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…

The Gray Casts of Green Cay

The following day when talks concluded, Tara and I decided to cross the road to Green Cay.   We were starting to get the hang of navigating Florida and the endless evening traffic.   Despite the dreary forecast, Tara and I decided to risk the rains for birds.

Green Cay in the rain. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Green Cay in the rain. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

The Green Cay preserve is a boardwalk punctuated with covered villas (or Chickees) that allowed us to keep our equipment dry as we scouted about.

White Ibis in flight. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

White Ibis in flight. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

With the rain, there were just as many birds out foraging as there were hunkering and waiting out the rains.

Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron hunkers down in the afternoon showers. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron hunkers down in the afternoon showers. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

But unlike home, this bad weather was (relatively) pleasant to be out and about in… I believe the northeast was being hit with another snowstorm.

Anhinga spreads its wings to dry between dives and downpours. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Anhinga spreads its wings to dry between dives and downpours. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Not sure how effective it is to dry out your wings in the rain, but the rain may feel pleasant as it wicks down the wings.

Common Gallinule braves the weather. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Common Gallinule braves the weather. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

With the proximity one can achieve at Wakodahatchee and Green Cay, you can get such intricate feather detail.  The wings look almost art deco!

Green Heron hidden in the reeds.  Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Green Heron hidden in the reeds. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

The variation in feather detail is incredible.   Here you can see the long, flowing plumes that made egrets desirable in millinery trends 100 years ago.

Tricolored Heron, hunting. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Tricolored Heron, hunting. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

I love that the camera/lens combination acts so quickly that each raindrop hitting the water’s surface.

Great Egret and Common Gallinule experience the downpour. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Great Egret and Common Gallinule experience the downpour. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

There were breaks in the rain where we could see a tree where a Wood Stork stood with White Ibis.

Wood Storks are the most alien looking birds, ever. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Wood Storks are the most alien looking birds, ever. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

The ibis stalked about, heads bobbing down and wings aloft for balance.

White Ibis perch in a dead tree. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

White Ibis perch in a dead tree. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

A break in the rains and we make a break for home.

Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Florida Total:  56
Green Cay: 32
New for Florida:  3
Lifers: 0

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

Farming for Birds

Now that the bet was on, I needed to pile on the birds.  Nothing like a little extra motivation in May.

Leaving Garrett Mountain, I headed into work for awhile to run a program introducing Daisies to birding.  I had a group of 15 girls and parents.  Collectively we located 9 species: Canada Goose, Wild Turkey, Green Heron, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, American Robin, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, and a Crow sp.   Not so bad for a First Day (hour) of birding.

After work I decided to try birding at the Celery Farm where there is neither a farm nor celery, so I don’t know where the name comes from.

The Celery Farm is a 107-acre freshwater wetland in Allendale, New Jersey, and is open to the public during daylight hours every day of the year. Volunteers from Fyke are responsible for creating and maintaining the footpaths around the preserve, the three observation platforms and the nesting boxes.

Over 240 species of birds have been recorded here, and more than 50 are known to breed here. The wetlands and deciduous woods provide habitat for many mammals, fish, reptiles and insects. – website

The Celery Farm is the second most birded, bird-diverse area in the county according to ebird data.  I had never been so on a co-worker’s recommendation I decided to finish my day there.

A storm approaches. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

A storm approaches. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

The center is an open body of water along which a ~ 1 mile trail winds.  This trail switches between woodlands, a small stream, and a phragmite forest (phorest?). The day was ending, a thunderstorm was moving in, but I got a few birds.  27 all together, bringing the day’s total to 65 species, including Belted Kingfisher, Great Egret, Yellow Warbler which were new for the day.

