Winging the Weekend

I had the entire weekend free of work so I made the most of it, birding 7 times.  Most of the birding was with fellow birders although Central Park was with my sister; she appreciated the turtles more than the birds.

Locations: Garrett Mountain Reservation, NJ; Clausland Mountain, NY; Rockland Lake, NY; Nyack Beach, NY; Piermont, NY; Central Park, NY; and Inwood Park, NY.

  • Waterfowl are mostly gone.  Buffleheads remained at Rockland Lake, but the rest have departed.
  • Warblers are slowly arriving: we had warblers at Garrett Mountain last weekend, but not this weekend; and in Central Park.  Palm, Yellow-rumped. and Pine have arrived.
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Swallows were spotted in multiple places.
  • Towees are back, Thrushes should return soon, hopefully.

Rather than recite what we saw where in fascinating, excruciating detail, I’ll just recap all 53 different species.

Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Wood Duck
Gadwall
Mallard
Bufflehead
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Green Heron
Black VultureTurkey Vulture
Broad-winged Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted
Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Brown Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Palm Warbler
Yelow-rumped Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow
A Great Egret gracefully stalks through the water at Garrett Mountain. Photo taken on April 18th, 2014.

A Great Egret gracefully stalks through the water at Garrett Mountain. Photo taken on April 18th, 2014.

Female Brown-headed Cowbird at Garrett Mountain. Photo taken on April 18th, 2014.

Female Brown-headed Cowbird at Garrett Mountain. Photo taken on April 18th, 2014.

Unfortuantetly placed stick makes this Eastern Towhee appear irate!  Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on April 18th, 2014.

Unfortunately placed stick makes this Eastern Towhee appear irate! Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on April 18th, 2014.

At dusk this Brown Thrasher had a surprisingly vast repertoire for a Thrasher.  Clausland Mountain, NY. Photo taken on April 18th, 2014.

At dusk this Brown Thrasher had a surprisingly vast repertoire for a Thrasher. Clausland Mountain, NY. Photo taken on April 18th, 2014.

Tree Swallow claims the Bluebird nesting box. Rockland Lake, NY. Photo taken on April 19, 2014.

Tree Swallow claims the Bluebird nesting box. Rockland Lake, NY. Photo taken on April 19, 2014.

A Palm Warbler balances before jumping to the branch above. Central Park, NYC. Photo taken on April 20th.

A Palm Warbler balances before jumping to the branch above. Central Park, NYC. Photo taken on April 20th, 2014.

Views from Central Park, NYC.  Even the birds play tourist.  Photo taken on April 20th, 2014.

Views from Central Park, NYC. Even the birds play tourist. Photo taken on April 20th, 2014.

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Searching for Spring

On Saturday, Tara and I original intended to go to Garrett Mountain – a local migration hotspot to see what was arriving.  I hard heard that earlier in the week there wasn’t much, but it seemed worth a visit, if for no other reason then getting a chance to say farewell to our winter birds.

However on Friday our plans changed when we were invited to join Montclair State University’s Herpetology class on their field trip.  We decided instead to go up to the school of conservation.  It was supposed to be 60 and sunny – sounded lovely.

Well, it wasn’t.

Despite the calender proclaiming April, ice and snow continue at the School of Conservation. NJ. Taken on April 5, 2014.

Despite the calender proclaiming April, ice and snow continue at the School of Conservation. NJ. Taken on April 5, 2014.

The weather was just cloudier, colder, and winder than forecast.  Not ideal for migrating birds nor for luring herps from their winter hideaways. Plus, there. was. still. ice.

Our first stop was at Culver’s Lake – a good spot for winter ducks, particularly the Common Goldeneye.  We didn’t stay long – blackbirds, robins, and cardinals were in better attendance than ducks.  The whipping wind had caused the ducks to seek shelter elsewhere.  We had a few Buffleheads and Common Mergansers.  As we were doing a final perimeter check, we did witness a disagreement between a crow and a Sharp-shinned Hawk.  having arrived at the scene belatedly, I cannot say who was the instigator, but it was clear each felt right and might were on their side.

We headed into state park land in hopes that trees would provide a more sheltered environment for the birds and ourselves.  It was also the first day of Trout season apparently.  So there were fishermen there.  One had a bird cage.  It even had a perch.  My friend insists it was an eel trap.  As she works with fish (in addition to herps, and now birds) I will believe her.

