Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Last Two

 [White-winged Dove playing hard to get on Harvard Ave. in Cape May Point, NJ this morning.]

Okay, one day left in 2013, where to go and what to go after?  The obvious choice this morning was the White-winged Dove recently discovered on Harvard Ave. in Cape May Point, and with a bit of time and an assist, that bird was found.  On the assist, thanks go to David Bernstein, who had the right attitude and approach to search beyond the mere feeder the bird had been frequenting, to a dense pine across the street where the bird had found a perch next to the trunk. I truthfully never would have looked there, that hard, for the bird.

And a second assist goes to Michael O'Brien, who coached me by phone  to the right spot for the Ash-throated Flycatcher at Cape May Point State Park, and then once I got there noted that the "indicator species," an Eastern Phoebe that was near the Ash-throated when last seen, was present and before long we had the Ash-throated in our camera lenses. Two new year birds on New Year's Eve, not bad.

Now, what to set as the birding goal for 2014?  More on that later, I think I still have a shot at Short-eared Owl. . .

[Ash-throated Flycatcher at Cape May Point State Park, NJ today.]

Friday, December 27, 2013

Fri-D: Common Merganser

If you see a large (as in, not a Hooded) female merganser on saltwater, you should immediately think Red-breasted, but this female Common Merganser, is, well, a Common Merganser even though she's is on the saltwater of the east pool at Forsythe NWR.  The sharp contrast at the neck and chin are key marks, with Red-breasted's dark markings blurring into the lighter chest rather than being sharply demarcated like this bird's. And the head color is darker, the bill a bit thicker than Red-breasted.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Day Hummingbird

 [Immature male Rufous Hummingbird, Cape May Point, NJ Christmas Day.]

Bill Schuhl pulled on a coat and came out to say hi on this cold Christmas Day morning as we waited outside his house for the hummer to show, the hummer being the Rufous Hummingbird that has been frequenting his feeder. Bill said he had changed the frozen feeder mix this morning, and that yes, the hummer had been there several times this morning. And indeed, after a short wait, the hummer appeared, chipping frequently and splitting time between the feeder and the pyracantha on the south side of Bill's house.  A nice Christmas present, and year bird number 313 for NJ for me.

Wordless Wednesday - Pileated

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A North Jersey Christmas Bird Count

[You know you're not in Cape May when you see one of these! Male Pileated Woodpecker digiscoped by my son Don at Delaware Lake WMA in Warren County, NJ today.  Pileateds can be sexed by the color of the "moustache," red in males. Although fairly common north and south of Southern NJ, Pileateds occur in Cape May only rarely. Click to enlarge photos.]

It was a wonderful, weirdly warm day for a Christmas Bird Count, in this case the Walnut Valley count, up in and around the Delaware Water Gap on the NJ/PA border. We've got a plum of a territory, both sides of the Delaware River south of the Gap, and today it produced the goods, including a pair of Common Ravens, Bald Eagles, Winter Wrens, Fox Sparrows, towhees, creepers, kinglets, the expected sextet of woodpeckers (Downy, Hairy, Red-bellied, flicker, sapsucker and the king, Pileated), and two birds especially good for the location: a lost hen Long-tailed Duck on the river when it should be on the ocean, and five Tundra Swans that flew overhead. The Tundra Swans were a coveted "count first," while the Long-tailed Duck was only the second ever for the count.
[Female Long-tailed Duck in the Delaware River near Portland, PA today - very rare for the location and one of those great CBC surprises one sometimes gets. Digiscoped by my son Don.]

Monday, December 16, 2013

Quick Note - Cape May Christmas Bird Count

[One of the highlights of Sunday's Cape May, NJ Christmas Bird Count for me came in the form of 14 Northern Cardinals, which responded all together to pishing by popping up and decorating a small tree as if it were, well, Christmas. . .]

