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Another Owl to Enjoy and Other Birdy things:

There are still Snowy Owls to be seen, but the craze created by this snowy storm from the north seems to be over.  That said there is another owl often found in some of the same habitats as the Snowy Owl that is being viewed from different locations around the Garden State.  This visitor also from the north is the Short-eared Owl.  A few weeks ago, there were 17 Short-eared Owls recorded at the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge in Sussex County.  This is an amazing number.  When I saw my first Short-eared Owl around 1974 in what is now Harrier Meadows in the NJ Meadowlands in North Arlington, I not only saw one, I saw 23 of these marvelous raptors.  I have never seen that many at one time since.  Quite a memorable experience, indeed.

Short-eared Owls usually begin arriving in New Jersey latter  half of the month of October and are with us sometimes into early April and rarely to May.  They were New Jersey nesters until the 1920’s and probably nested again in Ocean County in 1979 with the last nesting in 1989 at Supawna Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Salem County.  They are currently listed as an endangered nesting species by the state of New Jersey.  These marvelous owls are most often reported in coastal marshlands here, but will frequent large open inland meadows like the Wallkill. 

They have been scarce the last couple of winters as Hurricanes Irene and Sandy took out most of the coastal marsh rodent population with the storm’s enormous flooding leaving no prey for the Short-eared Owls and Northern Harriers to feed upon rendering these marshes raptor-less.  Rodents are quite prolific and their numbers have rebounded quickly and the Short-ears are again being seen in Ocean County marshes.  Another good spot to check is the Alpha Grasslands in Alpha in Warren County near Phillipsburg where as many as three have been seen.

The best time to look for Short-eared Owls is dawn and dusk, but occasionally they will appear foraging during the daytime.  The best locations to see them in Ocean County are Stafford Avenue (the Bridge to Nowhere Road) in Manahawkin and Cedar Run Dock Road in Cedar Run about a mile south of Manahawkin on Route 9.  Historically good locations include Forsythe (Brigantine) National Wildlife Refuge just north of Atlantic City and Jakes Landing in Cape May County.

Here is a great image of a bird seen by Rose Campisi sitting on her office window sill in Jersey City.  How would you like to look out your window and find this bird starring at you?  Peregrine Falcons have been know to nest on window ledges of office skyscrapers in major cities.  They nest on almost every bridge in the New York metro area.

 

Peregrine Falcon on Ledge 1a Rose Campisi

Peregrine Falcon:  Image taken by Rose Campisi

 

 

Short-eared Owl 4 CD

Short-eared Owl:  Image taken by Chris Davidson

 

Short-eared Owl 10

Short-eared Owl:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection

 

Short-eared Owl 21CD

Short-eared Owl: Image taken by Chris Davidson

 

Short-eared Owl Close-up 1

Short-eared Owl Close-up:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection

(Note the short ear tufts)

 

Short-eared Owl Flying 2 WD

Short-eared Owl Flying:  Image taken by Bill Dix

 

Short-eared Owl Flying 7 CD

Short-eared Owl Flying:  Image taken by Chris Davidson

 

Short-eared Owl Flying 11a TR

Short-eared Owl Flying:  Image taken by Tom Reed

 

Here is Terry Carruthers, NJ Audubon Associate Naturalist’s weekly cartoon for your enjoyment

 

Terry Cartoon January 15, 2014

Birding Post Arctic Vortex:

The temperatures are rising and the thermometer may approach sixty on the weekend, so where does the birder go to find success birding.  The coldest winter in New Jersey since winter 1993-4 has succeeded in making many folks unhappy especially the birders who can now crawl out of their igloos and rejoin the world.  Sections of the Delaware River, many of our bays and smaller rivers as well as all our reservoirs, lakes and ponds have become completely frozen-over by this unbelievable cold wave.  Keep this in mind, even if these bodies of waters thaw this weekend with the warmth, there will be a dearth of birds present.  All of our freshwater ducks will have made a hasty departure south or headed out to salt or brackish water locations that didn’t freeze-over in the last week leaving all your favorite inland bodies of water waterfowl free zones.  There still may be some gulls around, if that makes you happy.

