Birds Before Breakfast

Rolled out of bed this morning and decided to bird before the rains came.  Headed back to the Meadowlands to see what migrants were arriving.   With the approaching rains, clarity and visibility were poor, but the birds were in good attendance.

Widgeon hangs out at the NJ Meadowlands. Taken on March 29, 2014.

A fuzzy looking Gadwall keeping warm on the windy day.  NJ Meadowlands. Taken on March 29, 2014.

I decided to walk the embankments (which is like walking the plank except it’s much longer and there are more birds, so it’s far superior an experience).   I had last been there two weeks ago, so many of the same winter birds lingered. (Dipped on the snowy though!)

I ran into at least 3 of my adviser’s ecology students.  He gives an assignment each semester where they need to find and photograph at least 20 species within a type of organism (e.g. plants, birds, insects, mammals, fish, molluscs, etc.)  They were very eager – had nice cameras and were also walking the embankments in the looming weather.  They had set their hopes on the Snowy Owl as well.

With my youthful appearance, they inquired if I was also out looking for birds for class.  When they realized I had some experience and knowledge (I knew why they were there and who had sent them without being informed by them – isn’t that omnipotent?!), they asked asked for tips for finding the Snowy Owl.   I asked what they had seen and they informed me they had found several Mallards.   I gestured to my left and informed them there were at least four species of ducks there, and another two species of ducks to my right.  I suggested they photograph every different looking bird they saw and then use their books later to ID them ( I didn’t see any guides on them).  I’m not sure they took my advice, except on the matter of the snowy owl, but we then separated ways.

Convenient side by side review of Snowy and Great Egrets.  NJ Meadlowlands. Taken on March 29, 2014.

Convenient side by side review of Snowy and Great Egrets. NJ Meadlowlands. Taken on March 29, 2014.

I continued on, picking up both Great and Snowy Egrets and Tree Swallows in that area before turning back as the rains began.  I debated calling it a day or being hardcore and birding in the rain. (My aversion to birding in the cold was making me feel I had gone soft!).

Returning to the intersection of all embankment trails, I decided to brave the rain and do the second loop along the Saw Mill trail.  After 100 feet or so in, the rains fell harder and I reconsidered, turning around and returning towards my car.  Then, they let up, and I turned yet again and headed back out over the waters.

An early arriving Tree Sparrow defends a  nest box.  NJ Meadlowlands. Taken on March 29, 2014.

An early arriving Tree Sparrow defends a nest box. NJ Meadlowlands. Taken on March 29, 2014.

I didn’t pick up much along that loop other than a Downy, bringing the total species for the day to 31 but I did a little wetter and a bit more exercise.  I decided not to do the Kingsland Overlook Trail much to my loss as I later learned.  Hopefully I’ll be able to write the follow up post of what I missed in less faster than the 3 days it took me to finish this post.


Getting to Know You

There’s seeing a bird and then there’s seeing a bird.  Every so often you come across a bird that will throw you through a loop… like momentarily looking at a loved one with the perspective of a stranger.

I had two such encounters when I birded on Saturday.    While I was at Cushetunk Lake, I followed the stream path, came across a patch of activity so I plopped myself down on the sun-warmed bank and watched the activity.  Across the creek there was  a plump, rose colored gray bird that gave me good pause.  I didn’t have either my camera or my phone with me, so I had to note all details by memory.    When I returned to the car, I perused my Audubon guide and then at home I looked online for confirmation.  It took awhile and I was never fully satisfied with any individual photo, but a composite gets me there.

purple finch mystery

Photo credits: left birdzilla and right amcclab @ Points modified by moi. Accessed: 2/4/2013

  • Point A: The breast of the individual I observed had no streaking.  In fact the bird looked as though an artist had come by and smoothed away all streaking.
  • Point B: The beak was definitely yellow.  Inside too, I believe.  I was watching this bird eat the remains of berries on the bushes.
  • Point C:  This was the most puzzling part.  The head was predominantly brown with a rose patch… imagine a reverse of the right bird’s face.
  • Also, the wings appear to have some black and white more than the brown in either image.

For these points, I conclude I observed a Purple Finch.  I’ve not had

Gadwall swimming at Round Valley Reservoir, Hunterdon, NJ. 2/2/2013

Gadwall swimming at Round Valley Reservoir, Hunterdon, NJ. 2/2/2013

many encounters with them, but hopefully the next Purple Finch I spot will be an easier identification.

The second bird was a bit easier to figure out.  As I was finishing my time at Round Valley, I came across four ducks swimming in the one portion that wasn’t frozen.  They all bore striking resemblance to female Mallards, but they weren’t.  My phone wasn’t sufficient for a photo, so I ran back to the car and grabbed my dying camera.  I got a few shots – enough for me later on to identify it as a Gadwall.  Woo!

No new life birds, but two new birds for 2013: Purple Finch and Golden-Crowned Kinglet.  Currently at 71 species for 2013, and 31 for February.