Monday, December 26, 2011

King Eider - Avalon

I did a quick coastal run on Christmas Day, in particular to see the breeding plumaged male King Eider at Avalon. Avalon is most of the way down to Cape May (it's actually in Cape May Co) so it turned into a long loop trip.

A quick start at Barnegat Inlet turned up pretty much nothing in the inlet, relatively few Bonaparte's Gulls in the bay, so I decided not to rock hop 500 times to reach the end of the breakwater and headed south to Avalon.

At the 8th Street jetty there was an "Ipswich" Savannah Sparrow, a few close fly-by Gannets (one oiled, sadly), and a couple of loons. Not much to distract from the sea duck flock: Black and Surf Scoters in decent numbers, lots of Common Eiders and one King Eider. The King Eider was really in full-on breeding plumage - search Flickr to get an idea what I mean - although the orange plate at the forehead (base of the bill?) wasn't quite as large as it can get. All the King Eiders I've seen in recent years (2003+) have been the drab females including the two from this year, although my first few - Rhode Island, Montauk in 1999-2001 were all males.

On the way back I took a little spin around Brigantine/Forsythe NWR and saw a totally predictable set of species - raptor numbers down from earlier visits, Pintail numbers subsiding, but the Snow Goose flock was putting on a good show. Birds would feed out in the saltmarsh and then fly across the dike to the pool to bathe, then return to the saltmarsh. There was pretty much a constant stream of Snow Geese in the air. Being Greater Snow Geese there were very few "Blue" Goose color morphs (Lesser Snow Geese have proportionally more), and I didn't see a Ross's despite keeping my eye open for it.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Eve - Rufous Hummingbird and Dickcissel

Manhattan on the last shopping day before Christmas ? Madness. However I decided to take a little photo/birding trip into NYC in search of two rarities: Dickcissel and Rufous Hummingbird.

The Dickcissel was significant because I've seen very few Dickcissels in general (my first being one at Jones Beach in 2001), certainly not annually, although 2011 was a bumper year for them by comparison: one in FL; the ones at Negri-Nepote in late spring; singing birds in TX; and now this one. This Dickcissel was spending time in a large (30+) House Sparrow flock, as often is the way with Dickcissels. The flock was very skittish so it took a while to find the bird even though it had enough yellow (immature male) to stick out from the crowd once you found it. I saw a Dickcissel in Central Park in 2008, the only other one I saw in NYC.

Hummingbirds are another story: I've seen quite a few Rufous this year, mainly on the Pacific Northwest trip but also in Yonkers in November. A Yonkers Rufous Hummingbird in 2001 spawned my first web page and I've pursued a mini project of photographing NYC hummingbirds. This Rufous is an immature female and was found on December 14th. It's on the north side of the American Museum for Natural History - i.e. the cold side - with no direct sun but some reflected sun. Perhaps the micro-environment has kept the hardy plants flowering on which this Rufous is depending on for it's short-term survival. A lot of vagrant Rufous in this area make it into the first few days of January but disappear soon after, so I will try and see it again on Jan 1st.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Barnegat Inlet - epic

This Saturday I made no mistake about spending most of my time at Barnegat Inlet instead of pushing on elsewhere - I was out there for about 4 hours starting shortly after dawn. Fishermen abounded on both the breakwater and in small craft, so once more there was little in the inlet itself - a group of three White-winged Scoters hugging the breakwater (injured?) being the exceptions.

In the bay there was a flock of Bonaparte's Gulls with a few Laughing Gulls but no Forster's Terns this time - the cooling weather might have pushed them south. Out at the far (Atlantic) end of the breakwater there was an immense amount of activity out on the ocean. The entire time I was watching there were always Red-throated Loons at mid-altitude headed south in small loose flocks (max=14) which means there must have been pushing a thousand migrating during that time. There were also some at sea level. I saw all of two Common Loons. Sea ducks were also numerous - mostly in one huge mixed flock just south of the inlet; Common Eider; all three Scoters; Harlequin Duck; Long-tailed Duck. Eiders themselves numbered in the hundreds (one report from there logged it as 350). If you scoped further out into the ocean there were sea ducks further out as well (scoters, mainly) so there were one to a few thousand oceanic ducks milling around the area. Most of the inshore scoters appeared to be immature/female birds, with disproportionately few males but there seemed to be more males further out in the fairly strong swell off the breeze.

With the Red-throated Loon movement there was also a smaller Northern Gannet movement southward, always in small flocks and mostly adults or near-adults. There were also more flocks of Bonaparte's Gulls north of the inlet. And just as had been reported the previous weekend, this attracted the Parasitic Jaegers. The Jaegers were behaving as a combination of sea gull and Peregrine, hugging the ocean until they saw something they wanted to follow and then accelerating to chase it down - something that was quite visible even at range. Mostly it was the Bonaparte's Gulls but sometimes they chased each other. I had about 8 sightings, which could have been anywhere between two to eight actual individuals (one birder saw 4 at once). The sheer number of birds was impressive, but it was the Parasitics that were particularly special for me since I'd only added them to my life list (conservatively) in late summer. Now I've finally seen more Parasitics than any other Jaeger (I've seen 5 Long-tailed, for example) although none of the views were especially close.

Other birds included the typical four shorebirds: Sanderling; Dunlin; Ruddy Turnstone; Purple Sandpiper. Two Peregrines were soaring together over the breakwater. An unusual bird for Barnegat was a Northern Harrier, probably a late migrant headed south down the barrier beach. Passerine activity was minimal, a few Yellow-rumped and some standard suburban birds, all at the state park.

After Barnegat I did go again to Brigantine/Forsythe NWR but the results were identical to the previous weekend and not noteworthy.