Of Thee I Sing!

Rather it would be more like squawking if truth be told. But nevertheless, Liberty has been the theme of the month.  At the beginning of the month, I joined Montclair’s final ornithology trip to Culver’s Lake/Walkill River National Wildife Refuge where they surpassed my year’s record of 119 species with 124 for the semester.  At Culver’s Lake I picked up American Widgeon (I went 342 days without seeing one?!) and Common Goldeneye.  It was cold, occasionally bitterly so.  (Year species 192 and 193).

After lunch we found ourselves on Liberty Loop at Walkill.  Parts of it were in NJ, parts in NY.  We tramped about the loop in the declining winter sun.  The class picked up White-Throated Sparrows, heard but ne’er saw the Downy Woodpecker.  We were treated to beautiful views of gliding Northern Harriers and we all added a beautiful Rough-legged Hawk to our lists (194).  I opted not to bring my camera because I didn’t want to hold up the class progress, but hopefully I’ll be able to snag a photo or two to retroactively post. Further into the loop, along a wooded stretch we watched a Cooper’s Hawk sitting inches above the ground in a boggy area.

The sun sank further and the prize of the day remained elusive:the Short-eared Owl. John frequently scanned every hummock, but I held out for an appearance just before sunset.  Hand in hand temperature and hope dropped as we walked north along the western edge of the marsh and the light disappeared.  We turned towards the last stretch into the parking lot when the group lingering behind called loudly enough to capture our attention.  Out over the southern edge of the marsh (where we had been 30 minutes before!) a brilliant show of swooping, graceful wings danced on the horizons. (And yes, there are multiple horizons.  First there is the marshline, then the treeline; both are vital reference points).  From our vantage point we were witness to 5 Short-ears hunting at twilight (195).  Against the marsh and the trees, they looked like white; dancing against the sky, their silhouettes turned black.

Fast forward a week: Christmas Bird Count!  T’was very exciting to be invited to participate!  I had friends who were doing the count on Saturday (the day of the horrible snows), but I lucked out weather-wise with Sunday.  It started off bitterly cold (two hours in, I was more concerned about whether or not I had the first case of frostbite; couldn’t tell if my feet were just cold or cold and wet), but when the sun grudgingly appeared, my feet reached a tolerable temperature.  There were seven in our party tasked with surveying Liberty State Park in Jersey City.  The group was associated with Rutgers Newark of which I have previously posted.  We had a record 64 species, and a record low number of individuals due to really low counts of Canada Geese and Brant.  We were treated to nice views of Horned Larks and my best views yet of Snow Buntings.  We searched for owls in the conifer groves, but it was not meant to be!  I had a definitive Greater Scaup (196) and my first looks at a tricksy Long-tailed Duck (197)!  Away from the open water we picked up Rusty Blackbirds (198) and I had my first views of American Pipit (199)! Which is a lovely bird, if only for the name (pipit!), though I’m sketchy on the identification as I was instructed to know it by it’s slender bill and just the way it walks.  It has a way.  Which if it doesn’t walk while you’re viewing it, doesn’t help!  We had a surprise lunchtime visitor of two Orange-Crowned Warblers (200.)  All the details of our count can be found here.

We did quite well!  And in creating my list just now, I realized I had a miscount and have officially achieved 200 birds for the year! Woo! I guess I don’t have to go chasing a Snowy Owl after all.  But do stay tuned, in case I do, and for other amazing news.

P.S. Winter banner was taken at the CBC looking towards NYC!

Last Hurrah?

What a whirlwind the last ~24 hours have been!

I have picked up one additional new species for the 2013 list (hello, Killdeer!) and three new species for the life list!

I didn’t get a chance to write about it previously, but on the evening of the 18th, at dusk, I headed out to the fields where as the sunset I saw plenty of American Robins roosting in a tree, a few Red-tailed Hawks, and the long-awaited Short-eared Owl.  From a distance in the dimming list they look almost like Northern Harriers. It’s not helped that their habitats are identical!  However, the Northern Harrier’s flight tends to be more purposeful whereas the Short-eared Owl looks like a Harrier on lots of sugar flying here, then there, and everywhere all at once.

Then the following morning, I went on a sunrise stroll as noted previously and then spent the afternoon birding in Central Jersey.  I didn’t see lots of diversity, but diversified my list.   We drove down to New Egypt where we saw the Northern Lapwings.  I have National Geographic’s Birds of North America, and their sketch doesn’t do it justice.  In the cowpats, and mulepats, the birds were positively gleaming.  With the aid of borrowed scopes we had very nice views of the three lapwings amongst the Killdeer.  We also ran into other birders we knew!  Such a small world! Chris and Ray were arriving just as we were.

We stayed there for a bit before heading out to Colliers WMA in hopes of finding the feasting Red Crossbills, but despite driving around searching the premises for quite a good while, we had no luck.

From there we decided to head northward with the waning light and try our luck for the our old friend the Pink-footed Goose, as well as the Tundra Swans, Northern Shrike, and Barnacle Geese reported in the Assunpink  WMA.  We struck out on all four, alas, got a bit lost, but we did pick up a Red-throated Loon.  So all was not lost.  On Tuesday, it’s back to school again!  While school is local and I’ll still be in the area, my time will become much more constrained and I will be down to one day per week free.

So this was my last big hurrah bird-bird-bird day for time-being, but I’ll be checking my calendar to see when I can get out again.   And as the days get longer, I’ll have more opportunities for birding post work and class.