Category for Fall Birding

Townsend’s Warbler, King Eider, Razorbill, Black-legged Kittiwake, Western Tanagers (X2!)

Western Tanager
Western Tanager
With some vacation time left to use or lose with work, I decided to try for some of the recent rarities reported in/near Cape May. I started the morning off at Cape May Point looking for the on-going, rare western visitor, Townsend’s Warbler.  A couple laps around the Yale block and I finally got a nice look at it in the entry way parking lot right across from the lighthouse.  It didn’t stay long and I was bummed not to get a photograph (I stayed for quite a while after trying to re-find it with no luck) but excited to actually see it.

Then, I headed towards the beach by the St. Mary’s dune platform to look for a reported King Eider. I hadn’t seen King Eider in NJ, and the previous day also had reports of Dovekie and Razorbill from this location, so my interest was high.  The King Eider (along with 4 other Eider) was drifting not far off the beach when I arrived, and there were a group of sea watching birders all heavily scanning the horizon.  Apparently, a possible Pacific type Loon was seen before I got there and birders were hoping it showed again.  While there, I saw quite a few Razorbill (at least 5 in the short time I was there) while a mentioned total for others was in the 20s .  I also got a good look at a Black-legged Kittiwake (others there had seen 3-5, and this was the only one I have ever seen from shore) in the distance approaching a fishing boat along with quite a few Red-throated Loon and Scoter. We also had an interesting event with a dark bird that apparently died or was injured that sort of spun and landed that proceeded to float past our location. No one was quite sure what it was but it could have been an alcid or a land bird of some sort even.

Finally, I headed out of town and decided to stop by Cape May Courthouse for a reported Western Tanager. When I arrived the bird had been seen but it was mentioned that this might be a second bird as it was a female or at least, not the bright male that others had seen. I actually got to see both birds actually with the bright male working a tree right by the intersection of  West Hand and Dias Creek Road. Awesome! Also had two Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers working the same tree. Not a bad day at all thanks to good info from NJ Birders!

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Second Tanager
Western Tanager (2)

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Snow Bunting & Horned Larks @ Spruce Run

Horned Lark

One of the most reliable, and my favorite spot in New Jersey to see flocks of Snow Bunting and Horned Lark, is during late fall/winter in the Boat Launch parking lot at Spruce Run. Right off of Van Syckel’s Road, in Clinton New Jersey, the gravel parking lot at the end of the boat ramp road is a perfect spot to find foraging flocks of the birds as they pick through the it’s contents. The surrounding sandy areas around the parking lot also are good spots to look. Always keep an eye out for the odd gull or Grebe and American Pipit as well. Six years running these guys have shown for me.

Snow Bunting

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Le Conte’s Sparrow @ Hopewell Township, New Jersey

Photobucket

There was a reported Le Conte’s Sparrow in Hopewell Township, New Jersey.  The birds, like mice in the grass, creep slowly along through vole tracks or clumps of grass.  We were lucky enough to get to see the bird and this wonderful habit!  Awesome bird!

Photobucket

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Connecticut Warbler @ Glenhurst Meadows

Connecticut Warbler

I finally got to see a Connecticut Warbler @ Glenhurst Meadows this afternoon. Lifer for me! Awesome bird that I have looked for many a time.  They will most often stay down in grass or under-story, so it takes luck and timing (like in this case) to get a decent look. Nice!

Connecticut Warbler

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Hawaii! From the Garden State to the Garden Isle…

'I'iwi

ʻIʻiwi

I
t is not often you get to fulfill a lifetime dream. Not often enough for sure. Jeanette and I had just that opportunity this September when we planned a trip to Hawai’i! After some deliberation we decided to focus on the two islands of Hawai’i (the Big Island) and Kaua’i. The choice was difficult due to the variety of endemic birds spread across the islands (many of the islands have uniquely evolved species of similar birds). Our limited time (9 Days), and our intent to not just have a good birding trip but an amazing vacation too, pointed us to selecting two main islands for the trip. The wide array of birds and the Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park of the Big Island, and the absolute beauty and diversity of the species on the “Garden Isle” of Kaua’i eventually made the choice easy. Mau’i and Oah’u would have been nice too but would have to wait for another time.

