All Things Birds
All Things Birds Blog

Mid-May, We Are in Prime Time (for warblers and spring migration)

After this long and seemingly endless winter, we have made it to May, a month most birders cherish as it means warblers, beautiful passerines and bird song. What more could a birder ask for as this is their time. This is the weekend featuring NJ Audubon’s 31st Annual World Series of Birding competition where birders in a given area within the state of New Jersey try to see or hear as many species of birds as possible within the 24-hour period of Saturday, May 10. Many birders tackle the entire state and some just a county, while others will pursue more limited areas. What is great about this event is folks pledge and donate toward teams that support a particular environmental cause. This event has raised as much as $600.000 in the past for NJ Audubon and other environmental organizations.

The birders in the competition are going to be keeping their fingers crossed in hopes of weather that will provide them with a whole lot of migrants. Winds from the south or southwest are best overnight. That will also make it a bit warmer for those out there looking for owls and other night birds as it can get really cold at 5:00 a.m. on May 10. Most of the teams have a plan of attack in mind as to maximize their day and get the most species as possible. What about the rest of us, who are not competing, what do we do.

If you are not interested in a huge list for the weekend, you can chase rarities as the Garden State has a few to share such as the lingering first state record Neotropic Cormorant in Clinton or the Bar-tailed Godwit at Forsythe (the birders call it Brig) National Wildlife Refuge, but that might be a little more difficult as the bird has been residing a great distance away. Then there are the Crested-Caracara in Cape May which can wander widely in that area and lastly the calling Yellow Rail at Turkey Point in Cumberland County. Hearing a Yellow Rail requires an almost perfectly still and windless night for success as the bird sounds like taping two rocks together.

The old standbys Garret Mountain Reservation in Woodland Park and Sandy Hook could be quite good on this date. Both were very productive last weekend as expected. Of course Garret offers lots of warblers, vireos, thrushes and orioles, last week it also produced American and Least Bitterns and Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers as well as a pair of copulating Red-headed Woodpeckers. Once Garret gets good it usually stays good till the end of May. Sandy Hook offers your share of warblers and passerines, but often you must get there very early to catch them, but the Hook can also provide shorebirds, raptors, waterfowl, terns and some herons and egrets. Both locations Garret and Sandy Hook require lots of walking, but it they are nice places to get your exercise and enjoy good birds too.

For those who don’t enjoy trying to find small birds high up in tall trees, a wonderful place like Brigantine will be what you require. Here you can see lots of herons, egrets, swallows, waterfowl, shorebirds and Bald Eagles and never have to leave your car. Walking is not necessary. For some of the shorebirds which could be distant like the Bar-tailed Godwit mentioned above, a spotting telescope would be very handy to enhance your experience. Last week there were also Hudsonian Godwits and Stilt Sandpiper found there, both of which are very rare in NJ in spring. This refuge is truly one of the finest in the whole refuge system and always worthy of a visit.

New Jersey’s Scherman-Hoffman Sanctuary is currently looking for volunteers to help at the center particularly in the gift shop/bookstore on weekends and weekdays. I personally volunteered for NJA for 22 years before they gave me a job almost 21 years ago. For more information, please call Susan Garretson-Friedman at 908-766-5787 during business hours.

The NJ Audubon All Things Birds program are still looking for donations toward our annual World Series of Birding competition as the program must support itself and we need you to help with that. You can pledge to All Things Birds here:


You can also send a check make to NJ Audubon to me Pete Bacinski at Scherman-Hoffman Sanctuaries, 11 Hardscrabble Road, Bernardsville, NJ 07924.

A thank you in advance from Scott Barnes and me Pete Bacinski for all those who help us in this time of need.

Next week will feature our first bird quiz.

Here is this week’s cartoon by our associate naturalist and cartoonist Terry Carruthers:


 Warbler neck Blog

Warbler Neck by Terry Carruthers


Our photograph of the week is of a leucistic American Robin. Leucistic means the bird has excess white in its plumage and is not entirely white with pink eyes which means it is an albino. Albino is all or nothing as there is no such thing as a partial albino. Leucistic robins seem to show up annually.



American Robin Leucistic y Tom Summers

American Robin, Leucistic:  Image taken by Tom Summers


Bar-tailed Godwit with Marbled Godwit 1 LJM

Bar-tailed Godwit (left) with Marbled Godwit:  Image taken by Linda Mack


Crested Caracara Flying 11 Tom Johnson

Crested Caracara:  Image taken by Tom Johnson.


Least Bittern 10_edited-1

Least Bittern:  Image taken by Tom Boyle


Lesser Yellowlegs

Solitary Sandpiper:  Image taken by Corinne Errico


Spotted Sandpiper Breeding h HT

Spotted Sandpiper:  Image taken by Harvey Tomlinson


Red-headed Woodpecker Pair 2 BDa

Red-headed Woodpeckers:  Image taken by Bill Dalton


Canada Warbler n JP

Canada Warbler: Image taken by Joe Pescatore


Wilson's Warbler Male 6 CD

Wilson’s Warbler:  Image Chris Davidson


Swainson's Thrush t JP

Swainson’s Thrush:  Image taken by Joe Pescatore


Hudsonian Godwit n HE

Hudsonian Godwit:  Image taken by Howard Eskin


Stilt Sandpiper Breeding 2_edited-1

Stilt Sandpiper:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection


WSB 2013 1

World Series of Birding 1984 with L to R. Pete Dunne, David Sibley,

Bill Boyle and Pete Bacinski (Roger Tory Peterson absent)

May Is on Our Doorstep and That Means……..

May is indeed on our doorstep and what that means is a time hopefully for lots of warblers and other Neotropic migrants to be had in our immediate future.  I say hopefully because we haven’t had a day of southerly winds that promote migration north in weeks which doesn’t bide well for lots of migrants.  Last year we had a high pressure system that sat above us in New England for almost two week that basically prevented any migration from taking place during that period.  Amazingly it is spring and no southerly fronts and they say there is no climate change, really?  We are seeing a few of our favorite birds arriving here from their winter tropical home, but we are getting what I call the “trickle-in effect.”  Small numbers of our spring migrants are slowly working their way north to and through New Jersey. but definitely no mass fallouts without a southerly fronts coming through.  Annually my last weekend of April Belleplain SF in Cape May County trip features several Hooded Warblers and both Summer and Scarlet Tanagers as well as both Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, but this year zero.  Every weather system is from anything but the south and most have very strong winds which little birds weighing less than an once cannot battle, but the wind could be out of the southwest for Saturday.  We could get a big flight.  Let’s cross our fingers.

If the weather breaks and warm breezes prevail we must begin to think of migration hotspots like Garret Mountain Reservation in Woodland Park and Sandy Hook.  The former rates as one of the best migrant trap locations not just in the Garden State, but also in North America.  What too makes Garret different than the rest is the others like Point Pelee, Magee Marsh, High Island Texas and Dauphin Island in Alabama are all hit or miss.  That is if you get a flight, the birds are dripping out of the trees, but is there isn’t a flight, migrants are few and far between.  Garret is great in that it holds birds for a few days and from early in May through month’s end you can usually expect at least a dozen species of warbler present on any given day, not the all or nothing effect of the major North American locations.  All the migrants settling into Garret see north of them is the City of Paterson and all that concrete, steel and macadam not inviting to a long distance traveler.  The park provides lots of habitat and food, so they have no problem lingering for a few days there.

