Migration is awesome. New Jersey is awesome. So what better way to put them together? Do the World Series of Birding, of course. If you read my previous post you’ll know I wasn’t on an official WSB team, and our results were not as competitive as others, unfortunately (120). There are a couple of reasons we didn’t score that high. First, we didn’t scout. Second, we didn’t have a strictly timed schedule, and third, we actually watched the birds instead of just treating each as a check. Despite this, we had a lot of fun, saw some great birds, and also enjoyed some beautiful and varied scenery. Our team was small, made up of Steve Quinn, his wife Linda, my dad, and I. Steve is an amazing birder, who besides being good at sight identification, is seriously skilled at birding by ear. It was a really fun (but insanely exhausting) day. I’ll do a play by play.
After a wonderful dinner at Steve’s house in Ridgefield Park, NJ, we got 3 hours of sleep (which is actually pretty good), and then we were off in the dead of night to Kearny Marsh, where we hoped to hear singing marsh birds. Unfortunately, we got a bit lost, but with our helpful GPS we soon found the spot. During our drive we did get our first birds, though – a very early rising American Robin and Canada Goose. While we were driving, an owl flew in front of the car headlights, and was never identified, though we are all pretty sure it was a Barn Owl. We couldn’t count it, though. We soon reached Kearny Marsh and began listening. There was a constant chattering from the grass which Steve identified as a roosting flock of Tree Swallows in the marsh grass. We also heard the beautiful bubbling of multiple Marsh Wrens. (We would see some later in the trip at Brig.) Soon we heard another call, a sharp Chack Chack that revealed a Common Moorhen, our first notable bird of the day.
But dawn was fast approaching, and we had decided to go to Stokes State Forest for the pre-dawn and dawn chorus. Stokes was an hour and a half drive away from Kearny, so we had to hurry. We got there just before dawn, and as the sun rose we experienced a huge movement of birds through the beautiful woods and mountains. Birds were everywhere, and the trees full of their song. We quickly got Scarlet Tanager, Ovenbird, Veery, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Red-eyed Vireo, Blackburnian warbler, Yellow-throated vireo, and Worm-eating Warbler in the first half-hour, along with lots of other more common birds and Warblers. Suddenly Steve detected a strange call that we all heard, and he identified it as a Cerulean Warbler, a nice find. Luckily, we would see some more Ceruleans later on in Stokes. Such a pretty little Warbler.
We drove up into the mountains, to Sunrise Peak. Along the way we saw Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Chipping Sparrow, and Indigo Bunting. At the peak, while we looked out over the beautiful valley, we got fabulous views of Prairie Warbler.
On our way down the mountain the only new bird was a couple of American Redstarts.
We then moved on to Clinton Road, a good warbler spot. Along the way we saw a couple Black Vultures. When we arrived at Clinton Road we began working the woodland edges and cable cuts, where we saw many of the birds we had seen at Stokes, plus a new bird- Yellow-billed Cuckoo. As we pished along the road we soon got one of our main targets for this spot- my life Hooded Warbler! Around the same area we also saw Magnolia Warbler, and along the reservoir we got birds like Eastern Kingbird and Barn Swallow.
After that, as the morning hours dwindled, the amount of birds hit a huge decline. A stop at Garrett Mountain, which Steve said was usually a hot spot, was basically lifeless except for a Black-throated Blue Warbler, a Common Yellowthroat, a few Warbling Vireos, a lone Wild Turkey, and dozens of other birders (including a fleeting glimpse of Pete Dunne)!
We then went to our only scouted place, a Bald Eagle nest in Steve’s hometown of Ridgefield Park. We saw the eagles and the chicks. In the vicinity we also saw a Peregrine Falcon, another nice raptor, and some Monk Parakeets.
