Friday, December 24, 2010

Barnegat, Brigantine


Rolling the dice on a traditional NJ coastal route I started at Barnegat Inlet a little after sunup, although more accurately presented as sun-behind-overcast-rise. For a late Xmas present I request a weatherman voodoo doll.

The tide was so high that the breakwater (south side of the inlet, as usual) was surrounded by water on all sides beyond the concrete paved section. This also meant that there was some inundation further along. That didn't make a great deal of difference since with the tide so high not very much was perched on it. I saw fly-by Ruddy Turnstone, Dunlin and Purple Sandpiper. On the walk back down the breakwater from half-way I added Black-bellied Plover. A (presumed) Savannah Sparrow was also hanging out, too far to ID with any certainty but also likely to be an Ipswich ssp.

Large numbers of ducks milled around the ocean side of the inlet - scoters and Eiders and the common Long-tailed Ducks. I got all 3 species of Scoter (Black, Surf, White-winged) and a small group of Eider flying down the inlet on the rising tide. Red-breasted Mergansers periodically flew by. There was a relatively small group of Harlequin Ducks next to the breakwater but the tide was really too high to induce them to perch up. Common and Red-throated Loon were in the inlet. So in fact despite the high tide and unfavorable conditions I managed to find a perfectly typical range of Barnegat species. I left when two duck hunting boats headed out into the inlet. This appears to be a new feature this year, and as far as I can tell not illegal, but rather screws birding here.

Down at the Brigantine division of Forsythe NWR I could also hear shots out in the saltmarsh, but not right next to the impoundments. There was a flock of Snow Geese near start of the drive - normally they are further south and east of this, but I didn't find a Ross's with them - the flock was rather dispersed. Much of the fresh water impoundment was frozen solid - 30+ Tundra Swans and other waterfowl were clustered around the open patch. The southerly salt-water impoundment was about 50% ice free. The tide here was also very high - perhaps as high as I have seen it and much of the saltmarsh was under water. The flocks of Dunlin were resting on ice mats still stuck to the marsh grasses out in the bay. Waterfowl numbers were decent, although mainly American Black Duck, Northern Pintail and Mallard. Hooded Mergansers and Bufflehead were present, as was a nice surprise in a single female Common Merganser near one of the sluices giving good photo ops. Common Mergansers are usually pushed down from the north after hard freezes and it has been a cold December. Passerines were limited to a flock of Red-winged Blackbirds and a few Eastern Meadowlarks

Raptors were not especially numerous but I did have Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Harrier, Peregrine and a Bald Eagle. The eagle was an adult, but the Peregrine showed a small patch of brown on its otherwise slate-gray back, suggesting a first year bird.

I went back to Barnegat on the way back home and found nothing new, although I did watch a cooperative Common Loon hunting crabs near the end of the concrete paved section of the breakwater.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A little Black Vulture migration

Black Vultures have been expanding north over the last several years, but they are still by no means numerous in the general area of Central to Northern NJ. They seem to retreat south in the winter, and I was refilling my yard feeders on Monday morning when a trio of Black Vultures were circling over my house, headed south. A new yard bird.

Not long afterward on the commute to work there was a mixed Turkey & Black Vulture flock circling over Nassau Park shopping center, also headed south. An attractive idea of vulture flocks picking over holiday shoppers, I think in this case the hardening weather had driven vulture flocks south. I also see more Turkey Vultures over my neighborhood in winter, although they remain pretty numerous locally throughout the year.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Hermit Warbler




A Hermit Warbler was found by Vinny Pellegrino at Sunken Meadow State Park on Long Island on Saturday afternoon - a first state record that looks good for the species and remains only to be duly anointed by the records committee. I made a special trip on the very early morning of Wednesday to make it through NYC before the worst of rush hour and reach the park at dawn. Took me only a little while to find the warbler, and then I spent a little while photographing it.

This Hermit Warbler is especially significant because of a hybrid Townsend's X Hermit Warbler found at Jones Beach on Thanksgiving 2002 that I (amongst others) photographed and was the subject of quite a lot of discussion. NYSARC finally decided it was probably a hybrid and not a pure Hermit Warbler and so Hermit Warbler was not on the NY State list. Until now. The 2010 bird is gray-backed, lacks yellow in the vent (excludes Black-throated Green) and has a diffusely pale gray breast and flank. It appears to be a first fall female - the primary and retrix shape certainly indicates a first fall bird. The yellow eye ring is quite striking, as is the swath of yellow on the face - the slightly greener auricular patch is clearly limited to below a line from the bill through the eye which gives it quite a different pattern to Townsend's or Black-throated Greens which have larger auricular patches. This bird looks like it has a huge yellow supercilium by comparison. There's no evidence of Townsend's Warbler genes in it, short of capturing it and sequencing it to be totally certain.

And since this is merely birding, I don't think that sort of bird stress is ever justified just to fulfill curiosity.

Vagrancy being the mother of invention, this little warbler was seen feeding on the short grass along the northern edge of the park, in a manner that is quite atypical of other similar Dendroica warblers. Hermit belongs to the family of obviously closely-related warblers: Black-throated Green Warbler, Golden-cheeked Warbler, Townsend's Warbler and Hermit Warbler. Three of these species prefer evergreens to feed in, but Golden-cheeked breeds in Juniper-Oak habitat. Given the Hermit Warbler preference for conifers it's all the stranger for it to be feeding out in the open on grass, but I presume this is where the insects are and there's more of interest there than there is in the heavier cover. One of my photographs shows a very small insect on the tip of the warbler's bill - sub-millimeter size.

The Jones Beach Hermit hybrid was also a terrestrial bird, feeding amongst the ornamental kale/cabbages, which made for an interesting photographic backdrop.

Having seen a couple of females briefly on migration in AZ in late May in the company of migrating Townsend's, it was good to finally be able to take time to study one up close for an extended period, and be pretty sure I've seen a pure Hermit.

It's turning out to be quite a good rarity season (I've not seen either Ash-throated or Western Kingbird this fall, but they've been reported from NYC).

Update: this was apparently the last day the Hermit was seen - the following day it was absent, but a Merlin and a Cat were in the general area. I saw a falcon (probably the same Merlin) hunting the edge on Wednesday also. Wednesday night was also the coldest night of late, getting down into the low 20's F. Not a hospitable environment for a small vagrant warbler. It was not reported subsequently, and unfortunately that suggests that it succumbed to the elements.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

More Varied Thrush

Yes, I know that photo's not a Varied Thrush, but it was taken while I was waiting....

Lacking more original ideas I went back into Central Park on Saturday to attempt more Varied Thrush photographs on a day with at least some sun but rather low temperatures. I found it without too much trouble but it's questionable how much better the photographs are. There were two male Eastern Towhees in that area while I was there, and a number of White-throated Sparrows. While I was there I saw a flock of presumed Pine Siskins (by call) flying over the park and dropping into the trees but didn't get my binoculars on them before they flew off. A large aggressive Cooper's Hawk hunting the general area rather suppressed activity for a while. The Thrush made a detour out of the little patch that it normally hangs out in and headed into the Maintenance Field, unfortunately pursued by the gaggle of birders and some photographers with small lenses to the point that it was almost impossible envisioning it feeling safe enough to drop to the ground. Sure enough after 5 minutes or so it returned to the area east of the maintenance building/restrooms.

On the walk toward the Ramble from Strawberry Fields I heard then saw a Yellow-rumped Warbler - not regionally unusual but certainly infrequently reported from Central Park in winter. After getting a little frozen standing still in the Maintenance Field I went in search of the Yellow-breasted Chat near the Boathouse (no luck) but did find a Fox Sparrow in the Evodia Field.

Not a day of great diversity and the cold wind made a wimp out of me relatively early.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Actually, NOT a Northern Shrike...

but a Loggerhead Shrike instead. The Jones Beach bird was somewhat ambiguous, being both atypical for Northern and atypical for Loggerhead but the word of experience on BIRDWG01 has come up with some rather clear reasons of why it should be Loggerhead over Northern. You can follow the thread from the start via the archives.

Ironically, this is my first Loggerhead in New York State.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Varied Thrush in Central Park, Nov 30th


It's just a number, but as of last weekend I'd been sitting at 194 species seen in Central Park for quite some time. Now that I'm no longer in Manhattan it's become a little harder to track down one-day wonders although over the years I've not done badly in that department. I did, however, take time to visit the park on Tuesday morning to see the Varied Thrush that had originally been spotted by Mike Bryant et al on Sunday.

