Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

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[Edwin B. Forsythe NWR, April 27, 2011, 7:42 a.m.]

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Looking Up: Belleplain Weekend 4

[Most oaks in south Jersey began to flower this week; this newly arrived Scarlet Tanager found insects in the clusters. Belleplain State Forest today. Click to enlarge all photos.]

Warm, calm, clear. Oak flowers bursting, Shadbush and Dogwood flowering, and even more birds singing than I had expected - and I had expected a lot!

[Worm-eating Warbler belts out his song.  Today was the first time I really appreciated how many Worm-eating Warblers inhabit  Belleplain's southern forest habitat - I carefully estimated 22, and suspect even more will be arriving in the coming weeks.]

FOY, FOY, FOY - I knew it was going to be good when a Green Heron flew over as I started my route, and then shortly after an Orchard Oriole and Wood Thrush became FOY's - first-of-year - for me. I believe 14 species were new to Belleplain since last weekend, and FOY's for me.

[Maybe this is the Hooded Warbler we found wintering in Hopkins, Belize in March, now back on his Mountain Laurel-studded territory in Belleplain along Narrows Road. He was one of three today.]

I decided to click Ovenbird, Pine Warbler, and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher today, and came up with 74, 33 and 43 respectively.  Last week's low Pine Warbler count was certainly due to the less-good weather and later start. It is interesting to compare numbers since I started this Belleplain thing, both number of species and number of birds:

April 3  -  32 species, 227 individuals
April 10 - 38 species, 352 individuals
April 17 - 39 species, 307 individuals (cool, windy weather, late start)
April 24 - 55 species, 596 individuals

Obviously a major jump in species and indivduals since last week, with the arrival of many neotropical migrants.
[Shadbush blooming along Pine Swamp Road.]

[Big old tom Wild Turkey along Sunset Road. This guy was all colored up, thanks to the hens he was following and trying to impress. Turkeys flood their head with blood when they display, heightening the colors. This was part of the reason Ben Franklin argued for them as the national bird - complete with red, white and blue head!]
[Lovely, lovely Flowering Dogwood at the entrance to Lake Nummy campground.]

Here's the full list from this morning, with more interesting species or counts bolded:
Location: Belleplain State Forest
Observation date: 4/24/11
Notes: Perfect morning. 7-10:30, 15.4 miles. clear, 60's-70's
Number of species: 55

Wood Duck 1
American Black Duck 1
Wild Turkey 10
Green Heron 1 flyover
Black Vulture 1
Turkey Vulture 1
Cooper's Hawk 1
American Kestrel 1 sumner road
Laughing Gull 25
Herring Gull 5
Great Black-backed Gull 1
Mourning Dove 8
Red-bellied Woodpecker 6
Downy Woodpecker 8
Northern Flicker 4
Acadian Flycatcher 1
Eastern Phoebe 6
Great Crested Flycatcher 8
Eastern Kingbird 4
White-eyed Vireo 10

Blue-headed Vireo 8
Red-eyed Vireo 2

Blue Jay 15
Fish Crow 5
Carolina Chickadee 10
Tufted Titmouse 16
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
Carolina Wren 2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 43 clicked
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2
Wood Thrush 15
American Robin 20
Gray Catbird 3
Brown Thrasher 8
Blue-winged Warbler 1
Northern Parula 2

Yellow-rumped Warbler 15
Black-throated Green Warbler 1
Yellow-throated Warbler 8
Pine Warbler 33 clicked
Prairie Warbler 6
Black-and-white Warbler 45 careful estimate
Prothonotary Warbler 2
Worm-eating Warbler 22 careful estimate
Ovenbird 74 clicked
Louisiana Waterthrush 1
Hooded Warbler 2

Eastern Towhee 15
Chipping Sparrow 20
White-throated Sparrow 22
Scarlet Tanager 3
Northern Cardinal 20
Brown-headed Cowbird 30
Orchard Oriole 1
American Goldfinch 20

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Answer to Wordless Wednesday

What do Tufted Titmice and Slaty-tailed Trogons have in common? They are both "secondary cavity nesters," i.e. they nest in cavities made by woodpeckers or otherwise naturally created, e.g. when a branch breaks and leaves a hole. Both can also excavate cavities in punky material. The agitated titmouse pair pictured below were photographed in Belleplain last weekend, the trogon was in Mayflower - Bocavina National Park in Belize on March 17, 2011.

