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.

Snow Break for the Birder

On Saturday I met up with my adviser, his wife and a friend from grad school and we headed back to Sandy Hook, home of the Snowy Owl spotted during our Big Day. I was excited to do my first real birding since my return from the Galapagos, but as departure time approached and I thought of all the snow out there, the thought of trudging through snow and cold caused me to drag my feet.  Granted I should have been thrilled that we caught a break between the storms and we were all free, but it wasn’t registering.

But it wasn’t so bad. There was no wind and the snow was manageable. You might notice there’s something off about the photo….

Trekking over the white sand beach. Sandy Hook, NJ. Taken on February 8, 2014.

Trekking over the white sand beach. Sandy Hook, NJ. Taken on February 8, 2014.

No footprints!  For the most part we were able to walk entirely on top of the snow without leaving footprints.  It felt very magical and many a remark was made about elves.   But also no owl.  I didn’t do any of the planning or scouting for this trip, so it went overlooked that the last time a snowy owl had been spotted was on January 20th.

Surprising flock of Field Sparrows.  Sandy Hook, NJ. Taken on February 8, 2014.

Surprising flock of Field Sparrows. Sandy Hook, NJ. Taken on February 8, 2014.

Like last time we also had nice views Long-tailed Ducks and Red-breasted Mergansers. New were Bald Eagle, Snow Buntings, Horned Larks, American Robin, Common Goldeneye, Black Scoters and Field Sparrows. I got a glimpse of a Merlin while everyone else was mesmerized by a flashy immature Bald Eagle. So slow start to NJ birds, but getting good birds.

Horned Grebe finds a calm patch of water.   Sandy Hook, NJ. Taken on February 8, 2014.

Horned Grebe finds a calm patch of water. Sandy Hook, NJ. Taken on February 8, 2014.

Working Sandy Hook is slowly improving my identification skills of a few birds I only see about once per year. so yay! Just need to actually order my scope, so I can be a real birder.

Hermit Thrush. Sandy Hook, NJ. Taken on February 8, 2014.

Hermit Thrush. False harbinger of spring. Sandy Hook, NJ. Taken on February 8, 2014.

Call me crazy, but winter is rapidly winding up. While it cannot end too soon for many people (another several inches of snow predicted for this week?! whee!), to me I see the closing window of opportunity for Snowy Owls and Long-eared Owls.

Three’s Company, Four’s a Picnic

Whee! It’s been ages!  I’ve not had a chance to do much birding this summer!  I’ve been working full time, running the summer camp, researching and contacting ph.d. programs, and getting a second job.  I’ll be adjuncting at Essex County College this fall.  So all of that leaves me little time for birding, and less time for blogging about birding.  As a co-worker pointed out, “It’s funny: the more work at a nature center I do, the less birding I’m able to do.”

So this morning we decided to remedy this.  Three of us from work met up at the Tenafly Nature Center at 7am to do some pre-work birding.  (Because trying to bird with a trail of children behind you just doesn’t work.)  Two of us are experienced birders and the woman who joined us is growing an appreciation for it.

She was running late and I had to split out earlier, so it worked out well.  It’s hard to be the beginning birder with two more experienced birders as you are forever missing sights.  So when I ducked out the balance became better and she could pepper him with questions about the sightings.  Three is an awkward number, even if it is company.

We had mostly common sightings.  We found a roost of Mourning Doves: 30 in a dead tree hanging out with one fledgling American Robin.  We had a good viewing of a red-eyed vireo.  More than a silhouette through trees.  How awesome is that?

Heard the electronic melody of the Wood Thrush to the drumming of the Pileated.  That was pretty neat. In fact, we did well on woodpeckers: Pileated, Downy, and Northern Flickers.  I had two on my way back to the center that I believe were juveniles.

But best of all was presumably the six Green Herons hanging out at the pond.  Clearly the young have fledged and they all hang out in the spadderdock now.

Children in the forest aren’t all bad.  It’s how they develop an appreciate for nature, and activities like hiking and birding which hopefully will remain with them for their whole lives.  On this particular afternoon, we had the kids bring their lunches into the forest to eat in the shelter’s they’ve spent the week building and the four of us running the camp had a lovely picnic on a real blanket while the children played like children should.


If a tree falls,

…in the woods and you’re there to witness the momentous occasion, how cool is that?   I didn’t actually see the tree, but I heard it fall while I was out birding on Thursday after the rains let up.  Two days of rain – what a relief!   I think it’s the first rain we’ve had since Easter and it was much needed!   There have been at least two brush fires in the area (and we’re not talking about Colorado or California here, it’s New York and New Jersey!)

