The Hunt and the Hunted

Too much birding leaves too little time for blogging!

Swainson's Thrush. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 19, 2014.

Swainson’s Thrush. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 19, 2014.

On Monday, May 19th, I returned to Garrett Mountain with my birding partner in crime and another friend.  In trees fully leafed we sought warblers, tanagers, and thrushes.

Female Scarlet Tanger is not scarlet. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 19, 2014.

Female Scarlet Tanger is not scarlet. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 19, 2014.

A more agreeable Scarlet Tanager than the FOY Tanager at Saddle River. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 19, 2014.

A more agreeable Scarlet Tanager than the FOY Tanager at Saddle River. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 19, 2014.

We decided to swing by the cove where the Least Bittern was known to lurk.  We met a photographer who had been there since 5am waiting for the punctual bittern to arrive. The bittern was late.

As we were giving up hope and about to resume birding elsewhere we heard a cry from a newly arrived birder who noticed what none of us had seen previously.  The Least Bittern was remarkably well camouflaged in the branches where he fished every morning until he wearied of birders.

I got a few photos, including the one below.  Much better than what I had previously!  Best of all, I also got video.  Definitely click. Do enjoy.

Least Bittern hunts for fish. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 19, 2014.

Least Bittern hunts for fish. Click on photo for video link. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 19, 2014.

Until the Last Minute

After the wonderful day spent birding Great Swamp, we parted ways in the early afternoon.  Two of us went to a late lunch/early dinner and then went homeward….

Turns out neither of us went home.  She went to Saddle River County Park and while I was sitting, stuck in traffic next to Garrett Mountain, figured I’d swing by and try my luck at better Least Bittern views.

The birding was quiet. Strike that, looking at my ebird list, I had 32 species which isn’t so bad considering conditions!  Best, yet I finally found the Hooded Warbler of Garrett Mountain.  I had heard about this fellow for almost a week now and finally got a glimpse through the foliage.

I think the Hooded Warbler should hang out with the Common Yellowthroat.  They both strive to hide their identities.

First views ever of a Hooded Warbler. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 17, 2014.

First views ever of a Hooded Warbler. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 17, 2014.

The Least I Can Do

On most days, 6:30 is the time I’m beginning to wake up, not arriving at the morning birding site. But spring is different. Even if I wanted to, most days I couldn’t sleep in: too many birds to see, including a mystery bird as I was soon to discover!

Monday started off no differently from any other Monday in May for people who like birds and live in northern NJ. At 6:30 I was driving the last of the way up Garrett Mountain.  My first priority was adding the reclusive and exciting Least Bittern to the year and life list.  I had dipped on the bird previously, when I had first learned of it’s arrival at Garrett Mountain. However, my birding-partner-in-crime knew where it was to be found on most mornings, so we agreed to meet earlier than normal to locate the bittern before beginning the day’s official birding.

We nearly flew down the slope to the pond and beheld the Least Bittern exactly where she anticipated it.  The least I could do was get a lousy photo of it crouched and stretching behind all the brush before it fled further away, out of view.

Least Bittern stretches its wings in the morning light. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 12, 2014.

Least Bittern stretches its wings in the morning light. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 12, 2014.

Then I became distracted by a female Common Yellow-throat.  This Monday, I didn’t have time to do much birding because I had to be at work for a morning program.

Female Common Yellowthroat. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 12, 2014.

Female Common Yellowthroat. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 12, 2014.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the trip list until several days and excursions later, so my recollection regarding what I saw before I departed and what the group saw is a bit rusty.  However, I definitely saw Least Bittern, Common Yellowthroat, and Kingbird since I have photos.

Kingbird sings its heart out. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 12, 2014.

Kingbird sings its heart out. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 12, 2014.

And then there’s this next photo.

It’s actually a screen capture from a video I have yet to fully process.  It’s the best image I’ve isolated thus far.  This bird was spotted in the brush along a small stream, low to the ground, darting in and out of the shrubbery.

Three of us were on it.  Initial conversation suggested warbler.  Something like a female Tennessee. In the moment, my sense was chunkier and stouter than a warbler, particularly around the bill.  My thoughts were Vireo.

Mystery bird. Female Black-throated Blue, Warbling Vireo, or Philadelphia Vireo. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 12, 2014.

Mystery bird. Female Black-throated Blue, Warbling Vireo, or Philadelphia Vireo. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 12, 2014.

Ultimately the birder with the most experience called it as a Philadelphia Vireo given the marks around the eye, lack of wing-bar or other distinction on the wing, and the washed yellow belly.

While the group was enjoying the bird, I literally had to run to make it to work on time.  Leaving early resulted in my not getting the day’s tally until several days had past, thus I didn’t submit our speculation, photo or list to ebird promptly.

I got tired of waiting for the list when the weekly RBA went out on Wednesday stating the discovery of a Philadelphia Vireo in the same park on Tuesday.  I posted what I could remember.

As I anticipated, the ebird sighting was flagged and I received a note from a reviewer, based on the above photo suggesting female Black-throated Blue…. which seems possible.  However, the only reason why I’m not sold is the tell-tale wing spot.  From what I can tell, the white spot is always distinct male or female.  While the primaries pale a bit where the coverts end, I’m not convinced that this is a distinct spot distorted by the bird’s movement as none of us noted any marking on the wing at the time.

However, with my posting of this photo after the public announcement regarding a regionally rare bird, it looks as though I’m jumping on the band wagon… at this point I just want to know what the bird is!  The more I think  about it, the less I’m certain.

Close Encounters of the Bird Kind

After working 12 hours on Sunday, I promised myself I was going to sleep in on Monday. However, my birding posse had plans to return to Garrett Mountain.  I peaked my eyes open around 6:20, saw bright blue skies and popped out of bed!  With the bet on, I couldn’t let my adviser garner birds.