Coastal birding is really the only option at this time unless you just want to sit by your window with a hot cup of cocoa and enjoy the birds at the feeder.  The traditional coastal hot-spots should have many birds to offer like Sandy Hook, the north shore from Sea Bright to Point Pleasant (except the freshwater ponds along the way), Island Beach State Park, the Ocean County coastal roads (We have a field trip there Saturday, see below), Barnegat Light State Park, Holgate, Forsythe (the birders call it Brigantine) NWR, Brigantine Island, and of course Cape May.  There have been many reports of Razorbills, eiders, scoters, Red-necked Grebe, Northern Gannets etc. along the shore to spark your interest and of course the Pacific Loons.  At least two have been observed with the sightings coming from Manasquan Inlet, Roosevelt Avenue in Deal, and the Allenhurst jetties.  This is a truly rare bird for the Garden State and worth a look.  Sadly the Painted Bunting in Middletown probably succumbed to the single digit temperatures.

Barnegat Light is one of the best winter birding locations on the east coast with its ever present in winter flock of awesome Harlequin Ducks and many other winter visitors.  If you still want to see a Snowy Owl and like to walk, consider a trek down Holgate at the south end of Long Beach Island where double digits numbers of these amazing birds have been recorded in the last month.  Rough-legged Hawks and Short-eared Owls have been returning to the Jersey shore this year as rodent populations continue to increase post-Sandy.  Cedar Run Dock Road at dawn or dusk would be a location to check out for the Short-ears.  Brigantine the refuge, may have lost most of its waterfowl with the freeze, but it has been a very reliable spot to see a Snowy Owl.  Brigantine Boulevard on Brigantine Island for Marbled Godwits, “Western” Willets, and lots of American Oystercatchers must be done on low tide.  You will see nothing on high tide.

Cape May county has much to offer if you are willing to take a ride.  The big stir there this week has been the third record of a Black-capped Chickadee for the county, but I don’t think this will raise an eye-brow of a north Jersey birder, but there is much else to see.  Cape May Point has had seven Greater White-fronted Geese, Eurasian Wigeon, Blue-winged Teal, White-winged Dove and Eurasian Collared-Dove and Orange-crowned Warbler to name a few.  Two King Eiders are being seen from Nummy Island, Stone Harbor, while there were two Western Kingbirds in the town of Erma, but that was pre-freeze.  For more on Cape May birding check out the website www.birdcapemay.org.

Enjoy the balmy weekend.

Here’s the info on the Ocean County Roads trip:

OCEAN COUNTY COASTAL ROADS

Led by Pete Bacinski, All Things Birds and Mike Mandracchia, associate naturalist

Saturday, January 11 - noon to 5:00 p.m.

Pete Bacinski will let you sleep late and yet have a great day of birding in the coastal marshes of Ocean County for raptors, passerines, waterfowl and surprises and at dusk will look for Short-eared Owls if they are being seen this winter.

Location: Value City Furniture parking lot, 712 East Bay Avenue, Manahawkin, NJ 08050

Cost: $20 for members, $25 for non-members

Register: Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, 11 Hardscrabble Road, Bernardsville, NJ 07924. Phone Number: 908-766-5787

 

A new weekly feature on the blog will be a cartoon created by NJ Audubon associate naturalist Terry Carruthers.  Here’s the first.

 

Snowy Owl and Plane Cartoon 1 TC

 

Pacific Loon 7 LS

Pacific Loon:  Image taken by Larry Scacchetti:

 

Red-necked Grebe 15a BKa

Red-necked Grebe:  Image taken by Billy Kaselow

 

Harlequin Ducks 8 MM

Harlequin Ducks:  Image taken by Mike Mandracchia

 

Rough-legged Hawk (DM) Flying 9 JW

Rough-legged Hawk, Dark Morph:  Image taken by Julia Wagner

 

Short-eared Owl 4 CD

Short-eared Owl:  Image taken by Chris Davidson

 

Marbled Godwits and Western Willets 1a LS

Marbled Godwits and “Western” Willets:  Image taken by Larry Scacchetti

 

