Monday, April 18, 2011

Watching the Sky

Yesterday afternoon I walked over to Johnson Park to walk through the park and see if there were any new birds around. I was particularly interested in checking out the flocks of swallows to see if any Bank or Cliff Swallows had arrived yet. When I got to the railroad bridge, I found that I could not go any further because the river had flooded the park and covered the only safe way to walk into it with three or four inches of water.

So instead of walking through the park as I intended I birded the brushy areas along River Road and turned up a few common birds. I scanned the river where I could find openings in the tree line; I saw no swallows but heard one or two chattering. The river was too high and moving to quickly to expect waterfowl to be there, so I saw no geese or ducks. I also scanned the sky a few times: starting at the treeline and scanning right to left with binoculars, then moving up one field and scanning left to right, then moving up another field and scanning, etc. I picked up a few migrating Broad-winged Hawks and a Red-tailed Hawk this way. They were all very high, so high that I was not able to see them with my unaided eyes.

In addition to the hawks, I spotted one other interesting bird while I was scanning: a Common Raven. In some places, raven sightings are unremarkable, or perhaps it is better to say that ravens are the expected corvids. That is not the case in Middlesex County. Most raven sightings in my state are in the far northwest corner with a few scattered outposts further east and south. However, there have been a spate of recent sightings in Middlesex County: a few in the South Amboy area in the last couple weeks, mine yesterday, and then another yesterday a few miles west near River Road. (You can see the sighting locations mapped via the eBird gadget to the left of this post.) This makes me wonder if perhaps there is some raven movement this spring, with a few individuals seeking to colonize the lower Raritan watershed. It is worth noting that the southernmost documented nest in the state is at Chimney Rock, which is not that far west from here. Perhaps some of the recent sightings have been offspring from that pair.

I took the photo above shortly before I spotted the raven.