2017 Big Day at Forsythe 

My annual tradition of spending an entire day finding as many bird species as possible is always one of my favorite days of the year. This year it was especially looked forward to because of my grueling work schedule that has allowed zero time for birding, except for evenings in the yard. My ears are out of tune for singing migrants and my mental field guide of eastern birds is dusty from lack of use. But the anticipation for a day spent looking for birds at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge was equal to that of a child on Christmas Eve. Although my alarm would sound at 3:00am (and a backup for 3:05am) , I was struggling to fall asleep at 10:00pm.

I arrived at the refuge at 4:30am and I was hearing Chuck-will-widows before I parked. I was on my bike going north on Wildlife Dr. by 4:40am. I wasn’t treated to the spectacle of birds flying around me in the dark, visible only by the reflection of their eyes from my headlamp, like I was last year but many birds were calling and singing. Whip-poor-wills and Woodcocks were both heard by the time I reached the observation platform at the experimental pond. I stayed on the platform for a few minutes and waited for some light and hoped for Nighthawks to be bounding overhead but they never appeared.

 

The day's first light
First light from the experimental pond observation deck.

 

 I continued On my bike and made my way to the marsh along the north dike of Wildlife Dr. I started ticking shorebirds off my list and heard the aggressive chatters of Marsh Wrens and the grunts of Clapper Rails.  Couple those sounds with the buzzy calls of Seaside Sparrows and you have the quintessential sounds of sunrise in the marshes of South Jersey. I waited on the dike, picking up birds like herons, egrets, terns and gulls until the sun broke the horizon.

Sunrise from the North Dike

I backtracked to wooded area along Jen’s Trail where migrants were flitting through the shrubs and trees and breeders were marking their territory with raucous calls and emphatic singing. Catbirds and White-eyed Vireos made it difficult at times to pick out other bird songs. I saw a Wilson’s Warbler before 6:00am and I immediately thought, “If I already have a Wilson’s, then it’s gonna be a great day for migrants!”. I typically only see 1 or maybe 2 Wilson’s Warblers per year, I ended the day seeing 5! Warblers were plentiful along Jen’s trail but diversity wasn’t great. There would be 5 birds in view but I could only identify 1 at a time. My eyes kept landing on Parulas, Redstarts, Yellows, Common yellowthroats and Magnolias. I think I missed some birds here. There were reports of Blackburnian, Bay-breasted, Cerulean and Black-throated Green Warblers from the refuge headquarters but I was unable to get any of those birds.

I slowly made my way back to the car. I picked up a few tough birds along the way. Bobolinks, Worm-eating Warbler, Blue Grosbeak and a very brief flyover by a lone Cedar Waxwing. A Red-breasted Nuthatch was unexpected but not completely surprising on the heels of an irruption year. The birds were so plentiful that it took me 4 hours to cover less than 2 miles on my bike. It was a bit frustrating too. There were unfamiliar songs I was hearing but I couldn’t locate the bird singing. I had an all-too-brief look at a Bay-breasted Warbler that I didn’t feel 100% confident on calling. I heard what I believed to be a Hooded Warbler but I never got visual confirmation. Same goes for Chestnut-sided Warbler. I left all 3 birds off my list along with a likely Cooper’s Hawk I was unable to confirm with absolute determination. The better I get at birding, the more stringent my standards become for putting birds on my lists. If there is any seed of doubt, I just can’t live with it and force myself to leave more boxes unchecked.

 

I made it back to the car around 10am. I refueled with food and coffee then drove out to Wildlife Drive. I stopped at the short boardwalk first where I spotted a Rose-breasted Grosbeak and heard a Willow Flycatcher calling. Along the drive I quickly tallied Spotted Sandpiper, Caspian Terns and Oystercatchers from the car. Just beyond the observation tower I encountered the continuing rarity, Black-head Gull, which is native to Europe.

The view from Wildlife Drive, South Dike


The rest of the loop was pretty uneventful and led to a prolonged period no new birds.

I made my way back to the refuge headquarters and looked for the birds reported earlier in the day. 3 people I encountered in the afternoon told me they just had a Blackburnian Warbler and told me exactly where to find it…no luck. Fortunately 2 guys told me they just had Pheobes and a White-crowned Sparrow which I promptly relocated. I was also able to pick out a few Bank and Rough-winged Swallows from the bridge at the entrance of the refuge. This is where I heard a Least Bittern last year but I wasn’t so lucky this year.  Later in the day I saw what I believed to be a Cliff Swallow but the tiny bit of doubt I was unable to surpass kept it off my list. The late afternoon was very quiet bird-wise and I spent much of it looking for Downy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, Starlings, a Mockingbird, Baltimore Oriole and House Sparrows. All but 1 of which were missed entirely for the day.

