Belated Big-Day Blah

On New Year’s Day after all the birders’ lists reset in a moment much like Anti-Christmas (instead of getting everything on your list, you lose it!), Tara and I returned to Sandy Hook hoping to repeat last year’s successes. It was just the two of us: the other six people intending to come along didn’t make it for various reasons.

This year we did not have our own videophotographer, nor did we have a repeat of 2014 success.  I say that, then I fact check it and I’m off.  In 2014, we had 22 species (+2 other taxa) whereas this year we had a grand total of….. 36! Another year under our belts and a scope makes a world of difference.

I believe the first bird of the year was a Sanderling.  It may also currently be the most photographed bird of the winter.  I was continuing to play with the borrowed Nikon 3200 and the rented Sigma 500mm.

Sanderling struggles with a snack. Sandy Hook, NJ. Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

Sanderling struggles with a snack. Sandy Hook, NJ. Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

A second day with the camera saw improvement.  This time I had a sense of where the camera wanted to focus.  Generally not where I wanted it to!  We’re continuing to work through our differences.

Tara scanning the ocean. Sandy Hook, NJ. Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

Tara scanning the ocean. Sandy Hook, NJ. Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

It was a very small outing and a very cold day.  We typically start off at Lot B and scan the shore and ocean.  Well, Tara scans and I take photos of Sanderlings. Lots of Sandering photos.

Then we head over to the bay side where we discovered pretty much the same species as we did four days earlier.  I chased sparrows while Tara scoped out the ducks.  Sparrows were camera shy, but a disgruntled Greater Scaup put up with a few photos (and a misidentification!).

Ring-necked Duck on a bay-side pond. Sandy Hook, NJ. Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

Ring-necked Duck on a bay-side pond. Sandy Hook, NJ. Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

Next we headed to the forest interior.  I was searching for owls while Tara was searching for everything else. (We typically use the divide and conquer method.)  There were reports of a Northern Saw-whet Owl, but we dipped.

However, we did find some other species.  We heard the Cedar Waxwings before we could locate them.  Eventually they moved into the trees directly above us and I attempted to photograph at an 80 degree angle.  It was challenging.  My arm was trembling from fatigue!  It’s challenging to hold up a 5 pound lens.   So I decided to lay down on the cold, paved ground and shoot from my back.  It’s more effective than shooting from the hip when using a camera.

Cedar Waxwing, taken from a horizontal position. Sandy Hook, NJ. Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

Cedar Waxwing, taken from a horizontal position. Sandy Hook, NJ. Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

Along the path that follows the road we discovered a few Northern Cardinals, a sprinkling of White-throated Sparrows, and a devoted Downy Woodpecker.  In the photo, note the nictitating membrane covering the eye, protecting it from bits of flying wood.

A busy Downy Woodpecker. Sandy Hook, NJ. Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

A busy Downy Woodpecker. Sandy Hook, NJ. Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

We scanned Horse-shoe Bay picking up Common Goldeneye and a Greater Scaup somewhere along the way before heading out to the North Shore.  We opted to walk all the way out to the shoreline.  By this time I was carrying all the gear (scope and the camera!) through very loose sand. What a workout.  Warmest part of the day.  We got there to see there wasn’t much.

However, upon inspecting the grassy dunes behind us we witnessed formations of feathers.  I was curious to see how well the camera could handle flight so I snapped away.

Snow Buntings in flight. Sandy Hook, NJ. Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

Snow Buntings in flight. Sandy Hook, NJ. Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

As we were watching, we noticed that sometimes the flock looked…. different.  Eventually I got a photo confirming our suspicions.  There were multiple flocks flying around the dunes.  Above you can see the Snow Bunting Brigade while below you have the House Finch Posse.

Sandy Hook. Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

Sandy Hook. Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

I like the way they’re flying directly at the camera and the complete chaos.  Eventually, the sun worked it’s way down the sky and we called it a day. January second would bring a 6am flight to Florida and there was packing to do.

Sunset at Sandy Hook on the first day of 2015. Sandy Hook, NJ Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

Sunset at Sandy Hook on the first day of 2015. Sandy Hook, NJ Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

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New Goals, Old Goals

An end of year New York Times tweet admonished, “Before setting new goals, evaluate the previous ones.”  So today I should begin by reviewing 2014’s resolutions. Last year, in what is no longer my shortest post ever, Renewed Resolve, I outlined my resolutions:

  • Continue working on warbler identification.
  • Work on identification by song.
  • Learning more about my camera and how to take better photos. (from Prairie Birder)

Camera Resolution

Considering I’ve uploaded 300 photos over the course of the year, that’s nearly 1 per day I have consistently worked with my camera, most particularly discovering it’s limitations.   I’ve gotten shots I’m happy with, shots I can live with, and shots that only belong in the trash heap.

