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.

Mystery Visitor Drops In Downtown, Literally

The mystery bird

The mystery bird

Today at work we received a call regarding a mystery bird.  The caller couldn’t see the legs, or the feet.   When this happens, we play guess the bird.  It generally involves some level of charades as the office tries to suggest questions to ask while one of us corresponds with the caller.

This bird was a pigeon-sized bird with a long, down-turned beak.  It wasn’t an Owl or a Hawk according to the caller. Flummoxed, we had another employee running errands in the neighborhood, so he stopped over and snapped two photos.  One went to the Education Director, and the second to me.   Despite the wealth of knowledge at our finger tips, we were perplexed.  We sent the photo out to some bird experts at an unnamed bird organization.

My colleague judged the bird in sound health, just resting along its migratory path in the middle of downtown Tenafly.

After work, I stopped by to see if the bird was there.  It was dark, but I found the bird still hanging out on the sidewalk across from 7-Eleven. The photo above and the follow photo are the ones I acquired.  (Considering what light I had to work with, I am happy with the results!  I must say I felt simultaneously professional and ridiculous as I lay flat on the sidewalk to minimize any shaking of the camera in the poor light. Lots of weird looks from passerbys but one lovely conversation with the woman who was parked inches from the bird.)

Shining some light on the subject.

Shining some light on the subject.

The bird organization we sent the original photo (pictured below) did some consultation and came back with the identification of King Rail. After seeing the bird myself, I disagree with the assessment and am inclined go with the significantly smaller Virginia Rail. However, before I submit it to ebird as anything definite, I’m posting it here.  It just doesn’t look like a 15 inch bird.

The Mug Shot in better light.

The Mug Shot in better light.