Sunday, January 30, 2011

Long Branch, Sandy Hook, Meadowlands, Alpha

A promising start to the day was seeing both the Red Crossbills and the White-winged Crossbills in Long Branch and taking more photos of them. After that the success rate went rapidly down hill.

Long Branch is not that far from Sandy Hook, so I went there to look at water birds. Both the ocean and the bay were relatively quiet, although there were certainly sea ducks moving around well out in the heat haze. Closer to shore it was deathly quiet, save one Black Scoter, a distant small flock of White-winged Scoter, and very little else. A few Horned Larks on the beach. On the bay side there were Red-breasted Merganser, Brant, Bufflehead and American Black Duck. What was notable, given the heavy snow cover, were flocks of American Robins feeding - I assume out of desperation - on the mudflats exposed by the tide.

Off I went, headed west towards the Meadowlands, site of Rough-legged Hawks after the hard weather pushed them south. I think you know where this is going - I saw Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawks, and one probable young Red-shouldered Hawk, but no Rough-legged, despite walking along the road for a while to scope thoroughly. I did see a few American Tree Sparrow, which were at least new for the year.

So finally I decided to make a sprint west along I-78 toward Alpha and the grasslands there, getting there not all that long before sundown. The snow cover there was extensive and the birds were being forced to the side of the road, including Horned Lark and Savannah Sparrows. However no Snow Buntings, Lapland Longspurs or the elusive Rough-legged Hawks were found.

Some days it works like this.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

North Shore Crossbills

Even though I eschewed a pelagic trip in 10-20 degree weather I did manage to motivate myself to get out in relatively sunny but frigid conditions to go find the crossbills reported in Seven President's Park in Long Branch. Easy enough task, since birders had already found them. There were three White-winged Crossbills and two Red Crossbills but they were grouped by species at opposite ends of the park. Both spent some time on the ground either eating snow or foraging amongst the fallen pine cones (just the White-winged) in addition to spending time in the pines that in the park. I haven't seen either in NJ that frequently, so this was a nice way to get myself frozen of a morning (it was breezy in the 20's).

While thawing from that experience I went down to the Manasquan River inlet on the Point Pleasant side - I'd been told that Shark River inlet was very quiet, and a very brief stop at the Roosevelt Ave sea overlook in Deal yielded only a few loons, Great Cormorant and Bufflehead. Point Pleasant was similarly quiet - Common and a few probable Red-throated Loons, a Horned Grebe, a mixed flock of Dunlin and Purple Sandpipers and a single male White-winged Scoter. Since Scoters are gregarious in NJ in winter I wondered if this was a sick/injured bird. Either way there was so little visible on the water within identifiable range that I got out of there before I started to even get really cold.

Friday, January 21, 2011

TX trip

Well away from NYC I did a 6-day trip to TX whose most noteworthy birds were Black-vented Oriole and Rufous-backed Robin, both lifers, as well as a myriad of year birds. Also of interest was a Golden-crowned Kinglet at Salineno on the north bank of the Rio Grande river.

Trip report (in edit as of writing):

Sunday, January 9, 2011

More North Shore birding

Since my major activity on Saturday was wrangling snow, I did venture further afield on Sunday. I went back to NJ's north shore, ranging between Long Branch and Point Pleasant.

In Deal I made two visits at Roosevelt Ave looking for the reported Red Crossbills, but although they had been seen they were not present either time. Since there are a lot of pines in the area there was no particular reason to hold them there. In the sea off the fishing access it was a little more productive: 20+ Great Cormorants, Common and Red-throated Loon and a small group of adult Northern Gannets.

I decided to head north to Long Branch and Seven President's Park to search for the White-winged Crossbill. By this time the wind was quite strong and gusting, so I came up empty on the crossbill but did find Red-breasted Nuthatch, a flyover Black Vulture harassed by crows, and a single Sanderling on the beach. On the way back down to Deal I circle Lake Takanassee and found a small group of Green-winged Teal with a male Common Teal/Eurasian GW Teal in with them. While the head pattern wasn't as striking as it might have been the horizontal flank markings were very obvious and there was no indication that it's a hybrid - this bird has been seen for a few years at this site in the winter. Very little open water there, so the only other things were a male Ring-necked Duck and a Mute Swan.

I'd noticed waterfowl coming in off the Atlantic during the day - perhaps increased snow coverage up north (or on Long Island) was inducing a shift further south. Either that or they were getting blown way offshore by the strong wind.