I am going to break up the blog posts into individual days or a section of days. This way I can display quite a few pics and then reference pieces later. So, this initial post will cover our day and a half at Volcanoes National Park. I will also have all of the “good” pics up on our Flickr site, so you can always click the Flickr link to the right to see more goodness!

So, off we went. A 5+ hour flight to Los Angeles and then a 5+ hour flight to Hilo on the Big Island had us in Hawai’i late Thursday evening August 30th. We would have all of Friday at the Volcanoes National Park and the surrounding areas.

At first light, (being honest it was quite a bit before first light as the 6 hour time difference had Jeanette and I up in the early hours of the morning waiting to get our first day started!) we pulled together our gear and got ready to head out into the rain. We knew the area was frequently “wet,” but hoped the mentioned brevity of the showers would prove prophetic and grant us at least windows of sunlight on the sights and sounds of our first day. On our way out, we saw our first life birds of the trip. A flock of Nutmeg Mannikins, multiple Spotted Doves, and male and female Kalij Pheasants. All introduced species to Hawaii. We pulled into the town of Volcano for breakfast and our first taste of Hawaiian culture over Pancakes with Guava butter (a common fruit “butter” encountered in Hawaii). After a quick stop at the Kīlauea Visitor Center, we hit the Halemaʻumaʻu Crater, viewable from Jaggar Museum, and saw the beautiful caldera and its emitted steam plume surrounded by distant, circling White-tailed Tropicbirds.

Halemaʻumaʻu Crater

Halemaʻumaʻu Crater
We also stopped by this steam vent! The Kilauea earth “breathing.”

Volcano Steam Vent

Kilauea Volcano Steam Vent
We circled back past the Visitor Center before heading to the Thurston Lava Tube and had House Sparrow, Yellow-fronted Canary, and loads of Common Myna in the parking lot. We also went across the street and had our first native Honeycreepers of the trip! Multiple ‘Apapane (juveniles included) and a Hawai’i ‘Amakihi!

Hawai'i 'Amakihi

Hawai’i ‘Amakihi

Our next stop on the Crater Rim Drive tour was the Thurston Lava Tube!

The forest began to grow thick and the huge ferns (Hapuʻu) became unavoidably evident roadside as we twisted down towards our destination. These fern forests are rarer and rarer with the fern being a favorite target of the wild pig. We counted ourselves lucky to see it in it’s current condition.

The seemingly “pushed mist” (as opposed to pouring rain) from the trade winds lightly greeted our final approach to the lava tube. We had heard of the cave like ancient lava tube that you can walk through as a can’t miss and we were excited to see it!

After parking we walked the wonderful little trail that takes you down to the Lava tube. We noted more Apapane and Amakihi and were blown away by the surrounding forest. The tube itself is an amazing glimpse at a lava distribution method and its hard not to find yourself imagining it full of the red hot lava rushing through.

Another short hike back to the car and we were heading out down Chain of Craters Road again.

Thurston Lava Tube

Thurston Lava Tube

The drive down Chain of Craters Road is stunning. It is a breathtaking view full of new sights for your eyes and mind to take in. Candy for the brain. We rolled past lava flows with signs identifying them from the 70s and marveled at the sheer enormity of it all. What a powerful force of nature!

We wound down the road and took in the beautiful ‘Ōhi’a Lehua trees as they literally rose from the ashes as some of the first returning plant life. These trees are a key piece to the Hawaiian Honeycreeper puzzle and each time I saw one I was reminded of their resilience, even in the face of the tough odds of life on a Volcano. Its ironic however, that they are challenged elsewhere on the island due to their unique survival strategy. A lower root system while great for harsh, hard lava, did not bode well when Pigs and other animals were introduced to Hawai’i by humans. This strategy made them vulnerable to threats that they hadn’t naturally evolved to face. But these Ohi’a were persisting, and made their presence known throughout the scarred landscape as we headed down further towards the ocean. The sun had also made its appearance as we left the forest’s edge and this made the trip even sweeter.

