Truth Be Told

There are people who would scarcely believe it, but there are times it takes a bit of effort to get me in the field birding. May 1st was one of those days.  I might have gotten up that morning to bird except the forecast said rain until mid-afternoon.  Forecast was wrong: rain had passed, skies were clearing in the morning, but it wasn’t until late afternoon I got around to birding.  I was hoping with the rains of the last several days that there would be fallout (not nuclear).

Ultimately, it was the memory of the stellar birding from May 1st, that got me out the door and headed down the road to the NJ Meadowlands.   I arrived late afternoon and headed along the small ridge to see who had recently arrived.

Spring has finally arrived! Meadowlands, NJ. Photo taken on May 1, 2014.

Spring has finally arrived! Meadowlands, NJ. Photo taken on May 1, 2014.

There were Yellow-rumped Warblers in the trees; slightly difficult to locate due to the angle of the setting sun. Walking the trail in reverse might have helped. Had there been more birds in evidence would also have helped.

Yellow-rumped Warblers are taking over the planet; or at least they're leading the spring migration. Meadowlands, NJ. Photo taken on May 1, 2014.

Yellow-rumped Warblers are taking over the planet; or at least they’re leading the spring migration. Meadowlands, NJ. Photo taken on May 1, 2014.

Not that there’s clear evidence it’s a Yellow-rumped Warbler from the photo, but it was. Not much on the hillside, so I decided to walk the loops around the ponds.

The ponds seemed really empty until I got halfway out. On a mudflat I located a few shorebirds picking morosely at the offerings.  Or delightedly, it’s hard to read the expression on the face of a Charadriiformes.

Shorebirds take advantage of the low tide. Greater Yellowlegs mingles with Least Sandpipers. Meadowlands, NJ. Photo taken on May 1, 2014.

Shorebirds take advantage of the low tide. Greater Yellowlegs mingles with Least Sandpipers. Meadowlands, NJ. Photo taken on May 1, 2014.

Tree Swallows and Barn Swallows buzzed by, two Forester Terns coasted the gusty breeze. That breeze was the only thing saving all of us from death by insect consumption. Insects were a menace! I couldn’t help but kill them as I readjusted equipment they were so plentiful!

Forester's Tern returns to NJ.  Meadowlands, NJ. Photo taken May on 1, 2014.

Forester’s Tern returns to NJ. Meadowlands, NJ. Photo taken May on 1, 2014.

I walked all the way to the highway. And by highway, I mean the New Jersey Turnpike. Whenever I bird here, I feel obligated to walk all the way out and walk the stretch along the turnpike. I feel as though if there’s going to be a hidden gem, chances are it’ll be here.

And I was in luck.  As I made my way to the trail end, I spooked a Black-crowned Night-Heron.

While the sighting lifted my spirits a bit, I was feeling lethargic, and was considering calling it a day.  I decided to take a quick peak along the other pathway, just to verify I wasn’t missing out on much.  I picked up Killdeer and American Goldfinch.

But then I saw this fellow:

A surprising Savannah Sparrow. Meadowlands, NJ. Photo taken on May 1, 2014.

A surprising Savannah Sparrow. Meadowlands, NJ. Photo taken on May 1, 2014.

While, not a lifer, definitely my best looks yet!  I caught sight of the yellow and initially second guessed myself from “something really cool” to “yet another White-throated Sparrow who just won’t leave”.  But the way it moved was wrong.  This bird had graceful darts from cover to cover, not the hop up and down to flip leaves.  Fortunately, I stayed on it and got a photo before a runner ran past spooking the bird into the ether.

Recharged, I decided to do the longer path to discover whatever else there might be, but in the last light, my luck failed me.  It was bird empty.  Hurrying back before losing the light entirely, I checked the last loop and found all the birds.  There many more Greater Yellowlegs and Least Sandpipers, Egrets Great and Snowy, but in the fading light, all the photos were grainy, so we’ll close with a landscape.

Sunset at the Meadowlands. Meadowlands, NJ. Photo taken on May 1, 2014.

Sunset at the Meadowlands. Meadowlands, NJ. Photo taken on May 1, 2014.

Not such a bad start to May!

