If at first you don’t succeed…

A. Quit.
B. Get reinforcements
C. Blame external conditions
D. Blame the gods
E. All of the above

These are the choices of a birder having a bad day.  How many times have you just decided to call it a day, asked another birder if they’ve had better luck finding the target, or blamed conditions?

Afterwards, you…. (select all that apply.)
A. Check ebird for more specifics on location
B. Verify field markings in a field guide/allaboutbirds
C. Call reinforcements
D. Go back again

The number of answer choices selected in question 2 indicates your level Birder Style.  (By the way, if you selected all of the above, you are an Obsessed Birder).

All of this leads me to my pursuit of George this past September.  (Can you tell what type of birder I am yet?)

So George is not a person, not even a birder.  The truth is George was a RBA celebrity.  George appeared in late July at the Meadowlands.  He was an overnight wonder.  The glossiest white feathers, a much bulkier frame; he put the egrets to shame.   And to every birder’s delight he stayed. and stayed. and stayed.

He wasn’t seen every day, but it was it was close.  Birders grew to know him on a very personal level.  They knew his favorite dinning locations at low tide; where he’d go when he needed a change of pace.  He was the celebrity that lived in your neighborhood, much like Mr. Rogers.

He was there throughout the summer, but I couldn’t get away to see him for myself.  15 minutes from my own apartment and I was house-sitting in another state!

Finally September rolled around and I was free to pursue George.  First we forgot to do our research before going.  That was that was Thursday.  So I returned at the next possible opportunity: Saturday.  Here’s what I saw:

Yellowlegs huddled on a distant shore. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 6, 2014.

Yellowlegs huddled on a distant shore. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 6, 2014.

Nope, no George slumbering here.

Snowy Egret and Yellowlegs size comparison. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 6, 2014.

Snowy Egret and Solitary Sandpipers size comparison. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 6, 2014.

No George here either.

Black and white. Cormorants and a white bird at a great distance. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 6, 2014.

Black and white. Double-crested Cormorants and a white bird at a great distance. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 6, 2014.

So a white bird at a far distance. Had its back toward me the entire time.  Visible from the New Jersey Turnpike, I’m sure, but not from my spot.

Conditions were not favorable. So home again I went. The new week began and reports of George’s habits continued. So the next Thursday rolled around. By this time, I was pretty sure I had the precise location of George’s favorite fishing hole.  Now for confirmation.

Solitary sandpipers aren't so solitary.  These solitary sandpipers look like they're skating on ice. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 11, 2014.

Solitary sandpipers aren’t so solitary. These solitary sandpipers look like they’re skating on ice. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 11, 2014.

Negative on George.

The Solitary Sandpipers now look like speed skaters in the mud. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 11, 2014.

The Solitary Sandpipers now look like speed skaters in the mud. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 11, 2014.

Still nothing.

Red-tailed Hawk. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 11, 2014.

Red-tailed Hawk. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 11, 2014.

Not George.

Hidden in the yellowlegs: Greater Yellowlegs and Lesser as well as Short-billed Dowitchers. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 11, 2014.

Hidden in the yellowlegs: Greater Yellowlegs and Lesser as well as Short-billed Dowitchers. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 11, 2014.

Finding George is like finding Waldo, or not.

A migrating Yellow Warbler passes through. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 11, 2014.

A migrating Yellow Warbler passes through. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 11, 2014.

Wrong color for George.

Conclusive proof as we're going to get: George the American White Pelican at the Meadowlands.  NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 11, 2014.

Conclusive proof as we’re going to get: George the American White Pelican at the Meadowlands. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on September 11, 2014.

George!

Meeting at the Meadowlands II

On a Thursday early in June as I was leaving work, I was debating whether I should go birding (obviously) or go home and do research on my upcoming trip to Arizona where I would get a few days to bird.  So tough call.  As I was debating, I got a text from my birding partner in crime, suggesting we hit up the Meadowlands briefly.  Birding was meant to be.

Osprey carrying fish past the NJTP. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on June 5, 2014.

Osprey carrying fish past the NJTP. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on June 5, 2014.

