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Southern Ocean Birding Group

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Monthly Guest Column
Feb. 2017
by Jeanine Apgar

Autumn 2016 Birding Highlights

     

     As Fall approaches, birds begin migrating through NJ, with warblers, sparrows, and thrushes moving through hotspots such as Cape May, Sandy Hook, and the Delaware Bayshore, and hawk-watches are the place to be for raptors, eagles, falcons, and accipitors.  Where should a birder go?


     An outing to Sandy Hook in early September began when we heard Black-capped Chickadees (rare in Ocean County) and a Red-breasted Nuthatch. They were joined by an American Pipit and lingering warblers including Chestnut-sided and Black-Throated Blue Warblers, Northern Parulas, American Redstarts, and Common Yellowthroats. The highlight of the day, however, was a Common Nighthawk that was resting on a railing. It was a beautiful bird that we rarely see this close, and it seemed completely unfazed by the people passing nearby.


     

     Trying to predict hawk migration is not for the faint-of-heart. Seeing northwest winds, on Sept. 15 Greg and I headed two hours north to Merrill Creek Reservoir, home of Scott’s Mountain Hawkwatch. This is typically the time of year when Broad-winged Hawk migration peaks. It was a great day, with 836 Broad-winged Hawks floating overhead (easily eclipsing the entire seasonal total of 452 Broad-wingeds seen at the Cape May Hawkwatch in a single day!), while a great group of regulars and visitors kept the conversation going through the slow spots. This is a very friendly hawkwatch site to keep in mind when the Broad-wingeds are coming through next year, but choose the right day in mid-September.


     In mid-October, before it got too cold, we headed out to the Sedge Islands, which were so good for birding all summer long. The tide was high due to a full moon, but some flats were starting to show so we pulled the canoe out and waded. Scanning through the plovers and oystercatchers, and walking through the Spartina alterniflora, Greg called “here birdy birdy” and out flew a small bird!  Magic. Looking closer I saw it had a distinct dark “mustache” and Greg suggested Longspur. Unfortunately the field guide was in the canoe. A run back for the book and a camera and soon we had a confirmed ID of Lapland Longspur, a bunting and arctic breeder. The bird was very shy and hunkered close to the edges of the grass, making photography a challenge. Working together we edged it closer to the sunny side where it was quite cooperative for 30 minutes or more. We had one last search for the continuing Reddish Egret (Big Red), but it seemed to have gone south. I hope he found a warm and sunny southern marsh to wait out the winter ahead.



     In early November we visited the Maritime Forest trail in Barnegat Lighthouse State Park, another good place to search for fall migrants. It was a quiet and windy day, but many Yellow-rumped Warblers were chipping from the sheltered areas. While scanning the flock I thought I saw a Yellow-rumped with a yellow throat, indicating that it could be a western variant, but were my eyes deceiving me with the light? It perched on a cedar giving undeniable views, verifying that this was an Audubon’s Yellow-rumped Warbler, a NJ Review Species! Unfortunately we both were too shocked to register that a photo was in order before the bird flew off into the tangles of thorns and brush, never to be re-located. We filed reports with the NJ Birds Records Committee, which was exciting, and are awaiting their decision regarding acceptance.


     Cloverdale Farms County Park in Manahawkin is a destination worth adding to your bird-watching agenda. There has been an incursion of Red-breasted Nuthatches into NJ this year, and this has been a great location for them. Rusty Blackbirds and an Olive-sided Flycatcher that stayed for a few days were nice finds here this fall, as well as nesting Red-headed Woodpeckers. This is a great location for Eastern Bluebirds. A visitor center, bird blind, guided bird walks, and a beautiful 1¼ mile nature trail make for great birding close to home.