Tom Reed ably summarized the Cape May Christmas Bird Count results in a post to jerseybirds, and I have little to add except to say that I was one of the guys with a Nashville Warbler, and I almost missed Carolina Chickadee in my sector, which includes a lot of chickadee habitat on Cape May NWR.  The chickadee near-miss was mainly a habitat selection thing - mine, that is, since I selectively led my party through fields and out to the bay at Norbury's Landing, and not so much in chickadee-laden woods or neighborhoods. The fields-focus netted us the only White-crowned Sparrows found on the count, while the bay yielded 4 lingering Forster's Terns and a nice mix of shorebirds and gulls.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Birds of the Open

[Horned Lark, a nice adult male, at Oberly Road, Alpha, Warren County, NJ yesterday. Click to enlarge photos - and note the tiny namesake horns.]
We didn't get much snow in Cape May, but the storm yesterday dropped a few inches farther north in the state, where I happened to be. One of the best ways to find open-country birds like larks or pipits is to work farm country roads after a snowstorm, since the birds concentrate on the plowed roads, often foraging where the plow turns up bits of roadside earth and presumably seeds and insects. That was the case at one of the state's best, and best known, farm roads: Oberly Road, in Alpha, Warren County. The land along the road is private, but the road itself is not.
I was a bit disappointed that I couldn't turn up a Lapland Longspur, but the Horned Larks were very cooperative, and a single American Pipit and a few Snow Buntings were mixed in with the flock.

[American Pipit, Alpha yesterday.]

Wordless Wednesday: Foggy Woods Eagle

Monday, December 9, 2013

Eared Grebe

[Eared Grebe, third from left, with American Coots at Round Valley Reservoir, Hunterdon County NJ today. In major fog.]

Thanks to reports and directions from others, locating the Round Valley, NJ Eared Grebe today was a simple matter, especially since Round Valley is part of my old stomping grounds in Hunterdon County.  Finding myself here looking for venison for the freezer, it was a natural detour to take in the grebe.  And a bit of excitement:  as I came to the cove where the grebe had been reported, a Bald Eagle flew out in front of me and made two passes at the grebe, which escaped by diving while its buddies the coots hid out under shoreline brush. That would have been a rare feast indeed for the eagle. . .

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Delaware Bay: Three Shorebirds and a Big White Owl

 [Dunlin is the "mudpiper" of winter, but they're also found on sandy beaches, like these at Cook's Beach, NJ yesterday.  Click to enlarge photos.]

I spent some delightful time tooling around the Delaware Bay shore, mainly in Cumberland County, NJ, over the weekend, sharing sightings with a close friend. Nothing unexpected was found, nothing unexpected including two Snowy Owls, which at this point you'd have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to realize are expected anywhere there's open country this winter. 

 [A white lump that's not a lump: another Snowy Owl, Cumberland County, NJ on Saturday. Thanks Janet!!]

 [Sanderling probes at Cook's Beach on Saturday.]

[The third most-expected shorebird of winter (though Black-bellied Plover would vie for the title): Ruddy Turnstone, also at Cook's Beach on Saturday.]

Friday, December 6, 2013

Fri-D: Female Redhead

You'd be tempted to call the right-hand bird a female Ring-necked Duck, since the bird on the left is a fairly obvious male Ring-necked Duck. But. The female bird is a bit bigger, has a rounded crown that is almost flat on top, slightly bigger bill, has no eyering, no white at the base of the bill, is a fairly pale soft brown (the back is certainly not dark). That's a long list of features to rule out female Ring-necked Duck. A scaup? Nope, no pale area behind the bill, too pale overall, and there's a bit of a pale line behind the eye that scaup don't show.  So what is it? What's left? A female Redhead, that's what, one of two that have been pleasing birders at the entrance pond to Edwin B. Forsythe NWR, NJ since November 29, 2013.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Snowstorm Tabulation: 26!

