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.