This Varied Thrush is an immature, and so sex is indeterminate, and there's some indication that it's had a hard life - the feathers at the throat on one side show a cleft that is suggestive of some injury. And it was mentioned to me that a toe might be dislocated. I didn't notice this myself and the bird seemed quite mobile and robust. In fact the only other Varied Thrush I'd ever seen was in MA in the dead of winter at Quabbin Reservoir feeding in the snow (Feb 13th 2004). I'm grateful that this bird stayed around long enough to be park bird #195.

Now all we need is another 5 vagrants.....

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Cackling Goose quandary

Cackling Geese are somewhat sought-after in these parts, being relatively rare and a very small proportion of the often massive Canada Goose flocks that dominate inland ponds and lakes. There are big wintering flocks around the Princeton-ish NJ area. This is rather different from e.g. the Katy Prairie area of TX where Canada/Cackling are in the distinct minority amongst other geese.

On Thanksgiving morning I headed out to Etra Lake, south-east of Hightstown in search of both Greater White-fronted and Cackling Geese, and found one of the latter but no GWF.

Picking out Cackling from Canada requires a certain comfort with the variation within Canada, which can be quite considerable within a flock. In particular the cheek patch and breast color are rather variable. Cackling is sometimes hyped as being a grayer-frostier colored bird, especially on the back, but there's quite a range of variation just within Canada. When I finally found the Cackling - identified by square head structure, bill size and small size - it was a similar color as a Canada next to it and well within the range of color variation of the flock. In fact I had one bird pegged as a Cackling by color until it raised its head and proved me obviously wrong.

In this mix there's also the big question of Lesser Canada Goose, which shares many of the attributes of Richardson's Cackling Goose and the separation of which is a potential nightmare. At the moment I'm (mostly) sweeping that under the rug but there have been some "Cackling" Geese that have certainly got me to wondering, in particular last winter's Rahway River Park birds.

A recent post by Sibley on Cackling vs Canada goose bill structure is pertinent here. The whole ID morass is still being worked out. While that effort is ongoing I rather suspect that Cackling Goose in eastern NY and NJ is really a bit bucket for all sorts of small outlier White-cheeked Geese. Which is why I still seek out reliable locations to study them further.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Stamford, Bronx, Long Island, Jamaica Bay


One of my period dark-dark trips with long road miles, I started off at the Fork-tailed Flycatcher spot in Stamford, CT just after dawn and while the bird took a little while to turn up it did pose very nicely indeed for photographs. There were also a few roosting Wild Turkeys and a couple of Monk Parakeets. The Fork-tailed (FTFL) was at this site Nov 17th-Dec 4th.

I had chosen to look at the FTFL because it was fairly close to my main interest for the day - a banded Barnacle Goose of known wild origin in Pelham Bay Park at Orchard Beach. So after heading back into NYC from Stamford I spent two hours combing the local area for it, including some grassy areas slightly further afield. I was sadly unsuccessful. I later learned that some photographers had got far too close the previous day and scared it off. That's a lot of people hours wasted as a result of selfishness. Update: this Barnacle Goose turned up again on Dec 4th in Stratford CT, roughly 45 miles to the west, again associated with a Canada Goose flock.

After some frustration at Pelham Bay I went south to Jones Beach West End and spent a little time looking at the somewhat distant Northern Loggerhead Shrike and chatting with other birders - the shrike in particular is a little small and a little dark but otherwise seems a decent match for Northern over the rather similar Loggerhead (see discussion of this both above and below). Shai Mitra pulled out a distant Kittiwake over the ocean with his scope, but the Northern Gannets were rather more obvious. A Merlin was hunting the swallows (presumed Tree, but Cave is possible) and later on the pigeons at the Coast Guard Station. At the Coast Guard Station there was a big flock of Brant and shorebirds (Dunlin, American Oystercatcher, Black-bellied Plover and a few Red Knot) and a dispersed flock of Bonaparte's Gulls in the bay. Since there wasn't that much of interest at Jones I went around to Point Lookout which used to be a big spot for Bonaparte's several years ago, and there were some off the park. However they were not especially concentrated, being spread out all over the inlet, bay (and probably the beach). This flock holds multiple Little Gulls and at least one Black-headed Gull but unless they concentrate in one place finding them will be a challenge. A small flock of Common Eider flew in and out of the inlet while I was there.

Finally I spent the late afternoon at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, photographing ducks flying in and out of the West Pond. All the usual suspects were there, with the exception of Canvasback which seemed to be curiously absent. The Snow Goose count was a grand total of 5 birds seen in flight as I was exiting the refuge. The list from Jamaica Bay is:

Snow Goose
Brant
Gadwall
American Wigeon
American Black Duck
Mallard
Northern Shoveler
Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup
Bufflehead
Common Goldeneye
Hooded Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Northern Harrier
Cooper's Hawk
Dunlin

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Barnegat, Brigantine

Saturday was sunny but breezy, and I headed out for a fairly traditional coastal route.

First, Barnegat Inlet (Barnegat Light) were at 7:44 the breakwater held a lot of people - mainly fishermen - out of all proportion to birding opportunities. The wind was already fresh, it was relatively cold, and there was a dearth of birds in the inlet itself so I went into quick scouting mode. Perhaps this was not totally unrelated to the extensive small boat traffic. Of interest was a fly-by immature Great Cormorant, and several small groups of Bonaparte's Gulls. Last winter there weren't many Bonaparte's Gulls around in general, so these were actually my year list ones. This winter there's a bonanza of them.

In search of more productive areas I went south to Brigantine (or if you want to be formal, the Brigantine Division of Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge). The wind had risen and was quite strong here, so there was little chance of finding a Cave Swallow. I did two tours around the impoundment and found decent numbers of ducks, a good flock of Tundra Swans (also a year bird) and Green-winged Teal and some shorebirds, a few of which were Western Sandpipers making for an implausible three year-bird day in late November. Northern Harriers were around in numbers, terrorizing the Teal again, but the Peregrines did not seem to be present or at least not hunting. A fuller list follows (Brigantine unless noted):


Snow Goose
Brant
Mute Swan
Tundra Swan (50-ish)
American Black Duck
Mallard
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Long-tailed Duck (Barnegat)
Bufflehead
Hooded Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Red-throated Loon (Barnegat)
Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Cormorant (Barnegat)
Great Blue Heron
Northern Harrier
Red-tailed Hawk
American Coot
Black-bellied Plover
Western Sandpiper
Dunlin
Savannah Sparrow
Eastern Meadowlark

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Loggerhead Shrike, Common Ground-Dove



My only previous Fork-tailed Flycatcher was one in Morrisville PA in early June 2006, seen right after my "flycatcher special" trip of May-June 2006. I got no photos of that bird, so I was interested in seeing and photographing the one that was up in Stamford CT. Usually a one or two day wonder (as with the PA bird) the FTFL in CT was found Weds and stayed through at least Sunday at Cove Island Park in Stamford (edit: found on Nov 17th, it stayed all the way through Dec 4th - remarkable). I saw it on early Sat morning where it was already drawing a crowd at dawn. The volunteer gathering names said that birders had come from as far away as SC and MI for it. Other birds at this place included a small flock of Cedar Waxwings and a similar-sized flock of Monk Parakeets.

Stamford is not that far beyond NY, so after a couple of hours with the FTFL I went down to Jones Beach. The wind was quite strong at that point, so I didn't see much of note from the Coast Guard basin (Common Loon, Long-tailed Duck, Red-breasted Merganser) but the flock of Snow Buntings was feeding on the grass growing up in the cracks of the West End 2 parking lot. I went on to Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center and found my target bird - the
Northern
Loggerhead Shrike - hunting from perches on and around the boardwalk and not particularly phased by the conditions. Considering that I've also seen Northern Shrike in Duluth MN in late December the conditions were almost tropical by comparison. The bird was a first winter one with faint barring on the breast. Two Northern Harriers were the only other predators I saw there, and there were some American Black Ducks and Gadwall in the pond between West End 2 and the Nature Center but otherwise things appeared pretty quiet. Inevitably there were Brant in the West End median strip and I also saw a fly-by flock of Dunlin.

Subsequent queries about the ID of the shrike species led to a discussion on NYSbirds-L and ultimately BIRDWG01 where it emerged that the consensus was strongly in favor of Loggerhead over Northern Shrike. While this is atypical of a Loggerhead it has too many features at variance with Northern Shrike to be consistent with it. Loggerhead is if anything even less expected than Northern in that location at this time of year.

