Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A little birthday birding

I took a half day off in the middle of a hectic work week to do a little birding. At the Falls Twp Community Park the gull flock was mostly adult Herring and Ring-billed. Nearby Common Mergansers crowded the patches of open water, but most of the ex-gravel pits here are still iced over. Back up through Trenton and down to Florence, the river was devoid of gulls. Consolation prizes were a Great Cormorant bathing in the river, a few more Common Mergansers, and a Fish Crow which continued to vocalize cuh-uh the entire time I was at Florence. American Crows were far more numerous however. (Fish Crow was new for the year).

After work and towards dusk I checked a Great Horned Owl spot near Kingston without success, but then at Mapleton Preserve I did manage to find American Woodcock. I inadvertently flushed two from trail-side, but the at my usual location at the intersection of two trails I did see and hear two males displaying. Since I was about two weeks earlier than I normally check out this place, dusk was earlier and the rush hour traffic noise more intrusive, but I was able to hear the Woodcocks peenting (typically on the ground when they do this, sometimes circling at low altitude), twittering (as they climb in display flight), chirping (descent in display flight) and also the vocalization I don't regularly hear described: a sort of muttering growl sound that they sometimes make when flying around or mixed in with twittering on ascent. Woodcocks are in decline but still not all that difficult to find on warmer evenings in early spring.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Eurasian Wigeon, Feb 20th

After balking at harsh conditions at Barnegat Inlet at dawn, I went down to Brigantine/Forsythe NWR as a second option.

Waterfowl numbers are building here and the essentially ice-free freshwater impoundment was loaded with birds like Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, a surprisingly large flock of Canvasback, and a few Gadwall and American Wigeon mixed in with some Tundra Swans. While scanning the Wigeons one male turned it's head and reflected the sun with a dramatic chestnut - a male Eurasian Wigeon. I found it even with binoculars but a scope confirmed the identity. The Snow Goose flock at Brig seems to be growing, although it's always hard to estimate numbers as they may be broken up into multiple flocks. However the re-appearance of Snow Geese at Jamaica Bay suggests that they are on a northbound drift with the warming weather. (Unlike Brant, which essentially leave the NYC area en masse and fly non-stop to breeding territories, Snow Geese stage at multiple locations).

Back at Barnegat Inlet in only slightly less hostile weather I came up with an 'Ipswich' Savannah Sparrow on the rocks.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Barnegat and Brigantine

The deferred trip to Barnegat happened on Sunday, although in this case I expected the cloud was still going to be a problem, and apart from a short blue sky patch the light was mediocre to poor. There was also a rising strong southerly wind that buffeted me on the end of the jetty. Not ideal conditions but the jetty itself was almost ice-free.

There was a small freighter moving up and down the inlet, apparently part of some dredging operation. This spooked many birds out of the inlet and might explain why I saw no loons whatsoever on this trip. Other regulars: Long-tailed Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, were in relatively low numbers. The usual star of this location - the tame Harlequin Ducks - were present in small groups along the jetty, probably up to 20 or so. Shorebirds were few in number - a few Dunlin and Sanderling, but no Ruddy Turnstones or Purple Sandpipers. This might be a factor of the tide, which was very low indeed when I got there and was still low when I left 3 hours later. 30-odd Common Eiders, and 20-30 each of Surf Scoter and Black Scoter were at the mouth of the inlet. There were large (hundreds) flocks of Greater Scaup a flying south a little further out. The scoter flocks appeared to be mostly male, and as luck would have it one or two came in close to the jetty - at one point a mixed flock of 2 adult male Surf, 2 immature male Surf, 1 female Surf and 2 adult male Black Scoters. I don't normally get to see Scoters that close, and the only regret was that the light wasn't better for photography.

Add in Great Cormorant, Brant and a Red-breasted Nuthatch at the parking lot of the state park and that's pretty much all the birds of note. Harlequin and Surf Scoter were new for the year.

Then on to Brigantine, where it was partly sunny and so windy the car was getting rather buffeted and dirt was getting blown into the car. The freshwater pool was rather icy but with some open water. The brackish pool was predictably much more open. It was a pretty good day for waterfowl numbers, if perhaps not diversity: American Black Duck, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Snow Goose (large flock), Tundra Swan (20++), Mute Swan, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser. Northern Harrier and Peregrine were the only raptors, but the Peregrine was probably the reason why the large flock (a thousand or two) of Dunlin was rather nervous as it roamed around the brackish impoundment. The tide was so low that the water in the sluices was too low to attract diving ducks. I had a bit of a time crunch so didn't spend as much time at Brig as I normally do, but it was still moderately productive. Peregrine Falcon, Snow Goose and Tundra Swan were new birds for the year.

Another entry in the photographers-as-bozos list: an SUV with PA vanity plates "BIRD PIX" was repeatedly pulling up onto the grassy edge of the drive - which is already more than wide enough to let traffic pass. I guess erosion and habitat damage are less important than getting 2 feet closer to the bird.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Checking the satellite for the area at 5am it pretty much showed that if I did go on a planned trip to Barnegat Inlet, I'd get there just as a wall of cloud rolled in. Having this happen to me once was quite enough, so I deferred the trip to Sunday and did errands and a trip to the local gull watching site: Florence.

