Liberty Loop Back Pond, 08/23/20

The back pond at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Loop has been one of the hottest birding spots in the area recently (this part of the loop is located in Sussex County, NJ for all of you concerned with which county and state the birds are located in). I spent a pleasant and productive morning there; I’m pretty sure I got all the recent good birds/rarities reported: GLOSSY IBIS (3), LITTLE BLUE HERON, SNOWY EGRET, and SANDERLING.

~GLOSSY IBIS striking a pose at Wallkill River NWR’s Liberty Loop, Sussex County NJ, 08/23/20.~

My main goal of the morning was, of course, shorebirds. Although besides the Sanderling I did not find anything else out of the ordinary, shorebirds were plentiful in number of both species and individuals:

  • Semipalmated Plover (2)
  • Killdeer (30+)
  • Sanderling
  • Least Sanpiper (10+)
  • Pectoral Sandpiper (3)
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper (4)
  • Wilson’s Snipe (3)
  • Solitary Sandpiper (3)
  • Lesser Yellowlegs (20+)
~Immature LITTLE BLUE HERON at the Liberty Loop, 08/23/20.~

I left the refuge just before 10 am, just as it was starting to get a little warm. I finished the morning with 44 species; the only target bird I missed was Least Bittern, which I’ve been getting out there on a regular basis. Nice morning of birding, and some photo ops on top of it all.

~Lesser Yellowlegs were plentiful in the back pond this morning. Liberty Loop 08/23/20.~
~Green Heron at the Liberty Loop, 08/23/20.~
~One more Glossy Ibis shot; I was pleased to have these birds in pretty close. That came to an end when a dog walker came by and flushed them. Liberty Loop, 08/23/20.~
~This Northern Harrier was keeping the shorebirds on their toes. I’m not sure what it was hunting, but the shorebirds were flushed by it several times this morning. Liberty Loop 08/23/20.~
~Semipalmated Plover in the early morning fog. Liberty Loop 08/23/20.~
~Tree Swallow from earlier this week. Black dirt 08/20/20.~

BLACK TERN, 08/08/20

Three BLACK TERNS were reported at Wallkill River NWR’s Liberty Loop on Friday by birding bud Maria Loukeris. I couldn’t make it out Friday after work, but tried for them on Saturday morning, fully convinced that they would be gone. But!, luckily one of them hung in there for me; as I walked the east side of the loop a woman who did not appear to be a birder told me it was in the back pond.

~Black Tern with a Barn Swallow in pursuit, Liberty Loop 08/08/20.~

Black Tern is a really cool bird, and I enjoyed observing and trying to photograph this bird, which I believe was an adult in non-breeding plumage. Unfortunately, Black Tern is a photo-nemesis bird for me. I don’t know what it is, but in spite of seeing this species at least a half dozen times now, I just can’t get a good photo. One thing that hit home yesterday was that it’s a small tern. I realized it because as the bird fed, there were swallows giving it the business the entire time. It’s the smallest tern we get in the our area, listed in Sibley as a mere 9.75″. Compare that to 12″ and 13″ inches for Common and Forster’s Tern respectively, and a whopping 21″ for Caspian Tern. Add to that an erratic flight while feeding, and the bird is tough to pick up and get into focus in the camera. That said, I’ve had the species perched and still the pics were not great. One day I’ll get a goodie.

~Banking Black Tern, Liberty Loop 08/08/20.~
~This is a bird I never get tired of. Northern Mocking Bird at the Liberty Loop, 08/08/20.~
~Great Blue Heron from earlier in the week. Beaver Pond, 08/30/20.~
~I had no idea the bird had turned completely upside down until I saw my photos. Black Tern with Tree Swallow, at the Liberty Loop, 08/08/20.~
~Bunny at the Loop, 08/08/20.~

Down in the Dumps, 02/01/20

I’ve been down in the dumps for a couple of weeks. Literally. Well, not the whole time, just the past 2 Saturday mornings, chasing gulls at Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority. Last week Maria Loukeris and I had no luck, but today, Linda Scrima joined us and we had an excellent morning. We had two main targets: the GLAUCOUS and LESSER BLACK-BACKED Gulls that were reported earlier in the week.

