Have you ever been involved in a citizen science bird survey? New Jersey Audubon conducts several every year: Shorebirds, Piedmont, Pinelands, Nightjar, Harbour Herons, and Grasslands. Pick one. Participating allows you and me to be part of something bigger. It lets the average John Q. (Or in the case, Jane) Birding-Public help collect large amounts of data on bird species across a wide geographic area. The Christmas Bird Count? Same thing.
When the call went out this year for the participants for the Grasslands Bird survey, I signed up. As a group grassland birds are declining more than any other species. But through NJ’s Landowner Incentive Program that provides technical and financial assistance to private landowners interested in conversation, there is hope. Or at least we are hoping there is hope. That is what we are trying to find out.
DJ Brown, Suzanne and I went to the mandatory training session, got our routes, street maps, aerial maps, forms to be completed, grassland bird call CDs and super official letters and car placards. The instructor reviewed the expected bird species, survey methodology, and answered questions. Honestly it has a little more rigor than I was thinking it would. I was thinking of it more as a drive in the country with a few stops, when in actuality, I am part of the control group. You heard me right, control group. Remember them? Holy flash back, shades of 9th grade science class.
But, I also remember growing up to the bouncing call of Field Sparrows in the farm fields all around us; the flash of black and white as Bobolink leapt out of the grass and being curious about grasshoppers impaled on barbed wire. But I now live in NJ where suburban sprawl is eating up the grassland and the birds are disappearing. So I am doing my part in providing the science in the hope that someone else may have those same memories.
I live close (seriously, like 5 minutes) to one of the most amazing birding hotspots in NJ and I don’t take advantage of it. That is going to change. I popped over this morning in the cold and misty rain to see what had come in. As I crept along the road with the windows down straining to hear; pulling over whenever someone would roar up behind me, the sky brightened. Starting at the north end, the lake is on the left and there is a marsh on the right; I birded south stopping at most of the pull-offs. Parking lots 4 and 5 were the birdiest with a stop at the field next to the tree farm and and a side trip up Paradise road. The highlights were the singing of lots and lots of Black-throated Green Warblers, the insistent tooting of a Red-breasted Nuthatch, the unexpected call of a Barred Owl rolling across the ridge, and the arrival of Prairie and Blue-winged Warblers at the powercut.
Black-throated Green Warblers – everywhere, Yay
Purple Martins (Lake Lookover)
Black and White Warbler
Great Blue Heron
At the Van Orden Powercut. You remember we bird the powercuts, right?
Alas, I did not hear any Golden-winged Warblers.
While chatting on the phone and idly looking out the window, I noticed an odd Siskin with a small flock pecking around on the ground under the feeders. It looked positively lemony compared to the other hundred or so swirling around the yard. People have been reporting “green-morph” Pine Siskins here and there. I wonder if that is what I have. I looked in big Sibley and he calls it a “Yellow Adult.” Look at it on the bottom right of the feeder. It has more pronounced yellow on the wing and look at that butter butt! It’s undertail is a pale yellow too. Being only 1% of the population, I did not think I would see one. But, by Jove, I think I have one. What do you think? Have you ever seen one?
Loads of toursits visit the Statue of Liberty when they come to New York City for the first time. Few of them realize that Liberty State Park, located smack-dab on the Hudson River amidst the crush of humanity in Jersey City, is a local birding hotspot. With a mix of large open fields, marshland, a pine grove, weedy margins and mudflats when the tide goes out, it offers up a plethora (I love that word) of birding habitats. It is especially good in winter. There is a Snowy Owl there most years, living large on the rats. There are also lots of different types of ducks, gulls and shorebirds.
I went down to the park with friends today to try for the Snowy. It has been hanging around the golf course and waterfront. I was also hoping to see the Eurasian Widgeon, immat. male Common Eider and 7 Woodcock that had been reported. But I skunked on all of them. I did see Green-winged Teal, loads of Brant, 2 Killdeer, 2 Horned Grebe, lots of Buffleheads, DC Cormorants, Ruddy Ducks, Gadwalls, Black Ducks and the regular seagulls crowd-Herring, Greater Black-backed and Ring-billed.
Now that I know the lay of the land, so to speak, I plan on going back when it is a nicer and hopefully less windy day. I wonder when Snowy Owls leave to go back north???
