Best Birds 2015 Edition

Truth be told, I am actually surprised I birded and generated a list at least once every month! I did cut it rather close with February and November. Perhaps  I should change my  handle to badbirder….  Anyway 27 minutes until the clock strikes 12….

So how many lists did I submit? It was an  up and down year, but over all lower than  in years past.  This was also the first year that I was in grad school for the entirety of the year. Grad school and birding do not go as well together as one would think!

Lists Submitted to Ebird by Month

month 2013 2014 2015
January  50 2 26
February  34 4 1
March  25 4 4
April  22 26 12
May  24 36 13
June  16 10 15
July  5 3 19
August  22 6 6
September  4 9 2
October  8 17 4
November  5 5 1
December  8 9 5
Year 223 131 109

So still respectable?  In regards to species, it became even more extreme with ups and downs.  I had a drop of 98 species between September 2014 and September 2015, but an increase of 101 from January 2014 to January  2015.  Travel makes a difference!

Species By Month

month 2013 2014 2015
January 70 30 131  (65) *
February 52 39 17 (0)
March 60 46 40
April 48 87 52
May 114 162 101
June 64 85 54 (0) **
July 37 32 48 (0) **
August  65 40 45 (13) **
September  72 102 10
October  57 114 34
November  63 86 6
December  79 90 65
Year 200 222 287 (169)***

* Includes Florida birding efforts.NY/NJ totals in ()
** Includes Honduran birding efforts. NY/NJ totals in ().
*** Global total. NY/NJ totals in ().

In Florida, Tara and I picked up 100 species, and while I don’t have all the records updated yet, I believe I also observed 100 birds in Honduras (ebird currently has 81 listed).

As I compile this review, what surprises me the most is now many life birds I picked up.  Traveling for nearly  3 months really helps!   So  91 new lifers added to the list.  I won’t bore you by listing them all.

However, I will close with some of my favorite photos already  shared this year:

And my  clock  warns me that I have less than  5 minutes remaining…

Wonders of Wakodahatchee

One of the greatest wonders of Wakodahatchee may be finding it.  Tara and I heard of Wakodahatchee from out-of-town birders at Loxahatchee.  (I think they were even from New Jersey!) They promised us it would be better than Green Cay.  Not having been to Green Cay (yet) we took their word for it.

But words are funny things.  We didn’t write it down; we had only heard the word.  So figuring out where wado-wado-what? was located was quite a challenge.  Not too mention all the hatchees everywhere!  The birders had described it to us as “almost across the street”.  And that’s how we found it.  A place beginning with “W” in the vicinity of Green Cay.  Thanks, Google Maps!

Anhinga preening. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Anhinga preening. Their green eye skin looks surreal. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Wakodahatchee is a boardwalk loop that crosses several small shallow waterways.  The design of the walkway brings you very close to the wildlife.   It’s a single loop that allows birders, walkers, and families a chance to get outside and experience nature to whatever degree you desire.

This photo shows better than any other how Wakodahatchee is chock full of wildlife. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

This photo shows better than any other how Wakodahatchee is chock full of wildlife. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

I won’t continue the narrative between each photo, but just present the rest of the photos as their own narrative.  I took 799 photos here as I continued to explore the new camera equipment.  The birds were that close and plentiful!

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks look unreal. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks look unreal. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Great Egret stalks the waterways. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Great Egret stalks the waterways. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

White Ibis stalks up a stick. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

White Ibis stalks up a stick. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Vibrantly colored Tricolored Heron. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Vibrantly colored Tricolored Heron. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Pied-billed Grebe preening. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Pied-billed Grebe preening. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Anhinga preening. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Anhinga preening.  Note their striking wing plumage. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Drawing a blank... really should do a better job processing photos immediately after taking them!  Thoughts? Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Drawing a blank… really should do a better job processing photos immediately after taking them! Thoughts? Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

RBA Yellow-headed Blackbird in Florida.  Makes up for missing it in the Meadowlands. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

RBA Yellow-headed Blackbird in Florida. Makes up for missing it in the Meadowlands. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Glossy Ibis balances  between preening sessions. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Glossy Ibis blends into the Florida marsh. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

[Can you tell the semester started?  I just realized I haven’t blogged in over a month. That’s embarrassing.  I think I need someone to peck at me when I slack off…]

Florida Total: 53
Wakodahatchee Wetlands: 28
New for Florida: 8
Lifers: 1

Huzzah for Herons and Hawks and Other Hopefuls

*Now with corrected title. Oy.

