Friday, November 28, 2008

Seeking White on Black Friday

It is now clear to me that I will never see a Snowy Owl. Until recently, I assumed that Snowy Owls were only found waaaaay up north in the Arctic and that it would be a reeeeaaallly long trip and we would neeevvveeer spend that kind of money to see an owl. Then came the Internet. Postings, reports and photos abound on the Internet about Snowy Owls in New Jersey, New York, and even Delaware. In the past, I would see the posting long after the Owl had left the area and be mad that I didn't check the web sooner. Last year, Connie and I read that there was one at Forsythe so we drove down to see it but didn't see anything. And this week, I tracked the Internet postings of a Snowy Owl at Liberty State Park. It was seen as recently as Wednesday. I figured that the omission of Thursday was due to Thanksgiving.

As of Thursday night, I couldn't decide whether to risk another let down or go chasing the bird. I didn't decide to actually go until 6:30 AM. Maybe that was too late. I got the Google directions, the "gear" and the dogs (yes, I still have Sammy) and headed up the NJ Turnpike to Liberty State Park. I arrived at 8:30 and found no other birders. No scopes of other birders pointed out at the wharf. Nothing but fisherman launching their boats in search of Striped Bass.

I did see the Statue of Liberty from the ferry dock. And, I did find a park ranger. I asked him if he knew anything about where the Snowy Owl was. "What?" "Snowy Owl, you know hoot-hoot." Yes, I said "hoot-hoot". He said that he hadn't heard any hooting. OK. I headed back to the boat launch. I barely parked the car when the ranger pulled up beside me. "There used to be a white owl. Is that what your looking for?" Let's see. . . Snowy Owl, white owl . . . He went on to tell me that he got real close to one - 3 years ago. Thanks for nothing. ( I think it was sweet that he tracked me down to help but the sarcasm sounds better in a blog)

I took the opportunity to explore the north Jersey area and decided to check out Sandy Hook. Another thing that I learned about on the Internet. I have been reading the Rare Bird Alerts for years and read alot about Sandy Hook. Now, thanks to eBird's rare sighting connection to, it's even easier to find birds in any state that are deemed "rare" either because they shouldn't be there at all, or not at this time of year. That's how I found the Snowy Owl this time. That's how I knew that it was at Liberty State Park near the boat launch. Lapland Longspurs were reported at Sandy Hook. That's why I decided to check it out today since I was already in north Jersey.

Sandy Hook must get mobbed in summer, but it was pretty empty today. I met another birder, Ken who helped me get the lay of the land out at the end of the hook. Ken grew up around Sandy Hook but lives in New Hampshire now. He was searching for an Orange Crowned Warbler in the brush. I took the dogs and headed for the beach. Ken told me that I had a good chance at Snow Buntings, Horned Larks and the Longspurs. I did see a pretty good swirling flock of little birds. They came pretty close and I could tell be the black and white wing patterns on some of the birds that they were definitely Snow Buntings. That was worth the drive. I also saw plenty of Yellow Rumped Warblers and Horned Larks. Seems like I can't get enough Horned Larks this year.

I stopped at another beach parking lot on the way out and got good looks at Surf Scoters close to shore in the rough surf. One adult male with his big white and orange schnoz and white patch behind the head, and about 8 immature male and females. It was too windy for the camera, so no photos today.

It was alot of driving, but I got gas for $1.69/gallon. I cannot remember the last time that happened.

Oh, did I mention that I ended up down the Parkway at Forsythe again? Third time.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Forsythe - Take Two

The weather was much better today but the company was much worse. It was only me, my dog Cocoa, and Di and Barbara's dog Sammy. Neither one of my companions are any good with spotting or identifying peeps or ducks. They never call out an Eagle or Harrier. They just sit in the back and pant. And Sammy can't sit still. And I have to walk them and pick up their poop. Enough about that.

My sister and Barbara decided to cruise the "Eastern Caribbean" - hence Sammy's company today. They better send photos and lists of the birds that they see from the ship or don't bother coming back. Lori decided that she needed a new lamppost and today was the day to do it. And poor Connie was sick. So I took the dogs and went back to Forsythe in search of big head ducks.

I got 2 big head ducks - Hooded Merganser and Bufflehead. Here is the best photo that I got of the Mergansers. The Bufflehead were too far away for any chance of a photo.

I also got a pretty good shot of a sleeping Ruddy Duck.

The Peregrine Falcon was sitting out on the platform today. I also saw one sitting on an Osprey platform close to the road eating some scraps of something.

Another wonderful sighting today - Laura and Stu (and his little dog too). I was quite surprised to see them today and it was fun talking through the car windows. I hope you guys saw the Widgeon. Stu had reports of Snow Buntings near the end of the wildlife drive. We didn't find any.

