Monday, April 19, 2010

Ag Field Day / Rutgers Day

If you ask the loyalists on the Cook and Douglass campuses what April 24th is called, they'll emphatically tell you it's "Ag Field Day". The annual event in New Brunswick has now been transformed into the broader, University-wide "Rutgers Day", but on the fields and farms of Cook/Douglass, they're hanging onto the 104-year old moniker.

Throughout the day there will be various tours, demonstrations, and lectures all over campus. On the big lawn on Cook/Douglass, the NJ Folk Festival will be held with live music, craft tents, artists, and food trucks. Read more about the food at Party of Two, our food blog.

The Ecology and Evolution Graduate Student Association will be leading tours throughout Helyar Woods and Rutgers Gardens during the day. It all kicks off at 8am as Brian Clough (member of our Scarlet Knight-Herons World Series of Birding team) leads a birding tour through Helyar Woods. Last year I co-led this tour with Charlie Kontos. We had a great turnout and ended up seeing a good number of bird species. Helyar Woods can be a great spot during migration, and there are sure to be a number of warblers and other songbirds flitting about. We had great looks at a Scarlet Tanager last year during the walk.

At 10am the husband-wife pairing of Kenneth Elgersma and Ai Wen will lead a "Scalies and Slimies" tour through the woods looking for any amphibians and reptiles they can turn up. We found a lone salamander last year during our bird walk, but they are sure to turn up more than that. The woods are home to a variety of snakes, turtles, frogs, and salamanders.

Sona Mason will lead a wildflower walk at 11am to round out the day at Rutgers Gardens/Helyar Woods. There are sure to be plenty of beautiful flowers to admire!

Faculty member Lena Struwe will lead a pair of tours through the Floriculture Greenhouse on Cook Campus. At 10:30 and 11:30 the walks will be "The Sex Life of Plants" and "Strange, Smelly, and Armed Plants", respectively. I've visited the Floriculture Greenhouse a number of times, and it is a REALLY neat place. There are a vast number of interesting and exotic plants to study and observe.

You can find more information about the April 24th events here:

Friday, April 9, 2010

Sandy Hook Birding

I joined fellow birders Tom Reed, Brian Clough, and Amy Manning for an early spring morning at Sandy Hook. We started at the north end of the Hook, where a new pond has been created thanks to all of the recent precipitation. Most conspicuous upon our arrival was a flock of Glossy Ibis feeding along the edge of the water. As we scanned the banks, we found the Stilt Sandpiper that had been reported, along with a Lesser Yellowlegs, a Willet, and a few Killdeer. A pair of Wood Ducks splashed down for a few moments before taking off again and flying out of sight.

Not a bad start to our morning! We started walking north toward the Fisherman's Trail when something hopped out of the grass and onto the concrete steps of one of the crumbling buildings. It hid behind a pillar for a moment before hopping up the steps and revealing itself to be none other than a Sora!

Soras are secretive marsh birds that are rarely seen, so witnessing this individual expose itself by climbing up steps was extremely unusual. Chances are it had been migrating over the area and was just plain exhausted. It continued up the steps, hopping one-by-one, until it had tucked itself away in a corner at the top (the steps led nowhere, by the way). We decided to move on quickly in the hopes that the Sora could continue on its journey undisturbed.

As we walked through the dunes of the Fisherman's Trail, we counted numerous Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers and Palm Warblers. A pair of Brown Thrashers flew low across the trail, and an adult White-Crowned Sparrow graced us with a quick glimpse of its impressive head coloration. The end of the trail led us out to an ocean view, which held a handful of Norther Gannets flying out over the water. A single Common Loon floated calmly in the water, with its beautiful breeding plumage starting to show. Across the water we could see a pair of American Oystercatchers moving up and down the beach. An Osprey flew over our heads with a nice meal.

After a quick trip down to the Boy Scout Camp area, we decided to head up to the Hawk Watch platform to see if the Swallow-tailed Kite would show up for a third day. Unfortunately we didn't find the kite, although we were treated to a pair of Common Ravens (quite the oddity for Sandy Hook), along with migrating Northern Harriers and Sharp-Shinned Hawks. An Eastern Bluebird even stopped on a nearby tree and posed for a few moments.

With the real world of work and school calling (not to mention a sweltering sun - I think NJ set a record high temperature), we decided to call it a day.

Migration has really kicked it into high gear, and with recent wind and temperature conditions, big-time rarities have already started showing up. Multiple Swallow-Tailed Kites and a Brown-Headed Nuthatch were spotted yesterday in Cape May. What will end up in New Jersey next week?