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)

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