Monday, January 23, 2012

Icy Jones Beach, snowy Boonton (Longspur, Shrike)

The weather channel suggested sun through midday, followed by cloud. In fact the cloud moved in about 5 nanoseconds after dawn at Jones Beach and it was especially dark out there. In addition to the expected snow this area had apparently got hit by some freezing rain. At least under these circumstances you know it's winter, in contrast to the rest of the rather mild January.

On the beach there were a few Horned Larks, a possible Savannah Sparrow, and nothing else. Out in the heavy surf there were feeding flocks of Gannets that extended into Jones Inlet, a flock of something like 25 Common Eiders just north of the inlet, and the common mix of Loons and Long-tailed Ducks. The size of the Eider flock is notable for Point Lookout/Jones Beach - normally you see one or two, but is much smaller than the large flock currently at Barnegat Inlet in NJ.

There was nothing to speak of at the Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center lot/boardwalk so I spent quite a lot of time at the Coast Guard station. This wasn't because of the three female Brown-headed Cowbirds - this is my least favorite native species - but there was a single Snow Bunting and single Lapland Longspur feeding on the edges of the snow-packed lawn. This is partly why I went to Jones - after snowfall you can often see Snow Bunting flocks with a few Longspurs in this general area. Finally, on the drive out I saw an American Pipit along the roadside near the intersection with Ocean Parkway.

It took me a fair while to warm up after that, but I drove through NYC and out via I-80 to Boonton to look for the reported Northern Shrike. Took me a little time to find it, at least in part because of the bozo birder factor. I had a conversation with a local birder in a truck who indicated that some other people had flushed the shrike out of the cedars by walking into them. These birders were loud in multiple ways: loud conversation, and also subsequently sitting in the parking lot with their car engines running (one of them a VW diesel, quite loud) and door slamming. Finally the idiots left. I'll assume these are newbies but they also attracted attention from other birders that turned up while I was there.

Finally I got the Northern Shrike, which turned up at an apparently favored perch near the ball field, then flew along the tree line closer. It didn't linger for long. Subsequently I spied it at the top of a tall tree further away and got record shots of it. I didn't see any barring or brown coloration on the bird, and the thin black mask was solid, so this bird appears to be an adult - I think that all the other individuals that I've seen in NY-NJ have been immatures.

Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Northern Gannet
Canada Goose
American Black Duck
Common Eider
Long-tailed Duck
Red-breasted Merganser
Northern Harrier
Peregrine Falcon
Northern Shrike
Horned Lark
American Pipit
Yellow-rumped Warbler
(possible Savannah Sparrow glimpsed in beach dunes)
Song Sparrow
Lapland Longspur
Snow Bunting
Brown-headed Cowbird

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Gulls in PA

Falls Twp Community Park (PA) has emerged as a pretty good place to look for gulls in winter and superceded Florence (NJ) as the best place to find interesting species. They both sample the greater Tullytown landfill flock. Diversity is low: Canada Goose, Starling and a fly-over Red-tailed Hawk were the only other birds. (I saw a Cooper's Hawk over Trenton on the way back home attempting to pick Starlings out of the air with no success). The weather was appropriately cold with a north wind but the lake wasn't iced over yet.

In the smaller of the two flocks in the park I found a single immature Iceland Gull - a nice cafe-au-lait colored first winter bird with a rounded head and black bill. Eventually that flock took flight and joined the largest flock. What was surprising about this first flock was the absence of Lesser Black-backed Gulls - normally they're simple to find and the first of the rarer gulls I put my eyes on.

In the second flock I did find Lesser Black-backed Gulls (I came up with a total of 4 or 5, all adults) and then while looking for the Iceland I found a first winter Glaucous Gull sitting on the grass. It was the same color as the Iceland but was huge with a bi-colored bill. Quite an attractive gull when it got up and walked around. Finally, just before the flock was flushed by a dog walker, I found one and then a second Iceland Gull, making the proportions more typical for a PA/NJ winter gull flock (LBB: 5; Iceland: 2; Glaucous: 1).

Later in the day I went to the boat ramp in Edison and found another Glaucous Gull immature - a relatively tame one. This is probably the first time I've ever seen two Glaucous in different locations in one day, given that they are borderline rare in NJ.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Cackling Geese in NJ

A slower start to Jan 2nd had me in search of yet more winter special birds to pad the year list. I picked up Common Merganser at Mercer County Park at the marina but not much else was there. Then I wandered north to Negri-Nepote Grasslands and saw almost nothing there except a large extended flock of American Robins headed south - several hundred of them spread over many miles in loose association.

Then it was time for geese, albeit via an unsuccessful search for Sandhill Cranes in Franklin Twp (they're there, but often elusive). At Dukes Island Park in Bridgewater the large flock of Canadas at the pond and adjacent field held a lot of Cackling - I was scanning for the Greater White-fronted but kept coming up with Cacking: first one, then two, then a group of 6, then 4 more etc. I figured out I had at least 12 and perhaps 15 or more. A total of 33 was reported from that site during the day, and they were pretty much every where I looked. Finally the Greater White-fronted was found.

2pm now, and there was just enough light to sprint for the final special bird of the day: Snowy Owl in western NJ that I found in it's usual roosting place on the dam as the light started to fade. Combined with a few fly-by Snow Geese at an otherwise quiet reservoir this propelled the 2012 year list to 46 in the first two days. Not a bad total.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Starting 2012 in Manhattan - Dickcissel and Rufous Humingbird (again)

I don't take state listing too seriously, but the two lists I do pay some attention to are life lists (USA: 644) and year lists. So at dawn on 1/1/2012 the year list was zero and needed some work.

First stop: Perth Amboy waterfront, in search of Eurasian Wigeon without success. This is not somewhere I've birded before but was more-or-less en route to Manhattan. I found other ducks like American Wigeon, Gadwall, Bufflehead, American Black Duck, Red-breasted Merganser and a Double-crested Cormorant (seen well, not a Great). A Cooper's Hawk was hunting downtown, but there wasn't any reason to delay getting into NYC any longer.

Second stop: Inwood Hill Park at 200th St (Dyckman) where it took almost no time at all to find the Dickcissel feeding in the ball fields amongst the House Sparrows. A good extra find was a fly-over flock of Cedar Waxwings.

Third stop: easily finding parking along Madison, I walked from E72nd to W81st through Central Park in a meandering route, checking evergreens for Barred Owl (no luck). The Ramble was quiet and the best bird by far was the Eastern Phoebe at Turtle Pond. I found two more Cedar Waxwings near Tanner's Spring and then starting the wait for the Rufous. Seen earlier in the day, it took its sweet time turning up outside the American Museum of Natural History. It was relatively warmer out and some bees were feeding on the Leatherleaf Mahonia that were still flowering (apparently flowering during the winter). Having got decent looks at the Rufous Hummingbird I hopped the subway and went down to Bryant Park which was about as crowded as it was on xmas eve. I've not got much patience for crowds but did see White-throated Sparrows and a single Ovenbird (by far my late date - I wonder if it has any chance of making it to spring?).

Finally I hopped a bus and returned to the park - a Wood Duck on 59th Street Pond and a Red-headed Woodpecker at the Hallett Sanctuary were good finds here - before retreating to my car and heading home.