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Birding Inquiries and the Winter Doldrums:

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:

 

Terry Cartoon Feb. 22

 

 

American Robin s CC

American Robin:  Image taken by Clara Coen

 

American Robins at Bird Bath pa MA

American Robins:  Image taken by Mike Anderson

 

Eastern Towhee 5 CC

Eastern Towhee Male:  Image taken by Clara Coen

 

Blue Jay 14 CE

Blue Jay:  Image taken by Corinne Errico

 

Caching

Blue Jay with Acorn:  Image taken by John Beetham

 

Northern Flicker m CC

Northern Flicker:  Image taken by Clara Coen

 

Great Blue Heron with Reflection 1 SH

Great Blue Heron:  Image taken by Susan Hill

 

Fox Sparrow g HT

Fox Sparrow:  Image taken by Harvey Tomlinson

 

Pine Siskin 18

Pine Siskin:  Image taken by Thomas Walsh

 

Rusty Blackbird Winter 9 MT

Rusty Blackbird:  Image taken by Mike Tracy

 

Pacific Loon:  Image taken by Tom Boyle

 

Snowy Owl Female Juv. Flying 1a RJ

Snowy Owl:  Image taken by Roger Jennings

Birding Between the Storms:

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:

 

BIRD TABLE MANNERS

 

Common Murre Winter 6a LJM

Common Murre:  Image taken by Linda Mack

 

King Eider Hen 1aa LS

King Eider Hen:  Image taken by Larry Scacchetti

 

Western Grebe 8a SG

Western Grebe:  Image taken by Sam Galick

 

Snowy Owl 25 CD

Snowy Owl:  Image taken by Chris Davidson

 

American Kestrel:  Image taken by Tom Boyle

 

Snow Geese Huge Flock r AM

Snow Goose Flock:  Image taken by Art Morris, Birds as Art

 

Short-eared Owl 21CD

Short-eared Owl:  Image taken by Chris Davidson

 

Northern Harrier Male Flying 7a MT

Northern Harrier Male:  Image taken by Mike Tracy

 

Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle:  Image taken by Jessica Kirste

 

Rough-legged Hawk Juv. (DM) 3 NG

Rough-legged Hawk:  Image taken by Nick Guirate

Rare Birds and Merrill Creek:

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:

 

Terry's cartoon 2

 

Smith's Longspur Winter 1 HT

Smith’s Longspur:  Image taken by Harvey Tomlinson

 

Smith's Longspur Winter 2 HT

Smith’s Longspur:  Image taken by Harvey Tomlinson

 

Lapland Longspur m HE

Lapland Longspur: Image taken by Howard Eskin

 

Snow Bunting 15a

Snow Bunting:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection

 

“Ipswich” Savannah Sparrow:  Image taken by Tom Boyle

 

Sandhill Crane 12 JP

Sandhill Crane at Somerset:  Image by Joe Pescatore

 

Short-eared Owl Hovering 1 CD

Short-eared Owl:  Image taken by Chris Davidson

 

Western Grebe 12 WD

Western Grebe:  Image taken by Bill Dix

 

American Kestrel 15 HT

American Kestrel:  Image taken by Harvey Tomlinson

 

Red-shouldered Hawk 23 MT

Red-shouldered Hawk:  Image taken by Mike Tracy

 

Bald Eagle 38 MT

Bald Eagle:  Image taken by Mike Tracy

Birding Our New Jersey National Wildlife Refuges.

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.

 

Pishing

 

Brigantine Scenic n PB

Brigantine Scenic:  Image taken by Pete Bacinski

 

Brigantine Scenic v PB

Brigantine Scenic:  Image taken by Pete Bacinski

 

Brigantine Dike Road 1 PB

Auto-loop Over Dike at Brig:  Image taken by Pete Bacinski

 

Brig Scenic 1 MD

Birds at Brig:  Image taken by Mary Delia

 

Snowy Owl at Brig 1 EKi

Snowy Owl Traffic Jam at Brig:  Image taken by Ellie Kidd

 

Snowy Owl Male 1 SH

Snowy Owl at Brig:  Image taken by Susan Hill

 

Barred Owl 11a WD

Barred Owl:  Image taken by Bill Dix

 

Northern Shrike h LW

Northern Shrike:  Image taken by Linda Widdop

 

American Bittern:  Image taken by Tom Boyle

 

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson’s Snipe:  Image taken by Pete Bacinski

 

Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk:  Image from NJ Audubon Collection:

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

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