Birdday!

Totally remiss. No entries all semester. You were left hanging after several weeks of Honduran birds. No end in sight. At least you weren’t hanging off a cliff.

Completely different topic.  Especially if you are a birder in the American mid-Atlantic. You are problably well aware of #Painted Bunting, now residing at @ProspectBunting. no?  Well, now you are.

Heard about the painted bunting in Prospect Park, Brooklyn through through twitter. (Perhaps I could have head it through  vine, but  I don’t use vine, so couldn’t learn it through the grape vine, alas.)  On Thursday, I was convinced to chase it on Sunday. (The earliest and only opportunity. Talk about putting all the eggs in one basket!)

I gave fair warning that the bunting would probably vacate the premises  with my luck by Saturday.  The office seemed emptier on Friday…

So the plan  was to get to Brooklyn ($23 in tolls, with another $8 to leave!), meet up with my sister. Find  the bird. Visit my parents.

After a nightmare of confusion wherein I decided that “parking on the southwest side was just like parking on the northeast because how  big  can the park be, really?” and my phone decided not to work while trying to load either of two maps programs and three chat programs (was also handling another issue that was time sensitive, whee!) , I eventually  made a modified plan, and found  the park.

In the park, which is lovely by  the way, (I had never been before, because Brooklyn and I do not get on.  Seriously, Brooklyn has been bad news for me!) I immediately got lost on the little jogging paths that wandered through the woods as I tried to reach  Central Ave to meet up with my  sister.

Isn’t Prospect park lovely?  These are the photos I took on the way to finding my sister.  Those  stairs were a definite mistake! Ended  up on  top of a hill looking down at the avenue I needed!

Google Maps once again saved the day. (At this point, Google Maps probably needs a superhero cloak!) I  found my way down and as I was walking towards my sister, I enacted the park of the plan entitled “find the bird!”

I. Find a birder. This individual will be obvious by their equipment. They will most likely have a long lens, and possibly a pair of binoculars tucked away  upon their body as well. (Now remember, this is New York. This means that everyone wears black and thus binoculars are harder to spot than birds!)

2. Get directions and hints.

3. Find a brood of  birders. (Unlike their normal state, they will not be brooding, but likely elated.).

4. See bird.

It all went relatively according to plan. And so we found the  bird. The end.

Okay. Fine. But I do need to head to work  incredibly soon.

We walked through the park, past some lovely water with  American Coots, Mallards, Canada Geese and an  inquisitive Mute Swan.  My sister’s response watching the coot’s  bobbing swim was, “it’s coot! (cute).”

Shortly after a detour  around the ice rink, we located a group of people clumped around clumps of dying plants. We crept up and discreetly joined their ranks. Or we were trying to until sis announced, “We found the bird paparazzi!”

The important take away from this moment is that no one likes being called paparazzi.  So we got some dirty looks.

Indifferent, she continued on, to begin  to narrate the poor bunting’s plight. Something like  “All these people taking photos of me. Can’t you guys just give me directions?! I didn’t mean  to come here. Hey, stop, with the camera now.”

The difference between my sister and all the other non-birders who were present, is that she understood this is very well a death sentence for the bird. Being my sister she hears the science side of things. And also being my sister, she’s not phased by much and says what she thinks.

While she wasn’t loud enough  to disturb the bird, she was certainly disturbing these very broody birders with  “I’m learning so much about your people!” probably didn’t go over well either.

So why do I bring her? I can usually get her to do something bird-related once a year or thereabouts. Well, to the birders reading  this I’m sure that doesn’t explain the why so:

1. She’s my sister.
2. She’s rather funny.
3. She enjoys watching birders more than she enjoys watching birds.
4. Shes awesome at spotting  birds. We make a good team. She spots them, I identify them.

So, people, well birders, were less than  impressed by her.  Fortunately, the bird spooked soon after this (How often is a spooking bird fortuitous?)  And the group reshuffled and we found ourselves in a flight of friendlier folks with better senses of fun.

Her parting shot before The Reshuffling was “You people might have a better reputation  if  you developed some levity.”  Point (even if I almost got blacklisted from birding in New York!).

We watched the bird for about an hour. It mostly hid behind asters and clumps of dried grasses. Mostly out of sight save for the swaying grass.

We pointed the bird out to a number of people who wandered by as well. Then the light faded and it got really cold and we had other commitments to commit to.

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Sis on photo duty with her iphone.  Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York. Photo taken December 6, 2015 with an iphone, by my sister.

