The Bufflehead Birder

July 1, 2010

Trees of Mordor and the Jungle

Last week I spent a day with two friends from Colorado who were visiting New Jersey. But instead of going to a restaurant or museum, Julie and Jarett suggested we meet up for some hiking and a picnic lunch at the Mariton Wildlife Sanctuary. That was perfect. Conveniently located on the Delaware River outside of Riegelsville, PA., Mariton was not that far for either me, just north of Philadelphia, or for my friends who were staying in western New Jersey.


Mariton Preserve is a 200-acre tract, which in 1969 was placed by its owners under the protection and management of the Natural Lands Trust. The Lands Trust has been around since 1953. It has devoted itself, either through acquisition or conservation partnership, to protecting and managing land throughout the Delaware Valley.

Mariton has a wonderful visitor’s center with displays of bird and animal skulls, nests, photos, bones, feathers, stuffed birds, and rubber casts of animal tracks that you can press into a small sandbox to see what the imprint of a bobcat or snapping turtle might look like. Mariton also offers workshops and nature tours for school groups and other visitors, but last week the three of us had the entire place to ourselves. Not a car or school bus anywhere in the parking lot.


During tick season it’s a good idea to tuck pants into your socks.

The trail map offered 4-5 miles of hiking paths. We decide to plan for lunch at River Overlook, check out the bird blind on the way, and after lunch hike up South Fox Trail to Kit Trail, which leads down through a coniferous forest where we might spot roosting owls. On the trail map this pine forest was called ‘The Dark Habitat’. 


Now, anything named ‘The Dark Habitat’ is just begging to be checked out. It makes you wonder what else might be roosting in those spruce trees along with the owls. Julie and Jarett, being Tolkien freaks, referred to it as “Mordor”. So it was a must. Owls or no owls, how can you resist traveling through Mordor to get back to your car? 


Note the pants tucked into the socks.



Two things strike me about Pennsylvania forests, even though I have been back east now for 8 years. One is the absolute greenery, and the other is the intensity of bird sounds.

It’s not that there aren’t lots of birds in Colorado, but their calls can seem distant in the open lands.  Whereas, the dense forests back east contain bird sounds and bounce them back at you in a heavy dose.

While a Steller’s Jay is a grand sight to an easterner, so is the Northern Cardinal to a westerner. Julie and Jarett were enthralled with the bright exotic red of these birds, as I continue to be. In fact, throw in a few scarlet cardinals among the deep and luminescent greenery of a deciduous forest, and the surround sound of bird songs and screeches, and squirrels chattering overhead like monkeys, and a bit of east coast humidity, and you have yourself a Pennsylvania jungle.


A Rhodedendron reaches over the trail and gives the forest an exotic touch.

No jungle is complete, however, without some large prehistoric-looking bird. For the Mariton woods it was the Pileated Woodpecker which fit that role. Julie was hoping to see one. Pileateds aren’t found in Colorado, and they aren’t even that easily come upon in Pennsylvania, but the forest here had the mature hardwoods that these birds like. Sure enough, a black blur, the size of a football, cruised through the trees and landed on a the trunk of a beech tree where it lingered long enough for all 3 of us to pass the binos around and enjoy a nice long look at this magnificent bird with its red crest illuminated by the sun.


Pileated Woodpeckers make holes that are easily identified because of their large, rectangular shape.

We had a change of plan when we got down to River Outlook; there was not much room to sit and the view of the Delaware below was obscured by foliage. Perhaps, in the fall the view might be better.


River Overlook sits right above the Delaware River.

Since we had missed the bird blind somehow, we back-tracked to find it and eat lunch there. That turned out to be good move. We could eat and be entertained by fledgling birds and cheeky young chipmunks.


Young critters keep us entertained.

The feeder area was like a day care for woodland youngsters. Young Eastern Chipmunks plowed their little noses through the dirt, seeking out seeds, while juvenile northern cardinals pecked at anything with potential for tastiness. The cardinal parents supervised from nearby bushes.


A male Rose-breasted Grosbeak makes an appearance.

