I had a great start to the new year, joining birding bud Maria Loukeris on a day trip to Manasquan Inlet on the Jersey Shore. It was super birdy, as the shore always seems to be. Our best bird was RAZORBILL, of which we had several, both flying and on the water. Unfortunately they were too far out for photos. Our best fail was missing a Dovekie that flew through – it was called out, but somehow neither one of us was able to get on the bird; that was frustrating. The bird of the day for me, however, was BONAPARTE’S GULL. There was a good number of them around and the light lent itself to some decent photos. It was good to get out of the area, excellent to spend the day birding with Maria, and an all around great start to the birding year.
Note: I’m experiencing some problems with the blog receiving comments. I’m trying to figure out what the problem is… please let me know if you try and comment but can’t – any information will be helpful. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, thanks.
I spent the morning after Thanksgiving birding at Sandy Hook. While I was a little disappointed with my waterfowl count (I only identified 9 species: Canada goose, Brant, Mallard, American Black Duck, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Black Scoter, and Common Loon), I was really impressed with the number of gulls present. I’ve birded a lot of beaches (and some dumps) over the years, and I’m pretty sure it’s the most gulls I’ve ever seen at a location.
I started out just scanning the ocean. There was a steady stream of gulls flying – I’m talking nonstop. I’m sure there were some good birds out there that I wasn’t able to identify, but I did see several Bonaparte’s Gulls (the only ones I would see all morning), and of course it was easy to pick out the Northern Gannets. I located a large group of loafing gulls further north on the beach. I relocated and was able to get good looks and go through the birds. Meanwhile, to my right, just at the shore break, there were loads of gulls feeding on small fish – there must have been absolutely loads of fish because the gulls were experiencing an excellent success rate – it was unusual to see a bird come up without prey. I spent a good amount of time going through the gulls, and I was disappointed to only find the expect species: Herring, Great Black-backed, Laughing, and Ring-billed. Add my earlier Bonaparte’s and that’s a 5 gull day. I’d be happy with that number of species in Newburgh; at Sandy Hook I was sort of hoping for more. Especially considering the number of individuals present.
Last Sunday night, after a 2 1/2 hour drive to Emmons Avenue in Brooklyn, I set sail on the American Princess, embarking on a 24 hour pelagic birding trip. It was my third true pelagic (not counting the several whale watching excursions I’ve been on), and my first 24 hour/overnight experience. Unfortunately, winds had shifted from south to north that evening, leading to waves that were quite disorganized, which made for a rough journey. I stayed up for a couple of hours, enjoying the fresh air and the views, before lying down on my sleeping mat to try and get some sleep. I thought I might finally be able to relax once I reclined, but that was not the case. The boat was pitching front to back and side to side severely enough to make it hard to keep from rolling over, regardless of the position I tried.
So it was a long, restless night and I got barely any sleep; I don’t think many people slept. Folks started to get up at first light, and I got up, packed up my sleeping gear, and joined them shortly after. It was the start of a long but productive day of pelagic birding. It’s not very often that I actually bird for a complete day – during this trip I was pretty actively birding from around 5:00 am until 7 or 7:30 pm. There are some times which are exciting and there are loads of birds and cetaceans, but most of the time there isn’t much going on and you’re just scanning and searching.
Here’s a list of what I consider ‘pelagic’ birds that we saw:
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel (this was an observation by one of the trip leaders – I did not see this bird)
The Leach’s Storm-Petrel, Sooty Shearwater, and Black-capped Petrel were all life birds for me. It’s not too often these days that I get a lifer, not to mention 3 in a single day. The 2 Atlantic Puffins and 1 Dovekie were the biggest surprise of the day; no one knew what they were doing out there at this time of the year. Other interesting birds included several Common Loons, loads of Common Terns, a single Northern Gannet, and a pair of beautiful young Lesser Black-backed Gulls.
We also did pretty well with cetaceans. We had 3 species of dolphin (Common, Risso’s, and Striped) and 3 species of whale (Minke, Humpback, and Fin). We also had several Ocean Sunfish (folks were referring to them as Mola Mola); this was the first time I’d ever seen them.
The trip back to Brooklyn was a lot smoother than the trip out, and it was a beautiful evening to enjoy the journey and any sitings along the way. We got back to the dock just after 9:00; by the time I walked to my car and drove home, it was nearly midnight. I was exhausted, to say the least, but happy about a day well spent and to be home in one piece.
I did a good amount of birding during the long holiday weekend, but of course nothing was nearly as exciting as the Snowy Owl. Other than the owl, my timing seems to be a bit off these days and any good birds I’m getting are birds reported by other birders. I finally made it to the Newburgh Waterfront on Wednesday evening to see the Long-tailed Duck that’s been a around for a while. I also ran for the Lesser Black-backed Gull which was originally found by Jeanne Cimorelli on Friday and then relocated and reported by Bill Fierro yesterday afternoon. That gull stuck around for me, but was absolutely miles out, so no pics. Other than those two birds, it was the usual suspects (often less than that), but it was still an enjoyable long weekend with some interesting shots to share.
Tricia and I traveled to the Jersey Shore early Thanksgiving morning to spend the holiday with her family there. I was able run to the beach to sneak in couple of hours of birding before the festivities began. I love birding at the beach in the winter, it’s such a pleasant experience, and I enjoyed many of the expected goodies. Highlights included Common and Red-throated Loons, Black Scoters, and loads of Brant. But the true highlight was when I happened upon a SNOWY OWL resting in the dunes. I shared my discovery with two non-birder women who were appropriately blown away by the view in my scope. What an awesome surprise; it’s been a while since I’ve seen one and this bird did not disappoint.
Well, in spite of still waiting for spring migration to really kick in, I had a satisfying weekend of birding. I spent Saturday morning at the Hudson River, but aside from the continuing Iceland Gull, it was uneventful. That gull frustrated me because it was on the floating docks at the Newburgh Waterfront, not too far out, but the bird kept its back to me and it was backlit to boot. I successfully chased a Long-tailed Duck at Orange Lake (thanks Bruce), and picked up a Red-breasted Merganser as a bonus. On my way out, I stopped at Gardenertown Road and patience paid off as I was able to locate 2 Wilson’s Snipe after some extensive searching.
Saturday afternoon I walked the Liberty Loop for the first time in ages. IT was a pleasant, if uneventful walk. Highlights included: American Coot, Common Gallinule, and my first Lesser Yellowlegs of the year. All three highlight birds were located on the Sussex County side of the loop.
Sunday morning I checked a number of lakes in southern Orange County, looking for new waterfowl or Bonaparte’s Gulls. For the most part I came up empty, but did manage to find a distant Horned Grebe in beautiful plumage at Round Lake. I stopped to use the restroom at Sterling Forest, and on my way out I had one of my best birds of the day, a Pine Warbler. I had to run to the car for my camera, but fortunately the bird lingered for me. A quick cruise through the black dirt yielded nothing of note, so I called it a day.
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.
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)
Least Sanpiper (10+)
Pectoral Sandpiper (3)
Semipalmated Sandpiper (4)
Wilson’s Snipe (3)
Solitary Sandpiper (3)
Lesser Yellowlegs (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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.