Sunday, January 01, 2012

Warm Weather and Half-Hardies

A banded Ring-billed Gull from Spring Lake
As the sun rose on the first day in 2011, I was standing on a beach in Sea Girt looking for seabirds at the start of the Long Branch Christmas Bird Count. Since New Year's is on a Sunday this year, the Long Branch CBC for the 2011-2012 CBC season fell on New Year's Eve. So I ended 2011 the way I started it: counting birds around Spring Lake for the Long Branch CBC. Last year, Patrick, Patrick's friend Mike, and I did that area on our own with two feet of snow on the ground, so that many areas were impenetrable. This year we were assisting Glen Mahler, a birder who has done that section for years and knows the territory very well, including some hidden spots that are not obvious on the maps. Warmer temperatures meant that all water was open so the waterfowl were more spread out. It also kept birds further north than usual, so it was a good year to find half-hardy species and a bad year to find strays from further north.

Destroyed boardwalk in Spring Lake
We started out by doing a tour of the ponds in our area to count waterfowl and any other birds that might be around. When Patrick and I arrived, Glen had already found a Brown Pelican, a very rare bird for this count circle. Wreck Pond held a Great Egret, an unusual bird for the Long Branch CBC, along with Hooded Mergansers, Red-breasted Mergansers, and Black Ducks. Stops at other ponds turned up Gadwall, Brant, American Coots, Ruddy Ducks, and Ring-necked Ducks. It was not until late in the morning that we finally found our first American Wigeons and Green-winged Teal. Black-crowned Night-Herons were in their usual spot on Silver Lake. Once we had accounted for the waterfowl, we turned to land birding. Our most productive spot was along the southern shore of Wreck Pond, where Patrick and I saw two Gray Catbirds, a Yellow-breasted Chat, and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher in quick succession. The Yellow-breasted Chat was a special find for me since it was my first ever in the state and the first I had seen since about 2007. Subsequent stops for land birds were not quite as productive, though we did add quite many species, including a House Wren along the creek behind a sewage treatment plant.  
Sunset over the outflow from Wreck Pond
In the end, we tallied 70 species for our section, which ties Glen's previous record for that part of the count circle. The Long Branch CBC as a whole tallied at least 116 bird species on count day, along with a few other count week species.