Black-capped Chickadee 46 DK

Black-capped Chickadee:  Image taken by David Kenny

 

Greater White-fronted Goose

Greater White-fronted Goose:  Image taken by Jim Gilbert

 

Eurasian Collared-Dove 23 SB

Eurasian Collared-Dove:  Image taken by Steve Byland

 

Western Kingbird 25 SB

Western Kingbird:  Image taken by Steve Byland

A Happy New Year Birding:

For many birders New Year’s Day is quite a treat.  The day is often spent on an extensive birding trip around New Jersey or in a local area looking for rarities and getting a good head start on their new year-list.  Most birders compile a year-list and often set a goal for how many they would like to see in the state in the upcoming year.  Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s e-bird facilitates listing very well.  After visiting the blog check out our New Jersey e-bird portal at All Things Birds on the NJ Audubon website for more information.

There were many great birds around New Jersey for folks to chase on New Years including a couple of Painted Buntings, a couple of Pacific Loons, many Snowy Owls, King and Common Eiders. Eurasian Wigeon, Western Kingbird, Ash-throated Flycatcher, White-winged Dove and Sandhill Crane to name a few.  Many birders participated on an in-shore pelagic boat trip out of Belmar which produced many Razorbills, several Dovekies and a few Common Murres as well as Iceland and Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Black-legged Kittiwakes, while Common Dolphins and a couple of Humpbacked Whales provided additional enjoyment.

The Snowy Owl frenzy in the Garden State continues with large numbers of folks at Forsythe (the birders call it Brig) National Wildlife Refuge in Galloway being rewarded with one of these marvelous raptors sitting on an Island in the Danzenbaker (east) Pool.  Another was found perched atop a large building along the boardwalk in Allenhurst.  The question remains, how long will these denizens of the north remain with us this winter.  Will they begin heading north early, continue south beyond New Jersey or just be happy to hang out here until early spring.  Only time will tell.

Brig provided great birding yesterday as the refuge was home to about six-thousand Snow Geese, always a joy to watch as they stream over the dikes of the refuge, plus the thousands of ducks and other waterfowl present.  A dozen Tundra Swans and a couple of Eurasian Wigeon were rewarding, while a young Peregrine Falcon continues to enjoy sitting upon a post near the northeast corner of the Danzenbaker Pool allowing close observation.  The upcoming blizzard and Arctic freeze will drive many of these birds southward for open water.

The female Painted Bunting in Middletown disappointed all the birders who appeared there early in the morning, but it finally showed up late in the afternoon, while a young male was discovered in Cape May.  The rare Pacific Loon in Deal was still present off Roosevelt Avenue New Year’s morning.

The White-winged Dove in Cape May was tallied on a field trip in Cape May along with a Rufous Hummingbird, King Eiders, Eurasian Wigeon and a Snowy Owl.

For me personally yesterday, my favorite spot on our day’s itinerary was the mudflats along Brigantine Boulevard on Brigantine Island just north of Atlantic City where we encountered 9 Marbled Godwits, 160 American Oystercatchers, 60 “Western” Willets, three Greater Yellowlegs and the biggest surprises a dozen Semipalmated Plovers and a Tricolored Heron both rare in winter in New Jersey. 

The year is new, please get out and enjoy

Happy New Years to all and thanks for viewing the ATB Blog.

Sincerely,

Pete Bacinski

 

Painted Bunting Female 6a

Painted Bunting Female:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection

 

Pacific Loon:  Image taken by Tom Boyle

 

Snowy Owl at Allenhurst 1 BDa

Snowy Owl at Allenhurst, January 1, 2014:  Image taken by Bill Dalton

 

Tricolored Heron 25 SH

Tricolored Heron:  Image taken by Susan Hill

 

Semipalmated Plover Winter 3a TR

Semipalmated Plover:  Image taken by Tom Reed

 

White-winged Dove Flying 1 SG

White-winged Dove:  Image taken by Sam Galick

 

Eurasian Wigeon with Green pa BCl

Eurasian Wigeon:  Image taken by Bruce Christiansen

 