And then since I was so close I went a little further east to Captree State Park. I wasn't really that psyched about the Common Ground-Dove but I'd been told it was a first NY State record so I went for a quick look for it. I found it skulking on the northern edge of the southern parking lot, mostly behind the concrete blocks in the parking lot, but it showed chestnut wing undersides as it flew. Very skittish that bird, and for that reason I decided not to hang out for photos and stress it more. Instead I headed for home.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Statistical Models of Bird Identification

A recent post on BIRDWG01 particularly piqued my interest because it ran counter to my viewpoints on the statistical nature of bird identification. I think likelihood is both implicitly used and also formally overlooked. In this case, an Aythya (diving) duck of unusual appearance was seen in the Eastern USA and proposed to be a Pochard X Scaup as opposed to what the final ID appeared to settle on, which was Canvasback X Greater Scaup. (Scaup in Great Britain is the Greater Scaup in the U.S.A.).

All duck hybrids are rare to very rare, but many of them certainly occur (an even more recent WG01 thread shows a nice selection of Goldeneye hybrids). Well I guess that the Mallard hybrids with American Black Duck, Mottled Duck and Mexican Duck are more frequent than "very rare".

For any bird ID the likelihood that it's correct is basically the ratio of the probability that the species displays those characteristics vs the probability that some/all other species displays those characteristics, weighted by the chance that you'd see the species in that spot. Much of bird ID stops before the comma in that last sentence, but that's naive.

So for this duck let's arbitrarily say that the chance of seeing a hybrid is 1/10,000. If you see a Canvasback then there's a 1/10,000 chance of it really being a hybrid, ignoring for a moment the evidence for hybrid traits (i.e. an "unusual Canvasback" based on appearance). Let's say this 1/10,000 holds true for the similar Aythyas on the UK side of the Atlantic. The fundamental issue is, the chances of seeing a Pochard or Tufted Duck or Scaup on the East Coast of the USA is very low. Pochard is essentially unknown here although some stray to the west coast from Asia, Tufted Duck is very rare, and Greater Scaup vs nominate Scaup from Europe is impossible to distinguish in the field. It's safe to say that very, very few diving ducks make that transatlantic voyage. But let's say that there's a 1/20,000 chance of the Aythya you come across in some pond in NJ being one of Pochard/Tufted/"European" Scaup. This means that the chance that you find a European PochardXScaup hybrid is (1/20,000)X(1/10,000) or 1/200,000,000.

One in 200 million. The odds of winning the Powerball lottery grand prize from one ticket is pretty much the same. I do not recommend this as a retirement strategy.

We can haggle over any of the numbers - actually I think that the real numbers are more remote odds than these ones. Simply plug your own estimates in and follow the bouncing ball.

Now, the chance that you'd stumble into a hybrid Aythya from the USA side of the Atlantic is only 1/10,000 so the relative chance that any hybrid is European is less long odds: a mere 1/20,000. This means that for any bird that you're sure is one of those rare Aythya hybrids there's a 99.995% chance it's going to be USA-origin.

For most of us, ID is done with far less certainty - we see an American Robin fly by and call it that because it's shape best fits American Robin and the color we can see best fits American Robin so the overwhelming probability is that it's an American Robin and not, say, an atypical-looking Varied Thrush. Or a Redwing (Turdus iliacus). When you're working with common vs rare species, or even rare vs very rare species, that occurrence ratio of 1/20,000 is quite a strong selector between different IDs. You would have to be very, very certain indeed that the fly-by bird is NOT an American Robin before Varied Thrush even becomes a reasonable probability.

So it is with the hybrid Aythya. For any possible hybrid, there's a range of appearance that is "typical" of the hybrids. Hybrids are notoriously variable so the range of appearance is often broader than for a pure species (think Golden-winged Warbler and Blue-winged Warbler vs the common hybrids of Lawrence's and Brewster's Warbler, both of which show quite a range of variability). Even if a hybrid were judged to be 80% likely to be Pochard X Scaup and 20% Canvasback X Gtr Scaup by appearance, when you add the population weighting in, it becomes a 99.925% Canvasback X Gtr Scaup by likelihood. Or put another way: you would have to be absolutely certain it could only be Pochard X Scaup based on the bird appearance before it became anything close to even odds on the overall population-weighted chances you'd got that ID right.

I.E. You should use population to weight your idea of what the bird is. Failure to do that is a failure to take proper account of birds of a common species showing an atypical appearance, which might be a far more likely explanation than a much rarer bird.

This subject is not new to WG01 - a more formal discussion of this using Bayes theorem was bounced around in October 2007 regarding the identity of a Catharus thrush, although the post I linked to uses the dangerous territory of race rather than thrush ID points.

However I think this aspect of bird ID is still under-appreciated, and quite an important one when attempting to put labels on strange-looking birds.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pole Farm Sunday 11/14

Let's just say that I don't think it's going to be a big Short-eared Owl year based on the early winter going with a late afternoon visit to Pole Farm (Mercer Co. Park Northwest) in Lawrenceville:

American Kestrel: 1
Northern Harrier: 1
Short-eared Owl: 0

In recent years the number of Northern Harriers milling around have been a pretty good predictor of Short-eared Owl occupancy. Unlike the big year, I also haven't heard rodents milling around in the grass. Few rodents = few/no owls.

Other birds: Eastern Bluebirds, Hairy Woodpecker, large overhead flock of Grackles, some American Robin movement at sunset, Dark-eyed Junco, Song Sparrow. Really fairly quiet. Not even a Red-tailed Hawk perched along the fields, which might also correlate with the lack of mice.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

White-tailed Kite and Brigantine

I made three visits to various parts of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge on Sunday. First and last were a visit to the Barnegat impoundment (Barnegat division of Forsythe NWR) where there was a persistent White-tailed Kite. The first time around, shortly after dawn, netted various ducks and herons but no kite. The second time around on the way back home the kite had settled on a dead tree in the far distance half-way across the bay, but was visible in scope views and flew briefly while I was there.

In the intervening time I went down to the Brigantine division, the more traditional area for birders visiting Forsythe NWR. En route I stopped at Barnegat Inlet, found the tide very high, a lot of chop in the inlet and very few birds milling around. A roving flock of Juncos and other fly-by passerines suggested migration movement off the north wind.

The tide was also very high at Brigantine, with much of the saltmarsh at least somewhat inundated. A lot of the ducks were coming in at middle altitude and settling into the north-east impoundment. Shorebirds were limited to several flocks of agitated Dunlin and a few Black-bellied Plovers. One of the reasons that they had good reason to be agitated were two Peregrines and several Northern Harriers, although those raptors were harassing a large flock of Green-winged Teal when I saw them. Blue-winged Teal was the best duck, and there was also Northern Pintail, Mallard, many American Black Duck, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser and Ruddy Duck. A small flock of Brant and a moderate-sized flock of Snow Geese were in the impoundments but windy conditions made for few photo ops. The most active part was on the south-east sluice where the influx of water and small fish made for a Double-crested Cormorant and Gull feeding frenzy. Given the wind the passerines kept their head down but I did see a few fly-by Savannah Sparrows.

I returned north via Barnegat impoundment for the White-tailed Kite and a brief visit to Well's Mills County Park where the feeders held only titmice, chickadees and Juncos. At Well's Mills they've also removed the trees to the east of the visitor center which provided some protection around the periodic drainage pond for small birds drinking there. Since it's not a spring-fed pond that patch was also dry - a shame since last winter it did attract some birds in that small area.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Rough-legged Hawk at Griggstown

As part of my Failure to Find Photogenic Fall Foliage loop trip up the D&R canal on Oct 30th I stopped in at Griggstown Preserve and birded from the parking lot - because I was unwilling to strap on orange to avoid some hunter shooting me. The terrestrial birds around the parking lot were: Eastern Bluebird, Palm Warbler, Song Sparrow. The fly-bys were far more interesting:

  • Multiple flocks of American Pipits, of which the first one was 60++ birds
  • Palm Warblers, seen apparently moving as diurnal migrants
  • Yellow-rumped Warblers, probably just local boys flying around
  • The expected local raptors/vultures: Red-tailed, Black V and Turkey V
  • Rough-legged Hawk, pale morph
I was more than a little surprised at the latter. Although they sometimes do winter at Pole Farm (Lawrenceville) which is probably no more than 20 miles to the south-west, I don't encounter many uncommon raptors away from the hawk watches. The D&R canal is a modest raptor corridor as they follow the river for a little while on their way south, but the terrain is flat and not given to generating uplift like the hillier environment of (say) the Delaware River to the west. There was also a small falcon with it, even further west of me, so small that although I thought it was Kestrel I couldn't rule out Merlin.