Florence, on the NJ side of the Delaware where the river runs roughly east-west, overlooks the series of dumps in Tullytown PA. It's very much in the tidal section of the river although the salinity is probably somewhat brackish. The gulls often roost on the river where you can sort through them. However this has been trickier in recent years with the dump next to the river less active and grassed over. So on Sat morning: few to no gulls. Best birds were: Ring-necked Duck, Common Merganser, Great Cormorant (fly-by) and an immature Bald Eagle who was easy to track because it flushed all the geese, gulls and crows on the landfill.

I decided instead to head over to the PA side, taking the turnpike from near Florence just across the river. And got promptly gouged for a total in $3:40 in tolls. I'm sorry but if you gouge me on the tolls I don't spend $ in your township. Ever. Period. I also ended up being diverted nearly all the way up to the Trenton-Morrisville bridge by a road closure, so it was a total waste of time and $ in doing the driving shortcut. Tullytown is in a particularly ugly part of n.e. Pennsylvania - and given its location perhaps it should call itself the "Gateway to Garbage". But garbage means gulls.

On my detour I passed an incineration plant with a huge flock of roadside Starlings - not merely a few hundred but at least a thousand. Usually they are really traffic-savvy but I could see one or two roadkill ones which the Crows and one or two other Starlings were taking advantage of. Opportunistic cannibalism. There were simply so many that it would have been easy to kill a few had I not slowed down to 15 mph.

I could also see a large circling flock of gulls over a landfill to the west of where I was (i.e. n.e. of Tullytown) and this boded well for my ultimate destination, Falls Township Community Park. The lakes were frozen except for a very small open patch of water, but there was a flock of several hundred gulls there on the ice. Almost immediately I found an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull. Elsewhere Lesser Black-backed is a rare gull. In this general area it's not really that rare and in this flock there were at least 18 adults, outnumbering the Great Black-backed Gulls. I scoped the flock for several sweeps until I decided to warm up in my car and eat a bagel. After a little while I saw a paler gull fly up and got to examine a blotchy pale coffee-colored first winter Iceland Gull for a while. The Florence-Tullytown area usually hosts quite a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a few Iceland Gulls of a winter, and one or two Glaucous Gulls are often in the mix. Of interest were some Herring Gulls that had pure white heads and were getting into breeding plumage, although most were pretty strongly marked on the head. Most of the birds in this flock of all species were adults. There were probably other gull flocks nearby on the frozen lakes and impoundments, but its not always easy to find pull overs on public roads in this area.

Falls Twp Community Park is west of US-13 along Mill Creek Road, open dawn-dusk. From Trenton, south on Route 1 and then south on Route 13.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Meadowlands and Central Park - better luck in February

Back when NJ Transit had more reasonably priced tickets I used to take the train into Manhattan, but since they jacked the round trip prices by 50% it barely makes sense to give up the flexibility and pay $35 for parking+ticket to get to NYC. So, I drove in and parked on local streets. The upside of this is that I had the chance to go to the Meadowlands early before I went into Manhattan.

In contrast to the previous Sunday, I found a light morph Rough-legged Hawk moving from one landfill dome to another, giving good looks but it was not a bird I refound. Northern Harrier and Red-tailed Hawk were also around. Near the old ballfields I also saw an immature White-crowned Sparrow, but attempts to refind it were stymied by a birder who stopped right in front of where the birds had retreated into the phragmites after a Harrier fly-over.

But not a bad start, so then I went into Manhattan. On the walk up Cedar Hill I saw a Yell0w-bellied Sapsucker, then into the Ramble. I failed to find the Varied Thrush, despite looking around its old locations quite carefully. However the feeders gave good birds - Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Pine Siskin. In a strange moment the Brown Creeper was feeding at the thistle feeder.

Apart from the feeder birds the Ramble was quiet, Turtle Pond was frozen over (the Varied Thrush was seen by others at the west side of it), so I wandered south toward Sheep Meadow. In some places the footing was treacherous with ice, but after the little trek I was rewarded by views of the immature Red-headed Woodpecker on the south side of Sheep Meadow. And now being in the south end of the park I went off to the 59th Street Pond to look for the reported Wood Duck. Most of the pond was frozen, but in the open section there were 120-150 Mallards taking advantage of the people feeding them. In the time I was there they were fed at least 4 times, so despite the high numbers of ducks there really isn't all that much of a food shortage, at least on weekends. Mixed in was a clearly hybrid Mallard, a fairly typical American Black Duck, and two male Wood Ducks. The Wood Ducks, despite being smaller than the Mallards, were fairly vocal and fairly aggressive, and did manage to get a decent share of the bread being thrown.

So not a bad day, in total, at least measured in terms of finding the desired target species.