Wanamassa Birds

I frequently stroll the streets of Wanamassa, NJ, with camera at the ready to take pictures of birds.

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Location: Ocean, New Jersey, United States

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Remarkable Manasquan Reservoir Visit

A traffic jam where Route 18 feeds into 138/195 meant that it was five fifteen before I was able to park at the environmental center at Manasquan Reservoir. The building itself was closed but the park and walkways were still open. I walked the relatively new path that takes you to the osprey nest. And an adult was there easily visible.

It seemed to hear the clicking of the camera because it turned its head towards me.

This image gives a good impression of how the nest looks with the naked eye.

I moved on and got this shot from a different angle. Now I could see that there were youngsters in the nest.

So I went back to my original vantage point and the adult bird put on a show for me.

Later, the three birds were all visible so I took this parting shot. The youngster in the middle is calling, perhaps trying to attract the attention of the other adult, although I never saw it.

While all this was happening, I was distracted by this bird. I thought it was a swallow taking a rest because I was sure that I had watched it fly across the water and then on to this branch which was only a few feet from where I was standing. But looking at the pictures afterwards, I don't recognize the bird. Identification is not helped by the fact that in one picture the bird has its head tilted a long way in one direction while in the other it is tilted the other way. Does anyone recognize this bird? [Edit: it's an Eastern Kingbird. I've seen a couple of them before at the end of our street. This is just my third sighting.]

Then, I missed a great picture of a downy woodpecker. As I pursued the downy, I realized there were some cedar waxwings in the area. I'd known they were there for weeks, but this was the first time I've been able to get even halfway decent pictures of them. While not the greatest picture, this was the first I managed after what seems like weeks of trying:

This is the same bird a few moments later.

I couldn't really tell how many cedar waxwings there were. They were moving around so quickly. It could be there were just two, but I couldn't tell.

I think this was the first time I've seen cedar waxwings feeding. Previously, they've just been sitting around. I was surprised how hard I was having to work to get pictures.

And here's another view of what might well be the same bird.

At one point, as I was hurrying along the path trying to keep up with the cedar waxwings, I suddenly saw another bird on the path ahead of me.

A brown thrasher! I'd previously only seen a couple of these birds and both of them in our backyard.

Of course, it ran away from me, but at least it didn't fly away.

However, I was destined to not get a good front view. This picture of its left side was the best I could get.

And then I ran into another bird I didn't recognize. In this case, it could be that I simply didn't see enough of the bird. It was in a small tree above me enjoying the fruit.

Can anyone help identify this bird and the earlier one I mistook for a swallow? [This is probably a catbird. The other an Eastern Kingbird.]

Two Egrets at Shark River Hills

The weather was gorgeous so I decided to pop down to Shark River Hills to check out the action there before going on to Manasquan Reservoir over in Howell. As I approached the parking area I spotted a smallish egret in the water. It was lowish tide, so there wasn't a lot of water. Here's my first shot of the bird:

My immediate impression was that this was a young bird. It just seemed to frisky to be an adult. It kept lunging at the water and generally speaking progressed west to east heading into the incoming tide.

After it reached a certain point, it would take to the air and fly back up-river to about where it had started.

And then it would head east again.

Having been distracted by some ospreys that were circling, I made my way up on to the bridge and looking down river I was surprised to see what I took to be an adult egret had joined the action. Later reflection suggests that the smaller bird is in fact a snowy egret while the other is a great egret. This rather spoils the narrative I put up on Facebook.

When I got back to the river bank, the snowy egret put on a show. It spotted something in the water.

Leaned in for a closer look.


And got it!

After that, it did a celebratory dance (or so it seemed to me).

It did a short hop towards the ocean.

Then it went on another circle flight; I caught this image of it coming into alight in the water.

Here, it appears to be attempting to walk on the surface of the water.

But it quickly came a cropper!