I wanted to check out some of the other roads to the bay today so I drove out to the end of Great Bay Blvd. It was kind of a bust. It's kind of a long road to the edge of the bay but you can't really see the bay from the end of the road and there were a lot of fishing boats screaming around so I imagine that there aren't any ducks anyway. Oh well.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

2 Life Birds, 1 Day, Not Even Trying

It's 2:00 on Saturday afternoon. We are patiently waiting for the Penn State game to come on TV at 3:30. They play Michigan State and could clinch a spot in the Rose Bowl if they win today. I have already seen 2 new life birds today. It started at Pennypack Trust this morning with Field Sparrow followed by a Fox Sparrow right at our house under the feeder. Just like that, I had 2 life birds by 9:00 AM without even trying.

I'm pretty sure that I've seen both birds before. I guess I just never wrote them down or entered them into eBird. If you don't have an eBird account, you HAVE TO GET ONE. It's awesome. All of your favorite locations and your lists broken down by county, state, etc without any work.

Connie reminded me that our favorite guy Bruce pointed out a Fox Sparrow at Lake Nockamixon years ago. Connie can't remember to turn the lights off in the kitchen, but she can remember a Fox Sparrow from 10 years ago? You go girl.

Also at the house today and all week long is a Red Tail Hawk. The pair usually stay across the street but at least one has been in our yard 3 times this week. I guess he (or she) is stalking our abundant squirrels.

Go Joe-Pa. And congratulations to Chelsea and Mike on their wedding day today. We wish you all the best and a long, happy life together.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bird Conservation, etc

So, I'm not about to lecture anyone about anything. Most people who will read this blog already understand the basics of birdwatching: you need birds in order to watch them. Pretty simple. You also know that the universe revolves around me (unless my grandmother is in the room, then it shifts to her). Given that, you will understand that I support any organization that makes my life better. Here is one of them: American Bird Conservancy. ABC is a great organization to join. Their mission is "to conserve native wild birds and their habitat throughout the Americas". This directly affects our ability to watch all of the birds that we enjoy - both resident and migrant. Members receive a great magazine and newsletter.

We watch backyard birds and migrating birds of all sorts because they fascinate us. We need to support groups that support birds whether it be conservation, education, or habitat protection so that we have birds to look at (forget about ecology, food chain, the bird's perspective). I just received an email from American Bird Conservancy telling me about a cool new feature that they have called Bird News Network. Basically, it's a YouTube "channel" that you can tune into to see new videos of bird conservation efforts. Check it out at I would urge you to join or support any organization that supports bird conservation - ABC being on the top of that list.

ABC also has a program called ACT for Songbirds which targets specific migration or wintering areas that need help or allows you to take action on upcoming legislation through their website. Connie and I both "purchased" an acre on the Osa Penninsula in Costa Rica to support habitat last year. After visiting the Osa this year, we're glad that we did it.

Next post - Connie and me back at the shore looking for big headed ducks. Stay tuned.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Forsythe NWR for Ducks - in the rain

Well, Lori and I were the only ones that could make the trip to Forsythe NWR today but we went in sheer style and comfort in her new 2009 Ford Expedition. Sweeeeeet ride! We set up Connie's spotting scope on a tripod between the bucket seats in the back and had clear views of everything without getting wet.

The scope is a hand-me-down from Connie's dad. It's a Baucsh and Lomb Discoverer 15-60mm scope that he used for hunting. We also have a pair of hand-me-sown Zeiss 15x60 - yes, 15x60 binoculars that we lovingly refer to as "The Big Boys". They are huge. They almost look like a prop from a comedy show or something but they bring those distant ducks into view.

We got pretty lucky with the weather. Not much rain, but ferocious wind coming from the south sent wave spray over the road at times. We came to Forsythe looking for what Lori refers to as "big headed ducks": Mergansers, Bufflehead and the like. We didn't get any big heads today but we did get plenty of Brant, Pintail, Black Ducks, Mallards, Green Wing Teal, Northern Shovelers and cute-as-a-button sleeping Ruddy Ducks. We were also surprised to see hundreds (if not thousands) of Black-bellied Plovers with thousands of Dunlin. We also had 4 Lesser Yellowlegs which were good to identify by size next to the plovers.

Lori found us Meadowlarks in the grass near the Peregrine platform. The yellow chest and black V really stood out in the overcast setting. Great spot by Lori. We also saw dozens of Eastern Bluebirds on the drive out. They are planting alot of trees in the field near the "experimental pool". The bluebirds were sitting on those protective tubes for the young trees.