I wasn’t going to participate in the GBBC this year since I am leaving for Texas on Sunday morning and won’t be able to finish the weekend. I half-heartedly noticed 2 Black-capped Chickadee, 1 White-breasted Nuthatch and 1 Downy Woodpecker yesterday morning when I filled the feeders.
BUT, this morning, I happened to look out the kitchen window and HOLY Pine Siskinagogo (if I can borrow the term from @ratcliffe). There are hundreds of them in the backyard. Literally. They are EVERYWHERE: in the trees; on all the feeders, in the shrubs, the ground is alive with them. I wish there was a way of sharing just what I am seeing. It is like a scene from the “Birds” and would be frightening if they weren’t 5″ long.
Quick, run to the window. What are you seeing?
I, the great Bludini, will now perform dazzling feats of magic. I will attempt the most amazing bird trick there is. I will pull 3 male Bluebirds out of thin air and put them atop metal stakes. Does it not cause you to shiver and shake? You may want to cover your children’s eyes.
See, there is nothing up my sleeve, er wings.
Eeeny, Meeny, Chili Beeny, Alla Kazam!
TA DA!!! I will be passing the hat around shortly.
And now a word from our sponsor….
I love Bluebirds anytime of the year; they are truly a draft of beauty in the hard cold of February. The magic they bring is one of joy and delight.
Mrs. H. was going about her business but keeping close to the Mister after such a hard migration. The usual rigg-raff was in the neighborhood of course, but that was to be expected in NJ. What she had not expected, afer all off this time, was a blip in her martial bliss. And she most certainly did not expect it to come from Mister H’s roving eye.
When a beautiful alluring Oldsquaw started hanging around; she paid her no heed. She was gorgeous, it’s true, but Mrs. H. knew what Mister H did not. Ducks that completely changed their look in winter were not to be trusted. She had often wondered what they were hiding from. Why the disguise? She snorted to herself; with that ridiculous long tail, it wasn’t even much of a disguise. She watched the Oldsquaw out of the corner of her eye. A tiny voice murmured in her head. “Pale ducks have more fun.” The first tendril of jealousy wrapped around her heart.
Then to her horror, she noticed Mr. H, actually looking at the pale beauty too. She had thought that Mister H only had eyes for her. Her opinion of the entire Oldsquaw species changed in an instant. How dare that hussy try to intrude!
Mrs. H. flew into a rage. After all she had done for him: the long flight; the nest building; bringing up the ducklings by herself. How dare he look at another female. What to Mr. H. had only been an idle glance, had tightened the tendril of jealousy of his mate. Mr. H. had seen a side of her that he had not known existed. He hastily reassured the Mrs. that she alone reigned in his affections. She had the dark beauty that he preferred and he vowed to himself that even in the secret recesses of his heart he would never think of her as dowdy again. The Oldsquaw flew off once the fighting started. She had merely been separated from her clan after a particularly long dive.
Tranquility restored; the H’s paddled off resume fishing.
I am having a uber-weird iphoto crisis with my IMAC, so let me offer you a Ruddy Turnstone that I happened to have stashed on my desktop. I took this a few weeks ago while I was walking on the jetty at Barnegat Light. Even in their winter plumage, you tell at a glance what this is. Have you ever seen them actually flipping stones? It is the coolest thing.
Check out all of the other birds at Birdfreak’s Bird Photography Weekly.
I am not sure if he is the bruiser or the bruisee, but either way, I have a Red-bellied Woodpecker hanging around the yard again. It seems to me that the sky always looks bluer (when it’s not gray, cloudy, snowing) in winter. To see other skies, check out Skywatch.
Filed under backyard, Photos
While I was down at the beach last weekend, I saw loads of Yellow-rumped Warblers flitting amidst the low shrubs on the walk back from the jetty. The wind was blowing pretty fierce, so they would fly up but settle back down quickly. Mostly they were hanging around one type of shrub with small whitish berries. I shouted across to one of the other birders to ask what it was. The answer. Bayberry. Like the candles. Also know as Wax Myrtle. I pulled one off, scratched at the wax covering with my thumbnail and sniffed it. Piney smelling.
He told me that the reason Yellow-rumps can stay this far north in winter is because they eat bayberries. Hmmm. Yellow-rumped Warblers here used to be called Myrtle Warblers. Bayberry is also call Myrtle. I’m thinking, not a coincidence. I like that name better. It is prettier, poetic, with a colonial tang; but perhaps I am carried away by the spicey smell of the shrub.