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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Rarity in the Fog

It started raining about 11pm last night, so I suspected any migrants passing through might get knocked down and headed out early to Spruce Run Reservoir just down the road.  Here's what I could see when I wasn't wiping the mist from my scope.

This is with my 36x optical zoom.  I could only see a bit better with my scope.  The birds on the left are Buffleheads.  The four on the right are grebes.  Can you tell that one of these grebes is not like the others?

How about now?

I watched the birds for over 10 minutes, and could tell that one was clearly smaller, riding lower in the water, with a thinner neck.  At times it seemed like the bird had a thinner, sharper, slightly upturned bill.  And a pointing headed profile, with a peak above the eye.  While the other three are chunky Horned Grebes, the smaller one is an Eared Grebe--a rarity in New Jersey.  

Did I see it well enough to be sure of the identification?  Or was my old scope and bad lighting and distance playing tricks on me?  

After watching a bit more I couldn't make it into a Horned Grebe, so I made the call and waited for confirming backup to arrive.

The first birder on the scene could tell it was smaller, but wasn't comfortable making the call.  Finally others arrived, and with perhaps better light, and less mist, everyone finally got a good enough look to confirm the ID.  Whew!  Nothing like putting your birding reputation on the line!

Turns out it was a fantastic day at the reservoir, with 10 Long-tailed Ducks, 6 Canvasbacks,5 Greater Scaup, over 150 Buffleheads, 6 Common Loons, and some Red-breasted Mergansers making it the heaviest waterfowl event of the season so far.  The first Greater Yellowlegs of the season flew over, and later 23 Bonaparte's Gulls stopped by, and after I left apparently 29 Red-throated Loons stopped in.  You've just gotta go birding in the rain when you get a storm like this. 

Friday, March 30, 2012

Trash Bird

OK, can you tell what it is?  The bird, not the trash :-)

Here's a better shot.

Here's a slightly fuzzy shot of the bird hopping up and surface gleaning from a bare branch.

All in all a nice walk this morning around the boat launch at Spruce Run.  Relocated the Vesper Sparrow found this morning by Frank Sencher, as well as my first of year Palm Warbler shown here, and first of year Brown Thrasher singing from scrub along access road to the boat launch.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Belly Up to the Box

This morning on the way to work I watched a female Wood Duck checking out a nest box at Assiscong Marsh in Flemington, NJ.  The action was over 100 yards away on the other side of the marsh, but I was able to capture most of it.

First the duck flew up to the entrance of the nest box.  This is the same box that has had a red morph Eastern Screech-Owl in it for the past week or so.  I wasn't able to see if it was still inside, but as we'll see in a moment, I'm guessing maybe it was.

Most of the time the duck clung to the front of the box below the entrance hole, looking in.

Finally she poked her head entirely in the box to check it out.

A second later she fluttered down, leaving a big wet belly mark on the nest box.  I saw her do this routine twice, but she never seemed to go totally inside the box, making me suspect that our owl friend may have already been in there.  At one point I thought I saw the owl face in the box entrance hole, but it was too quick and through my binoculars so not a great look.

There were at least 8 Wood Ducks at the marsh this morning, and there are at least 3 other duck boxes there, so it will be interesting to see how the Wood Duck breeding season goes.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Assiscong Blue-winged Teal

Just one more sign of spring, a drake Blue-winged Teal has spent the last few days at Assiscong Marsh.

Not the greatest shot, but considering it was over 150 yards away, not bad for the Canon P500 at 576 mm (the equivalent of 3270 mm on a 35mm camera).

Also at the marsh were Tree Swallows and an Eastern Screech-Owl (also over 100 yards away) in nest boxes.  Bird love is in the air!

Monday, March 19, 2012

First Chipping Sparrow of the Year

While hanging out at home today I noticed a small pale bird in the bushes, and it soon came in to my patio--my first Chipping Sparrow of the year.  Always fun to keep track of the birds you see each year, so you can celebrate seeing old friends like this after a winter absence.

Chipping Sparrow, Hunterdon Co, NJ, 19 March 2012, Nikon Cool Pix 500, f/5.7, 1/200 second, ISO -160.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Going for 50

I headed out this morning to run some errands and of course I had to get my 20 bird MDR.  After hitting Spruce Run on the way to return a Redbox movie, I had 21 species.  If I turned right I could return the movie.  Turning left I could hit Island Road and Round Valley in order to get a 30 Bird Bonus Day.  Eastern Meadowlarks were singing on Island Road, and my first Tree Swallow of the year was checking out a nest box while a pair of Eastern Bluebirds called loudly.  A good number of ducks at Round Valley had me leaving there with 39 species.  Demott Pond near the Redbox dropoff got me Gadwall and Mallard for 41 species.  Driving past Jutland Lake on the way home I netted a couple of Redhead with the American Wigeon.  That and the Black Vultures on the road gave me 44 birds.  A mile from home I decided to head back to Spruce Run for a couple more birds--Lesser Black-backed Gull, Dark-eyed Junco (finally!) and Downy Woodpecker.

