Farming for Birds

Now that the bet was on, I needed to pile on the birds.  Nothing like a little extra motivation in May.

Leaving Garrett Mountain, I headed into work for awhile to run a program introducing Daisies to birding.  I had a group of 15 girls and parents.  Collectively we located 9 species: Canada Goose, Wild Turkey, Green Heron, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, American Robin, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, and a Crow sp.   Not so bad for a First Day (hour) of birding.

After work I decided to try birding at the Celery Farm where there is neither a farm nor celery, so I don’t know where the name comes from.

The Celery Farm is a 107-acre freshwater wetland in Allendale, New Jersey, and is open to the public during daylight hours every day of the year. Volunteers from Fyke are responsible for creating and maintaining the footpaths around the preserve, the three observation platforms and the nesting boxes.

Over 240 species of birds have been recorded here, and more than 50 are known to breed here. The wetlands and deciduous woods provide habitat for many mammals, fish, reptiles and insects. – website

The Celery Farm is the second most birded, bird-diverse area in the county according to ebird data.  I had never been so on a co-worker’s recommendation I decided to finish my day there.

A storm approaches. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

A storm approaches. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

The center is an open body of water along which a ~ 1 mile trail winds.  This trail switches between woodlands, a small stream, and a phragmite forest (phorest?). The day was ending, a thunderstorm was moving in, but I got a few birds.  27 all together, bringing the day’s total to 65 species, including Belted Kingfisher, Great Egret, Yellow Warbler which were new for the day.

Canada Goose checks the eggs. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

Canada Goose checks the eggs. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

Wood Ducks step away from their nest to enjoy a sunset swim. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

Wood Ducks step away from their nest to enjoy a sunset swim. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

Great Egret fishes along the shores. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

Great Egret fishes along the shores. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

Yellow Warbler dashes and darts through the buds and branches. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

Yellow Warbler dashes and darts through the buds and branches. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

Moments Like These

Tonight was the Annual Board Meeting.  I was collecting kindling from the campfire area when over the clattering of wood I heard a haunting wavering wallow.  My initial thought was wood duck, but it seemed too loud and too bold for a wood duck.  To me, wood ducks always seem surprised when calling out.  I’ve never heard wood ducks save for when I was right at the pond.  My second thought was common loon.  I’m familiar with the call of the loon from literature and television, but I don’t believe I’ve ever heard it in person.  Not like what I heard tonight anyway.  (I did hear a loon birding on foggy August morning with a coworker, but this was far more harrowing a call.)

I listened with half an ear for the remainder of the night, but the night remained silent other than the wind winding through the trees and missile acorns thundering down.  I asked my boss if she had heard the call; she hadn’t, but suggested it was some species of owl.  Now y’all know I would love for it to be an owl, but nothing in the melancholic call struck me as owlly.

As soon as my duties were over, I scampered down to the pond, by which I mean I made my way down there over roots and giant steps with great caution.  Once at the pond I extinguished my trusty cellphone flashlight and melted into the night.

I lay down on the dock (because that’s what one does) and just absorbed the essence of the night.  The north wind blew the waves toward me and beyond, some time in the next few days those waves will find their way into the Hackensack River and then the Raritan Bay.  The insects sang their final songs of summer.  I imagined the swarms of late warblers, like a very tardy white rabbit, scurrying overhead; making their way south where food is more plentiful.  No birds mourned the passing of summer, but it was one of those perfect autumn nights.  The forest is fully steeped in autumn now, in sights and smells and it’s not more evident than when the rains come or the night cloaks the forest.

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

If a tree falls,

…in the woods and you’re there to witness the momentous occasion, how cool is that?   I didn’t actually see the tree, but I heard it fall while I was out birding on Thursday after the rains let up.  Two days of rain – what a relief!   I think it’s the first rain we’ve had since Easter and it was much needed!   There have been at least two brush fires in the area (and we’re not talking about Colorado or California here, it’s New York and New Jersey!)

As soon as the rain let up Thursday, I headed out to see what birds were active.  It was about 5pm so it would coincide with the natural uptick in activity.   I decided to go on foot because there’s really no good parking near where I wanted to go.  (The nearest lot is about as far as the house, so walking made more sense.)

There was some activity on the way, but nothing I didn’t see in the park, so I didn’t log it.