Canada Goose checks the eggs. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

Canada Goose checks the eggs. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

Wood Ducks step away from their nest to enjoy a sunset swim. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

Wood Ducks step away from their nest to enjoy a sunset swim. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

Great Egret fishes along the shores. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

Great Egret fishes along the shores. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

Yellow Warbler dashes and darts through the buds and branches. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

Yellow Warbler dashes and darts through the buds and branches. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

Winging the Weekend

I had the entire weekend free of work so I made the most of it, birding 7 times.  Most of the birding was with fellow birders although Central Park was with my sister; she appreciated the turtles more than the birds.

Locations: Garrett Mountain Reservation, NJ; Clausland Mountain, NY; Rockland Lake, NY; Nyack Beach, NY; Piermont, NY; Central Park, NY; and Inwood Park, NY.

  • Waterfowl are mostly gone.  Buffleheads remained at Rockland Lake, but the rest have departed.
  • Warblers are slowly arriving: we had warblers at Garrett Mountain last weekend, but not this weekend; and in Central Park.  Palm, Yellow-rumped. and Pine have arrived.
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Swallows were spotted in multiple places.
  • Towees are back, Thrushes should return soon, hopefully.

Rather than recite what we saw where in fascinating, excruciating detail, I’ll just recap all 53 different species.

Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Wood Duck
Gadwall
Mallard
Bufflehead
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Green Heron
Black VultureTurkey Vulture
Broad-winged Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted
Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Brown Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Palm Warbler
Yelow-rumped Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

A Great Egret gracefully stalks through the water at Garrett Mountain. Photo taken on April 18th, 2014.

A Great Egret gracefully stalks through the water at Garrett Mountain. Photo taken on April 18th, 2014.

Female Brown-headed Cowbird at Garrett Mountain. Photo taken on April 18th, 2014.

Female Brown-headed Cowbird at Garrett Mountain. Photo taken on April 18th, 2014.

Unfortuantetly placed stick makes this Eastern Towhee appear irate!  Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on April 18th, 2014.

Unfortunately placed stick makes this Eastern Towhee appear irate! Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on April 18th, 2014.

At dusk this Brown Thrasher had a surprisingly vast repertoire for a Thrasher.  Clausland Mountain, NY. Photo taken on April 18th, 2014.

At dusk this Brown Thrasher had a surprisingly vast repertoire for a Thrasher. Clausland Mountain, NY. Photo taken on April 18th, 2014.

Tree Swallow claims the Bluebird nesting box. Rockland Lake, NY. Photo taken on April 19, 2014.

Tree Swallow claims the Bluebird nesting box. Rockland Lake, NY. Photo taken on April 19, 2014.

A Palm Warbler balances before jumping to the branch above. Central Park, NYC. Photo taken on April 20th.

A Palm Warbler balances before jumping to the branch above. Central Park, NYC. Photo taken on April 20th, 2014.

Views from Central Park, NYC.  Even the birds play tourist.  Photo taken on April 20th, 2014.

Views from Central Park, NYC. Even the birds play tourist. Photo taken on April 20th, 2014.

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.

 

Birding by Bike

As summer winds down and migration starts up, the birding has been low-key.  Early excursions into work yield about 20 different species each trip with minor variation.  Still, we faithfully arrive around 7 once to twice a week, just to verify the birding is less than exciting.

One of the nicest things about living in this region is that it’s fairly flat and pretty good for cycling. On weekends we easily get dozens to hundreds of cyclists riding past.   Many nights after work, I’ll pull out the bike and do a nine mile course along a creek, through a marsh, out into a river, past backyards, and a few forested patches.  The 9 miles is beginning to feel easier on the thighs.  If I focus on birds, I feel the ache a little less.  I entertain myself and my mother who frequently rides with me by identifying the birds scolding us and flittering across the path. Yesterday this course yielded a Wild Turkey.  Today was even more exciting!

The omen of good birding was granted by a Great Egret within the first half mile.  I spotted a Bald Eagle flying away into the distance as I cycled through one of the inner regional marshes, and in the riverine marsh I spotted 8 Least Sandpipers scrounging around in the mud.  Thank goodness for yellow legs, but not yellowlegs!   New for the state list and the year list, woo!

