Friday, February 27, 2009

Scholarly Birds

Upon arrival to the Douglass Library on the Rutgers New Brunswick campus, I noticed a pair of Pine Siskins lift off the ground and fly into a nearby tree. Not an entirely surprising sight, but to see siskins 100 feet off of George Street was pretty neat. I moved in to investigate further and try to get a better look at the birds.

Photograph by David Joly (c) 2009

As I moved underneath the tree, something took off from next to the building and scared the you-know-what out of me - it was an American Woodcock! I supressed the excitement caused by my bird-nerdiness for just long enough to follow him over the parking lot and into a small stand of trees.

Photograph by Rucker Sewell (c) 2008

Being that I was already late for work, I regrettably had to leave the birds - but seeing two Pine Siskins and an American Woodcock in downtown New Brunswick was a pretty exciting 5 minutes of pre-work birding!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sandy Hook & North Shore

This past weekend I decided to visit Sandy Hook to look for the trio of rarities (Bohemian Waxwing, Orange-Crowned Warbler, Barrow's Goldeneye). Once again Dana Patterson from the Edison Wetlands Association joined me. Unfortunately the wind was worse than the forecast predicted, and looking for the Goldeneye proved to be uncomfortable at best, painful at worst. We did see a rather large group of Long-Tailed Ducks floating on the water, though, along with a Lesser Black-Backed Gull and a Great Cormorant in Horseshoe Cove. The Bohemian also alluded us, although a gentleman had seen it earlier in the day. Finally we tried for the Orange-Crowned Warbler, which we had apparently missed by about 5 minutes. We searched every individual Goldenrod on Plum Island three or four times before finally deciding to give up and head south.

Lake Takanasee produced some great looks at the Common ("Eurasian") Teal alongside Green-Winged Teal in the fourth lake. The second lake was busy with a large group of Hooded Mergansers, American Wigeon, and a pair of pied-billed grebes. The third and fourth lakes also held a handsome Gadwall, Ruddy Ducks, Ring-Necked Ducks, Black Duck, and American Coots.

Photograph by Bill Lynch (c) 2009

The Eurasian Wigeon was swimming laps around the island in Silver Lake when we arrived. There were also plenty of Black-Crowned Night Herons roosting, and one Great Blue Heron tucked away in the vegetation. From here we moved on to Lake Como which added Canvasback and a single Redhead to our list for the day.

Our final stop was the Shark River Marina. We hung out watching three loons fish for awhile, although it seemed like the most productive member of the group was actually catching crabs. If anyone has a clue on the species, please let me know!

Photograph by Bill Lynch (c) 2009

Here's a close-up of the prey (click for an even larger image):

Photograph by Bill Lynch (c) 2009

A tough day in terms of Sandy Hook birds, but we ended up spotting over 50 species in all, including tons of great-looking waterfowl. Watching loons that were only 10 feet off the rocks was the perfect way to cap off another winter birding outing.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Land Conservation Rally

New Jersey's Land Conservation Rally will return for the 13th time on March 7th, 2009. The theme for this year's rally is "Introduce Someone New to Land Conservation". More than 30 workshops will be held between 8am and 5pm at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick, along with information sessions and plenty of opportunities to network! Head over to for more information including FAQs and registration info.

Monday, February 16, 2009


With temperatures in the mid-40s and the sun shining brightly in the sky, it was tough to resist participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count this weekend. I headed out on Sunday with the Edison Wetlands Association's Dana Patterson. We first visited the "top secret" (which is now known about by just about every birder in the tri-state area) Long-Eared Owl roost and got some great views of the two birds that were using the cedar tree.

Photograph by Bill Lynch (c) 2009

After admiring these nocturnal raptors for a short time, we moved on to the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. Unfortunately we were unable to locate the Red-Headed Woodpecker or the Northern Shrike, but we got great views of Northern Harrier, Black and Turkey Vulture (a pair of each sitting next to each other in one of the fields), Northern Pintail, Wood Duck, and the usual smattering of adorable song birds and sparrows at the feeders. I also had the pleasure of meeting the one and only Rockey of Flickr's "Birding in the Wild" group, along with a few other fellow wildlife photographers. Check out the group here:

Following a much needed lunch break, we headed to Round Valley Reservoir. The main trail was crowded with families and dogs, so it was generally quiet for most of our hike. We did end up finding a small flock of Golden-Crowned Kinglets, however, and got some fantastic views of both male and female head plumage.

Photograph by Diane Hamilton (c) 2005

The water was fairly quiet, and the Common Loon, Red-Necked Grebe, and Horned Grebe that I was lucky enough to see last week were nowhere to be found. We were able to see a trio of Buffleheads, though, and got some great views of the Eared Grebe near the boat dock before calling it a day. I was able to report a total of 31 species to the GBBC.

If you are interested in checking out the current results or submitting a list, please head over to the official Great Backyard Bird Count site at:

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Shorebird Lecture on Feb. 24th

The East Brunswick Environmental Commission has announced the first lecture in their 2009 series, entitled "Are we in time? The dramatic decline of shorebirds on the Delaware Bay and the efforts to rescue them." The talk will take place on Tuesday, February 24th at 7:30pm at the East Brunswick Library on Civic Center Drive. The talk is free and open to all interested parties.