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Can you see the Painted Bunting? It’s that blurry bit nearly dead center, all green, blue and red. Oddly enough  it’s  the green that’s most easily spotted. Painted Bunting. Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York. Photo taken December 6, 2015 with  an iphone by my sister.

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Sunset at Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York. Photo taken December 6, 2015.

Also, check out:@ProspectBunting. It may not be a GSP savvy bird, but apparently it is social media aware!

There’s also the very necessary #PaintedBunting.

And the totally worth reading coverage of what the Painted Bunting means to Brooklyn, birding and life by David J. Ringer. Since you made it all the way down here, you should go there!

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Wonders of Wakodahatchee

One of the greatest wonders of Wakodahatchee may be finding it.  Tara and I heard of Wakodahatchee from out-of-town birders at Loxahatchee.  (I think they were even from New Jersey!) They promised us it would be better than Green Cay.  Not having been to Green Cay (yet) we took their word for it.

But words are funny things.  We didn’t write it down; we had only heard the word.  So figuring out where wado-wado-what? was located was quite a challenge.  Not too mention all the hatchees everywhere!  The birders had described it to us as “almost across the street”.  And that’s how we found it.  A place beginning with “W” in the vicinity of Green Cay.  Thanks, Google Maps!

Anhinga preening. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Anhinga preening. Their green eye skin looks surreal. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Wakodahatchee is a boardwalk loop that crosses several small shallow waterways.  The design of the walkway brings you very close to the wildlife.   It’s a single loop that allows birders, walkers, and families a chance to get outside and experience nature to whatever degree you desire.

This photo shows better than any other how Wakodahatchee is chock full of wildlife. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

This photo shows better than any other how Wakodahatchee is chock full of wildlife. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

I won’t continue the narrative between each photo, but just present the rest of the photos as their own narrative.  I took 799 photos here as I continued to explore the new camera equipment.  The birds were that close and plentiful!

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks look unreal. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks look unreal. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Great Egret stalks the waterways. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Great Egret stalks the waterways. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

White Ibis stalks up a stick. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

White Ibis stalks up a stick. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Vibrantly colored Tricolored Heron. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Vibrantly colored Tricolored Heron. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Pied-billed Grebe preening. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Pied-billed Grebe preening. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Anhinga preening. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Anhinga preening.  Note their striking wing plumage. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Drawing a blank... really should do a better job processing photos immediately after taking them!  Thoughts? Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Drawing a blank… really should do a better job processing photos immediately after taking them! Thoughts? Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

RBA Yellow-headed Blackbird in Florida.  Makes up for missing it in the Meadowlands. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

RBA Yellow-headed Blackbird in Florida. Makes up for missing it in the Meadowlands. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Glossy Ibis balances  between preening sessions. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Glossy Ibis blends into the Florida marsh. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

[Can you tell the semester started?  I just realized I haven’t blogged in over a month. That’s embarrassing.  I think I need someone to peck at me when I slack off…]

Florida Total: 53
Wakodahatchee Wetlands: 28
New for Florida: 8
Lifers: 1

If at first you don’t succeed…

A. Quit.
B. Get reinforcements
C. Blame external conditions
D. Blame the gods
E. All of the above

These are the choices of a birder having a bad day.  How many times have you just decided to call it a day, asked another birder if they’ve had better luck finding the target, or blamed conditions?

Afterwards, you…. (select all that apply.)
A. Check ebird for more specifics on location
B. Verify field markings in a field guide/allaboutbirds
C. Call reinforcements
D. Go back again

The number of answer choices selected in question 2 indicates your level Birder Style.  (By the way, if you selected all of the above, you are an Obsessed Birder).

All of this leads me to my pursuit of George this past September.  (Can you tell what type of birder I am yet?)

So George is not a person, not even a birder.  The truth is George was a RBA celebrity.  George appeared in late July at the Meadowlands.  He was an overnight wonder.  The glossiest white feathers, a much bulkier frame; he put the egrets to shame.   And to every birder’s delight he stayed. and stayed. and stayed.

He wasn’t seen every day, but it was it was close.  Birders grew to know him on a very personal level.  They knew his favorite dinning locations at low tide; where he’d go when he needed a change of pace.  He was the celebrity that lived in your neighborhood, much like Mr. Rogers.

He was there throughout the summer, but I couldn’t get away to see him for myself.  15 minutes from my own apartment and I was house-sitting in another state!

Finally September rolled around and I was free to pursue George.  First we forgot to do our research before going.  That was that was Thursday.  So I returned at the next possible opportunity: Saturday.  Here’s what I saw:

Yellowlegs huddled on a distant shore. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 6, 2014.

