Monday, December 19, 2005

Christmas Bird Count 2005

On Saturday, December 17th I participated in the 106th annual Christmas Bird Count CBC Home page .
I was a member of the Ramsey, NJ count circle (CBC code=NJRA).
This circle was doing their 53rd consecutive count year!, and this was my 5th year on the team.
The area my team covered is the Greenwood Lake/West Milford area. Other team members were Dave S., Sean O., Malcolm C., Kevin W., and a visiting birder from Maryland named Jim.
This year my team saw a total of 57 species, of which I saw 52. Personal favorites were Red-Shouldered Hawk, Red-Breasted Nuthatch, Great Horned Owl, Rufous Towhee, and Cooper's Hawk.
(Red-Shouldered Hawk photo credit - Irene Lindsay)

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Evening Grosbeaks in New York

This morning I went up to Bethel, NY in Sullivan County for a chance at a life bird. Recently these birds have been reported as being seen daily. I got some detailed info from John Haas, a local birder in the area. His directions were spot on, and I arrived around 9:30. Within minutes I saw one in a tree. Success !
After that sighting another 8-10 birds came into a feeder. I had terrific looks at these birds, as well as outstanding scope views. The birds left after 15 minutes. So I waited around for just about an hour when they made a return appearance. This time they were on a feeder even closer to me. Fantastic! I got to hear several of them calling, and watched them fly in and out of the feeder into the nearby trees, showing the brilliant flashes of black and white, along with the colorful yellows.

Other birds seen nearby were an immature Bald Eagle, several Red-Breasted Nuthatches along with the White-Breasted, Tree Sparrows, Hairy Woodpecker, and Wild Turkeys.

Monday, December 05, 2005

North Shore trip - Dec 4th

Took the North Shore trip yesterday. Lots of waterfowl were seen with a highlight being a lone male Harlequin Duck being observed from Neptune Ave in Sea Bright. The bird was near the jetty just south of Neptune.

Other highlights were a Lesser Black-Backed Gull on Wreck Pond, a Common Goldeneye and a Canvasback on Lake Como. All 3 Scoters were also seen during the trip.

A few Laughing Gulls were still around, and a dozen Black-Bellied Plovers were on the beach just south of the Shark River Inlet. Along the coast numerous Northern Gannets were seen.

(photo credit - Peter LaTourrette)

Friday, December 02, 2005

Greater White-Fronted Goose

Earlier this week I was able to see another rare bird for New Jersey in the "Greater White-Fronted Goose".
This bird was seen on Swartswood Lake in Sussex County along the south-eastern side of the lake. I parked in a place called "Cory's Turnout" just south of Dove Island Road on Route 619 South.
I had been looking for the bird earlier from where it had been previously reported, which was on the western side of the lake, along Route 521.
After not finding the bird where it was seen previously, I was heading home and decided to check a few more spots. I am glad I did, as this was the first time I had ever seen this bird. As you can see from the range map, this species isn't typically found in the East.

Stuff like this is what makes fall migration so interesting, as many species of birds get lost from their typical migration routes & end up in unusual spots.

(photo credit - Tony Beck)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Dead Towhee

What is fast becoming an annual ritual for myself and my friend Rob, a day-trip to Cape May on the second weekend in November, yet again produced a fantastic birding day in 2005.

The unusually wet Fall and recent hurricanes combined with strong southerly flows had seemed to be bringing a gamut of atypical birds to New Jersey in recent days. Reports of multiple Frigatebird-species sightings in Barnegat & Sandy Hook, Franklin's Gull at the Cape, and inordinate numbers of Cave Swallows numbering in the hundreds, also at the Cape had us excited about what me may see on the trip. And thankfully the weather forecast called for an unseasonably warm mid-November day.

We arrived at the Hawkwatch platform just after sunrise, and were immediately met with a handful of Cave Swallows, in addition to very-late Barn Swallows, flying among the numerous Tree Swallows. After staying for a bit we eventually left and birded some of the well-known spots like Hidden Valley and The Beanery with very nice results.

We then returned to the Hawkwatch for lunch and a short rest. When you wake at 4 a.m., a lunch at 11 a.m doesn't seem inappropriate!. We stayed around for a little while in hopes that the Frigatebird might make an appearance although it did not. Then I heard one of the hawkwatcher's cellphone ringing, and I stated to Rob "Well, that' s probably good news". So I eavesdropped on the conversation and heard that a rare bird may have been found. After hanging up, the hawkwatcher said that a possible Yellow-Headed Blackbird had been found at the Nature Center in Cape May but was awaiting confirmation. The eyes of both Rob and I widened as this central-US bird is annual but very difficult to see in our state, with most sightings at Brigantine or in Salem County for just one day.

After about 15 minutes I heard the phone ring again, and immediately upon hearing that the bird was confirmed, I was packing up my scope for the trip across town. Several birders caravaned to the Nature Center, and joined the half-dozen birders now already there. At first the bird was not seen, but did appear a few minutes later. After some brief looks, we noticed what appeared to be a toy bird laying belly-up on the platform feeder that the Nature Center had outside it's building. It was then we were told the story of how the Yellow-Headed Blackbird had come to be found.

Evidently, it was not a toy bird at all. In fact, an Eastern Towhee had crashed into a window at the Nature Center and the staff had placed the stunned bird on the feeder hoping it would recover and fly away. A short time later someone went to check on the bird, and saw that it had indeed passed, but also noticed the Yellow-Headed Blackbird feeding on the ground beneath the feeder.

We saw the blackbird a few times for brief moments, but then the bird disappeared for a bit. At one point, in an attempt to lure the birds back to the feeder, a staff member removed the deceased bird, and this action caused the blackbirds to fly away. However the flock was quickly re-found in a small spit of phragmites nearby, from which we were able to get even closer and better looks of this rarity now well lit up in the sun and showing off the beautiful yellow-face and breast of this rare blackbird. We enjoyed the bird for another quarter-hour before the flock flew away well off into the distance.

This rarity was a life-bird for myself, and a state-record for Rob.

November birding in Cape May is fantastic. There is always the chance of a rarity or vagrant showing up, in addition to seeing other birds very late into the season. It's always been a chance to get your last views of migrants, as well as, other summer breeders that won't return again for several months. In this case, at least one Towhee will not return at all.

(photo credit - Bob Miller)