Archive for New Jersey
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yes, I’m grateful that the bitter cup of whatever last week’s blizzard was named passed us more or less by. But that doesn’t make the dribs and drabs of powdery snow — an inch here, two inches there — we’ve been getting any more enjoyable.
Until this morning, that is, when the weather brought a sweet little field sparrow to the feeders.
A bright winter’s day, and the mind of the red-breasted mergansers turns to love.
Click here to watch a video from Shark River this morning. (Mute the sound.)
Alison had spent something like sixteen hours getting home from Canada the day before, but she was as chipper as could be expected when 4:00 came Sunday morning. The three of us piled into the car and headed south, meeting up with Frank pre-dawn for our first Barnegat Light Christmas Count.
Gellert couldn’t have been happier when he heard our assignment: to walk the beach south and the duneside back. Oh boy, Papa, a long stroll and saltwater, too!
I know few places where the sky and the sea are as consistently beautiful as New Jersey’s barrier islands. It was warm, the sand was well packed, and there were plenty of birds to be seen; the featherless bipeds had nearly as much fun as the dog. A nice flock of northern gannets fed its way south early in the morning, and that other black and white specialty of the outer beaches, snow buntings, flicked and flittered above our heads and in the wrack. I’d warned Alison not to expect any shorebirds — our “territory” was south of the rock jetties where they all hang out — but I had to eat my words when we found some 300 dunlin working the beach; with them were black-bellied plovers, sanderlings, ruddy turnstones, and a small handful of purple sandpipers, that last a bird I don’t often run into on the open sand.
The morning’s big surprise came an hour and a quarter into our walk. As we admired the long-tailed ducks’ speedy flight and laughed at their bumbling landings, I did a double-take when a tiny black and white football buzzed down the surf: a dovekie! Neither of us had ever seen one from shore, or even in sight of shore, in New Jersey, and I told Alison, more than half serious, that I wasn’t looking forward to reporting something so unusual at the midday tally.
But we announced it anyway. The responses were not what we’d expected: “We had one, too.” “Us, too.” “We saw two.” Some inscrutable alchemy of wind and wave had driven dovekies onshore, to everyone’s surprise and delight. And best of all, it wasn’t a “wreck” by any means; all the birds seen were happy and alive, whirring up and down the beaches and no doubt exchanging expressions of their own startlement: “Why, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a human before!”
That little alcid was far and away the highlight of my CBC season this year. But it got better.
After the noontime conviviality, Alison and I did a bit of poaching, walking out Barnegat Inlet for a closer look at the common eiders and harlequin ducks riding what was by then a considerable swell. Just as we turned around, as nearly sated on sea ducks as one can be, another little black and white bird flew close overhead. This one was a swallow, a fine tree swallow, and in company with four more. Even as far north as Ocean County, that hardy frugivore is not entirely a surprise in late December, but the tree swallows’ presence was still exciting — and it created a combination I had never witnessed:
Tree swallows and a dovekie on the same day from the same beach. Not a bad way to end the birding year.