Sunday, November 27, 2011

Cackling Geese

I found singles of Cackling Geese at North Branch Park and Dukes Island Park in Raritan on Sunday morning amongst flocks of Canada Geese, as had previously been reported. I didn't find the Greater White-fronted Goose at Dukes Island (I was there before it was reported) but there were enough Canada Geese milling around in the air that it might have flown in after I left.

En route home for this short birding day I stopped at the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed property off Titusville Road to check out the pond trail. The pond itself held four Mute Swans, several Canada Geese and a few Mallards. The area around the pond looked promising for sparrows but held only a few White-throated Sparrows - their numbers have been low this winter and it would not surprise me if they have stayed further north courtesy of good food crops and mild temperatures this November. Once the snow comes perhaps they will drift south.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Barnegat, Tuckerton, Brig/Forsythe

I did a fairly conventional coastal route on Saturday morning - starting at Barnegat for something of a quick "coverage" visit, I found the state park closed (opens 9am these days?) and a lot of fishermen on the jetty and elsewhere. There was also a lot of boat traffic heading out of the inlet, so there were no birds in the inlet itself. However there were a lot of birds in the bay - recent warm weather undoubtedly contributed to the presence of Forster's Terns, although they are quite hardy. Also present was a substantially less hardy first winter Common Tern. Bonoparte's Gulls were particularly numerous and it seems that this species (along with sea ducks, Gannets and Red-throated Loons) have been on the move in large numbers this past week. There were actually relatively few loons in the bay. I took a look out toward the ocean from the end of the concrete walk and could see several groups of Northern Gannets headed south - surely meaning that thousands were on the move.

I left Barnegat pretty quickly - something that proved to be a mistake since both Western Tanager and Ash-throated Flycatcher were reported from the state park later that morning.

Great Bay WMA at Tuckerton was pretty quiet and I saw none of the Sharp-tailed Sparrows that I had gone there to look for. Boat-tailed Grackles and Black-bellied Plovers were the only birds of note.

Finally, then, to Brigantine division of Forsythe NWR where Tundra Swans have moved in, along with a much larger flock of Snow Geese than on my last visit here. Yellow-rumped Warblers and a heard-only Eastern Phoebe were enjoying the warm temperatures, but as usual with Brig in late fall it was mainly about ducks: Northern Pintail, Mallard, American Black Duck and Green-winged Teal were plentiful and supplemented by Ruddy Duck, Bufflehead, Scaup sp., Hooded Merganser. Raptor sp. were mostly Northern Harriers with one or two Peregrines and a single immature Bald Eagle.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Snowy Owl, Merrill Creek

There's a well-known Snowy Owl at Merrill Creek Reservoir that I went to see on Thanksgiving morning, although I had actually seen it the week before. Although I usually have reservations about "advertising" owl locations this bird has been present for a while and the location is widely disseminated.

Merrill Creek have closed the section of trail that runs down the east side of the southern dam, and the ranger I talked to indicated that this was to protect the owl roost location since people were getting too close. And in fact the Snowy was roosting next to a small rock ledge right adjacent to the closed path. It wouldn't surprise me if the bird had regularly been spooked of it's roost by the overzealous. The ranger indicated that the owl has probably been eating the gulls that roost there in considerable numbers late in the day.

Birding at Merrill Creek was otherwise quite slow - a single Bald Eagle, Horned Grebe, Belted Kingfisher and little in the way of land birds apart from Eastern Bluebird (heard) and American Goldfinch at the boat ramp parking lot.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Great Horned Owl in suburbia

Periodically I entertain a fantasy of finding a Screech-Owl or a wintering Long-eared Owl amongst my spruces, but it was a pretty big surprise to realize that I was hearing a Great Horned Owl hooting in my own neighborhood.

It was close enough and with enough low frequency that I could get a faint hint of it at 3am even with the windows closed, and I wandered outside to see if I was simply hallucinating or if it was by some miracle in my yard. Neither - it was a single bird, presumably wandering looking for a mate, and it was about two rows of houses over. There was no reply, and I've never thought of my neighborhood as having a quite dense-enough habitat to attract a Great Horned.

