Saturday, February 23, 2013

Cackling and Barnacle Geese and hybrids (Feb 23rd)

Despite rainy conditions I decided to go goose-watching in Jamesburg at Thompson park just south of town.  I located a few large Canada Goose flocks and was digging the scope out of the car when a local birder drove up and point me in the direction of a Barnacle Goose at the far end of the field.  I'd seen a report of a Barnacle and three hybrids in the NJ RBA and so it turned out: what he couldn't pick out in his binoculars but was clearer in the scope was that the Barnacle Goose was accompanied by three Barnacle X Canada/Cackling Geese hybrids, which looked rather Cackling-like in stature, but were grayer on the back and flanks and with Brant-like dark breasts.  A small amount of white above the eye that was separated from the white cheek also indicated mixed parentage.  I snapped a couple of bad pictures in bad light and heavy drizzle.

On the way out of the field my eye caught something a couple of 'scope scans had not: a Cackling Goose in one of the Canada flocks.  This one had the square head and even a little white collar at the bottom of the black neck sock.

Barnacle x Canada hybrids are center and right in this photograph and the parental influence is most clearly shown in this photo with the feather coloration and the extra white in the face.  More pictures on Flickr.  Upon reflection the goose at left is a likely Cackling Goose but the head profile is not "classical" Richardson's - it's approaching that of Lesser Canada - but there's a fair amount of gray in the feathers, suggesting Cackling.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Rough-legged Hawks, Bedminster (Feb 16th)

Between being somewhat jaded (see: AZ trip) and bona fide tired, I did very little birding on this past weekend and went on one specific trip to look for Rough-legged Hawk in Bedminster.  I parked up at one end of Rattlesnake Bridge Rd adjacent to some grassy fields and there was a pretty good group of raptors almost immediately: American Kestrel, Northern Harriers, several Red-tailed Hawks and a distant Bald Eagle.  The conditions were pretty windy but I could sit in my car and get a good scan of two adjacent fields.

I saw one Rough-legged Hawk-ish bird hover briefly and skip down an adjacent hedge row.  While talking to some other birders that turned up it emerged that "the" Rough-legged in the area was a dark morph, and the RLHA-candidate that I saw was a light morph.  Odd.  Five minutes later a well-marked (likely immature) light morph Rough-legged came up over the tree line to prove my initial suspicions correct.  It gave decent albeit distant views and all the raptors were pointing away from the car since the wind was from the north.  Eventually a little patience was rewarded by the dark morph Rough-legged turning up over the same field.  There's been a good showing of inland Rough-legged this winter, not by any means unprecedented in NJ but probably also because of the effects of Hurricane Sandy killing a large chunk of the coastal rodent population.

I watched both birds to circuits for some time and left when a hunter turned up to walk the fields - they're owned by some hunting organization so assume this is legit, but wasn't aware that hunting was legal in NJ on Sundays.

A pass through the nearby Great Swamp NWR after this didn't net anything of note.

This little trip did make up for not having enough time to track down Rough-legged at the San Rafael Grasslands in AZ when I was there the previous week (and where Rough-legged are significantly rarer).

Friday, February 15, 2013

AZ trip (Feb 7-12th)

As I inch toward USA 700 I decided to do an AZ trip which seemed to offer the potential for a nice count of new birds, and some bird that I rarely see from year to year.  In real life, however, the birds didn't entirely play ball and I came away with three new ones (Le Conte's Thrasher, Western Screech-Owl, Rosy-faced Lovebird) and missed more interesting ones (Ruddy Ground-Dove, Black-capped Gnatcatcher, Nutting's Flycatcher) which for the most part chose the previous weekend to become elusive.

Trip report here.  Photos to be added.