That blip against the building is an osprey.  Normally, the Meadowland photos don’t do justice to the true nature of NJ wildlands.  The wilds of New Jersey are not often tucked in far away, remote corners (as there aren’t too many of those in the state!), but in close, obvious areas such as along major American arteries.  Here you have the NJTP (New Jersey Turnpike) which connects Philadelphia and New York. Beyond these cities, it’s I-95.  Despite the high volume of traffic, this region is a thriving haven for many marsh and grassland species.

Osprey carrying fish. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on June 5, 2014.

Osprey carrying fish. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on June 5, 2014.

Here’s the same Osprey captured against the sky.  If the Osprey doesn’t care about the traffic, why should we?

Although, there was quite a bit of traffic in the sky that day.  Soon after, three Mallards flew by.

Mallards in flight. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on June 5, 2014.

Mallards in flight. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on June 5, 2014.

There was also avian activity closer to ground.  As we checked out the marshlands along the turnpike we heard, then located, a Willow Flycatcher.  Unlike its predecessors, this one was sitting out on a conspicuous perch.  Clearly didn’t get the memo: hide, hide, hide.

Finally got a flycatcher: Willow Flycatcher perches in the open. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on June 5, 2014.

Finally got a flycatcher: Willow Flycatcher perches in the open. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on June 5, 2014.

Wandering back, we learned that one of the Sandy-damaged meadow trails was finally reopened.  We took it as far as we could and were rewarded for our curiosity.

Marsh Wren singing in the marsh.  NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on June 5, 2014.

Marsh Wren singing in the marsh. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on June 5, 2014.

The Marsh Wrens we’ve been hearing for some weeks now were finally visible along this trail.

Complete List:

Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Gadwall
Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Red-tailed Hawk
Killdeer
Herring Gull
Forester’s Tern
Black Skimmer
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Willow Flycatcher
Warbling Vireo
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Marsh Wren
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

It was a lovely few hours….. easy enough to say now that I’m inside and well away from the swarms of 10,000s of gnats that infested the walkways.  But the birds were worth it. They always are.

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.

 

Final Snow

On Saturday, the Kestrel Trio (a friend, my adviser, and myself) agreed to meet up at the Richard DeKorte Environmental Center within the NJ Meadowlands for a bit of birding.  (Someday hopefully I will learn that a bit of birding is never just a bit!).

The Meadowlands at that particular site contains embankments cutting through the watery meadows allowing good views of ducks, regardless of the position of the sun.  It also is an excellent site for raptors.  So when one wearies of ducks, a glance upward might be rewarded with raptors.  If there’s little luck within the park, just outside the entrance is Disposal Rd. a favorite spot for avian photographers.  The lay of the land creates an uplift of air, rewarding patient photographers with great images soaring hawks and darting falcons.

American Kestrel pauses from its aerobatics to bob in a bare tree. NJ Meadowlands. March 15, 2014.

American Kestrel pauses from its aerobatics to bob in a bare tree. NJ Meadowlands. Taken on March 15, 2014.

While ducking (hey, you can owl, so why can’t you duck?) I didn’t take photos, but I switched from my binoculars to my camera at the end when we wandered along Disposal Rd.  We heard reports of Rough-leggeds, but didn’t see any.  There are also Short-eared Owls known to be in the area, but we weren’t there at the right time.  I hope to head out there some day after work, before the Short-ears depart…

Northern Harrier skims the hillside. NJ Meadowlands. March 15, 2014.

Northern Harrier skims the hillside. NJ Meadowlands. Taken on March 15, 2014.

We did see a lovely Long-tailed Duck, and a Horned Grebe hanging out on the water, but the surprise of the day was the Snowy Owl. The surprise was made sweeter simply by the fact I wasn’t out to see it: I had seen it at Sandy Hook, dipped on my return visit and had mostly accepted it was how things were meant to be. (Not that we didn’t debate whether the large white thing that flew across Valley Brook Rd on the drive into the meet up point was a Snowy Owl… my vote was plane.)

Snowy Owl hangs out in the phragmites along the watery meadows of the NJ Meadowlands.  March 15, 2014.

Snowy Owl hangs out in the phragmites along the watery meadows of the NJ Meadowlands. Taken on March 15, 2014.