Wildlife Drive looking toward AC

I headed back out to drive the loop on Wildlife Dr. again. I went very slowly, pulling over every couple hundred yards to scan through my scope. My patience and determination paid off in the form of Ruddy Ducks, Brant, Red-breasted Mergansers, White-rumped Sandpipers and a lone Lesser Yellowlegs. Some very talented birders possess the ability to scan through thousands and thousands of shorebirds to pick out a single Curlew Sandpiper, I’m not there yet but I got several hours of practice in today.

Around 7:30 pm I was wiped out and had the urge to call it quits but I soldiered on. I set myself up on the observation deck at the experimental pond hoping for Nighthawks. I got lucky and a small flock of Starlings flew over. The sun set and I was eventually rewarded with half a dozen Nighthawks bounding about the darkening sky.

I enjoyed the last bit of light from the same spot that I anticipated the day’s first light, 16 1/2 hours ago. I pressed my luck hoping for owls but to no avail. I thought I ended the day at 120 species, it wasn’t until 2 days later that I realized I never added Snow Goose to my list, of which there was a pair. Official total: 121 species. A damn good day for an amateur. A group of better birders than myself could have easily racked up 130 or even 135. It was a beauty of a day and I relished every moment of it. It’s one of my favorite days of the year and a tradition that will hopefully continue for a very long time.

My complete list can be viewed here: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36920488

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Long Beach Island CBC – 1/1/2017

This was the 4th year I participated in the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. The CBC is a winter bird survey that has been conducted annually for 117 years.Volunteers are tasked with the challenging job to identify and count every single individual bird they can find. It’s a challenge I eagerly anticipate every year. The territory I have counted the last 3 years is the Holgate section of Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge encompasses the lower 3.5 miles of Long Beach Island. I would estimate it averages about 1/4 mile wide with a narrow sandy beach on the east side and a combination of shrubby dunes, salt marsh and open sandy expanses on the west side. The grueling hike can be over 8 miles depending on how much zig-zagging we must do to cover the area. It’s typically a team of 3-5 people. The incentive of doing this demanding count is the access of restricted dune areas. The entire refuge is inaccessible to the public  for 4 months every year and the dunes are always, 365 days a year, 100% restricted…unless you have a federal permit for something like conducting a bird survey. This is supreme habitat for birds and there’s always a chance to see exciting birds like Short-eared and Snowy Owls, Snow Buntings and Bitterns. Anything is possible to be hiding in there. The physical challenge of slogging through the marsh and sandy dunes is something I bizarrely enjoy as well.

So that is what I had my heart set on when I left my house on New Years Day at 5am. There was a wrench thrown into our plans the night before when we learned the team that covers the area to the north of Holgate was sick and couldn’t do the count. I knew there was a chance I would have to make the sacrifice and survey that area, which would mostly consist of car-birding. When our team met at the Holgate parking lot at 6:30 am, I was the only participant, besides our leader Mike Britt, that was eqiupped with a spotting scope and was available the entire day. That made me the only eligible counter to cover the 7 miles from Holgate to the Long Beach Township Police Department. Although I was disappointed, I accepted my mission enthusiastically and with same determination I have for Holgate.

I stayed with the Holgate team on the dune crossover platform until 8:30am to help count waterbirds flying over the ocean.  On the morning of last years count(2015), we tallied many thousands of birds flying south over the water by 9:00am. This year it was rather slow with less than 500 individuals of about 12 species. I got in my car to head north and they began they long hike into the refuge.

img_7026
Seawatching with the Holgate team at dawn.

I had 7 miles of island to cover. Considering the complete lack of land-based habitat, this would mostly be a waterbird count. Long Beach Township is so incredibly densely populated by homes, there is virtually no areas of natural habitat. My odometer read 32.9 miles when I completed my circuit. In all those miles traversing the island I came across 1 forested area and  that was about 1/2 an acre but supplied my list with about 1/4 of the native land-based birds I tallied.

img_7112
A Google Earth search confirmed this tiny patch of green is the only natural area in the 7 mile stretch of island I covered.

