Sunday, September 16, 2007

Warblers at Noon; Rails at Dusk

Sandy Hook, a spit of sand sticking precariously out into Raritan Bay, is one of a few true migrant traps in central Jersey. It was originally occupied by a lighthouse to warn ships of its presence, and then served as a key base for the defense of New York Harbor. Now most of those functions have been replaced by beachgoers and birdwatchers. On a day following a good night for migration - like last night - the Hook is often crowded with birds of all types. So my mother, sister, and I headed out there to look for birds.

We when arrived at the Hook we went straight to the north end of the peninsula. According to reports from other birders, a total of about 23 species of warblers were seen this morning. We were not that fortunate, but we still had a good day despite a late start. There were a great number of redstarts and scarlet tanagers, and common yellowthroats lived up to their name. In addition to those, the Locust Grove held a few chestnut-sided, black-throated blue, Canada, parula, black-and-white, and magnolia warblers. While we watched a Baltimore oriole, a rose-breasted grosbeak tried to sneak up behind us - but we saw it anyway. A little outside the grove, closer to the North Pond, we spotted a Wilson's warbler, my first in three years.

The trail south along the north pond held a few other nice birds, including a yellow warbler in the reeds and a white-eyed vireo vocalizing somewhere in the dune shrubs. The aerial cover of hundreds of tree swallows was truly impressive! I spotted my first ruby-crowned kinglet of the fall. Shortly after that sighting, a sharp-shinned hawk emerged, as if startled, from the bottom of the shrub. That's about the last thing I would expect to see at the base of a bush! There was also a marsh wren creeping in the reeds on the opposite side of the pond. Finally, a bay-breasted warbler near the hawkwatch rounded out the list.

Mostly gulls - herring and great black-backed inhabited the North Beach. (Some photos of the gulls disputing who would eat a seafood dinner are included below with the sightings list.) A little south of observation deck, there was a small gathering of shorebirds. The bulk of this crowd were sanderlings, mostly juveniles, with a few fall-plumaged adults in the mix. One bird towered over the rest. It was a black-bellied plover in winter plumage. I was hoping it would be a golden-plover, but the black axillaries and white-rump gave away its true identity.

We closed out the day with stops at the Scout Camp and Horseshoe Cove. The songbirds were mostly the same as before, except for a great look at a brown thrasher. Closer to the camp, a merlin rocketed past in pursuit of something; its quarry was not clear. We waited for dusk in the marsh at the cove. A common nighthawk was hunting above the treeline. On both banks of a creek there were clapper rails - an adult and a juvenile. (This is my first actual sighting of one; previous clapper rails on my life list are all heard records.) The last bird for the day was an American bittern that flew up from the marsh and turned up along the shore.

It was a great day for birding despite a late start and despite missing some great sightings reported earlier in the day. Successive cold fronts have kept southbound migrants pouring in over the last few days. If you have time to get out to a local patch in the next few days, do it. The birds are coming through.


Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
American Bittern
Canada Goose
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Clapper Rail
Black-bellied Plover
Great Black-backed Gull
American Herring Gull
Laughing Gull
Mourning Dove
Common Nighthawk
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Tree Swallow
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Cedar Waxwing
Carolina Wren
House Wren
Marsh Wren
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
American Robin
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
White-eyed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
American Goldfinch
Northern Parula
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Common Yellowthroat
Wilson's Warbler
Canada Warbler
Scarlet Tanager
Eastern Towhee
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Baltimore Oriole