Spring comes into our lives on March 20, but spring for many of our avian friends is still quite far away. The forecast is for more unusually cold temperatures next week which will of course inhibit any birds south of us hoping for and early arrival. April 10 is usually the date when we begin to see the spring migrant “trickle in effect.” For me it was traditionally the 15th of April, but climate change and might I say global warming has some of our passerines (perching birds) now arriving earlier. Our usual harbingers of spring, Tree Swallows, Eastern Phoebe, Osprey and the large blackbird flocks have all begun arriving here in the Garden state. With the exception of the blackbird flocks, a small number of these other species leave North America for tropical winter climes. The individuals that don’t depart the continent are probably those that are first to appear here in New Jersey in March having wintered in the southeastern United States.
Neotropic migrants all head to Central and South America or the Caribbean in fall and return to us in spring. This is required because most are insectivorous or consume other prey like reptiles and amphibians not found here in winter. The early arrivers are short-distance migrants that do migrate, but do not leave the continent. This group includes American Robins, sparrows and the afore mentioned blackbirds among many others. Some of our Neo-tropic migrants can make it through the winter in sub-tropical places like south Florida and south Texas while Purple Martin probably the first of the true Neotropics to arrive in New Jersey with a couple of reports already registered this month.
Most of our desired warblers will begin arriving in early April including Palm, Yellow-throated, Yellow and Ovenbird, with others like Cape May, Wilson’s and Mourning not appearing until early May. Most birds time their migration to coincide with the peak of their primary diet food. One of the great providers for New Jersey’s nesting Neotropic species are inch worms or geometrid caterpillars. These are the small worms the ride a thin strand down from the tree branches above to the ground in spring that many folks find annoying. We have 27 species of nesting warbler in New Jersey. Birds like Cape May, Tennessee, Bay-breasted and Blackpoll Warbler all do not nest here, but move farther north with many to the boreal forest that spreads from ocean to ocean across Canada and Alaska and is considered by many America’s passerine nursery. Many of these boreal forest nesters favor Spruce Budworms as their preferred meal. This insect is cyclical with the current cycle providing many more budworms for the next few years. This should account for increased annual numbers of all of these boreal forest species until the cycle begins to decline.
The next two or three weeks will be difficult for many in the birding community as they are champing at the bit for new birds to see and to add to their hopefully burgeoning lists. In the interim, what is there to do for these deprived birders. Best advice is to head south. No you don’t have to catch the next flight to Florida, but hop in your car and depart for such places as Cape May, Forsythe (the birders call it Brig) and Salem County. Our waders, the herons and egrets are beginning to arrive and what better place to greet them than south Jersey. Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and if you very lucky Pectoral Sandpipers can also be found. Wilson’s Snipe have been popping up here and there. Mannington Marsh is a great place for snipe and a duck favorite Blue-winged Teal over the next few weeks. Pedricktown Marsh on the Gloucester/Salem border was historically a great spot in March for Ruff, but that phenomenon only lasted a few years, but this locations can still be a great birding place. Bald Eagles are often plentiful in Salem as they begin their nesting process.
Cape May has already tallied over a 190 species this year and is always a place to go for birds in all seasons. A LeConte’s Sparrow was just discovered at Stone Harbor Point, a great bird to chase. Our waterfowl are preparing to depart and in some cases have already departed, but last weekend there were over thirty species of waterfowl still present in the state. If you haven’t gotten your fill of ducks, swans and geese, this is as good a time as any. The Tundra Swans are still with us, but probably not for long. Brig hosted over a hundred this past weekend. There is still a Snowy Owl or two to be seen if you somehow were too busy to chase one earlier with Brig, the NJ Meadowlands and Sandy Hook hosting birds last week. Sandy Hook can be good in late March too and not that far of a journey for north Jersey folks. Red-shouldered Hawks are present sometimes in numbers at the Hook in March along with other migrating raptors including the returning Ospreys. The Hook can often provide an interesting gull or other surprise in very early spring.
New Jersey really isn’t the avian desert most impatient birders think it is in late March. This is a great time to explore places you may have never been to before in our great state. E-bird is a great source for finding where the birds are being seen. Go to the homepage of the NJ Audubon website for the e-bird link. Good luck.
There will be no blog for the final week of March as this writer (Pete Bacinski) will be off visiting family in North Carolina. Join me for a field trip to Brig on Saturday, April 5 at 8:45 a.m. in the refuge lot.
