Sunday, March 25, 2012

Early migration at Plainsboro Preserve, March 24th

By far the best bird of the day was a breeding plumage adult eastern/yellow Palm Warbler seen relatively close to the visitor center as the main gravel trail walks back along the south edge of the old gravel pit. The other main evidence of spring was the return of Tree Swallows. Otherwise the preserve was relatively quiet - all the migrant geese have left, leaving just a few breeding Canadas and there was one Belted Kingfisher along the shoreline. The woods were predictably quiet, mainly Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows, with the diversity enlivened a bit by Northern Flicker and Eastern Bluebird.

Notable also were at least two Mourning Cloaks sunning themselves along sheltered parts of the main trail.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Sandy Hook

While waiting for real migration to arrive, I thought I'd try and pick off some late winter or very early spring species at Sandy Hook. I managed to find the only part of NJ that wasn't sunny and in the 60's this past Sunday - the wall of fog was literally staged at the Keyport bridge at the Sandy Hook ramp, so it was a cool 50's with limited visibility.

Chokeberry Lot: Long-tailed Duck, American Oystercatcher (First-of-year for me), Red-throated Loon and a single Surf Scoter (FOY). Thankfully an easy to ID male under those viewing conditions. Visibility into the ocean was very limited so I was only able to see ducks that were already closer to shore - a scope wasn't even that useful here since the visibility cut off before the birds got too small to ID via binoculars.

Sadly there was also a sick/injured Long-tailed Duck on the beach - it's too late in the year for a hunting injury but the bird could not fly, and if it had injured a wing it could not dive either. I told the Rangers about this and they seemed motivated to go take a look. These things happen, and Long-tailed Duck is a common species, but it's still a distressing thing to witness.

Visitor Center lot: Long-tailed Duck and some fly-by Red-breasted Mergansers. I didn't scan the bay side very much since it was contra light in this afternoon visit but I also saw Red-breasted Mergansers there.

North Beach: more American Oystercatcher pairs; more Long-tailed Ducks; two more Red-throated Loons; two more Surf Scoters; one Piping Plover (FOY).

Visitor Center Lot revisit: small group of Northern Gannets (adult) and three White-winged Scoters (FOY).

Brant were still in evidence but there were few to no American Black Ducks which have probably decamped for the saltmarshes now that it approaches breeding season. But the trip was good for Scoters - I have particular problem finding White-winged Scoters now that I don't visit Montauk Point (where you could find several thousand of each of the three species) and I hadn't seen Surf Scoter this year either. My alternate favorite location - Barnegat Inlet - isn't reliable for scoter species early in the year, although back in November I had all three species in the big diving duck flock.

The Month of Hope Denied impersonates April

My instinctive reaction to 70 degree days in early spring is to run, run to a migration hotspot and start tracking down Northern Parulas. However it's still mid March and there's barely a Parula north of Florida. So here we are in March, with a largely typical array of March migrants (Pine Warbler, Tree Swallow, Eastern Phoebe) in weather that we normally associate with the ramp-up of migration in mid-late April. I've been colder than this in May.

Since warblers in central America don't surf Accuweather for the boreal forest weather forecast, it seems likely that spring will be only a little early in terms of warbler migration - they still have to fly trans-Gulf and up the Atlantic coast before making it to NYC and it's not an overnight job. Warmer weather might accelerate that by a few days or a week. The birds that might turn up early would be things like Eastern Phoebe and Louisiana Waterthrush (and even N. Parula) that have significant continental wintering populations - things that you can see in FL in February. But migration is probably triggered by day length, so it's not like the rest of the genus formerly known as Dendroica (now Setophaga) is going to turn up four weeks early. Even Fox Sparrow migration doesn't seem to be at full bore right now (although they may simply have overwintered further north this year) - on time migration should be the next three weeks.

So in the interim I've been waiting out the good weather and going to see the flock of Rusty Blackbirds in Bristol PA or watching the gull flock dwindle in Levittown PA.