Razorbill:  Image taken by Tom Boyle

 

Dovekie 21 TR

Dovekie:  Image taken by Tom Reed

 

Black-legged Kittiwake Breeding Flying 1 ETD

Black-legged Kittiwake:  Image taken by Tony and Ellen DeCarlo

 

Humpbacked Whale y BK

Humpbacked Whale:  Image taken by Brett Klaproth

Peace and Solace Overlooking the Holiday Bird Feeders:

Universally almost everyone is stressed-out by the holidays.  Endless shopping, never-ending snowstorms, traffic jams, cooking and decorating, when will it end?  That said, we all need a break.  One of the most therapeutic things you can do to find an escape from life’s realities is to sit by the window and monitor your bird feeders.  With this continued inclement weather in the form of white crystals falling from the sky, our neighborhood avian friends have been relying upon the sustenance we have been providing them in the form of sunflower seeds and other mixed seed blends and perhaps suet too.  In harsh times the birds will reply on our feeders  to survive and often these wintery conditions will bring in an unsuspected bird such as a Pine Warbler, Red-breasted Nuthatch or Yellow-bellied Sapsucker usually to suet in our yard.

If you are in north Jersey your chickadees are Black-capped and in south Jersey, they are Carolina, but the rest of us get to share the Mourning Doves, Red-bellied, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatches, Blue Jays, Tufted Titmice, Carolina Wrens, Song and white-throated Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Northern Cardinals, House Finches and American Goldfinches (our state bird).  If we are lucky, we may get one or more of the uncommon winter feeder birds such as Eastern Towhee, Chipping, Swamp, Field, Fox and White-crowned Sparrows and Purple Finch.  This does not bide as a year for winter finches , so the possibilities of crossbills, Pine Siskins and Evening Grosbeaks is quite remote.  Unfortunately we may find some unwanted visitors at our feeders including Rock Doves, European Starlings, Common Grackles, House Sparrows and Red-winged Blackbirds and of course the non-avian Gray Squirrel and there is little we can do to prevent them from appearing, but we can watch their antics.

Watching and monitoring these wonderful birds can be truly relaxing, giving you that escape from the holiday season reality.  Watching the hit-and-run nuthatches and chickadees quickly swipe a seed and fly off with it or the White-throated Sparrow scratching for seeds on the ground below the feeder is refreshing.  Bird behavior is so much fun to watch such as the birds squabbling for space on the feeders.  You deserve this restful treat considering all the stress you have subjected to in the past few weeks.  Take time and enjoy it.

Of course, this works quite well for those who already have their feeders up and running, but what about those who don’t?  Visit the New Jersey Audubon website www.njaudubon.org and look for which of our nature store/gift shops are nearby.  They have a large selection of feeders and seed and suet available including advice and suggestions on what to purchase.  If you are not near one, any department store should have all you require without the helpful advice on what to purchase.

The next blog update will be in the New Year.

Take time this holiday season to be thankful for nature’s bounty we love and appreciate throughout the year. 

Have a wonderful holiday season.

Sincerely,

Pete Bacinski

 

Carolina Chickadee 12 BK

Carolina Chickadee:  Image taken by Brett Klaproth

 

Blue Jay 5a JP

Blue Jay:  Image taken by Joe Pescatore

 

Dark-eyed Junco h CC

Dark-eyed Junco:  Image taken by Clara Coen

 

Downy Woodpecker 8 BK

Downy Woodpecker:  Image taken by Brett Klaproth

 

Fox Sparrow g HT

Fox Sparrow:  Image taken by Harvey Tomlinson

 

Pine Warbler Breeding Male 1

Pine Warbler on Suet:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection

 

Purple Finch 29 JP

Purple Finch:  Image taken by Joe Pescatore

 

Red-bellied Woodpecker i BK

Red-bellied Woodpecker:  Image taken by Brett Klaproth

 

Red-breasted Nuthatch 34 SB

Red-breasted Nuthatch:  Image taken by Steve Byland

 

White-breasted Nuthatch 13 BDe

White-breasted Nuthatch:  Image taken by Bob Devlin

 