When we came upon the Trees of Mordor, we were horrified by their condition.  Branches, barren of needles, conjured up images of some East Coast pine beetle infestation, like that which is so prevalent in Colorado.


No sun means no needles.

But an information plaque informed us that the spruce were originally planted close together as part of an early tree plantation but none of the spruce were ever culled to create space between the trees so that sunlight could reach the lower limbs. As a result, the trees ceased to support a lost cause and diverted their energy towards the upper and outer branches, which were a nice healthy green. 


 The Trees of Mordor live.

For an early dinner, Julie, Jarett, and I went to the Riegelsville Hotel and Inn (est. 1834) where we ate on the back patio, behind which runs the 60-mile long Delaware Canal. Had we been eating our salad and fries and key lime cheesecake on the patio in the 1830’s or 40’s we could have also enjoyed watching boats pass by hauling iron, coal, stone, and goods from the mills on the Jersey side of the river. As it was, we had to content ourselves with the less quaint view of joggers, people on bikes, and families walking kids and dogs.


Meanwhile, we compiled our bird sightings from Mariton Preserve and came up with 25 species that we could positively identify, and happily, that included our Pileated Woodpecker.

If you ever want to work off dinner after eating at the Riegelsvill Hotel and Inn, you might consider a walk to New Jersey and back. That’s what we did, crossing the Delaware by way of the PA-NJ Joint Commission Toll Bridge.


An after-dinner stroll out of state.


The Delaware River looking north.



After about 5-7 minutes standing in NJ we moseyed on back to Pennsylvania, where we said our good-byes, reaffirmed with each other what a great day we had and wasn’t it cool that we saw that Pileated Woodpecker.


Can you find our favorite little resident of Mariton Preserve?

March 25, 2010

A Visiting Tufted Duck

Filed under: Main Posts — admin @ 3:36 pm

The best part about spring is not the warmer weather and longer days but the arrival of birds returning from their southern wintering grounds. And it’s not just the American Robin that is the harbinger of warmer days ahead, but also those birds just passing through. Snow geese who gather in massive flocks before heading further north into Canada and the Sub-arctic, or dozens of warbler species dotting the foliage with blue and yellow and white. And sometimes, there are special visitors. Birds who for some reason flew thousands of miles off course to end up God knows where.

One such off-track visitor was a celebrity for birders last weekend at some sewage treatment ponds in Eastern PA. Along way from her wintering ground in Southern Europe, a female Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) took a migration break at the ponds, spending most of her time napping and drifting along with a gathering of ring-neck ducks. In fact, she might have easily passed for one of the females of that species except for the lack of pale cheek patches and the much darker head with its tuft that only really shows up when she drifts into a side-profile position.


Her tuft is so slight that it looks like feathers puffed by a breeze.

Normally, tufted ducks breed in Northern Eurasia and in the British Isles, where they also reside year round. But ocassionally they end up in North America and sometimes our ring-necks end up in Europe where people might confuse the female ring-necks with female tufted ducks.


Note the white eye-ring on the female Ring-neck. On the right are a couple of male Ring-neck Ducks. Male Ring-necks and Tufted Ducks are similar in coloration but Tufted drakes are distinguished by the obvious length of tuft that hangs from the back of their head like a drooping crest.


When she wasn’t napping the visiting tufted duck spent some time diving for food such as mollusks, algae, or aquatic insects. After a bout of extensive preening it was back to napping. After almost two hours waiting for our guest to wake up from her dozing, I was rewarded with a take off, after which the duck came back to the pond to preen some more before naptime.


Both male and female Tufted Ducks have a distince white wing bar.

Throughout the morning non-birders would wander up to ask what we were looking at.  A spotting scope is easier than binoculars for locking in on a bird and that made it handy for people, especially kids, to get an up-close look at a bird.  One of the joys of sharing a spotting scope is that pleased “ahhh” that comes afterwards.


Birders check out our Tufted guest.


Jake and Elwood, The Blues Pups.

The Tufted Duck was upstaged when two labradoodles happened along. Quite possibly it won’t be the American Robin or migrating ducks that signal spring’s arrival next year but dogs sporting kerchiefs and ‘rays.