~Now this is a beautiful bird! GLAUCOUS GULL in flight at SCMUA, 02/01/20.~

Our morning had a slow start due to the heavy fog. When we first arrived at SCMUA, it was totally fogged in and from what we could tell, there were very few gulls present. So, we went and grabbed some breakfast (french toast!), and when we got back some of the fog had lifted and there were plenty of gulls around.

We got lucky and located the GLAUCOUS GULL within minutes of our arrival. It took over an hour, but eventually Maria located the LESSER-BLACK-BACKED GULL. Both gulls were close enough for some pretty good documentary shots and at different times we were able to photograph each species in flight. We were hoping that we might locate an ICELAND GULL, that would have been the icing on the cake (sorry couldn’t resist), but alas it was not to be.

~LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL in flight at SCMUA, 02/01/20.~

Other good birds included several Bald Eagles, and just as we were getting ready to leave, several skeins of SNOW GEESE totally approximately 2,000 birds. It was a great morning of birding at the dump, and for me, since I’ve been so into gulls this winter, it was especially satisfying.

~GLAUCOUS GULL with Herring Gulls, SCMUA 02/01/20.~
~LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL at SCMUA, 02/01/20. I like this shot because it shows 3 separate species, the LBBG front and left, a single Ring-billed Gull front and right and the remaining gulls are Herring Gulls.~

Thanksgiving Weekend Wrap-up, 12/01/19

It was nice on this holiday weekend to have a little extra time to get out birding. I managed to squeeze a little bit of birding into each of the last 5 days, which was a nice change from my recent weeks, that’s for sure. I mostly birded locally, but I also made a brief visit to Sandy Hook early Friday morning. While I didn’t have any out-of-the-ordinary birds or see anything new, it was still good birding and just enjoyable to be out and about.

~It’s been a good while since I’d seen the leucistic Red-tailed Hawk in Warwick. On Black Friday I got lucky and caught up with this (mostly) white hawk.~
~I’m still hopeful that the Northern Shrike I located on Wisner Road is somewhere in that area. While trying for it, I photographed this Red-tailed Hawk on a nice perch, 11/27/19.~
~Unfortunately my time at Sandy Hook was brief. One of several Yellow-rumped Warblers I had there the day after Thanksgiving, 11/29/19.~
~Song Sparrow at Sandy Hook, 11/29/19.~
~My goodness there were a lot of Northern Mockingbirds at Sandy Hook. I’ve seen a lot of them in general lately; I still find them very photogenic. Sandy Hook, 11/29/19.~
~White-crowned Sparrow in the parking area at Liberty Marsh, 12/01/19.~
~The highlight of my Sunday – Orange County Great Horned Owl, 12/01/19.~

Jersey Shore 2019

Tricia and I spent a long weekend down at the Jersey Shore; it was sort of a mini-vacation where we focused (for once!) on relaxing rather than running around all over the place. We went to the beach every day. I napped. We did some touristy shopping, and we had some delicious dinners out at several restaurants. That said, I did get out for a bit in the mornings. I managed to get some nice photos; the birds are accessible and the backgrounds are often very clean on the beach. But, I also found myself questioning my birding skills. I kept thinking about birding locally versus birding at a new locale and how it puts one’s birding skills to the test.

~Semipalmated Plover, always a favorite (what a cutie!), at Stone Harbor Point 08/04/19.~

The first thing I will say, is that I did not arrive prepared. Sure, I did some quick research on eBird just to find some good locations, but I didn’t do any research to see what the expected species for this time of year are in the region. I am often guilty of under-preparing for a new location; in a perfect world I would spend some quality time prepping beforehand, but it never seems to happen. I think that if you can squeeze in some quality prep time beforehand, it would make your birding at a new location much more enjoyable. One of these days I’m going to do just that.

~Common Tern in flight at Two Mile Landing, Wildwood Crest 08/06/19.~

The second thing is that birding at the Jersey Shore can be intimidating – there are SO MANY BIRDS! It’s very different from birding in Orange County, especially when it comes to shorebirds which are few and far between. It’s easy to become overwhelmed and “in the weeds” while trying to sort through such a large number of birds; I was lacking context and it made identifying the birds that much more difficult. I was also experiencing some eBird intimidation. I figure the checklists in that area are looked at pretty thoroughly – I didn’t want to get anything wrong. Ultimately, for me, patience was the key in this respect. I took it slow while I was birding and I was willing to let some birds go unidentified. I could take some time to think about it some more and maybe do some research and look at my photos later. If, in the end, they remain unidentified, I’m okay with that.

