All Things Birds
All Things Birds Blog

Great Bird Activity Across the Garden State:

Late October and early November have been a time of excellent bird activity.  Record numbers of Golden Eagles are showing up at our hawkwatches.  Red-headed Woodpeckers are now being seen in sizeable number at several locations including Glenhurst Meadows in Warren and Eros Refuge in Avenel and lots of fall regulars are arriving.  Other great sightings this week include:  single Hudsonian Godwits at Mill Creek in the NJ Meadowlands and at the the dredge spoils in Gloucester County, a LeConte’s Sparrow at Sandy Hook, and an adult Black-headed Gull at the Morgan Flats. 

November 3rd produced an awesome flight at Cape May Point with over 200,000 American Robins, 35,000 Red-winged Blackbirds and now for the good stuff 10 Golden Eagles, 20 Cave Swallows, four American White Pelicans, a Lapland Longspur and Short-eared and Long-eared Owl.  An interesting sighting that day was a few Red Crossbills flying overhead at the Point.

Many of our late fall and winter favorites have made their appearance in the last week or so.  This group incudes: Snow Bunting, Purple Finch, American Pipits (in big numbers), Fox Sparrow, Harlequin Duck, and Red-necked Grebe.  Northern Goshawks are trickling in, while a sora or two are still around along with Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Vesper Sparrow.

Soon we will be awaiting the beginning of what is now our annual wild goose chase for Barnacle, Pink-footed, Greater White-fronted and Cackling Geese all over the state.  BTW where are our Tundra Swans?  They should be her by now.  November has now become a month of birding discovery.  Go out and see what you can discover.


Golden Eagle Juv. Flying 2b SB

Golden Eagle Juv.  Image taken by Steve Byland


Northern Goshawk Juv. Flying 5 TR

Northern Goshawk Juv.  Image taken by Tom Reed


LeConte’s Sparrow:  Image taken by Tom Boyle


Lapland Longspur m HE

Lapland Longspur:  Image taken by Howard Eskin


Red-headed Woodpecker Pair 2 BDa

Red-headed Woodpeckers:  Image taken by Bill Dalton


Red Crossbill Flying 1a SG

Red Crossbill:  Image taken by Sam Galick


Short-eared Owl Flying 2b WD

Short-eared Owl:  Image taken by Bill Dix


Hudsonian Godwit Molting 1 Chris Takacs

Hudsonian Godwit:  Image taken by Chris Takacs


Black-headed Gull Flying 12 BCl

Black-headed Gull:  Image taken by Bruce Christiansen


American White Pelican Flying wa LS

American White Pelican:  Image taken by Larry Scacchetti

A Time to Think Waterfowl:

As October draws to a close, we can still appreciate the many sparrows, kinglets and Yellow-rumped Warblers we have witnessed these last few weeks.  For many the magnitude of the migration is overwhelming, but we must now consider waterfowl where the migration can also be amazing.  The Avalon Seawatch in Cape May County is still a fabulous place to see sea ducks in great numbers as they pass this incredible lookout. 

New Jersey has many great locations to see fresh and saltwater waterfowl.  Everyone’s favorite is Forsythe (the birders call it Brigantine) National Wildlife Refuge just north of Atlantic City in Galloway Township.  Here Brant, Snow Geese, Northern Pintails and Green-winged Teal can be seen in five figure numbers along with the possibilities of viewing over 25 species of waterfowl.  A leisurely ride along the eight-mile tour loop can offer many great and rewarding viewing opportunities.

Sandy Hook  surrounded on three sides by water can be great for waterfowl in late fall and winter with many Greater Scaup, Red-breasted Mergansers, and Long-tailed Ducks present.  Sizeable numbers of Common Goldeneye often appear there later in the season.  Migrating and feeding scoters can be viewed from several locations on the ocean side of the Hook which occasionally contain a few or more Common Eider.  The New Jersey Meadowlands around the DeKorte Environment Center can be home to scaup, mergansers and Canvasback at this season and worth a look.

Another NJ treasure is Barnegat Light State Park with its marvelous lighthouse and birding treasures.  Barnegat Inlet is home to one of the most cooperative and regular flocks of Harlequin Ducks on the east coast.  There are usually between 20 and 40 that usually arrive about now and will remain until early April.  The inlet is also the best place to see both Common and King Eiders in NJ.  Long-tailed Ducks and Red-breasted Mergansers are plentiful here along with all three scoter species, Black, Surf and White-wing with the latter in small numbers or sometimes absent.