January 21, 2010

Blue is Good Color on a Winter Day

Filed under: Digiscoping — admin @ 10:09 pm

One of my philosophical mantras that I say to myself is to finish something to the end even if it feels as if there is nothing to be gained. I say this when I am at gatherings and getting bored and just want to go home and curl up with a book and no people around. But I have found that if I stick around I usually end up with a pleasant surprise; an intriguing conversation that would otherwise have never been heard, a new piece of information that somehow opens a door, or a new friend.

Two weekends ago,  I participated in a late Xmas bird count. We’d had some cold weather and the number of birds sighted was lower than most years.  After about 3.5 hours I was ready to call it quits. But my two companions felt we should do one more stop on the way home. It had been a pretty dull morning so I didn’t expect to see anything new.

Of course, we spotted a red-tailed hawk on a branch almost immediately. And not far into the woods behind the farm where my horse lives, we saw mourning doves, yellow-throated sparrows, a song sparrow or two, tufted titmice, juncos, red-bellied woodpecker, American goldfinches, and a family of eastern bluebirds. What a nice cluster of colors to flash around on a cold brown winter day.


So, it goes to show those philosophical mantras aren’t just platitudinal patter for the mind when things get tiresome.

This past weekend I went back to see if I could spot any of the bluebirds. Sure enough, one was perched in the brush.

Bluebird with berries

I managed a few shots before it flew off and my LCD viewer went on the blink.

I’d had this happen the day before and despite resetting it per instructions from the Nikon tech department, the viewer eventually goes black on me. So now my camera will need to visit the repair shop.

And I’ll simply enjoy those bluebirds with the scope itself.

Bluebird takeoff

May 11, 2009

Basking on a Log by the Creek

Water Snake4

 Most of my East Coast snake encounters have been with Garter Snakes. A few days ago I got to meet a clump of Northern Water Snakes (Nerodia sipedon), who were basking in the afternoon sun on a log along the Wissahickon Creek.

Clump on a Log

The banding and coloration of water snakes are somewhat variable, but in general, the adults are dark gray, while the younger snakes have distinct tan and dark banding.  Sometimes a water snake will have a darker upper body and lighter underside.  When wet, the snakes’ banding will be more apparent. As the snakes age, the bands will grow fainter until an older snake may take on the appearance of a dark rubber hose flopped over a log. 

Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon)

 Water Snakes can grow to 4 feet or more.

The thick body and basic color of water snakes make them easily mistaken for Cottonmouths / Water Moccasins(Agkistrodon piscivorus) and for Copperheads (Agkistrodon contortix). However, the bands on the Water Snake differs from that of the Agkistrodons in that the darker bands are wider than the lighter ones, and the bands are less irregular.

Water Snakes 3

There are some other distinctions though. For instance, if you peer closely into a water snake’s eye, you will note that the pupil is round, and not at all similar to that of the venemous Cottonmouths and Copperheads. Also, while copperheads and watersnakes have loreal scales, the cottonmouth lacks one.                            I, however, just plan to rely on color pattern. 

These snakes dine on fish, frogs, salamanders, leeches, and other small animals. In turn, they are preyed upon by snapping turtles, other snakes, raccoons, otters, oppossums, and foxes. Females give live birth in August to October. No babycare is necessary for Mr. and Mrs. Sipedon, and everyone can get back to basking on that log before winter sets in. Then it’s hibernation time. A favorite place to spend the winter is in muskrat or beaver dams, even sharing the accomodations with those Copperheads.

Although water snakes are not venemous, they can deliver a nasty bite and won’t hesitate to do so if approached. If that doesn’t get your attention, they will defecate and emit an unpleasant musk.

They just like to be left alone as they bask on a sunny log or coil up in a cozy clump amidst some protective vegetation.


Can you find all four faces in this heap o’ Nerodia sipedon?

Charley’s Hoedown

Every year local residents in my area, including employee volunteer regulars from Merck and Whole Foods, get the call to help out with the Wissahickon Creek Spring Cleanup. This yearly event is held by the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association. For a few hours we wade and scramble up and down the banks of our assigned sections along the Wissahickon Creek, picking up plastic water bottles, junk food wrappers, and other colorful but not-so pretty litter. Often we find ourselves pulling and dragging old bikes, tires, bed springs, baby carriages, and other large unusual items from the creek. Afterwards, there is a picnic in one of the parks along the Wissahickon Creek.