Chain of Craters Road

Chain of Craters Road
As we came around one corner we got our first look at the Nēnē! Also known as the endangered Hawaiian Goose, I had imagined these guys from pictures in our field guides but seeing one was truly awesome! Unique to the Hawaiian Islands, the Nēnē is the State Bird and IMHO is one awesome looking Goose! This was the only Nene we saw on the southeastern side of the island.

 

Our final stop would be at the end of the Chain of Craters road at the Holei Sea Arch. There we would meet the Pacific and see the road that was overrun by lava in 2004 pushing the current end of road about a mile before the lava.

Holei Sea Arch

You can hike out to active lava (quite a hike of approx 8 miles round trip depending on the current lava flow) across the old road and possibly glimpse new lava creating new land!
Chain of Craters Road

Road Closed…
The hike is a long one and the lava can be tough to cross but the views are stunning. A blowing section of palm trees and a “Road Closed” signed engulfed by solid lava provide photo ops that can’t be missed.

Honu (Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle)

There was also a 40 foot trail from the Ranger station to the Holei Sea Arc where Hawaiian Black Noddys soar by and we saw our first Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle (Honu)! A beautiful opportunity for pictures at this wonderful spot too. It is sensory overload and it is amazing how quickly you become acclimated to such “strong” visuals. It never gets old but somehow it becomes more familiar. The power of a true natural beauty.

Hawaiian Black Noddy

Hawaiian Noddy

Palms in the Wind

We finished the day back at the Halemaʻumaʻu Crater for a night viewing not to be missed! The glow of the red lava in the crater rising into a dark sky. It seems almost fake. As if thousands of LEDs were run under some overhang hundreds of feet out. It was hard to imagine the churning fire blaring such a glow. Immense! It was a fitting end to our first full day in Hawai’i! It is all very deliciously overwhelming I must say. :)

Chain of Craters Road

The “Big” Island

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Ivory Gull – Cape May November 28th, 2009

Ivory Gull

Back in New Jersey the 80 degree temperatures of Florida were a distant memory as I thought about my next shot at my 500th ABA area bird. (Well, my 500th total as I have never birded outside of the ABA Area, but it sounds cooler if I reference the later :)) There was a Swainson’s Hawk in Cape May that I had missed on all my trips out west so wouldn’t that be an ironic twist? So, as soon as Thanksgiving passed I had planned to head down to Cape May and try my luck. Speaking of which, as luck would have it, an Ivory Gull was found in Cape May on Friday November 27th by Jim Dowdell. This would be an amazing number 500 and only the 4th or 5th occurrence of the bird in NJ since recording started and the last was back in the 80s! Could I get down there in time to see it? Would my luck allow for such a thing after missing the Mangrove Cuckoo in FL for 500? Was it possible, I was “supposed” to get this bird in New Jersey?

You never know how these things turn out. For me, it is one of the most exhilarating parts of birding and also one of the most frustrating. A chase of a bird, although wonderful when it works out, can make for some long drives home when you miss one. As I pulled into the parking lot of the Breezy Lee Marina (wonderful directions to the bird provided by many with a big thanks to the Director of Birding Programs for CMBO Don Freiday with some excellent instruction listed on the RBA) I saw many New Jersey birders with scopes, bins and heavy clothing. The wind was pretty strong but if the bird was there I wouldn’t even notice. I got out and saw some familiar faces all looking content but not very “active.” This usually means 1 of a few things. 1. Everyone got the bird and he left. 2. The bird isn’t around and bird watching as turned into bird talking to make the time go by as everyone waits or 3. (and this is the best and rarest of the bunch) Everyone got the bird, he is still around and close, and they have just gotten SO much of him that the often described “twitch” has passed. Well, today my luck rolled a 3 and sure enough the gull flew closely overhead and seemed to enjoy the onlookers and attention. I took hundreds of pictures and came back a second time just for another look of this amazingly beautiful bird before heading home happy and in possession of number 500. Freaking Great Day!