Yellowlegs huddled on a distant shore. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 6, 2014.

Nope, no George slumbering here.

Snowy Egret and Yellowlegs size comparison. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 6, 2014.

Snowy Egret and Solitary Sandpipers size comparison. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 6, 2014.

No George here either.

Black and white. Cormorants and a white bird at a great distance. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 6, 2014.

Black and white. Double-crested Cormorants and a white bird at a great distance. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 6, 2014.

So a white bird at a far distance. Had its back toward me the entire time.  Visible from the New Jersey Turnpike, I’m sure, but not from my spot.

Conditions were not favorable. So home again I went. The new week began and reports of George’s habits continued. So the next Thursday rolled around. By this time, I was pretty sure I had the precise location of George’s favorite fishing hole.  Now for confirmation.

Solitary sandpipers aren't so solitary.  These solitary sandpipers look like they're skating on ice. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 11, 2014.

Solitary sandpipers aren’t so solitary. These solitary sandpipers look like they’re skating on ice. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 11, 2014.

Negative on George.

The Solitary Sandpipers now look like speed skaters in the mud. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 11, 2014.

The Solitary Sandpipers now look like speed skaters in the mud. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 11, 2014.

Still nothing.

Red-tailed Hawk. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 11, 2014.

Red-tailed Hawk. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 11, 2014.

Not George.

Hidden in the yellowlegs: Greater Yellowlegs and Lesser as well as Short-billed Dowitchers. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 11, 2014.

Hidden in the yellowlegs: Greater Yellowlegs and Lesser as well as Short-billed Dowitchers. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 11, 2014.

Finding George is like finding Waldo, or not.

A migrating Yellow Warbler passes through. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 11, 2014.

A migrating Yellow Warbler passes through. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 11, 2014.

Wrong color for George.

Conclusive proof as we're going to get: George the American White Pelican at the Meadowlands.  NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 11, 2014.

Conclusive proof as we’re going to get: George the American White Pelican at the Meadowlands. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 11, 2014.

George!

America’s Comeback Story

America’s comeback story: the New Jersey Meadowlands.  Rumor says that the Meadowlands of the 1970s was the dumping ground of the Mafia.  Regardless, these wetlands were treated as a dumping ground for garbage and probably chemicals. Today more people think of the football stadium when they hear Meadowlands than of the water and wildlife.

So, on Saturday I killed a few hours there.   It was a pleasant morning.  I found a female Ruddy Duck.  I hadn’t seen any Ruddy Ducks all month, so that was a nice surprise.

Female Ruddy Duck takes off in flight. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on May 25, 2014.

Female Ruddy Duck takes off in flight. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on May 25, 2014.

Many people were there, in search of the Cinnamon Teal which had reappeared after a five day absence. I was just happy to be out and about so I did a pass along the pools, then went in search of warblers.  It was remarkably quiet on the ridge, so I returned to the pools.

Dunlin dozes along the Saw Mill Pathway. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on May 25, 2014.

Dunlin dozes along the Saw Mill Pathway. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on May 25, 2014.

Along the paths, I found a Dunlin sleeping.  It was there the first time I walked by, and when I returned it was still dozing. It’s a long flight to the Arctic Circle.

NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on May 25, 2014.

Size comparison between Canada Goose gosling and Lesser Yellowlegs. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on May 25, 2014.

As I was working my way back to my car and I finally found the goslings.  As much as people disdain the Canada Goose, they have cute goslings.  Near the feeding goslings were Lesser Yellowlegs.

The Meadowlands is a vital stopover ground and breeding place for scores of birds.   Whether the birds have used this region all along, and we’re just paying more attention or they’re returning as we clean up, either way it’s good news.

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.

Stalking Birds at the Celery Farm

On Saturday due to a last minute location change, I met up with my birding partner-in-crime at the Celery Farm, first visited a few weeks ago (written up here.).

What ebird has shown to be a promising hotspot didn’t hold for the day.  It was remarkably quiet.  Granted, the morning was cool.  We did a quick loop around.  We hoped for Common Nighthawks and American Bitterns, but came up with Vultures and Vireos instead.

However it was a good morning for improving our birding by ear.  Although after a stretch of several days hard birding (or at least early birding), we were both feeling it.  She and  I both had new calls to listen for and exchanged many a bleary and befuddled look of “I-knew-that-call-yesterday,-but-can’t-recall-it-today….”

