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. 

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

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.

Doesn’t Rain, But It Snows

Right now it is  snowing, snowing, snowing snowy owls. Snowy owls everywhere. Up in in Rochester, Across the river in NYC, down in Bermuda.  Bermuda!  I missed the last snowy owl in NJ at Round Valley Reservoir in 2010(?) and the one half a mile from my folk’s place in 2007.  I never even heard about that one! This time around, I signed up for hourly updates which at this time indicate ~500 observations on Saturday.

I checked the data twice and plotted a route and contingencies.  Things were looking good.  Site 1 (Liberty State Park) had an owl in late November/early December, and then it was spotted again on the 27th.   Site 2 (Hudson River Waterfront Walkway, Bayonne / Bayonne Golf Club) was 6 miles further south and had frequent sighting the week previously.  My guess is that it could be the same individual moving between the two golf courses.  As a potential third site, should we grow desperate we could go to Sandy Hook (gap in sightings from early winter until the 27th) or the Meadowlands which also had a sighting on the 27th.  It wasn’t south Jersey that was racking up the owls, but my owling posse was not necessarily willing to make the drive to south Jersey, not even to Brigatine or Cape May.  The invite to join the owl posse went to 10 people and I had 3 acceptances.

Dunlin seeks food at low tide at Liberty State Park, NJ.

Dunlin seeks food at low tide at Liberty State Park, NJ.

At LSP, we had Dunlins as a consolation prize.  We also had two cases of sentient plastic bags and something else we’re still not sure what it is.

Not a snowy owl.

Not a snowy owl.

After three hours, we optimistically traveled to Bayonne, six miles further south along the Hudson to try our luck there.  We all agreed it was a beautiful, hidden gem of a park.  It faces the most bleak, industrial landscape.  There are cranes to be sure, but they’re the metallic kind.  But the scenery behind you is incredible.  The Bayonne golf course feels nothing like New Jersey, but rather some rugged Scottish highlands.  It’s utterly treeless and only the club house breaks the horizon from the walkway.  The club house looks like a cross between a spaceship and a castle drawn in a cartoon style; it’s actually remarkably charming.

Bayone Golf Course runs along the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway.

Bayone Golf Course runs along the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway.

At the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway, we also struck out. We identified 2 Horned Grebes and had magnificent views of a Northern Harrier playing with the wind, and then hanging out with his friend Great Blue Heron.    Harrier, Horned, Heron. Owl.  Which doesn’t fit?   Yep.  No owl.

Horned Grebe rides the waves in the Hudson River.

Horned Grebe rides the waves in the Hudson River.

Northern Harrier momentarily hovers on the hillside.

Northern Harrier momentarily hovers on the hillside.

Harrier and Heron hunt together.

Harrier and Heron hunt together.

The group split early afternoon and I decided to try my luck at DeKorte where I had also struck out.  I had never been there either.  It is impossible to find!  But now that I’ve found it, I’m certain to return as it’s only about 20 minutes from my apartment.

Open wound. Pour salt.  Around 8 that night, I received another hourly ebird update.  The snowy owl showed up at Bayonne a few hours after we left.  Then a birder in Cape May logged 10 snowy owls.

To really rub it in, I wanted a better picture of where owls were on Saturday and how many I missed.

Here’s what happened on Saturday:

State # of Locations Probable # of Owls
Connecticut 2 2
Delaware 2 4
Florida 1 1
Illinois 2 3
Indiana 5 9
Kansas 1 1
Maine 5 9
Maryland 1 6
Massachusetts 5 11
Michigan 14 24
Minnesota 4 5
Missouri 1 1
New Hampshire 1 6
New Jersey 6 20
New York 24 33
North Carolina 1 1
Ohio 8 13
Pennsylvania 4 7
Rhode Island 2 3
Vermont 3 6
Virginia 1 1
Wisconsin 13 20
Procedure: Data submitted for December 28th.  Data acquired between 8pm December 28th and 9pm December 30th. Assume each county represents a unique bird. Assume with the fine weather and it being Saturday, that many people would be out looking and thus number would be reasonable lower limit of how many owls could be around in the continental 48. Eliminate repeat encounters by taking the highest count for each county, referencing a state county map as necessary to verify if there might be discrete locations within a county or a bird might be traveling cross county lines. Limitation: how quickly people put data on ebird. Some people are logging owl sightings more than 24 hours after. Data is only as strong as ebird is representative of all the snowy owls present.

Full Moon Hike

There are days when when I definitely have the best job in the world.  (TM)  Stayed on campus, working on thesis revisions until 2am on Wednesday before driving home.  Revised the entire thesis in about 8 hours.  Which is ridiculous at some level.  Which probably explains why I am now sick.  It started off as a sore throat, became an annoying cough, and today is a very hoarse voice and truth be told, a painful cough.  But I am still going to work because I am the only one in this morning and because there is something very bird related I need to do!

