Tuesday, January 17, 2012

County Birding with Patrick

Yesterday I joined Patrick Belardo to check out some of the waterbird hotspots around Middlesex County. We started out at the Edison Boat Basin, where a Glaucous Gull has appeared regularly for the past week or so. At that point, the river was partly frozen, and there were relatively few gulls present. Those that were huddled together at a distance, too far and too tightly-packed to pick out the gull in question.

Our second stop was at Old Bridge Waterfront Park in Laurence Harbor, which sits on top of a Superfund site. (A plan to clean up the site is still pending.) This park offers a broad view of Raritan Bay from a different angle than is available from South Amboy or Pirates Cove. There were many rafts of waterfowl visible, but most of them were pretty far out. The most numerous seemed to be Greater Scaup, followed by American Black Ducks. We tried to pick out some Lesser Scaup or other unusual ducks without success. The flocks included three Common Goldeneyes and a few Hooded Mergansers. One Horned Grebe was visible very far out.

At Morgan Avenue in South Amboy, we saw mostly the same species as at the previous stop, with the exception of a lone Sanderling and a huge flock of Brant. A stop at Raritan Bay Waterfront Park was a bit more productive. In addition to the same flock of Brant, we were able to spot Red-breasted Mergansers, a Red-throated Loon, and a Horned Grebe. Just before we left the park, Patrick noticed an immature Bald Eagle flying over the mouth of the Raritan River near Perth Amboy.

Most of the ponds on our route were frozen over, so few birds were present on them. Waterworks Park in South Amboy had the same flock of American Coots that I saw there several weeks ago. (The Redhead was gone, though.) A large flock of gulls at Townelake in Sayreville included one adult Lesser Black-backed Gull that Patrick picked out while the bird was still asleep.

A stop at Sayreville Marsh was our most productive of the morning. The waterfowl on the river included two Ruddy Ducks, an American Wigeon, and a Canvasback. (I initially thought it was a new county bird for me, but it turned out not to be.) A Great Cormorant flew past us, and another was sitting on one of the pilings. Patrick spotted a raptor hovering over a distant landfill (the one across the river from the industrial site). When it was hovering faced towards us, few markings were visible, but when it turned in circles, a light head and white tail band became visible. Through his scope, it was possible to see the dark underwing markings characteristic of a light-morph Rough-legged Hawk. Unlike the Canvasback, this was a new county bird for both Patrick and me; it leaves me at 200 birds in Middlesex County.

After Sayreville Marsh, we stopped once more at Edison Boat Basin to check for the Glaucous Gull and found... Fish Crows. So that wrapped up a good morning of birding.