~Ruddy Turnstone at Stone Harbor Point, 8/3/19.~

Another thing I was thinking about was birding “county coverage”. Here in our area, I feel like we have a pretty good idea of the birds present. Sure, there are plenty of birds that are missed, but I think we have decent coverage and I kept trying to compare it to the Jersey Shore where just about everywhere you look seems to be a birding hotspot. How many good birders would it take to actually keep up with this many birds? It kind of blows my mind. Maybe they have a handle on things, but to me it seems overwhelming.

~Black-crowned Night-heron, side of the road in Stone Harbor 08/04/19.~

And, finally, this trip often made me question my birding skills. Am I thorough enough? Do I know the field marks well enough? I think that maybe I’ve fallen into some bad habits – I’m familiar enough these days with the expected species in Orange County so maybe I’m not looking closely enough at the birds. Does that make sense? Maybe it’s time for a reset and to time to refocus on some of details that go by the wayside while birding the same locations day in and day out. So anyways, while I had all these thoughts running through my mind, I was still able to relax and just enjoy the birding in the south Jersey Shore; sometimes you have to just take a step back and enjoy being out with the birds.

~Common Tern at Two Mile Landing, Wildwood Crest 08/06/19.~
~Cuteness! Black Skimmer chick at Stone Harbor Point, 08/04/19.~
~Food exchange between adult and young Common Terns, Two Mile Landing Wildwood Crest, 08/06/19.~
~Handsome Devil. Common Tern at Two Mile Landing, Wildwood Crest 08/06/19.~
~Clapper Rail taking a peek. Two Mile Landing Wildwood Crest 08/06/19.~
~Clapper Rail chick, Two Mile Landing Wildwood Crest 08/06/19.~
~As you can tell, I found a nice spot to photograph Common Terns at Two Mile Landing, 08/06/19.~
~Semipalmated Sandpiper dance, side of the road in Cape May 08/06/19.~
~I always seem to get images of Gray Catbirds that I really like. This bird was at Stone Harbor Point, 8/3/19/~

Wallkill River NWR, 06/29/19

I enjoyed a really nice morning birding at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. I started at Owens Station Road, where I was surprised to find a SNOW GOOSE in the parking area as I pulled in. Well, I actually wasn’t surprised about there being a Snow Goose present, as there had been 6 reported there recently – it was more that it was in the front parking area and it proceeded to walk down Owens Station Road, apparently heading to New York on foot:

~SNOW GOOSE literally on Owens Station Road early this morning, 06/29/19.~

I hiked in from Owens Station Road and walked a portion of the Liberty Loop Trail in Sussex County. Afterwards, I drove around and parked on Oil City Road and birded part of the loop in Orange County. I had a total of 45 species seen or heard. Highlights included several LEAST BITTERNS; I had distant but nice looks at 3 birds and heard a fourth. Common Gallinules are plentiful in both counties. Mostly I just enjoyed being out early to beat the heat. The light was nice for photos too, so that never hurts. All in all, a very pleasant morning of birding.

~I’ve been hoping for a decent Red-winged Blackbird shot lately. Wallkill River NWR, 06/29/19.~
~One of my first birds of the morning, this Rose-breasted Grosbeak flew in and perched nicely right in front of me. Wallkill River NWR, 09/29/19.~
~Always a favorite – Common Gallinule at Wallkill River NWR, 06/29/19.~
~I haven’t posted an Indigo Bunting shot in ages I don’t think. Wallkill River NWR, 06/29/19.~
~I cruised the black dirt for a bit on my way home. Savannah Sparrow in the black dirt 06/29/19.~
~Red-tailed Hawk in flight, Black Dirt Region 06/29/19.~

A Good, Long Day, 03/16/19

This morning Maria Loukeris and I headed to the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Morris County, NJ. Maria had some business to attend to in the area and we birded the refuge beforehand. We mostly drove around from spot to spot, but we did walk the trails briefly as well. We had a total of 25 species during our visit; four were first of year (FOY) birds for me: Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Towhee, Tree Swallow, and my favorite bird of the morning, RUSTY BLACKBIRD.