Yesterday, I went on an amazing bird-related adventure for work, which I will relate later.  In the evening, I led a 2-hour full moon hike.  Not much of a hike as the group wanted to stand and watch the things we saw.  I forget that people don’t realize how amazing all the wildlife and ecosystems around us really are – I see it all the time, and teach it all the time, so even when I’m not there I know, but most people don’t.  We saw a Wild Turkey running down a trail, watched the Red Wing Blackbirds setting up their territories, the Canada Geese come home for the night, a Great Blue Heron finding its final meal of the day, bats come out to scatter around the sky searching for insects, we heard bull frogs, spring peepers and one other species of frog wake up, spooked a deer and one other thing we couldn’t identify.  The bats swooped across the night sky and dipped into the pond creating ripples along the flat surface.  We watched the sun set and the moon rise.

One by Land, Two by Sea?

How many lists should one make?  I  enjoy making lists in general.  I like their ability to track progress. They keep me focused.  So of course, I adore ebird.

My parents have a really lovely set up for backyard birding.    The feeder sits at the edge of the middle garden bed.  Just in the next bed there’s plenty of cover from a small tree and wild rose bush.  The birds frequently sit in both the tree and the rose bramble.  Outlining both beds are rows of large rocks that the Dark-eyed Juncos are especially fond of scrambling around.  Moving away there are trees dotting the landscape in all directions of varying ages most upward of 30 years.  The property line to the west is also provides good cover and to the south we have edge.  So that’s a convoluted way to say there is lots of good cover.

However on the north side of the house it’s quite a different habitat.   Just across the street is both a stream and a pond which compromise a County Park / Wilderness Refuge.  We tend to get mallards, a domestic duck unit, in recent years we’ve had Red-winged Blackbirds, in addition to the anticipated forest birds.  We also see Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets.  About a decade ago, I saw my only true rail, the Virginia Rail creeping along. All visible from the house!

So the question is this:  as I am birding the backyard, do I list species I see/hear concurrently in the stream/pond on the same list or should I create a second list?

Reasons for 2 Lists:

  • Two different habitats
  • Can bird each separately
  • One is public land, the other is private
Reasons to Make 1 List:

  • 2 habitats are separated by 100? feet
  • Can be birding from the same location (within the house)

Early Morning Blues

I decided to walk myself over to Cushetunk Lake for a bit of birding by ear. (aka my binoculars were locked in someone else’s car!)

It was a very pleasant sunrise walk.  Solo birding is a different experience.  Because it’s based on your own inclination and there’s no distraction of company, you experience the world in a different way.  I had a very enjoyable hour, attempting to listen to calls and identity each individual.  Quite a number of blue birds!  No Belted Kingfisher or Eastern Bluebird to round out the blues mix, alas, but I did see a number of Blue Jays and a Great Blue Heron. I had luck identifying the American Crow, Blue Jay, Northern Cardinal, Carolina Wren, Tufted Titmouse, and White-breasted Nuthatch.

Lake Cushetunk:
Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Mallard
Great Blue Heron
American Crow
Turkey Vulture
Mourning Dove
Blue Jay
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal

After visiting the dam, I headed through a patch of woods before wandering back.  Among the branches I could hear a symphony of unidentifiable wonders.I could identify the 16 mallards swimming and great blue heron fishing in the stream.

I also saw four deer and a swimming muskrat!   So cool!  Following my hour ramble, I was in a much better frame of mind.  As I walked back into the house, I surprised a Carolina Wren who nearly flew into me in its haste to book it out of there.  Now I’m mentally all ready to hit the road for a day of birding in….. Central Jersey!

Avi’s Blue Heron

“Maggie walked back to the cottage, entered with caution, and climbed into the loft. As she lay in her bed she kept thinking of the heron. How beautiful it was. How magical. Never before had she experienced such a sense of magic, real magic.‎” – Blue Heron, Avi

One of my favorite childhood books, Avi’s Blue Heron tells Maggie’s fascination with the habits of the blue herons at a summer cabin on the lake.    In 2003, I had an opportunity to share some of Maggie’s experiences when I worked at the Pickering Creek Audubon Center.  During freetime, I would take a kayak to explore the creek and follow the herons as they silently stalked their prey.  It was definitely magic.

Which is why I was so excited when birding on the 15th to see so many herons!  Unfortunately, we came across one dead heron (really?! who sees a dead heron?) but we also saw three live ones.  We found the first two at Deer Path Park in Readington, NJ and the other two we witnessed at Cushetunk Lake in Whitehouse Station.

While the other half of the party focused on two bizarre looking Canada Geese. I marveled at the majestic manner in which the great blue heron slipped through the water.  I saw twice, the heron snatch at fish.  Unfortunately my camera was in the car, otherwise I might have tried for decent photos.  I did get one with my phone.

IMG_20130117_183241

Great Blue Heron fishing at Deer Park.

Rockafellows Mill Road:
Canada Goose
Mallard
Common Merganser
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed hawk
Blue Jay
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Carolina Wren
American Tree Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
American Goldfinch
Assiscong Marsh:
Canada Goose
Gadwall
American Black Duck
Mallard
Northern Pintail
Turkey Vulture
Ring-billed Gull
Blue JayDeer Path Park:
Great Blue Heron
Northern Flicker
Mallard
Gadwall
Canada Goose

Lake Cushetunk:
Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Gadwall
Mallard
Great Blue Heron (2)
Belted Kingfisher