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!

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.

More Truths

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single town in possession of a good fortune must be in need of a nature center. In Bergen County, where I live, work, and bird, nearly every town appears to have a nature center.  This leaves one with many choices for good birding.

I finally opened my eyes Friday morning.  I was going into work a bit late and could afford to sleep in.  Or I could until I saw the ebird notifications for what had turned up in the last 24 hours.  I bounded out of bed and was out the door within 20 minutes.  No breakfast, just a cup of tea to get me through.

This was me: Clara with her Tea| Doctor Who Tumbr

This was me: Clara with her Tea | Doctor Who Tumbr

Greater Scaup (1 report)
– Solitary Sandpiper (1 report)
– Greater Yellowlegs (2 reports)
– Bonaparte’s Gull (1 report)
– Northern Waterthrush (1 report)
– Savannah Sparrow (1 report)

Many of these were from New York, just across the border, about half a mile from where my folks reside.  I could make it there, get an hour of birding in and still be on time for work, all while getting breakfast at the local deli, to boot!

But it wasn’t to be.

The second truth universally acknowledged is when you want to get somewhere particularly quickly or badly, there will be traffic. Welcome to New Jersey, home of Bridgegate where we invented more traffic because there just wasn’t enough to begin with.

Despite the early hours, there was bad traffic on Rte 46, leading towards the GWB as a result of an accident.  I wasn’t going to make it to the Pier and to work on time.  Thus I began wracking my brain for an alternative.

I decided to go check out Demarest Nature Center of Demarest, NJ, home of the Redheaded Woodpecker. (We hope it’s occupying the tree for the season.)  Driving in, songs were dripping from the abundant greenery.

First stop was to look for the woodpecker, but there was no activity.  I began working my way along the very muddy trails of the center.  I had about 45 minutes there before I had to depart for work.

Surprise, a Louisiana Waterthrush bobs along the flooded pools. Demarest, NJ. Photo taken on May 2, 2014.

Surprise, a Northern Waterthrush bobs along the flooded pools. Demarest, NJ. Photo taken on May 2, 2014.

While there, I did locate Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, a Gray Catbird, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, and several Yellow-rumped in addition to our resident birds. I also picked up Red-bellied Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, and Pileated Woodpecker. Plus, I picked up a Northern Waterthursh (edited).  I had been going with Louisiana because the white screamed white.  However, as Lawrence points out, there are stripes along the throat which indicates Northern. The joys of warblers! This waterthrush nicely jumped up on the branches for a photo op..

I saved a few minutes for a scan of the trees when I returned to my car.  And there it was:

Redheaded Woodpecker remains at the Demarest Nature Center near the playground. Demarest, NJ. Photo taken on May 2, 2014.

Redheaded Woodpecker remains at the Demarest Nature Center near the playground. Demarest, NJ. Photo taken on May 2, 2014.

Truth #3 achieved. What ye seek, ye shall find.

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

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.

Defended!

On Monday, I successfully defended my thesis once we found a sufficiently warm classroom and  had the technology successfully up and operational.   I’m including the opening slide.  Voila!

defense-kestrel-intro

The day of my defense, I began the morning by joining my advisor and a friend for two hours of birding back at Garrett Mountain.  This time around we picked up 43 species, including Spotted Sandpiper, Ovenbird, Red-eyed Vireo,  Yellow Warbler, Prairie Warbler, and Baltimore Oriole which were lifers, and Greater Yellow Legs, which was new for the year.

So now that the thesis is out of the way; the only changes I’ll need to make are the fine-tuning revisions as we prepare for publication, I can return to birding!