Our many reservoirs, lakes and ponds across the state can provide great waterfowl opportunities.  Merrill Creek Reservoir in Warren County often has a flock of 20,000 Snow Geese or more throughout the winter along with Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Common Mergansers and Lesser Scaup.  The north shore ponds of Monmouth and Ocean Counties can be very productive as well for our dabbling ducks i.e. Mallard, Black Duck, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler and Green-winged Teal as long as they don’t freeze over.

Bunker and Lighthouse Ponds at Cape May Point SP have been home to large numbers of dabblers and other ducks in recent days including the rare Eurasian Wigeon.  If you have a neighborhood pond or marsh, you should check it out and perhaps you will find a surprise.


Green-winged Teal 5 JP

Green-winged Teal:  Image taken by Joe Pescatore



Gadwall:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection


Eurasian Wigeon

Eurasian Wigeon:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection


Common Merganser Flying 1 WD

Common Merganser:  Image taken by Bill Dix


Snow Geese

Snow Geese:  Image taken by Pete Bacinski


Bufflehead Flying 1a TR

Bufflehead:  Image taken by Tom Reed


Common Goldeneye 2a

Common Goldeneye:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection


Canvasback 5a AM

Canvasback:  Image taken by Art Morris, Birds as Art


Greater Scaup Flock 2 BK

Greater Scaup:  Image taken by Brett Klaproth


Long-tailed Duck 19a SW

Long-tailed Duck:  Image taken by Sean Wainwright


Harlequin Duck d TK

Harlequin Duck:  Image taken by Tiffany Kersten


Hooded Merganser 17a CC

Hooded Merganser:  Image taken by Clara Coen

Sparrows Are the Operative Word:

When the word sparrows is mentioned some folks immediately think those “Little Brown Jobs” and want to run and hide, but others look at this interesting group as a challenge.  The issue is that most sparrows are very similar in appearance and as some believe impossible to separate especially if they appear in great numbers.  Yes they are similar, but with a little time and effort, you too can master sparrow ID.

Sparrows are short-distance migrants, many of which nest in the immense Boreal Forest that stretches coast-to-coast across Canada and Alaska where with few exceptions the breeding birds there are quite successful.  They move south through New Jersey often in great numbers from mid-October through early November.  One must look for a day after a front with northwest winds for success.  The primary birds in question are White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Swamp Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, and Field Sparrow which all range from uncommon or abundant migrants.  Birders are always scouring the flocks for rarities including: Clay-colored Sparrow, Lark Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow and Vesper Sparrow.  At month’s end Fox and American Tree Sparrows will begin to appear in small numbers and are always a treat to see.

Sandy Hook and Higbee Beach in Cape May are two of the best places to look for sparrows during fall migration.  Other excellent locations include: Island Beach State Park, Glenhurst Meadows in Warren, Overpeck Creek in Ridgefield Park, Cold Brook Preserve in Tewksbury and the Palmyra Cove Park in Palmyra.  Salt Sparrows, our sparrows that hang out in the saltmarsh are also passing through at this season.  They include the abundant nesting Seaside Sparrow, the uncommon nesting Saltmarsh Sparrow and the scarce migrant Nelson’s Sparrow which only appears here from the end of September to early November.  The Garden State’s absolutely best location for salt sparrows is the south end of Great Bay Boulevard in Tuckerton in the salt grass (Spartina).  Nelson’s and Saltmarsh were formally conspecific and known as Sharp-tailed Sparrow until split by the AOU in 1995.  They are quite similar and require work to find and ID.  Plum Island on Sandy Hook and Forsythe (the birders call it Brig) are also two other excellent locations to find these sparrows.

Sparrow are to be enjoyed as we have great numbers of them providing many opportunities for study, whereby with our warblers, great migration days are becoming fewer and fewer as numbers decline.  Go out and give sparrows a chance.