What makes Sandy Hook great is that it offers much more than just Neotropic migrants.  The Hook also provides non-passerine nesting species such as the endangered Piping Plover and Least Tern as well as lingering waterfowl, migrating raptors and shorebirds.  Sandy Hook points north at the north end of the Jersey Shore toward New Yorks city an effect that funnels birds migrating coastally north up to the north end of the Hook where they realize all they are seeing are the Atlantic Ocean and Raritan Bay as well as New York City whereby they should stay here for awhile to forage.  The Hook offers lots of avian opportunities beside warblers and other passerine migrants.  When conditions are right birds can be found dripping off the trees here and at Garret.  As with most migrant traps early arrival is best as you want to catch the hungry birds as they arrive from their long northerly journey.  This is most important at the Hook as some days the flight is over by 7:30 a.m.

Garret Mountain Reservation is a great place to get your first of the year Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers at Barbour Pond, often interesting swallows, a great place to see and hear Warbling Vireo and to see both orioles up close and personal.  This amazing place is easily accessed as it is just a mile south of I-80 at the Squirrelwood Road at exit 56.  Please consider the birder friendly in the strip mall  My Sister Deli at the intersection of Squirrelwood and Rifle Camp Roads for coffee, breakfast and lunch.  Dora and Maria make excellent specialty sandwiches and will great you with a smile.  An adjacent birding location that can also be excellent and worth a look is Rifle Camp Park less than a mile further down Rifle Camp past Garret and the deli.  If you hit Garret on the right day, over 25 species of warblers can be present, with this is most likely after about the 7th of May.  Good days can be had earlier too, while the end of the month is best for specialty birds such as Mourning Warbler, Gray-cheeked Thrush, and Olive-sided Flycatcher which are often difficult to see in NJ.  Sandy Hook in late May is also great for the aforementioned birds.

If the weather breaks which is a good possibility, birds to be expected this weekend at both Garret and Sandy Hook include:Least flycatcher, Great-crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Warbling, Red-eyed, Blue-headed and Yellow-throated Vireos, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (nesting),  Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Wood Thrush, Veery, Cedar Waxwing, Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, Blue-winged Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Hooded Warbler  American Redstart, Northern Parula, Magnolia Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Palm Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting and Orchard and Baltimore Orioles with lots of other possibilities to be found. 

To accommodate your birding needs NJ Audubon’s All Things Birds program is sponsoring trips to both Garret Mountain and Sandy Hook this Saturday featuring excellent leaders who will show you how and where to bird these two great locations.  Also worth a mention is a new trip for our ATB program on Sunday, to FREC in Jackson, led by associate naturalist Mike Mandracchia, an expert on this location.  For more information or to register for the Garret Mountain or FREC in Jackson trip call our Scherman-Hoffman Sanctuary in Bernardsville at 908-766-5787 and for the Sandy Hook trip please call our Plainsboro Preserve at 609-897-9400.  Please note the Saturday Garret Mountain trips meets at Rifle Camp Park at 8:15 a.m.

I am introducing some new weekly features to the blog.  This week and every week thereafter I will offer the “photo of the week” and in the next couple of weeks I will begin a weekly bird quiz to test your skills.  If you have any suggestions for the future with the blog please e-mail me at pete.bacinski@njaudubon.org.

Here is our excellent associate naturalist Terry Carruthers’ weekly birding cartoon for your enjoyment.  Have a great weekend full of birds.  Good birding, Pete.


Rainy day thoughts

Rainy Day Thoughts by Terry Carruthers




Osprey Melanistic 1 John Parke

A Melanistic Osprey Photographed at Brigantine in April.



Neotropic and Double Crested Cormorants 1 KM.htm

The Clinton Neotropic Cormorant side-by-side with a Double-crested.

Image taken by Karmela Moneta


Our Weekly Photo Array:


Hooded Warbler 8 KK

Hooded Warbler:  Image taken by Kevin Karlson



Baltimore Oriole 39 BF

Baltimore Oriole:  Image taken by Bert Filemyr


Lesser Yellowlegs

Solitary Sandpiper:  Image taken by Corinne Errico


Least Flycatcher 10 CC

Least Flycatcher:  Image taken by Clara Coen


Great-crested Flycatcher 20 JP

Great-crested Flycatcher:  Image taken by Joe Pescatore


Warbling Vireo h JP

Warbling Vireo:  Image taken by Joe Pescatore


Blue-gray Gnatcatcher at Nest 1 WD

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher:  Image taken by Bill Dix


Wood Thrush m CC

Wood Thrush:  Image taken by Clara Coen


Cedar Waxwing h DBi

Cedar Waxwing:  Image taken by Debbi BiFulco


Ovenbird 8a JP

Ovenbird:  Image taken by Joe Pescatore


Prairie Warbler w BK

Prairie Warbler:  Image taken by Brett Klaproth


Magnolia Warbler:  Image taken by Tom Boyle


Rose-breasted Grosbeak at Feeder 2 MT

Rose-breasted Grosbeak:  Image taken by Mike Tracy

Warblers, Bring Them on:

May is around the corner, but there are still many good birds you can find here in New Jersey in late April including warblers. Warblers are amazing avian gems as they fly up from the tropics every spring to spend a few days or a few months with us here depending upon whether they are one of the 27 species of warblers that nest here or are they headed north to the almost magical Boreal Forest spreading from coast to coast from Alaska to the east coast of Canada. The Boreal Forest can be called the nursery of North American Birds. Other also may nest in states between us and the Boreal Forest.

This spring seems no different than last year as all weather fronts are definitely not from the south. Birds are again trickling in with no large movements on the horizon unless this changes. Birds require warm fronts from the south to trigger a mass migration. Lots of warblers have reported in this year including Ovenbird, both waterthrushes, Black-and-white Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded Warbler, Northern Parula, Yellow Warbler, and here for some time Yellow-throated, Palm and Pine warblers. An Orange-crowned, a rare fall and winter warbler here in the Garden State continues at Cape May Point. Lord Stirling Park in Basking Ridge has become north Jersey’s most reliable Prothonotary Warbler nesting sight with a singing male returning there in the last week. A Dominica race (the one with yellow lores that prefers conifers), Yellow-throated continues to call Colonial Park in Somerset home as it can be heard singing and observed near the rose garden there. There also is evidence of a second one there too.

New Jersey’s two best passerine migrant traps Garret Mountain Reservation and Sandy Hook have been slow as expected with these inclement for migration weather conditions although the Hook had both waterthrushes this past weekend and a Yellow-throated Warbler earlier last week, while another was discovered at the Kearny marshlands on the weekend. Other passerines have been appearing in north Jersey including: Great-crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Cliff Swallow, Yellow-throated Vireo and Indigo Bunting.

Many winter birds remain in small numbers including: Red-necked Grebes, mostly in breeding plumage; Northern Pintail, both Common and Red-breasted Mergansers, Long-tailed Ducks, a single Harlequin and a Razorbill at Barnegat Light SP, a Common Eider at Island Beach SP, and a Fox Sparrow. Cape May still has a couple of Eurasian Wigeon present. A White-faced Ibis was discovered at the Heislerville WMA impoundments. This is a bird that has become and annual visitor to New Jersey. A spring Cave Swallow made an appearance at Cape May Point SP for the second year in a row. Bunker Pond there was the location where I got to see all seven NJ swallows in less than twenty minutes last year on April 28. The first state record Neotropic Cormorant continues daily at the DeMott Pond in Clinton off Rt. 173 daily after 6:00 p.m.

