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.
Carolina Chickadee: Image taken by Brett Klaproth
Blue Jay: Image taken by Joe Pescatore
Dark-eyed Junco: Image taken by Clara Coen
Downy Woodpecker: Image taken by Brett Klaproth
Fox Sparrow: Image taken by Harvey Tomlinson
Pine Warbler on Suet: Image from NJ Audubon Collection
Purple Finch: Image taken by Joe Pescatore
Red-bellied Woodpecker: Image taken by Brett Klaproth
Red-breasted Nuthatch: Image taken by Steve Byland
White-breasted Nuthatch: Image taken by Bob Devlin
White-throated Sparrow: Image taken by Clara Coen
Northern Cardinal: Image from NJ Audubon Collection
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: Image taken by Bruce Christensen
Little Gull: Image taken by Tom Boyle
Glaucous Gull: Image taken by Bill Dix
Cackling and Canada Goose: Image from NJ Audubon Collection
Sandhill Crane: Image taken by Howard Eskin
Long-eared Owl: Image from NJA Collection
Razorbill: Image taken by Tom Boyle
Northern Shrike: Image from NJ Audubon Collection
Sedge Wren: Image taken by Clara Coen
Orange-crowned Warbler: Image taken by Ellen and Tony DeCarlo
Common Redpoll: Image taken by Debbi BiFulco
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.
All Things Birds
Snowy Owl at Brig: Image taken by Susan Hill
Snowy Owl at Brig: Image taken by Susan Hill
Eurasian Wigeon: Image taken by Susan Hill
Tundra Swans: Image taken by Art Morris, Birds as Art
Marbled Godwits, A. Oystercatchers and Willets at Brigantine Island:
Image taken by Harvey Tomlinson
Little Gull: Image taken by Larry Scacchetti
Lapland Longspur: Image taken by Tom Boyle
Snow Bunting: Image taken by Bruce Christensen
King Eider with Hen Common Eiders: Image from NJ Audubon Collection
Red-necked Grebe: Image taken by Billy Kaselow
Eared Grebe: Image from NJ Audubon Collection
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:
Snowy Owl: Image from NJ Audubon Collection
Snowy Owl at Merrill Creek: Image taken by Larry Scacchetti
Snowy Owl Perched High: Image taken by Pete Bacinski
Snowy Owl Along NJ Shore 2013: Image taken by Bill Dalton
Snowy Owl at Sandy Hook: Image taken by Karmela Moneta
Lemming: Image from Bing
Snowy Owl, Juvenile Female: Image from NJ Audubon Collection
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.
Harlequin Ducks: Image taken by Mike Mandracchia
Common Eiders: Image from NJ Audubon Collection
Long-tailed Duck: Image taken by Bill Dalton
Northern Gannet: Image taken by Tiffany Kirsten
Purple Sandpiper: Image taken by Tiffany Kirsten
Red-headed Woodpecker: Image taken by Brett Klaproth
Eurasian Wigeon: Image from NJ Audubon Collection
Horned Lark: Image from NJ Audubon Collection
Northern Goshawk: Image taken by Harvey Tomlinson
Lapland Longspur: Image taken by Tom Boyle
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. Image taken by Steve Byland
Northern Goshawk Juv. Image taken by Tom Reed
LeConte’s Sparrow: Image taken by Tom Boyle
Lapland Longspur: Image taken by Howard Eskin
Red-headed Woodpeckers: Image taken by Bill Dalton
Red Crossbill: Image taken by Sam Galick
Short-eared Owl: Image taken by Bill Dix
Hudsonian Godwit: Image taken by Chris Takacs
Black-headed Gull: Image taken by Bruce Christiansen
American White Pelican: Image taken by Larry Scacchetti
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: Image taken by Joe Pescatore
Gadwall: Image from NJ Audubon Collection
Eurasian Wigeon: Image from NJ Audubon Collection
Common Merganser: Image taken by Bill Dix
Snow Geese: Image taken by Pete Bacinski
Bufflehead: Image taken by Tom Reed
Common Goldeneye: Image from NJ Audubon Collection
Canvasback: Image taken by Art Morris, Birds as Art
Greater Scaup: Image taken by Brett Klaproth
Long-tailed Duck: Image taken by Sean Wainwright
Harlequin Duck: Image taken by Tiffany Kersten
Hooded Merganser: Image taken by Clara Coen
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: Image taken by Clara Coen:
Savannah Sparrow: Image taken by Howard Eskin
White-throated Sparrow: Image taken by Bill Dix
Chipping Sparrow: Image taken by Sam Galick
White-crowned Sparrow: Image taken by Clara Coen
American Tree Sparrow: Image taken by Howard Eskin
Fox Sparrow: Image by Clara Coen
Lark Sparrow: Image taken by Sam Galick
Vesper Sparrow: Image taken by Joe Pescatore
Saltmarsh Sparrow: Image from NJ Audubon Collection
Nelson’s Sparrow: Image from NJ Audubon Collection
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: Image taken by Deb BiFulco
Palm Warbler: Image from NJ Audubon Collection
Orange-crowned Warbler: Image taken by Harvey Tomlinson
Yellow-rumped Warbler: Image taken by Howard Eskin
Ruby-crowned Kinglet: Image taken by Bob Devlin
Golden-crowned Kinglet: Image taken by Clara Coen
Rusty Blackbirds: Image taken by Sam Galick
Lapland Longspur: Image taken by Brett Klaproth
Vesper Sparrow: Image from NJ Audubon Collection
Savannah Sparrow: Image taken by Tom Smith
Clay-colored Sparrow: Image taken by Howard Eskin
Nelson’s Sparrows: Image from NJ Audubon Collection
Saltmarsh Sparrow: Image from NJ Audubon Collection
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: Image taken by Tiffany Kirsten
Sharp-shinned Hawk: Image taken by Jim Gilbert
Northern Goshawk Juvenile: Image taken by Tom Reed
Red-shouldered Hawk Juvenile: Image taken by Steve Byland
Red-tailed Hawks, Juvenile and Adult: Image taken by Steve Byland
Rough-legged Hawk, Light Morph: Image from NJ Audubon Collection
Merlin: Image taken by Sam Galick
Golden Eagle, Juvenile: Image taken by Mike Tracy