We made a stop at this nice sanctuary on the Palisades called Greenbrook, but it was basically lifeless and we had to start heading south. We realized we had spent way too much time in North Jersey, and we had to cut out many good stops on our itinerary, which definitely had an effect on our numbers. Anyway, we stopped at a small sanctuary called DeCorte Environmental Center in the Hackensack Meadows, which we spent too long at because all the shorebirds were close to the viewing area. Still, we got great looks at many new additions to our list, including Semipalmated Plovers and Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, Lesser Yellowlegs, Forster’s Tern, and Black-bellied Plovers, as well as Osprey and Northern Harrier.
We were running low on time and had to move. Our next stop was the Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge at Brigantine, which being a favorite place of ours, we found difficult to rush through. In the parking lot Purple Martins were everywhere. We drove to the first short boardwalk into the marsh, where there were Eastern Meadowlarks, Clapper Rails, Seaside Sparrows, Short-billed Dowitchers, and I was able to pick out a Bank Swallow among the numerous Rough- Wings. We then drove to the side road that leads to the first observation tower. Over the first pond we got great looks at a fishing Caspian Tern. Just before we reached the tower, another tern flew by. This one was smaller, with a broad, short Black Bill. Gull-billed Tern! This was a life bird for me and a very pretty one at that. We began scanning the marshes and I was amazed. There were Gull-billed Terns everywhere, though they didn’t outnumber the Forster’s. Very cool!
We kept moving. There were birds everywhere, none new for the day but all great looks. The tide was remarkably high, and many birds were moving in close to the dikes. Suddenly dad shouted “Whimbrel!.” We all looked and saw the bird, which was in the marsh grass. Then, to our surprise, a whole flock of Whimbrels flew over! And another! And another! We looked and saw, to our amazement, that they were joining a huge flock of other Whimbrels that stretched across one of Brig’s inner pools. I’d estimate there were 400-500 of them, more than I had seen in my life in one spot! Pretty incredible.
Also in the pool were a whole bunch of Black Skimmers.
As we kept driving, we saw many of the same birds before, but picked up Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows (a couple gave nice views) and a lingering Scaup we thought was a Lesser. Farther along we met two birders with scopes and cameras who were waiting for an earlier-reported Bar-tailed Godwit. No, we didn’t see the Godwit. We got into a lengthy conversation with the guys about the Scaup we had just seen, and the guy showed us why it was a Greater Scaup, not a Lesser. It was a very good educational talk about Scaup identification, because after all this guy was Kevin Karlson! Steve knew him, but hadn’t seen him in years. So, that was pretty cool. (for those of you who don’t know, Kevin Karlson is an amazing, well-known birder, expert on the finer points of identification and co-author of The Shorebird Guide.)
So, now we were running really late. It was going to start getting dark soon and we needed to get to Cape May, fast. We left Brig in a hurry, picking up Glossy Ibis and Ruddy Duck on our way out, and sped down to Cape May. Along the road, a flock of Cattle Egrets flew over, a lucky find because we had so far missed our hoped-for Little Blue and Tri-colored Heron. But alas, when we reached Cape May the sun was almost down and a run around the meadows did not really do us any good. After dark the wind picked up and any birds that were around fell quiet. We did see a cool amphibian, a Fowler’s Toad, though.
We had one last hope for night birds- Jake’s Landing. As we drove we listened for nightjars and owls, but the high winds were keeping everything dead silent. Many birders were gathered at Jake’s Landing, a well-known place for the hard-to-find Black Rail, but no one was having any luck. The winds were killer. So much for Black Rail!
So, the day was at an end. We returned to Cape May around 11:00 and it took us a while to find a restaurant that was still serving food, but we finally did and ate while we were practically sleepwalking. It had been a jam-packed, awesome day. We had some pretty glaring misses, such as Belted Kingfisher and Hermit Thrush, but overall, even though our numbers come nowhere close to those of the seriously competing teams, we did manage to raise some money, which we will be donating to the research center at Great Gull Island. Now that I know what the WSB is like, I’m already looking forward to next year! Thanks so much to Steve and Linda Quinn for everything you guys did! And even better than all that- the weekend wasn’t over yet. Sunday was the day we were going for the Horseshoe Crab spawning and bird feeding spectacle on the Delaware Bayshore! I’ll be writing a follow up post in the coming days. Stay tuned!