Friday, October 29, 2010

When I say tame, I mean ABSURDLY tame - Prothonotary on my camera bag


On Thursday a.m. I took the opportunity of a relatively warm and sunny morning to revisit Bryant Park and the Prothonotary. This bird was just as tame as before. At one point I had stored a sliced banana on top of my camera bag and the Prothonotary hopped on top to investigate. What's more, I was too close to my bag so I stepped away to get this bird within my minimum focus distance. The bird didn't care. In fact the bird didn't care much for the banana either - it preferred a piece of pastry offered by a non-birder, and I watched it consume it with great enthusiasm. Somewhat ironic, since I had placed a few slices of banana around to try and get it to eat that instead of being a carbohydrate crack addict. (Ben noted that croissant, which is what this pastry might have been, is loaded with fat too).

I once had a Prothonotary Warbler (the Raritan River bird) fly inside my lens hood on the glimpse of its reflection in my objective lens - it had been singing endlessly for weeks and was a very tweaked male, that one. This PRWA is the Big Lebowski variant of Prothonotary. Next thing it will be smoking weed and eating french fries.

No reports of this PRWA on the morning of a strong northerly wind (Oct 29th) and even stronger migration flight (mostly sparrows, robins) in NJ and NY. Please God let this bird have got a clue and gone south while it still can. Update: no subsequent reports suggest that it left during the night of Oct 28th/29th on the first of a series of good flight days of late fall migrants.

Unofficial NY City bird checklist

Faced with someone asking me for a NYC bird checklist, and failing once again to find any trace of one, I decided to construct my own at:
http://www.philjeffrey.net/NYC_unofficial_list.html

Which of course brings up the thorny subject of "what is a valid sighting". So I started with the NYC Audubon list, added in species that I knew were seen in recent years, and then added in yet more species from the NYSARC reports (1977 and later). This pushed the initial list of 344 up to 355, which is pretty close to the total I'd originally guessed.

Update: more work needs to be done - for example mining old Kingbird records - but the list total is now up to 367 (Nov 11th 2010).

Monday, October 25, 2010

Prothonotary Warbler impersonates House Sparrow



No, these aren't Photoshop composites, that really is a Prothonotary Warbler scavenging for food underneath and on top of trash cans and tables in Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan. This bird was discovered by Matthew Rymkiewicz on October 21st but conversations with locals suggest that it's been around for at least 2 weeks prior to that. It's feeding on crumbs and other bits of food just like a House Sparrow and will often follow the flocks around for just that purpose.

This is the eastern edge of Bryant Park along 5th Avenue and right in front of the NY Public Library. There are some trees, a few bushes and a fine display of chrysanthemums but otherwise is totally urban and about the last thing that resembles a southern swamp.

Based on feather shape the bird is a first fall immature, and by coloration and extent of white on the tail it's a male. There are pretty much never any fall records of Prothonotary Warbler in NYC for one good reason: there's no breeding population north of us. It seems likely that this immature bird is has a confused sense of direction. Unfortunately this also means that it might not reset and head south when the weather turns colder. But at least for the next week the weather looks good for its survival.

Context really alters bird behavior - not only is this Prothonotary very tame indeed, so are the White-throated Sparrows, Hermit Thrushes and in particular the Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers that were spending time in this small space. There were 4 sapsuckers working the trees along the two city blocks (40th-42nd) along 5th avenue, often at eye level and extremely approachable. There was also one Black-capped Chickadee, reflecting the invasion year that we're having. The Prothonotary hasn't started using the sapsucker holes yet, a behavior we've seen with other birds that have stayed into the winter (Cape May Warbler in Riverside Park, Western Tanager in Central Park, and possibly the Scott's Oriole).

This bird last seen on Thursday, Oct 28th.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Age and sex ID based on molt, part 2

First fall immature Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Central Park, NYC, October 8th

Click on the image to get a larger view of this bird (and ignore the fact that the © statement is floating in mid-air). This is a pretty classical example of retrix (tail) and primary (wing) feather shape in a first fall immature - the feathers are somewhat pointed and in fact in this bird the feathers come to a sharp point. Adults have blunt and rounded ends to their feathers. At this time of year, when both adults and immatures have relatively recently molted their flight feathers as well as their body feathers, all of the plumages look pretty fresh. If I ever get an adult Kinglet to pose for me - these are especially frenetic birds - I shall put one up for comparison.

I'm not sure there's any meaningful plumage difference between sexes at this stage, so I'm not even going to try.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Yard birding Oct 17, 18th

In the yard in Ewing on Sunday morning there was evidence of migration, with my Red Oak full of Yellow-rumped Warblers, White-throated Sparrows and Chipping Sparrows in small flocks around the yard, and a fly-over Purple Finch. The other resident species were milling around, perhaps attracted by the flocks: White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Downy Woodpecker and Red-bellied Woodpecker.

On Sunday PM just one Yellow-rumped Warbler was still lurking around.

On Monday morning at least one Yellow-rumped was sounding off, and there was a Ruby-crowned Kinglet passing through.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Griggstown, Oct 17th

Despite Franklin Twps best attempts to degrade the habitat by mowing it to death, I went to check out Griggstown Preserve on Sunday morning. There was relatively low activity around the parking lot initially, nor in the sections of recently mown fields that used to be full of sparrows (Savannah mostly, but several species at this time of year). I did track down a Palm Warbler in the unmown section of the far south-west corner. A single American Kestrel was hunting the fields.

I checked out the maintenance section (I've nicknamed it the Trash Heap but it's cleaner now) at the southern end of the preserve and this was the best area for sparrows: Song, Swamp, Savannah, White-throated and an adult White-crowned. Several flocks of Purple Finches passed over while I was there, although only one or two were seen perched.

Back at the parking lot a group of Eastern Bluebird was hanging around the fence line, there was a small flock of House Finches and a single Chipping Sparrow. There wasn't much sign of a hawk flight although three Red-tailed Hawks passed overhead and an immature Bald Eagle was seen heading north at some distance to the east. A Sharp-shinned Hawk was hunting another corner, and this looked like an opportunistic migrant rather than a resident bird.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Migration winds down (Oct 16th)


Not so much necessarily numbers, although the park was relatively quiet on Saturday, but the diversity. Gone are the multiple warbler species, the numerous sapsuckers etc. Now it's mainly sparrows and the Yellow-rumped Warbler. Exemplifying that: time spent at Tanner's Spring on Saturday came up with 7 species of bird, and there were only singles of the Black-capped Chickadee, Eastern Towhee and Gray Catbird in contrast to the large numbers of the other species (Grackle, American Robin, House Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow). Hermit Thrushes were numerous but I saw no other Catharus.

What there was a small burst of was sparrows at Hernshead, with two immature White-crowned, two Swamp, and in addition a few Indigo Buntings.

Cooper's Hawk
Eastern Phoebe
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Winter Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Pine Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Indigo Bunting
American Goldfinch

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sunday - sparrows -

Lacking a hoped-for large migration movement this weekend - it seemed to be concentrated on other sites like Sandy Hook in NJ - I ended up late into the (Central) park on Sunday and saw relatively little.  By far the most interesting venue was the Maintenance Field, where there was a fine collection of sparrows:

Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
American Goldfinch  (yes, OK, this one's a finch)


 in conjunction with other birds like a couple of bill-snapping Eastern Phoebes and several Hermit Thrushes.  Warblers were few and far between.  The rest of the list:


Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Eastern Phoebe
Carolina Wren
Winter Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
Gray Catbird
Magnolia Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Palm Warbler
American Redstart

Friday, October 8, 2010

Friday - not quite


As a presage to a weekend that promises a decent migration on Sunday, Friday looked to have potential. Potential that wasn't quite borne out - there were migrants, mostly sparrows, but numbers were not especially high. Most were one or two of a species, with more numerous individuals being Yellow-rumped Warbler, Sapsucker, Flicker and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Purple Finch and White-crowned Sparrow again put in an appearance.

