Truth Be Told

There are people who would scarcely believe it, but there are times it takes a bit of effort to get me in the field birding. May 1st was one of those days.  I might have gotten up that morning to bird except the forecast said rain until mid-afternoon.  Forecast was wrong: rain had passed, skies were clearing in the morning, but it wasn’t until late afternoon I got around to birding.  I was hoping with the rains of the last several days that there would be fallout (not nuclear).

Ultimately, it was the memory of the stellar birding from May 1st, that got me out the door and headed down the road to the NJ Meadowlands.   I arrived late afternoon and headed along the small ridge to see who had recently arrived.

Spring has finally arrived! Meadowlands, NJ. Photo taken on May 1, 2014.

Spring has finally arrived! Meadowlands, NJ. Photo taken on May 1, 2014.

There were Yellow-rumped Warblers in the trees; slightly difficult to locate due to the angle of the setting sun. Walking the trail in reverse might have helped. Had there been more birds in evidence would also have helped.

Yellow-rumped Warblers are taking over the planet; or at least they're leading the spring migration. Meadowlands, NJ. Photo taken on May 1, 2014.

Yellow-rumped Warblers are taking over the planet; or at least they’re leading the spring migration. Meadowlands, NJ. Photo taken on May 1, 2014.

Not that there’s clear evidence it’s a Yellow-rumped Warbler from the photo, but it was. Not much on the hillside, so I decided to walk the loops around the ponds.

The ponds seemed really empty until I got halfway out. On a mudflat I located a few shorebirds picking morosely at the offerings.  Or delightedly, it’s hard to read the expression on the face of a Charadriiformes.

Shorebirds take advantage of the low tide. Greater Yellowlegs mingles with Least Sandpipers. Meadowlands, NJ. Photo taken on May 1, 2014.

Shorebirds take advantage of the low tide. Greater Yellowlegs mingles with Least Sandpipers. Meadowlands, NJ. Photo taken on May 1, 2014.

Tree Swallows and Barn Swallows buzzed by, two Forester Terns coasted the gusty breeze. That breeze was the only thing saving all of us from death by insect consumption. Insects were a menace! I couldn’t help but kill them as I readjusted equipment they were so plentiful!

Forester's Tern returns to NJ.  Meadowlands, NJ. Photo taken May on 1, 2014.

Forester’s Tern returns to NJ. Meadowlands, NJ. Photo taken May on 1, 2014.

I walked all the way to the highway. And by highway, I mean the New Jersey Turnpike. Whenever I bird here, I feel obligated to walk all the way out and walk the stretch along the turnpike. I feel as though if there’s going to be a hidden gem, chances are it’ll be here.

And I was in luck.  As I made my way to the trail end, I spooked a Black-crowned Night-Heron.

While the sighting lifted my spirits a bit, I was feeling lethargic, and was considering calling it a day.  I decided to take a quick peak along the other pathway, just to verify I wasn’t missing out on much.  I picked up Killdeer and American Goldfinch.

But then I saw this fellow:

A surprising Savannah Sparrow. Meadowlands, NJ. Photo taken on May 1, 2014.

A surprising Savannah Sparrow. Meadowlands, NJ. Photo taken on May 1, 2014.

While, not a lifer, definitely my best looks yet!  I caught sight of the yellow and initially second guessed myself from “something really cool” to “yet another White-throated Sparrow who just won’t leave”.  But the way it moved was wrong.  This bird had graceful darts from cover to cover, not the hop up and down to flip leaves.  Fortunately, I stayed on it and got a photo before a runner ran past spooking the bird into the ether.

Recharged, I decided to do the longer path to discover whatever else there might be, but in the last light, my luck failed me.  It was bird empty.  Hurrying back before losing the light entirely, I checked the last loop and found all the birds.  There many more Greater Yellowlegs and Least Sandpipers, Egrets Great and Snowy, but in the fading light, all the photos were grainy, so we’ll close with a landscape.

Sunset at the Meadowlands. Meadowlands, NJ. Photo taken on May 1, 2014.

Sunset at the Meadowlands. Meadowlands, NJ. Photo taken on May 1, 2014.

Not such a bad start to May!

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.