Ivory Gull

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Birding in New Jersey does Florida! Round 2!

Snail Kite:

Snail Kite

So it was the middle of November and I was itching to get 500 Life Birds by the end of 2009 (I started my first life list in May of 2007). I had 490 at that point and was trying to find a relativley easy (and inexpensive) way to pick of the last 10 birds. I have never been on a Pelagic trip so that was an option, but 10 new birds is a lot to ask from a single trip for offshore birds. So, with some vacation time to burn and nice weather as an added bonus, I decided to give South Florida a shot. I had been to the central/west coast in Florida in April of 2008 but never got down to the Everglades or the Miami area.

My first day out was Friday Nov 20th. I decided to drive through the Everglades to take in the natural beauty of the area and to stop off at some of the “birdier” spots. My first lifebird of the trip was a beautiful Purple Gallinule at Royal Palm on the Anhinga trail. Just feet away from floating gators this guy quickly brightened an overcast morning. I drove the rest of the way to Flamingo at the end of the Everglades and also came across a flock of White-crowned Pigeons at Mahogany Hammock. Not a bad start to the trip. On the way back to the hotel I picked up a third LB in, off all places, a McDonald’s parking lot. The Common Myna (just recently added as a countable ABA bird) apparently loves fast food like the rest of us.

White-crowned Pigeon:

White-crowned Pigeon

Day 2 was to start by meeting up with one of Florida’s best birders Larry Manfredi (check out his website at http://southfloridabirding.com/) to track down some Miami area specialties. Larry has been birding in Florida for many years and has contributed to many of it’s birding knowledge, guides, and documentation. Larry quickly got us on some wonderful Yellow-chevroned Parakeet hanging out with a few Monk Parakeet in a tree. Although not “countable” yet, the Yellow-chevroned could some day be added to the ABA list so this one would have to remain as “one in the bank” for now. (which later became 2 when we saw a plumply perfect Purple Swamphen) Next, Larry put us on the spectacularly curious and energetic Red-whiskered Bulbuls! What great birds. I could have spent the whole day watching these guys work their way gregariously around the neighborhood. But, new birds beckoned and we soon saw two bright Spot-breasted Orioles and even got to hear one sing! Another White-crowned Pigeon posed for pictures and a flock of Mitred Parrots squawked their presence into our wonderful Miami birding morning! We next looked for Smooth-billed Ani in vain (a Spring trip for breeding birds would be more productive for birds like the Ani and Mangrove Cuckoo which I missed) but quickly rebounded with two talkative Limpkin and a great comparative look at Purple Gallinule to Purple Swamphen. A quick stop also picked up a distant Snail Kite (2 actually) but much more was to come with the Snail Kite on the next day. We wound up the day back at Larry’s feeders for Shiny Cowbird wrapping up a successful day of birding with 5 new birds for me that day bringing my trip total to 8 (498).

Red-whiskered Bulbul:

Red-whiskered Bulbul

I decided I would do 2 things with the rest of my time in Florida. One, I would try to get a better look at Snail Kite (my most wanted bird of the trip) and two I would search for Mangrove Cuckoo. I knew I could get a Wilson’s Plover, a relativley easy to find Florida resident, as a life bird so how cool would it be to get Mangrove Cuckoo for number 500!? So the next morning I headed out to the spot that Larry and I had seen the Snail Kite. On the way there is a super busy gas station as the only one and a last stop for miles around. I stopped in for coffee and gas. As I was getting back in my car, across the street I saw a Snail Kite sitting on a stick (one of the 2X2s they tie a ribbon two and stick in the ground as a marker of some sort). Awesome. Could I get across and off to the side to get pictures? As I pulled over the Kite took to the air and I thought I had scared him away. I should have known better based on his (I am not sure if it is male or female so I am just ignorantly using “his”) location next to a busy (for Everglades FL anyways) road as instead he stopped, “Kited” and then dropped onto a Snail! How cool was this? I got to see a Snail Kite catch his name sake and got some pretty cool pictures of him sitting and eating the snail using that perfectly curved bill before discarding the shell. 1 Down 1 to go!