We decided to go out to Barnegat Lighthouse to see if we could find any sea birds blown in by the storms. Barnegat Light sits at the top of Long Beach Island at Barnegat Inlet. I thought that we might see some scoters or gannets. Nothing like that though. We did see Purple Sandpipers and Ruddy Turnstones on the rocks along the inlet. Purple Sandpiper is a life bird for both of us. We were also surprised to see 6 or so Yellow-rumped Warblers in the bushes behind the lighthouse.

Gulls are really difficult for me to identify. I'm not that advanced in my skills. I also had a hard time differentiating the terns in the inlet. One type had dark on the coverts of the wings, white on the primary and secondaries with a black edge. Another had dark primaries and was pretty big. I marked that one down as a Royal Tern. Then, there was a really small tern which I would normally mark down as a Least Tern but the range maps make it look like they should be gone by now. eBird doesn't have it listed for Barnegat Light in the "Most Probable Species" list either. So, I'm stumped by Gulls and Terns again. . .

Veteran's Day at Bombay Hook and Surrounding Areas

I played hookie on Veteran's Day and took Connie down to Bombay Hook NWR in Delaware. It's been a few years since we were there last. The weather was perfect. Big blue sky, not too cold. We made great time from our house in Abington down to Smyrna exit of Rt 1.

Our first stop was Woodland Beach off of Rt 9. There are a few entrances. We pulled into the southern most entrance and were greeted by an 8 point buck running through the field. We saw some birds in the mud flat there that looked like shorebirds from a distance. They turned out to be Horned Larks! 5 of them scurrying through the mud field. We got great looks.

We got into Bombay Hook just at 8:00 AM. The office was officially closed due to Veteran's Day, but there were a few volunteers that let us in for maps and such. Outside of the office we immediately saw what we came for - thousands of Snow Geese swirling around the beautiful blue sky. Wow!

On the wildlife drive we pulled off to scan the agriculture fields for anything interesting. We found American Pipits right at Tour 2 sign. Life bird for both of us. We have probably driven past Pipits a hundred times and never bothered to look at them before. However, I checked the Delaware RBA before our trip and read that Pipits had been seen. So, thanks to Andy Ednie for continuing to post to Virtual Birder.

Other notable birds seen at Bombay Hook - Green Wing Teal, American Avocet, Pintails, Dunlin, Semi-palmated Plovers, Greater Yellowlegs and 4 Harriers.

We drove south on Rt 9 to explore 2 sites that are regularly mentioned on the Delaware RBA that we have never been to - Port Mahon Rd and Little Creek. Thank goodness for eBird's Google Maps integration. It makes finding these sites so easy. We saw 5 Black Crowned Night Herons at Little Creek. It looks like they are building a serious levee there that will eventually allow you to walk all the way out into the marsh.

Anyway, it was a really nice day and we were home before supper.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Bird Nerd Overview

Hello there. The purpose of this blog is to share my birdwatching experiences with anyone who is interested. I'll post backyard sightings, sightings at local parks like PennyPack Ecological Restoration Trust and Carpenter's Woods, and regional "hot spots" such as Cape May NJ and Hawk Mountain PA. Occassionally, I'll post sightings and trip notes from our big birding trips.

Connie and I have been actively birding for 15 years. Our interest has grown from looking at birds occasionally to planning full vacations around migration routes and times. That's why we call ourselves "Bird Nerds". My sister and her partner got caught up in this with us a few years ago and now they get dragged along with us. And then there are our friends from the ice hockey team who got totally hooked recently. I'm the most obsessed one in the group although Lori is gaining on me rapidly.

Anyway, I'll try to keep it fun and light. Take tomorrow for instance. We are planning a quick trip to Forsythe NWR in Brigantine NJ to see geese and ducks. The weather is calling for rain and thunderstorms and wind. No sun. We're going anyway because Lori just bought a new SUV and has never been to Forsythe. So, we're going. I'll let you know if we see anything.

The Osprey photo was taken last month at Cape May Hawk Watch. That was a great day for us. We saw a ton of Osprey. Mostly with fish for some reason. My sister started making snide comments like "Why don't they just call out the ones without fish for a change". That's just a ridiculous amount of Ospreys to see in one day. I never thought that I would see that many Peregrine Falcons in my lifetime let alone in one day. Our little group probably saw 40 Peregrines flying low, high, fast, slow. Wow.

I'm just old enough to remember the DDT days. When my parents took us to Hawk Mountain in the 70's, they preached all about the decline and possible elimination of these birds due to DDT. Now, 35 years later, we're making jokes about how many we see in one day. I know that the numbers aren't anything like pre-pesticide days. But it's terrific for us. Here is the Peregrine photo from that day too: