Jersey Birding – Part two, Barnegat Lighthouse State Park 11/26/10

Barnegat Lighthouse State Park birding was good, but there weren’t as many species as I had hoped (no Scoters, unfortunately) , mainly because of the overcast and partly rainy weather.  First, we took a trail out along the jetty, because that was where the largest amount of species have been seen.  There wasn’t really anything spectacular around us except a large flock of gulls.  When I looked at it, my attitude immediately changed as I saw my first lifer of the day, a Bonaparte’s Gull.  At this time of year, Bonaparte’s Gulls look completely white and gray when perched, except for the telltale black feathers near it’s auriculars.  This can easily distinguish it from most other gulls, but also when the bird is in flight, you can notice black bordering the tips of their primary feathers, and their prominent orange feet.

A Bonaparte's Gull, the first lifer for today.

In other times of the year (mainly during the breeding season), they deeply resemble the common Laughing Gull, because they both have black heads and gray backs.  The two can easily be distinguished by the Laughing Gull’s red at the tip of their bills, whereas the Bonaparte’s have a completely black bill.  As I examined the flock further, I noticed Herring,

An adult Herring Gull in winter plumage. The distinguishing feature of this Gull's winter plumage is the brown streaks on it's head.

Ring-Billed, and Great Black-Backed Gulls.

A Great Black-Backed Gull, one of the many Gulls seen today.

As we walked further down the jetty, I noticed Brant

A georgeous relative of the common Canada Goose.

and Ruddy Turnstone, and then I noticed an immense flock of sandpipers in front of me.  To size it up, there were at least 600 sandpipers total in a very, very small amount of space.

Just a small portion of the hugh flock of Sandpiper seen on the jetty.

There were Dunlin, which usually have a brown back and a black chest during breeding season, Ruddy Turnstones, lacking much of the black on their chests (which they have during breeding season),

A Ruddy Turnstone in winter plumage.

and finally, Purple Sandpipers.  This was my second lifer for the day, and a very good one too.  I’m really not an expert on Purple Sandpipers, since I’ve only ever heard about them since the beginning of the year.  They typically only come down to this area in the winter time, but when they do, they are fairly easy to identify.  To start, the bird isn’t really purple, just a deep gray color on it’s back.  At this time of year, Purple Sandpipers, like I said, have a deeper gray color on it’s back compared to how it looks in breeding season.  It’s bill REALLY is the part that distinguishes it from most (if not all) of the sandpipers in North America.  The start of the bill (closest to their heads) is an odd orange-ish black color, and then about half way down, the bill changes into a complete black color.

Yet another of the many Purple Sandpipers seen today.

Then, immediately after I stopped viewing the sandpipers, I saw my highlight bird for the day—— Harlequin Ducks!  These are one of those birds where if you saw them, you would some how know what they are, even if you didn’t know what they look like, you would know that it was a Harlequin Duck.  They are simply spectacular birds with beautiful hues of dark blue, brown, and white.  This is the only time of year that this species comes to the area, and this is about only how far down south they come.

Female Harlequin Ducks. Notice white "whiskers", and the white patch near their auriculars.

A strikingly colored male Harlequin Duck, with a female in the top left corner.

A raft of beautiful Harlequin Ducks, one of my lifers for today.

The Barnegat Lighthouse jetty is one of the most famous places to see the Harlequin Duck, so if you wanted to see one, this would be the place to go.  I hope to go to Barnegat Lighthouse State Park many more times because of the large amount of species of birds that gets reported there all throughout the year.  This would be an excellent place to go if you wanted to rack on a couple of lifers, because at any time of the year, this place never disappoints!

A cloudy, windy day, but still great for some birdwatching!

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Jersey Birding…..Part 1

Happy Thanksgiving to all!  We drove down to Ocean City today, and stopped by Howard S. Stainton again.  It never ceases to amaze me.  My dad didn’t think that we would see anything, because at the time it was about 4:30.  He was wrong.  First, there didn’t appear to be anything on the pond, but then when we took a closer look, there were multiple duck species including Mallards, Northern Shovelers, and finally, Hooded Mergansers.  Hooded Mergansers are lifers for me, and a lifer that I really wanted.  They can be easily identified from any other duck by their large white hood (as you could have guessed)

Lighting was poor at 4:30 p.m

that is actually a large tuft of feathers rather than it’s actual head.  It has tan sides, a black back and face, and a white breast and stomach.  These are one of my favorite birds because of their amazing appearance, and they are typically easy to see in our region in the winter time.  I am excited beyond belief for Barnegat tomorrow, as long as the weather permits.

Churchville Park 11/14/10

On Sunday we took a trip up to Bucks County to Churchville Park in Churchville PA.  You can visit it’s website at http://www.churchvillenaturecenter.org/ to get more information.  As far as birdwatching goes, the place was amazing!  I was responding to a report of 4 Hooded Mergansers and 1 Common Merganser, because they would have been two lifers for me.  Although I didn’t get those two ducks, I did get two other lifers that were very unexpected!  To start our birding adventure, we first went to the bird blind next to the nature center.  That turned out to be very promising, for it held some birds like Purple Finches,

This is a female Purple Finch. Notice the white striping on the bird's face.

not to be mistaken for House Finches.  The two can easily be distinguished by the Purple Finch female’s heavy streaking on their breast and stomach, compared to the House Finch female’s lighter streaking.  Also, the female Purple Finch has prominent white stripes on their face.