Maybe you're sick of reading blogs about Snowy Owls or maybe you're not, but regardless I'd pay attention, because this is an event that may not repeat in our lifetime.  Here's a tabulation based on eBird and hearsay of the approximate number of snowies present in NJ right now:

NJ Meadowlands - 1
Newark Airport - 1
Liberty State Park - 1
Sandy Hook - 2+
Sea Bright - 1
Jackson - 1
Cedar Creek - 1
National Park - 1
Barnegat Light - 1
Holgate - 2-5
Forsythe NWR - 2
Ocean City - 1
Corson's Inlet - 1
Avalon - 2 (may have moved on)
Stone Harbor - 4 (as determined by Mike Crewe's examination of plumages)
Two Mile Beach  - 1
North Cape May - 1
Currently undisclosed Cumberland County location - 2

That makes 26! Some of these may be duplicates, but on the other hand in some places there may be more than indicated. As Rick Wright points out in his blog, it's not yet on the order of the 1926-27 flight, but it certainly is exciting stuff!

Thoughtful Thursday: Landing

"There's a historical milestone in the fact that our Apollo 11 landing on the moon took place a mere 66 years after the Wright Brothers' first flight."
- Buzz Aldrin

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Snowy Owl Movement in Perspective

[Snowy Owl at Stone Harbor Point, NJ, November 30, 2013, one of two that were there. Digiscoped from a very respectful distance with an iPhone. Please, please don't harass these birds. I really struggled with whether or not to report these birds, but one had been reported there before and I knew people were looking, and had met some that had missed it already that morning, so for better or worse I banked on the good sense of fellow birders. And fellow photographers.]

If my calculations are correct, there are at least 13 different Snowy Owls in New Jersey right now, based on what's been reported to eBird (this link will take you to the fall 2013 Snowy Owl report), jerseybirds, or to me by word of mouth. The word of mouth bird is one apparently on Holgate, which so far I have not seen show up in electronic reports. From north to south:

Liberty State Park - 1
Sandy Hook and environs - 3
Island Beach - 1
Barnegat Light - 1
Holgate - 1
Edwin B. Forsythe NWR - 2
National Park - 1
Corson's Inlet - 1
Stone Harbor - 2

Thirteen is a lot of Snowy Owls, and I thought this was the most in my lifetime of living in NJ, but the "big black book," Birds of New Jersey (Walsh, Elia, Kane and Halliwell 1999) states there were 13 in 1991-1992.  More interestingly, it further notes:

"Probably the largest influx of Snowy Owls was in 1926-27 when at least 150 birds were shot and many others seen from Long Island to Northern New Jersey (Bull, 1964). Only 15 birds were documented in New Jersey during that flight, but far fewer observers were afield 70 years ago than are today." (p. 331)

Many other Snowy Owls are being found in other northeastern states, and I will be very surprised if more snowies are not found in NJ - e.g. Cumberland County in the southwest and the northwestern counties of the state have been silent so far with this flight, and there certainly is plenty of habitat in both places.

Friday, November 29, 2013


[Hawkcounter Tom Reed on a lonely vigil at the Cape May, NJ hawkwatch this morning.]

Tomorrow is the last day of the Cape May, NJ hawkwatch. We, the few regulars still present to lend Tom Reed some company, were joking on the platform that yep, migration stops tomorrow. Which of course it doesn't - southbound hawk flights trickle into December and even January, along with late-season landbird movements. Nary a day goes by without some bird going somewhere, but all good things must come to an end, and so tomorrow ends the official hawkwatch.

It was going out with a bang this morning, with highlights like a juvenile Golden Eagle being chased by two Bald Eagles, at least one Rough-legged Hawk, three Sandhill Cranes flying around, Purple Finches and American Pipits flying overhead, and ducks including a male Eurasian Wigeon packed into a small opening in Lighthouse Pond's ice.

