Saturday, March 6, 2010

Barnegat to Shawangunk - early signs of spring

A refurbished car (new tires, replaced wheel bearing) led me to do an epic road trip from the NJ shore to the Shawangunks on Saturday.

At Barnegat Inlet at 0700 the surf was up, driven by high tide and brisk northern winds, so few ducks were along the north-facing side of the breakwater. Surf Scoter, Black Scoter and Common Eider were along the mouth of the inlet. Long-tailed Ducks were everywhere, vocal and starting to molt. Common and Red-throated Loons were scare - the Common Loons themselves starting to molt into breeding plumage. A few shorebirds were present - Black-bellied Plover, Dunlin and Ruddy Turnstone - but no Purple Sandpipers. Not a bad start but the weather reduced the opportunities.

Barnegat List:
Common Loon
Red-throated Loon
Common Eider
Surf Scoter
Long-tailed Duck
Red-breasted Merganser
Great Cormorant
Black-bellied Plover
American Oystercatcher
Ruddy Turnstone
Horned Lark
Savannah Sparrow
Boat-tailed Grackle

After that I went north and stopped at Belmar and Spring Lake for Glaucous Gull and Pacific Loon and didn't find either. Gull #s were low, and the only loons were very obviously Commons.

Then north-west to DeKorte Park in the Meadowlands where I failed once more to find Northern Shrike but did find three Fox Sparrows and a couple of Brown-headed Cowbirds. A Red-winged Blackbird was singing.

Then north-west some more via a somewhat non-optimal route to Wallkill NWR, or more specifically the Oil City Road parking lot on the NY side of the NWR. Here Crows and Turkey Vultures were common (Canada Geese and American Crow being the most common bird over that whole area). I did find two pale and one dark morph Rough-legged Hawk but they were well to the north of Oil City Rd and buried in the heat haze - it was a fairly warm day - for unsatisfying looks. Also of interest was a kettle of Black Vultures headed north.

Finally, the last 45 minute sprint of the day got me from Wallkill NWR to Shawangunk NWR for 5pm. Two Short-eared Owls were already up and perched in the sun, but not all that active apart from periodic harassment of the Northern Harriers (about 6 of them). No Rough-legged Hawks but a local birder told me they were there early in the day and often move off if the human activity is too much. I heard a Common Raven croak but did not see it. I also heard a Barred Owl sound off a couple of times but didn't see that either. After sunset, and about 6pm as it was starting to get pretty dark, I counted 4 Short-eared Owls over the center of the grassy areas. The previous night it was apparently 5. On the walk back to the car I heard the peenting of an American Woodcock and heard it twitter during its song flight.

Then all that was needed was a 2:15 drive home in the dark......

Update: suspicion that the Black Vultures I saw on Sat were migrating was bolstered by the observation of migrating Turkey Vultures over Manhattan on the subsequent Monday. Spring has sprung for the Vultures too.

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