Sunday, April 27, 2014

Yellow-throated Warbler, NJ

As is usual, there's been a lull before and after a birding trip - in this case a combination grouse and Colima Warbler trip - but I did a little birding on Sunday morning to get a locally unusual species, Yellow-throated Warbler.  Was pretty easy to find from the parking lot at Colonial Park (Somerset NJ) and although other migrants were few and far between I did snag Broad-winged Hawk, Eastern Phoebe, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Palm Warbler.  House Wrens and Chipping Sparrows were also obviously already on territory.  Given the incessant singing and moderately favorable habitat it's possible the Yellow-throated may stick around.

Over the other part of the park along the nature trail, the Red-headed Woodpecker persisted.  A second one has also been reported - I saw only one.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Unusually productive mid-March in Central Park

Almost literally mid-March, on March 15th, saw me in Central Park to look for some unusual birds that had been around.  Foremost amongst those was a Red-necked Grebe hanging out on the Reservoir - there had been one the previous weekend and this one was allegedly an entirely different one.  The appearance by two makes it less obvious that this is really a very rare species in Central Park with the last one being ~30 years ago (I've only been birding CPK for 17 years) and is my park bird #205.

Surreal experience at one point was the Grebe surfacing right next to a Red-breasted Merganser, itself relatively rare in the park.

The Ramble was also extremely productive, since it was hard not to see American Woodcocks as they repeatedly took flight and twittered through the Ramble, probably in response to a lot of people walking through there on a warm spring day.  Took me a while to see one on the ground for more than a few seconds.  At the feeders the sparrow numbers continued to be low, and there was only one Chickadee, but the variety was exceptional for mid-March: a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, singing Fox Sparrows, Brown Creeper, two Baltimore Orioles (overwintering) feeding on oranges.  In fact Fox Sparrows were particularly numerous at Mugger's Woods when I finally caught up with a more-or-less stationary Woodcock (but also had one fly by and others were present that I did not see).

While absolute numbers of birds and species continue to be low, not least of all because of a dilettante 2 hour afternoon visit, it really was very good birding for mid March.  FOY birds were Wood Duck, Black-capped Chickadee, Fox Sparrow, Baltimore Oriole.

Red-necked Grebe
Wood Duck
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Red-tailed Hawk
American Woodcock (3-5)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Black-capped Chickadee
Brown Creeper
Fox Sparrow (10)
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch

Monday, January 6, 2014

Catching up on the year list - Long Beach Island and Forsythe NWR - Jan 5th

Between social distractions and snow storms my year list has been barely ticking along, driven mainly by the birds visiting my feeder.  So finally on Sunday I decided to kick it into gear.

First stop, Barnegat Inlet
Icy conditions made me reluctant to rock-hop down the jetty so I simply did some scoping from the concrete walkway in heavy overcast conditions.  Surf and Black Scoters were unusually far up the inlet, actually back into the bay although they are usually to be found at the Atlantic Ocean end of the jetty. Some singles, but mostly a group mixed in with Common Eider on the far (north) side of the inlet.  Red-throated Loons, Red-breasted Mergansers and the inevitable Long-tailed Ducks were in the bay itself.  Out in the inlet Common Loon, more RB Mergansers and a rare-for-location fly-by Hooded Merganser, Harlequins and Long-tailed Ducks feeding adjacent to the jetty and Northern Gannets passing south out over the ocean.  Shorebirds were Black-bellied Plover, Ruddy Turnstone and Purple Sandpiper on or near the jetty but I had to scope the bay beaches to pick up Sanderling and Dunlin at range.  Bonus extras were Fish Crow and Boat-tailed Grackle at the state park entrance, with Yellow-rumped Warbler and Hermit Thrush in the coastal scrub. 

A quick stop at a bay overlook north of the bridge gave me Mute Swan, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, more RB Mergansers.

Second stop: Holgate
That usually my cue to leave Long Beach Island, but this time I took the drive down to the southern tip at Forsythe NWR's Holgate division.  I've never been there before - it's closed in summer to protect Piping Plover and the drive down that part of the barrier beach during beach season would be tedious at best.  Pretty strong start with a group of Black Scoter and a few Surfs just off the breakwater, Long-tailed Duck scatter about,  Common Loon and Northern Gannet over the ocean proper.   Walking south along the beach I added Brant, American Black Duck and RB Merganser on the bay side, then the usual suspects in shorebirds: Sanderling, Dunlin, Black-bellied Plover and a few Ruddy Turnstones.  Hurricane Sandy seems to have done a number on some of the dunes here, with some of them obviously destroyed, and it's unclear if the strip of beach will remain intact or rebuild, or it it will ultimately break into a series of islands.  Other birds of note included a Northern Harrier and a flock of Snow Buntings - the buntings were forming a bizarre mixed flock with beach-foraging Sanderlings.

