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.