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.

Overload: Too Much of a Good Thing

On Thursday of last week, John invited his students to bird Great Swamp with him.  This time, three of us took him up on the offer.  Meeting up at 7:30, we quickly picked up a Yellow Warbler, GBH, Black-and-white Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, and Scarlet Tanager.

Scarlet Tanager view #2.

Scarlet Tanager view #2.

The Great Swamp is a great big swamp which has a few boardwalks and blinds great for birding when not off-limits during the hunting season.   In the swamp proper, we picked up Wood Thrushes, Veery, Ovenbird, and Northern Waterthrush.

The Wood Thrush belts out its electronic melody.

The Wood Thrush belts out its electronic melody.

The other two didn’t want to play bird-by-ear, so all the questions and quizzes were directed at me.  Being on the receiving end of these quizzes is intense – I didn’t realize how much so at the time.

At the blind, we saw more warblers, spotting Yellow Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Swamp Sparrow (not a warbler, but appropriately placed, in the swamp!).   I might remember the Common Yellowthroat – an association with the Lone Range and translating the call to what-d0-we-do-what-do-we-do? I finally heard the call of the Willow Flycatcher. Fitz-phew!  John has talked about this call for years, so it was well overdue for me to hear it!  Haven’t laid eyes on it yet but some day!

Afterwards, our group size dropped by 1 and drove to a drier portion of the swamp where we spotted a Baltimore Oriole, Yell0w-billed Cuckoos flying by, lots of Gray Catbirds. (We affectionately call them Garys because that’s totally what the call sounds like!) and a punky Lincoln’s Sparrow.

I think the Lincoln's Sparrow looks more punk like Puck, than esteemed like Abe.

I think the Lincoln’s Sparrow looks more punk like Puck, than esteemed like Abe.

Baltimore Oriole takes advantage of the sun.

Baltimore Oriole takes advantage of the sun.

We wrapped up at the education center just in the next county where we picked up Blue-winged Warbler and Great Crested Flycatcher. At this point, all my photos become non-bird related and I think I was physically and mentally done with birds for the day. I can show you photos of painted turtles, bull frogs, scouring rush, and cyprus knees, but no more birds.

Great Crested Flycatcher before he flew away.  We heard him at Great Swamp, but got good looks at Lord Stirling Park.

Great Crested Flycatcher before he flew away. We heard him at Great Swamp, but got good looks at Lord Stirling Park.

Afterwards, when I got home, all the birds sounds were jumbled up in my head and I couldn’t hear myself think over the cacophony.   By evening, I had the worst headache of my life: nauseous, room spinning – no bueno.   I suspect it was some product of audio overload, too much glare, or not enough water.  So I took some time off from birding to recuperate. I gave it a couple days and am slowly working my way through the calls trying to retain them in my memory.  I’ve lost some of the ones I had recently acquired, so I need to refresh some older ones and drill some new ones.

Great Swamp List: (lifers denoted with *)

  • Canada Goose
  • Wood Duck
  • Mallard
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Black Vulture
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Mourning Dove
  • Yellow-billed Cuckoo
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee*
  • Willow Flycatcher*
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Great Crested Flycatcher*
  • Yellow-throated Vireo*
  • Warbling Vireo
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  • Barn Swallow
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Veery*
  • Wood Thrush
  • American Robin
  • Gray Catbird
  • Ovenbird
  • Northern Waterthrush*
  • Blue-winged Warbler*
  • Black-and-white Warbler
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • American Redstart
  • Magnolia Warbler*
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Blackpoll Warbler*
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Field Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • Lincoln’s Sparrow
  • Swamp Sparrow
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Common Grackle
  • Orchard Oriole
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • American Goldfinch

New for the day at Lord Stirling Park:

  • Turkey Vulture
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Eastern Kingbird*
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • House Finch

Marvels on Mother’s Day

As I work every Sunday, I did not get to spend Mother’s Day with my mother.  For some reason she didn’t want to get up early to go on a Mother’s Day hike at the center.   However, I went in extra early to do a bit of birding with two other birders.  We had a lovely time despite the dearth of mothers.  The target birds were the Scarlet Tanager and Rose-breasted Grosbeak, both of which we got within 15 minutes.  We got most of the birds early in on the Red Trail and along the pond.  At the pond, we spent some time stalking the green heron.  We were scouting for better looks at the green heron, and heard the wood ducks fly in.  We may have had as many as three green herons, but definitely two.  As we moved to the white trail which had less in the way of bird life to interest us, but more to speculate regarding plants, we found miniature broccoli bits strewn along the trail.  It took us awhile to confirm our suspicions, but the broccoli-like bits were the sweet gum flowers!

More reading on the “lofty, maligned sweet gum“!

Also, on the white trail we were treated to some closer looks at the singing Wood Thrush.  We returned to the main trail instead to watch a domestic dispute between two Baltimore Orioles.   As we were approaching the yellow trail, I heard the distinctive teacher, teaCHER, TEACHER! of the Ovenbird.  As we were currently chasing a Common Yellowthroat (which we dipped on) the other two were skeptical, but when the call repeated, they became believers.  It took several good minutes of tracking, but we did finally locate the Ovenbird scampering away into the bush on its scrawny legs.  I missed out on seeing the Ovenbird on the day of my defense. So I was very excited to move the bird to a bona fide lifer instead of just a lifer by ear.

Morning’s List:

  • Canada Goose
  • Wood Duck
  • Wild Turkey
  • Green Heron
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Mourning Dove
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Warbling Vireo
  • Blue Jay
  • Tree Swallow
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Carolina Wren
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Wood Thrush
  • American Robin
  • Gray Catbird
  • Ovenbird
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Common Grackle
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Baltimore Oriole

The Birding I Didn’t Do

Resulted in two lifers!

Saturday was the World Series of Birding.  Being a birder in New Jersey, one can’t help but be aware of the World Series of Birding.  My introduction to it came in the form of my undergraduate ornithology class where each lab was structured like the WSB.   I also know multiple people who have participated.

I didn’t do the World Series of Birding.  I wanted to but (1) work and (2) knowledge that I wasn’t fully ready for such an adventure prevented me.  But it’s a life goal. So someday.  That didn’t make seeing people running up and down our trails with binoculars while I was working any easier!  (Granted they could have been just birding, but still!)

As I was wrapping up work and getting ready to meet my family for shenanigans, one of my coworkers yelled Scarlet Tanager and sprinted for the window.  Needless the other two of us in the room belted for the windows as well.  For both of us, it was a lifer.  Between the three of us, we had 1 set of binoculars and 1 cell phone.  However, the Scarlet Tanager was very accommodating, staying long enough for each of us to get a prolonged view with the binoculars and some group work achieved this:

Digi-binning a lifer: Scarlet Tanager

Digi-binning a lifer: Scarlet Tanager

I was holding the binoculars and camera, while a coworker steadied my elbow.  As we were drifting back towards work, another new bird flew in!  a female Black-throated Blue Warbler who boasts neither a black throat nor blue.  But she shares the same abrupt white wing bar as her male conspecifics.   She wasn’t as cooperative so no fancy photo of her!