This year the picnic was held at Militia Hill State Park, which is one of my favorite places to find birds, especially migrating warblers. Even as we sat and ate our burgers, or bean and rice salads, or homemade cookies, I saw a Carolina Wren hopping through the rafters above our heads inside the picnic shelter, where she had a nest. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers rasped in the branches of surrounding trees, while further on I could see two Red-bellied Woodpeckers chasing each other from tree trunk to tree trunk.

Carolina Wren

Not sure what goodie she’s got but I’m glad it wasn’t part of the picnic fare.

But the highlight bird of the picnic was Charley, a Senegal Parrot (Poicephalus senegalus), with the engaging personality of a debonair party hostess. Charley, which is short for “Chartreuse”, is about 9 years old—just a young adult for a Senegal, which can live up to 30 years.


Her human, Jerry, explained that while we were being treated to a mature, well-behaved bird, he and his wife were not spared the “Terrible Twos” that Charley passed through. Knowing something about bird acting-out behavior from having babysat friends’ birds, I imagine this charming parrot shredding anything less resilient than steel, screeching just because it feels good, and climbing onto anything her little talons can grip, nipping at anyone who might object.

A Relaxed Charley

But you would never know now. Pleasant and comfortable with this large group of people, Charley was passed around from finger to finger, as folks of all ages wanted to hold her.

Then to add to the spirit of Charley’s presence, two of the picnickers arrived with a fiddle and banjo. I had taken up the fiddle recently, and had met these two musicians at a couple of old time jams; The Main Line Old Time Jam at the Gryphon Cafe in Wayne, PA and the Old Time Jam at the Mermaid Inn, in Chestnut Hill. So their arrival with instruments was a pleasant surprise for me.

Charley, Jerry, Carl, and Ray

Now Charley could perform her gymnastic tricks accompanied by some old time tunes. The Single-claw Dangle was best done to “Blackberry Blossom”.


I look forward to cleaning up the Wissahickon Creek next year. It won’t just be for the great picnic afterwards, but I will hope to be treated to Charley’s presence and some old time music. I plan to bring along my fiddle, too. Guess I better get some requests ahead of time from Charley, the chartreuse parrot.

Charley requests a tune

“Sure, we can play ‘Cluck Ol’ Hen’.”

April 14, 2009

Mystery Bird Puzzle

Filed under: Bird Puzzles — Tags: , , , — admin @ 5:57 pm

Can you guess the species of this bird? The answer will be posted after I receive at least 3 guesses. Have fun!   

April 7, 2009

Cheek-Chireek from Moscow

I recently received an email from some friends in Moscow with this fantastic shot of a common visitor to the homemade feeder outside their second story apartment window. The Great Tit (Parus major), is a member of the Titmouse Family and is common to the woodlands of Europe and Asia. My friend, Sasha had constructed a bird feeder, and now he and Irina can watch and photograph birds from their kitchen window.

Great Tit (Parus major) -photo by Sasha Panov

Photo taken by Sasha Panov

These birds have been shown to be quite adaptable to urban living. One study found that male Great Tits will alter the structure and pitch frequency of their mating songs relative to the surrounding levels of traffic and other urban noise.

Borrowed from Wikipedia–a Great Tit nestling. Is this cute or what?

These little birds generally fledge not even 3 weeks after hatching. Considering that an average brood size is about 8 chicks, the parents have their work cut out for them and must procure as many as 500 or more insects and caterpillars for the fledglings. Click here for more info.

Moscow is in what is referred to as Central European Russia and its environs consist of mixed and broadleaf forests. Some of the more common birds of the Moscow Region are the Eurasian Crow (Corvus corone), White Stork (Ciconia ciconia), Northern Swifts (Apus apus), and the Eurasion Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus). The 3 images below are taken from Wikipedia. In the first photo a Reed Warbler feeds an itsy-bitsy cuckoo young’un.

