker
American Crow
Common Raven
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Eastern Bluebird
European Starling
American Tree Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal

Your Wish Is My Command!

Today was a very successful day of birding in Hunterdon Co.  We began the afternoon near the Solberg Airport where there were no new life species, but I did pick up Northern Mockingbird, American Kestrel, and Northern Harrier for 2013.

We were also hoping for a Ring-necked Pheasant a friend had surprised one there a few days ago, but instead we found the remains of at least 2-3 Ring-necked Pheasants and one wild turkey.  In total there were seven or so carcasses.  The area has been a good one for hawks and owls alike as we found owl pellets near one set of remains, and he has had luck finding short-eared owls in the vicinity.

After a light rain, we changed locations and headed up to Round Valley were we struck gold.  We had debated between stopping for food or pushing onward.  As we arrived, I joked, “We are staying until we find a Common Loon – even if it means ordering a pizza to Round Valley.”  Before the car was even in park, he exclaimed “Look, a loon!” and he presented me with a loon.  Truth be told, I didn’t believe him and almost refused to look the third times.  It was there waiting for us at the boat ramp.   In fact there were two; one of whom swallowed a very large fish.

While we were scanning the swimming area, he directed the scope on a pair of birds, urging me to describe them.  I looked at them…. a dark brownish-red head, gray body, finishing in black…. Redhead.  New life species!

Solberg Airport:
Black Vulture (1)
Turkey Vulture (5)
Red-tailed Hawk (5)
Northern Mockingbird (4)
Common Raven (1)
Blue Jays
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Mourning Doves
Tufted Titmouse
American Kestrel (1)
Eastern Bluebird (6)
Carolina Chickadee (1) – trills faster than its northern cousin
Carolina Wren (1)
A Murder of American Crows
Northern Harrier (3) – females only
Ring-neck Pheasant (heard only)
Round Valley:
Pileated Woodpecker
Turkey VultureRed-tailed HawkAmerican Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Ring-necked Duck (1)
Mallard
Lesser Scaup
Bufflehead
Hooded Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Canada Geese
Snow Geese
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Common Loon (2)
Redhead (2)

New Life Species total: 2
New 2013 Species: 10