Here is our associate naturalist and cartoonist current cartoon for your enjoyment:
Osprey: Image taken by Bill Dix
Purple Martin: Image taken by Tom Boyle
Cape May Warbler: Image taken by Clara Coen
Geometrid Caterpillar: Image taken by Pete Bacinski
Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs: Image taken by Tom Reed
Wilson’s Snipe: Image taken by Mike Tracy
Blue-winged Teal: Image taken by Steve Byland
Bald Eagle: Image taken by Mitch Van Beekum
Little Blue Heron: Image taken by Susan Hill
Snowy Egret: Image taken by Howard Eskin
LeConte’s Sparrow: Image taken by Tom Reed
Red-shouldered Hawk: Image taken by Mike Tracy
By: Pete Bacinski, All Things Birds, Program Director
Mid-March has always been a time for birders to say that they wish that winter could not leave soon enough and plea fully ask when will the spring migrants ever arrive. Most birders are now tired of dealing with inclement weather, looking for and at waterfowl, gulls and for impossible to find rarities. They want some avian excitement and they want it now, but as we all know we don’t always get what we want. We must temper our expectations, hopes and dreams, but still have some fun birding. The signs of spring are here, but just not any Neotropic Migrants. Red-winged Blackbirds are showing up at feeders, Pine Warblers are appearing, American Woodcock are again heard “peenting” over open meadows at dawn and dusk, Forster’s Terns have returned to Cape May, the first Osprey arrived at Sandy Hook, ducks and geese are staging for their long journeys north, while Tree Swallows and Eastern Phoebe’s, the historical vanguard of spring migrants have already appeared. What more could we ask for? The birders answer is warblers, vireos, flycatchers, Orioles etc.
We still have about a month to wait for our Neotropic migrant friends to come and visit the Garden State, but there is still much birding to enjoy in the interim. Two rare gulls, Black-headed and Little Gull are present at the Villas in Cape May, Rough-legged Hawk and Golden Eagle are still being observed at Forsythe (the birders call it Brig) ;NWR, Red-headed Woodpeckers, everyone’s favorite are still residing in several parks in Union, Somerset and Hunterdon Counties, the Smith’s Longspur in the company of Lapland Longspurs and “Ipswich” Savannah Sparrow is probably is probably present at Stone Harbor Point and large numbers of Tundra Swans are staging at Whitesbog and other south Jersey locations. We know the latter is classified as waterfowl, but this bird is extraordinary. Some of these birds will leave New Jersey, head due northwest and then find themselves nesting in Siberia later in spring only to return to us next fall. BTW, if you missed Snowy Owl this winter, you were either very busy or quite unlucky, but they are still being seen. Individual were reported at Allenhurst, Sandy Hook and Manahawkin this week.
We discussed the remarkable journey of some of our wintering Tundra Swans, but let’s consider some of the other amazing birds that winter with us and spend spring and summer high up on the Arctic tundra. Snow Geese, Brant, Canada Geese (yes some still migrate), Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Greater Scaup, Surf and Black Scoter, Common and King Eider, Harlequin Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Long-tailed Duck, Red-throated Loon, Rough-legged Hawk, Black-belled Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Purple Sandpiper, Dunlin, Snowy Owl, American Tree Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow and Lapland Longspur often will make their way to the farthest points of land north in North America. Many of these winter in New Jersey by the thousands including Snow Geese, Brant, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Greater Scaup and Dunlin.
Below is an excerpt of a message from Eric Stiles, NJ Audubon President and Megan Tinsley, a conservation advocate at NJA. A proposal in under review in congress to preserve habitat in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for birds like the ones listed above as well as many other species of wildlife in our precious Arctic range. We urge you to support this important act. Not long ago the ANWR was under threat of oil drilling and may well be again. This is hallowed ground in North America in the view of many of our environmentalists and NJ Audubon. Let’s help keep it that way.
“The biological heart of ANWR is now under review in Congress, with a proposal to set aside 1.5 million acres as a stronghold for the incredible abundance of birds and other wildlife such as the porcupine caribou, which makes a remarkable 1,400-mile trek each year to reach calving grounds within the Coastal Plain. Known as the Udall-Eisenhower Arctic Wilderness Act, the proposal describes this area as the “very epitome of a primeval wilderness ecosystem” and is gaining early support from key members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation.
In New Jersey Audubon’s view, the Udall-Eisenhower Act should be passed promptly to ensure that we witness the future flights of Snowy Owls and the many other species that nest in the Arctic and winter in or migrate through New Jersey. Since ANWR’s inception in the 1950s, the area has drawn intense interest for its potential reserves of oil and natural gas.”
The ATB blog will have more on this important legislation later. Thanks for your consideration.
All Things Birds has field trips this Saturday, March 15 to Sandy Hook with Linda Mack and Scott Barnes and Salem County with Lloyd Shaw. For more information and to register please call the Plainsboro Preserve at 609-897-9400. Pete Bacinski has an ID workshop on Spring Warblers Sunday at Plainsboro Preserve. The warblers will be here soon, come and fine-tune your ID skills. To register please use the Plainsboro Preserve number above.
Here is Terry Carruthers, ATB associate naturalist’s weekly cartoon entitled “Grackle Chatter” for your enjoyment.
