Big Year 2013 – March

March was a good month in my Big Year quests. I got out a lot more than in February (5 trips despite a ridiculous work schedule) and it amounted to 6 new lifers and 9 new state birds, including a mega-rarity — Tufted Duck. The tally so far:

March Tally

Year Stats
115 Month 73
Lifers 6
NJ Species 73
State List 9

My trips have been mostly close by: Wheelabrator with Dave Magpiong on 3/3, Riverton on 3/5, Parvin State Park (again with Dave) on 3/22, and the Featherbed Lane (Pilesgrove) twice – 3/24 and 3/29. My trip totals:

Date Location Species Lifer FOY
Mar 3 Wheelabrator, Westville, NJ 5 1 2
Mar 5 Riverton, NJ 32 1 3
Mar 22 Parvin State Park, NJ 35 1 2
Mar 24 Featherbed Lane, Pilesgrove, NJ 36 3 4
Mar 29 Featherbed Lane, Pilesgrove, NJ 32 0 4

Trip #1 to the Wheelabrator was a trip with Dave Magpiong who was taking me to see the American Woodcocks peenting at the park. It only took a few moments for the woodcocks to appear and do their beautiful little dance in the air. I could hear them calling all around and I thought I saw a female in the grass, but I wasn’t sure. It was close but it was just a little too dark to be sure – and I wouldn’t be able to call it without actually seeing one. And then, as if to answer my distress, two of them flew by including one that was close enough for me to see the details in the plumage, the long bill … and to hear it peent as it went by. Jackpot! It was too dark for pictures but at least I could call it. And as a bonus, we heard Barred Owl in the park for species 100 for the year only 62 days in.

2 mornings later I decided to follow some sightings of Common Goldeneye and White-winged Scoter to the Riverton Yacht Club. I did a pre-work trip early on but found that the Yacht Club was devoid of any birds other than a pair of mallards. But I could see some birds far in the distance so I decided to take a little extra time to see if I could get closer. Even driving up to other points of view, the birds were still at quite a distance, though the hiking to the vantage point netted me a lot of birds of the common variety. I did my best to get long-distance shots of the birds on the water, noting Bufflehead and what I thought were Lesser Scaup. It turns out that they were scaup, but GREATER SCAUP — and the Common Goldeneye! It took me looking at the pictures to ID them because of the distance.

As a bonus, as I was leaving to head to the train station, a weird blackbird caught my eye. A closer look revealed a bird with some reddish coloration and a whitish wash on the body: Rusty Blackbird. So, I may have missed the scoters but still added a new lifer and three new year birds.

Bond

Skipping Out Of Work

I got the alert only a few moments before Dave Magpiong texted me – TUFTED DUCK! being seen only a short distance from us, an ABA Code 3 Rarity. It took some logistical finagling to pull off but we met up and drove down to see this beautiful and rare visitor from Europe. As usual, the other birders were extremely helpful in guiding us toward our target but even with the directions, finding a Tufted Duck at a distance in a large flock of Ring-necked Ducks can be kind of tough. But finally Dave picked him out — the bright white of the flanks stood out against the gray of the Ring-necks caught his eyes and then we saw the tufts. A beautiful duck and something great to see on a Friday afternoon.

Quite the Do! Hair-raising Event

Featherbed Lane

I’d been seeing a lot of sightings coming out of this little patch of farmland 45 minutes south of me, and I finally decided to go see if I could find any of them for myself. After a small detour to the wrong Featherbed Lane in Salem city, I finally made it to the right place. It took a while for me to find any birds I hadn’t seen, but even so it was nice to be out in the wild. Then suddenly, things started to happen — first we got to see a female Yellow-headed Blackbird amid a bounty of red-winged blackbirds, starlings, grackles and brown-headed cowbirds.

The wait at this place is horrid

Shortly after, I was lucky enough to find the highly-sought Crested Caracara. It was in a cow field relatively close to us and I got a good look through the binoculars. But before I could get a picture, a number of other cars pulled up and it got spooked — but I still got it in flight, though at a longer distance than before. Still a new state bird (I’d seen them previously in Texas) and year bird, not to mention a beautiful raptor.

Jersey Caracara

The luck continued from there as I scanned the immense flock of snow geese in a nearby field for the recently spotted Greater White-fronted Goose, a bird that I’d struck out on a few times already this year. I’d scanned the flock in previous passes earlier in the day with no luck finding that or the previously seen Ross’s Goose. But this last time was luckier as it was easily found out front and obvious among the white (and blue) birds. And there was an additional bonus bird (although I didn’t know it until days later) — a hybrid Ross x Snow Goose (dark morph) – a so-called Blue Ross’s Goose. Another lifer, bringing my tally to 3 for the day.

Long Winter Coming

Blizzard

I had such a good time at Featherbed Lane that I took another stab at it 5 days later. The trip wasn’t as productive – no new lifers – but it was still a nice break from the long hours at work. And though there weren’t any lifers, I did get to add 4 new year birds, including two new State birds (Eastern Meadowlark and Horned Lark). It’s been a while since I’d seen a meadowlark but had never seen them truly in the east, so it was nice to get to see them in my home state. Hearing them sing was an added bonus.

Finally an EASTERN Meadowlark

On a lark...

Year Birds – March

(* = life bird, ^ = state bird)
99. American Woodcock*
100. Barred Owl
101. Rusty Blackbird^
102. Greater Scaup
103. Common Goldeneye*
104. Black Vulture
105. Tufted Duck*
106. Greater White-Fronted Goose*
107. Yellow-headed Blackbird (female)*
108. Crested Caracara^
109. Ross x Snow Goose (Hybrid)*
110. Sharp-shinned Hawk
111. Horned Lark
112. Eastern Meadowlark^
113. Tree Swallow
114. Brewer’s Blackbird^
115. Chipping Sparrow

So March was a good month — hoping that April is even better.

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