Monthly Archives: May 2009

Grassland Bird Survey

country road

As soon as I turned off the engine, I heard the sliding song of a Prairie Warbler.  While not one of the targeted species, at least it was something.  The grassland survey has been a disappointment so far.  The route maps were vague, and the variety and number of species were so low that I was disheartened.  Determined to persevere, and finished what I had started, I grabbed my pad and pencil, got out of the car, and sucked in a lungful of the aroma of the country: of grass, and cow manure and the sweet heady scent of the flowering Black Locusts. Ah, fresh country air.  I waited the requisite two minutes reveling in the big sky, then started to listen.

From the stream flowing through the field a Bullfrog boomed, drowning out every other sound. I listened in vain for any bird song.  I walked across the road hoping to put some distance between my ears and his voice; but it was only marginally better.  I tried tuning him out.  Red-wing Blackbirds were everywhere hopping up and down in the high grass;  Song Sparrows sang; (Bullfrog) Common Yellowthroat; (Bullfrog, again, egads were there more than one?) a Carolina Wren chortled from somewhere near the Bullfrog; a Catbird mewed in a hedge row; (Bullfrog) a Yellow Warbler sang sweetly; (Bullfrog).  Grrr, that dratted Bullfrog was getting on my nerves!  I crossed behind the car thinking my movement would startle the frog into silence.  I peered into the shadowed water.  I didn’t see it. Or hear it. I guess the ploy worked.  As flash of yellow caught my eye as a Meadowlark  landed in a tall roadside Cedar tree; I made a note, finally one of the target birds.  Hearing the faint buzz of a Grasshopper Sparrow, I whirled around to listen and look behind me.  Off in the distance wafted the bouncing song of a Field Sparrow.  I made more notes.  I glanced at my watch; my time was up.  As I walked back to the car, the Bullfrog started to bellow again.  I smiled to myself in a childish way and thought “Ha, ha, fooled you.” It will be interesting to see if he is still at it in a few weeks when I come back for Survey part II.


Filed under citizen science, Local schmocal

Mouths to Feed

Baby bird

A flutter of movement drew me across the street.  A dark bird flashed away.  I was scanning the trees when a hole in an adjacent snag suddenly filled up.  The phrase “gaping maw” leapt to mind.  If he had had a spoon he would have been banging it against the table.  It must be hard to fill even a tiny belly, one bitsy caterpillar at a time. I never saw the harried parent.


Filed under Local schmocal, Photos

Bird Photography Weekly

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Sitting in the car with all the windows and sunroof open, I leaned back with my eyes closed to revel in the cascade of voices around me.  Wood Warblers were singing, off in the distance a Black-billed Cuckoo called, the Wood Thrushes led the  flute section of the woodland orchestra, a Scarlet Tanager chatted hoarsely, a Least Flycatcher provided explosive commentary.  I had just opened my eyes, considering a side jaunt over to check on the Ceruleans, when a friendly Chestnut-sided Warbler popped up close to the car to meet me.

Go see what’s shakin’ elsewhere at Birdfreak’s Bird Photography Weekly.


Filed under Local schmocal, Photos

Birding Doodletown

Doodletown map

Seriously.  There is actually a place  called Doodletown.  It is one of the local hotspots and the one place were many of the hard-to-see warblers nest; think Cerulean.  Doodletown always pops up on the local ListServ and in conversation when the topics of warblers comes up.  I finally made the trek because there was a Kentucky Warbler singing on territory and I had never seen one.

Doodletown is a town that once was; a ghost town, if you will.  The buildings have all been demolished, but their stone foundations peek through the encroaching brambles.  There are paved streets, 2 cemeteries, a reservoir, a waterfall and trees that sing with bird call.  I cannot imagine what it must have been like to live there.

Here are some of the highlights:

Scarlet Tanagers

Look at him giving her the once over.

Hooded Warbler

Lots and lots of Hooded Warblers everywhere.  Totally a Gimme.


Ditto Redstarts. Yes, they are common, but how can you not love them?

I know you were just dying to know if I saw the Kentucky Warbler. Meet Life bird 614.  It is a totally crappy picture, but my excuse is that he was 40 feet up a tree.


Did I wet your whistle?

Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture. Black-billed Cuckoo, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Eastern Phoebe, Yellow-throated Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo,
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Wood Thrush, Veery, Gray Catbird, Blue-winged Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, American Redstart, Hooded Warbler, Scarlet Tanagers, Chipping Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Indigo Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, Baltimore Oriole and Life Bird 614 – Kentucky Warbler.


Filed under Local schmocal

Wordless Wednesday

orange butterfly

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Birding Duke Farms

Savannah Sparrow

Once upon a time, friends and I would go to Duke Gardens every February to walk in the greenhouses and feast on the riotous color of spring flowers; a treat for our winter-weary eyes.  We did it for years.  Then Doris Duke died, we all scattered to the winds and the annual pilgrimage fell by the wayside.  So when I heard that NJ  Audubon was making arrangements for an optional grassland birding training session at Duke Farms, I jumped at the chance.

As we milled about in the cool gray morning, waiting for everyone to arrive, birds called from the trees and shrubs.  Chimney Swifts fluttered over head, a flock of Cedar Waxwings lifted to settle in another tree, a Song Sparrow belted out his song and off in the distance the call of an Indigo Bunting lifted skyward.   The assembled birders chatted about the World Series the week before, the birds they were hearing and seeing, Nightjars or the lack thereof, their grassland survey routes and the wonder of Duke Farms and its huge amount of grassland in the midst of suburban NJ.

Once we got to the fields in the western portion of the estate, the first thing we heard was the buzzing of a Grasshopper Sparrow; followed soon after by the bubbling song of Bobolinks. Lots and lots of Bobolinks.  Like everywhere you look Bobolinks.  I just love them!  We were also treated with an immature Orchard Oriole, lots of Indigo Bunting and big open sky. Part of the joy of grassland birding for me is being out in big sky country.

Here’s the list of what we saw, probably not complete and done from memory:  Cooper’s Hawk dashing past with a yellow warbler in its clutches;  Red-tailed Hawk;  Am. Kestrel; Chimney Swift; Purple Martin; Barn Swallow; Tree Swallow; N. Rough-winged Swallow; E. Bluebird; Catbird; N. Mockingbird; Cedar Waxwing; House Wren; E. Meadowlark; Red-winged Blackbird; Bobolink; Orchard Oriole; Indigo Bunting; Grasshopper Sparrow; Savannah Sparrow; Song Sparrow.

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Filed under Local schmocal

Wordless Wednesday

Green Frog

My favorite green frog quote “They seldom scream in alarm when caught.”


Filed under Local schmocal, Photos

World Series of Birding

Common Nighthawk

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.


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Bird Photography Weekly

LA Waterthrush

The song of the Louisiana Waterthrush bounces through the forest; loud enough that I can hear it as I drive.  This is one warbler that is not a neck-craner.  When you hear it, pull over and scan the forest floor for it walks along the edge of woodland streams bobbing its tail and flipping over leaves looking for a snack.  Like many of the wood warblers; it will stay and nest with us.

Check out other birds at Bird Photography Weekly.


Filed under Local schmocal

Through the Eyes of a Child


The phone rang as I was on the way out the door.  I dashed back up the front stairs to get it.  The little girl across the street was bubbling with excitement; partly because she had been allowed to use the phone but mostly because she had seen a bird.  When I asked what it looked like, she said it was mixed up with a green head and a shiny purple body.  After running through all of the birds in the field guide in my head, I listened to her prattle on with indulgence but not paying strict attention; assuming it was imaginary.  She could hear the distance in my voice and knew I was placating her.  In frustration she handed the phone to her mother, who thanked me for listening.  We both laughed grown-up laughs.

Hours later, I was pulling weeds in the front flower bed, when a Grackle hopped up onto a low fence.  The sunlight caught the sheen of its feather in such a way that it had a green head and a purple body.  I finally put the pieces of the mystery bird together.  The key word had been shiny.  I called across the street to the neighbor girl to ask if this was the bird she had seen.  She gave me a pitying glance and an eye-roll.  “No,” she said. “That bird is black.” From her angle it was a basic black bird, but from mine, and her’s earlier, it was iridescent.

I now hold onto watching birds through the eyes of a child, where a common black bird can become a thing of beauty, mystery and imagination.

Ah, my littlest neighbor, I promise, next time, I will believe you.


Filed under backyard