My plan was to work the bay as I went north, then do the ocean side going south. Counting ducks in the bay quickly became very monotonous. Bufflehead ducks and Herring Gulls were spread out on the water as far as I could see, even through my spotting scope. I estimated that I could count birds that were about 1/4 mile to the north and south, therefore I made a stop about every 1/2 mile along the bay. Including stops to count the birds in the nooks of the bay coast, I made about 20 stops along the bay. It took me nearly 4 hours to count every single individual bird I could see in the bay. Many roads were “no outlet”, which meant a lot of back tracking. Getting an accurate count of ducks spread out on the bay can be extrordionarly difficult. Especially when they are constantly diving for food. Some species congregate together in “rafts” that make it easier to get an accurate count estimate quickly. Buffleheads however, do not typically raft. I counted a total of 1,132 Buffleheads, 1 at a time over 7 miles of the bay. I quickly developed a technique for every stop I made along the bay. First I counted flying birds before they flew out of view, then i quickly scanned the water through my scope to see what species were in view. Then I counted Buffleheads…painstakingly. Then I counted other species which included Red-breasted Mergansers, Black Ducks, Common Loons, Brant and occasional Goldeneyes. I finished each stop by doing a sweep of the gulls and counted Herring Gulls, which were equally as numerous as Buffleheads but much larger and more conspicuos. The highlight of this route was the unexpected abundance of Red-breasted Nuthatches in the pine trees along the raod and in yards. Some winters these birds don’t make it this far south but other years there can be an influx. I counted 16 Red-breasted Nuthatches for the day, a definite undercount for the whole area but the most I’ve ever seen or heard in a day. I drove with my windows down the whole day listening for their distinctive “honking”.

Red-breasted Nuthatch visiting New Jersey from the north for it’s “warm” winter season. They actually travel further south some years depending on conifer seed production.(Photo from Google)

The most common land birds were the birds that are most common in every city in the lower 48, the non-native House Sparrow and European Starling. There were a few of our common species, mostly along overgrown edges of the bay, they included Mockingbirds, Juncos, sparrows, finches and Yellow-rumped Warblers. I couldn’t help but imagine what I was missing in the Holgate section. Car-birding through the vacation-home choked shore town wasn’t what I look forward to for 364 days every year.

Now it was time to head south and count birds along the ocean. It was almost 1pm now and my first sight of the ocean since the morning seawatch lifted my spirits. It was windy and chilly on the bay side with a hint of drearyness but the ocean side seemed bright and spectacular. The ocean tends to have that effect on me. The west wind groomed the breaking waves perfectly. I was thankful not to have my surfboard because I might have tossed my tally sheet into that trash can and suited up to take the plunge. Not really though, through many years of concentrated effort I can now look at quality surfing waves and not abandon all responsibilities for a surf. I guess that’s what growing up is for me. But enough of that nonsense, I have birds to count! On the first stop of the beach circuit I observed a bird that takes my breath away every time I see it, which is only once a year if I’m lucky. It was an immature Glaucous Gull. The beauty of gulls is lost on most people but I’m sure most people would appreciate a Glaucous Gull if they ever noticed one. I’m certain that not a single person on the beach that was enjoying the beautiful New Years day took notice of the Glaucous Gull that coursed right over the breaking waves with a group of Herring Gulls. It was at this point, with close scope views of the Glaucous Gull, I was able to completely shake off the disappointment of not getting to hike the refuge. I was able to enjoy the sun, the surf and the birds. I was doing what I love to do on the first day of what will be another wonderful year that we are all fortunate enough to be alive and enjoy.

This is an immature Glaucous Gull that Susie photographed in 2013. It’s almost entirely white and it’s absolutely stunning , especially when seen in bright sunshine.
It was a beautiful winter beach day. This is as crowded as it gets here in winter.

There were not nearly as many birds on the ocean as there were on the bay. I could identify and count birds up to a 1/2 mile away so I only stopped at 1 mile increments going south back to Holgate. There was nothing really noteworthy on the ocean but I added many Loons plus a few Scoters and Gannets to my list. I covered the ocean side in less than 2 hours and met up with the Holgate team to hear what I missed. Apparently the refuge didn’t supply anything rare or surprising but they managed a respectable total of 42 species. Their list included a Tree Swallow, which is notable for January. They also added Eastern Bluebird for the first time since we started covering this area. I planned on spending the remaining 2 hours of daylight seawatching with them but there were no birds moving over the water. They decided to wrap it up before 3:00 so I went back to my territory to try to scare up a few more birds.

I focused on pine trees in yards and dune paths. I picked up a few more birds but the habitat is sparse at best. There are streets with literally zero trees and plants. It’s a terribly depressing sight for someone like myself that relies on the energy of the natural world for inspiration and motivation. We successfully stripped this land of any and all sign of nature and replaced it with overpriced, underused, cheaply built vacation homes. That is what we call progress and growth. (Sorry for the rant) If you want to see what the natural state of New Jersey’s barrier islands look like, take a trip to Island Beach State Park in Ocean County.

I did add more birds to my list by scanning pine trees. Brown Creepers were first heard from my car while driving, then seen. A Hairy Woodpecker was a surprise, they tend to prefer areas with a lot of large mature trees so I wasn’t expecting one for this count.