I jumped from bed to the kitchen where I made tea and ate quickly.   I was on site by 7:00 am, getting the parking spot of choice as I was the first car to arrive.  Not knowing if or when they would arrive, I headed down the slopes to collect some birds.

Birding at Garrett Mountain solo is a different experience.  I could go whichever way I wanted, stop when I wanted, linger when I wanted, talk to whoever I wanted. People were more inclined to talk to me!

Being on my own, meant I had a few fortunate opportunities to get really close to some of the birds, including orioles and warblers.  Met some really nice birders who helpfully gave me specifics on the location of some of the best finds at the mountain though I didn’t have a chance to follow up on them (Hooded Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Red-headed Woodpecker) or I dipped (Veery, Swainson’s Thrush, Least Bittern).

Ovenbird scurries along a fallen limb. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 5, 2014.

Ovenbird scurries along a fallen limb. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 5, 2014.

Orchard Oriole rests between chases with a Baltimore Oriole. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 5, 2014.

Orchard Oriole rests between chases with a Baltimore Oriole. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 5, 2014.

A second Orchard Oriole peers out from the new spring foliage. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 5, 2014.

A second Orchard Oriole peers out from the new spring foliage. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 5, 2014.

A Black-and-white Warbler intent on insects comes up close. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 5, 2014.

A Black-and-white Warbler intent on insects comes up close. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 5, 2014.

American Redstart forages in the foliage. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 5, 2014.

American Redstart forages in the foliage. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 5, 2014.

Hoofing it back to make it to training on time, I stopped and searched the phragmites for the least bittern when I saw a group of familiar birders arrive on the other side of the pond. I didn’t have time to say hello, but continued up the mountain.

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.

The Last Good Year

Was an epiphany I had the other week.  As I’ve birded this May, I’ve tallied lifer after lifer.  After my birding on May 1st where I was impressed with five lifers, I’ve broken that record several times.    Unless I visit/move to a new and distinct region, I’m not going to so easily accumulate life species with a single excursion.  I’m getting spoiled.

On Monday, our party grew to five for the final outing to Garrett Mountain.  It was a very pleasant excursion.  The weather started off threatening and dismal, but cleared to a very pleasant May morning.  (Initially it was so foggy, we couldn’t spot a single pigeon when overlooking an entire city!)

We met up at 8 and accomplished 4 hours of birding before we all had to depart for the duties of our daily lives.  (In my case, packing for Saturday’s move!)

Driving in I missed the parking lot entrance due to the call of a strange bird and the fog, so I had to do a full loop around the park in order to return as it’s all one-way driving.  But in doing so I picked up the sneaker squeak of a Rose-breasted Grosbeak..

In the woods by the pond, I got to see the Swainson’s Thrush AND the Gray-cheeked Thrush. Which made me very happy because the group picked these species up on a day when I was unable to bird.

Gray-Cheeked and Swainson's Thrush pal around together.

Gray-Cheeked and Swainson’s Thrush pal around together.

At the pond, we located two sandpiper species. Woo!

IMG_4633

The Solitary Sandpiper is solitary.

IMG_4648

Spotted, two Spotted Sandpipers are busy creating mini-spotted offspring.

We also did very well with warblers, but less so with warbler pictures as in I have none.  We picked up Black-throated Green, Tennessee and Nashville hanging out (appropriate, no?), Canada, Wilson, AND a Connecticut Warbler.

All of which are lifers for me in addition to the two Thrushes.  8 lifers in a day. There will never be another day quite like it.

Defended!

On Monday, I successfully defended my thesis once we found a sufficiently warm classroom and  had the technology successfully up and operational.   I’m including the opening slide.  Voila!

defense-kestrel-intro

The day of my defense, I began the morning by joining my advisor and a friend for two hours of birding back at Garrett Mountain.  This time around we picked up 43 species, including Spotted Sandpiper, Ovenbird, Red-eyed Vireo,  Yellow Warbler, Prairie Warbler, and Baltimore Oriole which were lifers, and Greater Yellow Legs, which was new for the year.

So now that the thesis is out of the way; the only changes I’ll need to make are the fine-tuning revisions as we prepare for publication, I can return to birding!

 

5 Star Day

Or perhaps, this post should be called the 5 Bird Day post.

Recovering from my sudden bout of the flu last week, I submitted up final thesis edits on Monday night.  Last night I received approval to distribute my thesis to the committee.  Which I did and then promptly vomited.  (I’m chalking that one up to brushing my teeth too soon after drinking orange juice.)    Really sounds like a five star day, doesn’t it?

I also received a second email from my adviser last night inviting select students for an impromptu birding excursion this morning to Garett Mountain Reservation.   Two of us took him up on the offer and we met up at 7am.  (Well I made it there by 7:10 since I had an unnecessary detour through Paterson.)

Birding with John is an experience typical of birding with most master birders.  He does much of his birding by ear.   We were joined by one other student, the one who runs the turtle research at the SOC.   She’s “more interested in animals” (her phrase) than birds and has only birded the last year or two.  She was overwhelmed by the cacophony of sounds and he was underwhelmed by the lack of it.   I am getting most of the common birds at this point, if not all their variations, I at least have a number for which I am approaching adept.  The really high pitched buzzy, trill stuff does not even register on my radar.  It didn’t help that there was lots of landscaping going on!

John had 38 birds on his list.  I had 33.  I dropped 5 because there were a number I didn’t get eyes/ears on so I figured it wasn’t fair to count – especially if they were FOY or lifers.  But we did pick up five lifers, so it was definitely a good morning.  New for me were the Warbling Vireo, Wood Thrush, Eastern Towhee, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Orchard Oriole.   So that was a very good day.