American Woodcock: Image taken by Steve Byland
Forster’s Tern: Image taken by Howard Eskin
Osprey: Image taken by Mitch Van Beekum
Pine Warbler: Image taken by Harvey Tomlinson
Tundra Swan: Image from NJ Audubon Collection
Alaskan Scenic, Richardson Highway: Image taken by Pete Bacinski
American Tree Sparrow: Image taken by Vince Capp
Black-bellied Plover Breeding: Image taken by Kevin Karlson
Dunlin Breeding: Image taken by Bill Dalton
Ruddy Turnstone Breeding: Image taken by Kevin Karlson
Green-winged Teal Drake: Image taken by Kevin Karlson
Long-tailed Duck: Image taken by Tiffany Kirsten
Red-breasted Merganser: image taken by Susan Hill
This winter there have been a number of avian species seen in unusually large numbers and there have been a few that have been in very short supply. On the plus side we have many reports of Red-necked Grebe, Eastern Towhee, Eurasian Wigeon, White-winged Scoter (inland), Red-headed Woodpecker, Snowy Owl and Ring-necked Duck (in one location). On the negative side we have had few or no Northern Shrike, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Purple Finch, Red-breasted Nuthatch and Pine Siskin along with the rest of the winter finches appearing this winter.
Red-necked Grebes are being discovered all over the state with a high of 14 on Round Valley Reservoir in the past week. This is accountable to the Great Lakes being 90% frozen this winter. When the lakes are solid ice, the grebes move far south. Why are there so many Eastern Towhees, a known half-hearty here and making it though this winter is remarkable. During mild winters a few stay with us, but not winters where temperature and snow are for the record books. Bird feeders have definitely helped them survive. Eurasian Wigeon for many years could always be found in winter at certain locations including the north shore ponds, Shark River Estuary especially Marconi Road and Forsythe (the birders call it Brig) NWR, but in the last few years they became scarce at most of these places. Now there are three present in the Shark River Estuary, and a few appearing at Union County ponds, never known as a hot bed for this species, while Brig had four on the CBC with two present recently.
White-winged Scoters with numbers in the thirties have been recorded along the Delaware River recently as well as a bird or two turning up in local ponds. This is unusual for this duck as they are the rarest of the three scoters in NJ mostly due to the fact they migrate further off-shore than Surf and Black Scoter, but migration is over. Why move to freshwater? New Jersey is on the fringe of the Red-headed Woodpecker nesting range. This nomadic woodpecker can appear one year in large numbers like 40+ in one location such as the Great Swamp NWR and be all gone the following year. They are appearing in numbers in a few Union County locations with ones and twos found in Somerset, Bergen and Hunterdon Counties. This is a bird to enjoy while they are here. Wish the state would put them back on our conservation License plates.
We all know the Snowy Owl saga by now, so no need to add to the legend, but there are still a bunch to be seen if you managed to miss one this winter. On March 4 Pete Dunne discovered a flock of 3,500 to 4,000 Ring-necked Ducks in Mauricetown in Cumberland County which is probably a new state record for numbers. This is a duck whereby a hundred would be unusual, no less thousands.
The have-not include Northern Shrike, an eruptive species from the north that you would think would have descended south with the frigid conditions north, but no such luck. Most winters a few Greater Yellowlegs hang out in south Jersey, but none this time around. This winter was too much for them as well as the usual flock of Forster’s Tern that would hang out most winters in Cape May. Recently we had had a flock of Lesser Black-backed Gulls in winter exceeding 600, but this winter you would be hard pressed to find more than a handful Some of their favorite reservoirs haunts have been frozen this winter. Purple Finches, Red-breasted Nuthatches and Pine Siskins are all eruptive species and this wasn’t a year for them to erupt, but Purple Finches and RB Nuts do nest in NJ in small numbers in north Jersey conifer forests None of these ever seem to find there way to our favorite patch post breeding in those lean years. Pine Siskin has breed in NJ many times but usual post eruption. We have had a few Pine Siskin reports in the last couple of weeks. Keep on the lookout for them at your thistle (niger) feeders. As for the other winter finches they were forecast to have a good winter food crop north and would not venture south this winter with that being the case.
Please consider my Ocean County Roads field trip on Saturday, March 8 meeting at the 8:45 a.m. meeting at the Value City parking lot on Bay Avenue in Manahawkin. You can’t miss it. A Snowy Owl was present this week at the Bridge to Nowhere-Stafford Avenue in Manahawkin and over 40 Tundra Swans at Stafford Forge WMA. We will visit these locations and many others. Who knows what else we will discover. Come and find out. For more information and to register call our Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuaries at 908-766-5787. If you read this too late today Friday, just show up in the morning.
Here’s this week’s cartoon by our associate naturalist Terry Carruthers:
Birding Skills 101:
JIZZ (Brit. slang) WW11 plane-spotters term for 'A General Impression of Size and Shape'.