This is the most extensive habitat to be found in Long Beach Township

I ended my day on the beach. It was not the day I expected but enjoyable nonetheless. I feel like I did a very thorough job counting waterbirds. I could have done better with land birds, a bicycle and a strong pair of legs would be the best way to achieve an accurate count of passerines. Hopefully next year I will be back on the Holgate team to find that Yellow Rail.


Being on the beach at dusk is the best way to end any day. Now I’m recharged to take on the world of drywall finishing once again.


My complete list:

Seawatching w/ Holgate team-

Surf Scoter 123

Black Scoter 7

scoter sp. 508

Long-tailed Duck 202

Common Goldeneye 2

Red-breasted Merganser 7

Red-throated Loon 49

Common Loon 24

Northern Gannet 14

Herring Gull 22

Great Black-backed Gull 17

Merlin 1

American Crow 5

Long Beach Township list –
40 species (+1 other taxa)
Brant 2711

Canada Goose 41

American Black Duck 84

Mallard 59

Northern Shoveler 10

Surf Scoter 4

White-winged Scoter 1

Black Scoter 98

Surf/Black Scoter 49

Long-tailed Duck 22

Bufflehead 1132 Spread over 7 miles of coverage

Common Goldeneye 48

Red-breasted Merganser 56

Red-throated Loon 49

Common Loon 25

Northern Gannet 10

Cooper’s Hawk 3

Sanderling 3

Ring-billed Gull 4

Herring Gull 1026

Glaucous Gull 1

Great Black-backed Gull 31

Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 34

Mourning Dove 14

Hairy Woodpecker 1

American Crow 14

Red-breasted Nuthatch 16

Brown Creeper 5

Carolina Wren 1

American Robin 10

Northern Mockingbird 3

European Starling 173

Yellow-rumped Warbler 26

Dark-eyed Junco 26

White-throated Sparrow 11

Song Sparrow 2                                                                                                                                            Northern Cardinal  7                                                                                                                                 Boat-tailed Grackle  2                                                                                                                            House Finch  31                                                                                                                                     American Goldfinch  2                                                                                                                                    House Sparrow  178

Birding Piney Hollow – part 1

I frequently post on birding message boards about my outings to Piney Hollow Natural Area in Franklin Township, Gloucester County. This place is not well known so I often receive requests for more information about this location. This blog post is intended to be a reference for those seeking more information about Piney Hollow.

To start, this is the best way to get there:
Piney Hollow parking lot is directly across from 1447 Piney Hollow Rd. Newfield, NJ 08344. Just punch that into gps and you’re there!

That’s for the main entrance. The “back” entrances are located on Unexpected Rd. which is about 1/4 mile south from the main parking area off Piney Hollow Rd. I’ll get into details about which way to enter depending on what you’re looking for and what time of year you’re visiting.

Most visitors enter the preserve from the parking area on Piney Hollow Rd. Here you will find a trail map and informational brochure. In late May through June you can often hear breeding Yellow-throated Vireos singing. It is very difficult to get a look at these birds because they often remain at the tree tops, which are quite high. In breeding season you will also likely hear Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Wood Trush, Ovenbirds and Eastern Wood Peewee from  anywhere on the property.

Follow the blue trail along large White Oaks and a variety of flowering shrubs including Mountain Laurel, Clethra and Highbush Blueberry. In this habitat you can expect Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmouse and Eastern Towhee in all seasons. Red-headed Woodpecker and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker have been recorded from this area.

image
Piney Hollow Rd parking area is on the left. The Blue trail is labeled as the Main Trail on this map. The Red trail is labeled as Trail 2.

It’s not long before the trail turns right and divides upland pine-oak forest to the right and cedar-maple swamp to the left. A little way up there is a trail that branches off to the right, it doesn’t matter if you stay straight or go to the right. The very short side trail goes through the upland portion but rejoins the blue trail in about 1/10 mile. I typically go one way in and the other way when I’m leaving. The blue trail usually always hosts some birds. In winter it’s Chickadees, Brown Creepers, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Titmice, and both nuthatches. There have been times on spring when this stretch of the blue trail has been filled with Yellow-rumped Warblers, Yellow-throated Warblers, Pine Warblers, Prothonotary Warblers and other expected species such as Vireos, Tanagers and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. The trail here can be very wet and I don’t recommend attempting to squeeze through the little bypass trails that go around the puddles unless you are sure-footed and wearing boots. It usually dries out in May and stays that way until mid-late fall.

Eventually the trail is intersected by another trail. To the right leads through upland oak-pine to a dead end. There was a pair of Northern Parulas that nested close to this trail in 2014. Several times I’ve  flushed a Great-Horned Owl from the trees here  and an occasional Woodcock from the ground. Great-crested Flycatcher and Scarlet Tanagers nest in this area as well. I like to stroll down this trail, although it dead ends into private property, it’s short and usually the only upland habitat to explore unless you plan to hike the red trail.