The cranes will make NJ bird #308 for 2013 for me. I initially thought the Rough-legged was a year bird, too, but then remembered back to what seems like forever ago, January 27, 2013 when a Rough-legged blessed me with its presence at Ragged Island near the mouth of the Cohansey River while I was participating in the annual winter marsh raptor survey. Reaching back that far in my memory makes me think maybe a year-in-retrospective blog post is in order. We'll see. 

[Juvenile Golden Eagle over Cape May Point this morning.]

[This Eastern Phoebe, lingering at Cape May Point, lent diversity to a passerine flight dominated by robins, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Yellow-rumped Warblers.  It's time to start thinking in terms of the coming Christmas Bird Count, as in, will this phoebe make it until then?]

[An addition to the collection of "Lighthouse Shots" for Cape May, a male Eastern Bluebird pauses and poses in front of the Cape May lighthouse this morning.]

Thursday, November 28, 2013


[Tom and hen Wild Turkeys, a year ago in Dias Creek, NJ.]
"When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself."
- Tecumseh

Tundra Swan: Too Cool Not to Share!

[Tundra Swan at Cape May, NJ a couple years ago.]

The following was posted to the jerseybirds listserve  this morning by Greg Prelich:

"A few weeks ago Bill Elrick noticed that a Tundra Swan in Whitesbog had a neck collar but he was unable to clearly identify the banding information from his photos. Last weekend I was able to obtain a photo showing that the neck collar had band number T207. I reported the information to the Bird
Banding Laboratory, and today received information on this bird. It was banded about as far away from here as you can get in the continental US, 20 miles NE of Nuiqust on the far north slope of Alaska (70.39306, -150.24361). It is a female bird, hatched in 2005 or earlier, and was banded in July of 2006. It is very cool knowing that she thought enough of NJ to travel that distance. Welcome to Whitesbog NJ, T207.
Greg Prelich
Manchester Township"

Not only is the distance this bird travelled to reach Whitesbog, which is in NJ, remarkable, but think about this:  the bird probably has been wintering in at least the same general area each year, which means she has flown the 3500 or so miles each way since at least 2005!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


 [Is that what I think it is?  Snowy Owl in the rain on the east dike, Edwin B. Forsythe NWR, NJ, lunchtime today.]

The only place I've ever gone out expressly looking for Snowy Owl and found one is Barrow, Alaska, until today. I mean, other than looking for a known Snowy that someone else found. But today I decided specifically at lunchtime to go around the dikes at Forsythe NWR to look for a Snowy Owl, given that it seems to be a big year for them, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but a heavily-marked Snowy Owl sitting on the east dike, being admired by another observer from a respectful distance. The bird was pushed forward to a signpost by a passing car which stopped abruptly once they realized what they were looking at.  Eventually it flew to a post that was occupied by a Peregrine Falcon, neatly displaced it, and was rewarded by repeated strafing flights by the highly annoyed falcon.

[Peregrine Falcon, Snowy Owl and American Black Duck.  The real question here is what is that duck thinking right now. . .]

Almost Wordless Wednesday: Bluebird

[Eastern Bluebird, West Portal NJ this week. "The bird with the sky on its back and the earth on its breast." Thoreau, Burroughs, or a combination thereof said that, one of my favorite turns of phrase on the natural world.]

Saturday, November 23, 2013

This Yellow-rump, and That One

 [The brown warbler - Yellow-rumped Warbler at Cape May NWR, NJ today.]

Various elements of life, some good and some less good, have interrupted my birding and this blog over the past days, so I was pleased to take a simple walk on the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge's Woodcock Lane trail late this afternoon, to listen to a courting pair of Great-horned Owls there, and to encounter other basic birds of the Delaware Bayshore. Like Yellow-rumped Warblers, which seem well set for their Thanksgiving feast with abundant Eastern Redcedar berries on many trees in most places I've paid attention.

