Thursday, December 31, 2020

Birding highlights in 2020

Goodbye to 2020

It has been a while since I posted about my own birding on this blog as it has turned into more of a birding and environmental news blog. However, I've been meaning to revive that aspect of my blog, which is how it got started. Patch birding does not really provide enough material for daily posts since I tend to see the same birds over and over. So instead I'll borrow an idea from the brewster's linnet blog and post periodic updates.

The COVID-19 pandemic has defined the year 2020. I have been fortunate not to lose anyone close to me, either family or acquaintances despite some scares. From a birding standpoint, it limited me to patch and local birding since longer trips would entail more risk of exposure. The pandemic also cancelled or altered events that I normally attend, like the birding days in East Brunswick.

Harris's Sparrow in Piscataway

My only life bird this year was a Harris's Sparrow at a friend's house in Piscataway. Harris's Sparrow had long been on my "most wanted" list so it was exciting to see one finally. That sighting left Golden-crowned as the only Zonotrichia sparrow that I have not seen (at least among ones that occur regularly in the ABA Area). I also saw four other new birds for Middlesex County: Mourning Warbler on my patch in May, Baird's and Pectoral Sandpiper in Cranbury Township in August, and Red Crossbill in Old Bridge at the end of November. All four were birds that I have rarely seen, in any location. A pair of Pileated Woodpeckers on the Raritan Estuary CBC were new for my patch (and the only ones for that CBC this year). A Nelson's Sparrow in September was another surprising patch bird.

Turkey Vultures at Davidson's Mill Pond during the World Series of Birding

The World Series of Birding was conducted under a new set of rules this year because of the pandemic. In the past, all team members were required to travel in one vehicle; this year team members could not travel together or even meet up. Normally the playing field is limited to New Jersey, but this year teams could participate in other states. My team, the Middlesex Merlins, had our best-ever result, with 148 species spread over two Middlesex Counties (one in New Jersey and the other in Massachusetts). This year's rules were branded as a "special edition," but I suspect the 2021 WSB may need to be conducted under the same rules. The pandemic shows few signs of letting up and vaccines will probably not be widely available soon enough to inoculate all participants.

Purple Finches in Highland Park

The most exciting birding event this year has been the massive flight of winter finches and other irruptive birds this fall. The first hint that it might be a good flight year came when I found a Red-breasted Nuthatch on my patch in August, which I think is the earliest I've had one in fall migration. Later in the fall I saw and heard 11 at the Phillips Preserve in Old Bridge, which I think is the most I've ever encountered in one location. Pine Siskins and Purple Finches came through in large numbers in October and November, and I even saw a pair of Evening Grosbeaks on my patch. The Red Crossbills mentioned above were the first I had seen in a decade. Most of the finches seem to have moved on, but I hope that at least a few will stay through the winter or pass through again in the spring.

Pine Siskin in Highland Park

Life birds that I hope to see in the new year: Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Hudsonian Godwit, Northern Goshawk, Bohemian Waxwing, LeConte's Sparrow. County birds I hope to see: the above plus Black Tern, Dickcissel, Connecticut Warbler, Short-eared Owl, Yellow-throated Warbler, White-winged Crossbill. I have not had a nemesis bird for a while, but Hudsonian Godwit is a candidate, and there are also some candidates at the local level: White-winged Scoter, Brown Pelican, and Snowy Owl.

Most of all, though, I hope that things are back to normal by this time next year.