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
Bald Eagle
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

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