As I watched the yellow-rumps and listened to their checks and seeps as they fed and flew from tree to tree, I was reminded that though I have seen many of this species, I'd never seen this one or that one. Each yellow-rump looks a little different, for example the one above is browner with less yellow than the bluer individual with nice bright yellow chest patches below. And each Yellow-rumped Warbler has its own story. You could write a book about the yellow-rump, not the species, but the one hover-gleaning the cedar berry right in front of you.

I relish the notion that the individuals before me could have come from far-flung places. This evening, as the wind of the present very cold high pressure system whistled around the house, I opened the Sibley guide and pondered the plates and the maps, which (in this guide) display the separate ranges of the western "Audubon's" Yellow-rumped Warbler and our "Myrtle," the latter of which spreads all across Canada and up into Alaska during the breeding season. No wonder they are so abundant, with a breeding range like that. I'd go ahead and memorize this page, by the way - as Sibley says, yellow-rumped is our most visible warbler. Know it well.

In other news, I see congrats are due to Tom Reed at the Cape May hawkwatch for breaking the all-time seasonal Golden Eagle with number 39 today - and I bet more still are in the pipeline, perhaps tomorrow with this powerful weather system. And then there are the NJ Snowy Owl reports - 2 at Sandy Hook and one apparently at Barnegat Light today, and both white-winged gulls (Iceland and Glaucous) were found in Cape May today. Feels like winter . . . and check out Bruce McTavish's Newfoundland blog for more Snowy news.

Friday, November 15, 2013

It's Your Basic Duck, but. . .

[American Black Duck at Forsythe NWR, NJ on Thursday. Click to enlarge photos.]

We in NJ tend to take American Black Ducks for granted - they're here year round, and more than our share of the world population winters in NJ. And they're your basic duck, not especially colorful, a kind of big, plain dabbling duck.  I always figured black ducks could use a could PR campaign, and maybe a name change - how about "Flame-legged Duck?" Or at least "Salt Marsh Duck." As you can tell, I'm fond of the birds.

Anyhow, speaking as someone who works at the NWR (Forsythe) with the most black ducks of anyplace, probably, I can tell you they can be hard to photograph well unless you have a really long lens, which I don't, because they are shy birds that usually flush on approach by person or even auto on an auto tour route, or at least they're all swimming away from you as you approach. Thus I am especially proud of these two only slightly cropped images of the basic duck.

[This preening bird shows a trace of the purple-blue speculum, that by not being edged with white shows this bird to be a likely purebred American Black Duck, untainted by Mallard blood.]

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thoughtful Thursday: Injured

“The merrel also knew its wing had not healed. 'But I could reach a great height once more before it failed me,' it said. 'And from there I would fold my wings and plummet to the earth as if a hare or a fawn had caught my eye; but it would be myself I stooped toward. It would be a good flight and a good death. And so I eat their dead things cut up on a pole, dreaming of my last flight.' ”
― Robin McKinley, Spindle's End

Monday, November 11, 2013

The 15 Minute Redtail, and Other Notes

[This is not the Red-tailed Hawk of which I write in this post - that one was too far for a photo - , but you can still note one of the field marks - where the wing tips fall relative to the tail tip. If this were one of the accipiters, the wing tips would not be nearly as close to the tip of the tail. Forsythe NWR, NJ, Nov 8 2013. Click to enlarge photos. This is a juvenile, hence absence of red tail.]

"How do you know it's a redtail?"

How many times have I been asked that question, I wonder?  After 33 years (I just counted) since I identified my first redtail, the real answer is I no longer think about it. I've written before about the difference between identifying birds and recognizing them, and we can pretty much place all Red-tailed Hawks in the recognition pile, which means I don't know how I know it's a redtail, I just do.

Not good enough. So we talked about it. For 15 minutes of a two-hour walk, we spent time, and it was well-spent, on a distant Red-tailed Hawk.