The more exciting choice from the blue trail here is to go left to the 1st dike. There are 3 dikes here that cross McCarthy Lakes, which are former cranberry bogs. They are all overgrown, in various stages of disrepair and lead to dead ends but making the effort to bushwhack through them is often rewarded. Many hundreds of swallows (tree,barn, rough-winged and bank) congregate over the lakes in early spring. Herons and Egrets inhabit lake edges and islands. Eastern Kingbirds and Brown Thrashers are usually seen on prominent perches along the dikes. Wood ducks are a constant presence around the lakes and often seen from the dikes. The sparrows I’ve seen on the dikes are Song, Swamp, Chipping, White-throated, White-crowned, Field, Fox and Tree Sparrows. Common Yellowthroat Warblers are usually here except in winter, when I’ve had Winter Wren.

View from the 1st dike:

Return to the Blue Trail and proceed to the 2nd dike. This stretch is inundated with Pine Warblers from spring to fall. I’ve counted 25 in a single visit in spring and fall. Their song is ubiquitous in spring and my favorite sign of the changing of the season in April. Before the second dike you pass over a culvert built into a land bridge. Green Heron and Prothonotary Warblers have nested close to this spot. The black gum and maple trees here are always worth looking through for passerines. There is water on both sides of the trail here. There is a great view of the middle pond here so I scan it every time. The reeds along the edges usually have Swamp Sparrows, I wouldn’t be surprised if Least Bitterns occur here too. Great Blue Herons like the little pond to the right of the trail.

The view of the middle pond from the land bridge:image

The trails ahead get confusing. If you don’t pay attention, you can lose your sense of direction but you won’t get terribly lost(just frustrated). Make a left and head to the 2nd dike. The wooded trail here has also produced a few memorable moments during spring and fall migrations when the amount and variety of birds were very impressive. There are wet areas at the base of the 2nd dike that I scan from a distance because I always flush birds from around the puddles and shrubs as I walk up. Some interesting wildlife seen on the 2nd dike include beaver, river otter, and snakes. You can expect to see Bald Eagles, Osprey or Red-tailed Hawks from any of the dikes. Rusty Blackbirds tend to hangout around the swampy lake edges along the 2nd dike in late winter for the last several years. Yellow-throated Warbler nested in this in 2016.

After taking the 2nd dike as far as you’d like, turn around and head back to the blue trail. There is an unmarked side trail that goes along the lake edge. Prothonotary Warblers nest along this stretch every year. Along the blue trail between the 2nd dike and the red trail is always occupied by White-eyed Vireos in spring and summer. At the intersection of the blue and red trail is also a productive spot for migrants in spring.

The blue trail leads to the red trail. You can go left onto the red trail to go to the 3rd dike or go right on the red trail to the upland portion of the preserve. If the trail to the 3rd dike is wet, there is a side trail recently blazed by illegal ATVs that goes through a heavily vegetated area, it’s not always super obvious but it will get you to the dike. Th 3rd dike is the most easily traversed dike and always has a few sparrows worth looking for. Take advantage of clear views of the 3rd pond and it’s edges. When the area is very dry there is room for exploration on the north side of the 3rd dike. Most times it’s swampy and inaccessible. DO NOT go beyond private property signs on the north side of the dikes. The area is patrolled vigilantly by the private land owner.

If I visit all 3 dikes, I usually head back to the parking area at this point. The route explored so far is what makes Piney Hollow unique to the area. I spend about 2 hours doing this circuit depending on how the birding is and how far along the dikes I go. You can certainly proceed back along the red trail to the upland portion of the preserve but I will cover that section separately in another post.

A few disclaimers I’d like to make:

– As of 10/7/2016 only the blue trail is marked. Look for the blue blazes on the trees. Even with a trail map it is easy to get turned around in this place. Getting lost here is not life threatening but it can be very frustrating.

– Hunting is illegal here but it’s only beginning to be enforced.

– There is vehicle traffic along the Red Trail although it is illegal. It has never been enforced. Gates will be placed at entrances within a matter of months.

– All 3 dikes have been breached, attempting to cross the breached areas is highly discouraged. The breaches occur about half way down the dikes.

– Like anywhere else, the birds can seem nonexistent at times.