After about 90 minutes of walking on the beach I was grateful to make it back to the car.

Third stop: Brigantine
Although Holgate is part of Forsythe NWR, Brigantine division is the definitive place on the wildlife refuge.  The recent snowfall meant that the wildlife drive was closed, but was open to hikers so I decided to make inroads into the year list by hiking up to the first observation tower.  Most of the impoundments were frozen and the ducks were clustered on the ice in large flocks, periodically flushed by Bald Eagles and a jackass low-flying sea plane.  Mainly American Black Duck, 

Red-throated Loon              
Common Loon                    
Northern Gannet                
Great Blue Heron               
Snow Goose                     
Mute Swan                      
Tundra Swan                    
American Wigeon                
American Black Duck            
Northern Shoveler              
Northern Pintail               
Green-winged Teal              
Common Eider                   
Harlequin Duck                 
Surf Scoter                    
Black Scoter                   
Long-tailed Duck               
Common Goldeneye               
Hooded Merganser               
Red-breasted Merganser         
Ruddy Duck                     
Bald Eagle                     
Northern Harrier               
Cooper's Hawk                  
Red-tailed Hawk                
Peregrine Falcon               
American Coot                  
Black-bellied Plover           
Ruddy Turnstone                
Purple Sandpiper               
Ring-billed Gull               
Herring Gull                   
Great Black-backed Gull        
Snowy Owl                      
Fish Crow                      
Carolina Wren                  
Hermit Thrush                  
Yellow-rumped Warbler          
Savannah Sparrow               
Song Sparrow                   
Snow Bunting                   
Boat-tailed Grackle            
House Finch                    
American Goldfinch             

Thursday, January 2, 2014

January 1st Green-wood Cemetery (Brooklyn)

A small start to the year list targeted two interesting species in Brooklyn's Green-wood Cemetery.  The first was Monk Parakeet, a species I'd made no effort to find in NY state or NYC, despite having seen them in FL, NJ and TX.   There are well-known populations within NYC, one of which is at the main gate to the cemetery, so despite hearing them before seeing them it took no more than 20 seconds to find one.  That was the easier of the two species, with the nearby Red-headed Woodpecker proving elusive.  In fact it was only because the other entrance was locked, forcing us to retrace our steps to the main entrance, that I managed to find it by virtue of it calling - it seemed to be moving around with a mixed flock so I was just at the right place and time.

Otherwise the cemetery understandably lacks understory so bird life was relatively low, with a few White-throated Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos and with Red-headed Woodpecker the most obvious bird.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Finderne Wetlands, NJ

My first time at Finderne Wetlands in Bridgewater NJ on a cool and sunny morning corresponded to a decent movement of sparrows, but the best birds of the day were two Merlins which were chasing each other and an American Kestrel over the fields.  This might have been one reason why I couldn't locate the Vesper Sparrows reported the previous day, but they're just as likely to have moved on.  The Merlins were a particularly pleasant surprise since I'd seen only one other this year (in AZ).  Belted Kingfisher, Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, Green-winged Teal and Gadwall were in the ponds and a lot more concerned about me than the Merlins.

Otherwise, the main occupants of the weedy fields were an abundance of Savannah Sparrows.  Song Sparrows came in a distant second, but I did find a handful of the more elusive species (Field and Swamp), while missing White-crowned Sparrow that I might have expected here.

With the wind rapidly rising, I didn't find much at the nearby Duke Farms except a Palm Warbler, as everything started to keep its head down.

Before Finderne I'd stopped at Griggstown Native Grassland Preserve and found my preferred area around the parking lot devoid of any sort of sparrows - it had been a hotspot for them in previous years and often in pretty good light in the early morning.  Recent mowing activity probably had much to do with that.  Suspicion was that there were sparrows and Palm Warblers to be had elsewhere at Griggstown, but it takes longer for the sun to reach those other areas and I went to Finderne instead.

Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Canada Goose
Green-winged Teal
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Merlin (2)
Belted Kingfisher
Carolina Wren
Eastern Bluebird
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Palm Warbler
Field Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
American Goldfinch

Monday, October 14, 2013

Yet another trans-continental chase (Blue-footed Booby etc) - USA #700, USA 2013 #500

Ask me how I managed to miss all the ex-Oporornis warblers in Central Park this year ?  Apart from bad luck (missing a Connecticut by 30 seconds) - it was that I did 7 birding trips.  Originally the plan was for 6, but I ended up doing yet another California trip in October.

In the face of a legendary invasion of Blue-footed Booby into CA from mid September into early October - somewhat galling in that they started turning up just after I came back from my CA pelagic trip -  I cashed in the last of my United frequent flier miles and flew to LAX.  I found Blue-footed Booby immediately the next morning at Playa Del Rey less than 5 miles from LAX, Black-vented Shearwater the following morning in a massive feeding flock off the Pacific Palisades, and Island Scrub-Jay in the afternoon at the usual location at Prisoner's Harbor on Santa Cruz Island.  Island Scrub-Jay was USA #700, but sadly not immortalized in photos since they were not cooperative.  I managed one whole day without another life bird, although that was the day when I saw TWELVE Blue-footed Boobies down in the Salton Sea, and then saw the recently added exotic Nutmeg Mannikin (USA #701) which turned out by coincidence to be USA 2013 #500.  This significantly exceeds my previous best for 464 for year, but 2013 was a psychotic traveling year.  On the boat to Santa Cruz Island I met a gentleman who was doing a Big Year and was in the 680's, so 500 isn't that big a deal by comparison.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Central Park, Sept 14th and 15th (total 19 warbler sp + chat, BB Cuckoo)

I think the whole radar migration prediction thing is over-hyped as a useful tool for local birding, so I tend to use the standard method of wind direction and temperature.  So after arriving back in NJ from CA to 94 degree afternoon heat, the alarm bells went off when the highs over the weekend were in the low 70's, backed by a north-west wind.  More-or-less ideal conditions.

Bit of a shock, therefore, when I entered Strawberry Fields and there was barely any chipping.  30 minutes later and it was alive with migrants and in a hour I accumulated what is a very good day's warbler list (16 sp.) including Tennessee, Bay-breasted and Blackburnian.  Black-billed Cuckoo, two Olive-sided Flycatchers and a Chat in the Maintenance Field made for a pretty good day.  However I missed the Connecticut Warbler by scant seconds, and someone didn't look up enough and missed the expected large Broad-winged Hawk flight.

Sunday was quieter, but still many good birds in Strawberry Fields including Bay-breasted Warbler foraging in the grass right in front of me (along with Black-throated Greens).  A change in the mix of warbler species indicated that the second flight was new birds arriving.

Overall I netted 19 warbler species in two mornings, some decent birds (Yellow-bellied Flycatcher was a year bird), and finally saw some Broad-winged Hawk migration on the Sunday.  Conspicuously missing were any Kinglets or any sparrows (excl House), it's still ramping up.

Broad-winged Hawk (Sun)
Osprey (Sun)
Black-billed Cuckoo (Sat, Maint)
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (several both days)
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Olive-sided Flycatcher (two in Maint on Sat)
Least Flycatcher (Sat, poss Sun)
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (Sun in SF)
Great Crested Flycatcher
Blue-headed Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
House Wren
Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Swainson's Thrush
Veery (Sat)
Wood Thrush (Sat)
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher (Sun)
Cedar Waxwing (large flocks both days)
Ovenbird (only 1, both days)
Black-and-white Warbler
Tennessee Warbler (3+, both days)
Nashville Warbler (1, Sun, SF)
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Cape May Warbler (1, Maint, both days)
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler (both days, very cooperative in SF on Sunday)
Blackburnian Warbler (SF, Sat)
Yellow Warbler (SF, Sat)
Chestnut-sided Warbler (Sat)
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Pine Warbler (3+ in SF on Sat)
Black-throated Green Warbler
Canada Warbler (SF)
Wilson's Warbler (SF on Sat)
Yellow-breasted Chat (elusive, Maint on Sat)

Friday, September 13, 2013

California Pelagics

The California trip - arranged at the last minute - was the last "scheduled" one of six trips in 2013 designed to push my USA list toward 700.  The other five were: TX, AZ, FL, NC, AZ and netted one to four life birds on each trip.  However pelagics have always been a weakness of mine - not unrelated to a propensity for seasickness - so the largest gaps on my list have been shearwaters, storm-petrels and alcids.