You could learn about titmouse nesting habits and a whole lot more in
The Birder's Handbook: A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds, one of what I consider the most essential bird references around. I've been reading up on trogons and other species seen on my March trip to Belize, and have been longing for a similar handy reference for that country.

One thing that the trogons do that titmice do not is nest in termitaries - perhaps if there were termitaries (termite nests) in titmouse range, they would use them? One of these days I'll get around to doing a post on the four Belize trogon species. Among the insights from that trip is that while I can identify birds okay, way too often I don't know a damn thing about them. E.g., did you know trogons have serrated tomia (the cutting edege of the bill)? I looked at the photo below, of a Slaty-tailed Trogon panting, and thought, what the hek is that all about? Maybe for eating tough fruit or excavating cavities?

A Great-crested Flycatcher wheep!'d delightfully in the yard when I got home from work last night, my FOY. Tomorrow will be the weekly expedition to Belleplain, perhaps more GCFL await, with maybe Hooded Warbler in the understory?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Spring in Belleplain Weekend 3: When is a Grackle More Interesting than . . .

. . . a Prothonotary Warbler? Well, probably never, but . . .

[Female Prothonotary Warbler, near East Creek Pond in Belleplain State Forest this morning. Click to enlarge.]

.  . . the thing is, the Protho didn't surprise me, didn't "stop" me. Understand, I was happy when I heard the clear metallic chip, said, "Hey, that's a Prothonotary!" (exciting a somewhat skeptical "really?" from my companion), crutched my way over to the water's edge, and sat on my folding stool hoping for a look. I was even happier when the bird, a "dull" female, worked right into my camera. Cool, my FOY. More or less on time, coming after Tony Leukering's apparent FOY for NJ at Cape Island Preserve on the 14th.

Ah, but the grackle! Common Grackles have been hammering my feeders all winter, but last week and the week before I spent 3 hours covering 11 miles of road in Belleplain and had not one. So when one sang near the outflow of Lake Nummy on my third spring weekend tour of the forest this season, it did stop me. Where you been, I thought? Answer to that: grackles have been where there's grackle food - and that's not in a wintry deciduous forest.

I confess to looking forward to these weekly visits to Belleplain more and more. Folks were banging away on birds down in Cape May today - Parasitic Jaeger, an Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler, over 1000 Northern Gannets - but spring is flowing into Belleplain, and I want to watch it come.

Despite the enthusiasm, we got to Belleplain at the crack of 9:10 a.m. today, which is technically only 10 minutes earlier than last week's 9:30, since the sun is rising 10 minutes earlier every week and that's what birders should go by. And the wind blew steady 20-25, luckily somewhat lessened by the trees, but my carefully clicked Pine Warbler and Yellow-throated Warbler counts were down by half compared to last week. Were more there that just weren't singing? Or have the arriving birds sorted out their territories and now the others have moved on? I think more were there than would sing in the wind, but maybe I'll click Pines one more time next weekend to check. I'm ready to switch to Ovenbirds or something fancier. We had 4 OVEN's and 8 Black-and-white Warblers today, as these birds trickle in. The wind squelched woodpeckers, e.g. we dipped on Hairy compared to last week's 8, and had only 1 Downy.

Another bird that stopped me was the Dark-eyed Junco on Sunset Road near a home there - I had two more after that and I bet that's it for them for me this spring. Had some fun perched on my chair watching the Louisiana Waterthrush and a Yellow-throated Warbler (with obvious yellow supraloral) foraging along the stream at New Bridge, and the swarm of swallows over East Creek Pond included my FOY Bank Swallow. Matching reports from south of the canal, we had at least 20 of migrant Yellow-rumped Warblers, with some of the males looking prettier than a protho, truthfully, as well as a Palm. The full list is below.

[Pretty "Eastern" Palm Warbler, New Bridge Road today. Click to enlarge.]

[One of two Juvenal's Duskywings that braved the chilly wind in Belleplain today. This one was along Cedar Bridge Road, the other was near Belleplain HQ. We also had a Mourning Cloak and an Azure today. Click to enlarge.] 