Northern Harrier
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
House Wren
Winter Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Swainson's Thrush
Hermit Thrush
Wood Thrush
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Common Yellowthroat
Eastern Towhee
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Purple Finch

Monday, October 4, 2010

Sunday - slower

Although I'd hoped that the weekend's migration might peak on the 2nd day, it was not the case - it was markedly slower in Strawberry Fields and elsewhere in the park.  In contrast to the "5 Magnolia's in a tree" morning of Saturday I saw precisely NO Magnolias on Sunday.  The migrants had left on the strong northerly breeze.  But the Chickadee movement continued and there were new additions: White-crowned Sparrow and my first Purple Finch for the entire year.

Later in the day I went up to check out State Line hawk watch and found the flight winding down for the day, but nevertheless a few raptors came by (Cooper's and Sharp-shinned, Osprey, two Ravens, Bald Eagles, Red-tailed Hawk, two Kestrels and multiple Turkey Vultures).

Osprey
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Chimney Swift
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue-headed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Black-capped Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
House Wren
Winter Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Swainson's Thrush
Hermit Thrush
Wood Thrush
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Northern Parula
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Pine Warbler
Palm Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Common Yellowthroat
Scarlet Tanager
Eastern Towhee
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Purple Finch

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Oct 2nd: Better morning

Strawberry Fields was loaded with migrants at 6:50am, although nothing actually rare amongst them.  A small flock of Chickadees was the first invasion migrants I'd seen in a while.  A relatively subtle Bay-breasted Warbler was the best of the bunch.  In the rest of the park - or at least the parts of it I visited - there were some birds but not in anywhere near as great numbers.  Nevertheless it finally added up to 16 warblers with the assistance of a Yellow-breasted Chat that was shy even by Chat standards - I saw only it's head.  A Rusty Blackbird in the Maintenance Field was a nice find in a place you don't normally find them.

Double-crested Cormorant (two V-flocks flyover)
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (many)
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee (1)
Eastern Phoebe
Blue-headed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Black-capped Chickadee (a few groups)
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
House Wren
Winter Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Swainson's Thrush
Hermit Thrush
Wood Thrush
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Nashville Warbler
Northern Parula
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Pine Warbler
Palm Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Ovenbird
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow-breasted Chat
Scarlet Tanager
Eastern Towhee
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Rusty Blackbird (Maintenance Field)

Monday, September 27, 2010

I want my money back

Which is exactly the quote I used on another birder upon spending some time in Strawberry Fields on Sunday morning (Sept 26th) - a day with overnight north winds after several warmer days with southerly winds.  Apparently it had been more active 45 minutes earlier, but there simply wasn't the volume you'd expect from a cooler day in late September.  Accordingly the diversity was lower and it was hard going at times.  Predominant overcast made it more difficult.  A little early morning raptor movement (Kestrel, Osprey) didn't seem to materialize into anything else - perhaps the NE tendency to the northerly winds pushed more migrants inland, but there weren't any big dropout reports from elsewhere.



More signs of the ongoing migration shift where the absence of Pewees and the presence of Yellow-rumped Warbler and Dark-eyed Junco along with bigger numbers of White-throated Sparrows.

Osprey
American Kestrel
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue-headed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Black-capped Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
House Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Veery
Swainson's Thrush
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Cedar Waxwing
probable Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Northern Parula
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Ovenbird
Northern Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Scarlet Tanager
Eastern Towhee
Dark-eyed Junco
White-throated Sparrow
Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Friday, September 24, 2010

Gray-cheeked Thrush

Gray-cheeked Thrushes can have pink bills.  Who knew ?


This is a bird that was milling around with several Swainson's Thrushes on September 11th and I initially called as a Gray-cheeked Thrush in the field, based on an overall colder tone and the severe lack of any buffy eye ring or spectacles in the face.  There was no rufous in the primaries or the tail, and the lower mandible was more than half black so Bicknell's was ruled out.

The bird was relatively small for a Gray-cheeked, and on the olive end of the gray-olive spectrum, so I popped a few extra pictures of it.  Then I got a surprise when processing the above picture - the lower mandible is pale pink, not yellow.  The yellow color comes from the gape.  The bird is a first fall immature as indicated by the buffy tips to the coverts and the pointed tail feathers.

The pink bill had me wondering about western subspecies of Swainson's Thrush and other possibilities, and then subsequently I pulled out Peter Pyle's book "Identification Guide to North American Birds Part I"  which indicated that the paler section of the lower mandible ranges from "pale flesh" to "yellowish flesh".  I then pulled up my other GCTH photos and found that this was not the first time I'd seen this, just not usually in a bird that was more colorful and smaller than most.  Bicknell's has a yellowish lower mandible with the yellow color covering >50% of the length.  I'd assumed that Gray-cheeked had yellow bills as well, but apparently I'm wrong.

Based on size this bird may well be the subspecies Catharus minimus minimus, which is on the small end of the GCTH.  If anything this bird was a little smaller than the Swainson's whereas GCTH are usually a little bigger.  This is also a cautionary tale for using structure to ID Bicknell's, since this Gray-cheeked is very Bicknell's in overall structure.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Age and sex ID based on molt, part 1

I take a lot of photographs, and some of the birds I take photos of are as much for plumage interest as aesthetics.  This is an example of a somewhat scruffy Red-winged Blackbird at Brigantine NWR in NJ in August:
Blackbirds go through active molt in August-September and frequently look quite odd.  This particular RWBL has molted some body feathers but not yet the head or neck, so it looks odd in the head.  If we zoom in on the tail:
it is heavily frayed - older feathers not recently molted.
On the wings there's a mix of mostly new flight feathers and one or two older ones:

Looking at the condition and overall coloration of the feathers tells us all we need to determine age and sex, within reasonable bounds.  The feathers on the tail are quite worn, so they are quite a few months old - molted at or around this time last year.  So this bird is an adult, i.e. more than one year old.  Similarly that outermost primary looks pretty worn too.  Since this bird is an adult, the fact that the feathers are brown means that it must be a female - there is no distinct "first summer" plumage for male RWBL birds so a male of this age would have black flight feathers.  In fact the pointedness of that worn outermost primary suggests that this adult female might be only a little more than one year old - flight feathers from first fall passerines are usually more pointed than adults.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Central Park 9/21 - they're ba-ack


No, not the Black-and-White above, I mean the sparrows, or more specifically the White-throated Sparrows, who will be with us as individuals or at least in species until May. I missed the early action in Strawberry Fields, finding a few pockets elsewhere in the park but nothing especially notable apart from my first WTSPs of fall - currently in small numbers. A further change in the season was indicated by other first-of-fall species: Golden-crowned Kinglet, Blue-headed Vireo. Numbers of Swainson's Thrushes remain pretty high.  The Black-and-white Warbler shown above is actually an adult male in basic plumage - most of the Black-and-whites seen in fall are on the drabber adult female - immature male - immature female axis, but this has quite a lot of black in the auriculars.

Double-crested Cormorant
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Eastern Phoebe
Blue-headed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
House Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Veery
Swainson's Thrush
Wood Thrush
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Cedar Waxwing
Northern Parula
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Ovenbird
Common Yellowthroat
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Central Park 9/18


Do you get the general idea that I'm birding Central Park a fair amount this fall ? Saturday was a fair migration day and it dawned clear. Or at least it did over Ewing NJ, but as the train sped northward I discovered that there was a block of cloud settled over NYC that took a while to clear. The light at the start of the day was dark and challenging so although there were some warblers around quite a few of the sightings were silhouettes. Eastern Phoebe, Brown Creeper and Palm Warbler were the new fall arrivals for me. Of interest was a Song Sparrow in Strawberry Fields that showed juvenile plumage - perhaps a late season local bird that hadn't yet molted into first basic plumage. Despite fairly modest migrant volume (again Strawberry Fields was the best) a good 14 warbler species, including a rather nice but brief view of a male Hooded Warbler.


