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

Piering Back Through Time

August is often a quiet birding month. If you are fortunate enough to be by the seashore or along a flyway, you can witness the beginning of the migration season as shorebirds move through. Why do shorebirds depart so early?

Well here in New Jersey, we’re quite fortunate when it comes to shore birds!  We have our endangered Piping Plovers nesting on our beaches and the Ruddy Turnstones refueling on their migration, but oftentimes don’t realize the Ruddy Turnstone’s behaviors are more typical of their family (Scolopacidae). Many of the shorebirds migrate to the far northern reaches of this hemisphere. Not sure what marketing strategies they used, but it worked. “Experience Long Days in Short & Sweet Summers”?

Goodness knows I’d response to such an advertisement.  And the shorebirds definitely do.  Take a look at the two maps below.  Gleaned from the riches of the internet, on the left we have a generalized map showing the migration pathways of shorebirds between the polar reaches.  Most of our neotropicals (sciencespeak for summer birds found in the Western Hemisphere) prefer to spend their winters in more climates with a shorter commute.  However, the shorebirds hold most of the records for long distance migration (the way Kenya produces champion Olympic runners).

  • About ~1800 species perform long distance migrations (18%).
  • White-rumped Sandpiper flies 15,000 miles one way.
  • Bar-tailed Godwits Limosa lapponica fly 11,000 miles nonstop.

Now the map on the right shows breed locations for Snow Geese.  While not a shore bird, the map depicts the preference for extreme latitudinal breeding grounds also evidenced by dozens of shorebirds.  These habitats are rich with the food resources needed by the birds. So why do shorebirds migrate so early?  Long commute.

So back to birding here in the mid-Atlantic.  August saw me house-sitting once more in New York.   While house-sitting I had a few opportunities to go a birding hotspot in the county known the “the Pier”.  It’s not wooden nor is it like a boardwalk.   It’s a one-mile road once used for military purposes now converted into a paved and tree-lined walk into the Hudson River (that generally keeps your feet dry – bonus!). This is a nice spot for ducks, shorebirds, warblers, and some raptors depending on the season.  It juts out the western shore of the Hudson River as a signal to all weary birds they can find refuge here.  Just south of the Pier is a marsh which further extends sanctuary for these feathered friends.  It’s probably the best/only shorebird birding location in Rockland county.

There have been some enviable birds seen here.  Generally not by me.  But what I’m trying to build for myself is a solid working knowledge of the usual suspects at this site so I can find the fun ones.  So the remainder of this post is the dialogue in my head as I processed and assessed these images.   It’s like a note to myself for in the future when I forget what the shorebirds look it because it happens every year.

Mallard in flight. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 10, 2014.

Mallard in flight. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 10, 2014.

As I continue working towards improvement in bird photography, I’d like to focus on birds in motion.  (Some of this may need to wait until I get a functional camera).  I like this photo though despite the blur and shadow.   The mallards are around year-round, but I do want to try to remember to appreciate them!

Osprey on the prowl. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 24, 2014.

Osprey on the prowl. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 24, 2014.

Another fairly frequent visitor: the Osprey.  Usually if I remember to look up often enough and scan with the binoculars, I can find at least one Osprey.  Another in motion photo.  In this one, the M-shape that helps to identify the species is less evident.   I know some birders who strongly feel Ospreys must be observed for it to be considered a good day of birding.  Thus the 24th must have been a good day.

Least Sandpiper forages among large rocks at high tide. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 10, 2014.

Least Sandpiper forages among large rocks at high tide. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 10, 2014.

And to close with some photos of shorebirds.  Which is what one particularly seeks in August.   Notorious for traveling in large groups and looking like carbon copies, shorebirds can be very frustrating to identify.   I know when taking these photos in August, my focus was on photography rather than identification.

Least Sandpiper gazes out at the tide. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 24, 2014.

Least Sandpiper gazes out at the tide. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 24, 2014.

Both the above photos featured the Least Sandpiper.  There are three small sandpipers in the region collectively known as peeps.  Please don’t eat them, they’re not as sweet as they sound!  In fact I would argue the opposite of sweet is not bitter, but frustrating!  How often is a day of birding either characterized as sweet or frustrating?   The Least is the smallest peep, but when you’re lacking a ruler and distance is an issue 1/4 inch differences don’t help!

The most obvious give away are the legs.  Take a look at the two above: yellow.  Now if in deep water, mud, or shade or poor lighting (90% of all situations +/- 5.5%) the yellow isn’t obvious.

What else stands out to me?  There seems to be a bit more of an intentional eye line, the feathers have more of a rust color, the bill seems a bit shorter?

Semipalmated Sandpiper hunkers down to wait for better times, or tides. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 24, 2014.

Semipalmated Sandpiper hunkers down to wait for better times, or tides. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 24, 2014.

Now this fellow above is different.  Legs are darker.  No discernible eye line. More like an eye spot? Brown-brown feathers.  I’d say this is a Semipalmated Sandpiper.  Which I believe in the Mid-Atlantic region is the most common.  (Despite what my August collection of photos appears to indicate!)  Slightly larger, which I know from my bird guide and websites, not the photo!

Least Sandpiper scrambles at the water's edge. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 10, 2014.

Least Sandpiper scrambles at the water’s edge. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 10, 2014.

Last and least!  The Least Sandpiper here again.   Note the rust-tinges, yellow legs, eye line.   Also, it seems that the upper breast, just below the neck region is also buffier than in other sandpipers (comparison not yet available).  Note that the Pectoral Sandpiper who is better known for this feature has coloration much further down and is a larger sandpiper.

I also just really like this photo.  It’s one in a series of 5 taken moments apart and all the others are just slightly out of focus with my autofocus.  Thanks, camera.

Additional Reading:
Ecological Studies and Environmental Monitoring at Bylot Island Sirmilik National Park.
Bird Migration. Wikipedia.

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.

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

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.