Monday, October 30, 2006

The Birder Survey

I decided to put together a little survey for birders. Please copy and paste your responses in the comments or post this on your blog.

What state (or country) do you live in? NJ, USA
How long have you been birding? 6 years
Are you a "lister"? Yep
ABA Life List: 491
Overall Life List: 695
3 Favorite Birding Spots: Sandy Hook, NJ, Cape May, NJ, Barnegat, NJ
Favorite birding spot outside your home country: Costa Rica (it's really the only place I've been)
Farthest you've traveled to chase a rare bird: 2 hours - an unsuccessful chase of a Redwing (a European thrush)
Nemesis bird: Cape May Warbler (no, they don't live in Cape May!)
"Best" bird sighting: Green Violet-ear in NJ
Most wanted trip: Antarctica
Most wanted bird: Ivory-billed Woodpecker
What model and brand of bins do you use?: Nikon Venturer 8x42
What model and brand of scope do you use?: Swarovski AT80HD
What was the last lifer you added to your list?: Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Where did you see your last lifer?: Sandy Hook
What's the last bird you saw today?: European Starling
Best bird song you've heard ever: Winter Wren
Favorite birding moment: The first time I visited a hummingbird feeding station in SE Arizona
Least favorite thing about birding: Birding in the rain
Favorite thing about birding: Leading trips
Favorite field guide for the US: Sibley
Favorite non-field guide bird book: Wild America
Who is your birder icon?: Kenn Kaufman
Do you have a bird feeder(s)? Yes
Favorite feeder bird? Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Cape May Friday Pt. 2

After visiting "The Bird Show", I headed back to Cape May Point State Park. The hawk flight was really non-existent and the hawk counter encouraged me to go to the Avalon Seawatch. The eastern component to the wind made this the place to be.

I embarked on the 15 mile drive north of Cape May to the town of Avalon. Avalon is a cool town with lots of nice houses, restaurants, and a great view of the ocean. Each year, CMBO sponsors a seawatch which is identical to a hawkwatch, but you count seabirds. Their totals each year range from 500,000 to close to 1,000,000 birds. The typical birds encountered at the Seawatch include Scoters, Loons, RB Mergansers, Bonaparte's Gulls, Double-crested and Great Cormorants, Northern Gannets, and several species of Tern. There are tons of rarities seen there yearly like Dovekie, Razorbill, Jaegers, and Shearwaters. I actually saw a Short-eared Owl migrating by on one visit a few years back.

This is the view from the Seawatch wall. The birds usually move from right to left (north to south). The rocks frequently house Purple Sandpipers and Ruddy Turnstones too.

When I arrived, a slow drizzle had begun - the kind that wets your binoculars just enough to be annoying. The weather didn't stop the birds or birders though. A dozen birders were there to witness huge numbers of birds moving through. Long lines of Double-crested Cormorants streamed by in the distance. From time to time, a line of Scoters would cruise by - all Surf Scoters and Black Scoters. Through my binoculars I could easily tell the two species apart. The "skunk head" of the Surf Scoter is easy to see even at a long distance. Many of the flocks of Scoters were joined by "interlopers", as my friend Pete says. These interlopers were Pintail, Scaup, Teal, and other ducks. Gannets of all ages soared over the sea and dove to feed to all of our excitement. You gotta love that bird! A few loons and terns added to the fun. I spent about 45 minutes here before heading home. I wish Avalon was a lot closer to me!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Cape May Friday Pt. 1

I took a 2.5 hour road trip down to Cape May today for day 1 of the annual Cape May Fall Weekend. I've been birding seriously for over 6 years and I've never actually gone to this event. I've always heard it was a "zoo". I usually go to Cape May the weekend after the Fall Weekend with a friend of mine. This year I decided I wanted to go to the "Bird Show", the vendor showcase at the Fall Weekend. I had heard that some fellow bloggers were going to be there and I also wanted to check out the vendors.