Please consider our great birding weekend this weekend. We use this trip as a fundraiser for All Things Birds and if you come you will have a great time. This annual Belleplain/Brigantine weekend is April 26-27.  We do Belleplain SF (in Cape May County) and the nearby Heislerville WMA impoundments on Saturday and last year tallied a remarkable 102 species for the day.  This is perhaps my favorite trip of the year.  We travel south to meet spring.  Prothonotary, Yellow-throated, Worm-eating and Hooded Warbler should be present along with Louisiana Waterthrush, Summer Tanager, Acadian Flycatcher, Blue Grosbeak and other surprised.  Last year the Heislerville impoundments had thousand of shorebirds.  You are not obligated to do both days as you can do Belleplain etc. on Saturday or Brig on Sunday.  Our entire weekend total last year exceeded 130 species, a great total for April.  Belleplain is a beautiful park. Come along and have a great time. For accommodations consider the Cape Harbor Motor Inn in Cape May, where I stay.  Call them at 609-884-0018 and tell them I told you to call.

Here is our associate naturalist Terry Carruther’s weekly cartoon for your enjoyment.


Spring birding tips

Spring Birding Tips, Six Things You Should Know. 


Ovenbird 13 JP

Ovenbird:  Image taken by Joe Pescatore


Northern Waterthrush n CC

Northern Waterthrush:  Image taken by Clara Coen


Louisiana Waterthrush 12 JP

Louisiana Waterthrush:  Image taken by Joe Pescatore


Black-and-White Warbler 19 WD

Black-and-white Warbler:  Image taken by Bill Dix


Yellow-throated Warbler Male (YL) 2 TR

Yellow-throated Warbler, Dominica race:  Image taken by Sam Galick


Prothonotary Warbler 9 AM

Prothonotary Warbler:  Image taken by Art Morris, Birds as Art


Orange-crowned Warbler AK 1 ETD

Orange-crowned Warbler:  Image taken by Ellen and Tony DeCarlo


Cliff Swallow Flying j HT

Cliff Swallow:  Image taken by Harvey Tomlinson


Cave Swallow Flying 1 HT (2)

Cave Swallow:  Image taken by Harvey Tomlinson


Yellow-throated Vireo CD

Yellow-throated Vireo:  Image taken by Chris Davidson


Red-necked Grebe Breeding 20 LJM

Red-necked Grebe Breeding:  Image taken by Linda Mack

Winter, this too shall pass, and then……

Mother Nature unleashed another winter outburst this week. Having to chisel off a half inch of ice off my windshield in mid-April for be doesn’t constitute fun, but as noted above, this too shall pass. Perhaps now that it has, what do we have in store for us bird-wise for the last half of April? Hopefully lots of very colorful and extremely active avian gems like warblers and many of their other passerine cousins. Passerine birds are our perching birds constituting about half of all birds. Woodpeckers and swifts are examples of two families of birds that are not passerines.

Common Yellowthroat made an early appearance on Saturday in the Garden State at several locations, while Louisiana Waterthrush, Yellow-throated, Pine and Palm Warbler have been here for a couple of weeks. Black-and-white is another that had just made an appearance. A trip to Garret Mountain in Woodland Park overlooking the city of Paterson could provide you with a few newcomers this weekend such as Northern Parula, Yellow, Prothonotary, Black-throated Green, and Hooded warblers along with Ovenbird, perhaps New Jersey’s most coming nesting warbler. Also keep an eye out for Great-crested Flycatcher and Eastern Kingbird in mid-April there, while Blue-headed Vireo and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher should not be in short supply at Garret.

Always exciting is the Pileated Woodpecker show that can be experienced at NJ Audubon’s Scherman-Hoffman Sanctuaries in Bernardsville and the Watchung Reservation at this season as they begin the nesting activities when they can be quite vocal and easily found. If you feed birds, you probably have seen the thinning out in the flock of Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows as they begin their journeys north to there nesting areas. This is a perfect time to set up your hummingbird feeders so our tiny hungry Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have a meal awaiting them upon their arrival from their tropical wintering grounds. Hummingbirds are the smallest of all birds in North America. You may also want to be aware that the time is now to possibly to have a Rose-breasted Grosbeaks or Indigo Buntings appear at your feeder, quite a treat.

Sandy Hook has much to offer in mid-April as most of the Ospreys are back and all their nesting platforms occupied. Raptors are often plentiful like Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks as well as Merlins and American Kestrels, while you can never discount the possibility of a Peregrine Falcon or Bald Eagle. April is often a great time to experience hundreds of Blue Jays migrating overhead at the Hook when the conditions are right. Many do not know that Blue Jays are highly migratory. April is the best month of the year to see an American Bittern in New Jersey and the north end of the Hook is a great place to find one. Keep watch for Green and Black-crowned Night-Herons as well as other waders at the Hook as they are retuning as well as Brown Thrashers and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. The former nests there and the latter is a migrant. Sandy Hook always produces.

As you all know Forsythe (the birders call it Brig) National Wildlife Refuge is one of my favorite places on the planet, but I am not sure you really don’t know how much of a shorebird fanatic, I am. Warblers and other passerines can often be difficult to find in migration in New Jersey, but when shorebirds are not in season, Brig is the place to witness them. Last week both Willets and Whimbrels arrive at the refuge. Short-billed Dowitchers and/or Least Sandpipers should be there any day. Three Western Sandpipers were in Cape May in the last week, while Semipalmated Plover, and Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers can’t be far behind. An amazing site at the refuge last week were the newly arrived Purple Martins sitting on the poles that house their gourd nests which had not been put out yet due to bad weather the previous week wondering what happened to them, but by day’s end on Saturday, the gourds were up and the martins were very happy campers.

All Things Birds has a Sandy Hook trip at 8:45 a.m on Saturday, April 19.  To register please call the Plainsboro Preserve at 609-897-9400.  Our annual Belleplain/Brigantine weekend is April 26-27.  We do Belleplain SF (in Cape May County) and the nearby Heislerville WMA impoundments on Saturday and last year tallied a remarkable 102 species for the day.  This is perhaps my favorite trip of the year.  We travel south to meet spring.  Prothonotary, Yellow-throated, Worm-eating and Hooded Warbler should be present along with Louisiana Waterthrush, Summer Tanager, Acadian Flycatcher, Blue Grosbeak and other surprised.  Last year the Heislerville impoundments had thousand of shorebirds.  You are not obligated to do both days as you can do Belleplain etc. on Saturday or Brig on Sunday.  Our entire weekend total last year exceeded 130 species, a great total for April.  Belleplain is a beautiful park.  For accommodations consider the Cape Harbor Motor Inn in Cape May, where I stay.  Call them at 609-884-0018 and tell them I told you to call.

Have a very Happy Easter.

Pete Bacinski


Here’s Terry Carruthers, associated naturalist’s weekly cartoon for your enjoyment.


