Monday, May 15, 2006

World Series of Birding Recap - Quality over Quantity?

The 2006 World Series of Birding has come to conclusion. Our team, the Sandy Hook Bird Obseratory Ocean Wanderers placed 5th out of 14 teams competing in the "Limited Geographic Area" category. We had 126 species for the day which is 66% of out 191 species par. This is 5 below our total for last year. We had changed our route from last year a bit, which resulted in a great morning but a lackluster afternoon. The complete lack of migratory conditions the last few days led to a very low migrant count. Our route is mainly coastal and requires a western component to the wind to push migrants to the coast. The predominantly eastern wind resulted in migrants being more inland. Although, we didn't have as many birds as we would have liked, we did have some high quality birds (including a first record for the WSB). And, of course, we had a great time the whole day. By a miracle of the birding gods, the rainy forecast disappeared resulting in a (for the most part) beautiful day. Here's the play-by-play of our day with some pictures:

3:45 AM - 6:00 AM Mahahawkin Wildlife Management Area
We started our day at Manahawkin which is a large salt marsh interspersed with some large stands of pine barrens forest. Our night-birding last year was pretty good, but we did even better this year. We had Woodcock, Whip-Poor-Will (which wouldn't shut up!), Chuck-Will's-Widow, Great-Horned Owl, and Screech Owl. Plus, we had some songbirds singing like Marsh Wren and Swamp Sparrow. As day broke, we found a collection of songbirds sounding off including most of the "easy" birds like Cardinal and Robin. In the impoundments in the salt marshes we located some great birds including a late Gadwall and a lingering Bufflehead. We found our first of many Tricolored Herons and a Peregrine Falcon paid us a visit. We drove several rodes through the marshes and picked up some great birds. We found a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird at a feeder on one street. This feeder has been reliable for several years now. We also stopped at a marina where I was lucky enough to find us a Great Cormorant - a lucky find for the WSB!

Dawn at Manahawkin

The gang scans the marsh from the "Bridge to Nowhere"

7:00 - 7:30 AM Surf City (here we come!)
We wanted to take a look at the ocean to see what we could find. We arrived at a beach access point in the town of Surf City. Unfortunately, a thick cloud of fog had settled over the ocean and we had very little visibility. Nothing to see here! On to the next stop...

7:30 - 9:00 Tuckerton
Next, we moved on to Tuckerton. A well-known NJ birding spot, traditionally called "7 Bridges Road", leads you through a salt marsh out to the bay. Our target birds here were shorebirds, terns, and waders. We found many of our sought after birds including Black-bellied Plover, Semi-Palmated Sandpiper, and Common Tern. Unfortunately, we couldn't for the life of us find a Little Blue Heron or Whimbrel which we thought would be easy to find. We also visited a similar road in Tuckerton, but this didn't result in any new birds.

Sunrise over Tuckerton

9:00 - 10:30 Stafford Forge WMA
An hour ahead of schedule! We visited a new spot for me - Stafford Forge. This is a pine barrens habitat with a series of bogs. We located a Killdeer and several other new birds. We also found a Bald Eagle here which is an awesome find for Ocean county since they don't breed there. This is also the first time I've ever seen the flight display of a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. Very cool!

A young Bald Eagle

10:30 - 12:30 Whitesbog
This series of bogs didn't produce as much as we had liked. Although, we did find a Kingfisher (a tough WSB bird) and our best bird of the day - Tundra Swan!. Whitesbog is a wintering spot for Tundra Swans. They are usually gone by April, except one individual chose to stick around for us this year. I believe this was a first record for the 23 years of the WSB. Unfortunately, this bird is probably sick or injured and that's why it is still here. We also found a few new species of warbler and a distant singing Scarlet Tanager here before moving on.

Tundra Swan at Whitesbog

12:30 - 2:30 Lakehurst Naval Air Station (LNAS)
We arrived at LNAS and pulled up to the armed guards. We had a brief scare because they didn't have the paperwork that our contact at LNAS was supposed to fax in. Luckily, they found it and we sped out onto the grasslands of this spectacular habitat. After some searching, we located a cooperative Horned Lark, Grasshopper Sparrow, Meadowlark, Kestrel, and Upland Sandpiper. We also found Least Flycatcher and Cedar Waxwing here. As we left Lakehurst, our car and everything in it was COVERED in dust!


2:30 - 5:00 Colliers Mills WMA
Our lack of migrants was apparent here. We scoured every corner of this place, yet we had practically no new breeding birds and not a single migrant. Our best bird was a singing Northern Waterthrush. Last year, we did this location much earlier and the day and had a lot of birds. This year it seemed like a waste of time! We'll have to see how we can plan this into our route better next year.

4:30 - 8:30 Island Beach State Park
Our final stop of the day was Island Beach State Park. This barrier island includes various habitats including beach, pine forest, bayfront, and marsh. It's our one true "migrant trap" on our route. We walked one trail that can be full of migrants on a good day, but today it was just FULL of Catbirds and Towhees. The "CHEWINK" of the Towhee eventually became too much to bear! At the end of the trail we did find an odd-looking warbler. After several looks, we finally conceded that it was indeed a female Cerulean Warbler. This is a bird that is rarely seen in migration! Sweet! The feeders at Island Beach yielded a female Indigo Bunting too. Looking from the ocean we got our first Gannet of the day, but the pounding surf didn't hold any lingering Scoters or Red-Throated Loons as we had hoped. We finished our day by watching a Barn Owl box. I was really hoping to see one! While we were waiting, we tallied our bird list and filled out the rare bird form for the Tundra Swan. Unfortunately, the Barn Owl didn't appear and we ended the day with 126 species.

Don scopes the bay

Pete scans the bay for bird treasures

John making some strange gestures

I arrived home by 10:00 and crashed shortly afterwards. I'm already looking forward to next year! We'll have to re-think our route a little and hopefully we'll have a better migration day next year. Thanks to everyone who donated to my team and all the other teams! For complete WSB results, you can go here.


LauraHinNJ said...

Glad you had a good day, Patrick!

Love that pic of Pete - so typical!

John L. Trapp said...

Nice story, Patrick. Thanks for submitting it to IATB!

wolf21m said...

That's some serious birding! Thanks for teh excellent story.

Patrick Belardo said...

Thanks for reading everybody. It's always a fun, but exhausting day. It's a great way to raise money for the birds. Anyone can participate, so if you're ever in NJ in May...