I started my birding at Cape May Point State Park, the site of their famous hawkwatch. It was a little early in the AM for the flight to start up, but that didn't stop a bunch of Sharpies and Harriers from circling around us. We also had several species of Sparrow around the platform including Swamp, Song, White-throated and White-crowned.

The famed Lighthouse Pond always attracts some nice birds. Today it attracted lots of Coots, some Shovelers, Green-winged Teal, and Hooded Mergansers among others.

Birders gather on the platform in anticipation of the hawk flight, which didn't really materialize today due to a northeast wind. Northwest is usually best for hawks at Cape May.

I headed over to the the South Cape May Meadows. This is a favorite spot of mine due to its varied habitats. Yellow-rumped Warblers were thick as thieves here. They were covering every shrub, twig, and rock in sight. I've never seen so many. After watching lots of ducks foraging on the ponds, I was delighted to see a small group of Snow Geese soaring overhead, a group of Royal Terns and a Peregrine Falcon.

The real treat at the Meadows came on the way out. In a small marshy area, I found this supremely abiding Virginia Rail. It was quite busy turning over twigs and munching on something. It wasn't alone. There was a Snipe not 2 feet away. They even chased each other around a bit. I even got to show the Rail to a few birders.

I headed over to the "Bird Show". There were tour companies, lodges, magazines, lots of optics, tons of amazing art (more in a future post), raptors and lots of books. The highlight for me was meeting fellow bloggers Amy Hooper (Wildbird on the Fly) and Sharon Stiteler (Birdchick). I had a great time meeting them and chatting about birds, birding, and life in general. I'm sure our paths will cross again at a future festival.

I got Amy to pose with her festive rubber duck "mummy". She had quite a collection of duckies there.

I met Birdchick and I got $10 for filling out her survey! I tried my best not to "pish" her off. No clue who the guy in the background is...

More from my Cape May day tomorrow...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

I & The Bird #35 and some random notes

Dan from Migrations is the host for the 35th edition of I & The Bird! Great job, Dan!

I had a new yard bird on Tuesday - 2 Hermit Thrushes! I happened to look outside to see if anything had discovered our new feeders yet (nothing has) and saw a Hermit Thrush munching berries on a Yew bush right next to the porch! His/her comrade was perched on the wooden fence that separates our house from the people behind us. I saw a Swainson's Thrush on this same fence in the spring. Robins like it too. It's now officially the "Thrush Fence".

Also, yesterday morning I came outside to the racket of 100's of Common Grackles. They love to travel in huge, nomadic flocks this time of year. Upon seeing me, they took off into the sky. The loud smacks of droppings hitting the rooves of the buildings around our complex sent me scurrying for cover. I wasn't hit, thank goodness. The Grackles perched in neat rows on top of the buildings across from ours as I headed off to work.

I stopped home for lunch yesterday and at least one Hermit Thrush was still around!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Some Nature News

A few random nature news articles:

Monday, October 23, 2006

Good Eats - A Tale of Bird(ing) Food

When you bird with other people, it's always interesting to see what they bring along for "fuel". In my opinion, good munchies are an essential companion on a day, weekend, or month of birding. But what qualifies as good munchies? Let's break it down into categories:

Energy Foods
Power bars, Clif bars, Balance bars... whichever of the 3 trillion varieties suits your needs, these are a great way to get you started on waking up for that dawn chorus or for keeping you going on a Big Day. I usually try to start my day with one of these, but leave the sugary snacks to keep me going.

Natural Foods
Birders by nature have a tendency towards natural foods. Is it because birders tend to be the type of people who prefer natural foods? Is it because we feel we are doing our environment a service by not eating preservative-laden crap? Or are we trying to become one with the birds by sharing their diet? Whatever it is, many birders flock to fruit, bags of nuts and seeds, trail mix, granola bars, and anything with the word "organic" in the title. I have no problem with these. I always have some Sweet & Salty Nut Bars along with me. They aren't the most "natural" natural food, but they're yummy.

