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!

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

Meeting in the Meadowlands I

On Thursday as I was finishing up work, I  got a text from my birding partner in crime suggesting we head to the Meadowlands for a break between work and evening plans.

We got down there around 4 and had a pleasant walk around the pools.  It wasn’t too buggy because there was a bit of a breeze blowing.

We had views of a Bald Eagle soon after our arrival.  Too far to get photos, but still nice views.  We found a Marsh Wren!  Well, we had someone point out the song to us.  That was pretty exciting.

Snowy Egret. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on May 29, 2014.

Snowy Egret. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on May 29, 2014.

We frequently have Snowy and Great Egrets at the Meadowlands.  In general, I find the lack of neck and the Mohawk of feathers to be important identification tools.

Lesser Yellowlegs. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on May 29, 2014.

Lesser Yellowlegs. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on May 29, 2014.

Visiting the Meadowlands is a good opportunity for working on identifying differences between Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs.  As the beak is ramrod straight, I’ll go with a Lesser Yellowlegs.  Greater Yellowlegs have a slight upturn to their bill.

Black Skimmer swoops down to scoop along the water. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on May 29, 2014.

Black Skimmer swoops down to scoop along the water. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on May 29, 2014.

As we were heading out we had one more surprise: a Black Skimmer. We had wonderful views of the skimmer flying back and forth.  It even swooped down to skim while we watched.

Day’s List:

Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Gadwall
Mallard
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Osprey
Bald Eagle
Killdeer
Spotted Sandpiper
Lesser Yellowlegs
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Forster’s Tern
Black Skimmer
Mourning Dove
Warbling Vireo
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Tufted Titmouse
Marsh Wren
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Common Yellowthroat
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

 

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.