There’s talk of the Biggest Birding Expedition of the Season down to Brigatine for Saturday.  We’ll see if it actually happens.  It was supposed to be last Saturday, but that fell through.

In other good news, I finally found my camera charger and recharged the camera batteries,so hopefully there’ll be more photos soon!

If a tree falls,

…in the woods and you’re there to witness the momentous occasion, how cool is that?   I didn’t actually see the tree, but I heard it fall while I was out birding on Thursday after the rains let up.  Two days of rain – what a relief!   I think it’s the first rain we’ve had since Easter and it was much needed!   There have been at least two brush fires in the area (and we’re not talking about Colorado or California here, it’s New York and New Jersey!)

As soon as the rain let up Thursday, I headed out to see what birds were active.  It was about 5pm so it would coincide with the natural uptick in activity.   I decided to go on foot because there’s really no good parking near where I wanted to go.  (The nearest lot is about as far as the house, so walking made more sense.)

There was some activity on the way, but nothing I didn’t see in the park, so I didn’t log it.

Getting to the entrance though was a different story!  On park lands, I could look under the bridge leading past the park to watch Northern Rough-winged Swallow and Barn Swallows swoop in and out.  I was mostly hidden by the trees along the bank so I wouldn’t disturb them.  Nearly all my photos are blurry because they’re swift swallows (not swalling swifts), but I do really like this one:

Barn Swallow reflection.

Barn Swallow reflection.

You see the lower image and think it’s the bird, but no it’s only the reflection. The actual bird is the blob on top.  Love it.  I also love how murky and plain the backdrop is; the clouds were actually working with me for once!

I headed into the park where it was hard to pick up anything due to the roar of Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds, but peering into the marsh I did pick up a Canada Geese family and a Great Egret.

I didn’t have much luck until I reached the pool area.  At the pool, I climbed the slope so I could be at eye level with the trees, and plunked myself down for a bit to watch the wildlife. I know there’s more there than what I saw, but I am very excited by what I did see!  I got my first really good looks of a yellow warbler!

Yellow Warbler laments a lack of leaves.

Yellow Warbler laments a lack of leaves.

Isn’t he beautiful? Praising the sun gods for their return no doubt.  There were other birds flitting in and out of the woods, but my next exciting visitor was the Eastern Phoebe.  It was my second chance to get a good glimpse, and my first with my camera handy!

Proud Phoebe of the eastern variety.

Proud Phoebe of the eastern variety.

So distinguished!   I had some good views of him on the ground, and on a roof, so I’m excited that the one with the green in the background captured him the best!

Common Yellowthroat whose name I will likely never remember.

Common Yellowthroat whose name I will likely never remember.

Then my last exciting little fellow came about from some movement in the rushes below.  It took a white to spot him and longer to get his appearance on camera, but voila, a Common Yellowthroat!  And a lifer, too!   I spotted two males and one female.  It took me awhile to figure out the second was a female, but nothing else felt quite right.

After that I decided to wander away from the water in the hopes that I’d hear better, so I began moving up the mountain slope.   In the woods I didn’t have much beyond Blue Jays, and American Robins, although I did hear one American Crow fly over and come across a flock of White-throated Sparrows.

As night fell, it became more of a hike and less of a birding excursion, which is fine.  It was about two years since I had last traveled those trails so it was nice to see them again.  I wanted the one that looked over the Hudson, so it took some doing, but I did find it and was reward with my first Bald Eagle viewing of the month.  With the bluffs above the Hudson, I knew it was pretty good for Bald Eagles!   Soon the calls of the frogs, lured me onward.

At the western portion of the park, there are a number of “ponds” or artifical constructs that have since become ponds.  They’re quite lovely to hike along.  So I headed over to investigate the frog calls and picked up a Wood Duck and a Hermit Thrush.

From there I continued to the southern most portion of the park, and then after the sunset and a gentle rain began to fall, I made my way along the main trail about 1.9 miles to home.