Shoot, I've got more birds than that in my own backyard, so I headed home.  Purple Finch and Eastern Towhee made 49.  Finally a Northern Flicker called off in the woods for 50.  Finally, a 50 Bird Day!  Not bad for a half day in early spring in NJ with no ocean :-)

As I write this up, a White-breasted Nuthatch is calling in the yard for 51.  Let the fun continue!

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Canada Goose Band Return

Just got this certificate from the U.S.G.S. Banding Lab with details on a Canada Goose I saw last month.

So this bird was banded two years ago not far from here at another Wildlife Management Area in the county.  Would be fun to know more about where it has been the last two years.  Does it migrate north, or is it one of the local resident geese?  My recollection is that it was probably one of the bigger introduced birds, here are a couple of poor digiscoped shots I got of it by itself.

Monday, March 05, 2012


Dr. Suess' Swomee-Swans have exhibited some interesting changes since they first appeared in the 1971 children's book The Lorax.  In the book, the swans are simple long-tailed and floppy winged birds with orange bodies and yellow heads and beaks.  They apparently fly through the air, swim in the water, hang out in the Truffula trees, and their calls ring out in space.  After the smog from the factories pollute the air, they are forced to leave in a sad exit flight.

Swomee-Swan hanging out in a Truffula tree, The Lorax (1971)

Swomee-Swan swimming and possibly singing, The Lorax (1971)

Exit flight of the Swomee-Swans from The Lorax (1971) 

On February 14, 1972, the Swomee-Swans appeared in the CBS television animated musical production of The Lorax produced by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises (watch below).

In this production, the Swomee-Swans have changed appearance, and are now white with orange heads.

White bodied Swomee-Swan, The Lorax television special (1972)

White-bodied Swomee-Swan with the Lorax, The Lorax television special (1972)

Departure of the Swomee-Swans, The Lorax television special (1972)

Forty years later, in the computer animated Lorax movie produced by Illumination Entertainment (watch trailer below), the Swomee-Swans have changed once more and are now yellowish-orange bodied with darker orange heads.  Their odd plumed neck rings are now more conspicuous as well.

Orange-bodied Swomee-Swans (with Barbaloots), The Lorax movie (2012)

Dancing Swomee-Swan, The Lorax movie (2012)

Swomee-Swans with Hummingfish, Barbaloots, and The Lorax, The Lorax movie (2012)
I'm sure we haven't seen the last of the Swomee-Swans, and look forward to see how these whimsical birds continue to transform over the next forty years.

February Monthly Birding Results

In February I continued my 1 a day eBird challenge by submitting 90 eBird checklists, including at least one for every day. I also got my 20 Bird MDR every day except for 3 days that I took as a Birding Shabbat.  In fact, I got 30 Bird Bonus Days on 12 days (as opposed to 11 such days in January), so there were a lot of days with a good number of birds.  I saw 90 bird species in February.  Highlights were the pelagic trip out of Cape May where I got my first ABA Dovekie, and we also saw Razorbill, Atlantic Puffin, Northern Fulmar, and Black-legged Kittiwake.  Local highlights included  Ross's Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose, Iceland Gull, Tundra Swan, displaying American Woodocks.

Even with driving over 300 miles to do the pelagic trip, I still ended the month with 918 miles of driving, down from January's 1168 miles, so that was good.  Since I took three days off to be with family, I ended up with a few fewer birds/day this month (25.3 down from 27), but all in all it was another good month.  I for sure saw a lot more birds than I would have if I wasn't going for my 20 Bird MDR every day and doing the 1 a day eBird challenge!

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Don't Kill the Little Birds

I'm at home today and missing church due to a cold, so thought I'd post a quick message from Spencer W. Kimball (1895-1985), who was a Mormon apostle and prophet.  This is from a message he gave in the April 1978 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  In talking about the church songs he used to sing in church as a child in Arizona in the early 20th Century, he stated:

One of the songs...was number 163, “Don’t Kill the Little Birds,” and I remember many times singing with a loud voice:

Don’t kill the little birds,
That sing on bush and tree,
All thro’ the summer days,
Their sweetest melody.
Don’t shoot the little birds!
The earth is God’s estate,
And he provideth food
For small as well as great.
(Deseret Songs, 1909, no. 163.)

I had a sling and I had a flipper. I made them myself, and they worked very well. It was my duty to walk the cows to the pasture a mile away from home. There were large cottonwood trees lining the road, and I remember that it was quite a temptation to shoot the little birds “that sing on bush and tree,” because I was a pretty good shot and I could hit a post at fifty yards’ distance or I could hit the trunk of a tree. But I think perhaps because I sang nearly every Sunday, “Don’t Kill the Little Birds,” I was restrained. The second verse goes:

Don’t kill the little birds
Their plumage wings the air,
Their trill at early morn
Makes music ev’ry-where.
What tho’ the cherries fall
Half eaten from the stem?
And berries disappear,
In garden, field, and glen?

This made a real impression on me, so I could see no great fun in having a beautiful little bird fall at my feet.

(Music to this song is available online, as well as more info including additional verses)

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