Archive for New Jersey


Alice’s Little Thrush

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gray-cheeked thrush

All birding, they say, is local, and there’s nothing like a mid-May visit to the old midwest to prove it. The species I was happiest to see last week in Michigan included the golden-winged warbler, black-billed cuckoo, and Tennessee warbler — none of them exactly rare in New Jersey, either, but it’s a fine feeling to roll out early on a warm morning and know that those and so many other migrants could be almost counted on.

Gray-cheeked thrushes, too, are vastly more common and vastly easier to see west of here, and it was gratifying to get excellent and prolonged views of this secretive bird several times last week.

But it was doubly gratifying to look out the window here at home this morning to see the bird in the photo bouncing around the backyard. It’s hard to get much more local than that.

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Early Birds

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I felt even more virtuous than usual when I arrived at Brookdale Park this morning to find that I was the first birder of the day.

Or so I thought.


This female merlin, presumably the same bird that has been hanging around most of the winter and quite possibly the same bird that I had seen a day earlier in downtown Montclair, had already taken a commanding perch over my — or I guess I should say our — sparrow patch.

sharp-shinned hawk

A couple of hundred yards away, this little male sharp-shinned hawk kept watch over the same half acre of weeds.

Neither of my competitors moved in the hour and a half I was there, but it was evident nonetheless that they and the other raptors wintering and passing through the park of late are eating well.

mourning dove

I’m happy to share.

Brookdale Park magic edge in March

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Lonely at the Top

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These trees at the edge of Brookdale Park‘s sparrow patch are usually filled with European starlings. These past few mornings now, however, there’s been just one lonesome bird perched high in the bare twigs.


She must have offended the others somehow.

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Brookdale Park: It’s Spring

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Maybe it doesn’t look like it. Even after a day and a half of afternoon melting, the snow still lies heavy on all but the most open of southern exposures, and the sidewalks still have their treacherous stretches for those like me who don’t pay much attention to their feet.

Brookdale Park sunrise in March

It was wonderful to step out of the car just before sunrise this morning and find that I could do without a hat — and that the red-bellied woodpeckers and tufted titmice were already tuning up for the morning song. A few herring and ring-billed gulls passed over on their way to feed inland, and American robins were chuckling and tsleeting from the tree tops.

Then spring arrived. A distant ascending wheeze announced the arrival of a small flock of male common grackles, followed by another, followed by another…. My total in just over an hour was only about 60 birds, hardly massive numbers judged by what is to come, but 60 more than had been hanging out in the neighborhood for the last several months.

It’s harder to know whether the noisy blue jays were arrivals or still some of the many that spent the winter with us this year. I followed one little flock through the park, hoping for a glimpse of an owl or raccoon or yeti, but all I saw was the local red-tailed hawk pair, looking pained as they kept their heads down and their profiles low.


A couple of weeks from now, a morning’s list of 20 species will be a disappointment. Today, though, it’s a happy sign of things just around the corner.

Grackles now, blackpolls soon!


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At Liberty on a Chilly Morning

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Liberty State Park

Fifty-five minutes in to my twenty-minute drive, I remembered why I don’t bird Liberty State Park that often.

Ten minutes in to my two-hour walk, I remembered why I should.

Liberty State Park

There weren’t all that many birds, and any rarities that might have been hanging around managed to avoid detection, but even on a cold, dank, breezy morning, I always found something to look at, from harbor seals out in the water to American tree and song sparrows taking advantage of the snow plow’s imprecisions.

Song sparrow

I should be seeing plenty more tree sparrows in Nebraska in a couple of weeks, but here in New Jersey, they will disappear with the snow cover — a fact that creates more than a bit of psychic tension in birders, like me, who wouldn’t half mind seeing the ground again sometime soon.

American tree sparrow

There was a nice little flock of 35 horned larks in the parking lot when I arrived. They stayed just long enough to confirm that they were alone; I’d expected snow buntings, and hoped for longspurs or pipits.

I didn’t walk far enough to see if the usual wintering gang of ruddy ducks was in residence. On glimpsing a distant flock of scaup, though, I did venture out onto the open fields for a closer look. The great hope is always that an Aythya flock contain at least three species, and this one did. Not, unfortunately, the tufted duck I’d been crossing my freezing fingers for, but a drake redhead, a nice enough find by local standards.


I’ve had a good winter for redheads here in New Jersey; I think today was the third day this calendar year I’d seen the species in the state– not quite like “the old days” of the 1980s, when you could almost count on finding redheads on the North Shore ponds. I often wonder, when I do run across these handsome ducks nowadays, whether the decline of winterers here in New Jersey is perhaps connected with the end of the New York introduction program, begun, if rightly I remember, in the 1950s and continuing into the 1980s.

After a couple of hours outside, the cold got to me; but I justified my early departure by the chance of running into even worse traffic on the way home. I didn’t. So maybe I’ll forget what a bear that drive can be, and try Liberty again one of these days.

Atlantic brant

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