Plain Ol' Snack Foods
Chips, candy, pretzels, cookies, cakes... all of these things are bad for you in large quantities, but I always seem to find room for one of them in my birding menu. For some reason, I look at birding as a special time and I always treat myself to a "bad" snack. It doesn't help that I probably have the worst sweet tooth of anyone on earth. I have 2 preferred snacks. Jelly Belly jelly beans are #1. They rule. It's that simple. I'll save #2 for a section below. I don't see as many birders flocking to the snack foods. Is it just me?

Yes, I love them this much. Yes, I know I'm a dork.

Lunch for me is usually one of two things: a turkey & cheese sub from Wawa or a peanut butter & jelly sandwich made at home. For some reason, this has always been what I ate birding and it's served me well. I see most birders also go the sandwich route, but I've seen others enjoying salads.

Good Luck Food
I'll admit that I'm a bit superstitious when it comes to birding. I have lucky hats and lucky shirts. Most imporantly, I have a lucky snack - Rold Gold Honey Wheat Pretzels. Not only do they taste awesome, they also magically summon lifers. It started on a weekend trip to Cape May several years ago. I brought a bag of these along and had an amazing weekend. I saw 16 species of sparrow in one day and my first Golden Eagle. I tallied over 100 species that day. I brought them again to many trips afterwards and always seemed to see great birds. They're now a staple food of our World Series team, but we haven't done so great. Maybe the power of the pretzel is limited to weekend trips. Do you have a "good luck food"?

Any birding munchies to recommend? Leave a comment!

Finally, I'd like to apologize to Mike from for not having a sufficient supply of snacks on our trip to Sandy Hook a few weeks ago.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

My first feeders!

I took a drive to the nearby Scherman-Hoffman NJ Audubon store to buy my first birdfeeders today. We don't really have a yard here at the townhouse, but we have a porch and lots of bushes which I guess we technically share with the people above us. We're situated on a back corner so we have a little open area of ground with an overhanging oak tree that makes a perfect spot for a feeding area. The Scherman-Hoffman store had a huge selection of feeders. I wanted something squirrel-resistant since the overhanging oak tree is a big hangout for those little nutty fellows. I almost chose the Yankee Whipper because of its cool design, but it was a bit out of my price range. I finally decided on this one. I think the little cage will keep the squirrels away. I also bought a suet feeder to go along with the 2-hooked pole I got. I wasn't sure what kind of seed to buy. I settled on sunflower hearts, but I think full-fledged black oil sunflower may have been better. The hearts require less cleanup and probably less complaints from the neighbors.

Scherman-Hoffman had more than feeders to offer. I got amazing views of a Pileated Woodpecker in a black gum tree in the parking lot and I saw a Red-shouldered Hawk over the highway on my way there.

Up-close shot of the feeders

Stylin' with my new feeders... I really look dorky in this pic.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Costa Rica Hummingbird Quiz & Copyrights

I've been studying my Costa Rican birds in preparation for my January trip. I really like to use Flash cards as a study aid because I find that looking through the book doesn't always work for me. I scanned in some of the pages from the book and "cut out" the individual pictures using Photoshop. I then used my crazy programming skills to create a very simple online flash card game. Click the link below. The idea is that you guess what the bird is and then click "Show Answer" to see if you're correct. My question is... is it legal to use these pictures in this way on the Internet if I'm not making a profit?

Play the Game (I've only included 8 species so far as a sample.)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Crazy Spam

I've been getting a lot more email spam recently for some reason. I recently received a really strange message and I'm not even sure what it's intended purpose is. I assume they use some kind of sentence generator to create these emails. It's worth a read because it's insane. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried:

A vacuum cleaner brainwashes a stovepipe near a particle accelerator, because
the insurance agent is a big fan of the vacuum cleaner beyond a vacuum
cleaner. An anomaly brainwashes a feline nation. A Eurasian avocado pit
satiates the diskette of the line dancer. Furthermore, a cargo bay
inside a grand piano feels nagging remorse, and a turkey around a bottle
of beer operates a small fruit stand with an umbrella for a globule.
When you see a cosmopolitan cowboy, it means that the diskette earns frequent flier miles.