Early into the loop, we heard the exciting dee-dee-dee-dee song of the blackpoll.  Upon “developing” the photo in lightroom, it appears our warbler did a switcheroo with a chickadee.

Black-capped Chickadee switches with a Blackpoll moments before the shutter click. The Celery Farm, Allendale NJ. Photo taken on May 17, 2014.

Black-capped Chickadee switches places with a Blackpoll Warbler moments before the shutter click. The Celery Farm, Allendale NJ. Photo taken on May 17, 2014.

At the far side of the loop, I stopped abruptly when I heard “fitz-phew”.  I climbed on something that made me taller (it was metal and held my weight, so it didn’t garner any additional attention).  I scanned into the sun-drenched branches until I found my prey:

Willow Flycatcher not distinguishable in appearance from Alder Flycatchers or from any other flycatcher by this photo. The Celery Farm, Allendale NJ. Photo taken on May 17, 2014.

Willow Flycatcher, not distinguishable in appearance from Alder Flycatchers, or from any other flycatcher by this photo. The Celery Farm, Allendale NJ. Photo taken on May 17, 2014.

A Willow Flycatcher, hanging out, at the water’s edge where a willow could grow. A moment later, a Red-winged Blackbird took it’s place and we couldn’t relocate it although it continued to call.

With the farm being a bust, we headed over to a pond called Zabreski which had  a generated a RBA featuring a Barrow’s Goldeneye, but that bird was long gone.  So, disappointed, we called it a day and parted ways with fevered promise to try our luck on the morrow.

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.

Collect Them All!

With the nicer weather, I am finally out birding more.  I managed to bird on Saturday and Sunday.  On Saturday, I picked up Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Red-bellied Woodpecker. Downy Woodpecker, and Northern Flicker.

Northern Flicker adds the finishing touches to this year's nest. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on April 12, 2014.

Northern Flicker adds the finishing touches to this year’s nest. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on April 12, 2014.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker breaks its fast. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on April 12, 2014.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker breaks its fast. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on April 12, 2014.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers abound at Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on April 12, 2014.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers abound at Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on April 12, 2014.

On Sunday, while listening to very active woodpeckers chase each other about the center and a couple calling Pileated Woodpeckers, I was quite content with my hall.

Then I received a text at work from an unknown number informing me of a bird I had been longing to add to my life list.  How awesome is that?!  I soon received a follow up email clarifying the identify of the sender.  A volunteer at the nature center was leading a bird walk locally  and had sighted a Red-headed Woodpecker.

Work ended. Did a bit of birding on site and then headed over in the fading light to Demarest. As I pulled up, I heard a funny chortle, looked up and then low and behold, this is pretty much the sight I saw:

Red-headed Woodpecker at the playground at Demarest Nature Center.  Photo taken on April 13, 2014.

Red-headed Woodpecker at the playground at Demarest Nature Center, NJ. Photo taken on April 13, 2014.

Never got a truly amazing look, just a reason to go back.

Wings After Work

At work on Monday, our social media guru called the staff’s attention to a local RBA – a Yellow-Head Blackbird visiting the Meadowlands.  (The Meadowlands being my new local birding hole.) This particular Yellow-headed Blackbird was first spotted on the 27th.  (If you recall, I had birded the Meadowlands at Dekorte on the 29th.)  All the other RBA announcements pertaining to Yellow-headed Blackbirds were in south Jersey, thus a good drive away. However, an RBA within your stomping grounds deserts an effort at locating it.

So that being decided, I threw my boots and binoculars in my car for after class on Tuesday.  Now the days are longer and warmer, I have time to bird after class.

The scenic Meadowlands. Taken on April 1, 2014.

The scenic Meadowlands. Taken on April 1, 2014.

I got there around 4 in the afternoon.  I wandered through the Kingsland Overlook trail which is where the bird was frequently spotted according to ebird.  Without success, I decided to go do the embankment loops.  The day was pleasant – a hint of cool, but a vastly superior day compared to the last 80!  There were fewer birds today than on Saturday.  Mute Swans were most prominent in the pool, a Great Egret hunted along one bank.  In the back, along the New Jersey Turnpike, Redwing Blackbirds were staking out territories as American Robins, Song Sparrows, and American Tree Sparrows grazed along the path.  Rabbits scampered further out of sight as I approached, the only indication of their presence being the sounds of rabbit pitter-patter crashing through the reeds. At the end, I found a scattering of Buffleheads who appear to appreciate the seclusion of the reeds. Turning back, I saw a male and female Common Merganser coasting along in tranquility.