In this case, the bird in question was perched on a pole way out in the marsh of Forsythe NWR, and because of a high wind was leaning forward to almost horizontal, assuming the position of a typical, horizontally-perched Osprey. But this bird lacked the white about the head, and especially was warmer toned (browner as opposed to gray-black) than an Osprey. It was biggish, thought smaller than an Osprey, and that the wing tips nearly reached the tail ruled out any of the accipiters. It was too chunky to be a falcon, which are also long-winged. It was a buteo, and it eventually turned to show the belly band of a redtail. So that's what it was.

[Number 306 on my NJ "Little Big Year," these Snow Buntings decided whether or not I would see them, not me. I was just in the right place: the beach at South Cape May Meadows, this morning.]

[If I ever encounter a jacket colored like the back of a female Ring-necked Pheasant, I'm going to buy it. The pattern disappears against almost all backgrounds. This one, almost certainly stocked for hunting, was off Buckshutem Road near Mauricetown, NJ on Saturday.]

[If you like to celebrate common birds as I do, then today was a day to celebrate Song Sparrows, since there were many around. Know this common sparrow, so you can tell it from others. Cape Island Preserve today.]

Sunday, November 3, 2013


[One of at least ten Golden Eagles that crossed Cape May, NJ airspace today, this one is unique in that the white wing markings are quite asymmetrical, making it easy to recognize as an individual. Uniquely marked birds make it possible to know that we are not seeing the same individuals over and over again, and looking for unique markings makes you a better observer. Ask not, what does a Golden Eagle look like, but rather, what does THIS Golden Eagle look like. Other things to note on this and all Goldens include the smallish head compared to Bald Eagles, and buteo-like wing shape.]

Although you, the reader, may not realize it, one of the things I try to avoid in this blog is writing "I went here and saw this" posts otherwise devoid of useful or interesting commentary.  Today was one of those days where it would be easy to fall into the "I went here and saw this" trap, since Cape May was bristling with birds of many stripes (for me, 88 species by noon without trying) and high numbers. This all thanks to the post-cold-front-building-in-high-pressure-system-northwest-winds-November-skies-migration-conditions. Tens of thousands of robins and blackbirds, thousands of yellow-rumpeds, many others.

Just as the Eskimos have many words for snow, depending on the kind of snow, we birders ought to have a more refined lexicon for weather. Today's weather word? Perhaps "goldwind," for all of the above conditions plus the steady 15-20 mph northwest wind and, of course, the eagles. It'd be nice if the National Weather Service picked up on this.

 [You know it's going to be a special day when you see this: sparrows at first light thronging along the roadsides, flushed by passing cars but quickly filling in behind them.]

 [Hungry birds are tame birds, allowing close approach as they feed, as this Swamp Sparrow (above)  and Dark-eyed Junco (below) did. Common birds or not, these are two of my favorite photos and memories of the day, birds that clearly migrated all night on the goldwind and wanted to feed, nearby humans or not. It's important not to pressure birds in these conditions by getting too close.]

 [Winter Wren in classic Winter Wren habitat, a fallen tangle of vines. Richly dark brown colors, dark barring on the flanks, defined eyebrow, stubby tail identify it. And it's tiny, and was saying chimp-chimp in a November thicket.]

 [Among the many, many things I admire about Yellow-rumped Warblers are their adaptable feeding behaviors, which start at ground level and go all the way to the tip of the canopy, wherever the food is easiest to get. In today's cold wind, most of the yellow-rumpeds fed low.]

 [This male Eurasian Wigeon on Lighthouse Pond  was vocalizing regularly this weekend, a single drawn out, descending whistle quite different from the American Wigeon's three syllable call. Curious, at least to me, was the fact that the "female" Eurasian Wigeon on Bunker Pond was making a similar call. Could it be a young male instead, or do female EUWI's do that?]

 [Joining the many, many things flying over today - robins, blackbirds, pipits, yellow-rumpeds - were a good number of Eastern Bluebirds. Learn the churlee flight call, and note the white stripe on the open wing from below, formed by the pale bases to the flight feathers. This can be a good field mark on high flying bluebirds, once you learn to look for it.]