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