Along the way I had picked up the Wilson’s Plover so it was 499 with a day and a half to find the Mangrove Cuckoo. Larry had told me about a spot that had a recent sighting but 3 trips there didn’t pan out. I also tried some Everglades spots along Snake Bite trail and even a quick trip to Key Largo to look around some of their Mangrove. As birding sometimes goes I ended up not seeing a Cuckoo and headed home with 499 Life Birds. Jeanette had booked a Pelagic trip for my birthday, Dec 6th, so I knew I would get to 500 before years end. Florida was a nice trip with some great birds and a return must be had for the Cuckoo that got away.

Spot-breasted Oriole:

Spot-breasted Oriole

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Vesper Sparrow – Glenhurst Meadows October 13th, 2009

Vesper Sparrow:

Vesper Sparrow

I finally tracked the Vesper Sparrow down today. After two straight Falls where I would just miss seeing a relativley easy to find but uncommon NJ Visitor I finally got to see this guy (probably saw 2 different ones actually). After being pointed in the right direction by fellow NJ Birder (and amazing photographer) Jim Gilbert, I promptly scared the bird off trying to say hello as he was attempting to take its picture. (It was an accident true, but it’s a horrible feeling none the less. Sorry Jim :)) I was able to out wait some parked cars that were blocking the prime viewing area (back right corner of the lot near a seed path) and was rewarded with some great views of the Vesper along with many Savanna, Song, and White-crowned sparrows (1 Adult and at least 4 juveniles) sparrows. Glenhurst Meadows is a great sparrows location in Central Jersey!

Vesper Sparrow

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Fork-tailed Flycatcher – Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary (Massachusetts)

Fork-tailed Flycatcher:

Fork-tailed Flycatcher

Jeanette and I found the draw of this ridiculous bird (meant in a ridiculously good way) too much to ignore and we used it as an excuse to take our first trip to the Cape Cod area Sat night. We planned to be up first thing on Sunday and on location for the previously reported bird. A few tenuous hours of waiting in awful light and with moderate fog (100 yard visibility at times) finally paid off and we got stunning views of this amazing bird. We got to meet some great MASS birders along with Edna and Ray who are fellow NJ Birders and although the photos weren’t great, the twists and turns of the bug chasing flycatcher “doing it’s thing” made up for it. All in all, the 5 states in 5 hours was well worth it to experience our first slice of New England with the Fork-tailed Flycatcher being the icing on the proverbial cake.

Fork-tailed Flycatcher

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White-winged Crossbills – Parksville, New York

White-winged Crossbill:

White-winged Crossbill

I decided I needed to finally get a view of the White-winged Crossbills that are being seen throughout the metro area. Having no consistent spot in NJ I decided to make the trek north. Parksville (Brown Settlement Road) was about 2 1/2 hour drive for me so I just put in my mind it would be like driving to Cape May. :) So, the WWCBs at that location have been viewed pretty consistently with the NY Bird list’s John Hass even saying “They haven’t been missed here in several weeks…” Sure enough when I arrived at around 2 PM I heard WWCBs calling and within minutes they had landed in the spruce trees around my car (pretty receptive to phishing). There were a few flocks that went though while I was there with the group I photographed containing approximately 9 birds. 1 Male, 6 Females and 2 juvenile birds. I got some pretty nice looks and photos but was disappointed I didn’t have a lot of light to explore the area fully. There were also plenty of Pine Siskin and Chickadees around. So if you are looking for success with these beautiful birds I highly recommend Brown Settlement Road in NY.

White-winged Crossbill

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