Saturday, May 20, 2006

Friday Birding at Garrett Mountain

I woke up bright an early on Friday with the thought of going birding. I debated between Sandy Hook and Garrett Mountain (an amazing migrant trap). Both sites had potential life birds. On one hand, a Frigatebird had been seen at the Hook on Thursday, but on the other hand 4 Cape May Warblers were seen at Garrett on Thurs. Now you may say, "Pat, you live NJ. How have you not seen the Cape May Warbler?" Well, this bird doesn't breed anywhere near Cape May. It was named by Alexander Wilson for the first specimen which was found in Cape May (and not seen there again for 100 years). It's a very uncommon migrant in NJ.

I woke up at 5:00 to a lot of rain falling, not what the forecast had said! I hopped in the car anyway hoping it would stop on my way to my final destination. I finally decided at the last minute on going to Garrett because I thought there was more of a chance to see the CM Warblers, than to see the Frigatebird. During my hour commute, the rain only got worst. I arrived at Garrett and I saw no other birders, not a good sign since this place us usually crawling with binocular-wearers. I took a spin around the normal spots that I know of. I immediately found a Northern Waterthrush bobbing its tail on the path ahead of me. Lots of Baltimore Orioles were around as well as a few Scarlet Tanagers. This time of year is also great for thrushes. Swainson's and Veery were everywhere. Not much else was around though. In essense, it was pretty dead. The rain was really coming down, so I decided to call it a day after an hour or so. On my way back to my car I noticed a bird on the road. As I got closer, it didn't move. It turned out to be a VERY tired Gray-cheeked Thrush! I almost picked it up to move it off the road, but he was able to hop to a safer spot. I got back to my car and headed home. On my way out, I noticed two other birders getting out of their cars at a parking lot that I had never noticed. I parked and decided to see what they knew.

I introduced myself to them and one of them, Kevin, offered to take me around to show me some other spots in the park. He took me up a trail where we immediately heard several warblers: Blackburnian, BT Green, and BT Blue. Down the trail a bit we heard Tennessee but couldn't locate it. Kevin had never seen a Tennessee, but had heard it many times. We found several other migrants and I was thrilled to have found this great spot! The other birder, Bruce, called us over. He had a Tennessee out in the open and we all had crippling views of it. A gorgeous male Blackburnian also put on a show. We then found another tree full of migrants. There were about 8 species of warbler in the tree including the uncommon Bay-breasted Warbler. Yet, no Cape May to be seen! Kevin and I continued birding all around different areas of the park. We searched the spots where CM Warbler had been seen with no luck. Kevin said that he now felt it was his responsibility to get me this lifer! The rain had subsided and it was turning out to be a pretty nice day. At one point, we stood atop a rock and birds were all over the place. An Olive-sided Flycatcher appeared on a snag - a great find! It was getting towards lunchtime so we decided to head back to the cars since we both needed to head home. At this point, the skies opened up again and the rain gear came out! We were looking forward to some dryness when we ran into Bruce. He told us that he found not one, but three (!!!) Cape May Warblers. So, instead of going home, we headed to the spot he told us of with high hopes.

Our high hopes were immediately squelched when we didn't find any birds there. At one point we thought we heard one, but I can't be sure. We scoured the area for another hour with no luck. The rain died down again and the bird activity picked up, but the little tiger-striped warbler wasn't going to be found today. Oh well... I live to bird another day. The day ended with 70 species and 18 species of warbler.

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