Monday, March 28, 2011

Snipe in Piscataway 3/27

While recovering from the pelagic and associated drugs, I wasn't disposed to venture too far afield, instead limiting my sights to Piscataway, 20 miles to the north, and a Wilson's Snipe that had been in a park there. Just a single bird - and I wonder how these individuals elect to go their own way - and one that was sheltering in a wet area with surface water surrounded by Canada Geese. In fact it was having to dodge the geese as the latter wandered around. It was a little skittish, and with the number of (on-leash) dog walkers it's probably not much of a surprise.

This was a nice riverside park with some woodland, and I picked up Hairy Woodpecker and Northern Flicker for the year, in addition to the expected flocks of Robins and Canada Geese.

I stopped at Griggstown Preserve on the way back just as a monitoring stop en route to my favored plant nursery and found nothing, but the grassland hasn't yet bounced back from winter.

Uneventful "Inshore" Pelagic 3/26

I don't normally go on Pelagics without good reason, since I'm prone to getting seasick. I had balked at a genuine winter pelagic since the high temp was in the high teens Farenheight. However I rolled the dice on this Pelagic run by See Life Paulagics and found it to be almost totally futile - nothing I saw was something I couldn't see on/from land (and for the most part already had), although some of the views were better. For the life of my I cannot understand why this outfit always runs pelagics with NJ and NY trips on the same weekend, unless they're using the Saturday trips to scout for the Sunday trips.

Highlights: Iceland, Glaucous and Lesser Black-backed Gulls spending time at the back of the boat, somewhat of a regular pelagic thing; lots of Razorbills and some of them in breeding plumage.

Lowlights: only one year bird (the Glaucous); all the Razorbills were rather distant; NO other alcids (murres, puffins, dovekies); NO Kittiwakes; NO Fulmars; and the Gannets were relatively uncommon and all adults. Nothing on the water near the boat save gulls and a few Gannets.

The trip started off well - a Peregrine on the highway bridge, and coming north out of Belmar to Sandy Hook there were large numbers of scoters (Black, Surf and a few White-winged) off Sandy Hook. Which is where we picked up the persistent first winter Glaucous Gull in rather worn plumage. That bird followed us for a while, including the point where we turned south-east toward the "mudhole". When the Glaucous left an immature Iceland Gull joined us briefly. From the turn and for the first few miles we picked up a lot of Razorbills, most distant, but absolutely all of them in flight - if they saw us within several hundred yards they left the scene. A few of the closer ones (close enough that I could pick out the white stripe on the bill) had visible breeding plumage but most appeared to be in basic plumage. As we got further offshore the activity dropped off precipitously and so there were long stretches of total boredom. At about hour 6.5 (of 8) we found a group of gulls around some trawler (scallops?) and picked up adult Iceland and shortly afterwords also second cycle Lesser Black-backed, then after that a brief visit with third cycle Lesser Black-backed. But overall it was 2 hours of good start and 6 hours of total tedium.

Migration novelties were a flock of 7 Great Blue Herons, far enough from land that they must have set off on faith or some sixth sense heading for Long Island , a single Great Egret even further out, and a Wood Duck that I missed but was the furthest out of all (but at least it can set down on the water).

Note to self: no more late March pelagics, at least not with this lot, barring a lot of evidence to the contrary. Subsequent Atlantic pelagics should probably be off MA or NC, or perhaps a real deep winter pelagic again.

(I haven't seen the results of the subsequent day's pelagic, but given the lack of noise about it on the lists I think it had much the same results).

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spring enters, slowly

Of course speed depends on where you are. Here around NYC/Philadelphia March has been called "the month of hope denied" with some justification. Nevertheless things are moving.

On Saturday 19th I decided a late day visit to Brigantine was warranted, given the habit of Short-eared Owls to fly during the day. The wind may have kept them down, but there was a fairly typical array of ducks (American Black Duck, N. Pintail, Mallard, GW Teal, N. Shoveler, Canvasback, Scaup sp., a single Hooded Merganser, Brant, Snow Goose). The waterfowl numbers were down from the late Feb visits there - ducks are migrating north. A more overt sign of spring was the pair of Great Egrets that I saw.

Another sign of waterfowl migration: the Ross's Geese have left Tom's River, as I found out while checking for them on the way back.

On Sunday 20th I went into Central Park, and found target bird #1: Fox Sparrow - itself an early spring migrant - but struck out on the Varied Thrush I wanted for the year list. Eastern Phoebe showed up as another early spring migrant, having been reported widely that week. Other than that it was the usual overwintering birds, with American Goldfinch in a range of molt states intermediate between basic and alternate, also Junco, Brown Creeper, Red-breasted Nuthatch. Everything, in short, pretty much on schedule and in the low numbers you also expect at this time of year. I also saw Fox Sparrow on a brief visit to the park on the early evening of Tuesday 22nd.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Goose Weekend Part 2 - Pink-footed

The Pink-footed Goose in Washington Twp (NJ) that was roosting on Schlegel Lake each night was not what you might call the easiest bird. It left shortly after dawn, returned shortly before dusk, and during the day fed on inaccessible areas. The lake itself is mostly private property with minimal access. So in order to see this bird - my 3rd Pink-footed in the north-east - I had to leave home at 0415. Actually make that 0515 because when I woke up on Sunday morning I realized that the hour had gone forward.

Either way, it's about a 1:40 drive to Washington Twp from Ewing, and I got there when it was still dark enough that it wasn't worth rushing to the lake. I grabbed a bagel and headed to the library area where you could view the lake through a chain-linked fence. On the lake were a variety of waterfowl: Common Merganser, Hooded Merganser, Ring-necked Duck, Mallard, Wood Duck, Mandarin Duck, Canada Goose, but no PFGO. After a while of rising light and futile scoping a birder came by to tell us that the goose was being seen from the small park at the other side of the lake. A mini rush ensued since there were a fair number of birders, but eventually we did get fairly mediocre views of the Pink-footed before it flew out at 0740 or thereabouts.

Pink-footed Goose used to be relatively rare (population ~30,000 in 1950) but underwent considerable expansion to the point where the UK wintering population exceeds 300,000. These birds breed in Iceland and Greenland so it follows that the odds of vagrant PFGO in north east USA have expanded considerably. Barnacle Goose (Greenland population at least 40,000) is also becoming more numerous, and at least one of the 2010-2011 overwintering individuals was banded and known to be wild (seen in NY, CT).

Anyway, in an attempt to complete a goose trifecta I headed south-east in NJ to avoid the heavy overcast and intermittent drizzle to Lake Como on the northern coast where two Black Brant had been reported the previous day. It was still sunny here, at least for a while. The Brant flocks are probably quite mobile on the Shark River area so I checked four lakes altogether, finding Brant at three of them but failing to find Black Brant anywhere. Since waterfowl migration has been ongoing, there was a diminished selection of birds on the lakes (Bufflehead, Scaup sp, Red-breasted Merganser, Ruddy Duck) as the birds move out from their wintering areas.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Goose Weekend Part 1 - Ross's

Since the day started off cloudy, I experienced a lack of desire to run out of the door and go birding - this being a usual reaction to returning from birding trips. However the cloud started to clear towards 8am so I headed towards the coast and Tom's River. By 0830 I found myself at Shelter Cove Park in Tom's River, and I hadn't even turned into the parking lot before I found the conspicuous pair of Ross's Geese amongst the larger flock of Canada's on the soccer field.

These birds were particularly tame, and the park not at all busy, but they did spook when a Bald Eagle flew by. I found the Ross's again off the beach area at the other end of the park after the flock fragmented.

I wasn't highly motivated but still made one more stop: Barnegat Inlet a little to the south. Here it was mid morning and I didn't even walk out on the jetty. Nevertheless in windy and sunny conditions I did track down: Common and Red-throated Loons, Long-tailed Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Harlequin Duck, Common Eider. The cormorants at the end of the jetty are still probably Great rather than Double-crested, but at that range I couldn't be sure. All that without leaving the concrete walkway - however the activity in the inlet was low and I didn't feel like rock hopping all the way out.

On the way back I went via Pemberton (generally cheap gas), turned at Columbus to avoid Bordentown, and on a whim decided to check out the Delaware River at Florence. The Delaware itself was swollen and brown with a lot of tree debris floating down stream. Trees south of the riverside park had suffered and fallen, and there was a large tree trunk pulled up on the boat ramp - reflections of recent difficult weather. The river itself was quiet - the gulls that were there were all Ring-billed and there wasn't much else hanging around.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Florida March 1st-8th

A divergence from NYC birding into Florida for the past week. The most interesting bird was the persistent (and thankfully vocal) La Sagra's Flycatcher at Bill Baggs SP which I saw as a life bird on Day 1. After that, other interesting birds included a close-up view of American Bittern, a total of 4 Short-tailed Hawks in the Everglades, a group of 5 Swallow-tailed Kites over Anhinga Trail, and some really good looks at the always spectacular Painted Buntings at Okeeheelee Nature Center up around West Palm Beach. The family of Limpkins strolling across the trail in front of me at Loxahatchee NWR and the two Snail Kites seen close (also at Loxahatchee) were just icing on the cake.

Trip report (under edit):