Monday, July 23, 2012
High Point of Summer
Somehow I managed to let May and June slip away without a trip to High Point State Park, Sussex County, NJ, an error no birder in the northeast should make. There is no better place at that season, IMHO (that is, In My Humble Opinion for those of you less text-message-savvy than my daughter, who periodically tutors me in such things.)
A free weekend in July, last weekend to be precise, prompted us to reserve a site at the Sawmill Lake Campground and patrol the lightly traveled park roads by bicycle, hike the trails, and just hang out in camp watching birds do what they do in late July.
Which is a combination of things. For many, it is more or less the same as June, breeding season - multi-brooded birds like Gray Catbirds, Song Sparrows and (delightfully!) Hermit Thrushes are in various stages depending on the pair, either feeding young, incubating eggs, or even singing and beginning another clutch. The lakeshore thickets were just riddled with catbirds, in particular - all those adults that returned here to nest in the spring, and all their offspring produced since, probably two clutches worth.
Even supposedly single-brooded species were singing at dawn - among them some of the specialties of the house in High Point, like Cerulean Warblers. The local Common Ravens croaked each morning from up on the Kittatinny Ridge. Virtually all the hoped-for species in High Point were detectable if you got up early enough. But many were in a different mode than we see them in May or June.
In NY's Adirondacks in late summer, where and when I spend a bit of time almost every year, local birds form mixed species flocks very similar to migrant flocks. I wondered if we would run into any of that in High Point in July, and we did - e.g. in one small area 2-3 Chestnut-sided Warblers, 4-5 American Redstarts and Black-and-whites, 2-3 Yellow Warblers, a Cerulean Warbler, several Red-eyed Vireos, and the "locals" - Black-capped Chickadees, titmice, nuthatches. We spend the early mornings in mixed mode, listening for singers and investigating sunlit corners for groups like this.
Perhaps the standout bird encounter, among many, was watching a flock of 40+ Baltimore Orioles make its way through the trees overhead, crossing Sawmill Road south of the campground in small groups so we could make a reasonably accurate count. I presume this was an accretion of local nesters from the High Point area. Migrant Baltimore Orioles don't appear in Cape May before mid-August as a rule.
It was also great to find evidence of Dark-eyed Junco nesting in NJ, in the form of an apparent family group near the top of the Blue Dot Trail, which runs uphill from the Sawmill Campground to where it joins the Appachian Trail. This is similar to other places I've found summer juncoes in NJ, e.g. the Catfish Fire Tower area farther south along the AT in Warren County.
It wasn't just birds, either, in High Point - mammals (Black Bears, of course, and others), butterflies, dragonflies, and wildflowers collectively made me rethink the customary May-June schedule for the area. Just go there, anytime you can. We'll stick to the warblers in this blog, more to follow on other birds, bugs, etc.
Posted by Don Freiday at 11:33 AM