We went to the Steam Mill Area first.  Again, empty, although we did get our first Mallard of the day. (3rd water body, too).  He looked confused.  A Belted Kingfisher was about, defending territory.  I also caught the welcome chimes of a Eastern Phoebe before we located it in the trees.

At the school of conservation, we did a bit of hiking – checking for herps in preparation for the class and looking for birds before too many people pressured the birds into silence.    We heard additional phoebes and possibly a kinglet. Our nicest find was a Brown Creeper.  While not a spring bird by any stretch, it was missing from the year list so it was nice to see the numbers slowly creep up.

Brown Creeper searches for a morning meal. School of Conservation, NJ. Taken on April 5, 2014.

Brown Creeper searches for a morning meal. School of Conservation, NJ. Taken on April 5, 2014.

After hiking we stopped at Big Timbers cabin to watch the feeders where the staff insisted we take hot beverage and brownies.  There we got some great views of American Goldfinch transforming into their summer plumage – they look so silly with their mottled plumes right now.   There were between 40-50 goldfinch on the feeder in addition to a House Finch, 1-2 White-breasted Nuthatches, 1-2 Tufted Titmice, a Red-winged Blackbird, and a Downy Woodpecker. At one point a Coopers Hawk slammed into the feeding area causing a quick exodus. This allowed us to drink and nibble before the birds returned.

Tufted Titmouse at the feeders.  School of Conservation, NJ. Taken on April 5, 2014.

Tufted Titmouse at the feeders. School of Conservation, NJ. Taken on April 5, 2014.

American Goldfinch are molting into their alternate/summer/breeding plumage. Take your pick of bird jargon. School of Conservation, NJ. Taken on April 5, 2014.

American Goldfinch are molting into their alternate/summer/breeding plumage. Take your pick of bird jargon. School of Conservation, NJ. Taken on April 5, 2014.

After refreshment, we joined the arriving herp class. It must be so much easier to be a herp person than a bird person…. you can roll up at 12:30, no early mornings required!   We didn’t have much time left before we had to return home for unavoidable commitments.  We did locate a Red Phase Red-backed Salamander and Dusky Salamanders while  a Great Blue Heron coursed low over a stream.  I searched the hemlock and pines for slumbering owls, but no luck there.  Then it was onward home.

The slender Red Phase Red-backed Salamander and the bulky Dusky Salamander.   School of Conservation, NJ. Taken on April 5, 2014.

The slender Red Phase Red-backed Salamander and the bulky Dusky Salamander. School of Conservation, NJ. Taken on April 5, 2014.

Death Comes to Wapalanne

**Graphic Image Below**

<<Okay, computer appears to be finally functional again!  Both browsers took a vacation and I couldn’t upload photos off my phone for unknown reasons.  >>

Friday saw my return to Lake Walapanne at the School of Conservation for further adventure in turtle research.   Unlike Monday it did not begin raining upon my arrival, so things were looking up.  That was soon to change….

The plan was to set up traps in preparation for the herpetology program being held there for the next two weeks.  We hiked up the trail toward Spring Cabin, the rustic retreat of the D.E.P.  which was both rustic and remote.    Along the trail we set up minnow traps.  Returning to base camp, we finally located the missing funnel traps and headed back out to set the snake traps.

Rustic getaway of the NJDEP which is really rustic!

Rustic getaway of the NJDEP which is really rustic!

On our way back down the trail, we heard what sounded like a bewildered or very alarmed child in the daylight, but what could pass for a gruesome murder by the dark of night.  Hear for yourself.

Afterwards, we altered the plan and decided to check the basking traps via canoe before walking the perimeter to the check the hoop traps due to the chancy weather.   As we headed to the northern portion of the lake, the clouds began to roll in.

An afternoon thunderstorm rolls over Lake Walapanne.

An afternoon thunderstorm rolls over Lake Walapanne.

While the rain threatened, the thunder held off.  From all the traps, we collected a total of…… 1 turtle!   Which despite the lousy number, is actually very good news because data is data.

We processed BIO, the Painted Turtle.  Seriously, that was her name and when it came time to return her to the lake, it was pouring!   I drenched my loafers. (This was apparently a hard lesson to learn as I’ve soaked two pairs of shoes in 24 hours  Three pairs of shoes in 48 hours.).