Location: Belleplain State Forest
Observation date: 4/17/11
Notes: 9:10-12:10, 13 miles, almost all from vehicle. Mostly sunny, 50's, but wind 20 with higher gusts.
Number of species: 39

Canada Goose 10
Black Vulture 3
Turkey Vulture 4
Osprey 2
Bald Eagle 1
Red-tailed Hawk 2
Laughing Gull 50
Herring Gull 10
Mourning Dove 4
Red-bellied Woodpecker 2
Downy Woodpecker 1
Eastern Phoebe 6
Blue Jay 2
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 10
Tree Swallow 20
Bank Swallow 5Barn Swallow 5
Carolina Chickadee 15
Tufted Titmouse 15
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 10
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2
American Robin 6
Brown Thrasher 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 15
Yellow-throated Warbler 8 clicked
Pine Warbler 15 clicked
Palm Warbler 1
Black-and-white Warbler 8
Prothonotary Warbler 1
Ovenbird 4
Louisiana Waterthrush 1
Eastern Towhee 2
Chipping Sparrow 12
Dark-eyed Junco 3Northern Cardinal 13 clicked
Common Grackle 1 singing near Lake Nummy, first for spring in Belleplain for meBrown-headed Cowbird 15
House Finch 2
American Goldfinch 20

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

[April 11, 2011. 4:48 p.m. Edwin B. Forsythe NWR. Click to enlarge images.]

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Spring in Belleplain, Weekend #2: Sunday, April 10 2011

[Blue-gray Gnatcatcher along Pine Swamp Road today, a male as told by the black eyebrow. In most species, males arrive before females to maximize their chances for a good territory and mate. Note the swollen Sassafras buds, ready to burst. The green twigs are a good field mark for Sassafras, few trees contain chlorophyll in their branches. Click to enlarge all photos.]

Winter and spring blurred in Belleplain today, e.g. I believe this is the first time I've ever encountered both Ovenbird and Fox Sparrow on the same day in NJ, the Fox Sparrow being about the latest I've ever had and the Ovenbirds (at least 3 were recorded by various observers) are among the earliest anyone has ever had here. Give it a couple weeks and literally 100's of Ovenbirds will fill the woods with song in Belleplain. I'll miss Fox Sparrow and its sweet song, surely the one singing near Lake Nummy today will be my last of the spring.

I got to Belleplain at the crack of 9:30 a.m. . . .about 3 hours later than I would want. There was plenty of song despite the late start and cloudy sky. This was neat: using a clicker on Pine Warblers again, I got 29 to last week's 26, pretty consistent for an 11 mile roadside "survey." Neater still were the Yellow-throated Warblers, with a real influx. I clicked 15 of these, about half in their typical (for Belleplain) white pine grove nesting habitat, but half sort of randomly singing out in the pine-oak woods, obviously new arrrivals not sure where they want to be.

[Yellow-throated Warbler in a holly near Lake Nummy. This bird had almost no yellow in the eyebrow, you have to squint to see it in the photo, and had to through binoculars, too. Believe it or not, the bird had more yellow in its right side eyebrow. The white chin is also atypical for "our"YTWA race. The more western race of Yellow-throated has white lores (hence subspecific name albilora), but these things are variable and I believe this bird is just on the white end of the nominate race, dominica. The bill was fairly long and thin, matching other Yellow-throated's I saw today.]

Eight Hairy Woodpeckers seems like a lot, but that's what I had, 3 pairs and two singles. In the springier department, a solo singing male Black-and-white Warbler was the prize of the morning. The strutting Wild Turkey gobbler in a meadow south of Sunset Road would have debated that assertion, I suppose, though the five hens with him seemed unimpressed. The Louisiana Waterthrush sang steadily every 20 seconds or so at Cedar Bridge, bless him, and even flew past at close range. Two Blue-headed Vireos were my first of spring, and a single Pine Siskin lingered  near the HQ feeder. An annoying 20 or more Brown-headed Cowbirds occupied mostly woods margins near houses along my route, which are just the sorts of places that let cowbirds penetrate interior forest. My list for the morning is appended below.

Virtually all this was out the truck window (due to the hurt knee, not by choice), driving slow and stopping whenever a chickadee called or something of interest sang.

[One Blue-headed Vireo was singing at the west end of Sunset Road, near the sheep farm (you'll know it when you see it), and, stuck in the truck, I never saw it. Normally when you find one BHVI others are about, so two hours later when I hadn't bumped into another one I started wondering if I'd just heard a Purple Finch instead. Purples give a very vireo-like, high and sweet-sounding call, like a fragment of their song, and hence like a Blue-headed. Finding the pictured bird near Lake Nummy convinced me I heard the sheep farm vireo correctly.]

Location: Belleplain State Forest
Observation date: 4/10/11
Notes: 9:30-noon, 11.8 miles, all from vehicle. cloudy, 50's, light wind. NJ Chorus Frogs really going in Sunset pool and at HQ.
Number of species: 38. The more interesting birds are bolded below.

Canada Goose 10
Wild Turkey 6 A gobbler with 5 hens in field s side of sunset rd.
Laughing Gull 100
Mourning Dove 10
Red-bellied Woodpecker 4
Downy Woodpecker 6
Hairy Woodpecker 8 2 pairs on Pine Swamp, another on cedar bridge, 2 singles on sunset
Northern Flicker 4
Eastern Phoebe 4
Blue-headed Vireo 2Blue Jay 8
Carolina Chickadee 20
Tufted Titmouse 27 clicked
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
White-breasted Nuthatch 2
Carolina Wren 2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1 maleGolden-crowned Kinglet 2
Hermit Thrush 1
American Robin 20
Brown Thrasher 1
Yellow-throated Warbler 15
Clicked. some in random pine-oak woods, obvious migrants
Pine Warbler 29 Clicked.
Palm Warbler 2
Black-and-white Warbler 1
singing Sunset Road west of bridge
Ovenbird 1 singing Pine Swamp road
Louisiana Waterthrush 1 singing cedar bridge
Eastern Towhee 6 obvious influx since last week
Chipping Sparrow 4
Fox Sparrow 1 latest I've ever had, singing near Lake Nummy outfall.
White-throated Sparrow 5
Dark-eyed Junco 5
Northern Cardinal 10
Common Grackle 5
Brown-headed Cowbird 20
House Finch 2
Pine Siskin 1 near HQ
American Goldfinch 5

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Spring in Belleplain: Weekend #1 (of 9, I hope)

[This Pine Warbler was psyched on spring last weekend in Belleplain State Forest, Cape May County, NJ, chilly (in the low 40's F.) or not. He adaptably foraged on the ground - the best place to find insects in the cold - and sang frequently as he hopped about. Last Sunday, April 3, 2011, click to enlarge all photos.]

Yeah, I know it's supposed to be the "Freiday" bird blog and it's Saturday, but life has been busy and made busier thanks to the government shutdown that happily did not happen, but impacted us at work anyway. But busy or not, nothing on the calendar appears capable of deterring me from visiting Belleplain State Forest every weekend of April and May - so that's what I've decided to do, back there tomorrow for weekend #2! Belleplain is arguably the best area in NJ for "southern breeders," stuff like Yellow-throated, Prothonotary, and Kentucky Warblers, Summer Tanager, Acadian Flycatcher and the like, and weekly visits make a delightful prospect for staying in tune with spring.

The naturalist raps his tuning fork on the first weekend of April, and hears Pine Warblers - lots, 26 to be exact on an 11 mile route through Belleplain, which is part southern forest and part Pine Barrens outlier. And Eastern Phoebes, and residents and wintering birds, including some very cool Pine Siskins and Purple Finches at the HQ feeders. But not Louisiana Waterthrush and not Yellow-throated Warbler, both of which apparently came Monday, April 4, the day after I was there searching. Grrrr.

My full list from last weekend is at the end of this post, and I'm thinking I'll keep sharing them each week. I'm hoping tomorrow's includes not only the waterthrush and yellow-throated, but maybe something else new, like a Black-and-White Warbler (my favorite warbler) or White-eyed Vireo, both of which have been detected elsewhere in NJ this spring. And I'm hoping to write about it here sooner, maybe even tomorrow night. We'll see.

About the 11 mile route. . . car-birding is something I like less and less every time I do it, but a torn ACL and meniscus, recently repaired, mean it's car-birding supplemented by crutches at least for all of April. So through Belleplain I drive, ear out the window, from Pine Swamp Road over the Sunset Bridge, around on Cedar Bridge and on up through Frank's Road Summer Tanager Country. A check of Lake Nummy and surrounds, and finish at the HQ,  a couple clickers at play devoted to whatever strikes my fancy, last week being Pine Warbler and Carolina Chickadee. Tomorrow? We'll see. . .

[One of six Eastern Phoebes in Belleplain last weekend, this one was along a woods road near Lake Nummy and likely has moved on by now. Phoebes nest every year at Sunset Bridge and the HQ, otherwise are not particularly common in Belleplain, or in Cape May County as breeders.]

[Three years running I've had male and female Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers together in April at the Sunset Road Bridge. This female cooperated April 3. In the midst of a lot of negative bird news, sapsuckers offer a happy story of increase and range expansion. Could they breed as far south as Belleplain someday? I think yes, someday, but these birds will likely pull out soon. I wonder if the same individual birds have been there each year, and think yes about that, too.] 

Location: Belleplain State Forest
Observation date: 4/3/11
Notes: Almost entirely from car.
Number of species: 32
More interesting observations bold-faced.

Canada Goose 4
Wild Turkey 1Turkey Vulture 5
Laughing Gull 40
Herring Gull 5
Mourning Dove 8
Red-bellied Woodpecker 3
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 2Downy Woodpecker 4
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 1
Eastern Phoebe 6Blue Jay 15
American Crow 10
Fish Crow 6
Carolina Chickadee 16 Clicked
Tufted Titmouse 10
Red-breasted Nuthatch 2White-breasted Nuthatch 1
American Robin 15
European Starling 5
Yellow-rumped Warbler 3
Pine Warbler 26 Clicked. Had one feeding onground and singing while doing it.
White-throated Sparrow 8
Dark-eyed Junco 4
Northern Cardinal 6
Common Grackle X
Brown-headed Cowbird 4
Purple Finch 4 HQ feeders
House Finch 2
Pine Siskin 6 HQ feeders
American Goldfinch 4

Friday, April 1, 2011

About Those "Most" Beautiful Birds - The "etc. plate," and Ruminations about Howell and Webb

It was my second copy of Howell and Webb's Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America I carried in Belize, or rather the plates therefrom. Kinko's does a nice job of excising and spiral-binding the plates, leaving one much less to carry in the field (not to mention on the plane), though I missed the text for nighttime reading.

As to why I carried Howell and Webb rather than The Birds of Belize by Jones and Gardner, part was functional and most was sentimental. I like Sophie Webb's plates better, they look more like real birds, and since Howell opted not to illustrate most U.S. species in the guide, that kept the plate count down. Somewhat arrogantly, I was banking on the fact that if anything from the U.S. popped up in front of me, I ought to be able to i.d. it!

As to the sentiment - my first ever foray into "tropical" birds, unless you count south Texas as tropical, was into northwestern Mexico, and for that trip I carried my first copy of Howell and Webb. Carried, and then gave away on our departure, to our astounding Mexican hunting guide who accompanied Dave Womer and I through the Sierra Madre in northwest Mexico, us a couple crazy gringoes looking at, not shooting, birds. But Rosando was a brilliant spotter, and you could tell he was getting into the birding as we went along. It helped when we did a little hunting, and he saw the gringo could handle a 12-gauge okay on ducks and doves. . .we were evaluating some hunting sites for birding ecotourism at the time, something someday I hope to revisit.

Now, as to "most beautiful" Belize birds, what a loaded notion that is. But Howell and Webb's plate 34 is a good place to start. Michael O'Brien at one point referred to it as the "miscellaneous cool things" plate. I call it the "etc." plate, because it's offical title is "Toucans, Motmots, Kingfishers, etc."

[A Keel-billed Toucan was my farewell bird in Belize - a solitary individual flapping and gliding its way across a valley as we made our way north on the Southern Highway. This one was up in Cockcomb Basin's jaguar preserve, March 2011. Click to enlarge. ]

[Female Pygmy Kingfisher, Crooked Tree, Belize, March 2011. 5.3" - just a hair longer than a Black-capped Chickadee! Click to enlarge.]

[This White-whiskered Puffbird literally came up and sat next to the Pook's Hill Lodge bar, forcing me to choose between my afternoon scotch or the camera. . . Click to enlarge.]

[Why you need an etc. page: I think the Rufous-tailed Jacamars at Cockscomb Basin were my favorite birds of the trip, at least they were when I was watching them! Click to enlarge.]

[I hope Dave LaPuma, proprietor of the Woodcreeper site, is reading this - my first ever "tropical" bird, at least in my mind, was an Ivory-billed Woodcreeper in the Sierras of Mexico. I remember thinking, "we're not in Kansas anymore," when this bird laughed like a giant, deranged Canyon Wren and flew into "Cabeza de Vaca" canyon - Rosando's name for a spot I'll never find again. The one pictured was much more accessible at Crooked Tree, a stone's throw from the lodge. Not on the etc. page, but deserves honorable mention. Click to enlarge.]