App Owls

“A New Species of Owl Is Discovered……”



Blue-headed Vireo y Tom Johnson

Blue-headed Vireo:  Image taken by Tom Reed


Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 2 JP

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher:  Image taken by Joe Pescatore


Pileated Woodpecker y WD

Pileated Woodpecker:  Image taken by Bill Dix


Ruby-throated Hummingbird 24 HT

Ruby-throated Hummingbird:  Image taken by Harvey Tomlinson


Osprey 7 MM

Osprey:  Image taken by Mike Mandracchia


American Kestrel Male 16 SH

American Kestrel:  Image taken by Susan Hill


American Bittern:  Image taken by Tom Boyle:


Yellow-bellied Sapsucker y HT

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker:  Image taken by Harvey Tomlinson


Whimbrel w LW

Whimbrel:  Image taken by Linda Widdop


Purple Martin TB

Purple Martin:  Image taken by Tom Boyle


Prothonotary Warbler 14 WD

Prothonotary Warbler:  Image taken by Bill Dix


Yellow-throated Warbler (YL) ra Tom Johnson

Yellow-throated Warbler:  Image taken by Tom Reed


Blue Grosbeak 34 HE

Blue Grosbeak:  Image taken by Howard Eskin


Summer Tanager t HT

Summer Tanager: Image taken by Harvey Tomlinson

Neotropic Cormorant in New Jersey, perhaps?

A possible Neotropic Cormorant was photographed at Demott Pond in Clinton in Hunterdon County on Tuesday evening April 8.  This is a potential first state record.  The initial photos weren’t clear and you really couldn’t do much with the ID, but others arrived and more images taken.  After further review, the bird seems to have some of the required facial marks or at least partial marks required for the rare bird’s ID.  The images were subsequently sent to the American Birding Association ID Frontiers website and comments came in with many thinking it Neotropic and a few experts saying not so fast.  The jury remains out at this time.  Neotropic Cormorant is an uncommon to locally common resident of southern Texas, southern and central New Mexico and Mexico.  Birds have been found as far east as the Mississippi valley and a far north as Minnesota, but never to the east coast.

I remember Fred Hamer, the Cape May Point Hawkwatch counter around 1991-2 telling me of an observation he made from the hawkwatch that fall of a line of cormorants he watched flyby the Point with one bird a third smaller than all the rest.  We both pondered this.  Was it a Neotropic, then called Olivaceous or a runt Double-crested Cormorant?  The bird was never reported again.  There is a considerable size difference between these two species with Double Crested Cormorant 33” in length and Neotropic 25”.  Most of the remaining field marks are subtle.  The bird in Clinton appears to be a juvenile bird, which would be a likely candidate to wander, but also a form where the field marks are quite succinct.

In other news, a Snowy Owl was reported today the 11th of April along the north Jersey shore, a very late date for this species and probably a birding heading north after spending the winter considerably south of us.  You may recall Snowy Owls made it to Florida this winter and one even arrived on Bermuda.  The exceptional inclement weather this winter and early spring still has many winter birds normally gone by now still present in NJ like Red-necked Grebes, Redhead and Canvasback to name a few.  A late Eurasian Wigeon was discovered this week at the Wallkill River NWR, while a few Tundra Swans were still noted about a week ago.  An amazing group of unusual gulls appeared at Spruce Run Reservoir in Hunterdon County April 8-9.  Almost anyone of these would make a birders day on a winter field trip but not all of them at the same time.  The group of gulls included three Little Gulls, two Iceland Gulls, a Glaucous Gull and 50 Lesser Black-backed Gulls.  Two Little Gulls were also at nearby Round Valley Reservoir at the same time, not to mention the six late Red-necked Grebes also at Spruce Run. 

A Yellow-headed Blackbird photographed at Branch Brook Park this week was quite unusual.  A interesting late report was of the first Yellow-crowned Night-Heron in New Jersey having had the arrived in Avalon on the extremely early date of March 30.  A report of a Bobolink on a record early date of April 5 on a central NJ farm was believed to be erroneous.  The world’s largest tern Caspian returned to the Garden State April 4.  Caspian Terns nest in small numbers just north of the Forsythe (the birders call it Brig) dikes in the Great Bay/Little Egg inlet area).  This is the only place they nest in New Jersey annually.  A Louisiana Waterthrush arrived April 5 at Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuaries on an early date of April 5.  This early warbler can actually arrive in NJ a week earlier than that.

Garret Mountain Reservation in Woodland Park overlooking the city of Paterson and perhaps New Jersey’s premier spring passerine migration location is beginning to heat up with early warblers Palm, Pine and Louisiana Waterthrush present along with Blue-headed Vireo, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Red-headed Woodpecker.  Sandy Hook can be really good for raptors this weekend including a possible last chance to see a Snowy Owl, if you missed one this winter, but no guarantee here.  Brig could have some more returning shorebirds like Short-billed Dowitcher and Least Sandpiper and lots of waders and lingering winter waterfowl.

All Things Birds has some great trips to offer this weekend as associate naturalist Rob Fanning leads a trip tomorrow to the Allendale Celery Farm, a place he knows best.  The trips meets at the Celery Farm at 8:45 a.m.  We have a Sandy Hook trip also beginning at 8:45 a.m. meeting at lot B on Saturday and Sunday, Mike Britt returns to one of his private birding hotspots Great Piece Meadows in Fairfield also at 8:45 a.m.  This trip convenes at Intersection of Commerce Road and Plymouth Street off Rt. 46 in Fairfield.  You should have a great time on any of these adventures. 

I (Pete Bacinski) am giving a comprehensive Spring Warbler ID Workshop at Scherman-Hoffman tomorrow morning at 10:30 p.m. and an eye-opening program for our NJ Audubon Plainsboro Preserve on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. entitled the “Naturalist Diary”.  This unique program covers all areas of natural history and some related stories and I guarantee you will learn something about natural history you did not know before you came.

To sign-up for the Great Piece Meadow and the Allendale Celery Farm trips as well as my Warbler ID workshop call our Scherman-Hoffman center at 908-766-5787 and for my Naturalist’s Diary Program and the Sandy Hook field trip call our Plainsboro Preserve at 609-897-9400.

Check out the interesting image of a probable Snowy Egret/Tricolored Heron hybrid among the images displayed below.