This promotional video is a good introduction:

Piney Hollow bird list:

eBird Field Checklist
Piney Hollow Preserve
Gloucester, New Jersey, US
ebird.org/ebird/hotspot/L1626942
134 species (+6 other taxa)

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Gadwall
American Wigeon
American Black Duck
Mallard
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Hooded Merganser
Wild Turkey
Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Little Blue Heron
Green Heron
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
Cooper’s Hawk
Bald Eagle
Red-shouldered Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Coot
Killdeer
American Woodcock

Laughing Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Eastern Screech-Owl
Great Horned Owl
Common Nighthawk
Eastern Whip-poor-will
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Downy/Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Peregrine Falcon
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Acadian Flycatcher
Empidonax sp.
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
White-eyed Vireo
Yellow-throated Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Fish Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Purple Martin
Tree Swallow
Bank Swallow
Barn Swallow
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
House Wren
Winter Wren
Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Swainson’s Thrush
Hermit Thrush
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Waxwings
Cedar Waxwing
Ovenbird
Worm-eating Warbler
Louisiana Waterthrush
Northern Waterthrush
Blue-winged Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler
American Redstart
Cape May Warbler
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Palm Warbler
Pine Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-throated Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Canada Warbler
Wilson’s Warbler
American Tree Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
sparrow sp.
Summer Tanager
Scarlet Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Blackbirds
Red-winged Blackbird
Rusty Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow
passerine sp.

This field checklist was generated using eBird (ebird.org)

Piney Hollow Fall Birding

I had the chance to visit Piney Hollow natural area again today. (Sunday-October 2 , 2016)There were many more birds here today  compared to yesterday.  I reported over 500 migrants in my Ebird report  with 350 of those birds being unidentified passerines.  About 175 were identified as migrants of over 30 species. I  would guess that I was only able to get a good enough look to identify about one 1 of 3 birds. At times that ratio was 1 of 10. Considering those numbers I’d estimate  that I encountered over 500 migrants  in less than 1 mile. That’s a noteworthy observation for a place in the center of South Jersey, especially in the middle of the day.  You know the birding is good when it takes you over two hours to go less than half of a mile.

Here’s my full list

Piney Hollow Preserve, Gloucester, New Jersey, US
Oct 2, 2016 10:46 AM – 1:16 PM
Protocol: Traveling
1.0 mile(s)
Comments: The place was FULL of migrants. I estimate over 500 total migrants. Nonstop actions. Too many went unidentified. Biggest migrant flick I’ve encountered in the central portion of South Jersey. Some totals are estimates but are very accurate.
Submitted from eBird for iOS, version 1.3.0 Build 86
41 species (+1 other taxa)

Canada Goose 1
Wood Duck 3
Great Egret 1
Turkey Vulture 6
Mourning Dove 6
Yellow-billed Cuckoo 1
Belted Kingfisher 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker 12
Downy Woodpecker 9
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 3
Eastern Phoebe 2
White-eyed Vireo 1
Blue-headed Vireo 1
Red-eyed Vireo 1
Blue Jay 4
American Crow 5                      Carolina Chickadee 20
Tufted Titmouse 17
White-breasted Nuthatch 8
Carolina Wren 3
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 5
Gray-cheeked Thrush 1
Swainson’s Thrush 3
American Robin X
Gray Catbird 4
Black-and-white Warbler 7
Common Yellowthroat 8
American Redstart 2
Cape May Warbler 1
Northern Parula 9
Magnolia Warbler 7
Bay-breasted Warbler 1
Blackpoll Warbler 12                  Black-throated Blue Warbler 10
Pine Warbler 23 At least 5 in full song
Yellow-rumped Warbler 10
Swamp Sparrow 3
Eastern Towhee 9
Scarlet Tanager 3
Northern Cardinal 4
passerine sp. 350 – Many many birds among migrant flocks that went unidentified. I would say I was able to get good enough looks to ID, at most, 1 out of 3 birds of the migrant flocks. At times it was 1 out of 10.

 

 

Local Birding 10/1/2016

Saturday evening(10/1/2016) I had the opportunity to do some local birding. I explored the the small overgrown grassland adjacent to Downstown/Vineland Airport, which is the border of Gloucester and Atlantic County. I watched 4 American Kestrels hover-hunting the airfield and chasing each other around. I believe this is the most reliable spot in the county to find Kestrels, more times than not, there are multiple Kestrels here from October through March.

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American Kestrel

 

The breeding Red-tailed Hawks that nest in the adjoining woodland seemed to have successfully bred this year, an immature bird came from that area and looped around the fields before returning.

The grassland hosted about 20 Field Sparrows, 6 Savannah and a handful of Song Sparrows. The highlight came in the form of a Bobolink that perched on a goldenrod and allowed extended scope views.

The grassland here is very visitor friendly and supports sometimes hundreds of sparrows in October. I don’t think it’s on anyone’s radar though. It is on the east side of the airport with a freshly paved, drivable loop accessible directly from rt.40. There were half a dozen White-crowned Sparrows last November, it’s worth a visit if you’re in the area. I record Horned Larks there on most visits.