Afterwards, we went to dinner.  When we came back, the other instructors for the Herpetology and Forensic Insects workshop were there.  So we went on a walk to insect the carcasses that were placed out to entice insects.

At the stillborn calf, we watched a fly lay eggs.

At the stillborn calf, we watched a fly lay eggs.

Apparently all the years of watching TV crime and forensic television allowed squeamishness to stay far from me!  The instructor placed 3 carcasses out in coyote traps (to prevent bears from feasting).  That night we walked to the three bodies to inspect the earliest arrivals.  The fly pictured above was in the process of laying eggs – you can see some just to the left – they’re the yellowish color in between the teeth.  As we poked and prodded the cow, the fly was indifferent.   Even touching the fly produced no observable change in behavior: she kept moseying down the tongue looking for an appropriate place for an egg dump.  During this process, I was also kicked by a dead sheep as these large animals are awkward to maneuver, especially when thawing!  But none the less it was a cool experience.

*Published in 1885, Wapalanne means “the stream whereon is the bald eagle’s nest” courtesy of Indian Local Names: With Their Interpretation By Stephen Gill Boyd.

The Merry Month of May

Was very busy!  I only submitted 24 lists, most of which were megathon outings from fieldwork for either kestrels or turtles because May has been a very busy month (as has June!)  In addition to the birding,  I worked extra hours every week, defended my thesis, completed my Masters Program, and moved!

May saw 32 life birds, 113 different species, bringing the total to 150 for the year.

Cormorants sunbathing after work.

Cormorants sunbathing after work.

Apparently I’m on a cormorant kick. Hopefully more posts as we settle into the month, including another kestrel research update from the most recent outing.

Painting the Painteds

**Not a bird post.**

So apparently there is more to this world than birds.  (What?!) One of my classmates who shares an interest in birds, currently researches demographics of painted turtles and musk turtles at the School of Conservation in northwest NJ.   I’ve been invited to help with the data collection.  Or enticed… there have been offers of witnessing territorial battles between Ospreys and Bald Eagles as well as exotic warblers. (None of which I saw today.)

After class on Tuesday night, we headed up there to handle a turtle emergency.  A turtle emergency being defined as not having enough time to process turtles and return them to the pond. We worked there until 12:30 am. Whee!

IMG_4278

The lake at the School of Conservation.

I got to go back there again this morning to help with collecting and processing.  When we arrived, bright and early (8ish, but it was a 90 minute commute!) it was still in the 30’s so we processed turtles collected last night before heading out on the lake.

In many ways, field research is some of the best work there is.  (In many ways, I can see why people think the spending on science and research is extravagant.)    If you saw us, canoeing all about the lake, we looked peculiar.   We had 2 canoes, but 1 GPS and 1 temperature sensor. A quality field GPS costs significant money (1000s).  The canoes were constantly together and separating, together and separating as we roamed around the lake as we had to return to the other canoe each time they caught a turtle.

IMG_4255

Musk Turtle. They smell and bite. Birds are much better.

How does one catch a turtle?  Unfortunately, I have no pictures of this part of the process because I was leery of taking my camera on the lake without knowing what I was getting into!  I had heard stories of mishaps and near collapses.   If you have two people, one person steers, and the other portrays a figurehead, or George Washington (who I suppose is also a figurehead in many respects), stands at the prow and points.  The pointing is generally in the direction of a spotted turtle (not a species). The steer-er, in the steer, navigates the boat there, then the pointer switches roles and becomes a turtle catcher.  While either sitting or standing, they need to use a net with along handle to scoop up a turtle who will try to run away or burrow into the mud.

The turtle team at work in the lab.

The turtle team at work in the lab.

We did this for about two hours, before heading inside to process the 25 turtles we collected.  Processing entails recording lots of information including size, mass, shell characteristics, and collecting a genetic sample.  If these were birds, you pluck a feather and done deal.  Since they have no feathers (silly things), we either need to do a bucal (mouth, saliva) swab or a coacal (anal) swab.  That was my fun job.  The final steps entail marking them and photographing them.  That’s where the title of this post comes in.  We actually paint codes onto them so we can easily spot them from the canoe and identify them in the database.

Processed turtles are collecting in the pool waiting to be released.

Processed turtles are collecting in the pool, waiting to be released.

After all the collection is done, they are returned to the lake until the next time we catch them.