Here is associate naturalist Terry Carruthers weekly cartoon for your enjoyment:




Snowy Egret Hybrid x1 Lora Lakos

Snowy Egret/Tricolored Heron Hybrid?  Image taken by Lora Lakos


Neotropic Cormorant x BCh

Possible Neotropic Cormorant at Clinton:  Image taken by Bruce Christensen


Double-crested Cormorant 4

Double-crested Cormorant:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection


Glaucous Gull First Winter 22

Glaucous Gull Immature:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection


Iceland Gull First Winter 4a SG

Iceland Gull Immature:  Image taken by Sam Galick


Lesser Black-backed Gulls 4 HT

Lesser Black-backed Gulls:  Image taken by Harvey Tomlinson


Little Gull:  Image taken by Tom Boyle


Yellow-crowned Night-Heron 27 WD

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron:  Image taken by Bill Dix


Caspian Tern Flying 8 CC

Caspian Tern:  Image taken by Clara Coen


Louisiana Waterthrush 16aa JP

Louisiana Waterthrush:  Image taken by Joe Pescatore


Least Sandpiper Breeding 22 LS

Least Sandpiper:  Image taken by Larry Scacchetti


Blue-headed Vireo h MT

Blue-headed Vireo:  Image taken by Mike Tracy


Yellow-bellied Sapsucker p CC

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker:  Image taken by Clara Coen

Its April, Spring Has Arrived or Has It:

There’s not much out there to tell us spring is really here.  There still are several Snowy Owls lingering with us into April, while lots of breeding plumaged Red-necked Grebes are popping up along the coast and on large lakes and reservoirs.  These reports doesn’t seem much like spring to me, but I guess we must look harder.  We have sunny days, but are they perfect spring days, no they seem always to be cold and windy.  Culver’s Lake in Sussex County is still over 90% frozen and there are lots of spots where you can still find snow piles in north Jersey, but for a start Palm Warblers are back as well as all of our swallows.  A trip south to Forsythe (the birders call it Brig) or other coastal points south should produce our waders like Snowy Egret, Glossy Ibis and Little Blue and Tricolored Herons always a pleasure for the eyes at this season.  Keep a watch for White-faced Ibis, now an annual spring visitor to the Garden State in spring, one was already identified this past week at Heislerville.  March Madness is almost over and major league baseball is back and they are good signs that spring is really here.

Most birders, when they think spring, they think warblers and the rest of our gorgeous Neotropic migrants, but some of us like me, think shorebirds.  By month’s end there will thousand of sandpipers and plovers at the Heislerville Impoundments in Cumberland County, a fabulous place to view shorebirds in spring.  Brig will also get its fair share too, with a highlight there the flocks of a hundred plus Whimbrels migrating through the refuge, truly a grand site.  Pectoral Sandpipers appeared this week at Assunpink WMA, always a difficult bird to see at this season, while Wilson’s Snipe have been here for some time with more on the way.  Both yellowlegs are currently at Brig, with Short-billed Dowitchers, “Eastern” Willets and Least Sandpipers not far behind.  The winter flocks of Dunlin will soon start to exhibit their alternate (breeding plumage) showing why they were once called Red-backed Sandpipers.  I just can’t wait for that shorebird fix.

Waterfowl will continue to be on the move with most New Jersey migrant and wintering species gone by May.  If you are lucky you may still see a few lingering Tundra Swans this week, while the Barnegat Light Harlequins will have departed by April 10.  A crowd pleaser Blue-winged Teal are arriving in small numbers and should be looked for among flocks of Green-winged Teal and other dabbling ducks.  Blue-winged Teal have much larger bills than Green-winged Teal.  The Eurasian race of Green-winged Teal was seen in the last week and should be considered when viewing teal flocks and are identified when resting on water by the lack of the perpendicular distinctive white bar along the bird’s sides just past the breast found in our teal and replaced by a horizontal bar across the top of the wing,  Red-necked Grebes are the not only grebe you should see in breeding plumage in April as many of the Horned Grebes seen will be showing signs of their summer best.  Sandy Hook is a great place to observe this bird in this plumage.

A really amazing birds appeared in Cape May on March 23, a Eurasian Tree Sparrow.  This was a bird that was introduced in St. Louis in 1870 and for the most part just remained in that area requiring bird listers to go there to get their new North America life tick, but in recent years they have increased dramatically with numbers estimated at possibly 50,000 with birds now wandering north of Missouri to as far as the Great Lakes region, but none to the anywhere on the east coast.  Many birders got to see this bird during its few day stay in Cape May, but will the bird count on there New Jersey bird list, is the question to be answered by the New Jersey Bird Records Committee.  This is a bird native to Asia and is kept as a caged bird and with no others records of eastern vagrancy the answer is probably no for now.  If others suddenly start appearing in bordering states, that is subject to change, but this is just speculation on my part.  I was a past member of the NJBRC for eleven years.

This week almost any coastal location should be productive including Brig, where I have a field trip on Saturday, April 5.  Cape May, Cumberland and Salem Counties should also be great locations to explore for those new spring arrivals.  Little Gulls are being seen in numbers at Morgan-South Amboy and if you visit there why not head to Sandy Hook which should offer waterfowl, gulls, raptors and early passerines.  All Things Birds also has a trip there Saturday.  The New Jersey Meadowland around DeKorte could be worth a visit and for folks on the other side of the state Palmyra Cove Park is usually quite productive.

For my field trip to Forsythe (Brig) Saturday, April 5 or my Spring Shorebird ID workshop on Sunday, April 6 at Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuaries in Bernardsville call 908-766-5787 and if you see this too late, you can just show up at Brig tomorrow by 8:45 a.m. at the refuge parking lot.  For Scott Barnes Sandy Hook Trip on Saturday, call Plainsboro Preserve at 609-897-9400.

Here is our associate naturalist Terry Carruther’s weekly birding and nature cartoon for your enjoyment:


Cackling geese Terry Cartoon



Red-necked Grebe Breeding o LJM

Red-necked Grebe:  Image taken by Linda Mack



Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler “Eastern”:  Image taken by Clara Coen


Little Blue Heron 15 SH

Little Blue Heron:  Image taken by Susan Hill


Tricolored Heron 21 WD

Tricolored Heron:  Image taken by Bill Dix


White-faced Ibis 4a HE

White-faced Ibis:  Image taken by Howard Eskin


Whimbrel Flock Flying ga TR

Whimbrel:  Image taken by Tom Reed


Dunlin Breeding pa BCh

Dunlin in Breeding:  Image taken by Bruce Christiansen


Wilson's Snipe n MT

Wilson’s Snipe:  Image taken by Mike Tracy


Willet, Eastern Breeding Flying 3 HE

Willet “Eastern”:  Image taken by Howard Eskin


Blue-winged Teal Pair 6a KK (2)

Blue-winged Teal Pair:  Image taken by Kevin Karlson


Green-winged Teal 5 JP

Green-winged Teal:  Image taken by Joe Pescatore


"Eurasian" Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal “Eurasian”:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection


Eurasian Tree Sparrow 1 TR

Eurasian Tree Sparrow:  Image taken by Tom Reed

We March into Spring:

Spring comes into our lives on March 20, but spring for many of our avian friends is still quite far away.  The forecast is for more unusually cold temperatures next week which will of course inhibit any birds south of us hoping for and early arrival.  April 10 is usually the date when we begin to see the spring migrant “trickle in effect.”  For me it was traditionally the 15th of April, but climate change and might I say global warming has some of our passerines (perching birds) now arriving earlier.  Our usual harbingers of spring, Tree Swallows, Eastern Phoebe, Osprey and the large blackbird flocks have all begun arriving here in the Garden state.  With the exception of the blackbird flocks,  a small number of these other species leave North America for tropical winter climes.  The individuals that don’t depart the continent are probably those that are first to appear here in New Jersey in March having wintered in the southeastern United States. 

Neotropic migrants all head to Central and South America or the Caribbean in fall and return to us in spring.  This is required because most are insectivorous or consume other prey like reptiles and amphibians not found here in winter.  The early arrivers are short-distance migrants that do migrate, but do not leave the continent.  This group includes American Robins, sparrows and the afore mentioned blackbirds among many others.  Some of our Neo-tropic migrants can make it through the winter in sub-tropical places like south Florida and south Texas while Purple Martin probably the first of the true Neotropics to arrive in New Jersey with a couple of reports already registered this month. 

