Monday, July 23, 2012

High Point of Summer

[Here's a tricky one to sort out, not one we get to see all that often. One might be tempted to call it an immature female Blackburnian Warbler, but the face pattern isn't there, the tail's too short, there's too much yellow wash below - this immature (hatch year, fledged this summer) female Cerulean Warbler in High Point State Park, Sussex County, NJ on Saturday 7/21/12 was with a mixed species foraging flock, but undoubtedly came from a local nest.]

Somehow I managed to let May and June slip away without a trip to High Point State Park, Sussex County, NJ,  an error no birder in the northeast should make. There is no better place at that season, IMHO (that is, In My Humble Opinion for those of you less text-message-savvy than my daughter, who periodically tutors me in such things.)

A free weekend in July, last weekend to be precise, prompted us to reserve a site at the Sawmill Lake Campground and patrol the lightly traveled park roads by bicycle, hike the trails, and just hang out in camp watching birds do what they do in late July.

Which is a combination of things. For many, it is more or less the same as June, breeding season - multi-brooded birds like Gray Catbirds, Song Sparrows and (delightfully!) Hermit Thrushes are in various stages depending on the pair, either feeding young, incubating eggs, or even singing and beginning another clutch. The lakeshore thickets were just riddled with catbirds, in particular - all those adults that returned here to nest in the spring, and all their offspring produced since, probably two clutches worth.

Even supposedly single-brooded species were singing at dawn - among them some of the specialties of the house in High Point, like Cerulean Warblers. The local Common Ravens croaked each morning from up on the Kittatinny Ridge. Virtually all the hoped-for species in High Point were detectable if you got up early enough. But many were in a different mode than we see them in May or June.

[This adult male Chestnut-sided Warbler looks disheveled for two reasons. One, he's been busting his butt since May trying to raise young. Two, those feathers are loose and some are missing - after nesting, warblers go through a complete molt, gradually losing and replacing all their feathers. Most do this prior to migration. High Point over the weekend.]

[Before migrating, the adult Chestnut-sided Warbler will have molted into looking something like the bird immediately above, a study in lime and white, with a bit of chestnut along the sides. But this bird is a young  of the year, a young male Chestnut-sided Warbler showing just a trace of the chestnut signature. High Point last weekend.]

In NY's Adirondacks in late summer, where and when I spend a bit of time almost every year, local birds form mixed species flocks very similar to migrant flocks. I wondered if we would run into any of that in High Point in July, and we did - e.g. in one small area 2-3 Chestnut-sided Warblers, 4-5 American Redstarts and Black-and-whites, 2-3 Yellow Warblers, a Cerulean Warbler, several Red-eyed Vireos, and the "locals" - Black-capped Chickadees, titmice, nuthatches. We spend the early mornings in mixed mode, listening for singers and investigating sunlit corners for groups like this.

Perhaps the standout bird encounter, among many, was watching a flock of 40+ Baltimore Orioles make its way through the trees overhead, crossing Sawmill Road south of the campground in small groups so we could make a reasonably accurate count. I presume this was an accretion of local nesters from the High Point area. Migrant Baltimore Orioles don't appear in Cape May before mid-August as a rule.

It was also great to find evidence of Dark-eyed Junco nesting in NJ, in the form of an apparent family group near the top of the Blue Dot Trail, which runs uphill from the Sawmill Campground to where it joins the Appachian Trail. This is similar to other places I've found summer juncoes in NJ, e.g. the Catfish Fire Tower area farther south along the AT in Warren County.

 [Female Black-and-white Warbler finds the tiniest insect egg (I think) while gleaning along an oak branch.)]

It wasn't just birds, either, in High Point - mammals (Black Bears, of course, and others), butterflies, dragonflies, and wildflowers collectively made me rethink the customary May-June schedule for the area. Just go there, anytime you can. We'll stick to the warblers in this blog, more to follow on other birds, bugs, etc.

[Ahh, feels like late August in Cape May -  when this hatch year male American Redstart will very likely pass through, or at least over, my home county. We know it's a male because of the orange chest patches, and it must be a hatch year because an older male redstart would show black patches on the face and chest. And. . . ]
[. . . A bander's trick sometimes useful in the field, note how pointed the hatch year male American Redstart's tail feathers are. Adult warblers have more "truncate" tips to the tail feathers, meaning there is the appearance of a straight-cut feather tip, with corners both on the outside and the inside, not a sharp point.]

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