I’ve also reached a point of frustration with the point and shoot, and the one I have in particular.  So I’ve decided to upgrade to a dSLR.  I haven’t decided which one (Canon or Nikon?), but I’m borrowing a Nikon currently and have rented a 500mm sigma lens for my upcoming trip to the Everglades (I depart tomorrow…. in 9 hours!), so continuing to work on photography will stay on the list.

Sanderling with a snack.  Taken with Nikon 3200 Simga 500mm. Sandy Hook. Photo taken on December 27, 2014.

Sanderling with a snack. Taken with Nikon 3200 Simga 500mm. Sandy Hook. Photo taken on December 27, 2014.

Songs Don’t Resonate for Me

I think any progress I made has been eroded by time.  This might need to be a life goal.   I did work on it significantly this year.  I can tell you that Tennessee Warblers have a three part (sometimes two) whereas Nashville have a two-part song.  What it sounds like?  Haven’t a clue at the moment.  To my ear, Hooded Warblers sound like they’re saying “Nice to, nice to meet you!” but to other birders that’s the description for a different warbler.  Chestnut-sided?

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.

Wibbly-wobbly with Warblers

Warblers and songs sensibly go hand in hand.  I had first looks this year at Blackburnian, Chesnut-sided, Hooded, Worm-eating, Kentucky, Cerulean, Bay-breasted, Grace’s, and Red-faced.  (The last two in Arizona.)  So it was a good warbler year!  I began to really explore two warbler hotspots: Garrett Mountain (New Jersey) and Doodletown Road (New York.), but then the season ended.   Think it needs to go back on this list.

Aptly named Red-faced warbler.  Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Aptly named Red-faced warbler. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Therefore, after serious reflection and a strong need for sleep, I’m just going to keep my 2014 resolutions, thanks.

  • Continue working on warbler identification.
  • Work on identification by song.
  • Learning more about my camera and how to take better photos. (from Prairie Birder)
  • Submit at least 1 paper for publication

I will add one new resolution, however. I need to get focused and get at least one of the two proposed papers out from my Masters Thesis.  So this way I won’t feel so guilty when I miss birding to work on it….

Snow Break for the Birder

On Saturday I met up with my adviser, his wife and a friend from grad school and we headed back to Sandy Hook, home of the Snowy Owl spotted during our Big Day. I was excited to do my first real birding since my return from the Galapagos, but as departure time approached and I thought of all the snow out there, the thought of trudging through snow and cold caused me to drag my feet.  Granted I should have been thrilled that we caught a break between the storms and we were all free, but it wasn’t registering.

But it wasn’t so bad. There was no wind and the snow was manageable. You might notice there’s something off about the photo….

Trekking over the white sand beach. Sandy Hook, NJ. Taken on February 8, 2014.

Trekking over the white sand beach. Sandy Hook, NJ. Taken on February 8, 2014.

No footprints!  For the most part we were able to walk entirely on top of the snow without leaving footprints.  It felt very magical and many a remark was made about elves.   But also no owl.  I didn’t do any of the planning or scouting for this trip, so it went overlooked that the last time a snowy owl had been spotted was on January 20th.

Surprising flock of Field Sparrows.  Sandy Hook, NJ. Taken on February 8, 2014.

Surprising flock of Field Sparrows. Sandy Hook, NJ. Taken on February 8, 2014.

Like last time we also had nice views Long-tailed Ducks and Red-breasted Mergansers. New were Bald Eagle, Snow Buntings, Horned Larks, American Robin, Common Goldeneye, Black Scoters and Field Sparrows. I got a glimpse of a Merlin while everyone else was mesmerized by a flashy immature Bald Eagle. So slow start to NJ birds, but getting good birds.

Horned Grebe finds a calm patch of water.   Sandy Hook, NJ. Taken on February 8, 2014.

Horned Grebe finds a calm patch of water. Sandy Hook, NJ. Taken on February 8, 2014.

Working Sandy Hook is slowly improving my identification skills of a few birds I only see about once per year. so yay! Just need to actually order my scope, so I can be a real birder.

Hermit Thrush. Sandy Hook, NJ. Taken on February 8, 2014.

Hermit Thrush. False harbinger of spring. Sandy Hook, NJ. Taken on February 8, 2014.

Call me crazy, but winter is rapidly winding up. While it cannot end too soon for many people (another several inches of snow predicted for this week?! whee!), to me I see the closing window of opportunity for Snowy Owls and Long-eared Owls.