Most of our desired warblers will begin arriving in early April including Palm, Yellow-throated, Yellow and Ovenbird, with others like Cape May, Wilson’s and Mourning not appearing until early May.  Most birds time their migration to coincide with the peak of their primary diet food.  One of the great providers for New Jersey’s nesting Neotropic species are inch worms or geometrid caterpillars.  These are the small worms the ride a thin strand down from the tree branches above to the ground in spring that many folks find annoying.  We have 27 species of nesting warbler in New Jersey.  Birds like Cape May, Tennessee, Bay-breasted and Blackpoll Warbler all do not nest here, but move farther north with many to the boreal forest that spreads from ocean to ocean across Canada and Alaska and is considered by many America’s passerine nursery.  Many of these boreal forest nesters favor Spruce Budworms as their preferred meal.  This insect is cyclical with the current cycle providing many more budworms for the next few years.  This should account for increased annual numbers of all of these boreal forest species until the cycle begins to decline.

The next two or three weeks will be difficult for many in the birding community as they are champing at the bit for new birds to see and to add to their hopefully burgeoning lists.  In the interim, what is there to do for these deprived birders.  Best advice is to head south.  No you don’t have to catch the next flight to Florida, but hop in your car and depart for such places as Cape May, Forsythe (the birders call it Brig) and Salem County.  Our waders, the herons and egrets are beginning to arrive and what better place to greet them than south Jersey.  Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and if you very lucky Pectoral Sandpipers can also be found.  Wilson’s Snipe have been popping up here and there.  Mannington Marsh is a great place for snipe and a duck favorite Blue-winged Teal over the next few weeks.  Pedricktown Marsh on the Gloucester/Salem border was historically a great spot in March for Ruff, but that phenomenon only lasted a few years, but this locations can still be a great birding place.  Bald Eagles are often plentiful in Salem as they begin their nesting process.

Cape May has already tallied over a 190 species this year and is always a place to go for birds in all seasons.  A LeConte’s Sparrow was just discovered at Stone Harbor Point, a great bird to chase.  Our waterfowl are preparing to depart and in some cases have already departed, but last weekend there were over thirty species of waterfowl still present in the state.  If you haven’t gotten your fill of ducks, swans and geese, this is as good a time as any.  The Tundra Swans are still with us, but probably not for long.  Brig hosted over a hundred this past weekend.  There is still a Snowy Owl or two to be seen if you somehow were too busy to chase one earlier with Brig, the NJ Meadowlands and Sandy Hook hosting birds last week.  Sandy Hook can be good in late March too and not that far of a journey for north Jersey folks.  Red-shouldered Hawks are present sometimes in numbers at the Hook in March along with other migrating raptors including the returning Ospreys.  The Hook can often provide an interesting gull or other surprise in very early spring.

New Jersey really isn’t the avian desert most impatient birders think it is in late March.  This is a great time to explore places you may have never been to before in our great state.  E-bird is a great source for finding where the birds are being seen.  Go to the homepage of the NJ Audubon website for the e-bird link.  Good luck.

There will be no blog for the final week of March as this writer (Pete Bacinski) will be off visiting family in North Carolina.  Join me for a field trip to Brig on Saturday, April 5 at 8:45 a.m. in the refuge lot.

Here is our associate naturalist and cartoonist current cartoon for your enjoyment:


Terry's cartoon birding bloopers for March 19, 2014


Osprey Flying 40 WD

Osprey:  Image taken by Bill Dix


Purple Martin TB

Purple Martin:  Image taken by Tom Boyle


Cape May Warbler ca CC

Cape May Warbler:  Image taken by Clara Coen


Geometrid Caterpillar-Inch Worm 1a PB

Geometrid Caterpillar:  Image taken by Pete Bacinski


Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs 1a TR

Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs:  Image taken by Tom Reed


Wilson's Snipe n MT

Wilson’s Snipe:  Image taken by Mike Tracy


Blue-winged Teal h SB

Blue-winged Teal:  Image taken by Steve Byland


Bald Eagle 48 MVB

Bald Eagle:  Image taken by Mitch Van Beekum


Little Blue Heron 15 SH

Little Blue Heron: Image taken by Susan Hill


Snowy Egret 22 HE

Snowy Egret:  Image taken by Howard Eskin


LeConte's Sparrow y Tom Johnson

LeConte’s Sparrow:  Image taken by Tom Reed


Red-shouldered Hawk 23 MT

Red-shouldered Hawk:  Image taken by Mike Tracy

Turn the March Doldrums into March Birding Madness:

By: Pete Bacinski, All Things Birds, Program Director


Mid-March has always been a time for birders to say that they wish that winter could not leave soon enough and plea fully ask when will the spring migrants ever arrive.  Most birders are now tired of dealing with inclement weather, looking for and at waterfowl, gulls and for impossible to find rarities.  They want some avian excitement and they want it now, but as we all know we don’t always get what we want.  We must temper our expectations, hopes and dreams, but still have some fun birding.  The signs of spring are here, but just not any Neotropic Migrants.  Red-winged Blackbirds are showing up at feeders, Pine Warblers are appearing, American Woodcock are again heard “peenting” over open meadows at dawn and dusk, Forster’s Terns have returned to Cape May, the first Osprey arrived at Sandy Hook, ducks and geese are staging for their long journeys north, while Tree Swallows and Eastern Phoebe’s, the historical vanguard of spring migrants have already appeared.  What more could we ask for?  The birders answer is warblers, vireos, flycatchers, Orioles etc.

We still have about a month to wait for our Neotropic migrant friends to come and visit the Garden State, but there is still much birding to enjoy in the interim.  Two rare gulls, Black-headed and Little Gull are present at the Villas in Cape May, Rough-legged Hawk and Golden Eagle are still being observed at Forsythe (the birders call it Brig) ;NWR, Red-headed Woodpeckers, everyone’s favorite are still residing in several parks in Union, Somerset and Hunterdon Counties, the Smith’s Longspur in the company of Lapland Longspurs and “Ipswich” Savannah Sparrow is probably is probably present at Stone Harbor Point and large numbers of Tundra Swans are staging at Whitesbog and other south Jersey locations.  We know the latter is classified as waterfowl, but this bird is extraordinary.  Some of these birds will leave New Jersey, head due northwest and then find themselves nesting in Siberia later in spring only to return to us next fall.  BTW, if you missed Snowy Owl this winter, you were either very busy or quite unlucky, but they are still being seen.  Individual were reported at Allenhurst, Sandy Hook and Manahawkin this week.

We discussed the remarkable journey of some of our wintering Tundra Swans, but let’s consider some of the other amazing birds that winter with us and spend spring and summer high up on the Arctic tundra.  Snow Geese, Brant, Canada Geese (yes some still migrate), Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Greater Scaup, Surf and Black Scoter, Common and King Eider, Harlequin Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Long-tailed Duck, Red-throated Loon, Rough-legged Hawk, Black-belled Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Purple Sandpiper, Dunlin, Snowy Owl, American Tree Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow and Lapland Longspur often will make their way to the farthest points of land north in North America.  Many of these winter in New Jersey by the thousands including Snow Geese, Brant, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Greater Scaup and Dunlin. 