Wings After Work

At work on Monday, our social media guru called the staff’s attention to a local RBA – a Yellow-Head Blackbird visiting the Meadowlands.  (The Meadowlands being my new local birding hole.) This particular Yellow-headed Blackbird was first spotted on the 27th.  (If you recall, I had birded the Meadowlands at Dekorte on the 29th.)  All the other RBA announcements pertaining to Yellow-headed Blackbirds were in south Jersey, thus a good drive away. However, an RBA within your stomping grounds deserts an effort at locating it.

So that being decided, I threw my boots and binoculars in my car for after class on Tuesday.  Now the days are longer and warmer, I have time to bird after class.

The scenic Meadowlands. Taken on April 1, 2014.

The scenic Meadowlands. Taken on April 1, 2014.

I got there around 4 in the afternoon.  I wandered through the Kingsland Overlook trail which is where the bird was frequently spotted according to ebird.  Without success, I decided to go do the embankment loops.  The day was pleasant – a hint of cool, but a vastly superior day compared to the last 80!  There were fewer birds today than on Saturday.  Mute Swans were most prominent in the pool, a Great Egret hunted along one bank.  In the back, along the New Jersey Turnpike, Redwing Blackbirds were staking out territories as American Robins, Song Sparrows, and American Tree Sparrows grazed along the path.  Rabbits scampered further out of sight as I approached, the only indication of their presence being the sounds of rabbit pitter-patter crashing through the reeds. At the end, I found a scattering of Buffleheads who appear to appreciate the seclusion of the reeds. Turning back, I saw a male and female Common Merganser coasting along in tranquility.

Common Mergansers at the Meadowlands. Taken on April 1, 2014.

Common Mergansers at the Meadowlands. Taken on April 1, 2014.

I walked the second embankment, studying the pools. A number of birds were at the far distance, black specs against a descending sun.  On the far shore, a solitary deer made its way through the mud.  In the interior waters however I found a slew of ducks: Northern Pintails, Mallards, American Black Ducks, Nothern Shovelers, more Buffleheads, Green-winged Teal, a Gadwall.

Great Black-backed Gull and a Mallard take advantage of the low tide. Meadowlands. Taken on April 1, 2014.

Great Black-backed Gull and a Mallard take advantage of the low tide. Meadowlands. Taken on April 1, 2014.

As I walked closer, I heard a curious call – like a garbled Killdeer.  Knowing Killdeer to be in the area, I listed again, but the caller did not repeat itself.

Attempting to watch a gull manage landing on the surface, my camera caught sight of three Greater Yellow-legs scurrying past.  I followed them with my eyes as they moved with purpose.  Then they called confirming the odd call heard earlier as the Greater Yellow-legs.  As a dog and its owner moved closer, the birds, five in total flew up and over the path into the duck pond.  Two more Greater Yellow-legs called from the far shore where the deer had been.

I finished walking the embankments and returned to the inhabited region of DeKorte where birders were beginning to arrive.   As I suspected, they were all there in hopes of seeing the Yellow-headed Blackbird.  In speaking with them, I learned that the bird would come in around the day’s end with a flock of Cowbirds.

In mingling with the birders, I ran into a familiar face – a birder who I had first met nearly a year ago when working a gig at the locally owned bird store – Wild Birds Unlimited, one of the top Bergen Birders.  I tagged along with him, learning a little more of the Blackbird’s recent movements, other choice birding areas within the county, and a who’s-who of the birders present.  For over three hours we scanned the skies and the trees from the parking lot, roads, and later the Kingsland Overlook.

This Yellow-headed Blackbird appeared by all accounts to be an obliging fellow – posing in trees and puddles easily accessible for birders.  Some birders had amazing views from their cars!

However, that was not to be our luck on this evening.  Despite the dozen or so sentinels keeping watch in the area, no evidence of the bird was seen.  Our best show of the evening  were the hundreds of Canada Geese streaming overhead and a hunting Osprey.  But here’s a consolation video I took of the Yellow-legs.

Defended!

On Monday, I successfully defended my thesis once we found a sufficiently warm classroom and  had the technology successfully up and operational.   I’m including the opening slide.  Voila!

defense-kestrel-intro

The day of my defense, I began the morning by joining my advisor and a friend for two hours of birding back at Garrett Mountain.  This time around we picked up 43 species, including Spotted Sandpiper, Ovenbird, Red-eyed Vireo,  Yellow Warbler, Prairie Warbler, and Baltimore Oriole which were lifers, and Greater Yellow Legs, which was new for the year.

So now that the thesis is out of the way; the only changes I’ll need to make are the fine-tuning revisions as we prepare for publication, I can return to birding!