Dark-eyed Junco h CC

Dark-eyed Junco:  Image taken by Clara Coen:


Savannah Sparrow p HE

Savannah Sparrow:  Image taken by Howard Eskin


White-throated Sparrow p WD

White-throated Sparrow:  Image taken by Bill Dix


Chipping Sparrow p SG

Chipping Sparrow:  Image taken by Sam Galick


White-crowned Sparrow g CC

White-crowned Sparrow:  Image taken by Clara Coen


American Tree Sparrow y HE

American Tree Sparrow:  Image taken by Howard Eskin


Fox Sparrow h CC

Fox Sparrow:  Image by Clara Coen


Lark Sparrow pa SG

Lark Sparrow:  Image taken by Sam Galick


Vesper Sparrow JP

Vesper Sparrow:  Image taken by Joe Pescatore


Saltmarsh Sparrow 10

Saltmarsh Sparrow:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection


Nelson's Sharptailed Sparrow

Nelson’s Sparrow:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection

Where to Bird during the Government Shutdown:

October is a great month to be out birding as our sparrows and other short-distance migrants begin to arrive.  Short-distance migrants are those birds that migrate, but do not leave North America.  Examples include: American Robin, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Northern Flicker, Eastern Phoebe, Blue Jay, Tree Swallow, Brown Creeper, Ruby and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Hermit Thrush, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow-rumped, Orange-crowned and Pine Warblers, Eastern Towhee, most sparrows, Red-winged Blackbird, Rusty Blackbird, Common Grackle, Eastern Meadowlark, Purple Finch and American Goldfinch.  Whereby our Neotropic migrants have been declining over the last half century with many down 50% or more, the short-distance migrants with a few exceptions are flourishing with many the product of North America’s premier breeding ground, the Boreal Forest.  The Boreal Forest extends completely across Canada and Alaska touching the northern edge of the US along the way.  October and early November are prime time to view this group as they move south into our area often in great numbers.  Having a good day in the field looking for sparrows in October is much more likely now than having a good day in the field in September for looking for warblers.

Coastal locations are often the best places to look for our short-distance migrants with two of them now off limits.  The government shutdown has closed Sandy Hook and Forsythe (the birders call it Brig) National Wildlife Refuge both excellent birding locations in October, so what are our alternatives.  Of course if you enjoy raptors all our NJ hawkwatches will be open for business, while another option would be the Avalon Seawatch in Cape May county where thousands of migrating seabirds can be encountered in a single day.  Cape May with its hawkwatch and hotspots like Higbee Beach and the Meadows could also be excellent, but Cape May is still a long drive from north Jersey.  If you prefer to stay closer to home there are excellent birding opportunities to pursue.  For sparrows some of the best places are Glenhurst Meadows in Warren, Overpeck Creek Park in Ridgefield Park, Coldbrook Preserve in Tewksbury, Palmyra Cove Park in Palmyra, and Thompson and Dorbrook Parks in Monmouth County, Great Bay Boulevard, Tuckerton and the Alpha Grasslands.  All these places could provide for a productive day in the field.  For general birding recommended locations include: the New Jersey Meadowlands in Lyndhurst, Assunpink WMA in Allentown, Island Beach State Park, and the Allendale Celery Farm.  This is not a time to sit home and feel sorry for yourself.  Go out and enjoy.

Here are some of the short-distance migrant you may to encounter in October:


Cedar Waxwing h DBi

Cedar Waxwing:  Image taken by Deb BiFulco


Palm Warbler Eastern Fall 5

Palm Warbler:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection


Orange-crowned Warbler Fall 18a HT

Orange-crowned Warbler:  Image taken by Harvey Tomlinson


Yellow-rumped Warbler Fall h HE

Yellow-rumped Warbler:  Image taken by Howard Eskin


Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2 BDa

Ruby-crowned Kinglet:  Image taken by Bob Devlin


Golden-crowned Kinglet 25a CC

Golden-crowned Kinglet:  Image taken by Clara Coen


Rusty Blackbirds Winter 1 SG

Rusty Blackbirds:  Image taken by Sam Galick


Lapland Longspur p BK

Lapland Longspur:  Image taken by Brett Klaproth


Vesper Sparrow 1

Vesper Sparrow:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection


Savannah Sparrow TS

Savannah Sparrow:  Image taken by Tom Smith


Clay-colored Sparrow p HE

Clay-colored Sparrow:  Image taken by Howard Eskin


Nelson's Sharptailed Sparrows

Nelson’s Sparrows:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection


Saltmarsh Sparrow BDa

Saltmarsh Sparrow:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection

The Raptors of October:

October is the best month of the year for raptor diversity as most of our fall migrants pass through the Garden State.  Two of our accipiters will be plentiful this month, Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks.  Population numbers of the two species have been headed in opposite directions in the last thirty years.  Cooper’s Hawks were quite scarce in the 1970’s with one of every ten accipiters a Sharp-shinned Hawk at the Cape May Point Hawkwatch.  The latter’s numbers have tailed off since then, while Cooper’s Hawks have flourished.  Now the numbers are about one to four, Coop to Sharpy.  Sharp-shinned Hawk has always been the bread-and-butter bird of the Cape May Point Hawkwatch. The largest and rarest accipiter Northern Goshawk may appear around month’s end.  Goshawks are an eruptive species with a few or none appearing some years and double-digits in others.