Common Cuckoo (Wikipedia)        White Stork (Wikipedia)    

Cuckoo youngster and White Storks

Hooded Crow (Gray variety) (Corvus corone) Wikipedia

Hooded Crow

I couldn’t find any stats on how many birders there are in the area around Moscow, but I would suspect quite a few. While there may not be as many national conservation organizations as in the U.S., the Russian people have always maintained a closeness with nature in a way that many Americans have not. Almost any Russian can tell you what mushrooms and berries to gather, even what plant leaves can be used for various home medicinal remedies. 

Come Friday afternoon, the train stations swell with folks heading out of the city to their dachas, or to nearby parks, or villages. Sunday afternoon, buses are loaded with people heading back into the city, carrying buckets of berries, mushrooms, potatoes, carrots, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, and herbs; foods all gathered in the forests or grown in dacha gardens. In my closet hangs a cherished daypack, stained purple with berry juice from blueberries and waterberries I had gathered with friends in Russia, and put in double plastic bags (paketi), but which, obviously, got squished in transportation.

There are several parks or “green” (protected natural) areas outside Moscow, which are accessible by train or bus. Losiny Ostrov (Moose Island) is Russia’s first National Park and located just outside Moscow. Yes, as the name implies, moose do abound there and will wander into nearby towns and stand in the middle of the road, blocking traffic, including trolleys.

Moose Portrait

I don’t know how squirrel-proof these are, but you can’t beat the craftsmanship and care that went into these hand-carved bird feeders that I saw in Losiny Ostrov.



         063.jpg           064.jpg

As birding and bird conservation gains global momentum there are more organizations that have been established in Europe and Russia, dedicated to bringing conservation awareness to the public. One such organization is Bird Life International, which has partnerships with other bird organizations throughout the world. In Russia, the Russian Bird Conservation Union (RBCU) acts as the Audubon Society does in the U.S. or the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the U.K.. It works to educate and involve the public in bird conservation efforts. 

One such program is Spring Alive. Similar to the Backyard Bird Count, this program invites Moscow citizens to join other cities in Europe and get their binos out and take a count of the migrating birds they see throughout the spring (Feb. 1st to end of May/June). All the counts are submitted to Bird Life International and used to help monitor bird species populations. Right now the Spring Alive site is in Russian but you still have some fun with a couple of games on the site if you click here.

And, of course, those good ol’ milk cartons, worldwide, serve an important secondary function.


Moloko is pronounced “Muh-lah-koh” with the stress on the last syllable.

 Some fun Russian words for bird lovers:

Cheek-chireek = chirp-chirp, tweet-tweet

Pteetsa = bird

Pteetsi = birds

Aitso = egg

Gnyezdo = nest

Kormushka = bird feeder

Ya liubliu pteetz! = I love birds!



March 31, 2009

A Gaggle of Geese at Middle Creek

Snow Geese Take Off

It can start off as a sudden explosion of white and black wings rising from a hillside, or sometimes just a slim white funnel rising higher and higher until it mushrooms into a blast of deafening honks and beating wings that fill the sky and compel those nearby to gaze upward in absolute awe.

For those who have been to Pennsylvania’s Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area the sight of thousands of Snow Geese taking off at once is unforgettable, and for those who have seen a take off before it’s what brings them back and no visit is complete until they get to see the geese take to the air en masse.


A biker checks out the geese.

Middle Creek is located in Lancaster and Lebanon Counties, and is owned and managed by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The area within Middle Creek comprises of a 400-acre lake and some 6,000 acres of woodlands and agricultural fields. The main concentration of geese is at Willow Point, which is a nice 10-minute walk from the parking area down to the water where there is a excellent view of both open water and surrounding hillsides and fields.

Talk about a gaggle of geese–the open water and hillsides ripple with white feathered bodies. There is constant motion and honking as the geese wander and feed, swim and preen and flap their wings at each other. In fact, the word ”gaggle” has its origins in the 15th Century Middle English verb, “gagel”, or the noun, “gagelen”, both of which arose as mimicry of the sound geese make. For some fun etymological history click here. Also, the word gaggle only applies when geese are on water or on the ground; once geese are airborne they become a flock or a skein.