One is always optimistic for any adventure to Cape May.  Possibly the premiere birding spot in the state, Cape May has the promise of good birds even on a bad day.  (That’s either a run-of-the-mill bad day and a bad day birding!)  The biggest problem is the distance.  It’s about three hours away (non-breeding season).  Basically you take the parkway until it ends, and you keep going.  Stop before Delaware.

Iconic Cape May Light House sets the scene and acts as a beacon bringing in birds and birders.  Last stop in NJ! Cape May, NJ.  Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

Iconic Cape May Light House sets the scene and acts as a beacon bringing in birds and birders. Last stop in NJ! Cape May, NJ. Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

It seems that the weekend of October 4th and 5th was the weekend to be at Cape May.  Once again, I joined the Montclair State University Ornithology class for the Saturday trip. That professor (previous adviser) was staying over through Sunday to make a weekend of it.  My *new* adviser was headed down Sunday to stay over through Monday.  The flight was supposed to be spectacular for Sunday, but I was only going for the day and had some assignment due for class that I couldn’t give up another day for.

Duck, duck, more ducks. It's fall! Blue-winged teal not yet in Basic (breeding) plumage and a an American Widgeon. Cape May, NJ.  Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

Duck, duck, more ducks. It’s fall! Blue-winged teal not yet in Basic (breeding) plumage and a an American Widgeon. Cape May, NJ. Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

As the trend has tended to be, the light started off poorly (what’s with that?!), but at least there were fun birds to see.  Tara and I got there a bit early, caught the last of the rains, but did get to see Blue-winged Teal, American Widgeon, and a Glossy Ibis fly overhead.

Glossy Ibis in flight.  Note curved bill. Cape May, NJ.  Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

Glossy Ibis in flight. Note curved bill. Cape May, NJ. Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

One of the best parts of Cape May for any new birder I suspect, and perhaps for the ornithologists who study raptors, is seeing the Bird Demo at their Pavilion.  The Cape May Bird Observatory has a long-running banding program particularly for raptors and will typically have 2 birds to show up close for any interested birders at about 10 am each weekend morning.  This day both birds were Sharp-shinned Hawks.  Look at that beauty.  Wispy feathers on the face, the slight notch in the parted beak,  the distinct color patterns!

What's better than a bird in the bush? Sharp-shinned Hawk in the hand.  At Cape May there is a long-running raptor banding program. Cape May, NJ.  Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

What’s better than a bird in the bush? Sharp-shinned Hawk in the hand. At Cape May there is a long-running raptor banding program. Cape May, NJ. Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

So there were plenty of Ardeidae to be had.  Ardeidae is the family of herons to which herons, bitterns and their allies belong while Pelicaniformes is the order, which of course includes pelicans.  No pelicans spotted today though.

Great Egret with a fish. Cape May, NJ.  Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

Great Egret with a fish. Cape May, NJ. Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

I think I might actually have video of the Great Egret wrestling and flipping the fish.  Is flipping the fish bird-slang for flipping the bird?

On the far side, there was also a Great Blue Heron hunkered down hunting near the ducks.  Mallard with the speculum appearing…. blue? Normally it’s more of a purple.

More games with birds: duck, duck, heron!  Cape May, NJ.  Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

More games with birds: duck, duck, heron! Cape May, NJ. Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

Also at a far distance, we had a few problematic sandpipers.  There was quite a bit of disagreement as they were poorly positioned each time and cameras and scopes could make little headway.  We did at least resolve than in the morning, there were probably two separate sandpipers simultaneously creating that discord.  Here’s one of the spotted.  We had Pectoral and Western.  As I look over my notes, I don’t see the third,  I wonder if we decided not to call it because of the lack of concurrence.

One of the pesky peeps plaguing our ID skills.  Thank goodness for photos and zooms. Cape May, NJ.  Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

One of the pesky peeps plaguing our ID skills. Thank goodness for photos and zooms. Cape May, NJ. Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

One of today’s two lifers; I had three opportunities to view it.  Now how often does one get a lifer and three viewing opportunities?   I tell you, it’s the Cape May promise.   Little Blue Heron in it’s white juvenile form.  Hard to tell in this photo as it’s experiencing momentary shyness, but there is a blue bill, thus ruling out Snowy Egret.

Lifebird: The Little Blue Heron that wasn't (blue). Cape May, NJ.  Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

Lifebird: The Little Blue Heron that wasn’t (blue). Cape May, NJ. Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

I do have to say that while at the Hawk Watch Platform we ran into Steve of Every Stranger Is a Promise and a second birding adventure involving rattlesnakes that I never had a chance to write up.  So I went up to the upper level and hung out with him for awhile. Best of both worlds as I could see better and hear more of the identification calls as well as pay attention to the birds under observation by the class. Steve did suggest I follow up with him to go look for Short-eared Owls this winter in New York.  So yay, more birds!

