Saturday, January 3, 2009

Jan 2nd - Mercer County Parks

To start the year out, I decided to head to Florence NJ to view the gulls in the river that accumulate there when the dump was in operation. Of course, on Friday the dump wasn't operating at all and there were very few birds to be seen, only the three species of gulls, and in the light snow not a great deal else.

While contemplating this debacle I decided to visit Mercer County Park in Lawrenceville/Hamilton to see if I could at least find a Common Merganser. I did, almost immediately, and there were a few small flocks flying around. Most of the lake was frozen but at the marina a decent size Canada Goose flock had accumulated. In the midst of it I found a Cackling Goose - classical in petite structure with a paler and pale-fringed mantle. Then while looking for more of them I came across a Greater White-fronted Goose in the same flock. After I returned with my scope I couldn't find the GWF but finally tracked it down after the flock decided to leave the lake and feed on the ball fields behind the ranger station near the marina. Two nice geese and not a bad consolation for Florence.

Near home I decided to check out the other version: Mercer County Park North West i.e. Pole Farm. The snow had stopped and the weather was starting to clear as I made it to the park. Almost immediately I saw a pale phase Rough-legged Hawk - rather unexpected - and then a few Northern Harriers (including two males) and an American Kestrel. A rather nice mix of raptors, padded by one of the local Red-tailed Hawks. After sprinting home to get the camera to see if I could get photos of the Rough-legged I returned just to watch the pale phase decided it had had enough action for one day and perch on the far side of the field. The icing on the cake was a dark phase Rough-legged that flew over the park toward dusk, ultimately ending up roosting on the far side of the other field I was monitoring.

I waited around until dusk and after the sun went down the final bird of the day was a single Short-eared Owl. Not as prolific as last year in terms of owls, Pole Farm still has some nice birds hunting the grassland this winter.

Interesting invasion patterns related to food supplies in northern wintering areas: last year was a Short-eared Owl invasion year, at least at Pole Farm but also in general; this year the numbers are low but in turn Snowy Owls and Rough-legged Hawks are having some of the best invasion numbers in years. I'm always conflicted about this - I love these birds but invasion years always correspond to years in which food supplies crash and the birds are starving. Many will not make it to return to breeding grounds.

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