“Do we constitute a gaggle?”

Even while wandering, bathing, preening, and foraging, the snow geese continued their ”gagelen” as they communicated various bits of information from one end of the hillside to the other. Although, as Snow Geese calls sound to me more like honks most of the time and not so much like gaggling, I might suggest an alternative word–”honkle”.

There’s a honkle  (noun) of geese on the hillside.

The fox had the geese all a-honkle  (past passive participle).

The hills are a-honkle  (descriptive adjective) with the calls of geese.

Take your pick. Either way, the honking or gaggling of geese in flight is a beautiful sound that evokes a surge of yearning and nostalgia, and makes me envy the Snow Geese that ancient connection they still share with our Earth.


A-honklin’ on one foot.

In late February Snow Geese begin moving up from as far down as South Carolina, gathering in numbers until a gaggle may reach as many as 100,000 geese and 5,000 swans flood the Middle Creek landscape at one time. The northward movement of the geese continues until mid-April, the best time seems to be somewhere in mid-March. It’s not an exact science as to when the number of geese will be at its peak but the thawing of the ice-cover at Middle Creek seems to be the key indicator as to the heavier accumulation of waterfowl, especially if southerly winds are blowing.


For a daily update on geese and swan numbers and activity go to the PA Game Commission’s website home page. There select “Middle Creek/Pyamtuning” listed on the right sidebar, then select, “Waterfowl Migration“.

Snow Geese are dimorphic and come in either the conventional white or the more unusual ‘blue’. It is the Greater Snow Goose (Chens caerulescens atlantica) that comes to Middle Creek, while the Lesser Snow Goose (Chens c. caerulenscens) is a western subspecies. Both types winter in the United States and fly north to breed in the arctic and subarctic of Canada.

Blue Goose and a tagged Snow Goose

         The white goose was most likely banded by the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS).

Believe it or not, it used to be that Middle Creek saw nary a snow goose or swan. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1990’s when the first Snow Geese and Tundra Swans made their appearance on the scene at Middle Creek and other inland areas of Pennsylvania.


 The first Snow Geese came to Middle Creek in 1994.

There was a time when the populations of Snow Geese, in general, were nothing to gawk at but climate changes in the 60’s and 70’s, transformation of coastal wetlands into agricultural industries, and wildlife refuges that sought to encourage increase of numbers of waterfowl for hunters have increased both the Eastern and Western populations of Snow Geese. Now the numbers of these birds are too vast to prevent degradation in what remains of their wetland habitats, and neither natural predation on the geese, nor hunting make neither ding nor dent in curbing the populations of geese.

There are several sources that discuss this issue in detail but if you would like to see some wonderful photography along with the whole story behind the Snow Geese population explosion, please check out Birder’s Lounge.

Meanwhile, Middle Creek Wildlife Area’s provision of open water and plentiful food sources in the cultivated fields that were originally intended for Canada Geese and other waterfowl make Middle Creek one of the prime staging areas in the Atlantic Flyway for both Snow Geese and Tundra Swans during migrations. Despite the issues of concern with the excessive gaggles and honkles of Snow Geese, it’s impossible not to enjoy the immensity and great sound of their presence.


That morning, as I stood at Willow Point, enjoying the camraderie of others who had gathered to enjoy the arrival of the geese, I got into a conversation with a fellow Middle Creek Snow Goose fan, who had been bringing his girls there since the 1960’s. The kids were now in college but he still came over on the weekends to see the geese.

Then one of the resident Bald Eagles left its perch. We could hear it; the first few honks of alarm, which, as more and more geese took up the call, would swell into a chaos of honks, as snow geese rose off the lake in a cloud of white. No one spoke. This wasn’t a moment for words. Over the lake it was a cyclone swirl of beating wings, a grand gaggling chorus of honks. Eventually, as the threat of the eagle passed, the honking eruption faded.

“Well, now I can go home. I’ve seen what I’ve been waiting for all morning,” announced my companion.

