Monday, February 29, 2016

Massachusetts Birdbrains in New Jersey. Feb. 26th-28th

I had an unexpected week off from work. It seems both bosses decided to take vacation the same week. Upon hearing this, Andrea decided to take off the Friday of that week and she planned a birding trip for us. We were taking an overdue invite from our friend (and birding mentor) Bob to go see the sights along the Jersey shore. So, Friday the 26th, we hit the road at about 5:30 AM and headed south... to the tip of New Jersey. To Cape May, to be exact. We got there at about 1:30, maybe 2 PM.

It's a gorgeous place for sure. Andrea and Bob had done my homework so we had a lot of hints and clues on where to see stuff. I enjoyed just walking around the ponds, which were filled with ducks. Like Buffleheads..
Bufflehead #45
Northern Shovelers...
Northern Shoveler #46
and Mallards.
Mallard Duck #50

Here, two Mute Swans are framing a pair of Gadwalls.
Gadwall #48

One very interesting bird here was a Mallard drake with a purple head.
Purple headed Mallard
The sun and distance worked against my getting a decent shot but he was a beauty.

And who doesn't like seeing a pair of Hoodsie cups?
Hooded Merganser #54

We added 11 new birds to the year on that first day, all the while enjoying the beauty of Cape May. We saw no birds at the (very windy) beach with a shipwreck but it was cool as all get-out anyway.

We looked around a bit more and even hit a powerline cut with some debris in it looking for some herps but it was cool and the shadows were getting long so we headed North to the hotel. The hotel with the paper-thin walls and the noisy neighbors (whom I could even hear snoring after 4 AM when they finally fell asleep). Saturday was going to be rough.

But the morning brought Bob's smiling face, so we were happy. We piled into one car (his) and went to our first spot of the day. Birding with Bob is great because he sees and hears all... "need a House Finch"? "Need this?" I sat back and just took pictures. Heavenly.

Our first lifer of the trip came in spades... Snow Geese, Lifer #143. We were watching a huge group of them and taking some photos...
Snow Goose
... when the sky opened up and a huge flock started soaring in!
Snow Goose
Snow Goose #57 Lifer #143

A magnificent sight.

Somebody else was watching the Snow Goose invasion, lifer #144, a Peregrine Falcon.
Peregrine Falcon #58 Lifer #144
(Yes, we've seen them before but this is the first since we started keeping count, so... LIFER!)

Next up, Lifer #145... a pair of Common Mergansers!
Common Merganser #59 Lifer #145
This place was great. We spent a couple of hours just driving through and enjoying the sights. We also did a short photo session for Bob who wanted a half attractive couple to practice shooting. Andrea's beauty more than made up for my lack of it and we had fun.

Next, we went to look at a spot where Avocets were reported. Sure enough, a (tough to photograph) couple were there, looking beautiful.
Lifer #146, not the slim, tall birds that I see in pictures. This pair was plump and resting.

Hey, a quick Lifer #147... a Fish Crow. Bob said so and that's more than good enough for me.
Fish Crow #62 Lifer #147

On the way back to my car (before heading up north for the next spot), we pulled off to a spot with plenty of debris, hoping for a herp or two. You can take the herpers out of the... never mind. Bob quickly flipped a Ground Skink that we thought we had cornered but it had disappeared, handily handing us our collective asses. It was 38°... he should have been much slower.

I flipped a rock in a soggy area and saw some tadpoles... or rather, upon closer inspection, some Marbled Salamander larvae.
It's nice to get a visual on these guys... they're threatened in Massachusetts so we're not likely to see many young 'uns in our home state.

Bob flipped a sleepy Spring Peeper, our first on the year.

I was off looking around (no, not for Wood Frogs) when I heard the call of "Redback"! A three pack was flipped though one had disappeared by the time I ran over. Andrea got the triple in situ.

So, we had three herp species, which is getting to be the usual count for us. Not too shabby considering it was still under 40°. Upward and onward... to the shore.

Our last stop of the day was a place we'll never forget. It is a birder's magnet. And with good reason.

We bundled up like crazy because we'd be walking along the ocean's edge, but the wind wasn't too rough and the sun was warm. We headed out to the jetty, camera's poised. Things started right off with a bang. First up was a Common Loon that I chased after, while Andrea casually snapped this excellent shot.
Common Loon #63

She also got a nifty series of photos of a Herring Gull munching on a crab.

For me, the duck of the day was the Long-tailed Duck (Lifer #148), some seen here with a Red-breasted Merganser.
Red-breasted Merganser #64
They're beautiful, noisy and interesting to watch. We spent a lot of time enjoying them.
Long-tailed Duck
Long-tailed Duck
It is my belief that after hearing a group of Long-tailed Ducks, Claudio Simonetti was inspired to write the main theme of Demons.

We see plenty of Brants up in Massachusetts but never close enough to get a good shot, like Andrea did here.

