Friday, September 14, 2012

If its Thursday, I Must be Birding #4

After a whole slew of more responsibilities than time could accommodate, the dust has been starting to clear. With reports of some great birds in New Jersey, and a conveniently placed Thursday, I tried in vain to assemble a posse. Gosh darn work and doctor's appointments...

Almost as good as a co-conspiritor, Donna Schulman provided me with information and updates both before and during the day. Most important, one of her contacts confirmed that the Tern had been seen...

Setting off bright and early at 5 am, I made my way to my first target: a Crested Caracara that had been haunting a farm field in Windsor, Mercer County. Normally found in Texas or Florida, a few have been wandering lately. The current thinking is that this is a 'countable' bird, not and escapee or other undesirable.

The only nice thing to be said for leaving so early, is missing all the %#@^!^) traffic. Which is not to say that I missed it all, but satisfyingly less people who were not quite sure where they were going.

see map: 

Arriving on location, I spied two other birders set up just across from the dirt road into the abandoned farm, neither of whom had their glasses up. 1st bad sign. Upon joining them, one birder, a local, said that he had seen the bird at 6:30 am, but that it took off too parts unknown shortly thereafter. The other birder was from Bucks County PA, and he was here having missed it a few times already...

So we scanned the fields for some time and chatted hoping that the bird would fly back in, sooner than on other days, which was in the evening.  As time passed, more birders arrived. Amongst them were two college students from Princeton, who said their professor had told them about the bird.

More time passed, more birders arrived. Looking at 'Loretta' I was able to see that there was other favorable habitat not too distant as the Caracara flies. Some folks walked south towards the Beth Chaim Synogogue, while I exchanged cell #'s with others. The bird had also been seen on nearby Old Trenton Road, and it was worth a shot, as was Mercer County Park which was in the direction the first birder had said the bird flew off in.

Before I left, the two college students came back, asking for scopes as they had a candidate on a chimney a ways away, but could not resolve it through their glasses. A group of us walked back with them, set up scopes, only to find that the bird in question was an Americrow. The student looked at us sheepishly for his well intensioned but ultimately hope-dashing effort. So I smirked as I inquired: "That Princeton, is it one of those Ivy-league schools..."

Exchanging phone numbers with Fred, I was going to try some other places and was about to leave when with ultimate redemption, the same young fellow saw a bird off in the distance that this time ~was~ the Caracara! Amusingly, had we stayed where we were we would have had it right in front of us, so we all walked all the way back to where we started from. Timing is everything!  Of course, this was another example of one of the "Universal Birding Laws": The Coast Is Clear Law.

As is distance and sun position. No one wanted to enter the presumed private property, nor worse, scare off the bird,  so we photographed from Village Road East. Nice! But the photos were distant and poorly lit. Oh well, I am happy just to have seen the bird.

Crested Caracara on a stick
As the crowd contemplated what to do next, having succeeded in getting this highly prized target, I mentioned the Elegant Tern of Sandy Hook. Sandra Keller, having not seen that bird decided to meet me there and take me up on my offer to share my telescope.

Loretta guided me via route this and route that while Sandra took the highways, and longer trip. We met up within a few minutes of each other, I having just started down the trail to the beach. While walking I was treated to Field Sparrow and Magnolia Warbler, and a Commonthroat that I tried to bend into a Connecticut Warbler but could not.

Sandra caught up to me as I approached the beach, and togeteher we slowly approached the group of resting Common Terns, Sanderlings, and Skimmers resting by a 'tidal cut'. This was an area where water was slowly flowing out of the high tide's flooding of a low area in the dunes. Fortunately, it was mere inches deep; but at high tide may have to be waded across. This spot is the western of the 2 sighting markers.

see Sam Galick's map:

We scanned the birds to no avail. Shortly, two fisherman approached from the other side and as anticipated they put the birds up. They were helpful though, telling us where they had heard that the bird was most frequently. Encouraged, we walked on.

We picked up a few Black-bellied Plovers on the way, and also crossed paths with two other birders who had not had any luck.  The four of us walked down the beach, and I picked out a juvenile Bonaparts Gull with the Juvenile Laughing Gulls. But no Tern. That is no Elegant Tern, but we did manage to find a few imm. Black Terns.

Walking further on we made our way to the eastern of the 2 sighting markers, where we watched Bluefish in a feeding frenzy no more than 25' from shore, as well as Gulls and Terns taking advantage of all the concentrated bait fish. What a sight!

We decided to head back after a time, and found the two other birders checking the birds at the 'first' spot. No luck. There was one odd bird there though, a young Common Tern I had initially mistaken for a Black Tern, but was in fact coated with Ulva - Sea Lettuce. After getting a look in my book at what the target bird was supposed to look like, the two of them departed.

Unfortunately for them, shortly after their departure I picked the bird out of the crowd eliciting an exhuberant if not a wee bit embarrasing exclaimation from Sandra. I told her it was a perfectly okay response after having had an eyegasm.

Feeling a tad guilty that the others had just missed the bird, I informed Sandra that this was an example of another of the "Universal Birding Laws": The Sacrificial Lamb Law. We owe them a jar of mint jelly.

We enjoyed the bird as it hung out on the shore near the rest of the mixed flock, and watched as it caught small fish. What a great day of birding.

Elegant Tern with snack

1 comment:

Sandra Keller said...

What a day! Thanks again - I wasn't planning on heading that far after just returning from Arizona. I love your write-up! Now where do we get that mint jelly....