~I got lucky with this bird – HORNED GREBE close to the shore at Wickham Lake, 03/16/19.~

In the afternoon I birded three local lakes: Greenwood Lake, Wickham Lake, and Glenmere Lake. Wickham was far and away the best stop; I had 8 species of waterfowl, including over 200 Common Mergansers, a single Red-breasted Merganser drake, and an up close look at a beautiful little HORNED GREBE. At Glenmere, the RED-NECKED GREBE continues but was so far out I didn’t even take documentary photos. For the day I had a total of 37 species. I’ve included a list of all the birds with locations at the bottom of this post.

~I had my FOY Eastern Phoebe at Great Swamp NWR, 03/16/19.~
~Roadside Red-tailed Hawk in Sussex County, NY 03/16/19.~

Here’s my list of species for the day, with locations (Great Swamp = GS. Wickham Lake = WL, Greenwood Lake = GRL, and Glenmere Lake = GLL).

  • Canada Goose (all locations)
  • Mute Swan (WL, GRL, GLL)
  • Wood Duck (GS, WL)
  • Mallard (GS, GLL)
  • Gadwall (GLL – small pond up the road)
  • American Black Duck (GS, GLL)
  • Bufflehead (GRL, WL, GLL)
  • Ring-necked Duck (WL, GLL)
  • Hooded Merganser (GRL, WL, GLL)
  • Common Merganser (GRL, WL, GLL)
  • RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (WL)
  • HORNED GREBE (WL)
  • RED-NECKED GREBE (GLL)
  • Ring-billed Gull (GRL, WL, GLL)
  • Herring Gull (WL)
  • Turkey Vulture (GS, WL)
  • Bald Eagle (GS, WL)
  • Red-tailed Hawk (GS, WL)
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk (on the road, Sussex Co.)
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker (GS)
  • Blue Jay (GS, GLL)
  • American Crow (GS, WL)
  • Fish Crow (GRL)
  • Common Raven (WL)
  • Tree Swallow (GS)
  • White-breasted Nuthatch (GS)
  • Tufted Titmouse (GS)
  • Eastern Bluebird (GS)
  • American Robin (GS, WL)
  • European Starling (GS)
  • Dark-eyed Junco (GS)
  • Song Sparrow (GS)
  • Eastern Towhee (GS)
  • American Tree Sparrow (WL)
  • Red-winged Blackbird (GS, WL, GLL)
  • RUSTY BLACKBIRD (GS)
  • Common Grackle (GS, WL)
~Bald Eagle fishing at Great Swamp NWR, 03/16/19.~

Two Life Birds, 02/02/19

~Here’s a beautiful bird – PACIFIC LOON at Manasquan Inlet in Ocean County, NJ 02/02/19.~

Early this morning, Linda Scrima, Maria Loukeris, and I headed to Manasquan Inlet to try for the PACIFIC LOON that has been seen there. This was definitely one of the easier rarities we’ve run for – we parked the car and the bird was in the channel right in front of us! And what a beautiful bird, a nice dark loon with a lovely chin strap. It was also very cooperative, swimming quite close and the light was pretty nice too. This bird alone was definitely worth the trip, but we also had some really nice photo ops with some Long-tailed Ducks (which are apparently a garbage bird around there!) and a gorgeous RED-THROATED LOON. We checked for gulls from Red’s Lobster Pot and got lucky with a 1st winter ICELAND GULL. Unfortunately that bird was just too far for pics. Then we walked out onto the jetty, where we enjoyed seeing many of the usuals – highlights included a Common Goldeneye flyby, a flock of Dunlin, and 2 Horned Grebes.

PACIFIC LOON at Manasquan Inlet, 02/02/19.~
~The puppy dog of ducks, and one of my favorites, Long-tailed Duck at Manasquan Inlet, 02/02/19.~

~I know I write this a lot, but ANOTHER favorite of mine – Red-throated Loon at Manasquan Inlet, 02/02/19.~

We then headed to the Trenton Sewage Ponds in Mercer County to try for the TOWNSEND’S WARBLER that has been there. We were informed as soon as we arrived by other birders that the bird was still present, and we got on it not too long after that. It was a good looking warbler, but unfortunately the lighting was absolutely horrible and the bird was severely backlit from our vantage point. We tried for a while to get shots of the bird as it foraged around the pools, and eventually the bird perched in a nearby tree. It was still backlit, but closer to us and with a natural setting made the difference for me. Also present was a Eastern Phoebe, several Yellow-rumped Warblers, a handful of Ruby-crowned Warblers, and a Palm Warbler.