Speaking of getting close shots... our lifer Harlequin Ducks from 2 years ago were seen under the most uncomfortable of conditions... howling, frigid wind, having to hide behind rocks to escape the worst of the chill and the ducks were far away. Bob promised an up close and personal encounter. He didn't lie.
Harlequin Duck
Harlequin Duck
Harlequin Duck #67
Just a stunning animal.

Another new one to us (Lifer #149) was the Ruddy Turnstone.
Ruddy Turnstone
These little beauties are another new favorite.
Ruddy Turnstone #68 Lifer #149

Gotta be quick with those Harlequins!
Harlequin Duck

How about three species hangin' out together? Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone and Purple Sandpiper.
Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, Purple Sandpiper

What's that you say? Purple Sandpiper? Why, that would be Lifer #150.
Purple Sandpiper #69 Lifer #150
Purple Sandpiper

A pile of Dunlins looking like ornaments on a Christmas tree.
mostly Dunlins

Bob had headed to the end of the jetty in search of a Common Eider that had been spotted there. While they're fairly common to us in Massachusetts, it's a real treat to see them down there. Since my photo earlier in the year was a crappy one, I went along with him and scored a lucky shot.
Common Eider

There was also a pair of Black Scoters out there.
Black Scoter #71

Stretching my 60X zoom to its limit, I just about got a good enough shot of Lifer #151, the Great Cormorant.
Great Cormorant #70 Lifer #151
I look forward to upgrading this shot some day.

One thing that kept escaping my camera the whole time was a Red-throated Loon. Bob would point one out, I'd get ready to shoot, and it would dive under. I missed about 10 chances. Then my camera battery died. I grabbed Andrea's when Bob pointed out another and BAM... got it! Lifer #152.
Red Throated Loon #73 Lifer #152

What a day! We added a shit ton of birds to the year and ten to the life-list. I can't thank Bob enough for taking the time to hang with us and help us out. Friends like that are few and far between.
Nice, smart, handsome and talented... why do I let my wife near him?!

On our way back to the highway, getting ready to head to that night's hotel, I saw a red bird with dark wings fly overhead. Tanager? It couldn't be, but I stopped and ran back anyway.
American Robin #74
A Robin in the setting sun. Hey, it was #74 on the year. Worth the stop.

That night's hotel was much better. We even went to a nearby Pub for grub and sang "Take Me Home, Country Road" during a sing-a-long. Hey, we was havin' fun.

After about nine hours sleep, we checked out and headed to our only Sunday destination... a place that has lots of foxes who are happy to pose for pictures. We got there at about 8 AM and seemed to have the place to ourselves. We slowly drove along, checking every bush, every parking area and every road, but we were coming up fox-less. One birding path netted us some Cedar Waxwings, though.
Cedar Waxwing #75

We went all the way to the tip of this place, scouring, then headed back. We got to the front gate, disappointed. No foxes. Andrea was very pissed. What had we done wrong? We spent about 2 1/2 hours looking for those little mammalian bastards. I (yes, it was actually me) decided to make one more run down to the big parking lot and back... our last ditch effort. Finally, Andrea spotted this guy just off the road. I had actually made a good decision!
Obviously not as excited as we were, he yawned.

Now that was more like it. We got to the big parking lot and drove the perimeter. In an enclosed spot, we saw a truck stopped. The driver was feeding this guy...
Despite the "Do Not Feed the Foxes" sign, this youngster was making out like a little red bandit. We got some good photos of him once the criminal drove off. What a cute lil Vulpes vulpes.
Vulpes vulpes

Happy and satisfied that we're not total shit naturalists, we headed out. One more shy guy was at the side of the road on the way out.
Maybe not that shy after all...
On our drive home that day, we thought about it. The foxes waited until they heard plenty of cars entering the park. At 8 AM, it was just us but after 10 AM, more cars were there so they came out, sensing more opportunities to beg food. Makes sense.

So, that was a fun weekend. I can't thank Bob enough for his patience, his help and his friendship. Also, I must tip my hat to Andrea, who booked the hotels and planned everything. She let me just be the driver, with nothing to worry about except staying awake at the wheel. We wound up adding 32 birds to the year, 10 of them lifers. At this rate, its looking good to break my single year record (which is only 112).

(Incidently, we had our cryptozoology trfecta in February... Swamp Apes in Florida, all kinds of possibilities in the Haunted Swamp last Wednesday and we drove past the birthplace of the Jersey Devil this weekend.)


  1. Hace mucho que no me escribis , Es pero que todos estén muy bien,Un beso Martha, (Argentina)

    1. Estamos bien y feliz! Espero que estés bien, querida Martha.

  2. i have extreme envy.....sniff
    *also did you see the brant head studies i did?*
    i have extreme envy...did i mention that
    i need reference photos of everything......sniff sniff

    1. You are always welcome to use any of our photos! It would be an honor!