Rusty Bird, Rusty Birder

On the following Sunday, I joined the Boonton Christmas Bird Count.  I did it last year as well and it’s a very  different experience from the LSP bird count in that we survey multiple localities throughout the day.

We began at Troy Meadows in an obscure fog. (Not just from  the early hour!)  The marsh could have been filled with silent, stalking birds and we never would have known.  The fog insinuated itself between the reeds and wrapped itself around every tree and high tension structure on the meadow.  With the silence, it was not the most promising of mornings,  but at least it was warm!

We did pick up  a few ducks (mostly Mallards, with two  American Black  Ducks) as the morning wore on along with Canada Geese,  Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles in flight.

From the boardwalk in Troy Meadows we made our way to  an abandoned airstrip where we were able to begin picking up some song birds. We got Song Sparrow, and Fox Sparrow, American Robin, Northern Cardinal, Northern Mockingbird. Things were beginning to look up  even if we had yet to see the sun.

The place, like most abandoned places, seemed deserted — save for the flock of black birds at the far end of the strip. We made our way back there as the flock kept fluttering out of view.  It was here we picked up 100’s of Common Grackles (to supplement the ones we worked so hard for earlier!) and interspersed in the flocks of grackles were clumps of Rusty Blackbirds.  We probably had a conservative 60-70 Rusty Blackbirds there.

After Troy  Meadows, we tried our luck in Montville and Lake Valhalla which was surprisingly devoid of waterfowl despite the open water.  It seems as though all the water fowl decided to stay north this winter.   We did pick up Red-headed Woodpecker mid-day though, that was a nice find!

It was a pleasant day, albeit a bit quiet and slow. It wasn’t horribly cold or sunny or windy.  It was a good way to ease back into birding and brush up on the birds.  It was also nice to get to chat a bit with other birders and learn about what birding everyone else does in between Christmas Bird Counts.

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Fox Sparrow surveying the abandoned landscape. Boonton Christmas Bird Count. Photo taken December 27, 2015.

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Song Sparrow clinging to the reed. Boonton Christmas Bird Count. Photo taken December 27, 2015.

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Common Grackle attempting to consume an acorn. Boonton Christmas Bird Count.  Photo taken December 27, 2015.

We contributed 46 species across our sites. We got nearly all the woodpeckers in the state.  We only missed Pileated. (We got Downy, Hairy, Red-bellied, Red-headed and Sapsucker!)

 

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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.

Touchdown

Is that one word or two?  Ah well, today I wish to draw your attention to two uses of the term, “touchdown”.

The first use, I believe (I don’t actually follow sports) is to indicate achieving some sort of numeric reward.  While updating my bird lists, I happened to note that I reached 200 birds for NJ.

196. American Avocet
197. Black Skimmer
198. Great Horned Owl
199. Blue-Headed Vireo
200. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

The second use is much less celebratory.   On October 7, a tornado touched down in New Jersey.  The path of the tornado took it through what is, as far as I am aware, New Jersey’s only large scale bird/raptor rehabilitation center.  None of the birds were injured, but the damage was more severe than either of the last two hurricanes to strike the region.

They are seeking donations to help with repairs to get their birds returned to their aviaries and out of temporary housing as quickly as possible.  They’re a great center and resource for birders and birds alike.

For more information, you can visit their facebook page or their website.

Overload: Too Much of a Good Thing

On Thursday of last week, John invited his students to bird Great Swamp with him.  This time, three of us took him up on the offer.  Meeting up at 7:30, we quickly picked up a Yellow Warbler, GBH, Black-and-white Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, and Scarlet Tanager.

Scarlet Tanager view #2.

Scarlet Tanager view #2.

The Great Swamp is a great big swamp which has a few boardwalks and blinds great for birding when not off-limits during the hunting season.   In the swamp proper, we picked up Wood Thrushes, Veery, Ovenbird, and Northern Waterthrush.

The Wood Thrush belts out its electronic melody.

The Wood Thrush belts out its electronic melody.

The other two didn’t want to play bird-by-ear, so all the questions and quizzes were directed at me.  Being on the receiving end of these quizzes is intense – I didn’t realize how much so at the time.