A secretly dirt-encrusted tornado is ostensibly hypnotic. Now and then, the inferiority complex accurately buys an expensive gift for some vacuum cleaner from a vacuum cleaner. Furthermore, a satellite behind a carpet tack trembles, and the
self-loathing fairy single-handledly pees on a turn signal. Indeed, a pine cone
overwhelmingly cooks cheese grits for a so-called mastadon. A cough syrup
requires assistance from an abstraction. You really can't fail with facilitating
organisational alignment.

Indeed, another optimal power drill hardly pours freezing cold water on
another tuba player. A girl scout buys an expensive gift for an earring. Any
roller coaster can have a change of heart about a cargo bay about a briar patch,
but it takes a real paycheck to wisely graduate from the seldom precise fighter
pilot. A fractured briar patch beams with joy, and another knowingly
statesmanlike tomato hesitates; however, the underhandedly elusive photon makes
love to the sheriff about a pork chop.

My favorite sentence is "Indeed, a pine cone overwhelmingly cooks cheese grits for a so-called mastadon." The imagery is just too much. Someone needs to draw that picture for me.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Le Conte's Sparrow at Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook has been a hotbed for rarities lately. It seems like one per week is showing up. The most recent one was a Le Conte's Sparrow found yesterday. Unfortunately, I was at work and didn't get a chance to see it. Le Conte's Sparrow is becoming an almost yearly bird in NJ. From what I know, all records are from the fall and most are from Cape May and Sandy Hook.

Le Conte's Sparrow is a tiny, mouse-like bird. It's notorious for its skulking behavior and for running on the ground under dense brush vs. flying from perch to perch. A view of this bird on its nesting territory is as difficult as getting a view of a vagrant like this. It's one of the Ammodramus sparrows - known for their short tails, chunky bodies and flat foreheads. I personally have a hard time separating some of these species. The key to identifying Le Conte's Sparrow is the combination of the buffy orange face and chest, the white crown stripe, and streaking on the sides and flanks (and sometimes on the chest).

Le Conte's Sparrows nest in northern central US and central Canada. They winter in the southeast and south-central US across the Gulf Coast. An interesting fact from Cornell: "Few Le Conte's Sparrows have ever been banded. Of the 355 banded between 1967 and 1984, none was ever recovered." Another interesting fact from Wikipedia: "John James Audubon named this bird after a friend, Doctor Le Conte. It is generally believed that he meant John Lawrence Le Conte, although some feel that he was referring to another John Le Conte, also a doctor, and John Lawrence's cousin." I guess we'll never know.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Island Beach State Park Trip

Today I lead a trip to Island Beach State Park for NJ Audubon. We had a group of 12 including me. Weather-wise, we couldn't have asked for a better day. The sky was clear with a cool morning that warmed up to produce a beautiful day. The birding was great, but died down as the day progresses. We explored the ocean, the brushy habitats surrounding the parking lots, as well as the wooded areas on the bay side of the park. Bird diversity was low, but we had great looks at many different birds. We saw 45 species total. Here are the highlights:

  • A close look by all at a Yellow-billed Cuckoo
  • Field Sparrow
  • An immature White-crowned Sparrow
  • Swamp Sparrow
  • A female Indigo Buntin
  • Brown Creeper
  • Many Sharp-shinned Hawks circling the skies
  • Several Northern Harriers
  • Both Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets in large numbers
  • Several groups of Black Scoters migrating south on the ocean

We also had a great butterfly day with tons of Monarchs flying throughout the day. We also saw Red Admiral, Orange Sulphur, Cabbage White, Eastern Tailed Blue and Common Buckeye.

