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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Neotropical Cormorant

Neotropic Cormorant, Clinton, NJ, 11 June 2014

After not seeing any reports of the Neotropic Cormorant I found in Clinton back in April, I stopped by the Red Mill pond downtown and quickly found the bird sitting on branches in the middle of the pond.  This will be the 1st New Jersey record pending acceptance by the NJBRC.  When I first found the bird, I guessed it would stay the summer (where else would it go?), so we'll see how long it hangs out.  It's got a nice river to fish in, and unless it gets lonely and wants to go off and look for a mate, I don't know why it won't just hang out here along the river.

eBird checklist

Monday, June 09, 2014

Grasshopper Sparrows

Grasshopper Sparrows are special hidden marvels that only birders get to enjoy.  They aren't a bird that the public would usually notice.  They are small, mostly plain brown, live in tall grass, and have a song that sounds like an insect (check out a video of one singing).  So they are easy to overlook.

Here in my part of New Jersey, Grasshopper Sparrows are uncommon breeders, nesting in a few scattered larger fields across the county.

Last week I got some photos of a couple of birds at the Horseshoe Bend Preserve.  I digiscoped a male singing from a pole in a field, and got shots from my car with my Nikon CoolPix P500 of another bird was seen along the fence line carrying insects for its young--presumably in a nest nearby.   Since most songbirds only carry food when they have young in the nest, this is considered confirmed evidence of nesting.

Just another hidden gem that only birders get to enjoy in the wild!


Nikon CoolPix P500 shot of the singing male, not as good as the digiscoped shots below

Singing male Grasshopper Sparrow, Hunterdon Co, NJ, 6 June 2014
Singing male Grasshopper Sparrow, Hunterdon Co, NJ, 6 June 2014
Singing male Grasshopper Sparrow, Hunterdon Co, NJ, 6 June 2014
Food carrying nesting Grasshopper Sparrow

Grasshopper Sparrow, food carrying, 6 June 2014

Grasshopper Sparrow, Nikon CoolPix P500, 6 June 2014

eBird post






Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Peek-a-Boo Chat

I spent an hour this morning trying to get a photo of a very vocal Yellow-breasted Chat singing in the dense shrubbery in a field near Flemington, NJ.  I got some OK sound recordings of the bird singing--it sang nonstop the whole time I was there.  But what a tough guy to get a photo of!  I did get some short but close looks at the chat, and even watched it sing in flight for over 50 yards.  I'm sure some of my friends with big lenses who are quick on the draw could have gotten some spectacular shots.

Unfortunately, most of mine look like this:

Can you see the bird in the oak tree?  Me neither!

The only shot I really got that shows anything is this sad shot here:


How about now?  Yes, there's a bird there.


And here it is cropped to show the bird.

Yellow-breasted Chat, 3 June 2014, Hunterdon County, NJ

Oh well, it was a nice morning out--at one point we accidentally flushed a Wild Turkey off her nest.  Here's the nest, with nine eggs.

Nine future Wild Turkeys

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Lighting strikes--thrice? 1st Neotropic Cormorant for NJ

Tuesday night I had to run to the store, and on my way home, I stopped by Demott Park in Clinton, NJ.  I stop by this little pond almost every day.  Sometimes more than once.  Its a quick stop to scan for ducks.  For over a week a Redhead had been hanging out with some Ring-necked Ducks.  In the winter there are always a lot of Gadwall, and usually some Hooded Mergansers.  And sometimes something even better.

Tuesday night, as it was getting dark, I noticed a long-tailed bird in the tree on an island in the middle of the pond.  As I got my bins on it, I was shocked to see it was a cormorant--but much longer tailed and smaller than a normal cormorant.  I jumped out of the car, grabbed my scope, and started taking pictures through my scope with my camera phone.




Light was fading fast, but I sent out a text with a  photo to a local birding friend (who I didn't realize was in Florida).  I try to be careful, and didn't want to claim it 100% until I could look at the photos--and I was just taking as many photos as I could, hoping to get ones that would prove the ID of this bird--since it really looked to me like a Neotropic Cormorant--a bird I used to see a lot of when I lived in Texas, but a bird never documented before in New Jersey!

As I took my last shot I realized I was 50 yards from my van, with the doors wide open, and the keys left in the ignition.  I also had ice cream melting in the van.  But that was the least of my concerns :-)

I got home and started going through the photos.  OK, they weren't great perfect.  But they seemed to show what I saw in the field--a very long-tailed cormorant, with dark feathering (instead of yellow flesh) in front of the eye, a dark chocolate brown breast and belly.  As far as I could tell, I had all the field marks for a Neotropic Cormorant.  Unfortunately the photos couldn't really show how small the bird was--which was the thing that really struck me at first.  Oh well.