Still, it makes my yard 'B' list for things heard/seen from the property.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

"Rufous" Hummingbird, Lenoir Preserve

Vagrant western hummingbirds are what spurred my whole web site development in the first place. My first home page was a precursor to what is now located at and was prompted by the first Rufous Hummingbird I saw at Lenoir Preserve in Yonkers in November 2001. That was the same year as the Fort Tryon Calliopes.

So it was natural that I wanted to go check out the latest hummingbird vagrant at Lenoir, even if Yonkers is a lot further away from home than it used to be. It took me a little while to find the Selasphorus sp. hummingbird, but it was probably sleeping or torpid before the sun started hitting the trees and butterfly garden. Once things started to warm up I saw it spending most of its time insect catching in the trees and the garden as the sun started to hit it. It spent some time in the Salvia Pineapple Sage at the edge of the garden, and a small amount of time at one of the feeders. From plumage the bird was an immature female, but this hummingbird was fairly shy and I didn't get anything remotely like a tail spread shot. The consensus is that it is a Rufous Hummingird (now apparently confirmed), although the staffer at the visitor center indicated that there was a suspicion that it was an Allen's and would be caught to determine which.

I'm pretty much invariably against capturing vagrant hummingbirds out of pseudo-scientific curiosity because it's not part of any systematic research plan and these birds are under enough stress attempting to survive in alien habitats in deteriorating weather. The cost to the bird is significant, and it tells us almost nothing.

There's a proposal to close Lenoir Preserve visitor center being considered by Westchester County - you could email the County Executive (Robert Astorino, to express your opposition to this plan. The budget vote is apparently Dec 27th 2011, so sooner is better than later. (Updated to reflect the fact that it's apparently the staff that are getting fired rather than the preserve closed to all access).

Monday, November 7, 2011

Bryant Park on Nov 6th

I decided to pursue the Yellow-breasted Chat at Bryant Park in the city on Sunday morning, staying clear of Central Park because of the NYC marathon. The main body of Bryant Park is full of pop-up micro stores hoping to make it big for the holiday season and an ice-skating rink sponsored by Citibank, which makes it all the more remarkable that the park was loaded with White-throated Sparrows. Also there: one American Robin, one Ovenbird (my new late date for Ovenbird), a few Hermit Thrushes, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. I finally found the not-especially-tame Yellow-breasted Chat out front of the library at the same location as the previous year's Prothonotary Warbler. But it did not pose for pictures like the Prothonotary did and was singularly obsessed with hunting down food. This has been an outstanding year for the normally rare Yellow-breasted Chat in NYC but it's also interesting that Bryant Park hosted another Chat in 2002 which put it on the map for birders.

Unfortunate footnote to this trip was finding three dead Red-winged Blackbirds - all males - on the sidewalk just west of Bryant Park. Probably window strikes.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sandy Hook (fail), Pole Farm on Nov 5th

In search of a Harris's Sparrow at Sandy Hook on Saturday I did encounter a whole lot of birders, but only commoner sparrows (White-throated, Song, Dark-eyed Junco), an Indigo Bunting, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Hermit Thrushes, fly-over Horned Larks and a Northern Harrier. No Harris's seen by anyone all day and since there wasn't even a good hawk flight I departed after a few hours. The bay and Atlantic shore only held minimal numbers of diving ducks.

A sunset visit to Pole Farm (Lawrenceville) to check the prospect for owls revealed no Northern Harriers and no pre-dark Short-eared Owls which suggests that this location will be a bust in the 2011/2012 winter. A consolation prize was a Merlin perched at the parking lot, which somewhat agitated a local American Kestrel - at one point both were perched in the same tree looking at each other. I also heard a distant Belted Kingfisher.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Land bird migration, Nov 4th

Although more at work than birding, signs of passerine migration were obvious: flocks of American Robins at mid-altitude over Ewing after sunrise, more on the ground in Princeton, then more flocks headed south west over Princeton U. campus around 10:45, along with an icterid flock and a Cedar Waxwing flock. Two Golden-crowned Kinglets were feeding in the trees outside the lab.