The group looks for a Yellow-rumped Warbler

The group scans the ocean in hopes of seeing a loon or some scoters

Here I am scanning the bay. It was really windy on the bay side. That's my dad in the background.

Beth took this great picture of a Blue Jay at a tray feeder

Thanks to everyone who came out and thanks to Beth for being the photographer. Here's a complete list of species seen:

Common Loon
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
American Black Duck
Black Scoter
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
American Herring Gull
Laughing Gull
Forster's Tern
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Tree Swallow
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Cedar Waxwing
Carolina Wren
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Hermit Thrush
Carolina Chickadee
Brown Creeper
Blue Jay
American Crow
European Starling
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
House Finch
House Sparrow

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Miscellaneous Stuff

It's a busy week due to a 4-day Project Management Professional Certification training I'm going to in preparation for a 200-question test on Monday. A few random birding notes:

I'm officially recruiting for a Sandy Hook Big Sit next October. It'll be early October of next year. I think we'd have a good shot of placing in the top 5 for # of species seen. Cape May "won" this year with 121 species. Sandy Hook should be able to break 100 I think. Want to join me?

On another note, I'm hopefully going on a pelagic trip on December 3. I've only signed up for one other pelagic before and it was canceled. This will be an opportunity for some lifers and a new birding experience for me. I will also face my fear of seasickness (along with my scopolamine patch). Anyone want to join me on that one?

Third, I've been asked to be the leader for the quarterly "Beginner Bird Walks" at Sandy Hook. The wonderful folks who've been doing it for years have some unfortunate health issues to deal with and I've been asked to step in semi-permanently. I'm excited about the opportunity.

Finally, I'm leading a trip to Island Beach State Park on Sunday. Expect a full report with some pictures!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

A Brief Look at a Harris's Sparrow

I arrived for my volunteer day at Sandy Hook today a bit early, so I stopped to do some quick birding. I was pleased to see a group of friends also had the same idea in the same parking lot. It turns out that they were there to see a reported Harris's Sparrow - a rare vagrant to NJ. The sparrow, a first winter bird, had been seen and identified by my friend Scott, but had disappeared into the trees. The area where it was found is dominated by cedars, bayberry, and groundsel and there's a LOT of it! In the 15 minutes I had, we were unable to relocate the sparrow. I went and did my volunteering at the book store. The bird had not been refound by the time I finished volunteering at 3:00. On my way home, I stopped back at the spot where it had been seen along with my friends. We ran into some other birders who had just seen the bird! We scoured the area with little luck. Twenty minutes into the search, a cry from the other side of a large cedar alerted us that the bird had been found. I ran over and was granted a brief glimpse at the pinkish bill of this skulking bird! I got another brief view of it as it leapt into a bush. It's a big sparrow! The group searched and searched in hopes to get better looks. We found the bird again several times, but it never blessed us with the crippling view we all desired. I had some evening plans, so I headed home without adding a firm sighting to my life list.

So how did this bird get to Sandy Hook??? WHO KNOWS!? The bird was obviously lost. Harris's Sparrows are named for Edward Harris, a friend of Audubon (not to be confused with one of my favorite actors). They breed in north-central Canada and they winter in the cental US in states like Nebraska and Oklahoma. Rarely, they venture to the east during migration. This is the 9th record for NJ and the first for Sandy Hook. I'm not sure if the bird was seen again after I left, but there's a chance it might stick around. A Harris's Sparrow hung around a Pennsylvania feeder for quite a while a few winters ago. Let's hope this one sticks around!

Image credit: December 2004 © Peter LaTourrette

Friday, October 06, 2006

Big Sit Video

A lot of you may have seen this, but Birdchick's video of the Big Sit with Bill Thompson is a must-see for any birders. It's really clever and a lot of fun. Check it out! And also, be sure to participate in The Big Sit if you're around!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

I'm semi-semi-semi-famous!