Below is an excerpt of a message from Eric Stiles, NJ Audubon President and Megan Tinsley, a conservation advocate at NJA.  A proposal in under review in congress to preserve habitat in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for birds like the ones listed above as well as many other species of wildlife in our precious Arctic range.  We urge you to  support this important act.  Not long ago the ANWR was under threat of oil drilling and may well be again.  This is hallowed ground in North America in the view of many of our environmentalists and NJ Audubon.  Let’s help keep it that way.

“The biological heart of ANWR is now under review in Congress, with a proposal to set aside 1.5 million acres as a stronghold for the incredible abundance of birds and other wildlife such as the porcupine caribou, which makes a remarkable 1,400-mile trek each year to reach calving grounds within the Coastal Plain. Known as the Udall-Eisenhower Arctic Wilderness Act, the proposal describes this area as the “very epitome of a primeval wilderness ecosystem” and is gaining early support from key members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation.

In New Jersey Audubon’s view, the Udall-Eisenhower Act should be passed promptly to ensure that we witness the future flights of Snowy Owls and the many other species that nest in the Arctic and winter in or migrate through New Jersey. Since ANWR’s inception in the 1950s, the area has drawn intense interest for its potential reserves of oil and natural gas.”

The ATB blog will have more on this important legislation later.  Thanks for your consideration.

All Things Birds has field trips this Saturday, March 15 to Sandy Hook with Linda Mack and Scott Barnes and Salem County with Lloyd Shaw.  For more information and to register please call the Plainsboro Preserve at 609-897-9400.  Pete Bacinski has an ID workshop on Spring Warblers Sunday at Plainsboro Preserve.  The warblers will be here soon, come and fine-tune your ID skills.  To register please use the Plainsboro Preserve number above.

Here is Terry Carruthers, ATB associate naturalist’s weekly cartoon entitled “Grackle Chatter” for your enjoyment.


Terry's Cartoon for March 14, 2014


American Woodcock Displaying 1 SB

American Woodcock:  Image taken by Steve Byland


Forster's Tern Flying 28 HE

Forster’s Tern:  Image taken by Howard Eskin


Osprey 18 MV

Osprey:  Image taken by Mitch Van Beekum


Pine Warbler y HT

Pine Warbler:  Image taken by Harvey Tomlinson


Tundra Swan y (1)

Tundra Swan:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection


Scenic along Richardson Highway AK 2 PB

Alaskan Scenic, Richardson Highway:  Image taken by Pete Bacinski


American Tree Sparrow h VC

American Tree Sparrow:  Image taken by Vince Capp


Black-bellied Plover Breeding 8_edited-1

Black-bellied Plover Breeding:  Image taken by Kevin Karlson


Dunlin Breeding 1 BD

Dunlin Breeding:  Image taken by Bill Dalton


Ruddy Turnstone Breeding 2a KK

Ruddy Turnstone Breeding:  Image taken by Kevin Karlson


Green-winged Teal 6a KK

Green-winged Teal Drake:  Image taken by Kevin Karlson


Long-tailed Duck Flying p TK

Long-tailed Duck:  Image taken by Tiffany Kirsten


Red-breasted Merganser p SH

Red-breasted Merganser:  image taken by Susan Hill

Birds of the Moment:

This winter there have been a number of avian species seen in unusually large numbers and there have been a few that have been in very short supply.  On the plus side we have many reports of Red-necked Grebe, Eastern Towhee, Eurasian Wigeon, White-winged Scoter (inland), Red-headed Woodpecker, Snowy Owl and Ring-necked Duck (in one location).  On the negative side we have had few or no Northern Shrike, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Purple Finch, Red-breasted Nuthatch and Pine Siskin along with the rest of the winter finches appearing this winter.

Red-necked Grebes are being discovered all over the state with a high of 14 on Round Valley Reservoir in the past week.  This is accountable to the Great Lakes being 90% frozen this winter.  When the lakes are solid ice, the grebes move far south.  Why are there so many Eastern Towhees, a known half-hearty here and making it though this winter is remarkable.  During mild winters a few stay with us, but not winters where temperature and snow are for the record books.  Bird feeders have definitely helped them survive.  Eurasian Wigeon for many years could always be found in winter at certain locations including the north shore ponds, Shark River Estuary especially Marconi Road and Forsythe (the birders call it Brig) NWR, but in the last few years they became scarce at most of these places.  Now there are three present in the Shark River Estuary, and a few appearing at Union County ponds, never known as a hot bed for this species, while Brig had four on the CBC with two present recently. 

White-winged Scoters with numbers in the thirties have been recorded along the Delaware River recently as well as a bird or two turning up in local ponds.  This is unusual for this duck as they are the rarest of the three scoters in NJ mostly due to the fact they migrate further off-shore than Surf and Black Scoter, but migration is over.  Why move to freshwater?  New Jersey is on the fringe of the Red-headed Woodpecker nesting range.  This nomadic woodpecker can appear one year in large numbers like 40+ in one location such as the Great Swamp NWR and be all gone the following year.  They are appearing in numbers in a few Union County locations with ones and twos found in Somerset, Bergen and Hunterdon Counties.  This is a bird to enjoy while they are here.  Wish the state would put them back on our conservation License plates.

We all know the Snowy Owl saga by now, so no need to add to the legend, but there are still a bunch to be seen if you managed to miss one this winter.  On March 4 Pete Dunne discovered a flock of 3,500 to 4,000 Ring-necked Ducks in Mauricetown in Cumberland County which is probably a new state record for numbers. This is a duck whereby a hundred would be unusual, no less thousands.

The have-not include Northern Shrike, an eruptive species from the north that you would think would have descended south with the frigid conditions north, but no such luck.  Most winters a few Greater Yellowlegs hang out in south Jersey, but none this time around.  This winter was too much for them as well as the usual flock of Forster’s Tern that would hang out most winters in Cape May.  Recently we had had a flock of Lesser Black-backed Gulls in winter exceeding 600, but this winter you would be hard pressed to find more than a handful  Some of their favorite reservoirs haunts have been frozen this winter.  Purple Finches, Red-breasted Nuthatches and Pine Siskins are all eruptive species and this wasn’t a year for them to erupt, but Purple Finches and RB Nuts do nest in NJ in small numbers in north Jersey conifer forests  None of these ever seem to find there way to our favorite patch post breeding in those lean years.  Pine Siskin has breed in NJ many times but usual post eruption.  We have had a few Pine Siskin reports in the last couple of weeks.  Keep on the lookout for them at your thistle (niger) feeders.  As for the other winter finches they were forecast to have a good winter food crop north and would not venture south this winter with that being the case.

Please consider my Ocean County Roads field trip on Saturday, March 8 meeting at the 8:45 a.m. meeting at the Value City parking lot on Bay Avenue in Manahawkin.  You can’t miss it.  A Snowy Owl was present this week at the Bridge to Nowhere-Stafford Avenue in Manahawkin and over 40 Tundra Swans at Stafford Forge WMA.  We will visit these locations and many others.  Who knows what else we will discover.  Come and find out.  For more information and to register call our Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuaries at 908-766-5787.  If you read this too late today Friday, just show up in the morning.

Here’s this week’s cartoon by our associate naturalist Terry Carruthers:


Terry Cartoon for March 7

Birding Skills 101:

JIZZ (Brit. slang) WW11 plane-spotters term for 'A General Impression of Size and Shape'.



Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe:  Image taken by Tom Boyle


Eastern Towhee 5 CC

Eastern Towhee:  Image taken by Clara Coen


White-winged Scoter y Bert Filemyr

White-winged Scoter:  Image taken by Bert Filemyr


Red-headed Woodpecker h MV (2)

Red-headed Woodpecker:  Image taken by Mitch Van Beckum


Ring-necked Duck p Tom Beattie

Ring-necked Duck: Image taken by Tom Beattie


Northern Shrike h LW

Northern Shrike:  Image taken by Linda Widdop


Greater Yellowlegs Winter h WD

Greater Yellowlegs:  Image taken by Bill Dix


Lesser Black-backed Gull 17 LS

Lesser Black-backed Gull:  Image taken by Larry Scacchetti


Purple Finch 3 JP

Purple Finch:  Image taken by Joe Pescatore


New Jersey Audubon Scherman Hoffman Sanctuary

Pine Siskin:  Image taken by Jim Gilbert


Red-breasted Nuthatch 34 SB

Red-breasted Nuthatch:  Image taken by Steve Byland

Waterfowl on the Move:

Despite the difficult winter we have endured here in the Garden State, we still have large numbers of waterfowl present.  March is typically the time when our ducks, geese and migratory swans start getting the urge to move north toward their breeding grounds.  Some of these have remarkable migration routes such as the Tundra Swan which migrates diagonally across North America to western Canada and Alaska with some even continuing on to Siberia to nest.  Some Harlequin Ducks migrate horizontally across the northern United States to fast moving rivers in our northwestern states and western Canada.  New Jersey has the largest population of wintering Brant on the east coast.  This goose nests on the high Arctic and must be careful not to leave too early since arriving on the totally frozen nesting grounds could result in dangerous consequences. 

New Jersey is home to thousands of wintering Greater Scaup which will be departing soon for their Canadian breeding grounds.  One day they will be there in great numbers and the next day they will be all gone.  Keep your eyes to the sky for Snow Geese on the move.  Merrill Creek Reservoir has had 50.000 present this winter while Forsythe (the birders call it Brig) NWR has had about 6,000.  These birds will begin moving north very soon as they too nest up on the high Arctic, but take a slow journey north getting there.  Four-figure flocks high overhead are not unusual in March.  Listen for there in flight calls as you are more likely the hear them before seeing them.  Our Long-tailed Ducks will stage most years along the coast near Barnegat Inlet with a few thousand birds present.  Staging means these birds gather at this location accruing new birds for several days or more until one day when they depart north en masse. A great nickname for the Long-tailed Duck is the “South Southerly.”  My thoughts on this are if you watch the bird in flight its tail-end is slightly tilted down, thus the south or back end of the bird points south.

Unbelievably, we still do have migrating Canada Geese many of which fly to Greenland to nest.  This is a good thing for birders as we are beneficiaries of the rare geese (Barnacle, Pink-footed and Greater White-fronted Geese) that follow these Canada Geese back to the east coast of North America in fall.  Our scoters too head far up into Canada and Alaska to nest, but many will still be around here into April.  Most folks don’t realize the enormous number of scoters that pass New Jersey ever fall.  NJ Audubon has sponsored the Avalon Seaswatch for over twenty years in the Cape May County town of Avalon where the three month count there will usually total well over 200,000 scoters alone every fall.

Not many of our ducks actually nest here in the Garden State.  Mallards and Black Ducks are among the most common along with Wood Ducks.  Forsythe (Brig) NWR’s charter requires them to maintain habitat at the refuge for nesting Black Ducks, a favorite of hunters who fund much of that tab with Duck Stamp funds.  Birders too can buy Duck Stamps at most post offices for $15 enabling them to visit any National wildlife Refuge in the country without a paying an entrance fee.  The stamp begins on July 1 and runs to June 30.  They are also available at the Forsythe visitor center.  You too can help support America's waterfowl and our wildlife refuges. 

Why do our ducks look their best in the winter and look their worst in summer when they are in their eclipse plumage.  The answer is most species do their pair bonding in the winter, whereby the pair will mate along the way to the breeding grounds and the rest is history.  In summer they are often still sitting on the nest with a dull drab appearance not bringing any attention to them by predators.

North America’s largest duck the Common Merganser nests along tributaries of the Delaware River and is often seen on the river in spring and summer.  Its cousin the Hooded Merganser is an uncommon nester in freshwater marshes in North Jersey most springs.  Of course the introduced Mute Swans are permanent residents here.  Ruddy Ducks and Green-winged and Blue-winged Teal are rare nesters here too, with Ruddy Ducks having nested in the NJ Meadowlands, Green-winged Teal in North Jersey and Blue-winged Teal primarily in south Jersey.  Northern Shoveler was discovered one year during nesting season in the NJ Meadowlands in the early 90’s and the subtlety beautiful Gadwall seems to be increasing as a nester here in recent years.

Another Arctic vortex is coming and we will have to wait and  see this will effect our New Jersey wintering ducks and geese.  This cold weather should put to an end any thoughts of them moving north for now.  We have already had some early spring arrivals in the NJ avian world with Tree Swallows appearing in several NJ locations this past weekend, while an almost month early Laughing Gull arrived in Cape May mid-week.  Red-shouldered Hawks have been more plentiful than usual this winter along with Eastern Towhees, a bird not known for its tolerance of cold winters.  Both Green-winged Teal and the Tundra Swans were quite vociferous this weekend calling readily at Brig, perhaps another sign of spring.

Pete Bacinski has two bird workshops this weekend with a Waterfowl ID Workshop at NJ Audubon’s Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary in Bernardsville on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. and a Spring Shorebirds Workshop at NJ Audubon’s Plainsboro Preserve on Sunday at 1:30 p.m.  For the Saturday program at Scherman-Hoffman call 908-766-5787 for questions or to register and for the program at the Plainsboro Preserve on Sunday call 609-897-9400 for any questions or to register.

Here is associate naturalist and good guy Terry Carruther’s cartoon for the week for you to enjoy.


Terry's Cartoon for February 26


This is courtesy of my friend Susan Hill.


Our on-line friends 1 SH



Tundra Swans pa BS

Tundra Swans:  Image taken by Beth Starr


Harlequin Duck 25 HE

Harlequin Duck:  Image taken by Howard Eskin


Brant 2a

Brant:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection


Greater Scaup Flock 2 BK

Greater Scaup Flock:  Image taken by Brett Klaproth


Snow Geese

Snow Geese:  Image taken by Pete Bacinski


Long-tailed Duck p TK

Long-tailed Duck Drake:  Image taken by Tiffany Kirsten


American Black Duck Drake 7 AM

Black Duck Drake:  Image taken Art Morris, Birds as Art


Wood Duck t CE

Wood Duck Drake:  Image taken by Corinne Errico



Common Merganser 1a BD

Common Merganser Drake:  Image taken by Bob Devlin


Hooded Mergansers o BCh

Hooded Merganser Drakes:  Image taken by Bruce Christensen


Green-winged Teal 6a KK

Green-winged Teal Drake:  Image taken by Kevin Karlson



Gadwall Drake:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection


Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler Drake:  Image taken by Jessica Kirste

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