Sharp-shinned Hawk
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Eastern Phoebe
Red-eyed Vireo
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Swainson's Thrush
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Cedar Waxwing
Northern Parula
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Palm Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Ovenbird
Northern Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler
Scarlet Tanager
Song Sparrow (juvenile)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Central Park 9/16


Although 9/15 was perhaps the better day I had a (yet another) dental appointment so went into the city on the 0537 on 9/16 instead. The conservancy, bless them, have closed the lawn on Strawberry Fields making it difficult to bird there but there was still a decent movement of warblers. They always seem to drift north through Strawberry Fields in what's presumably a reflection of the local habitat. Best bird there was a Bay-breasted Warbler. In the Ramble birding was patchy - at times Azalea Pond (Ruby-crowned Kinglet) was hot, at times the Tupelo Tree. In the Maintenance Field it was slow but high quality - Yellow-billed Cuckoo doing a double fly-by, Ruby-throated Hummingbird harassing a Magnola Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Least Flycatcher and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

The Kinglet, Sapsucker and fairly numerous Thrashers signaled a subtle but perceptible species shift over the previous weekend.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Maint. field)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Least Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Red-eyed Vireo
Carolina Wren
House Wren
Winter Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Veery
Gray-cheeked Thrush (Hernshead)
Swainson's Thrush
Wood Thrush
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Cedar Waxwing
Nashville Warbler
Northern Parula
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Ovenbird
Northern Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Eastern Towhee
Song Sparrow
Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Central Park 9/11

Migration on this 9/11 was reminiscent of the other 9/11 with clear skies and a cool start off a northwestern wind - pretty good although not yet maximal in terms of diversity. This one lacked the attendant disaster, thank God. I stayed in Strawberry Fields much of the time, reflecting the steady volume there. At one point I had Blackpoll, Blackburnian and Bay-breasted in one small part of a tree. Later on I added Cape May, shortly after a Bald Eagle flew past. I only added a couple more warbler species elsewhere.

Bald Eagle
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Empidonax Flycatcher sp.
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Red-eyed Vireo
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Veery
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Swainson's Thrush
Wood Thrush
Gray Catbird
Northern Parula
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Cape May Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Ovenbird
Common Yellowthroat
Wilson's Warbler
Scarlet Tanager
Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Monday, September 6, 2010

Forsythe/Brigantine NWR: Yellow-headed Blackbirds and grassland shorebirds


The problem with being social is that it eats into the early morning birding starts. In this case I got a tardy start at Brigantine NWR - a shameful 8:30am. I did two loops around the auto loop, and on the first loop mostly ignored shorebirds in the NW pool as I headed to the NE "pool" which is mainly a grass flat now. En route I noticed that most of the Forster's Terns were in or near basic plumage now. It was high tide, and apparently there were a lot of schooling fish since there were multiple cormorant-tern-heron feeding frenzies at locations in the southern pool. There were a lot of Snowy/Great Egrets, Forster's Terns and Double-crested Cormorants at these frenzies.

There were also a lot of swallows. Thousands. At one point I looked across the impoundements and got a sense of the magnitude since as far as I looked the air teemed with Tree, Barn and Bank Swallows - there were a reasonable number of the latter too.

Outside the impoundments I found a group of at least 10 Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows perched up and apparently waiting out the high tide - this being comfortably my all time high count. A mix of adults and immatures and accompanied by a vocal Clapper Rail perched up in the saltmarsh.

Finally I made it around to the dog leg, dodging caterpillars crossing the tour road as I went, and scanned the grass flats. Heat haze was cutting into visibility already, but I found two American Golden-Plovers and a Buff-breasted Sandpiper on the first pass, and then just as I settled on a Baird's the group took flight. I found a more cooperative Baird's Sandpiper a little later, as well as a total of 4 Buff-breasted's. The surprise was finding two Yellow-headed Blackbirds sitting on the edge of the grass flats as I searched for Baird's and Buff-breasted's. They sat there for a while letting me assess bill and tail length to make sure it wasn't some aberrant Boat-tailed Grackle plumage (too yellow in any event). First time I'd seen these in NJ.

On the second tour around the auto loop I added a few shorebirds: White-rumped Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Short-billed Dowitcher and Lesser Yellowlegs to the list, but it was getting hotter and I didn't linger. Notable absence was Willet - presumably all the Eastern ssp birds have left and the Western ssp ones have yet to take their place.

American Black Duck
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Osprey
Bald Eagle
Whimbrel
Black-bellied Plover
American Golden-Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
White-rumped Sandpiper
Baird's Sandpiper
Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Caspian Tern
Forster's Tern
Black Skimmer
Tree Swallow
Bank Swallow
Barn Swallow
Yellow Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow
Yellow-headed Blackbird

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The limitations of Structure




(Written with some irony as I'm a Structural Biologist so quite a firm believer of the importance of structure at the atomic level).

The publishing of the O'Brien-Crossley-Karlson Shorebird Guide brought with it some fanfare of improved methods of ID by "birding by impression". I'm perhaps not as impressed as I could be by that idea, because I don't think it's novel - anyone that's spent any time birding is using structure (shape and posture, but also intangibles of behavior) anyway.

Since I belong to the often thought-provoking BIRDWG01 "Frontiers of Bird Identification" email list it's often very interesting to think about the discussions on there. In particular it's apparent that the structural appearance of a bird is often very heavily influenced by the posture that the photograph captures. It may be "typical" or "atypical" viewed through birders' eyes. I've developed an internal idea about how birders select ID point, which in terms of structure involves discarding a whole range of ambiguous views (or perhaps integrating them mentally) until a distinctive view is found from which one can make the ID. A photograph presents only one or a small number of views, and mayhem seems to sometimes break out by experienced birders trying to hammer the square peg into the round hole: an anomalous view of a typical species.

Although color perception may be skewed by lighting in photographs (or to a lesser extent by post-processing), I find that structure is especially vulnerable to this. I've seen shorebird structure vary all over the place in a series of photographs. To whit: two recent BIRDWG01 discussions on a bright alternate White-rumped Sandpiper from Canada and a first fall immature Sanderling from Bolivia in prebasic molt. In both cases one of the strongest proponents of structure as a primary ID point identified the former as Western Sandpiper and the latter as White-rumped. Whoops. Particularly in the latter case where I was induced to go dig out my own photos of the White-rumped & Sanderling group to check my overall impression (color and bill structure) against the photographs. And it looked even more like a Sanderling after that exercise than it did on my first impression. Plumage coloration and pattern were definitively Sanderling from my perspective.

Which leads me to suggest: structure is overrated, particularly when identifying from photographs. Often very important, sometimes definitive, but also perhaps overrated and certainly not revolutionary. Birding has been going on for too long, practiced by too many people, for anyone to come along with revolutionary ID points across entire classes of birds. While genetics may radically revise how we view species distribution and what it means to be a species, I somehow doubt that morphological considerations are going to overwhelm those of plumage color and pattern any time soon.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Princeton, August 27th and 29th

I did a little walk without optics along the gravel road at the Institute Woods on Friday after work. Migrants were pretty much absent - the Eastern Wood-Pewee that was calling may have been a resident bird. However on my way back to the car there was a good find - two Pileated Woodpeckers feeding fairly close to the road. Once you track down the wood chopping sound there's not much you can mistake a Pileated for.

On the morning of the 29th I returned with optics to check out migration but it was still deathly quiet. I found a Scarlet Tanager along the road, Pewees were calling and that was it again. At the pond Red-winged Blackbirds were numerous, probably roosting there, and two slimmer tan icterids took off heading away from me - probably Bobolinks. Best bird was a Ruby-throated Hummingbird that shot past me as I was standing on the observation platform (literally a few feet to my left) and kept heading south-west. The loud drumming from deeper in the forest sounded big enough that it was the Pileateds again, but I didn't see them this time.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Brigantine NWR, August 28th

Making a little of a lethargic start I opted to go check out shorebirds at Brigantine NWR, with high tide expected around the middle of the day. There was a large flock of Tree Swallows at the Gull Pond tower turn-around but the tower was under construction.

Recent rain seem to be reflected in the pools being relatively high on water, although the north-western pool looked like it had been drained down to provide more shorebird habitat. I came away with not too much diversity, at least in part because I went around prior to high tide and because the driest pool put the shorebirds deep into the heat haze. Best shorebirds were a couple of Pectoral Sandpipers, missing the Buff-breasted and Avocets seen later in the morning. Spotted Sandpiper, both Yellowlegs, Willet, Semipalmated Sandpiper (abundant), Least Sandpiper, Black-bellied Plover and Ruddy Turnstone rounded out the total. Ospreys and two Peregrines were the raptors seen. At the "tern sluice" there were no Common Terns but a nice extra were two juvenile Least Terns and a molting adult - a species I see infrequently there. Other terns included abundant Forster's, a few Caspians, and Black Skimmer. Two Blue Grosbeaks at the dogleg and a fast moving Ruby-throated Hummingbird were two other notables.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Jamaica Bay, August 20th

This was a high tide mud-crawling exercise late in the day on a Friday, and as I walked out onto the north end of the East Pond a young Peregrine had scared all the shorebirds into the air - a large chunk of them settled down in front of me so I didn't move more than 50 yards in the next three hours. The diversity was modest because of that.