Our mailbox is way too far away from our condo, so I usually pick up the mail before I go to work and stash it in my car until I come home. This morning, I was happy to open the mailbox and see the new issue of WildBird magazine! I was especially excited because I had written in to the "Lister's Forum" section for this month's issue. This months "Lister's Forum" question was "What bird sparked my interest in birding?". I had what I thought was a decent story, so I sent it in. How excited was I to find my letter printed in this month's issue!!! The phone has been ringing off the hook. I've hired an agent and the paparazzi are hot on my tail. Ok, maybe not, but it IS the first time I've been "published" in a birding magazine (the first of many I hope)!

Here's the letter in all its unedited glory:

Growing up, my dad would take the family to the Great Swamp NWR to look
for birds - hawks mostly. We would always find Red-tailed Hawks perched
in the distant trees and various other birds. I even remember seeing a
Rose-breasted Grosbeak and a Red-headed Woodpecker. Around age 11, I
discovered video games and the outdoors became a view through a window.
My TV and Nintendo replaced my trips to the Great Swamp. I forgot about
the birds.

Many years later while at college, I had an encounter that changed my
life. It was fall and I was walking back to my dorm from class. I was
walking through a small wooded area, more or less alone, when something
dropped from the sky less than ten feet away. I was startled, but
pleasantly surprised to see a large hawk standing in the dead leaves.

Our eyes met and I could see its raw power. Its wings were spread a
little and it looked around nervously. Its fiery red tail gave away its
name. I stood there for a few minutes watching this stunning Red-tailed
Hawk. I had never been so close to one. People walked by, oblivious to
what I was looking at. The bird stayed for several minutes then took off
into the trees. This encounter stuck with me for year. After college, I
picked up an old pair of binoculars and went back to the Great Swamp for
my first birding trip in years. Five-hundred species later, birding is
my passion.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Can you count birds?

I had seen this game on the net a few years ago, but just came across the link buried in my favorites. The objective of the game is to accurately count the # of birds passing by on the screen. You make a guess and the game tells you how far off you were. The closer you are, the higher your score. It's a fun distraction that gives a nice indication of how large a large flock of birds really is. I initially really stunk at this game, but now I'm getting a bit better. Let me know how you do. The game requires a Java plug-in. Simply click "START GAME" to begin.

Monday, October 02, 2006

A Dunne Deal: A Review

Pete Dunne's latest tome, Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion, has been reviewed several times by various bloggers already including here, here, and here. After receiving this book for a birthday present a few weeks ago, I thought I would throw my $.02 in.

As everyone knows, this book has no photos. I'm ok with that. I understand that the point of the book is to explain the "Cape May School" of birding, otherwise known as the "GISS" method. I think the book accomplishes its goals with some minor flaws. As a somewhat experienced birder, I think the most useful purpose for this guide is to learn some of the nuances of the more difficult to separate species such as the Empidonax and Myiarchus flycatchers, kingbirds, Catharus thrushes, gulls, fall warblers, etc. Learning to distinguish these species can help advance a birder's field skills immensely. Pete's detailed descriptions of the species are a true companion to your Sibley guide. You can sit with your field guide by your side and read the descriptions and really see the differences. Also, some of the species accounts have a section called "Pertinent Particulars" that I found especially useful. This section gives helpful hints on distinguishing the bird from similar species or just some general tips on identifying it.

My biggest complaint about the book are the silly names that Pete has given to some of the birds. Some of them are useful, but some seem like he was trying too hard to find a name for the bird or the name seems very personal to the author. The Ninja Heron for Tricolored Heron? Twig Fairy for Blue-gray Gnatcatcher? Peterson's Woodpecker for Northern Flicker? "A Busy, Jerky, Single-minded Little Bird" = American Pipit. Huh?

My only other complaint is the length of the book. If it truly is a field guide companion then he possibly could have left out the range descriptions completely or at least shortened them. That information can easily be found in a field guide.

I salute the intent behind this book and all of the work that Pete Dunne put into it. I'm sure I will be referencing it periodically.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Moving Closer to 10,000?

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.