Red-necked Grebe: Image taken by Tom Boyle
Eastern Towhee: Image taken by Clara Coen
White-winged Scoter: Image taken by Bert Filemyr
Red-headed Woodpecker: Image taken by Mitch Van Beckum
Ring-necked Duck: Image taken by Tom Beattie
Northern Shrike: Image taken by Linda Widdop
Greater Yellowlegs: Image taken by Bill Dix
Lesser Black-backed Gull: Image taken by Larry Scacchetti
Purple Finch: Image taken by Joe Pescatore
Pine Siskin: Image taken by Jim Gilbert
Red-breasted Nuthatch: Image taken by Steve Byland
Despite the difficult winter we have endured here in the Garden State, we still have large numbers of waterfowl present. March is typically the time when our ducks, geese and migratory swans start getting the urge to move north toward their breeding grounds. Some of these have remarkable migration routes such as the Tundra Swan which migrates diagonally across North America to western Canada and Alaska with some even continuing on to Siberia to nest. Some Harlequin Ducks migrate horizontally across the northern United States to fast moving rivers in our northwestern states and western Canada. New Jersey has the largest population of wintering Brant on the east coast. This goose nests on the high Arctic and must be careful not to leave too early since arriving on the totally frozen nesting grounds could result in dangerous consequences.
New Jersey is home to thousands of wintering Greater Scaup which will be departing soon for their Canadian breeding grounds. One day they will be there in great numbers and the next day they will be all gone. Keep your eyes to the sky for Snow Geese on the move. Merrill Creek Reservoir has had 50.000 present this winter while Forsythe (the birders call it Brig) NWR has had about 6,000. These birds will begin moving north very soon as they too nest up on the high Arctic, but take a slow journey north getting there. Four-figure flocks high overhead are not unusual in March. Listen for there in flight calls as you are more likely the hear them before seeing them. Our Long-tailed Ducks will stage most years along the coast near Barnegat Inlet with a few thousand birds present. Staging means these birds gather at this location accruing new birds for several days or more until one day when they depart north en masse. A great nickname for the Long-tailed Duck is the “South Southerly.” My thoughts on this are if you watch the bird in flight its tail-end is slightly tilted down, thus the south or back end of the bird points south.
Unbelievably, we still do have migrating Canada Geese many of which fly to Greenland to nest. This is a good thing for birders as we are beneficiaries of the rare geese (Barnacle, Pink-footed and Greater White-fronted Geese) that follow these Canada Geese back to the east coast of North America in fall. Our scoters too head far up into Canada and Alaska to nest, but many will still be around here into April. Most folks don’t realize the enormous number of scoters that pass New Jersey ever fall. NJ Audubon has sponsored the Avalon Seaswatch for over twenty years in the Cape May County town of Avalon where the three month count there will usually total well over 200,000 scoters alone every fall.
Not many of our ducks actually nest here in the Garden State. Mallards and Black Ducks are among the most common along with Wood Ducks. Forsythe (Brig) NWR’s charter requires them to maintain habitat at the refuge for nesting Black Ducks, a favorite of hunters who fund much of that tab with Duck Stamp funds. Birders too can buy Duck Stamps at most post offices for $15 enabling them to visit any National wildlife Refuge in the country without a paying an entrance fee. The stamp begins on July 1 and runs to June 30. They are also available at the Forsythe visitor center. You too can help support America's waterfowl and our wildlife refuges.
Why do our ducks look their best in the winter and look their worst in summer when they are in their eclipse plumage. The answer is most species do their pair bonding in the winter, whereby the pair will mate along the way to the breeding grounds and the rest is history. In summer they are often still sitting on the nest with a dull drab appearance not bringing any attention to them by predators.
North America’s largest duck the Common Merganser nests along tributaries of the Delaware River and is often seen on the river in spring and summer. Its cousin the Hooded Merganser is an uncommon nester in freshwater marshes in North Jersey most springs. Of course the introduced Mute Swans are permanent residents here. Ruddy Ducks and Green-winged and Blue-winged Teal are rare nesters here too, with Ruddy Ducks having nested in the NJ Meadowlands, Green-winged Teal in North Jersey and Blue-winged Teal primarily in south Jersey. Northern Shoveler was discovered one year during nesting season in the NJ Meadowlands in the early 90’s and the subtlety beautiful Gadwall seems to be increasing as a nester here in recent years.
Another Arctic vortex is coming and we will have to wait and see this will effect our New Jersey wintering ducks and geese. This cold weather should put to an end any thoughts of them moving north for now. We have already had some early spring arrivals in the NJ avian world with Tree Swallows appearing in several NJ locations this past weekend, while an almost month early Laughing Gull arrived in Cape May mid-week. Red-shouldered Hawks have been more plentiful than usual this winter along with Eastern Towhees, a bird not known for its tolerance of cold winters. Both Green-winged Teal and the Tundra Swans were quite vociferous this weekend calling readily at Brig, perhaps another sign of spring.
Pete Bacinski has two bird workshops this weekend with a Waterfowl ID Workshop at NJ Audubon’s Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary in Bernardsville on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. and a Spring Shorebirds Workshop at NJ Audubon’s Plainsboro Preserve on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. For the Saturday program at Scherman-Hoffman call 908-766-5787 for questions or to register and for the program at the Plainsboro Preserve on Sunday call 609-897-9400 for any questions or to register.
