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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Great Plains New Jersey!

Yesterday I felt like some Great Plains birding, so I drove out to the wide expansive grasslands south of Phillipsburg.  This isn't a little town in Nebraska, though if you didn't know where you were, you might think it was.  

Believe it or not, this is New Jersey.  But it might as well be Nebraska.  This area is called the Alpha Grasslands, and it is a traditional spot to find Rough-legged Hawk, Short-eared Owl, and the focus of my search--Lapland Longspur.  

When I realized I couldn't remember the last time I saw a Lapland Longspur (I had flyovers in Texas back in the early 2000s), I figured I needed to make a bigger effort.  So I drove over to Alpha (its not far, just the next county over) and drove around the area until I started seeing Horned Larks.

It didn't take long to see smaller birds mixed in with the larks in flight, but it took a bit of scope work to finally get a look at one on the ground.  Here's an Alpha male longspur :-)

Lapland Longspur, Alpha Grasslands, Warren Co, NJ 29 Jan 2013.  Digiscoped HTC Incredible phone/Kowa 883.

So, not the greatest shot.  The birds were over 100 yards away in a field.  But at least I got some decent scope looks at two birds.  I could have spent a lot more time enjoying my Great Plains birding and maybe looking for other birds in with the larks, but duty called and I had to get back to work.  But not before finding this locally rare Glaucous Gull out at Spruce Run Reservoir on my way home!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Birding with Manti Te'o

Did I tell you about the time I went birding with Manti Te'o on the north shore of Oahu?

Or maybe we didn't really meet up over there.  Maybe we just met online.  Or maybe we didn't meet at all.  It's all so confusing.  I really feel for the guy.  He's had a tough year.  I think after the NFL draft we should all volunteer to take him out birdwatching for some relaxation.  

Manti, if you read this...give me a shout out and we'll take you out birding 4 reelz.

In the meantime, forget Flat Stanley.  In this digital day and age, if you'd like to take Manti birding yourself, here's something that should help:

You know what to do!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Barnacle Goose in Clinton, New Jersey

There have been several Barnacle Geese--rare visitors to the Eastern United States from Iceland--kicking around New Jersey this winter (see eBird map).  I narrowly missed seeing one at Spruce Run Reservoir near my house this past Wednesday (I was working out and got the text too late--it was gone by the time I arrived an hour later).  I've been watching flocks of geese all week hoping to relocate the bird, but without luck.

This afternoon there were almost no geese on Spruce Run, but I saw birds landing below the finally I drove over there and scoped out the geese.  Nothing.  Actually, there was a Cackling Goose mixed in with the larger Canada Geese.  And 10,000 gulls streamed over the dam heading south with an amazing orange sunset behind them.  And a couple flocks of Snow Geese flew over high going south.  So it should have been enough for anyone's soul.

I met another birder and we talked for awhile as we continued to enjoy the sunset and I scoped out the birds streaming overhead.  After she left, the sun was gone, it was getting pretty dark, and I decided to scope out the flock of geese in the field below the Spruce Run Dam.  And there was the Barnacle Goose!

It was so dark I couldn't even see the goose in my phone screen while I tried digiscoping it...but fortunately the HTC Incredible phone camera came through and I at least got a couple of shots to document the record.

One of these things is not like the others...can you spot the rare goose?  Barnacle Goose after sundown, Clinton, Hunterdon, NJ, 19 Jan 2013--cropped but otherwise unretouched, HTC Incredible camera phone through Kowa 883 scope.

Barnacle Goose after sundown, Clinton, Hunterdon, NJ, 19 Jan 2013--cropped but otherwise unretouched, HTC Incredible camera phone through Kowa 883 scope.  Note also the two presumed Barnacle x Canada Goose hybrids with dark chests to the left of the Barnacle Goose. 

I was so focused on the Barnacle Goose, that I didn't notice the two birds with dark breasts that were with it--after Frank Sencher Jr relocated the goose the next morning, and reported two hybrid Canada x Barnacle Goose with the Barnacle Goose did I take a second look at my photos and sure enough there are two geese with dark chests to the left of the Barnacle Goose in the lower photo above.  Also, thanks to Michael Rehman for finding this goose earlier in the week--otherwise I might not have been watching the geese flocks this intently the past few days.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

3 Northern Lapwing in New Jersey

Yesterday I heard about 3 Northern Lapwing found at the back of a pasture in New Egypt down in Ocean County (these will be the 4th NJ record for this species).  That's about an hour and a half from my home.  I had time to make it there before dark, but not unless I ditched the kids.  So I did the dad thing and waited until they got home and took them out to look at a Canvasback in nearby Cushetunk Lake, reported earlier in the day by Joe Dolan.

This morning, after the kids got on the bus, I cruised down to New Egypt with Alan Mart, and the lapwings were still there.

Here's the crowd gathered to see the birds...a half dozen more were down the road a few yards.

Here's the giganormous muddy pasture they are in...looks like the Dutch countryside to me.  Maybe it does to the lapwings too!

And here is one...


and three Northern Lapwings.

Not something you see every day on this side of the Atlantic, and a scene I never expect to see here again!  It has been an unprecedented year for lapwings in North America, with multiple birds seen up and down the East Coast.  A few more of my distant digiscoped photos are on Flickr.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

First New Jersey Record--Mew Gull

This afternoon I got a text from Frank Sencher, Jr. that a Greater White-fronted Goose was at nearby Spruce Run Reservoir.  I headed over there and was able to see the goose.  We then headed over to the other side of the reservoir to scope out the gulls.  Within a couple of minutes I spotted this bird, fortunately easily visible on the edge of the flock on the ice.

Mew Gull, Spruce Run Reservoir, Hunterdon County, NJ 1-10-2013

I called Frank over and within minutes he was texting and calling everyone to get the word out.  Fortunately another half dozen birders were able to get to the reservoir before the bird flew off with most of the flock an hour later at dusk.

Here are a few more photos, and more are posted on my Flickr page.

Apparently this will be a first record for New Jersey if accepted by the bird record committee.  Not a bad way to end the day--or start the year, for that matter :-)

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

2013 Bird of the Year

OK, not the ABA Bird of the Year, but my personal first bird of the year was...

Tufted Titmouse.  I had tried for owls at midnight, but the wind or who knows what else conspired against me.  I was up until late and didn't get an early start.  While making breakfast for the kids, we watched the feeder together and my personal first was a Tufted Titmouse right after my son got Black-capped Chickadee for his first.  While we were watching, a Red-breasted Nuthatch--only the third one we've seen in the yard--came in to the suet feeder and my youngest daughter identified it right away.

So, one of the most common birds around here is my 2013 Bird of the Year.  Usually this probably isn't the most auspicious bird, but perhaps it foretells more time birding with my kids and focusing on the close and familiar, rather than the rare and exotic.
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