Sunday, December 11, 2011

Kings, Princes, Hat Tricks, and What Is a Good Bird?

 [A king and a prince: adult male and first year male Black Scoters, 8th street jetty at Avalon Saturday. I almost passed off the pair as, well, a pair, until I looked closer at the young bird's bill and face.]

Multiple parties polled Friday night offered Avalon as their pick for a Saturday morning free from commitments beyond binoculars and camera, so that's where I went. After poking around various spots north and south of Townsend's Inlet (the inlet between Avalon and Sea Isle City), I wandered over to visit with Tom Reed et. al. at the Seawatch, end of 7th street. Et. al. included Chris Hajduk and Clay Sutton, and Clay looked at me curiously before surmising, "I take it your freezer's full." Knowing me, he couldn't figure why I had been crawling around on the 8th street jetty on the last day of deer season.

Crawling I was, trying to stay low and let the sea ducks come close, which they eventually did, including a nice group of Common Eiders.

[Another king, plus princes of two ages, and a bevy of queens and princesses besides. Adult male Common Eider, center left, with a first year directly behind it and, second from right at the top, a presumed second year male, or adult lagging in its molt from eclipse to  basic, or breeding plumage. And the lustrous brown hens, of course. I think of sea ducks as the waterfowl royalty, even though these aren't King Eiders.]

The eiders got me thinking. Many years ago I would target a "hat trick" as the mark of a good day's birding. I knew the term from hockey, but in case you don't, according to Wikipedia, "A hat-trick or hat trick in sport is the achievement of a positive feat three times during a game, or other achievements based on threes." E.g., any eider, either white-winged gull, and Purple Sandpiper used to combine to make a hat trick. It's one way to approach birding. A well remembered hat trick day at Sandy Hook included Bohemian Waxwing, Ash-throated Flycatcher, and. . . hmm. Well, maybe its not that well-remembered. Maybe the 3rd bird was a Common Eider, which is really what I was thinking about. A Common Eider wouldn't make it to hat-trick-member status anymore, in fact they've become so commonplace that when the little flock dropped in next to the jetty, I thought, "Neat!" but kept right on taking pictures of a Ruddy Turnstone that had befriended me. Purple Sandpiper similarly has fallen from hat-trick status in NJ, too easy to get at Barnegat, Avalon and elsewhere, as these birds have become more accustomed to finding rock jetties this far south.

Now Razorbill, that's still a hat-trick bird, for now, so much so I told Tom Reed his Razorbill numbers this fall are lies, lies, lies - which means I haven't seen one yet, though of course I don't stare at the sea all day, 5 days a week. But if trends continue, Razorbill may similarly become "too common to count."

Birds aren't hockey goals for me anymore, and so I wonder, what is a good bird to you? For me, any bird I can watch is a good one, and the longer I can watch it, the better it gets. And if it does something interesting, well that's the best bird of all.

 [Got this one? Powerful broad body, long pointed wings, gray back - this adult Peregrine ruined my attempts to photograph Purple Sandpipers, sweeping the jetty clean of shorebirds simply by flying over.]

[My friend the Ruddy Turnstone. This one spent an hour on the jetty watching birds with me, weathering even the Peregrine's pass with only an eye cocked upward warily. I love the upward bend on the turnstone's bill, shaped just like the pry bar in my shed and used the same way.]

[What's poison ivy good for? Ask this Song Sparrow, in the Avalon dunes, where P.I. is plentiful.]


  1. The "good" bird has changed massively over time. During my first stint in NJ, Common Eider was decidedly rarer than King; now I find myself sorting flocks of Commons as if it were Massachusetts!
    My favorite example of late is Ring-necked Duck, which a hundred years ago was so scarce as to be nearly accidental in the northeast. And now....

  2. Didn't know that about Ring-necked Duck! Ebbs and flows vs. good going to bad - I've been trying to see the world the former way, albeit sometimes with difficulty.