Saturday, December 17, 2011

CBC Time: Can you i.d. an Indigo Bunting in 10 Seconds (in December!!); and About That Gull

First: the Wordless Wednesday Gull. It was on the beach on the north side of Townsend's Inlet. Transmission fluid is red, but this bird didn't seem oiled, just colorful. Experienced mariner Tony Leukering looked at the photo, and looked again. Ideas are welcome.

Today we had an excellent day on the Walnut Valley, NJ (and PA) Christmas Bird Count (CBC), which I've done annually since 1992. But tomorrow's the Cape May CBC, and one must sleep, so here's our list for today without much comment, and no time to process photos.

A note on CBC territories - good ones are to be coveted, and for Walnut Valley we have a great one, both sides of the Delaware River just south of the Water Gap, including some gorgeous hilly farmland with that river bottom. Tomorrow, I'll be working portions of the Cape May NWR. . .and my own yard.

On the bunting. . . If Dennis Briede, Walnut Valley compiler, takes my word, Indigo Bunting will be a first for that count. And how could you screw up an Indigo Bunting? Even if a female? Answer: easy, and one must be cautious.

On counts - There's a world of difference between northern and southern NJ, e.g. 5 Eastern Towhees and 6 Fox Sparrows north of Route 80 in a day of December birding is extraordinary. Down south, here, I've got both species hanging out in my yard. On the other hand, we saw 20 American Tree Sparrows, a bird I'll likely miss tomorrow in Cape May.

Freiday Walnut Valley CBC territory, Warren, US-NJ
Dec 17, 2011 6:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Protocol: Traveling
59.0 mile(s)
Comments: Walnut Valley CBC. Mostly cloudy, temp 28-40 F, wind light to moderate north. All water open.With Don J., Tim, Rebecca, and Andrew. 1 hour, 2 miles owling. 9 hours, 55 miles by car, 3 miles by foot.
54 species

Snow Goose 120
Canada Goose 519
Mallard 6
Bufflehead 2
Common Goldeneye 17
Black Vulture 10
Turkey Vulture 3
Bald Eagle 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1
Cooper's Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 12
Peregrine Falcon 1 -  adult bird perched on power tower PA side of river, west of Portland generating station. It pursued a mourning dove in a ~2 minute tailchase while we watched, eventually pulling some wing feathers off the bird's right wing, after which the dove disappeared behind trees and the peregrine, with some difficulty, worked its way into the trees behind it, but we never saw it emerge.
Ring-billed Gull 23
Rock Pigeon 9
Mourning Dove 21
Eastern Screech-Owl 2 along river, responded after about 3 minutes of calling, did not see.
Great Horned Owl 4  - pairs dueting along river and along Limekiln Road
Red-bellied Woodpecker 5
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1
Downy Woodpecker 17
Hairy Woodpecker 3
Northern Flicker 3
Blue Jay 17
American Crow 23
Black-capped Chickadee 18
Tufted Titmouse 35
White-breasted Nuthatch 16
Brown Creeper 3
Carolina Wren 4
Winter Wren 5
Golden-crowned Kinglet 6
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 4
Eastern Bluebird 9
Hermit Thrush 1
American Robin 1
Northern Mockingbird 2
European Starling 65
Cedar Waxwing 6
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) 2
Eastern Towhee 5
American Tree Sparrow 20
Field Sparrow 2
Fox Sparrow 6
Song Sparrow 36
Swamp Sparrow 5
White-throated Sparrow 197
Dark-eyed Junco 90
Northern Cardinal 20
Indigo Bunting 1 - 1 female. Seen PA side of River on dirt road running west from Portland generating station. Found on weedy edge of cornfield in company of sparrrows, mainly white-throated. Had been scoping field, which contained a mixed blackbird flock including cowbirds, red-winged blackbirds, and grackles, when noticed sparrows working margin about 60 yards away. Bunting popped up and I immediately recognized it, but because of rarity for season was very careful. It was significantly smaller than whitethroats in direct comparison; that plus proportionately smaller bill than cowbird, buffier tones, and faint but evident buff wingbars eliminated that species. This bird was drab buff-brown, with conical bill, gray-white throat framed by faint dark malar stripes. It had 2 narrow buff wingbars. It's dark eye stood out on plain face. Overall a very plain bird. I considered Lazuli bunting but ruled out based on probability, white throat, too narrow wingbars, and warm upperparts tones. I did not notice any streaking evident on this bird, either above or below.The only problem with this observation was its brevity, about 10 seconds. The bird dropped out of view as I watched it at 20X in a Swarovski scope - it had been perched on corn stubble and picking at foxtail seeds - and when we moved closer we were unable to relocate it. Nonetheless I am completely confident in the i.d., being extremely familiar with INBU.
Red-winged Blackbird 40
Common Grackle 2
Brown-headed Cowbird 60
American Goldfinch 80
House Sparrow 1

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