As soon as the rain let up Thursday, I headed out to see what birds were active.  It was about 5pm so it would coincide with the natural uptick in activity.   I decided to go on foot because there’s really no good parking near where I wanted to go.  (The nearest lot is about as far as the house, so walking made more sense.)

There was some activity on the way, but nothing I didn’t see in the park, so I didn’t log it.

Getting to the entrance though was a different story!  On park lands, I could look under the bridge leading past the park to watch Northern Rough-winged Swallow and Barn Swallows swoop in and out.  I was mostly hidden by the trees along the bank so I wouldn’t disturb them.  Nearly all my photos are blurry because they’re swift swallows (not swalling swifts), but I do really like this one:

Barn Swallow reflection.

Barn Swallow reflection.

You see the lower image and think it’s the bird, but no it’s only the reflection. The actual bird is the blob on top.  Love it.  I also love how murky and plain the backdrop is; the clouds were actually working with me for once!

I headed into the park where it was hard to pick up anything due to the roar of Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds, but peering into the marsh I did pick up a Canada Geese family and a Great Egret.

I didn’t have much luck until I reached the pool area.  At the pool, I climbed the slope so I could be at eye level with the trees, and plunked myself down for a bit to watch the wildlife. I know there’s more there than what I saw, but I am very excited by what I did see!  I got my first really good looks of a yellow warbler!

Yellow Warbler laments a lack of leaves.

Yellow Warbler laments a lack of leaves.

Isn’t he beautiful? Praising the sun gods for their return no doubt.  There were other birds flitting in and out of the woods, but my next exciting visitor was the Eastern Phoebe.  It was my second chance to get a good glimpse, and my first with my camera handy!

Proud Phoebe of the eastern variety.

Proud Phoebe of the eastern variety.

So distinguished!   I had some good views of him on the ground, and on a roof, so I’m excited that the one with the green in the background captured him the best!

Common Yellowthroat whose name I will likely never remember.

Common Yellowthroat whose name I will likely never remember.

Then my last exciting little fellow came about from some movement in the rushes below.  It took a white to spot him and longer to get his appearance on camera, but voila, a Common Yellowthroat!  And a lifer, too!   I spotted two males and one female.  It took me awhile to figure out the second was a female, but nothing else felt quite right.

After that I decided to wander away from the water in the hopes that I’d hear better, so I began moving up the mountain slope.   In the woods I didn’t have much beyond Blue Jays, and American Robins, although I did hear one American Crow fly over and come across a flock of White-throated Sparrows.

As night fell, it became more of a hike and less of a birding excursion, which is fine.  It was about two years since I had last traveled those trails so it was nice to see them again.  I wanted the one that looked over the Hudson, so it took some doing, but I did find it and was reward with my first Bald Eagle viewing of the month.  With the bluffs above the Hudson, I knew it was pretty good for Bald Eagles!   Soon the calls of the frogs, lured me onward.

At the western portion of the park, there are a number of “ponds” or artifical constructs that have since become ponds.  They’re quite lovely to hike along.  So I headed over to investigate the frog calls and picked up a Wood Duck and a Hermit Thrush.

From there I continued to the southern most portion of the park, and then after the sunset and a gentle rain began to fall, I made my way along the main trail about 1.9 miles to home.

Finishing Up February

As I walked back to my car on Tuesday night following class I was very excited to hear vocalizations coming from the construction area/playing fields.  Considering the time and the season, I was hopeful it was the American Woodcock.  When I had a chance, I verified on ebird that the American Woodcock had returned to the area. I haven’t heard woodcocks since I was an undergraduate crossing Skelley Field.   And that’s been years!   I listened to the vocalizations on Cornell’s All About Birds site.  Vocalizations aren’t my thing – I have permanent audio amnesia, so songs and calls are challenging.  Cornell’s vocalization file seemed promising and so I was filled with hope.

Alas, it was not to be.  Arriving on campus Wednesday morning, I learned the true identity of the noisy, new arrival.  Approaching the soccer fields I found a standoff between the disinterested soccer team beginning practice and the indignant Killdeer protecting the goal.

So February wrapped up with a last minute addition to the month list of Killdeer for a total of 5o species, and 34 checklists and a new lifebird, the Monk Parakeet.  Bird sighting I was most excited about:  American Robin.  Seems silly, but they portend spring for me, so it was super exciting to see.  Most vindicated sighting of the month: Brown Creeper.  I knew they had to be around the house, it was only a matter of finding it and I did.

Now, back to studying for Tuesday’s exam!

Spring break is approaching!  So hopefully I will get a chance to get out and bird more as the migrants begin arriving.