I started sending the photos around to friends to get their opinion.  It was getting late on the East Coast.  A couple friends in Texas, Mexico, and Washington thought it looked good--though the photos were not perfect by any stretch, so caution was warranted.

By 1:30AM I was convinced I had something that others needed to see--and without being able to reach anyone else for the night, I had to pull the trigger and call it myself.  If I wasn't imagining things, this was a bird that others would want to see.  If I was somehow off, well, that would be embarrassing.  I bit the bullet and sent out word of a probable Neotropic Cormorant on the JerseyBirds email list.

Next morning I had some tasks to do that kept me from the park at first light.  By the time I got there at 6:45, no bird.  A couple friends showed up to look, but otherwise not many birders there for a potential first state record.  I guess my photos posted on Flickr weren't convincing enough.  

After I got home, I found out that Jonathan Klizas had been there earlier, and had seen the bird, and gotten some photos.  Though they were still a bit fuzzy in the early morning light.  

A discussion of the ID on the ID Frontiers email list went round and round.  Some birders thought it looked good for Neotropic Cormorant.  Others expressed caution.  There was a story about a mysterious cormorant in California that may not be identifiable still.  Some folks thought my photos showed a bird with a head and/or bill too large for Neotropic Cormorant.  Others couldn't get past the long tail and dark lores--usually classic diagnostic marks for this bird.  At one point some people were questioning if what if any marks really would be convincing for a Neotropic Cormorant in this plumage.

Fortunately, last night, Ellen DeCarlo checked out the island at dusk and relocated the bird sitting on the shore of the island and got a couple good clean shots.


Thank goodness for these shots!  Today, as more birders saw these last shots, those who expressed concerns were mostly won over.  Peter Pyle was even able to age this bird (a young bird from last year in the middle of a molt to an adult plumage).

So tonight, finally a crowd should be gathered to see this potential first record for New Jersey.  I don't know if finding a first state record is the birding equivalent of pitching a perfect game, or just winning the Powerball.  But that's three for me in 15 months here in NJ.  I'm feeling very blessed.  And I hope that it sticks around long enough so everyone who wants to see it can come and take a look.

My wife just thinks it is good karma for my going to get some stuff she needed from the store :-)

As with all good birding tales, this one is a mix of fun and passion and frustration.  Not sure there are any real lessons to be learned.  But I'm grateful for all who have participated in the discussion of this bird, and for all that I learned about cormorants over the past few days.  

Good luck to all the bird chasers out there.  I hope everyone who wants to gets to see this bird!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson's Snipe, Clinton, Hunterdon, NJ 12 March 2014
Spring is finally in the air, with warm temps and rain.  Today was the first day in a month and a half that I didn't have to step in snow or ice to get to my car.  Waterfowl are moving through, and today I saw my first Wilson's Snipe of the season--as well as my first Wood Duck and Eastern Phoebe of 2014.  Birding has been slow, but now starting to pick up.

Blogging remains slow.  As with most long term bloggers, I've sagged a bit, and most of my sharing lately has been on Facebook.  I am working on some book reviews, and other posts, so see you again soon :-)

Friday, March 07, 2014

Spring 2014 ESU Ethnographic Expeditions

This semester my students at East Stroudsburg University will be getting to know 100 traditional and indigenous cultures around the world.  We will be exploring their environment, world views, connections to nature (including birds, of course), foods, and cultural survival.  Here are the cultures we will be connecting with.  Please feel free to visit the blogs where each student is posting their explorations, and if you have contacts or resources that can help them, please contact them directly on their blogs to let them know.

Update (1 May 20014): Most explorers have their blogs created, but a few haven't posted anything yet.  Most should be completed by the beginning of next week.  A sample blogs with a lot of content include the Basque blog.


Expedition Team 1: Europe





Expedition Team 2: Russia & Central Asia 



Expedition Team 3: Middle East & North Africa




Expedition Team 4: Sub-Saharan Africa





Expedition Team 5: US & Canada







Expedition Team 6: Latin America & Caribbean



Expedition Team 8: South Asia

Expedition Team 9: Southeast Asia







Expedition Team 10: Oceania

Monday, February 03, 2014

January 2014 Goals

It was a cold and frozen month, with most water in Hunterdon County frozen over.  With some determination and good fortune, I was able to make my gold of 100 bird species for the month, ending up with 101 species on January 31.  Best birds were Greater White-fronted Goose, White-winged Scoter, and Rough-legged Hawk.  Biggest miss was the Snowy Owl at Round Valley that I spent too many mornings looking for and never did find.  Such is life.  I also wanted to get my daughter started on her year list, and she went with me several times to Round Valley and has more than 30 birds for the year.  Lots of fun.  Here's a digiscoped view of the Rough-legged Hawk that I found at dusk on Janury 31.


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