After a bit, by which I mean several hours, we decided to go for a loop through the field trails to pick up additional birds.  Lots of accipiters, most of which weren’t photographed as the birds buzzed past: Broadwing, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-shoulder, and great views of a Merlin.  We caught this particular Merlin in three different locations, but I’ll just share one photo:

The magnificent Merlin with minimal magnification. Cape May, NJ.  Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

The magnificent Merlin with minimal magnification. Cape May, NJ. Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

We had a chance to watch it eat a Yellow Warbler (hence the yellow warbler in the sightings list).  It flew in one tree ate for a bit, flew off and happened to land much closer to our new location.   It then flew away, and we (I) was distracted by another new bird.

So to back up the story a bit, as we headed into the trails, two exiting birders stopped us to inform us that the Common Gallinule was present today.  I was so excited I near sent my adviser back to learn the precise location of the bird, but he said he had a good idea (or he really didn’t want to go chasing after people!).

So each waterway we found, I’d search thoroughly.  I’d scout ahead so I could have more time, then linger behind making sure I hadn’t missed a single feather.  I did find a Green Heron for the class that way.

Obscured Green Heron is not a Common Gallinule. Cape May, NJ.  Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

Obscured Green Heron is not a Common Gallinule. Cape May, NJ. Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

At the next pond, my adviser found my my dream bird of the day:

Common Gallinule. Lifer. Cape May, NJ.  Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

Common Gallinule. Lifer. Cape May, NJ. Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

Lifer #2, the Common Gallinule.  And an additional photo of Lifer #1 the Little Blue Heron this time with beak feature obviously not black.

Little Blue Heron up close. Cape May, NJ.  Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

Little Blue Heron up close. Cape May, NJ. Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

We wrapped up shortly after that as the light faded with a bit more time on the platform. Then after the class departed home we went to the beach for a bit. Was close to getting a lifer gull then the flock spooked and I didn’t see it, alas. (But there’s a promise of gulls in December, so cross fingers!) I’ll close out with one of the last (but not the last) bird of the day. The last bird of the day was a screech owl that flew over the car on the drive home listening to bad radio, but there’s no photo of that.

Osprey with fish in the fading light. Cape May, NJ.  Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

Osprey with fish in the fading light. Cape May, NJ. Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Gadwall
American Wigeon
Mallard
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Green Heron
Glossy Ibis
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper’s Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk —
Broad-winged Hawk
Common Gallinule
Semipalmated Plover?
Pectoral Sandpiper
Western Sandpiper
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Caspian Tern
Common Tern
Forster’s Tern
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Merlin
Peregrine Falcon
Blue Jay
American Crow
Fish Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tree Swallow
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Northern Cardinal
House Sparrow

Birding Brigatine

On the final day of May, NJ Audubon offered an evening tour of Brigantine. It was a lovely chance to bird Brigagtine during a time of year that I typically don’t get south or shoreward.  An evening tour was even better!

Pete [Bacsinski]’s annual trip to Brig where we take a couple of tours around the dikes in search of shorebirds, terns, passerines and waders and at dusk listen for Whip-poor-wills and Chuck-wills-widows and if we are lucky we could hear or see an owl or rail.

I posted this annoucement on facebook at the end of April where a couple of fellow birders indicated their interest in going.   Thus it was settled.  It was nice that a group of us could go because we were the youngest people there.  Which is what happens when you don’t fit the typical bird demographic.

The group assembled numbered something near 30.  Unfortunately, this meant taking a dozen cars around the loop as we didn’t carpool effectively.  However, my birding partner-in-crime and I did our part and carpooled with two other female birders who were as excited to bird with us as we were with them.  We had lots of academic knowledge about the birds and they had a scope, it was a lovely arrangement.

Pretty much as soon as the cars rolled out and rolled to the first stop moments later, did we get good birds.  You know the ones that actually stay long enough to get photos. Those birds.

A Tundra Swan lingers at Brig long after it should have migrated. Brigatine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

A Tundra Swan lingers at Brig long after it should have migrated. Brigatine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

A Tundra Swan was mixed in with a few Mute Swans, an ugly duckling that was really a weirdly molted swan?  We also  heard Marsh Wren at this time. We drove a few more minutes and continued scanning.

A grumpy Snowy Egret contrasted next to a foraging Glossy Ibis. Brigatine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

A grumpy Snowy Egret contrasted next to a foraging Glossy Ibis. Brigatine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

Egrets and Ibis abounded the National Wildlife Refuge. Having now seen the Glossy Ibis in flight I can understand the RBA alert I read last year about IDing an ibis in flight!

Convenient contrast between a Gull Tern (lifer) and Forster Tern. Brigatine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

Convenient contrast between a Gull Tern (lifer) and Forster Tern. Brigatine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

While many of the birds were familiar friends or at least better views than I had ever had previously, there were lifers in store.  First up was the Gull Tern whose only nesting site in all of NJ is near Brig.

Ruddy Turnstone stalks the mudflats. Brigatine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

Ruddy Turnstone stalks the mudflats. Brigatine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

I believe this intent Ruddy Turnstone may also be a lifer.  I don’t believe I had ever seen one before.  I can no longer say that.  In fact, I saw at least 20.

Osprey parents feed at the nesting platform. Brigatine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

Osprey parents feed at the nesting platform. Brigatine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

The refuge is littered with nesting platforms which are about as frequent as bluebird boxes in a field.  Many of the platforms are in use, too!  I believe the Ospreys nest in higher densities here than they normally do.  (By the way, I absolutely adore this photo- it’s one in a series where the parents are alternatively ducking down to feed and scanning the horizon.)

All this was only on the first trip around!  We stopped back at the entrance, had food, mingled, and headed back out as the sun began sinking.  We did the second pass much faster as it was more to put ourselves into position for the nocturnal birds likely to be found at the end of the loop.

Ninja birds: Great Egret and Great Heron do battle over foraging grounds. Brigatine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

Ninja birds: Great Egret and Great Heron do battle over foraging grounds. Brigatine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

As we passed through the refuge we caught sight of a ruckus between herons and egrets.  While calamity reigned on, a Black-crowned Night-Heron intently waited to gobble down the fish.

Black-crowned Night-Heron prowls through the evening low tide. Brigatine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

Black-crowned Night-Heron prowls through the evening low tide. Brigatine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

Rolling through the refuge we could hear the cry of a rail signaling the approach of night.  Darkness descended quickly when we reached the forest as did the temperature.  While the day was never warm, the evening was in the 50s.  We stood in silence, or as silent as a group of 30-odd people who can’t actually stop shuffling can stand.

Far, far in the distance we could hear the faint cry of a Chuck-wills-widow (lifer).  Pete also called a Screech Owl, but to be fair I didn’t hear it, so it is not 192.  We drove a little further and in the coolness of the night we were the single call of an Eastern Whip-poor-will amidst the calls of tree frogs.  Thus concluded our spring trip to Brigantine.

The Brigantine List

Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Tundra Swan
American Black Duck
Mallard
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Glossy Ibis
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
Red-tailed Hawk
Clapper Rail
American Oystercatcher
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Killdeer
Spotted Sandpiper
Willet
Lesser Yellowlegs
Ruddy Turnstone*
Dunlin
Least Sandpiper
White-rumped Sandpiper*
Semipalmated Sandpipe
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Gull-billed Tern*
Caspian Tern
Forster’s Tern
Black Skimmer
Mourning Dove
Chuck-will’s-widow*
Eastern Whip-poor-will
Chimney Swif
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Warbling Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Fish Crow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Marsh Wren
Carolina Wren
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Common Yellowthroat
Northern Parula
Yellow Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Seaside Sparrow*
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Boat-tailed Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

*lifer

Shoring Up the List

Having agreed to bird at Brigatine on Saturday, May 31st, my birding partner-in-crime and I decided to visit LBI on the way down: not for the beach, not for the fudge, but for the birds.

Light House at LBI. Long Beach Island, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

Light House at LBI. Long Beach Island, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

Sadly we thought this out poorly as there were few birds because there were too many bathers and boaters. However, we resuscitated the morning by trying out Manahawkin Wildlife Management Area .  We were to learn later that day that our whim was a portion of Brig known as the Bridge to Nowhere….

Bridge to Nowhere, Brigantine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

Bridge to Nowhere, Brigantine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

We had less than an hour to travel through / bird the area, but saw enough that we would definitely return. Mute Swans, Egrets, and Ibis fed throught the Marsh. Warblers sang their alluring songs from the forest.

Glossy Ibises feed in the marshes. Bridge to Nowhere, Brigantine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

Glossy Ibises feed in the marshes. Bridge to Nowhere, Brigantine / Forsythe NWR, NJ. Photo taken on May 31, 2014.

Bridge to Nowhere List:

Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Mallard
Great Egret
Glossy Ibis
Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Forster’s Tern
Northern Flicker
Great Crested Flycatcher
Tree Swallow
Marsh Wren
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Ovenbird
Common Yellowthroat
Blackpoll Warbler
Red-winged Blackbird

Then we were off for our true destination: Brigantine.