Best birds were good numbers of White-rumped Sandpipers - all adults, followed by a flock of 9 Stilt Sandpipers - also all adults. Juvenile Semipalmated Sandpipers were relatively uncommon although the adults were by far the most numerous species present.

Double-crested Cormorant
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
American Black Duck
Green-winged Teal
Peregrine Falcon
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
White-rumped Sandpiper
Stilt Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Forster's Tern
Barn Swallow
Northern Waterthrush

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Jamaica Bay, August 7th

My first foray into NYC for fall migration corresponded to a morning high tide at Jamaica Bay WR where I was interested mainly in shorebird photography and not pushing my luck with elevated temperatures.

The East Pond had moderate levels of exposed mud which were still quite wet and not all that green yet at the south end. Apparently at the north end it's still quite muddy, but the forecast looks generally dry so the odds are that it will draw down yet further.

Shorebird diversity was modest, but then again I didn't go even as far as the Raunt. Semipalmated Sandpiper (adults only) was the most numerous, Semipalmated Plover (adults), Least Sandpiper (adults+juveniles), Lesser Yellowlegs (juveniles) and Short-billed Dowitcher (adults+juveniles) were around. There was a good tern showing: Forster's, Common, Least and juvenile Black. There was also a good selection of herons: Great Blue Heron; Great Egret; Snowy Egret; Tricolored Heron; Green Heron; Yellow-crowned and Black-crowned Night Herons (Yellow-crowned being particularly numerous). Boat-tailed Grackles were in predictably heavy molt. The best bird was a distant look at the American White Pelican which has lingered here and remarkably not my first one at Jamaica Bay. Over on the West Pond nothing much was happening although I did add Spotted Sandpiper, American Oystercatcher and Greater Yellowlegs. Diversity should increase as the month draws on, although more widely-ranging birders had more luck than me with the less common shorebird species.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Swallows and Swifts

A nice find on returning home last night was a group of Chimney Swifts and swallows feeding over a (presumed) insect swarm across the road and doing passes over my property. A couple of large dragonflies were also hunting. At first I assumed it was just two or more Barn Swallows, but after fetching binoculars I saw two Northern Rough-winged Swallows perched on one of my Silver Maples. Northern Rough-winged is a new yard bird.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Six Mile Run, July 31st


To finish off a month after a couple of weeks idle due to surgery I visited Six Mile Run to see how the postbreeding situation was. I found that they'd mowed a portion of the main field to the north of the grassland path - this might be for habitat regeneration. Best bird was a juvenile Blue Grosbeak, flocking with Field Sparrows (juveniles here too) and a couple of very worn adult Song Sparrows. A few male Indigo Buntings were hanging around, and two were singing. I thought I heard a brief snippet of Grasshopper Sparrow song but didn't see any so I might have been mistaken. The habitat was still in flower, particularly with some thistle species, and Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies were relatively numerous. Orchard Oriole, Cedar Waxwing, Eastern Bluebird, House Wren and American Goldfinch were also around.

Contrast this with Griggstown which had no flowering plants within hundreds of yards of the parking lot, no butterflies, and virtually no birds. Franklin Township have really f*cked up the habitat maintenance at Griggstown and actually managed to degrade it substantially.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fall migration begins (July 3rd)

Two successive weekend visits to Brigantine NWR turned up mostly the same species both times with minor variations and one embellishment: two small flocks of shorebirds on July 3rd. Forster's Terns were numerous, as were greenheads. On 6/28 two Common Terns were seen at the south-eastern sluice where I often observe them, with one Common Tern particularly cooperative for photos and video. Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows were also there, as were two or three pairs of territorial Willets apparently fighting over one small grassy island.

On 7/3 the Common Terns were absent at low tide. Further around there were Short-billed Dowitchers, peep sp (probably Least), a Caspian Tern and a Bald Eagle that flushed the lot of them. The shorebird flocks were the first evidence that fall migration - at least for shorebirds - was starting, although I had started to see small icterid flocks accumulating for their early fall migration and Bobolinks were reported at Cape May on 7/8, presumably also southbound.

Birds are still breeding, however, with juvenile-sounding noises coming from Chipping Sparrow and Northern Cardinal nests in my yard, and a House Wren apparently nesting there (second brood ?).

Cumulative species list from 6/28 and 7/3 Brigantine visits:
American Black Duck
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Tricolored Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Glossy Ibis
Osprey
Bald Eagle
Peregrine Falcon
American Oystercatcher
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Least Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Gull-billed Tern
Caspian Tern
Common Tern
Forster's Tern
Black Skimmer
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Purple Martin
Tree Swallow
Marsh Wren
Common Yellowthroat
Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow
Seaside Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
American Goldfinch

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Southern NJ again

Let's try this all again, shall we. In fact I did exactly the same trip, ostensibly with better light, although when I got out of the car at Jake's Landing and looked westward I let out a stream of expletives as I saw storm clouds approaching. Sunny day my ass.

Nevertheless it was photographically more productive and the combination of Jake's Landing, South Cape May Meadows and Brigantine/Forsythe NWR. Compared to last week Jake's Landing was much the same, SCMM was a little less productive but still decent (and sunnier!) and Brigantine had Bank Swallow, Bald Eagle and a lot more voracious Greenheads to add to the total.

Gadwall
American Black Duck
Mallard
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Glossy Ibis
Osprey
Bald Eagle
Clapper Rail
Semipalmated Plover
Killdeer
American Oystercatcher
Greater Yellowlegs
Willet
Gull-billed Tern
Common Tern
Forster's Tern
Least Tern
Eastern Kingbird
Purple Martin
Tree Swallow
Bank Swallow
Barn Swallow
Marsh Wren
Brown Thrasher
Cedar Waxwing
Seaside Sparrow
Indigo Bunting

Monday, June 14, 2010

Southern NJ, June 12th


I headed out pre-dawn to try my luck with the weather and look for breeding birds in southern NJ. With rather mixed success. At 6:30am at Jake's Landing the typical birds were evident: Osprey with young, Seaside Sparrow, Marsh Wren, vocal Clapper Rails, Willets. I didn't find any Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows and the cloud cover was not especially conducive to photography since photo ops and sunny intervals were rather asynchronous.

Headed back through the woodland to the road I heard Pine Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, White-eyed Vireo and saw Brown Thrasher. I decided to try and wait out the variable cloud cover and went to the nearby Sunset Rd bridge at Belleplain State Forest. Despite being early in the day the amount of song was limited: Ovenbird, Black-and-white Warbler, an emphatic Acadian Flycatcher were heard but there was no sign of Prothonotary Warbler or Louisiana Waterthrush. Or much else.

I went further down along the Delaware Bay shore and stopped at Kimball's Beach Rd at Cape May NWR to check out shorebirds - there in small numbers and to my eyes just Semipalmated Sandpipers, with no sign of their larger cousins (Dunlin, Sanderling, Turnstone, Knot).

From there I headed down to South Cape May Meadows (SCMM), the Nature Conservancy site near Cape May Point that is more correctly called "The Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge" these days. The weather was overcast so I went to the Concrete Ship and scanned the ocean, picking up a few Northern Gannets heading north. All immatures. At SCMM I left the camera in the car courtesy of unremitting cloud cover and walked around, seeing Piping Plovers getting agitated over every crow and Osprey. There were also Killdeer, American Oystercatcher, Black Skimmer, Least Tern and Foster's Tern. Best birds were the duo of singing Indigo Bunting and Blue Grosbeak at the entrance. Activity was relatively low and the light was pretty bad so I started to work my way north, filling up with gas near the road for Wildwood. I was just turning onto the Garden State Parkway northbound when I caught sight of a clearing patch in my rear view mirror, so turned around at the next exit and headed back to SCMM in the hopes of better light.

At SCMM I had basically the same species, but at least a little sun as the overcast cleared out for a while, and a few birds including Least Terns were relatively cooperative fishing near the viewing platform along northernmost trail. A small number of Common Terns dropped in, and at one point full alternate plumage adults, a first summer Common Tern were on the same sandbar as adult Forster's Tern and first summer Laughing Gulls. An interesting mix of plumages but apart from the Common Terns nothing new was seen on my second go around SCMM. Least Terns were in an active colony on the beach, and American Oystercatcher and Piping Plover chicks were present along the roped off areas of the beach.

