Monday, January 28, 2013

Better luck with Geese, Jan 26th

Although my main preoccupation was shoveling a little snow on Saturday morning, the report of two Barnacle Geese at Assunpink WMA had me head out there for about 10:30am - definitely a slacker start to the day.  The lake had been reduced to the size of a pond by the recent cold snap, with waterfowl clustered in and around it, and the two Barnacle Geese were sitting at the right hand side of the pond.  From time to time they would stand up and be seen well.  Bobbing around in the melee of mostly-Canadas were several Mute Swans, American Black Duck, Hooded Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Ring-necked Duck and probably several other waterfowl that weren't easily picked out at a distance with a lot of geese in the way.  These Barnacles were certainly the duo that I had missed the previous week.

I could have pursued the local (and elusive) Northern Shrike that's been spending the winter at Assunpink but the snowy track and the hunters dampened enthusiasm for that, and instead I went out to  Tom's River to look for the Pink-footed Goose.  This is almost certainly the other goose that I missed last weekend, with it apparently getting bored of the Hightstown area and heading south-east.   It was, as reported, on a golf course adjacent to a busy road (corner of Bey Lea and Old Freehold Road, Tom's River) so not a peaceful wilderness viewing experience, but with the scope I was able to get good looks at the Pink-footed Goose in a large flock of Canadas.

As previously, no sign of Cacklings in either Canada flock.

I've seen Pink-footed Geese in three of the last six years, and Barnacle Goose four of the last six.  While still rarities they've dropped from being the really major rarities to just "good birds", presumably courtesy of population increases in Greenland (quite a few Greenland-originated Canada's winter in the North East).

While on the coast I wanted to make a little foray to Manasquan Inlet (Point Pleasant Beach) to look for sea ducks.  My first attempt, via Mantoloking, was blocked since only resident traffic was allowed northbound along the barrier island (plenty of Hurricane Sandy damage still visible in this location).  With some back-tracking I finally got to Point Pleasant beach which had lost its ocean-side boardwalk along the beach but was not entirely trashed.  From the (intact) breakwater along the inlet there was a very modest selection of ocean birds - most of them Common Loons which were putting in a pretty strong showing.  Otherwise: one Red-throated Loon; Greater and Lesser Scaup (the Lessers likely displaced from the frozen ponds); Long-tailed Duck; Bufflehead; Red-breasted Merganser; Brant.  Not a great variety, or numbers, but I haven't yet made my late winter trip to Barnegat Inlet which often produces better results - but not a place I visit on frigid days with the odds of ice after recent snowfall.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Northern Lapwings (again) but no exotic geese, Jan 20th

Although the Montauk pair of Lapwings I saw back in November have long since vanished, the invasion of them has apparently been so extensive that three (yes, three) were found near New Egypt in January.  That's close enough to my home base in central NJ to constitute a must-see.  So on the Saturday after my TX trip I went out to the grassy farm field to witness the somewhat surreal scene of three Northern Lapwings together, sitting in a cow pasture.  To add to the exotic feel a couple of Sandhill Cranes flew in - apparently there had been a persistent few Sandhills in this general area for many years but I've been mostly aware of the ones up in Somerset Co.  The Lapwings were at this location through at least Jan 26th.  God only knows how many of these there are littered around the north-east.

After that I struck out on the other targets for the day - both Barnacle and Pink-footed Geese that had been reported fairly regularly from the area of Assunpink Lake WMA and Etra Lake (Hightstown) and fields nearby while I was away in TX, but became elusive around the time I got back from that trip.  Despite looking at likely farm fields around Etra Lake and Hightstown I couldn't even find a big flock of Canada's.  Nor was  I successful with Cackling in the flock that remained at Lake Etra.

Monday, January 21, 2013

TX Trip January

In a triumph of lack of imagination I went on Yet Another Texas Trip January 11-17th.  This year was marked by worse-than-average weather and worse-than-average species diversity but as is often the nature of Texas trips there was one surprise: Flammulated Owl (USA #677) - not an obvious target bird for sea level in January; White-collared Seedeater - not a lifer but oft-missed on these TX trips and a perennial on by "better view desired" list.  The latter was a cooperative female.

Trip report here FWIW.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Year Listing - Long Island and PA

The year list attracts my attention in January, so I did some roaming around to find some of the more difficult winter birds, to limited success: no Tufted Duck on Long Island; no Barnacle Goose on Long Island - I picked the wrong Barnacle to chase since the Van Cortlandt Park bird is still there.

Nevertheless, on Jan 5th:
Huntington Harbor viewed from Halesite Park gave a nice mix of winter water birds but without the Tufted Duck I desired: Common and Red-throated Loons; American Black Duck; American Wigeon; Gadwall; Greater Scaup; Bufflehead; Red-breasted and Hooded Mergansers; Mute Swan; Brant.  One of the Red-throated Loons was especially dark (an immature), so dark that it almost had a chin strap.

I got to Belmont Lake State Park after the Barnacle Goose had flown out, but there were still: Common Merganser; Ring-necked Duck; Northern Flicker; Brown Creeper; Golden-crowned Kinglets.

A stop at Jones Beach State Park at Lot 6 revealed that the boardwalk had been damaged and the main building was closed.  Not a great deal visible over the ocean but a few distant Scoter sp, Nothern Gannet, Common Loon, Long-tailed Ducks and an alcid sp.  The alcid was almost certainly Razorbill but the surf was up and alcids stay down a while while feeding thus making viewing extremely difficult.  Three fly-by Sanderlings made for half the shorebird species for the day.

On to the Coast Guard station where Long-tailed Duck, Red-breasted Merganser and Brant were in the dock area (here too the dock was ripped up due to Hurricane Sandy), American Oystercatcher and Bonaparte's Gull in the bay, and both species of Loons were numerous here taking advantage of calmer waters than the ocean.  Nothering much going on in West End 2 but at the Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center I had a fly-by Great Blue Heron (immature, hopefully headed south), three Horned Larks and Yellow-rumped Warblers.  Notable by their absence were any type of raptor at Jones Beach - normally a reliable place for them but Sandy may well have killed off the small mammal populations.

Then I started to head back to NJ, first stopping at Tottenville Train Station where American Wigeon, the expected male Eurasian Wigeon and an adult Great Cormorant were easily found.  Back in NJ at Edison Boat Launch there was nothing beyond common gulls and Mallards but one Red-tailed Hawk was hovering in ways that suggested Rough-legged (alas, no, but the land-fills around that part of Edison/New Brunswick have attracted white-winged gulls and Rough-legged recently).

Finally, with an idea of adding more interesting gulls to the day's list I made my last stop at Falls Twp Community Park in PA where I found 3 Lesser-black-backed Gulls and one second winter Iceland Gull, although I had to wait for the latter and it was on the darker end of the Kumlein's Iceland scale with some duskiness in the primaries.  Not a viable Thayer's however.

On January 7th I added a Red-breasted Nuthatch at my back yard feeders and Bald Eagle at Mercer County Park lake.

All this rummaging around has propelled me to 62 for my year list, a number that is going to get larger once I make my annual TX trip at the end of the week.