White-throated Sparrow g CC

White-throated Sparrow:  Image taken by Clara Coen

 

Northern Cardinal:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection

Snowy Owls Continue While Christmas Bird Counts Have Arrived:

Snowy Owl fever continues in the Garden state as over two dozen have been observed in the last couple of weeks.  Many have passed through with birds showing up in Virginia and North Carolina as well as one on Bermuda.  Five of these majestic owls struck airplanes at metro airports resulting in several being shot to prevent incidents like the plane landing in the Hudson River following hitting a flock of Canada Geese.  Quick public outrage to this ensued and the airports are now trapping the birds and releasing them elsewhere.  This has been the procedure at Logan Airport in Boston for many years, where the owls are almost annual.  The owls see an airport as very similar to their Arctic tundra summer residence and are right at home there.  Issues with people encroaching upon the birds continue in the frenzy to see and photograph the owls.  Please show the owls respect and give them the space they deserve.

The 114th annual National Audubon Christmas Bird Counts being on Saturday, December 14 with about thirty taking place here in NJ with a few overlapping into New York and Pennsylvania.  The very first Christmas count took place in Englewood NJ in 1900 and was organized by the famous ornithologist, Dr. Frank Chapman of the Museum of Natural History in New York.  Instead of the annual Christmas hunt, participants would look for birds and  just count them.  This took place all within a designated 15 mile diameter territory.  The counts are now in every state and all over North America and elsewhere.  The big thrill on a CBC is to find a rare bird or better yet one that has never appeared on that count before, called a count bird.  Some counts have a pre-dawn diner meeting place and many others have a warm post-count tally-up spot often in a restaurant or someone home.  If you do pre-dawn owling, the day can be long, but usually lots of fun.

Some of the much looked for birds on our NJ CBC’s are: Cackling Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose, King Eider, Eurasian Wigeon, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Ruffed Grouse, Red-necked Grebe, Northern Goshawk, Golden Eagle, Sandhill Crane, Marbled Godwit, Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull, Little Gull, Black-headed Gull, any alcid,  any owl besides Screech and Great-horned, Eastern Phoebe, Northern Shrike, Sedge Wren, Orange-crowned Warbler, Lapland Longspur, and almost any winter finch.  I am sure I a missed a few.  Of course a bird new or extremely rare in New Jersey would make everyone’s day.  This is the one time a of the year you go birding and count every bird you see. The rest of the year birders just the number of species they encounter on that outing.  Many keep track of numbers of key species during the year and for e-bird, but who really cares about the number of pigeons, starlings and House Sparrows.  For more information go to the National Audubon website  www.audubon.org.

 

Snowy Owl at Brig:  Image taken by Mike Mandracchia

 

Black-headed Gull 21 BCh

Black-headed Gull:  Image taken by Bruce Christensen

 

Little Gull:  Image taken by Tom Boyle

Glaucous Gull First Winter Flying 2 WD

Glaucous Gull:  Image taken by Bill Dix

 

Cackling Goose side by side with Canada Goose 1

Cackling and Canada Goose:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection

 

Sandhill Crane 4 HE

Sandhill Crane:  Image taken by Howard Eskin

 

Long-eared Owl 8

Long-eared Owl:  Image from NJA Collection

 

Razorbill:  Image taken by Tom Boyle

 

Northern Shirke g

Northern Shrike:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection

 

Sedge Wren h CC

Sedge Wren:  Image taken by Clara Coen

 

Orange-crowned Warbler AK 1 ETD

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

 

Common Redpoll Male 2 DBi

Common Redpoll:  Image taken by Debbi BiFulco

Snowy Owls and Other December Birding Opportunities:

Snowy Owls have now arrived in full force with an estimate of twenty plus present in the Garden State including at least three reports of birds not found along the coast.  A bird sitting on a railing at the Jackson High School was sure a surprise to the students there.  Also received was a report of a possible Snowy atop an eight story building in Elizabeth one evening last week.  Previously the record high for New Jersey was 15 during the mid 1920’s.  We have already had multiple birds observed so far at Sandy Hook, Island Beach SP, Forsythe (Brigantine) NWR, Holgate at the south end of Long Beach Island and Cape May.  New birds are being found at many new locations as birders intensify their search.  If you find one of these great denizens of the north, please give it space and show it respect.

For many there is holiday shopping on their minds, but the possibility of finding some excellent birds could offer a pleasant distraction from crowded malls with no where to park.  Sandy Hook has been hot with Little Gull, Lapland Longspur, Snow Buntings, Parasitic Jaeger, Red-necked Grebes and thousands of Bonaparte’s Gulls.  Barnegat Light SP has been home to many Common Eiders and several King Eiders along with the annual flock of very watchable Harlequin Ducks along the jetty and I dare not forget a Snowy Owl.  Brigantine Island in Atlantic City has a large flock of American Oystercatchers including a few Marbled Godwits and “Western” Willets, while Forsythe (the birders call it Brig) NWR along with its two Snowy Owls also has had Eurasian Wigeon, Redhead, Tundra Swans, Golden Eagle and Marbled Godwit in the last couple of weeks.  I will be there Saturday, see below.

If you are not inclined to drive to the shore for your birding there are always other worthwhile possibilities inland such as the New Jersey Meadowlands for waterfowl and raptors, the Hunterdon and Warren County reservoirs for waterfowl and gulls.  Round Valley Reservoir at present has an Eared Grebe and always the possibility of a surprise.  The Alpha Grasslands can have raptors, Horned Larks, Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspur.  Sussex lakes and reservoirs also offer opportunities for waterfowl and gulls, while for the stay at home folks put up and bird feeder or two, buy some black oil sunflower seed and sit by your window and enjoy.  NJ Audubon carries a great supply of feeders and seed at our nature stores.  This website will provide the location nearest you.

If you would like to see one of these amazing white owls or perhaps some of the other birds listed above, All Things Birds has several opportunities to accommodate you.  On Saturday, December 7, we have a trip to Forsythe (Brigantine) NWR and another to Barnegat Light SP where Snowy Owls have been seen in the last week.  On Sunday, there is a trip to Sandy Hook where three owls have been recorded, plus all the great birds there listed above.  For the Forsythe (Brig) trip call 732-766-5787 and for the Barnegat Light and Sandy Hook trips call 609-897-9400.  We look forward to seeing you at one of these great birding hotspots.

Good birding,

Pete Bacinski

All Things Birds

 

Snowy Owl e SH

Snowy Owl at Brig:  Image taken by Susan Hill

 

Snowy Owl Flying p SH

Snowy Owl at Brig:  Image taken by Susan Hill

 

Eurasian Wigeon with Green on Face 3 SH

Eurasian Wigeon:  Image taken by Susan Hill

 

Tundra Swans 2a AM

Tundra Swans:  Image taken by Art Morris, Birds as Art

 

Marbled Godwits, Western Willets and Gulls Flying Winter 1 HT

Marbled Godwits, A. Oystercatchers and Willets at Brigantine Island:

Image taken by Harvey Tomlinson

Little Gull Wings-up 4 LS

Little Gull:  Image taken by Larry Scacchetti

 

Lapland Longspur h TB

Lapland Longspur:  Image taken by Tom Boyle

 

Snow Bunting w BCh

Snow Bunting:  Image taken by Bruce Christensen

 

King Eider Drake with Hen Common Eiders 1a

King Eider with Hen Common Eiders:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection

 

Red-necked Grebe 15a BKa

Red-necked Grebe:  Image taken by Billy Kaselow

 

Eared Grebe

Eared Grebe:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection

This Could Be a Snowy Winter, Owls That Is:

Last year was a major eruption year for Snowy Owls for most of North America, but not here in New Jersey.  Already this year, three or more owls have visited the Garden State with two or more at Sandy Hook this past weekend and many being reported north of our state.  This could bide for an excellent winter of these amazing visitors to our state, but only time will tell as to how many.  The success or lack thereof of the Lemming population, a small Arctic rodent determines whether these majestic owls will venture south from their chilly northern homes for more abundant eats south.  Snowy Owls nest on the high Arctic and would prefer to stay put there if food is abundant, but many younger birds will move south anyway.

Snowy Owls are most likely found along the coast here in New Jersey with places like Sandy Hook, the New Jersey Meadowlands, Liberty State Park, Island Beach State Park, Long Beach Island and Forsythe (Brigantine) the most likely places for them to be seen.  They will show up inland on occasion as with the bird that spent the entire winter at Merrill Creek Reservoir a couple of years ago.  They can be found in open meadows anywhere in the state and can often be located by their predilection to openly perch high on telephone poles or a even church steeple.  They seek out small rodents as their preferred prey item while wintering here.  New Jersey is for the most part as far as they will normally range south, but there are records of them moving as far south as Georgia and Texas.  Some birds are seen one day and gone the next and while others linger on here often into early March.  In 2009, a Snowy Owl was found summering in New Jersey for the first time at Liberty State Park.  There is a feeling by many experts that the birds that wander far south in a given winter, never make it back to the Arctic Breeding grounds  the following year and perish usually from starvation.  The Snowy Owl population is currently doing quite well, so there is nothing to fear.

There is a major hot button issue with this author with regard to birders and photographers and Snowy and other owls.  Do you ever wonder why owl sightings are not posted on hot lines or JerseyBirds?  The answer is when an owl is a target bird for many birders and photographers, they throw out the rule book on birding ethics. If they need to trespass on private property, climb a fence, ignore a keep out sign or trample a yard to get a closer look at the bird there is no problem.  People for some reason feel they need to hug the owl.  Fortunately they don’t feel that way about other species.  I have experienced one and heard of another story of birders going up to a perched small owl and petting it.  There a need to touch it and of course there is always a need by the photographers to get a few feet closer usually requiring the bird to flee ruining chances of anyone else to see it.  Many of these birds are stressed by their long journey here and from an inability to find food and can’t afford to expend energy fleeing photographers and clueless birders.  This past weekend a photographer at Sandy Hook through posted images taken by the person documented their causing one of the Snowy Owls there to flee because they needed to get a closer image. 

Several years ago a pair of Snowy Owls wintered near the DeKorte Environment Center in the Lyndhurst, New Jersey.  This pair attracted birders and photographers from all over the state with many not happy with their looks from the road climbed the fence ignoring the private property signs, requiring the Meadowland authorities to continuously notify the Lyndhurst police.  Anyone who has a desperate need to see an owl and there are many of those out there, should spend some time with the birding ethics rule book.  Owls are precious, but please show them respect.

A Happy Thanksgiving to all:

Pete Bacinski

 

Snowy Owl 11

Snowy Owl:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection

 

Snowy Owl 23 LS

Snowy Owl at Merrill Creek:  Image taken by Larry Scacchetti

 

Snowy Owl 28_edited-1 PB

Snowy Owl Perched High:  Image taken by Pete Bacinski

 

Snowy Owl Landing 1 BDa

Snowy Owl Along NJ Shore 2013:  Image taken by Bill Dalton

 

Snowy Owl Female e Karmela Moneta

Snowy Owl at Sandy Hook:  Image taken by Karmela Moneta

 

Lemming 1 Google

Lemming:  Image from Bing

 

Snowy Owl Female 1

Snowy Owl, Juvenile Female:   Image from NJ Audubon Collection

Great Birding in Late November:

Most of our favorite passerine migrants are now gone and we must wait for spring for their return, but there is so much out there to occupy us in the meantime.  We must bundle-up in this season with layers the best approach, but we are New Jerseyans and our birders are tough.  We have a myriad of birding opportunities to explore in the next few weeks.  Thanksgiving is approaching and we will be looking for ideas to fill the last three days of that holiday weekend after we have feasted big-time on Thursday.  Let me provide a few great suggestions for your birding entertainment.

There are still many of those short-distance migrants about, especially sparrows.  Glenhurst Meadows in Warren is still a treasure trove of birds including the Red-headed Woodpeckers and lots of sparrows.  If you are a fan of Red-headed Woodpeckers like me, try the recently discovered Oros Wildlife Preserve on Omar Avenue in Woodbridge which is home to more than ten of these amazing birds.  Other sparrow haunts include Cold Brook Preserve in Tewksbury, Overpeck Creek in Tenafly, and the Great Swamp NWR.