Finally I went north once again and visited Brigantine/Forsythe NWR to see if there were any residual migrating shorebirds. While I did get a view of two Clapper Rails bathing in the channel, the number of shorebirds (apart from the breeding Willet) was quite low and consisted of three Greater Yellowlegs and a small group of Semipalmated Sandpipers. Gull-billed Tern was also a new bird for the day. Greenheads were out, but not yet in truly ferocious numbers and the dearth of shorebirds let me keep my car windows up for most of the time. The main benefit of birding Brig on this day is that it delayed my arrival home so that I missed the first half of that rather dire 1-1 draw between the USA and England in the World Cup.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Stirling Forest, May 31st

I did the same loop as my May 22nd trip:
http://nycbirding.blogspot.com/2010/05/stirling-forest-and-nw-nj-may-22nd.html
although perhaps with less success.

The trail along Long Meadow Road was quieter, although most of the same species were seen, and the powerline cut at Ironwood Road was productive in terms of singing birds including Golden-winged Warbler but most of them were less cooperative, either because of the heat of the day or because territories were more established. No Ravens this time, although I did have a singing Cerulean Warbler and a Green Heron.

Green Heron
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Great Crested Flycatcher
Black-capped Chickadee
Wood Thrush
Cedar Waxwing
Blue-winged Warbler
Golden-winged Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Ovenbird
Louisiana Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler
Scarlet Tanager
Eastern Towhee
Field Sparrow
Indigo Bunting


After that I skipped Oil City Road/Wallkill NWR but headed out to High Point SP (Sawmill Rd), Stokes SF (Crigger Rd) and Layton. Sawmill Rd was as loud as before, with Redstart, Ovenbird, Yellow Warbler being the main species, and one Least Flycatcher that refused to show its face. In Stokes SF I didn't hear any Ceruleans but did hear a Yellow-throated Vireo. I found a single Acadian Flycatcher at it's normal space at the cool evergreen grove downstream along the Flatbrook River, heard what sounded an awful lot like a Blue-headed Vireo, and also a Black-throated Green in the same location, and there was a singing Chestnut-sided Warbler at the bridge.

Layton was quiet in the midday heat, there were no Alder Flycatchers, and a grassy/ticky walk down to the wet area didn't yield any singing ones either.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Six Mile Run, Griggstown, Pole Farm: May 30th

Results for Six Mile Run (Franklin, NJ) were almost identical to the visit on the 26th:
http://nycbirding.blogspot.com/2010/05/six-mile-run-may-26th.html
The most cooperative bird was the same Willow Flycatcher, actively marking territory.

Dropping down to Griggstown the grass has grown up but there was somewhat of a dearth of singing heard from the parking lot. Orchard Oriole and Rose-breasted Grosbeak were fly-bys but I didn't linger there.

Instead I headed to Pole Farm to check for Bobolink, which were there in modest numbers (4-5 males, 1 female) along with Eastern Meadowlark and Willow Flycatcher. Despite the new kestrel box, I didn't see any raptors.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Heislerville WMA, May 29th

The first foray of the long Memorial Day weekend was down to the Delaware bay shore for migrating shorebirds. At the pullout before I hiked the beach road a nice find was Blue Grosbeak (singing male) along with House Wren and Cedar Waxwing. Along the road there were the predictable Marsh Wrens and Seaside Sparrows and fly-over Herons.

The weather was overcast with mediocre light for photo ops, but that wasn't so bad because the shorebirds at the bay were 99% Semipalmated Sandpipers, with very few Dunlin, Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstones and absolutely NO Red Knots. Erosion was evident here and some of the coastal marsh from the previous year had been rendered into a pile of vegetation washed up by the tide. Not sure if this was a factor or if timing and food supply led to the Knots being concentrated elsewhere. There were certainly a number of Horseshoe Crabs and eggs, as the abundant Laughing Gulls can attest to. I snapped a few pictures of Semipalmated in very average light and left. On the walk back Semipalmated Plover and Least Sandpipers flew by.

I actually had to take a little jaunt down to Kimball's Beach (Cape May NWR) to see Red Knots along the roped off area of the beach although the number of shorebirds here was quite modest. On the way back up I stopped at CMBO at Goshen in the hopes of finding a hummingbird but the seed feeders here were empty and there were no hummingbird feeders at all - previously this location was good for hummingbirds.

After that I went to Belleplain SF along Sunset Road, but activity there was low in the late morning. I could hear and not see Louisiana Waterthrush, Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Acadian Flycatcher so left unsuccessful.

And finally the coup de grace was at the impoundments at Heislerville where despite the high tide there were relatively few shorebirds, and certainly no Curlew Sandpiper or Ruff.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Six Mile Run, May 26th

A quick hour-and-a-bit around the main field trails (east of the parking lot) before work. Three male Willow Flycatchers (one on marginal territory but the most active singer), two Orchard Oriole males (one first spring), two or three singing Grasshopper Sparrow males were the highlights of this trip and not coincidentally also year birds. Otherwise a worthwhile but totally predictable list of species. The biggest miss was Indigo Bunting, neither seen nor heard.

Great Blue Heron (fly-over)
Red-tailed Hawk
Black Vulture
Willow Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Tree Swallow
House Wren
Brown Thrasher
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Field Sparrow
Grasshopper Sparrow
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Orchard Oriole
American Goldfinch

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Stirling Forest and nw NJ, May 22nd


A better title might be "Stirling Forest and afterthoughts" since the action was squarely at the first location.

Along Long Meadow Road there was a beautiful male Brewster's Warbler (Golden-winged X Blue-winged hybrid) singing, along with more silent Golden-winged males, something that sounded like a Blue-winged, Great Crested Flycatcher and some fast-acting Eastern Phoebe's that already had two fledgelings. There was signs of trimming and herbicide use here, which has damaged the habitat. A Pileated Woodpecker was touring its territory, making big drumming noises and flying over twice. Warbling Vireo, Eastern Kingbird, Yellow Warbler, American Redstart fleshed out the list here.

On to the other part of the power line cut at Ironwood Road where the same patches of herbicide use were evident. However there were still good numbers of Golden-winged Warblers, a Blue-winged, several Prairie Warblers and Indigo Buntings and a pair of Field Sparrows. A calling pair of Common Ravens drifted over. Unseen but vocal birds included Eastern Wood-Peewee, Hooded Warber, Ovenbird and a quick burst from a Worm-eating Warbler. I didn't hear any Ceruleans, however.

That was a good start, with several "year" birds, although the Brewster's was the #1 star since I see this hybrid rarely. I then cut across through Warwick toward Oil City Road and the northern edge of Wallkill River NWR. Not a great deal there, just a few swallows and Least and Solitary Sandpipers. And then on to High Point State Park, although en route I did see a few Wild Turkeys.

Following a fairly typical route I coasted down Sawmill Road listening for Ceruleans, although I failed to find any. Despite it being 1pm many birds were in full song: American Redstart, Red-eyed Vireo, Ovenbird were the most frequent. A brief sprint along Deckertown Pike brought me to Stokes State Forest and more Cerulean territory and eventually I did find an actively singing one. I walked along the trail downstream along the Flatbrook River and saw Ovenbird, Veery and heard a Black-throated Green Warbler. What was missing here were Empidonax flycatchers - no Acadian on the Flatbrook, no Least near the parking lot, no Willow at Wallkill and as it turned out there would be no Alder at Layton. Dropping out of Stokes SF I heard a couple more Ceruleans singing.

And then finally to Layton and the Delaware Water Gap at Van Ness Rd, itself a destination for several early morning forays over the years. Prairie, Yellow and Blue-winged Warblers sounded off. There was no sign of any Golden-winged. The habitat here has filled in compared to my first years here and has probably become too overgrown for Golden-winged, now nearly extirpated in NJ. It's probably getting too "mature" for Blue-winged too. Wood Thrushes and Veeries were singing in the background, but it was relatively quiet (and late in the day) for a "good" day at Layton.

For the final stop I took a somewhat circuitous route before finding the Kay Environmental Center just south of Chester (west of Morristown). I was trying for a Golden-winged sweep by seeing the Lawrence's Warbler (another hybrid) that was reported there, but directions were a little vague and a Priarie Warbler was the only species in evidence here.