Getting to the entrance though was a different story!  On park lands, I could look under the bridge leading past the park to watch Northern Rough-winged Swallow and Barn Swallows swoop in and out.  I was mostly hidden by the trees along the bank so I wouldn’t disturb them.  Nearly all my photos are blurry because they’re swift swallows (not swalling swifts), but I do really like this one:

Barn Swallow reflection.

Barn Swallow reflection.

You see the lower image and think it’s the bird, but no it’s only the reflection. The actual bird is the blob on top.  Love it.  I also love how murky and plain the backdrop is; the clouds were actually working with me for once!

I headed into the park where it was hard to pick up anything due to the roar of Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds, but peering into the marsh I did pick up a Canada Geese family and a Great Egret.

I didn’t have much luck until I reached the pool area.  At the pool, I climbed the slope so I could be at eye level with the trees, and plunked myself down for a bit to watch the wildlife. I know there’s more there than what I saw, but I am very excited by what I did see!  I got my first really good looks of a yellow warbler!

Yellow Warbler laments a lack of leaves.

Yellow Warbler laments a lack of leaves.

Isn’t he beautiful? Praising the sun gods for their return no doubt.  There were other birds flitting in and out of the woods, but my next exciting visitor was the Eastern Phoebe.  It was my second chance to get a good glimpse, and my first with my camera handy!

Proud Phoebe of the eastern variety.

Proud Phoebe of the eastern variety.

So distinguished!   I had some good views of him on the ground, and on a roof, so I’m excited that the one with the green in the background captured him the best!

Common Yellowthroat whose name I will likely never remember.

Common Yellowthroat whose name I will likely never remember.

Then my last exciting little fellow came about from some movement in the rushes below.  It took a white to spot him and longer to get his appearance on camera, but voila, a Common Yellowthroat!  And a lifer, too!   I spotted two males and one female.  It took me awhile to figure out the second was a female, but nothing else felt quite right.

After that I decided to wander away from the water in the hopes that I’d hear better, so I began moving up the mountain slope.   In the woods I didn’t have much beyond Blue Jays, and American Robins, although I did hear one American Crow fly over and come across a flock of White-throated Sparrows.

As night fell, it became more of a hike and less of a birding excursion, which is fine.  It was about two years since I had last traveled those trails so it was nice to see them again.  I wanted the one that looked over the Hudson, so it took some doing, but I did find it and was reward with my first Bald Eagle viewing of the month.  With the bluffs above the Hudson, I knew it was pretty good for Bald Eagles!   Soon the calls of the frogs, lured me onward.

At the western portion of the park, there are a number of “ponds” or artifical constructs that have since become ponds.  They’re quite lovely to hike along.  So I headed over to investigate the frog calls and picked up a Wood Duck and a Hermit Thrush.

From there I continued to the southern most portion of the park, and then after the sunset and a gentle rain began to fall, I made my way along the main trail about 1.9 miles to home.

Small World

I generally work on Sundays at the nature center.  I currently do the maple sugaring programs, lead guided nature walks and interact with the public.  This Sunday was no different from any other.  Or so I thought… (as if that needed saying since I’m writing about it!)

While I was bustling about, the door opened and in walked my future colleague who will be joining us for the summer programs we operate.  He and his current co-worker were spending sometime birding because both happen to be birders.  They started the day walking along the Pier which is a local hot spot.  The local Audubon frequently leads walks there and you’re generally guaranteed something – somedays it’s as awesome as an Iceland Gull or a seal. As we were discussing where they had birded, it turns out they had birded at one my patches – the pond across the street from my folk’s place.  And they even saw my Dad grabbing the Sunday paper.  Even cooler than that, they saw a Wood duck!


Great Blue Heron returns to Ferdon Pond.

Wood ducks are new for the pond.  So I was super-excited to check it out for myself when I’d head over there later this week.  (Last year there was also an immature Black-crowned Night Heron in the further downstream – I’ll need to be on the lookout!)

As we’re talking, turns out that we went to the same high school.  The coworker was in the same year as my sister.  Small world.


Wood duck tries out the role of ugly duckling with the Mallards.

Today when I stopped in, I found the Wood Duck – grabbed the camera out of the car and sprinted over there in case he decided after 2 days he had enough!

Then later as I was getting ready for work, I caught sight of the Great Blue Heron stopping in, but didn’t have time to go over to properly document the arrival.