Here is associate naturalist and good guy Terry Carruther’s cartoon for the week for you to enjoy.
This is courtesy of my friend Susan Hill.
Tundra Swans: Image taken by Beth Starr
Harlequin Duck: Image taken by Howard Eskin
Brant: Image from NJ Audubon Collection
Greater Scaup Flock: Image taken by Brett Klaproth
Snow Geese: Image taken by Pete Bacinski
Long-tailed Duck Drake: Image taken by Tiffany Kirsten
Black Duck Drake: Image taken Art Morris, Birds as Art
Wood Duck Drake: Image taken by Corinne Errico
Common Merganser Drake: Image taken by Bob Devlin
Hooded Merganser Drakes: Image taken by Bruce Christensen
Green-winged Teal Drake: Image taken by Kevin Karlson
Gadwall Drake: Image from NJ Audubon Collection
Northern Shoveler Drake: Image taken by Jessica Kirste
This winter, two of the most frequently asked questions called in or e-mailed to NJ Audubon have been the surprise of seeing American Robins and Eastern Towhees at bird feeders. Years ago most folks always equated an American Robin sighting in March as the first sign of spring, but now there hardy thrushes are common and in some cases abundant in New Jersey all winter. A fact that many may not realize is that the robins that nested and spent the summer with us are not the same birds that are present now. The Latin name of an American Robin is Turdus migratorius, it is a highly migratory species. The robins present in the winter with us probably spent their summer nesting in northern Canada.
The summer and winter ranges of this remarkable bird almost completely cover the entire North American land mass north of Mexico. They are abundant and found at high elevations in western mountains and at sea-level in the east. In my Manahawkin territory alone on December 29’s Barnegat Christmas Count, we had 1200 robins. In the last week over six thousand were reported flying at day’s end in Tom’s River. Our gardening practices have helped this remarkable bird to stay with us in winter as there are now many berry baring conifers and holly trees around to provide them sustenance. I believe with this terribly inclement weather we have been experiencing folks are captive in their home and yearningly spending more time looking out their windows and are surprised at seeing robins, a wonderful bird to have around all year.
Another very common New Jersey bird that has almost the same migratory and residence habits as the American Robin is the Blue Jay. Our summer Blue Jays head south while our winter birds probably wintered in southern Canada or the northern US. There will be periods when Blue Jays are absent which usually relates to when the local acorn (a Blue Jay favorite food) crop is poor. This migratory species is not found as widespread as the robin, but is very common. This winter there are an exceptional number of Eastern Towhees present in the state. Most years a very few try to overwinter here with many probably not surviving till spring. This year they have been discovered hanging out at feeders and in other locations all over the state. I have personally tallied seven this winter on birding trips and a north Jersey feeder had three last week. Many are asking why, but I don’t have an answer to that question and amazingly they have so far survived this horrific winter weather.
A great trait of the towhee along with Fox Sparrows, quite common this winter and White-throated Sparrows are their proclivity to scratch for seeds on the ground usually under a feeder. They stand in position, dig their claws into the dirt or leaf litter and jump backwards. Check out this interesting behavior for yourself, if you can. Other non-passerine (perching) New Jersey birds that summer north and winter south are Northern Flickers, Great Blue Herons and Red-tailed Hawks. Amazingly we actually do not witness this seasonal transition of these birds.
Another excellent bird showing up in blackbird flocks and at bird feeders lately is the Rusty Blackbird, a species that is in a severe population decline. Published estimates of the Rusty Blackbird population have its numbers down as much as 97%. They usually pass through the Garden State from late February through April. This week a couple of reports of Pine Siskins have also surfaced in this winter featuring a dearth of winter finches. The Pacific Loon was rediscovered along the north Jersey shore this week off Seven President’s Park in Long Branch. This is an excellent Jersey bird. The previously reported Western Grebe is probably still present in the area, so there are birds to seek. Snowy Owls were logged at Sandy Hook and Manasquan Inlet in the last few days. Now it is your turn to find that bird everyone else wants to see. There is none of the dreadful four-letter word snow in this weekend’s forecast. Go out and enjoy.
We have two excellent field trips to consider this weekend. Associate naturalist Mike Mandracchia and I are leading a field trip to our favorite NJ birding place, Forsythe (the birders call it Brig) National Wildlife refuge on Saturday, meeting at the refuge at 8:45 a.m., while associate naturalist Rob Fanning is leading a group to the NJ Meadowlands, meeting at the DeKorte Environment Center in Lyndhurst on Sunday also at 8:45 a.m. To register and/or for more information call our Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary at 908-766-5787. They are open 9 to 5 Tuesday through Saturday and 12 to 5 on Sunday. We hope to see you at one of these excellent field trips.
