The Hunt and the Hunted

Too much birding leaves too little time for blogging!

Swainson's Thrush. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 19, 2014.

Swainson’s Thrush. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 19, 2014.

On Monday, May 19th, I returned to Garrett Mountain with my birding partner in crime and another friend.  In trees fully leafed we sought warblers, tanagers, and thrushes.

Female Scarlet Tanger is not scarlet. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 19, 2014.

Female Scarlet Tanger is not scarlet. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 19, 2014.

A more agreeable Scarlet Tanager than the FOY Tanager at Saddle River. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 19, 2014.

A more agreeable Scarlet Tanager than the FOY Tanager at Saddle River. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 19, 2014.

We decided to swing by the cove where the Least Bittern was known to lurk.  We met a photographer who had been there since 5am waiting for the punctual bittern to arrive. The bittern was late.

As we were giving up hope and about to resume birding elsewhere we heard a cry from a newly arrived birder who noticed what none of us had seen previously.  The Least Bittern was remarkably well camouflaged in the branches where he fished every morning until he wearied of birders.

I got a few photos, including the one below.  Much better than what I had previously!  Best of all, I also got video.  Definitely click. Do enjoy.

Least Bittern hunts for fish. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 19, 2014.

Least Bittern hunts for fish. Click on photo for video link. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 19, 2014.

The Least I Can Do

On most days, 6:30 is the time I’m beginning to wake up, not arriving at the morning birding site. But spring is different. Even if I wanted to, most days I couldn’t sleep in: too many birds to see, including a mystery bird as I was soon to discover!

Monday started off no differently from any other Monday in May for people who like birds and live in northern NJ. At 6:30 I was driving the last of the way up Garrett Mountain.  My first priority was adding the reclusive and exciting Least Bittern to the year and life list.  I had dipped on the bird previously, when I had first learned of it’s arrival at Garrett Mountain. However, my birding-partner-in-crime knew where it was to be found on most mornings, so we agreed to meet earlier than normal to locate the bittern before beginning the day’s official birding.

We nearly flew down the slope to the pond and beheld the Least Bittern exactly where she anticipated it.  The least I could do was get a lousy photo of it crouched and stretching behind all the brush before it fled further away, out of view.

Least Bittern stretches its wings in the morning light. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 12, 2014.

Least Bittern stretches its wings in the morning light. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 12, 2014.

Then I became distracted by a female Common Yellow-throat.  This Monday, I didn’t have time to do much birding because I had to be at work for a morning program.

Female Common Yellowthroat. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 12, 2014.

Female Common Yellowthroat. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 12, 2014.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the trip list until several days and excursions later, so my recollection regarding what I saw before I departed and what the group saw is a bit rusty.  However, I definitely saw Least Bittern, Common Yellowthroat, and Kingbird since I have photos.

Kingbird sings its heart out. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 12, 2014.

Kingbird sings its heart out. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 12, 2014.

And then there’s this next photo.

It’s actually a screen capture from a video I have yet to fully process.  It’s the best image I’ve isolated thus far.  This bird was spotted in the brush along a small stream, low to the ground, darting in and out of the shrubbery.

Three of us were on it.  Initial conversation suggested warbler.  Something like a female Tennessee. In the moment, my sense was chunkier and stouter than a warbler, particularly around the bill.  My thoughts were Vireo.

Mystery bird. Female Black-throated Blue, Warbling Vireo, or Philadelphia Vireo. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 12, 2014.

Mystery bird. Female Black-throated Blue, Warbling Vireo, or Philadelphia Vireo. Garrett Mountain, NJ. Photo taken on May 12, 2014.

Ultimately the birder with the most experience called it as a Philadelphia Vireo given the marks around the eye, lack of wing-bar or other distinction on the wing, and the washed yellow belly.

While the group was enjoying the bird, I literally had to run to make it to work on time.  Leaving early resulted in my not getting the day’s tally until several days had past, thus I didn’t submit our speculation, photo or list to ebird promptly.

I got tired of waiting for the list when the weekly RBA went out on Wednesday stating the discovery of a Philadelphia Vireo in the same park on Tuesday.  I posted what I could remember.

As I anticipated, the ebird sighting was flagged and I received a note from a reviewer, based on the above photo suggesting female Black-throated Blue…. which seems possible.  However, the only reason why I’m not sold is the tell-tale wing spot.  From what I can tell, the white spot is always distinct male or female.  While the primaries pale a bit where the coverts end, I’m not convinced that this is a distinct spot distorted by the bird’s movement as none of us noted any marking on the wing at the time.

However, with my posting of this photo after the public announcement regarding a regionally rare bird, it looks as though I’m jumping on the band wagon… at this point I just want to know what the bird is!  The more I think  about it, the less I’m certain.