Photography by Len Blumin (c) 2007

The talk will feature Dr. Larry Niles of the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ and Dr. Mandy Dey of the NJ Endangered Species Program. They have both worked closely with the Red Knot, and helped to make possible the highly acclaimed PBS Nature special, "Crash: A Tale of Two Species", which chronicles the tale of the Red Knot and the horseshoe crabs of the Delaware Bay.

To visit the website of the PBS special or to order a copy of this documentary, visit:

To visit the East Brunswick Nature Notes website, please visit:

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Great Backyard Bird Count

"The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent. Anyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts. It takes as little as 15 minutes on one day, or you can count for as long as you like each day of the event. It’s free, fun, and easy—and it helps the birds. We'll be adding updated 2009 GBBC materials as they become available."

The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society, seeking to track bird populations and learn more about the dynamics of our avian friends.  Reports can range from the birds you saw at your suet feeder in the morning to the species-rich list compiled from a day-long trip to Cape May.  The GBBC is a great way to help the scientific pursuit of these organizations while giving a great excuse to get out there and bird-watch!  Sign up at the site posted above!

Photograph by Bill Lynch (c) 2008

The Great Backyard Bird Count runs from February 13th to February 16th.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Snow Day!

Hope everyone got a chance to get outside this week and enjoy the snow. On Wednesday before work I took the short drive to Negri Nepote Grassland Preserve. Despite the occasional 'blizzard', I can't recall a time when literally everything had snow on it. Every branch, every blade of grass...just everything. It was really neat.

Photograph by Bill Lynch (c) 2009

The trail at the grasslands heads out into some fields and eventually winds around into some forested land. It's really not hard to navigate, despite some of the trail markers:

Photograph by Bill Lynch (c) 2009

Once the sun had been out for a few hours the birds started to get going. A female Northern Harrier was out hunting along with a Sharp-Shinned Hawk, some Turkey Vultures, and the ever-present Red-Tailed Hawks. The fields and forest edge produced more Dark-Eyed Juncos than I could count, a flock of American Tree Sparrows, Northern Cardinals, Song Sparrows, and even a few Yellow-Rumped Warblers! Taking the trail through the trees produced some remarkably beautiful scenery.

Photograph by Bill Lynch (c) 2009

Eventually the trail reemerges into the fields and winds around near some farmland. At times it seemed as though there wasn't a sound to be heard, until a flock of Canada Geese flew by, or the gentle tapping of a Downy Woodpecker began. It is a truly serene feeling to be able to walk through unspoiled snow and to hear life persist through the cold.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Winter Wonderland!

Three of my fellow graduate students and I decided to do some winter birding yesterday. It was unmistakably winter, with wind chills in the single digits at times. We started the day meeting at Round Valley Reservoir to look for the Eared Grebe, which we found quickly with the help of some other birders. A flock of White-Winged Crossbills flew overhead, and we were informed that we had just missed some Common Redpolls. After scanning the scores of gulls and finding an Iceland Gull mixed in with the Herring and Ring-Billed Gulls, we decided to head out and return later when the sun wasn't in such an inconvenient spot (it should have known we were trying to bird-watch!).

Richline Road was our next stop, to search for Crossbills and Redpolls. Unfortunately neither were seen, but some other birds started to become active, including a Brown Creeper and a Hairy Woodpecker.

Moving on to the town of Alpha, we stopped at Oberly Road when we spotted a flock of Horned Larks. Stepping out onto the road, we got a real treat when more and more Larks flew right over us, a few landing within mere feet.

Photograph by Eric B├ęgin (c) 2008

Off in the distance we spotted a flock of geese. As they drew nearer, we identified them as Snow Geese, and behind the first wave was another...and another...and another. Between 2,000 and 3,000 birds flew over our hands and began to land in one of the fields. It was a spectacular sight to behold (click on image for full-size version).

Photograph by Bill Lynch (c) 2009

After watching the Snow Goose flock settle in and spotting an immature Bald Eagle off in the distance, we started seeing Rough-Legged Hawks. Both color morphs, including some incredible views of both immature and adult light-morph birds. Each of them slowly moved toward us and hovered about 100 feet over our heads. Certainly one of the highlights of the day.

Photograph by Rick Leche (c) 2007

After a satisfying meal we moved on to Califon to try and find the Barnacle Goose, but had no luck in town or at Spruce Run Reservoir. So we headed back to Round Valley and hiked around the reservoir. In addition to the Eared Grebe from earlier on, we spotted Horned Grebe and a beautiful Red-Necked Grebe sitting only 50 feet off shore. Common Loon, Pine Siskin, Bufflehead, and a single White-Winged Crossbill kept us busy as we hiked back to the boat launch. Not realizing the park closed at 4pm and not at sunset, we had to hike from the far gate 2 miles back to the car. An amusing end to our day, if not a little inconvenient.

There certainly are some exciting winter birds here right now, and it's worth braving the cold to see thousands of Snow Geese, crystal clear views of Rough-Legged Hawks, and much more. So bundle up, throw those binoculars around your neck, and get out there!

I think this photograph more accurately represents just how many geese were hanging out in Alpha (click image for full-size version):

Photograph by Bill Lynch (c) 2009