I peered into the darkness as the windshield wipers slapped a path through the driving rain. The guard lights in the parking lot cast long eerie shadows. Straining to hear night sounds with my ear angled toward the crack of the window; headlights flashed against the side of the car, sparkling the drops. More birders had arrived. It was 2 am and we were headed to Clinton Road to go owling; trying to get a jump on our World Series of Birding list.
The rain did not let up as we stood in the inky black woods surrounded by a chorus of frogs; they liked the streaming wetness. We fiddled with our hoods; up, down, up, then down again. It was nearly impossible to hear anything between the incessant amphibian chorale and the drumming of rain on our heads. Then, a repetitive peeping sounded that was out of sync with its fellows. It was most definitely not a frog. Karla, our leader, hissed, “Did you hear it,” I nodded. We stood frozen, hoping it would call again. “It’s a Sawhet,” she murmured. We nodded. Our first bird of the competition and we had a Sawhet Owl. Nice.
We continued with our owling; driving from spot to spot, but the only other one we heard was a distant Screech Owl. No Great Horned. No Barred. With the clock ticking, we decided to give it up and move on to regroup with the rest of the team.
After loading equipment, snacks, and people in 2 vehicles we headed off for Gould Road and the dawn chorus. But it was still raining and the sky was not getting perceptively lighter only fading from pitch black to possibly a dark charcoal. We sat at various places along the road but heard nothing, save a rooster singing lustily from the relative warmth of his coop. We moved on to the Van Orden power cut. Finally a lone Rufous-sided Towhee chirped sleepily. At last.
We retreated to Gould Road where we were regaled with many species of warblers, chickadees, titmice, thrushes, and more Brown Creeper than I have heard in many years. After ticking off all of the species seen and heard and with an eye on our watches, we dashed back to the power cut to get the transitional species including: Indigo Bunting, Prairie Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler and Eastern Bluebird. We stuck to our schedule birded Clinton Road, this time in daylight, picking up highland woodland species and an odd Chimney Swift that flitted overhead before heading down to Garret Mountain.
Ah, Garret, migrant trap deluxe. The exciting birds of the day were the 10, count them, 10, Cape May Warblers that had been there in the morning. After birding the park, we met some other birders who told us of a sleeping Common Nighthawk by the earthen dam and a Cape May in the wetland. We got them both.
It was a fun, exhausting day with much hilarity, great snacks, terrific birds and all for a good cause. I saw nothing new, but I did see some things I had not seen in quite a few years, like the Cape May. I would do it again and maybe you will too next year. Think about it.
Oh yeah, the point of doing a century run is to get to 100 species and we surpassed that. The Passaic Pewees ended up with 113 species.