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.

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.