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Peregrine Falcon

Piney Hollow Natural Area is only about 5 minutes away so I wandered around the trails for a little while and came across 2 migrant flock. Lighting was terrible and the birds were moving quickly so I had trouble identifying most of the birds but I did manage to pick out Black-throated Blue, Magnolias, Bay-breasted and a Pine Warbler in the flocks. Also a handful of Ruby-crowned Kinglets and a Scarlet Tanager. Another highlight of the trip was a Peregrine Falcon, a difficult bird to find in the area. The trails here are abnormally dry and I recently resupplied trail maps to the box at the parking area on Piney Hollow Rd. This area is also gets very little coverage and can host birds not often seen in the county.

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Magnolia Warbler

For more information about these locations, feel free to email me.

Yard birding has been slow. We had Connecticut Warbler the last 2 years but haven’t been able to spot one this year. We did tally close to 20 nighthawks in the first 2 weeks of September. Sparrow season is usually an exciting time here so hopefully this dreadful weather pattern changes soon.

(All photos obtained from Google image search)

2016 Big Day

For those that don’t know, a Big Day is an attempt to see (or hear) as many bird species as possible in a single day. This was the 4th year that I did a Big Day at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge located in Galloway, New Jersey. Experience at this location helped me find more birds this year than previous years but it’s mostly due to recent weather patterns that have funneled migratory birds through New Jersey this spring. Last year, 2015, the majority of migrating birds traveled  to their northern breeding grounds on a path much further west than New Jeresy. Weather patterns and a deluge of rain kept 2015’s total to 101 species. My highest total was 112 bird species in 2014. My goal this year was 115, which was met and exceeded.

I arrived at the refuge at 4:40am and I was greeted by the emphatic, repetitive calls of Chuck-wills-widows. By 4:50am I was on my bicycle, riding along the dirt road through the woods with Chuck-wills-widows all around. They were on the road, on tree branches and road signs and flying across the road. Their eyes were reflecting the light of my headlamp. Following  their erratic flight pattern, solely by the glare of their eyes will hopefully be a memory that sticks with me for a long time. It wasn’t until shortly after first light that I heard the hoots of a Great Horned Owl, by then I had dismissed the likelihood of adding an owl to the list. By this time I was adding many birds, identifying them mostly by their songs and calls. Some of those birds included Catbirds, Cardinals and Robins. Mostly nesting birds claiming their territory. The first bird that got me excited was a Common Nighthawk that I flushed out of a small shrub before sunrise. Immediately after that I heard the calls of several Bobolinks, a beautiful blackbird of grasslands that are not very common in New Jersey and always a pleasure to see. I was determined to reach the dike road that extends into the marsh for sunrise to experience the marsh come to life. The sounds of Clapper Rails, Seaside Sparrows and Marsh Wrens were coming from every  direction.

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This map shows the area I covered. I started at the parking area shown on the left(next to Woodland Trail) and rode to Jen’s Trail . The North dike is on the right (Wildlife Dr) South dike on the left.

I didn’t spend a lot of time in the marsh. I scoped shorebird flocks and recorded the common birds; sandpipers, plover, whimbrel, etc… before heading back to the woodland for songbirds. On the way out of the marsh I saw a swallow coming my direction, my eye caught a glimpse of rust color on the bird. I watched it closely as it approached expected another Barn Swallow but something felt off for that species. As it passed low directly overhead I clearly saw a dark throat and a square tail. A Cliff Swallow! A tough bird to get and my first unexpected bird of the day.

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Left: Barn Swallow                   Right: Cliff Swallow                    (Photos from Google)

Dawn is an important time to get a lot of birds, usually. They typically migrate at night and refuel by hunting bugs at sunrise for the an hour or two. Then, a lot of times they find a place to hide so they can rest for the next night’s flight, thus making the early morning the only time to get a look at these species. That was not the case on this day, the bird action never really stopped. Even in the hottest time of the day birds were foraging through the trees and the understory. Not knowing what the day would hold, I tried my best to get as many songbirds as possible during the first few hours of the day. I managed to see about 12 warbler species, both orioles, a tanager, a grosbeak, sparrows, swallows and a couple vireos. I was off to a great start. My favorite sighting of the morning was watching a male Bay-breasted Warbler gleaning insects from the foliage from low branches of an oak and a pine. It’s a truly beautiful bird I rarely get to see in spring plumage.

I made it back to the car around 9:30am to refuel and record the species I had seen so far. I had more birds than I thought, 93 already with several easy species still to be found. My strategy is basically try hard to find the difficult birds and I will incidentally see the common birds along the way. I was now heading back into the marsh, this time from the comfort of my car along the south dike.