Our tenth month is also prime-time for some of our buteos.  Red-tailed Hawk, the most common in North America including NJ and Red-shouldered Hawk, a NJ endangered nester appear in sizeable numbers here in migration.  The elusive Rough-legged Hawk, the rarest raptor seen in eastern US hawkwatches usually appears at month’s end if at all.  This our largest hawk prefers marshlands and large open meadows to ridges.  You will be hard pressed to find our abundant September buteo Broad-winged Hawk after mid-month as most are well on their way to somewhere between Mexico and Brazil.

Golden Eagles one of the great prize sightings at a hawkwatch can be seen trickling through all month.  Bald Eagle numbers as well as Northern Harrier, Peregrine Falcon, Merlin and American Kestrel will remain strong through month’s end, while Osprey numbers will tail off in later October with a few still lingering into November.

Days with northwest winds are the best days to head to your favorite hawkwatch, while any wind out of an easterly direction spells a death knell to any migration.  Another interesting fact for most raptors is that a vast majority of birds migrating along the coast in fall are juveniles, while a majority of the birds migrating the ridges are adults.

Go out and enjoy.


Cooper's Hawk Juv. Flying 10 TK

Cooper’s Hawk:  Image taken by Tiffany Kirsten


Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk:  Image taken by Jim Gilbert


Northern Goshawk Juv. Flying 5 TR

Northern Goshawk Juvenile:  Image taken by Tom Reed



Red-shouldered Hawk Juv. Flying 2 SB

Red-shouldered Hawk Juvenile:  Image taken by Steve Byland


Red-tailed Hawks Imm. and Adult Flying t SB

Red-tailed Hawks, Juvenile and Adult:  Image taken by Steve Byland


Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk, Light Morph:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection


Merlin Male Flying 12 SG

Merlin:  Image taken by Sam Galick


Golden Eagle Juv. Flying 11aa MT

Golden Eagle, Juvenile:  Image taken by Mike Tracy

Falcons Reign Right Now:

When the calendar reads late September/early October birders should think falcons.  The American Kestrel, the smallest of our falcons has dramatically declined in the last forty years primarily due to loss of habitat.  It was one of the bread-and-butter birds of the Cape May Point Hawkwatch years ago, but numbers are quite reduced in 2013, but there will be still some birds to see especially in the next week or so.  Falcons are built for speed and primarily a bird looking to go from point A to point B in the fastest time possibly, but someone forgot to tell this to the Kestrel.  American Kestrels are very happy to lope along, seeming just to enjoy life without any concern for land speed records.  Merlins are the true falcons who flaunt their speed by flying out of their way to dive-bomb and unsuspecting bird just of the fun of it.  Calling Merlins pugnacious is almost an understatement.  They are a bird with an agenda that is downright nasty at times.  Loping is not in their vocabulary.  This brings us to the Peregrine Falcon, the creature that does hold the land speed record for any creature on this planet.  They are capable of speeds attaining 175 mph. in a power-dive.  The next ten days is their time.  All three falcons are seen at all our hawkwatches, but Merlins and Peregrines do have a predilection for migrating along the coast rendering Cape May Point the best place for viewing large numbers.

Peregrine Falcons along with the Bald Eagle and the Osprey were devastated by the use of DDT and other Chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides from the 1940’s to 1972 when they were outlawed.  The eastern wild “aunatum” Peregrine race was rendered to extinction, while numbers of Bald Eagles and Ospreys were reduced dramatically.  At the top of the food chain, the Peregrine received a large dose of chemical with almost every meal and were doomed, but through breeding of captive “aunatum” birds by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the race now lives again in the wild.  If you are lucky you could experience a 200 Peregrine day at the Cape May Point Hawkwatch during the first week of October.  All the falcons migration will continue into November, but prime time is now.

During my forty plus year birding career I don’t think I ever saw a Merlin perched on a wire.  They preferred the tops of poles, leaving the wires to American Kestrels, but in the last couple of years they have changed their habits.  No longer can I assume when I see a small falcon on a wire, it is a Kestrel.