That sums it up very well for anyone who has seen a grand gaggle Take Off and the sky just a-honkle with geese. It’s what I’ll be looking forward to again next year and in the years that follow.

Click on this image to see a Take Off in action.

You can also click on the sidebar under videos to see other snow geese video clips.

March 17, 2009

Peril on the Jetty at Barnegat Light

Filed under: Main Posts — Tags: , — admin @ 4:56 pm

The jetty at Barnegat Light in New Jersey is a popular spot for photographing and seeing wintering waterfowl. And while I was aware of the potential broken ankle or banged up knee on the rocks, I never imagined the following hazard.  

Below is a link sent to the Delaware Valley Ornithology Club from a local bird photographer that describes a terrifying and unexpectedly perilous situation he fell into out on the jetty at Barnegat Light in New Jersey. There are also some fantastic shots of the waterfowl at Barnegat, too.

March 2, 2009

Barnegat Birds 2009

Filed under: Digiscoping — admin @ 6:23 pm

The inlet at Barnegat Lighthouse in New Jersey is known for its high winds and last year the photography outing with the Delaware Valley Ornithology Club (DVOC) was postponed twice before we landed a day with a wind that allowed you to keep your hat and remain standing. This year we were blessed with a gentle breeze, warm sun, and a dry, slick-free jetty stretching along the shore’s curve out towards the blue water of Barnegat Bay.


Brant Geese relax and preen

Walking on the jetty rocks with my scope was a cinch compared to the slick wet rocks of last year. Harlequins, Surf Scoters, and Longtails swam in small clusters just off the jetty, diving for fish. It was an attractive sight, all these ducks with their sharp white markings on bright blue water. Great lighting. But the high bright sun was also playing havoc with my ability to see through my LCD Viewer. I know it sounds like a repetitive excuse, but really, it’s true. The viewfinder displayed bobbing waterfowl alright, but I still couldn’t be sure of how well-focused they were. Even with my hood draped over my head and the camera.But whine as I might over my LCD viewer, I couldn’t beat having subjects like these ducks and other birds to photograph. Below are stills from a video of a male Harlequin taking a bath.




A fairly cooperative Common Loon spent lots of time above water, preening and enjoying the sun, and that gave me plenty of opportunity for shooting.




Black-bellied Plovers also come down as far as NJ in the winter and I was able to see what one looks like when it’s not in summer breeding plumage.


Black-bellied plover

Shot taken this summer - black belly is obvious here.

An Ipswich Sparrow also made an appearance on the rocks of the jetty. The Ipswich is a race of the Savannah Sparrow found along the East Coast marshes and beaches. These birds love mollusks and insects. In winter they feed mainly on seeds.

I was happy to snag a couple of shots of this little guy who scurried (not hopped) around on the rocks, popping up from the crevices in between groups of birders making their way to the jetty’s end.




The male Surf Scoter has one of the funkiest bills. Beautiful contrast against the black body. Easy to ID from a distance. Behind him are some Long-tails.


I must be spoiled this past fall with my kingfishers and herons from this fall, who either remain still for a long while or have predictable perching spots. The ducks at Barnegat, afloat and riding a current, however, were more troublesome to sight in. I tried finding a stable landmark and aiming off that, but even then I found it difficult to capture my target duck. Guess I’ll need more trips to Barnegat to refine this. Meanwhile, it did help to have the video mount. I would loosen both screws and then at least I could follow birds as they swam both horizontally and vertically.

A flock of Long-tail Ducks were cruising up and down along the inlet. The male has the long tail, which is not so evident as it is held low to the water, only raised when the duck is alarmed. The males also have the pink bill.



An interesting note from Birds of North America Online (Cornell): Long-tails of both sexes have an interesting territorial defense tactic. They drive off the female. The idea is that the intruding male will follow her and high-tail it out of there. Saves energy. No one gets hurt.


When things were in focus the bright sun supplied enough light to get sharp shots and some sharp action too, like the long-tail diving. I used my sports setting at times and shot off a bunch of frames while the birds were swimming.

A trip to the shore is not complete without a gull shot. Low tide provided an all-you-can-eat mollusk bar for the Herring Gull below.



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