Here’s this week’s cartoon by NJ Audubon’s associate naturalist Terry Carruthers:
American Robin: Image taken by Clara Coen
American Robins: Image taken by Mike Anderson
Eastern Towhee Male: Image taken by Clara Coen
Blue Jay: Image taken by Corinne Errico
Blue Jay with Acorn: Image taken by John Beetham
Northern Flicker: Image taken by Clara Coen
Great Blue Heron: Image taken by Susan Hill
Fox Sparrow: Image taken by Harvey Tomlinson
Pine Siskin: Image taken by Thomas Walsh
Rusty Blackbird: Image taken by Mike Tracy
Pacific Loon: Image taken by Tom Boyle
Snowy Owl: Image taken by Roger Jennings
This brutal winter has taken its toll on all of us and not made birding easy. Snow is truly a four-letter word. That said, there have been great birds around for the intrepid birders willing to trek out into the snow covered landscape and cold to enjoy. A Common Murre perhaps the best of the NJ rarities has spent several days on Sunset Lake in Wildwood Crest. Sunset Lake is actually a bay that often has lots of waterfowl in winter. Why a rare ocean-going Alcid like this would hang out there is anyone’ guess. The bird actively feeds and appears healthy. Great views are possible with a spotting scope. The Western Grebe has not been seen for a few days at Monmouth Beach, but is still probably around somewhere along the north shore. A cooperative Snowy Owl continues at Forsythe (the birders call it Brig) National Wildlife Refuge along with over 70 Tundra Swans and assorted ducks. A pair of hen King Eiders continue to linger under the toll bridge at Nummy Island in Stone Harbor. There are no tolls in winter here and the islands also has many American Oystercatchers present. Other highlights include 50,000 Snow Geese at Merrill Creek Reservoir and a Rough-legged Hawk at the Alpha Grasslands both in Warren County.
On a slightly less impressive note, an American Kestrel is wintering at the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge along Pleasant Plains Road with lots of American Tree Sparrows found at the active Fenske Visitor Center feeders there. Red-shouldered Hawks have been seen in several locations statewide this winter including the Swamp. Short-eared Owls can be viewed at dusk from the end of Stafford Avenue (the bridge to nowhere road) in Manahawkin, while there is the usual flock of Harlequin Ducks as well as other waterfowl and gulls at Barnegat Light State Park, truly one of the best winter birding locations anywhere. Northern Cardinals and House Finches have begun singing and Red-winged Blackbirds claiming their territory's, all great signs of spring.
This Sunday, February 16, Mike Britt one of NJ Audubon’s excellent associate naturalists is leading his now annual birding adventure to the Wallkill River and the Shawangunk National Wildlife Refuges in search of Raptors especially Rough-legged Hawks, Northern Harriers, Golden Eagle and Short-eared Owls and perhaps a non-raptor surprise or two. This trip has been quite popular attracting crowds with Mike finding as many as 40 Rough-legged Hawks, two Golden Eagles and 11 Short-eared Owls on one of these adventures. The Wallkill River NWR lies on the New Jersey/New York border in Sussex County and the Shawangunk NWR is located in Ulster County, New York. The meeting place will be at the Wallkill River refuge headquarters on Route 565 (about two miles north of Route 23) in the town of Sussex. The outing will start at 8:45 a.m. and after completing birding there, Mike will lead a caravan up to the Shawangunk NWR. Both refuges are great places to see these target birds. In the last month the Wallkill Refuge has had over 15 Short-eared Owls seen at one time. This is truly an amazing number of these glorious owls. To register for Mike’s trip, please call our Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary at 908-766-5787.
For those less adventurous, join me, Pete Bacinski and NJ Audubon’s Kelly Wenzel at the wonderful Greenwood Gardens in Short Hills on Saturday Morning, February 15 at 10:30 a.m. as we participate in the annual Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s Great Backyard Bird Count, held on President’s weekend asking folks to tally the birds present in their yards and at their feeders all around North America during that weekend. We will be warmly tucked inside monitoring the feeders, sipping cocoa, listening to great bird stories and viewing a short PowerPoint presentation on birds you can find in your yard and the importance and Joy of bird feeding. The program is open to all. Greenwood Gardens is a lovely 28 acre picturesque estate found off Old Short Hill Road. The program will officially end at noon, but we plan to stay into the early afternoon. There is a small fee. To register or for more information, please call Greenwood Gardens at 973-258-4026. Unfortunately this program has been cancelled due to more impending snow and local Icy roads and driveways. We are very sorry for the inconvenience this may have caused. We are concerned with everyone’s safety.
After the snow finally subsides on Friday morning and we shovel out, there are many excellent birding options to consider for this weekend. Go out and enjoy and stay warm and safe. We look forward to seeing you.