Common Mergansers at the Meadowlands. Taken on April 1, 2014.

Common Mergansers at the Meadowlands. Taken on April 1, 2014.

I walked the second embankment, studying the pools. A number of birds were at the far distance, black specs against a descending sun.  On the far shore, a solitary deer made its way through the mud.  In the interior waters however I found a slew of ducks: Northern Pintails, Mallards, American Black Ducks, Nothern Shovelers, more Buffleheads, Green-winged Teal, a Gadwall.

Great Black-backed Gull and a Mallard take advantage of the low tide. Meadowlands. Taken on April 1, 2014.

Great Black-backed Gull and a Mallard take advantage of the low tide. Meadowlands. Taken on April 1, 2014.

As I walked closer, I heard a curious call – like a garbled Killdeer.  Knowing Killdeer to be in the area, I listed again, but the caller did not repeat itself.

Attempting to watch a gull manage landing on the surface, my camera caught sight of three Greater Yellow-legs scurrying past.  I followed them with my eyes as they moved with purpose.  Then they called confirming the odd call heard earlier as the Greater Yellow-legs.  As a dog and its owner moved closer, the birds, five in total flew up and over the path into the duck pond.  Two more Greater Yellow-legs called from the far shore where the deer had been.

I finished walking the embankments and returned to the inhabited region of DeKorte where birders were beginning to arrive.   As I suspected, they were all there in hopes of seeing the Yellow-headed Blackbird.  In speaking with them, I learned that the bird would come in around the day’s end with a flock of Cowbirds.

In mingling with the birders, I ran into a familiar face – a birder who I had first met nearly a year ago when working a gig at the locally owned bird store – Wild Birds Unlimited, one of the top Bergen Birders.  I tagged along with him, learning a little more of the Blackbird’s recent movements, other choice birding areas within the county, and a who’s-who of the birders present.  For over three hours we scanned the skies and the trees from the parking lot, roads, and later the Kingsland Overlook.

This Yellow-headed Blackbird appeared by all accounts to be an obliging fellow – posing in trees and puddles easily accessible for birders.  Some birders had amazing views from their cars!

However, that was not to be our luck on this evening.  Despite the dozen or so sentinels keeping watch in the area, no evidence of the bird was seen.  Our best show of the evening  were the hundreds of Canada Geese streaming overhead and a hunting Osprey.  But here’s a consolation video I took of the Yellow-legs.

Final Snow

On Saturday, the Kestrel Trio (a friend, my adviser, and myself) agreed to meet up at the Richard DeKorte Environmental Center within the NJ Meadowlands for a bit of birding.  (Someday hopefully I will learn that a bit of birding is never just a bit!).

The Meadowlands at that particular site contains embankments cutting through the watery meadows allowing good views of ducks, regardless of the position of the sun.  It also is an excellent site for raptors.  So when one wearies of ducks, a glance upward might be rewarded with raptors.  If there’s little luck within the park, just outside the entrance is Disposal Rd. a favorite spot for avian photographers.  The lay of the land creates an uplift of air, rewarding patient photographers with great images soaring hawks and darting falcons.

American Kestrel pauses from its aerobatics to bob in a bare tree. NJ Meadowlands. March 15, 2014.

American Kestrel pauses from its aerobatics to bob in a bare tree. NJ Meadowlands. Taken on March 15, 2014.

While ducking (hey, you can owl, so why can’t you duck?) I didn’t take photos, but I switched from my binoculars to my camera at the end when we wandered along Disposal Rd.  We heard reports of Rough-leggeds, but didn’t see any.  There are also Short-eared Owls known to be in the area, but we weren’t there at the right time.  I hope to head out there some day after work, before the Short-ears depart…

Northern Harrier skims the hillside. NJ Meadowlands. March 15, 2014.

Northern Harrier skims the hillside. NJ Meadowlands. Taken on March 15, 2014.

We did see a lovely Long-tailed Duck, and a Horned Grebe hanging out on the water, but the surprise of the day was the Snowy Owl. The surprise was made sweeter simply by the fact I wasn’t out to see it: I had seen it at Sandy Hook, dipped on my return visit and had mostly accepted it was how things were meant to be. (Not that we didn’t debate whether the large white thing that flew across Valley Brook Rd on the drive into the meet up point was a Snowy Owl… my vote was plane.)

Snowy Owl hangs out in the phragmites along the watery meadows of the NJ Meadowlands.  March 15, 2014.

Snowy Owl hangs out in the phragmites along the watery meadows of the NJ Meadowlands. Taken on March 15, 2014.