American Kestrel Male:  Image taken by Tom Boyle


American Kestrel Female 2a

American Kestrel Female:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection


American Kestrel Male Flying 7 TK

American Kestrel:  Image taken by Tiffany Kersten


Merlin Male 7 HT

Merlin:  Image taken by Harvey Tomlinson


Merlin Female Flying 8 WD

Merlin:  Image taken by Bill Dix


Merlin on Wire 2a MM

Merlin on a Wire:  Image taken by Mike Mandracchia

Peregrine Falcon 3

Peregrine Falcon “aunatum” Race:  Image taken by Mark Gorman


Peregrine Falcon 17 HE

Peregrine Falcon:  Image taken by Howard Eskin


Peregrine Falcon Flying 14a TR

Peregrine Falcon:  Image taken by Tom Reed


Hawk Migration Timetable 1a

Raptor Migration Timetable:

A Great Time to Go Birding:

If the last week has been any indication, there will be lots of birding opportunities out there to enjoy this week and beyond.  The Chimney Rock Hawk-watch in Martinsville on September 16 tallied 8,733 Broad-winged Hawks and there are more of those to come.  Between September 15 and 17, Chimney Rock tallied over 14,000 Broad-winged Hawks.  Now our falcons the Peregrine, Merlin and American Kestrel will begin to pass through in numbers along with Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks, our two most common migrant Accipiters in New Jersey.  Visit one of our fine New Jersey fall hawk-watches during the next couple of months and you could have a great experience.  Look for days following a northwest cold front.

Sandy Hook had a great warbler day on September 14 with 23 species of warblers present including: Connecticut, Cape May, Tennessee and Bay-breasted as well as two American Golden-Plover.  The following day the Hook produced 22 warbler species as well as Lark and Clay-colored Sparrows, Philadelphia Vireo and Gray-cheeked Thrush while September 17 tallied 19 warbler species along with Lark and Clay-colored Sparrow, Sora and Virginia Rail and a Juv. Red-headed Woodpecker.  Neo-tropic migrants should still be coming through the Garden State in numbers into early October.

There are still lots of shorebirds still to be seen at Forsythe (the birders call it Brig) if the All Things Birds field trip on September 14 is any indication as the trip tallied twenty shorebirds species including: Buff-breasted, Baird’s, White-rumped and Western Sandpipers, American Golden-Plover, American Avocet, and Marbled Godwits.  There was also a Wilson’s Phalarope photographed there that day.  The refuge also produced Little Blue and Tricolored Herons, Sora, and Caspian and Royal Terns.  Shorebirds will continue to pass through the refuge well into November along with our currently returning ducks, geese and raptors.  the refuge is just a great place to be anytime during the year except in winters with a hard freeze.

The temptation is to stay home an watch all those football games this weekend, but your DVR’s and Tivo will take care of that for you.  Get out birding.  Pete Dunne will be at NJ Audubon’s Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary on Saturday doing a hawk-watch on the center’s observation deck.  Come join him and say hello.  Yours truly Pete B. will be there the same day with an program, Hawks in Autumn, an ID Workshop at 10:30 a.m. and back again on Sunday for a field trip to the Great Swamp NWR at 8:45 a.m.  For more details call 908-766-5787.


Peregrine Falcon Flying 14 TR

Peregrine Falcon:  Image taken by Tom Reed


Merlin Female Flying h WD

Merlin:  image taken by Bill Dix


Sharp-shinned Hawk Flying 5 HE

Sharp-shinned Hawk:  Image taken by Howard Eskin


Connecticut Warbler Fall g MT

Connecticut Warbler:  Image taken by Mike Tracy


Cape May Warbler fall h CC

Cape May Warbler:  Image taken by Clara Coen


Bay-breasted Warbler Fall Male 3 HT

Bay-breasted Warbler:  Image taken by Harvey Tomlinson


Philadelphia Vireo ha CC

Philadelphia Vireo:  Image taken by Clara Coen


Lark Sparrow pa SG

Lark Sparrow:  Image taken by Sam Galick


Clay-colored Sparrow p HE

Clay-colored Sparrow:  Image taken by Howard Eskin


Baird's Sandpiper Juv. 9 (2)

Baird’s Sandpiper:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection

The Call of the Hawk-Watch:

Labor Day weekend is in our rear-view mirror, summer is about over and for many that means raptors and lots of them.  Yes there are many shorebirds and Neotropic migrants to be seen, but for many birders fall raptor migration trumps all.  There are many folks out there whose only birding is hawk-watching and for them it is a great passion.  Late August signals the beginning for raptors to start thinking about their impending journey south and by mid-September migration is proceeding with many Ospreys and Bald Eagles on the move with the hawk aficionados anxiously anticipating the day of the massive Broad-winged Hawk flight.  Not every year will there be a flight day of ten-thousand or more Broad-wings, but most years there is that special day taking place right about now at one or more NJ hawk-watchers.