Then it made its way over to the other egret where the two of them stood around in companionable comfort. This strengthened my opinion that they must be family, but having studied Sibley's, I think I was mistaken.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

More on Killdeers

It was my experience with killdeers at Oceanport over the weekend that convinced me I needed more zoom. The 420mm (630mm in 35mm terms) that I was getting with the combination of my 300mm zoom lens and the 1.4x teleconverter just wasn't getting me close enough to the birds to get a good enough picture. So, I lashed out on a 2x teleconverter to see if 600mm would be enough. Well, it took me about ten minutes to realize that the results were so good that I should try both teleconverters together, giving me 840mm (1260mm n 35mm terms).

I started out using a tripod because it just seemed the right thing to do with such a long lens. In this configuration, I have to use manual focusing, and that's quite challenging for me because so far just about every picture I've taken with this camera (a Pentax K-x) has relied on auto focus. At least in this digital day and age it doesn't cost anything to waste an image, and indeed my hit rate wasn't great. But I did get a few reasonably well-focused pictures like this:

This next shot is not so well-focused, but this is a juvenile killdeer and it is indeed a rather fuzzy little bird. Just like its parents, it was taking great delight in running very fast through the grass.

I became frustrated by the limitations of the tripod, particularly given the mobility of my targets, so I decided to try out hand holding the camera. Around this time, the killdeers disappeared. I finally found them on the little stretch of beach. This shot is a little bit soft. I just missed the optimum focus point.

But this one is much better. The bird had squatted down into the beach as though digging a nest. It stayed there for quite a while with its back to me. But then it leapt to its feet and hared off up the beach. Fortunately, I was able to take this shot before it was gone.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Two Hawks on Church Spire

I had a painful visit to the dentist this afternoon having a crown fitted to my upper back tooth. But I digress. On the way back home, I passed the First United Methodist Church at Oakhurst, NJ, and there on the spire were both red-tailed hawks. We frequently see one of them up there, but it's rare to see both. But I didn't have my camera with me. I rushed home, grabbed the camera and went back to the church.

In the twenty minutes this took, the hawks had taken flight. I decided to park anyway and take a look around for them. And there they both were, maybe half a mile south of the church, making lazy circles in the sky. One of them peeled off and headed back to the church. I blew the opportunity to get good pictures of its final approach because I pointed the camera at the wrong part of the church spire. This first shot was taken moments after it alighted on the cross. Happily, it chose to point towards the sun which was getting low in the sky.

Almost immediately, it looked to the south and called to its mate.

It didn't take long for the other bird to respond. This time, I caught its approach.

It was almost as though the first bird was surprised by its mate's arrival. Or perhaps the cross rocked a little under the weight of the second bird. This was definitely a, "Hey, don't rock the boat!" moment.

So here they are, side-by-side. The question is, which is which. How do you tell the gender of a red-tailed hawk?

Here's the last picture I took. Both birds flew off towards the west. I was looking down at my camera each time!

Can anyone help with the genders?

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Killdeer at Oceanport

The only killdeer I'd ever seen was at Old Wharf Park in Oceanport, NJ. So this morning I went back there again after five years to see if lightning might strike twice. At first, I was disappointed, but I hung in there and suddenly a couple of them showed up.

Unlike last time, when the one bird I saw essentially stayed in the same spot on the beach, these two were all over the place. They'd fly a small loop, alight on the grass and then set off at high speed, usually, but not always, towards the water. This was the only shot where the two of them were in the same frame.

Oh what a great shot this might have been had the bird only cooperated and glanced in my general direction. This was the closest I was able to get to either of the birds.

This picture gives a good impression of how fast it was running. Look at the length of that stride.

And here, it performed its idiosyncratic broken-wing trick to lead predators away from its young, although I don't think there were any young in the vicinity.

Here's another broken wing display. This photo is a tad sharper, but neither of the broken wing shots came out very well.

They say the bird is named for its call, but the only sound I heard them make was a high pitched almost continuous keening noise.