I reserved a pair of California pelagics - 9/8 out of Half Moon Bay and 9/10 out of Monterey - and ended up with five pelagic life birds.  The weather was good, with light winds, so the boat trips weren't as challenging as, say, the NC pelagic trip.  In addition I saw the newly minted Bell's Sparrow of the canescens race (the "intermediate" race) at the end of its range where it abuts the belli race of Bell's Sparrow.  A hunch is that canescens is a cline between A.belli and A.nevadensis (Sagebrush Sparrow), but seeing them close to A.b.belli's coastal ranges makes me a little more comfortable counting it.  The first life bird for the trip was Scripps's Murrelet (#692) and the last was Bell's Sparrow (#697).

The Half Moon Bay pelagic was longer and deeper water, with the Monterey Bay pelagic only having a subset of the first species but pelagics are notoriously variable.  However the Monterey pelagic also had Blue Whale and a remarkable number of Humpback Whales (50++) feeding in the bay, including breaching Humpbacks, which made for a memorable end to the wildlife for the trip.  Although land birding was limited I did complete the trasher grand slam for the year with California Thrasher, and saw other species I hadn't seen in over a decade.

Pelagic species:

Sooty Shearwater              
Great Shearwater              (California rarity)
Pink-footed Shearwater        
Flesh-footed Shearwater   (#696)     
Buller's Shearwater   (#693) 
Black-footed Albatross        
Ashy Storm-Petrel   (#694)
Black Storm-Petrel  (#695)            
Red Phalarope                  (last seen 2001)
Red-necked Phalarope          
Pomarine Jaeger              
Parasitic Jaeger              
Long-tailed Jaeger            
Rhinoceros Auklet              
Cassin's Auklet              
Scripps's Murrelet   (#692)             
Common Murre                  
Pigeon Guillemot

Notable terrestrial species:
Black Turnstone                
Surfbird                               (new for Lower 48, second+ one ever)
Prairie Falcon                
Yellow-billed Magpie          
Wrentit                                (last seen 2001)
California Thrasher             (last seen 2001)
California Towhee              (last seen 2001)
Bell's Sparrow (canescens)      (#697)

Friday, September 6, 2013

Brigantine/Forsythe NWR, September 1st and Allentown NJ shorebirds Sept 2nd

With Jamaica Bay being uninspiring I've been spending some time at Forsythe/Brigantine NWR although even here the shorebird diversity is starting to drop.  Semipalmated Sandpipers dominated the scene, but Eastern Willets and Whimbrels have left.  I was lucky to find two Stilt Sandpipers, which have become scarce.  What was nice to watch was a mixed flock of Long-billed and Short-billed Dowitchers - mostly Long-billed - giving good options to compare the structure of the two.  While individual birds remain tricky the side-by-side comparisons offer up the expected overall trend of the bulkier body of the Long-billed.  Brig and the rest of southern NJ is a pretty good place for this, and Long-billed remain rather scarcer in NY.

Although in all sorts of messy molt, terns put on a decent showing.  I haven't seen a Common Tern here all year but Least and Gull-billed Terns have been regular in small numbers, the Caspian Terns were in the double digits and I also had a Royal Tern for a pretty good selection.  Forster's Terns and Double-crested Cormorants were feasting on localized schools of fish in the tidal brackish impoundment.

Although Brig is winding down for shorebirds, the area north of Allentown NJ along Sharon Station Road, Herbert and Gordon Roads has been pulling in a nice variety of shorebirds in lower numbers.  On Sept 2nd I finally got lucky with my quest for American Golden-Plover with one seen in a flooded field along Sharon Station Road.  Later on that same pond held Pectoral, Solitary and Semipalmated Sandpipers. Killdeer are everywhere, with a few Semipalmated Plovers joining them, plus a small flock of Least Sandpipers commuting between the Herbert Road field and the ephemeral pond along Gordon Road.  Although I've missed the relative rarities (Buff-breasted Sandpiper and Baird's Sandpiper) here it's fairly close to home and an interesting area to rummage around.

Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Glossy Ibis
Clapper Rail
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Ruddy Turnstone
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Stilt Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Long-billed Dowitcher
Gull-billed Tern
Caspian Tern
Royal Tern
Forster's Tern
Least Tern
Black Skimmer
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Saltmarsh Sparrow

Herbert/Sharon Station Rds
American Golden-Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Pectoral Sandpiper
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Horned Lark