By month’s end falcon's will be at the top of the raptor scorecard as American Kestrels, Merlins and Peregrine Falcons are moving big time.  Just as the falcon numbers are thinning out in mid-October Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawk are at their peak along with Red-tails and Red-shouldered Hawks.  If you interested in the rarer raptors such as Golden Eagles, Northern Goshawks and Rough-legged Hawks November is your month.

The Garden State is home to many great hawk-watches, rendering finding a nearby location rather easy.  New Jersey Audubon sponsors the Montclair and the Cape May hawk-watches, the latter, one of the most successful in North American averaging about 40, 000 hawks per season.  Most hawk-watches run from September 1st to November 30 with an official counter present daily who will often point out birds for the novices.  North Jersey also features the Scott’s Mountain Hawk-watch over looking Merrill Creek Reservoir in Warren County, Chimney Rock in Martinsville, Wildcat Ridge in Hibernia and Raccoon Ridge also in Warren County overlooking Yard’s Creek Reservoir and the Delaware River.  All the watches are easily accessible except the last two which require a hike and climb.

NJ Audubon’s Scherman-Hoffman Sanctuary in Bernardsville also has a deck where many hawks pass over in fall almost daily and worth a visit if you have a few minutes or an hour or two to spare.  Sunrise Mountain in Stokes State Forest in Sussex County can also offer a great vantage point for raptor observation and was at one time an official hawk-watch.  Go out and enjoy yourself.


Bald Eagle Flying 1 WD

Bald Eagle:  Image taken by Bill Dix


Broad-winged Hawk Flying 8a SB

Broad-winged Hawk:  Image taken by Steve Byland


Broad-winged Hawk Kettle 3a KK

Broad-winged Hawk Kettle:  Image taken by Kevin Karlson


American Kestrel Male Flying 4 HT

American Kestrel:  Image taken by Harvey Tomlinson


Merlin Female 2 BDa

Merlin:  Image taken by Bill Dalton


Peregrine Falcon Flying 11a TK

Peregrine Falcon:  Image taken by Tiffany Kersten


Sharp-shinned Hawk Flying 12 TR

Sharp-shinned Hawk:  Image taken by Tom Reed


Cooper's Hawk Flying 1 SG

Cooper’s Hawk:  Image taken by Sam Galick


Red-tailed Hawk Flying 1a BDa

Red-tailed Hawk:  Image taken by Bill Dalton


Red-shouldered Hawk Flying 8a TK

Red-shouldered Hawk:  Image taken by Tiffany Kersten

A Time for “Grasspipers”

There is a select group of uncommon to rare shorebirds that rarely or never appear in New Jersey in spring migration, but do appear usually in small numbers in summer and early fall.  They are the group the birders affectionately call “grasspipers” for their predilection to sod farms and grassy areas.  They include: Baird’s and Buff-breasted Sandpipers which have never appeared here in spring and American Golden-Plover which is quite rare in spring, but occasionally appears in double digit numbers here in summer.  This cast can be joined by Killdeer which love the sod and are found often in flocks and occasionally Pectoral and Least Sandpipers as well as Black-bellied Plover.  Upland Sandpiper, an endangered species also prefers sod, but are very rare and found in only in early summer.  With the exception of the Killdeer, these are all birds heading south for a tropical winter vacation.

Our lingering recession and subsequent decline in the housing market has not been a boon to “grasspipers’ and the birders seeking them.  The market for sod is now way down and many fields once planted with sod are currently in soybeans or corn, but there is still some sod out there if you look for it.  Some of the best sod farms are present near Assunpink WMA in the Allentown area and there is also the well known Johnson Sod farm in Pole Tavern on the Salem/Cumberland border.  Others sod farms are present in Hunterdon, Somerset, Mercer and Warren counties.