At the blind, we saw more warblers, spotting Yellow Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Swamp Sparrow (not a warbler, but appropriately placed, in the swamp!).   I might remember the Common Yellowthroat – an association with the Lone Range and translating the call to what-d0-we-do-what-do-we-do? I finally heard the call of the Willow Flycatcher. Fitz-phew!  John has talked about this call for years, so it was well overdue for me to hear it!  Haven’t laid eyes on it yet but some day!

Afterwards, our group size dropped by 1 and drove to a drier portion of the swamp where we spotted a Baltimore Oriole, Yell0w-billed Cuckoos flying by, lots of Gray Catbirds. (We affectionately call them Garys because that’s totally what the call sounds like!) and a punky Lincoln’s Sparrow.

I think the Lincoln's Sparrow looks more punk like Puck, than esteemed like Abe.

I think the Lincoln’s Sparrow looks more punk like Puck, than esteemed like Abe.

Baltimore Oriole takes advantage of the sun.

Baltimore Oriole takes advantage of the sun.

We wrapped up at the education center just in the next county where we picked up Blue-winged Warbler and Great Crested Flycatcher. At this point, all my photos become non-bird related and I think I was physically and mentally done with birds for the day. I can show you photos of painted turtles, bull frogs, scouring rush, and cyprus knees, but no more birds.

Great Crested Flycatcher before he flew away.  We heard him at Great Swamp, but got good looks at Lord Stirling Park.

Great Crested Flycatcher before he flew away. We heard him at Great Swamp, but got good looks at Lord Stirling Park.

Afterwards, when I got home, all the birds sounds were jumbled up in my head and I couldn’t hear myself think over the cacophony.   By evening, I had the worst headache of my life: nauseous, room spinning – no bueno.   I suspect it was some product of audio overload, too much glare, or not enough water.  So I took some time off from birding to recuperate. I gave it a couple days and am slowly working my way through the calls trying to retain them in my memory.  I’ve lost some of the ones I had recently acquired, so I need to refresh some older ones and drill some new ones.

Great Swamp List: (lifers denoted with *)

  • Canada Goose
  • Wood Duck
  • Mallard
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Black Vulture
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Mourning Dove
  • Yellow-billed Cuckoo
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee*
  • Willow Flycatcher*
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Great Crested Flycatcher*
  • Yellow-throated Vireo*
  • Warbling Vireo
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  • Barn Swallow
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Veery*
  • Wood Thrush
  • American Robin
  • Gray Catbird
  • Ovenbird
  • Northern Waterthrush*
  • Blue-winged Warbler*
  • Black-and-white Warbler
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • American Redstart
  • Magnolia Warbler*
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Blackpoll Warbler*
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Field Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • Lincoln’s Sparrow
  • Swamp Sparrow
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Common Grackle
  • Orchard Oriole
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • American Goldfinch

New for the day at Lord Stirling Park:

  • Turkey Vulture
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Eastern Kingbird*
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • House Finch

A Camera in Hand…

…is worth two in the car.

After finishing up at work, I had almost three hours before I had to be somewhere so I booked it to Morris Plains to follow up on an RBA.  It’s not often that RBAs are in my part of the state! Usually they’re down the shore. I got there however, figured out which parking lot I was supposed to be in, and found the last of the day’s birders as they were packing up – just in time to see the bird in a borrowed scope (Thanks, Billy!).  Silly me, in my excitement, I forgot to grab my camera.  I did run back to the car, and in the fading light, I can proudly present bird #82 for the year and #161 for the state:

Pacific Loon visiting Corporate America.  Odd choice, but lovely bird nevertheless.

Pacific Loon visiting Corporate America. Odd choice, but lovely bird nevertheless.

Pacific Loon!  Both the weather and the loon were uncooperative once I got my camera out. (To be fair both cooperated before the camera was out.  The loon was present; the incessant rain stopped.) Once the camera was in the hand, the loon refused to turn and face me, hanging out as far away as possible.  The wind howled and shook the camera.  I had tears streaming down my face from the wind battering my straining eyes. I did however, get another photo, horrible quality, but that’s precisely why I love it.

My Van Gogh rendition of a Pacific Loon.  No photo editing used - just natural skill!

My Van Gogh rendition of a Pacific Loon. No photo editing used – just natural skill!