Saturday, September 03, 2011

Local Shorebirding

While Hurricane Irene did not bring me any tropical birds, it has created some good opportunities for local birding. The Raritan River flooded on Sunday and remained flooded on Monday, with the waters gradually decreasing since then. At this point, the flooding here is finished, but the river's level remains very high, so that areas that are normally exposed at low tide are still submerged. This leaves waders that depend on tidal mudflats looking for new locations for foraging and loafing. Meanwhile, with the river still high and the ground still saturated, a lot of fields have big wet areas.

One of the open areas by the old basketball courts in Donaldson Park was still flooded as of Thursday when I made my last visit there. More birds were using the wet area than I initially thought. There were a few dozen Mallards: some swimming and some roosting on the branches that had fallen in that area. When I walked around to get a closer view from the other side, I could see that there were many more birds than I initially thought. There were at least two dozen peeps (Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers – no Westerns that I could see), plus a few larger sandpipers (Solitary Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, and Lesser Yellowlegs). None of these shorebirds are particularly rare, but seeing so many at once in this location is highly unusual.

Lesser Yellowlegs is probably the yellowlegs I see less frequently in New Jersey. I'm not sure if this reflects an actual distribution pattern or if it is just an impression.

Solitary Sandpiper is actually one of the more reliable sandpipers at Donaldson Park. Least Sandpiper is the sandpiper that one is most likely to see there. After that would come Spotted Sandpiper and Solitary Sandpiper. The Solitary Sandpipers that visit Donaldson Park seem to prefer the wet fields to the edges of the river, unlike the Spotted Sandpipers, which I usually see along the riverbank. This wet area was one that both could agree on. Contrary to its name, this Solitary Sandpiper was not solitary, as one or two others were nearby.

The floodwaters have receded, but there is still evidence of the torrents all over the place, with a few trees down, fences covered with debris, and even one bent fence.