Sandy Hook has much to offer in this season.  Surrounded by water on three sides there are lots of look off points to scan for waterfowl, gannets and gulls.  Snow Buntings, Horned Larks and many sparrow are still present at this National Recreation Area.  Raptors are often passing though, while Cave Swallow, Lark Sparrow and a lingering Piping Plover were present during the last week.

If you are up for a ride south, there are many excellent day trips to consider.  Of course Forsythe (the birders call it Brig) NWR with thousands of waterfowl, lots of raptors and lingering sparrows, egrets and shorebirds.  This past weekend the refuge hosted Tundra Swans, Eurasian Wigeon, Hudsonian Godwit, Lapland Longspur, Nelson’s Sparrows, Snow Bunting, many Bald Eagles, Red-shouldered Hawk, and calling Virginia Rail to name a few.  This is one of America’s truly great refuges.

Barnegat Light State Park at the north end of Long Beach Island will be a great place to visit from now right though April with its annual flock of 20+ Harlequin Ducks which will often sit on the jetty and show off as well as lots of Long-tailed Ducks, Red-breasted Mergansers and all three Scoter species.  There are forty Common Eider there presently and always flocks of Purple Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone and Sanderlings hanging around often along with a few American Oystercatchers.  The Northern Gannet flight can be spectacular at times as they stream by the inlet.  Be sure to check out the dunes along the jetty at the inlet as they may hold Snow Buntings, Horned Larks and occasionally Lapland Longspur and “Ipswich” Savannah Sparrow.  Don’t forget to check out the gull flocks for Iceland, Glaucous, Little or Black-headed Gulls, always a possibility.  If you like loons, this is the place where both species are present often in numbers.

The hawkwatch at Cape May Point will still be operating till the end of November with this being a banner year for Golden Eagles.  Northern Goshawks are appearing in North Jersey with one or more hopefully finding their way to the Point.  There has been a great Parasitic Jaeger show there this year and Cape May is always a place to expect a rarity.  Cave Swallows are still present over Bunker Pond at Cape May Point State Park along with a few flyover White Pelicans and Red Crossbills in the last week.

If you want an amazing experience, visit the Avalon Seaswatch at the end of 7th Street in Avalon in Cape May County.  There is a seawatcher present there till almost Christmas tallying the enormous flight of seabirds that pass this location.  This watch tallies over 800,000 birds annually and is a spectacle that should not be missed.

For those who really don’t want to drive far, please consider one of great north Jersey Hawkwatches for a fun day if there is a flight.  You have NJ Audubon’s Montclair Hawkwatch, Scott’s Mountain at Merrill Creek Reservoir, Chimney Rock in Martinsville and if you love to hike, Raccoon Ridge overlooking the Delaware and Yard’s Creek Reservoir in Warren County.

As you can see birding opportunities are there for the taking.  Go out and enjoy.

There will be no blog posting next week as I am away.

Good birding.

Pete Bacinski

 

Harlequin Ducks 8 MM

Harlequin Ducks:  Image taken by Mike Mandracchia

 

Common Eiders 2a

Common Eiders:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection

 

Long-tailed Duck 3a BD

Long-tailed Duck:  Image taken by Bill Dalton

 

Northern Gannet Flying ya TK

Northern Gannet:  Image taken by Tiffany Kirsten

 

Purple Sandpiper p TK

Purple Sandpiper:  Image taken by Tiffany Kirsten

 

Red-headed Woodpecker m BK

Red-headed Woodpecker:  Image taken by Brett Klaproth

 

Eurasian Wigeon

Eurasian Wigeon:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection

 

Horned Lark

Horned Lark:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection

 

Northern Goshawk Juv. 2aa HT

Northern Goshawk:  Image taken by Harvey Tomlinson

 

Lapland Longspur h TB

Lapland Longspur:  Image taken by Tom Boyle

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

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

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