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Friday, June 01, 2012

Blue Grosbeak Quest

Migration is winding down, and as I continue to explore my new home county in New Jersey, I'm hunting down some of the more scarce breeding species.  Near the top of that list is Blue Grosbeak.  These birds are scarce and local here on the edge of their range.  A few are found each year down in the southern end of our county, and since they've been reported a few times recently, I've been heading down there this week to see what I can find.

Dickcissel, 18 May 2001, Hunterdon County, NJ
The first two attempts, I spent hours looking and listening in vain.  Fortunately, there are plenty of other fun birds around to see in the area--including Dickcissel--another locally rare bird here on the edge of their range.  While watching this one male singing on territory near Clover Hill, I've also enjoyed watching Willow Flycatchers, Grasshopper Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, Eastern Meadowlarks and Bobolinks in the same fields.  But I've become frustrated looking for my main quarry, the illusive Blue Grosbeak.

Finally, this morning, I had time to just park myself and watch the field.  After about half an hour, a male Blue Grosbeak flew across the field and landed nearby!  But before I could get my camera on it, he flew off to the other end of the field.  Here's the best shot I could get, with the bird in the top of a tree over 100 yards away.  Not a great shot!

Male Blue Grosbeak, hand held CoolPix P500, 36x optical zoom, 100+ yards

Before I could get a good shot, it flew all the way across the large field and landed in the top of a bare tree even farther away.  As I was walking towards it, it dropped back down into the field, where I was finally able to get a more decent shot.

Male Blue Grosbeak, Clover Hill, Hunterdon County, NJ, 1 June 2012
At one point, the Blue Grosbeak was even in the same view with a Dickcissel!  Two locally scarce breeders in one shot!
Dickcissel (left) and Blue Grosbeak (right)
I was very happy to see these two birds in Hunterdon County.  But it is a hard life for these grassland breeding birds.  In a nearby field, where a second male Dickcissel had recently started singing, this was all that was left of the habitat this morning.

Recently mowed grassland bird habitat, Hunterdon County, NJ.

It's actually very hard to understand how these grassland birds persist, since their nesting fields are constantly being mowed before they can nest and produce young.  The best way to help these birds is to avoid mowing from late April to late July--which unfortunately is exactly when these fields are usually the most productive as hay fields.  Fortunately several organizations are working to promote grassland stewardship for nesting birds.

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