Here’s our weekly cartoon by NJ Audubon associate naturalist Terry Carruthers:
Common Murre: Image taken by Linda Mack
King Eider Hen: Image taken by Larry Scacchetti
Western Grebe: Image taken by Sam Galick
Snowy Owl: Image taken by Chris Davidson
American Kestrel: Image taken by Tom Boyle
Snow Goose Flock: Image taken by Art Morris, Birds as Art
Short-eared Owl: Image taken by Chris Davidson
Northern Harrier Male: Image taken by Mike Tracy
Golden Eagle: Image taken by Jessica Kirste
Rough-legged Hawk: Image taken by Nick Guirate
Apologies for no blog last week, time did just not allow. Snowy Owls are still being seen in the Garden State with Forsythe (the birders call it Brig), just north of Atlantic City the most reliable location this winter in case you still haven’t gotten to see one yet. A rare Western Grebe was discovered off Monmouth Beach this past week. Once an extremely rare bird in the state, this has now become an annual visitor. The question remains is the bird seen at Monmouth Beach one of the birds from last year that just never left. This is a question that probably does not have an answer unless someone were able to turn up one in Summer in Jersey waters. The Sandhill Cranes in Somerset continues to be reliable, while the two Rough-legged Hawk have departed the Great Swamp. The area around the Fenske Visitor Center at the Great Swamp seems to have a winter resident American Kestrel and Red-shouldered Hawk present for your viewing. Both are uncommon winter raptors here. The wonderful array of fifteen plus Short-eared Owls at the Wallkill River NWR are most likely still present and best seen at dusk.
The big news last week was the discovery of a Smith’s Longspur found along the extensive dunes at Stone Harbor Point in Cape May County by Harvey Tomlinson who has a knack for finding rare birds. The bird was discovered in a small mixed flock of Lapland Longspurs and Savannah Sparrows that included a few “Ipswich” form Savannah Sparrows. This was a third state record for New Jersey with the previous birds seen in April 1991 in Cape May and October 1995 at Island Beach State Park with both birds lingering for almost a week. The Stone Harbor bird was rediscovered by several birders during the next few days, but was a no-show on Saturday when there were over a hundred birders in pursuit. The bird could still be present and just hiding out in that extensive dune habitat at Stone Harbor Point, plus Mother Nature wrath this winter hasn’t made pursing any bird easy.
Our excellent associate naturalist and ATB cartoonist Terry Carruthers will be leading a field trip to Merrill Creek Reservoir in Warren County, just north of Phillipsburg off I-78 this Sunday. Terry may also visit some other winter area hot-spots like the Alpha Grasslands, and/or Spruce Run and Round Valley Reservoirs. Please come out and visit with Terry and enjoy some great winter birding. Merrill Creek has been home to five-figure numbers of Snow Geese this winter as well as many species of diving ducks, provided the reservoir hasn’t completely frozen over. The Alpha Grasslands can often provide interesting raptors like Northern Harriers and if you are lucky Rough-legged Hawk and better yet Short-eared Owl. The Grasslands are also noted for their flocks of Horned Larks and sometimes Snow Buntings along with a Lapland Longspur or two. All the reservoirs usually have resident Bald Eagles which can often provide a great views as well as a possibility of seeing a rare or unusual gull. To register for this trip please contact our Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary at 908-732-5787.
Please come out Thursday, February 13 at 7:00 p.m. to Duke Farms in Hillsborough for my program: Owls, Nightjars and Rails, Birds We Love, but Seldom Ever See. A great opportunity to see these very secretive and often nocturnal birds through great photography and to have all your many questions answered. For more information and to register please contact: Duke Farms, Phone Number: 908-732-3700; www.diukefarms.org.
Here’s Terry Carruthers weekly cartoon:
Smith’s Longspur: Image taken by Harvey Tomlinson
Smith’s Longspur: Image taken by Harvey Tomlinson
Lapland Longspur: Image taken by Howard Eskin
Snow Bunting: Image from NJ Audubon Collection
“Ipswich” Savannah Sparrow: Image taken by Tom Boyle
Sandhill Crane at Somerset: Image by Joe Pescatore
Short-eared Owl: Image taken by Chris Davidson
Western Grebe: Image taken by Bill Dix
American Kestrel: Image taken by Harvey Tomlinson
Red-shouldered Hawk: Image taken by Mike Tracy
Bald Eagle: Image taken by Mike Tracy
We have five excellent National Wildlife Refuges in New Jersey that are always worth a visit. Starting from the north, we have the Wallkill River NWR founded in 1990 to preserve habitat with 5100 acres currently protected is found on the Sussex County/Orange County, NY border. The headquarters is found on Route 565 north out of the town of Sussex. There are many trails to hike with the most well known the Liberty Loop trail at 2.5 miles found on the other side of the border in Pine Island New York. Yours truly helped complete the first breeding bird survey for the pre-refuge area in the late 1980’s. In the last week a remarkable 20 Short-eared Owls were observed flying all at once at dusk on Sunday. This is a great place to see Rough-legged Hawks and Northern Harriers in winter and can be excellent in migration for many species.