Back down at Deal there was nothing new except two Red-breasted Nuthatches at Roosevelt Ave so I headed down to Manasquan Inlet and Point Pleasant. On the north side the wind was just as the right angle to make it howl across the jetty, making birding there quite unpleasant. Purple Sandpiper, a couple of Sanderlings, Common and Red-throated Loon, Brant were in evidence. I headed over to the jetty on the southern side (in Point Pleasant) and found that the beachside development attenuated the gale a little so that birding on the end of the jetty was tolerable. An immature male Common Eider was here, more Purple Sandpipers, Horned Grebe. Red-necked Grebe had been seen - and I might have seen one in the air - but I couldn't find one in the water. Best birds was a flock of 14-15 Razorbills flying south. I'm pretty sure I've never seen a flock that size in winter, and in fact these may well be my first ones seen from dry land in NJ.

I'd been battered by quite enough icy air for one day, so I headed home rather than try my luck down at Barnegat Inlet.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Pole Farm and Rosedale Park

Snow started early but slowly on Saturday (after about 2" on Friday that didn't melt) so I felt it was foolish to head further afield. Instead I checked the nearest birding spots: Pole Farm and Rosedale Park. I don't bird Rosedale Park much because it is more heavily used.

At Pole Farm it was me and a Mercer Co Park ranger. It was also low in bird diversity, and in fact there were two individuals: the ongoing American Kestrel, and a Northern Harrier male. I'd come to check for Harriers to see if the snow had pushed any more into Pole Farm, but that male was the only one I saw and it left Pole Farm and headed to neighboring farm fields. The Kestrel was perched over the usual sparrow spot, so nothing was active there.

So on to Rosedale Park where I had low expectations. Almost immediately I came across about 40 Horned Larks in a flock at the edge of the driveway, feeding on a partially cleared patch of earth. These are my first ones for Mercer Co. The lake itself had an open patch and a lot of Canada Geese were roosting here. There may well be a Cackling Goose in this group (seen feeding nearby on a CBC) but I couldn't see it. However as I was scoping a small flock of Northern Shoveler flew into the pond. These are also my first for Mercer Co. There was nothing else in the vicinity of the parking lot and I was apparently making the geese a little nervous, so I left.

Not a bad 45 minutes of birding wedged in before the snowfall got heavier.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A slow start to 2011

Otherwise busy on Jan 1st (upside: two Black Vultures while filling up with gas), I headed out to the northern NJ shore on Jan 2nd to kick start the year list.

I started out late because of intermittent rain and really dark conditions early. This put a crimp on the time I spent at Sandy Hook. Also a factor was the existing snow drifts at various places on the hook - coastal NJ had been hit hard by the storm of Dec 26th and it had by no means melted. Some of the roads still had significant snow plowed to one side of them, narrowing them from two lanes to one. En route to Sandy Hook there were no raptors or vultures in the air. I started off at D lot where I found Black Scoter, Common Loon, a few Horned Grebes, groups of gulls on the beach. But no shorebirds - I was expecting a Sanderling or two. One solitary Bonaparte's Gull was seen a little further out over the water. Just further north at the visitor center I added Yellow-rumped Warbler, House Finch and American Goldfinch.

Further up, just south of the bird observatory I took the boardwalk out to the bay side and heard a lot of Long-tailed Duck activity. I also saw Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck, Red-breasted Merganser and a mere two Common Goldeneye. Visibility was limited by heat haze (it was relatively mild) so the Goldeneye flock may have been more widely dispersed. Best bird for this site was a Belted Kingfisher which was noisily surveying the saltmarsh. American Black Duck and Brant were also in this area.

I stopped at B lot on my way out, and saw distant flocks of Sea Ducks but the haze was too much to ID them. Other species of scoter and Eider are perhaps likely candidates. If only they had been closer. The ducks that were close enough to ID were: more Black Scoters, and a mixed flock of Ruddy Duck and Greater Scaup. I almost convinced myself there were Lesser Scaup mixed in, but demurred since the viewing conditions were not great.

If I spent more time at Sandy Hook I might have added a few more species, judging by other reports, but I wanted to head south and check out a few ponds north of Point Pleasant - Lake Como, Sylvan Lake etc. I found these to be almost totally iced over with little or no open water, and the birds were mostly gulls. I added American Coot to the year list but otherwise that was largely a waste of time and I need to wait for the thaw.

Finally I decided to skip the Manasquan River inlet/Point Pleasant area since the interesting birds had departed, and instead I came back to a site near me - Pole Farm (aka Mercer County Park Northwest) where I saw Short-eared Owl before even getting the scope out of the car, and ultimately came across a total of three. What's interesting is the almost total absence of Northern Harrier from this site this year, and the SEO's must have been bored since they took to harassing a Red-tailed Hawk perched over in the far corner of the field. An American Kestrel was perched on the symbolic remaining pole in Pole Farm, and there was a flock of about a dozen Eastern Bluebirds to round out the day.

(Jan 3rd: added Turkey Vulture)
(Jan 4th: added Great Blue Heron)