Unfortunately for birders, these sod farms are all private property and usually offer no parking and little space to pull off the road safely.  Farmers have complained in the past about birders trespassing on their property by driving up private roads and walking on fields.  When searching for these marvelous shorebirds please follow proper birding etiquette.

Grassy patches at Forsythe (the birders call it Brig) National Wildlife Refuge especially along the north dike can be productive for “grasspipers” with the exception of Upland Sandpiper which seldom ever appears there.  This is still an excellent time for shorebird diversity at the refuge.  The green-heads will be gone in a week or so eliminating one of the biggest excuses for not visiting this wonderful refuge in summer.  Enjoy.


Baird's Sandpiper Juv. 4 MF

Baird’s Sandpiper:  Image taken by Mike Fahay


Baird's Sandpiper Juv. 9

Baird’s Sandpiper:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection


Buff-breasted Sandpiper Juv. 14 aM

Buff-breasted Sandpiper:  Image taken by Art Morris, Birds as Art


Buff-breasted Sandpiper wa SG

Buff-breasted Sandpiper:  Image taken by Sam Galick


American Golden-Plover

American Golden-Plover:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection


Killdeer Flying p HT

Killdeer:  Image taken by Harvey Tomlinson


Pectoral Sandpiper Juv. 12

Pectoral Sandpiper:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection


Upland Sandpiper 6

Upland Sandpiper:  Image taken by Kevin Karlson

Fall Migration for Neotropic Migrants Begins in Earnest:

Our concentration has been focused on shorebirds for the last month or so, but there are other choices on the birding menu.  Neotropic migrants i.e. warblers, flycatchers, thrushes, vireos, swallows etc. are species that migrate south in summer and early fall to their winter homes in Central and South America and the Caribbean.  New Jersey lies firmly on the Atlantic Flyway and is the recipient of many of these migrant avian treasures.  These are birds that are primarily carnivorous, feasting on insects and other invertebrates which are not available once the cold weather arrives requiring them to seek warmer climes in winter.  Our Neotropic migrants have been on the move since mid-July, but are now beginning to peak as we approach the end of August and early September.

Eastern Kingbirds can be seen in numbers exceeding four digits around Labor Day Weekend.  Our challenging Empidonax Flycatchers i.e. Least, Alder, Willow, Acadian and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers also peaking in numbers at this time.  All can be identified by sight with some effort except Willow-Alder which are basically identical.  If you are lucky enough to get one to call you can ID it.  Willow Flycatcher says “whit” and Alder “Pep”.  Fall Warblers can be tricky, so make sure you do some studying before you head into the field and bring a good field guide with you.  Almost all of our annual occurring warblers occur here during the next month, so be prepared.  Louisiana Waterthrush is an exception as they are usually completely gone by early August.

Sandy Hook can be a great place to find fall warblers and Empidonax Flycatchers in particular the migrant only Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.  There is parking fee in place till the end of Labor Day weekend, but you can access the “Hook” if you agree not to park in beach lots and tell them you are birding when you arrive at the gate.  Garret Mountain noted for its fabulous spring migration numbers can be good in fall too.  Island Beach State Park and the woods around the Brigantine parking lot can also be rewarding.  Cape May Point is a legendary fall migration hotspot, but is quite a ride from north Jersey.

If you are hooked on shorebirds, this is still an excellent time to go to Brig especially as the Green-headed Flies start to dissipate following Labor Day.  Shorebird species diversity is at its peak right now.


Eastern Kingbird h HE

Eastern Kingbird:  Image taken by Howard Eskin


Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 9 SS

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher:  Image taken by Stephanie Seymour


Alder Flycatcher 9a SS

Alder Flycatcher:  Image taken by Stephanie Seymour


Willow Flycatcher 15 JP

Willow Flycatcher:  Image taken  by Joe Pescatore


Acadian Flycatcher 5 Tom Halliwell

Acadian Flycatcher:  Image taken by Tom Halliwell


Least Flycatcher 8 CC

Least Flycatcher:  Image taken by Clara Coen


Bay-breasted Warbler Fall Male 3 HT

Bay-breasted Warbler:  Image taken by Harvey Tomlinson


Blackpoll Warbler Fall 13 HT

Blackpoll Warbler:  Image taken by Harvey Tomlinson


Cape May Warbler Fall 4 BK

Cape May Warbler:  Image taken by Brett Klaproth

All Things Birds Blog
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All Things Birds Blog