I had a special guest birding with me at Sandy Hook this morning - Mike from 10,000 Birds. Despite the rain, Mike and I decided to go ahead with our planned outing. The plan was for me to show him the ins and outs of Sandy Hook birding.
We met up at a parkway rest stop and carpooled down to Sandy Hook. A break in the rain gave us false hope and we were greeted by a minor downpour for the first 20 minutes or so of birding. Within the rain, we managed to find many common birds like Mockingbirds, Song Sparrows and House Finches. We also came upon 3 Royal Terns roosting on a little island in Sandy Hook Bay as well as some distant Semi-palmated Plovers. I was happy to get Mike a year bird with the plover! A distant Peregrine Falcon added to the fun. The rain began to let up and we sped to the far north end of Sandy Hook.
We arrived at the north end with only a minor drizzle of rain falling. Instead of rain drops, the sky at the north end was full of Tree Swallows - 1000's of Tree Swallows! It was an amazing spectacle that Mike was able to get some photos of. Flocks of Robins, Cedar Waxwings, and Starlings added to the abundant avian display. The Tree Swallows were headed further north and we followed them along the "Fisherman's Trail" - aka "The Death March". Our target was shorebirds. The trail provided up close looks at Eastern Towhee and an abiding Field Sparrow. A distant perched falcon threw us for a loop, but after a discussion, we decided it was a Merlin due to its dark streaking and the color of its bill.
For reference, this is what the north end looks like on a nice spring day.
The rain began to get harder, but it didn't stop us from reaching the end of the trail. Here we found that most of the swallows had landed in the shrubs. They lined the branches of the shrubs like little soldiers in formation. Periodically, they would swirl up into the air like a tornado and then back down into the shrubs. The salt ponds at the end of the trail held no shorebirds, but a Pied-billed Grebe and a Ruddy Duck were enjoying the pool. Thoroughly drenched, we headed back to the parking lot. We made a slight detour through the "Locust Grove" and found a nice pocket of songbirds. They were everywhere! We found lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers, a Magnolia, a Black-throated Blue, a Winter Wren, and a Scarlet Tanager among others. Unfortunately, we also found a SWARM of mosquitos which chased us from the birds.
Again just for reference, this is the "Locust Grove" on a nicer day.
We made a short stop at the Sandy Hook Bird Observatory where we met Laura from Somewhere in NJ! She happened to be volunteering there today. We chatted for a bit and then headed back to the field. The rain had stopped and patches of blue sky began to appear. We headed down a paved path to an area known as "Raccoon Alley". We added a few birds to our day list including Indigo Bunting, House Wren, and American Redstart. The mosquitos didn't let up and Mike and I both had more than our share of battle wounds.
There were other things to be done today besides birding so Mike and I called it a day. Although we didn't get Mike any closer to 10,000 birds, it was a really nice day of birding and comraderie. Mike should be posting his own report along with the few pics he was able to take in the rain. Hopefully, we'll get to bird again soon.