The Great Swamp NWR was founded in 1960 to preserve the area as it had been designated as a site of a new major airport. A grass root movement led to major support to preserve the great marshlands there and the rest history. The refuge consists of 7,768 acres and can be excellent for birding in any season. There are boardwalks from the parking lot on Long Hill Road to explore and a visitor center on Pleasant Plains Road. Much of the refuge is off-limits to the public, but there are plenty of locations for birding with the gazebo parking lot on Pleasant Plains Road one of the best. The refuge is home to at different times of year American Bittern, Sora, Virginia Rail, Wood Ducks, Barred Owl, Eastern Bluebirds, Wilson’s Snipe, songbirds to just name a few. Occasionally a Northern Shrike will come to visit in winter, always a treat.
The gem of the New Jersey National Wildlife Refuge system is Forsythe (the birders call it Brig) NWR in Galloway Township just north of Atlantic City. The refuge is broken into two divisions with the Brigantine (southern division) founded in 1939 and the northern Barnegat Division founded in 1967. The refuge has an amazing 47, 000 acres with 80% tidal salt marsh. The refuge list has over 350 birds species listed and can also be great for butterflies and botany. This is not only one of the best refuges in the national system, it is one of the best in America. Any season here can produce great birding. Spring migration brings lots of waterfowl followed by shorebirds, songbirds and waders with the Brigantine division the best place in the refuge to bird. There is an eight mile auto loop. whereby you experience salt marsh on the right and fresh and brackish habitats on the left as you drive along the elevated dike around the refuge. This is the best location in the state for shorebirds with almost twenty species possible on any summer visit. Birding days there in the summer can produce over a hundred species. Autumn provides waterfowl, passerines, and raptors with many remaining or passing through in winter. Three Snowy Owls have been present there since early December and often creating traffic jams. Bald Eagles are often present along with Northern Harriers, Red-tailed Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, a Red-shouldered Hawk (lately) and often accipiters. The Snow Goose flock has been about 5,000 this winter with many Tundra Swans present, while a few rare Eurasian Wigeon were present in ithe Danzenbaker Pool in December. This is a must see refuge if you are a birder. Binoculars are necessary and a spotting scope will definitely enhance your experience.
The Supawna Meadows NWR in Salem County is the least visited refuge in NJ, but it is only thirty miles from Philadelphia. The refuge was founded in 1974 as a migratory stopover site for waterfowl, shorebirds and passerines along the Atlantic Flyway. The refuge is 2020 acres with 80 acres grassland habitat that can be great for sparrows in spring. The Cape May NWR began in 1989 as a migration stop over place for shorebirds, songbirds and waterfowl on the refuge’s 11,000 acres. Cape May County is one of the great migration traps in America and this refuge helps support these migrants.
All Things Birds has a beginning birders field trip and workshop on Saturday, January 25 at the Great Swamp and Scherman-Hoffman Sanctuary in Bernardsville and a Great Swamp field trip on Saturday, February 1. To sign-up or for more information call 908-766-5787.
Here is this week’s Terry Carruthers’ bit of avian humor for your enjoyment. Terry is one of NJ Audubon’s fine associate naturalists.
Brigantine Scenic: Image taken by Pete Bacinski
Brigantine Scenic: Image taken by Pete Bacinski
Auto-loop Over Dike at Brig: Image taken by Pete Bacinski
Birds at Brig: Image taken by Mary Delia
Snowy Owl Traffic Jam at Brig: Image taken by Ellie Kidd
Snowy Owl at Brig: Image taken by Susan Hill
Barred Owl: Image taken by Bill Dix
Northern Shrike: Image taken by Linda Widdop
American Bittern: Image taken by Tom Boyle
Wilson’s Snipe: Image taken by Pete Bacinski
Rough-legged Hawk: Image from NJ Audubon Collection:
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: Image taken by Rose Campisi
Short-eared Owl: Image taken by Chris Davidson
Short-eared Owl: Image from NJ Audubon Collection
Short-eared Owl: Image taken by Chris Davidson
Short-eared Owl Close-up: Image from NJ Audubon Collection
(Note the short ear tufts)
Short-eared Owl Flying: Image taken by Bill Dix
Short-eared Owl Flying: Image taken by Chris Davidson
Short-eared Owl Flying: Image taken by Tom Reed
Here is Terry Carruthers, NJ Audubon Associate Naturalist’s weekly cartoon for your enjoyment
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.
Pacific Loon: Image taken by Larry Scacchetti:
Red-necked Grebe: Image taken by Billy Kaselow
Harlequin Ducks: Image taken by Mike Mandracchia
Rough-legged Hawk, Dark Morph: Image taken by Julia Wagner
Short-eared Owl: Image taken by Chris Davidson
Marbled Godwits and “Western” Willets: Image taken by Larry Scacchetti
Black-capped Chickadee: Image taken by David Kenny
Greater White-fronted Goose: Image taken by Jim Gilbert
Eurasian Collared-Dove: Image taken by Steve Byland
Western Kingbird: Image taken by Steve Byland