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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

South Jersey Birding

                                                                     by Gary Becker
Hudsonian Godwit
          Seven days earlier my wife and I spent the weekend at the Jersey shore during the “Northeaster” which the weather experts told us had nothing to do with Hurricane Joaquin.  Still the wind, rain and high surf had all the trappings of a hurricane.  Normally we experience a constant breeze at our home on the mainland outside Wildwood but this was not the usual.  The wind sounded like the soundtrack from some apocalyptic thriller and woke us up throughout the night.   By morning we discovered our house wallpapered with shredded leaves from the surrounding trees but no structural damage fortunately.  The siding and roofing were intact and the neighborhood sustained no permanent damage.  Some of the beaches were not so lucky as beach and dune erosion was evident in Stone Harbor and Avalon and some buildings and boats were washed into the bay.  
Stone Harbor
          At any rate I needed to make up for the ”lost weekend”, so I came down late Friday afternoon.  I figured I would head over to Stone Harbor to survey the extent of damage when I got a text from the bird alert that a Clay-colored Sparrow was seen at the Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary.  I was only a mile away and reached the sanctuary within minutes. There was a mini sparrow fallout when I arrived with the aforementioned Clay-colored Sparrow along with Savannah, Swamp, Chipping, White-throated, Field, Song and a single juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow and numerous Cedar Waxwings.  The Clay-colored kept coming and going for at least another hour before the entire flock dispersed.

Clay-colored Sparrow

           It was now after five in the afternoon and I decided to head over to the Avalon Seawatch.  A cold front was moving in and could usher in large numbers of ocean birds.  As luck would have it I arrived in time to witness two hours of great birding. I had never seen so many Forster’s Terns congregating just off the beach at the 8th street jetty.  Large flocks of Black and Surf Scoters were passing by fairly close to the sea wall and beach. At least a dozen Parasitic Jaegers flew by many of them right by the jetty and a few flew over the beach. I debated whether to return to my car and retrieve my camera and chance walking out on the jetty to get some pictures of the Jaegers who were occasionally close enough for my camera to capture some action shots. I was afraid to wander away from the watch site and the counter and miss my chance at some unexpected sightings. Anyway I figured I would stop back at a later date prepared to try my hand at a National Geographic photo shot with my simple camera. With that in mind I returned late Saturday afternoon expecting a repeat performance of the previous night.  This time the wind had picked up and the waves were now crashing over the jetty and the birds were distant.  Still we managed to see more Black and Surf Scoters, Brants and a single Northern Gannet.  I was still able to see Jaegers but they were further out. Turns out scanning the skies for hawks is good training for the ocean watch.  I even picked out a large flock of nondescript brown birds a great distance out.  The counter spent some time studying the flock and said they were “Pintails”.  Another  30 seconds passed when he announced a correction:  “29 Hudsonian  Godwits”.  I am glad I got to see the four Hudsonian Godwits at John Heinz Sanctuary just a few days earlier since there was no way I could have identified this group from such a distance.  Saturday and Sunday  I spent mornings at Higbee’s Beach where a very cooperative Nighthawk slept perched on a branch right off the parking lot. 

Common Nighthawk

          Saturday was slow but Sunday turned out to be a good morning.  Yellow-rumped Warblers were numerous but there were some surprises including a very cooperative Golden-winged Warbler and a Bell’s Vireo. 

Bell's Vireo


         Parula, Prairie, Blackpoll, Redstart, Yellowthroat, Nashville, Black-throated Blue and Green Warblers, a Warbling Vireo,  Marsh Wren and numerous Brown Thrashers were also seen.  The Bell’s Vireo(which was a lifer for me and a lot of the folks who responded to the text alert) provided everyone with good looks.  The bird was very active (by vireo standards) with lots of tail flicking.  The bird continued to put in an appearance in the same field for the next few days so there was no excuse for not adding this bird to your list.  Late mornings and afternoons I headed to either Cape May Point and Wildlife area or the Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor.  The hawk watch site in Cape May was very busy but there was no need to bump elbows with the masses on the platform since the hawks could be viewed from anywhere in the area.  

               Usually Eurasian Widgeons put in an  appearance and this year was no different along with a Black Swan which has been hanging around for at least a month or more.  Large numbers of Tree Swallows competed for space with all the tourists. 
A couple of Tree Swallows

Male Eurasian Wigeon and female American Wigeon

Black Swan

            The Wetlands Institute was relatively quiet as compared to several weeks  ago when there were large numbers of Yellowlegs,  Dowitchers, Red Knots, Willets, Night Herons(both Black and Yellow-crowned), Great and Snowy Egrets, Great Blue, Little Blue, Tricolored and Green Herons. On the Sunday visit I photographed a very willing Tricolored Heron and a white phase Little Blue Heron but was not quick enough with the camera to capture a surprise juvenile Common Moorhen. 

Little Blue Heron or Reddish Egret (leave your comments)

Tri-colored Heron
           I also walked the beaches at Stone Harbor and Stone Harbor Point and added a single Piping Plover, enormous numbers of Sanderlings along with lesser counts of Black-bellied Plovers, Dunlins and Ruddy Turnstones.

Piping Plover

Black-bellied Plover

Ruddy Turnstones
           Among the terns, the Foster’s and Royal were the most numerous with only a few Common and Caspians.  Routinely I find small flocks of Lesser Black-backed Gulls. I ended up with count of 114 species including a lifer.  I’m glad to report the weekend made up for the storm drenched picture a week earlier.

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