And finally, the male Purple Finches have much more red or purple (or whatever color you want to call it), all around the top half of it’s body.  The habitat in the bird blind area was amazing, and catered to a variety of different kinds of birds with a small pond, multiple tube and hopper feeders, a platform feeder, and natural conditions under evergreen trees and shrubs. Even the seed scattered on the ground brought a good crowd of birds on it’s own.  One of the lifers was spotted from the bird blind, and that was a Fox Sparrow. 

Notice the rust colors on this Fox Sparrow.

Notice the heavy rust streaking on this guy's throat.

Fox Sparrows have eluded me for years; I’m always mistaking them for Song Sparrows in the winter.  The two are easily distinguished by the Song Sparrow’s slightly smaller size and the Fox Sparrow’s yellow and black beak compared to the Song Sparrow’s pale pinkish beak, As well as the Fox Sparrow’s heavy rusty striping all over the front of their bodies.  The Fox Sparrows stand out in flight more than you would believe, also because of their rust color all over their bodies.  The next lifer was a Rusty Blackbird

This male Rusty Blackbird has little noticeable irredescence, compared to the two different Grackles.

See the Rust color on the top half of the female Rusty Blackbird.

which was located on a small mud flat off of the green trail (can be seen on the trail map) near the lake overlook.  I noticed that this bird is a rather uncommon visitor for that time and place based on the information that I have gathered from my resources.  My resource, http://www.ebird.com, only has in it’s archives that there have been three sightings of Rusty Blackbirds there, twice in 2008 and again in 2009.  None of the sightings had the quantity of birds that I witnessed (5), so I felt lucky to have seen them.  They are also distinguished easily from even their closest look-alike birds, Common Grackles and Boat-Tailed Grackles by the two Grackle’s iridescence compared to the Blackbird’s plain black feathers, as well as the Grackle’s much larger size than the Blackbird.  Basically, this place is a great place for birdwatching because of a wide variety of habitats and would be a good place to visit at any time of the year.

Sawmill Road Spectacular

My dad and I were going to take a drive down to the local hardware store to get some extra bird feeders for a project that I was doing yesterday, so I figured “Hey, why not make this a good birding day, too?”.  I decided to ask if we could take back roads to our destination.  As I expected, dad said “Why not.”?  We drove down Ellis Woods Road, then made a left on Saw Mill Road.  At the end of Saw Mill, where it meets Harley Road, there was a shimmer of bright colors.  Two male

I love the spectacular colors on these guys!

I love the spectacular colors on these guys!

and one female Ring-Necked Pheasant.  Ring-Necked Pheasants are originally from Asia, and were introduced to North America for hunting purposes.  I think that Ring-Necked Pheasants are among the most spectacularly colored birds in North America, native or not.  Something interesting that I observed was that when a Turkey Vulture flew by low, the Pheasants let out a strange sound, then laid out almost flat, and the female was camouflaged

This female has great camouflage for their field environment.

so well that it seemed as if she completely vanished.  After the Vulture felt that there was nothing to him to feast on, it moved on and the Pheasants resumed their feeding.  Where they were located was excellent habitat for them, and I would be surprised if they didn’t live there.  I now have one more beautiful bird on my life list!

Here are all three Pheasants.

Can you see them?

Cape May Point Wildlife Refuge 10/25/10

The next day (after Howard S. Stainton), we drove down to Cape May from our temporary home in Ocean City.  It was about a 45 minute drive to our targeted location, Cape May Point Wildlife Refuge.  Cape May Point is located just about 15 minutes from where the Cape May – Lewes Ferry is docked.  We went (and we’ve previously gone) to Cape May Point Wildlife Refuge simply for the popular Hawk-Watch platform and the lighthouse.  This time, though, we decided to explore the place more.  We took a right from the entrance to the hawk watch platform, and walked until we came to a wooden billboard.  We saw that there was a nice boardwalk trail through marsh, woodland, and garden habitats,  past a few ponds and an area that got a good view of the lighthouse.  The different habitats held mostly Yellow-Rumped Warblers and Red-Breasted Nuthatches, but the ponds were a different story.  The first pond that we came upon was called Lighthouse Pond (because of it’s great view of the lighthouse), and had hundreds and hundreds of birds, and almost the same amount of species!  The first birds that I noticed were the American Wigeons.

The bird with the green through its eye is the Male American Wigeon, and then the bird behind it is a Female Mallard.

At least 150 American Wigeon were on the pond, with even more Mallards.  Then, I see Green-Winged Teals,

These are two of the Green-Winged Teals.

which slightly resemble Wigeons, but with orange heads.  To go along with all of that, I see Ring-Necked Ducks

There are 5 Ring-Necked Ducks in this picture, the brown duck in the far back is the female Ruddy Duck and the brown to the far right is an American Wigeon

(which have much more pronounced rings on their bills than on their necks), a female Ruddy Duck, and an American Coot.

The Coot before the kill.

First, the Coot came to a devastating end because of a nasty Great Black-Backed Gull named “Cooter”.

Poor Coot. I guess everything has to eat.

Apparently, Cooter has been coming for a few years now to Lighthouse Pond and typically dines on the only Coot that is in sight on the pond at the time.  All of the ducks swam away from the poor Coot as we saw a large shadow pass by, and the next thing we know, there is a Gull eating a Coot.

This is the male Mallard.

Now, on a happier note, Mike Crewe, a staff member from the Cape May Bird Observatory,

And this is the Female Mallard

came by and offered some other species of bird that was on the pond, including a Eurasian Wigeon, a female Redhead, and some Gadwall.

This is one of the many Gadwall on the pond.

All in all, it was an excellent end to our trip to NJ, although just the beginning to many more.  In the winter time, this is a great place to come.  If you want to find ducks and other waterbirds, this is definitely the place to come.