On the way to the south dike I stopped at gull tower, a 20 foot high observation tower. There is a group of birders that sit atop the platform and does a Big Day from there. I always make a few visits throughout the day and we share sightings. While up there, I saw 2 Little Blue Herons, #94. I continued on driving along the south dike to another lookout tower about a mile to the east. Here I found a loon far into the bay and Ruddy Turnstones on Turtle Cove Beach. I scanned the sky to the west and managed to pick out a Black Vulture soaring high, several miles away. I was sure to take a look at the ever-present Peregrine on its nest platform. Many times have I cursed that bird for flushing the shorebird flocks but I was glad to see it today. I enjoyed the view for awhile before I soldiered on.

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At the top of the observation tower, Atlantic City in the background.

When I returned back to the parking area I looked closely at my list to see what birds I should be focusing on. I needed many common birds; House Finch, Bluebird, House Sparrow, Bluejay and a few others. I decided to work the trails around the visitor center and parking area. After about an hour or so I found myself  next to the lake waiting to get a better look at a few swallows to confirm they were Bank Swallows when I heard an unfamiliar call coming from the reeds. I went through a mental checklist, Sora? No. American Bittern? No. Least Bittern…yes, that’s it! I never got to see it but I was very happy to add this bird to my list, I’ve only ever seen/heard one once before.

Around 2pm I started to repeat my morning route. I stared from the visitor center and rode my bike along Wildlife Drive passed the experimental pool, back to Jen’s Trail. I finally picked up a Blue Jay, by the time I reached Jen’s Pond I had 111 species, 1 short of tying my record and 4 away from my goal. That area had the goods! #112- Blackburnian Warbler, #113- Canada Warbler. Two of my favorite birds.

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Top- Blackburnian Warbler Bottom- Canada Warbler           (Photos from Google)

I headed out to the marsh along the north dike with a good bit of momentum. I watched a beautiful male Nothern Harrier cruise by as I entered the marsh. I scanned through over 1,000 Semipalmated Sandpipers and managed to find one bird that was slightly larger and had streaks along its flanks. I didn’t need to see its white rump as it flew away to know it was a White-rumped Sandpiper, but I watched anyway. I could see far to the west the sky was darkening. I decided it was best to start making my way back to the car. As I wasleaving the marsh, a Red-shouldered Hawk flew across the road and exceeded my expectations for the day. It was # 116.

I briefly stopped at the edge of the huge field in the NW corner of Wildlife Drive on my way back. It’s a beautiful sight and I was just standing next to my bike taking it all in when a colorful little sparrow landed on an exposed branch about 15 feet away from me.  I looked through my binoculars and  saw a bird I almost didn’t recognize, I may have gasped  a bit. It took me a moment to put all the pieces together. Orangish breast with crisp streaks, a Lincoln’s Sparrow. A scarce migrant in spring. I’ve seen one recently, in my own yard, but the breast color is typically a dull buff color, this individual was almost bright. Not knowing what the bird was for just a moment, and figuring It out, is one my favorite things about birding. It’s a challenge and a scavenger hunt.

 

Lincoln Sparrow
Lincoln Sparrow                          (Photo from Google)

The rain started as I arrived back at my car. I drove to a spot I knew I could find a Night-heron. While waiting for them to leave the roost I got a good look at a Wilson’s Warbler and heard a Kingfisher. I managed to pick out a Night-heron among the Egrets. The rain really started coming down at this point, around 7:30pm. I almost called it quits but decided to stick it out and drive along the south dike once more in the pouring rain. I was rewarded with another bird, Boneparte’s Gull roosting with the other gulls. This was #123. I waited out the rain at the end of the dike, when it passed I was treated to an incredible sunset. Looking over the bay towards Atlantic City there was a double rainbow, come on, now that’s  just overkill.

 

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Sunset

There was one more species added to the list, Whip-poor-wills started calling at about 8:30pm. After 16 hours of nothing but looking for birds, I ended my 2016 Big Day. I thought I had #124 species. When I got home I realized I never counted the Bay-breasted Warbler that had me mesmerized for 10 minutes early in the morning.

Final tally, 125.  I remember in 2014 I said 125 birds is possible for 1 person if it’s an excellent migrant day. I know of 7 birds that were reported in the refuge that I didn’t get. A better birder than myself could have had 130 or more. There were 3 more species I thought I had but I’m only about 90% sure they were what I thought, so I didn’t add them to the day’s list. I set the bar pretty high for myself at 125, it will likely remain there for many years.

Here is a link to my complete list:

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S29657469

Written by: Jon Stippick

jonstippick@gmail.com