Both birds were lifers for all three of us – it’s not too often we get lifers these days, so it was AWESOME!

~Photos were tough, this was the best I could do – TOWNSEND’S WARBLER at the Trenton Sewage Ponds, 02/02/19.~
~A nice look at a Palm Warbler at the Trenton Sewage Ponds, 02/02/19.~

Jersey Shore, 01/12/19

~Yes! RAZORBILL up close and personal in the channel at Manasquan Inlet, Ocean County NJ 01/12/19.~

Yesterday morning, Maria Loukeris, Linda Scrima, and I headed to the Jersey Shore. Our target was the RAZORBILLS which had been reported at Manasquan Inlet, but really, we were just heading to the beach where we knew we’d find loads of birds.

~Beautiful little bird. Purple Sandpiper at Manasquan Inlet 01/12/19. This bird was on the jetty we were on, but most were seen on the jetty across the channel.~

Manasquan Inlet was our first and best stop. Not long after our arrival, we got the best look any of us had ever had of a Black Scoter. It was a day of photo ops, starting with this bird. Other highlights included my first shorebirds of the year, Dunlin and PURPLE SANDPIPERS. There was a very cooperative group of just under 30 Long-tailed Ducks at the end of the jetty. Humpback Whales were being seen in the distance, and a Gray Seal came in for a slightly closer look. A Bald Eagle was hunting WAY out in the ocean and you could barely throw a rock without hitting one of my favorites, the Common Loon. Most importantly, we had 6 RAZORBILLS in the ocean; we had distant but good enough looks. Then a fellow birder located a Razorbill in the channel, and as it worked its way back to sea, we got absolutely incredible looks and some decent photo ops.

~My best look ever at a Black Scoter. Manasquan Inlet 01/12/19.~

Our second stop was Shark River, which was loaded with birds. There has been a Eurasian Wigeon reported at that location, in fact it was reported several times yesterday, but we never located it. I feel like there might be some local knowledge going on here (we went back for a second try when it was reported in the afternoon, but still dipped on the bird). Regardless, the spot was loaded with waterfowl, we had 10 different species, with over 40 Mute Swans, 300+ Brant, and 60+ Buffleheads making up the bulk of the birds.

~I love this pic. I love this bird. Brant in flight at Shark River Inlet in Monmouth County, NJ 01/12/19.~

Shark River Inlet was our final official stop (we did run for the EUWI back at Shark River afterwards, however). I was excited to get back to this spot because last time we were there we had the most cooperative Red-throated Loon there. This time around it was not to be. But, we did get some really good scope views of our first SURF SCOTERS of the day, which was nice, and I was able to take my favorite photo of the day, a Brant in flight (above). Brant are up there in my favorite birds, and to me this shot is a nice one and it made me happy. The day went by quickly and the sun was setting as we headed home happy and tired.

~Boat-tailed Grackle portrait. Manasquan Inlet, 01/12/19.~
~We were told by a fellow birder that this is a Gray Seal. Manasquan Inlet, 01/12/19.~
~I couldn’t complete this post without at least one shot of a Common Loon. This species is everywhere on the Jersey Shore at this time of the year, this individual was at Shark River Inlet, 01/12/19.~
~I wish I’d spent more time trying to photograph the Long-tailed Ducks, but there was so much to see and look for. Manasquan Inlet, 01/12/19.~
~One final shot of the Razorbill in the channel at Manasquan Inlet, 01/12/19.~

Least Bitterns, 08/05/18

Kyle Dudgeon and I spent some time very early this morning with the LEAST BITTERNS at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Loop. It was great to see good numbers of LEBIs, and we got lucky with one particularly accommodating individual, which landed not very far off the path – I’ve included four photos of this bird.

In birding news, Karen Miller watched the ROSEATE SPOONBILL fly north over Oil City Road and into Orange County. Kyle and I searched for the bird down Liberty Lane, and John Haas joined us to help search the area, but unfortunately, as of this writing, the bird had not been relocated.