Entering the Bird Void

On a recent Sunday, I participated in the Lower Hudson Christmas Bird Count surveying Liberty State Park for the third year running.

While we did not find a skeleton this year, it was still an atypical day. We did not stumble across any crows,  wrens, robins, or blackbirds. So, what did we see?

Well, we did see a dead mouse on a castle. And this…

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Not actually a Great Blue Heron. Wood Stork would be more appropriate for this bizarrely placed lawn ornament. Liberty State Park,  NJ. Photo taken  December 20, 2015.

We may have had to modify our tally after a closer view.  They say to expect the unexpected, but who expects to find fake herons on  their bird count?! Fake ducks I’m cluing into and fake owls are at least owls, but this is a whole new consideration when  playing bird/not bird.

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We did find Yellow-rumped Warblers basking in the rising sun: our only warbler. Liberty State Park, NJ. Photo taken on December 20, 2015.

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Herring Gull, silhouette, flying with food. Liberty State Park, NJ.Photo taken December 20, 2015.

Everything seemed bathed in golden  light for at least an hour following sunrise,  but we could have used more birds. Some Golden-crowned Kinglets or very Common Goldeneyes would have made our  eyes shine. Perhaps  a glowing Ruby-crowned Kinglet or want-to-be gleaming Orange-crowned Warbler? We would have even settled for a Rusty Blackbird, or any blackbird really. Or any bird.

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Hardy House Finch.  Liberty State Park, NJ. Photo taken December 20, 2015.

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Male and female Buffleheads recorded during Lower Hudson Christmas Bird Count. Liberty State Park, NJ. Photo taken December 20, 2015.

Baffled by Buffleheads without any Common or Hooded Mergansers we did one final pass for ducks around Liberte Point. We dipped on Wigeons over the course of the day, but were good with Gadwalls.

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We looked really hard for birds.  Here we were scouting for coots and mergansers, but how many birders can you see? Liberty State Park, NJ. Photo taken on December 20, 2015.

Having examined the shoreline and the open water. Failing on Great Cormorant, Long-tailed Ducks, and Loons, we headed inland  to The Interior.

Then I tweeted this because it was true:owlcountry

Every year I go into the interior and spend so much time gazing into every evergreen I find every poky stick, but never any owls. Clearly I need to spend more time looking.

The afternoon lighting was strong and it made for beautiful sightings of what little we did see. As we walked through, the silence seemed very apocalyptic. Other than the drumming from the downy and chittering of the chickadee…

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The bird team crossing The Interior after our numbers dropped by  three. Liberty State Park, NJ. Photo taken December 20, 2015.

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The afternoon  light provided bold colors on the woodland birds we could find, such as this Downy Woodpecker. Liberty State Park. Photo taken  December 20, 2015.

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And Black-capped Chickadees came so close, they were nearly too close for the lens I was using. Not a complaint! Liberty State Park, NJ. Photo taken December 20, 2015.

So, for a day  of birding with no crows,  wrens, robins, or blackbirds, we got a total of 44 species. Record low, replacing 46 after Sandy when apparently things were Just Bad.Total number of individuals across all species: 1226. Roughly 33% lower than the previous low record.

So why were there so few birds? Who knows. A quick guess may be that it was linked to weather patterns.  We had some cold weather earlier in the season, but the fifth  warmest November in the state this  year.  We  were in  short-sleeve weather the week  before.  Then  the temperature dropped, requiring winter gear for  this outing, so  perhaps the birds that might have lingered this far south had already headed out and birds that might have traveled down here, are hanging our further north? That’s my guess: it’s a bird void.

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See all the birds? Nope we didn’t either. Instead, Statue of Liberty and Ellis  Island from Liberty State Park, NJ. Photo taken December 20, 2015. 

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.