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

Monday, January 28, 2013

Scaup Uncertainty Yields Canvasback

I went back to Shark River Hills with two goals. The first was to try to find the wigeons again to see if I could get a picture of a female. But I was unable to find them so that goal went unfulfilled.

My second goal was to find the scaups again to see if I could cast more light on the issue of whether they were Greater or Lesser Scaups. The first two people to see my pictures on Saturday (when I mistakenly identified them as Common Goldeneyes) had declared them to be Greater Scaup. But looking at the distribution maps and considering that these birds didn't strike me as being that large had me thinking that these birds were more likely Lesser Scaup. I was happy to see that the Ruddy Ducks were still in the same place and that the scaups were still there. I started taking pictures.

The first shot shows three birds. The two on the left look very similar with the sharp line dividing the gray plumage on their backs from the white on their sides. The plumage of the bird on the right, however, graduates from the gray on its back to the white at the waterline. That bird also appears to be somewhat larger than the other two, although that could be an optical illusion caused by the angle of the bird to the camera.

Here's a closer look at that bird on the right. A problem with these close-up shots is there is no context to provide size information. For that matter, the size ranges I've seen for the two species intersects. A small Greater Scaup could be the same size as a large Lesser Scaup. Notice though that this one's head doesn't look be as purple as the others. Could be that this is an immature bird.

Here's a close-up of one of the birds where the two colors of the side plumage are sharply divided. This picture is the one where the bird looks most like the images of Greater Scaup you'll find around the web. But notice both the shape of this one's head and the lack of a greenish tint in the plumage at the back of the head in comparison to this picture on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Greater-scaup-male2.jpg

Another picture where the side plumage seems to fall between the two extremes seen above. But this picture again shows the notch at the back of the head.

At one point, I was lucky to get this following picture with five of the birds in the same shot. I think this shot proves once and for all that all the scaups I was seeing were of the same kind (although the notch at the back of the head is not visible in any of these birds).

Then I noticed that one of the birds in among the scores of Ruddy Ducks that had first attracted my attention was quite different from all the other birds. Seeing the red head, I jumped to the wrong conclusion that this must be a Redhead. Turns out it's a Canvasback.

This picture shows the relative sizes of the Canvasback and a scaup. The difference here strengthens my feeling that these scaup birds are indeed Lesser Scaup.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sunday Morning Turkey Vulture

Pam had gone off to church and I was preparing to go out to take another look at the ducks at Shark River Hills, when the phone rang. It was Pam telling me that she'd seen some dark-colored raptors in the sky above Deal Test Site. I changed plans and drove over. I parked near the northeast corner because that's where the Turkey Vultures hang out. I reckoned that if Pam's birds had moved on (as seemed likely), I'd at least have a chance to get some good shots of Turkey Vultures.

And indeed, a turkey vulture came flying over, quite low. It flew past me and into the sun but then turned around and came back even lower. It obviously planned to land quite close to where I was standing.

And indeed, it did. I had been sheltering from the cold wind beside a clump of trees so to get the shot of the bird just after it landed, I had to move around the trees a bit. It was only after I took this shot that I realized there were two other birds already on the ground. The one I had followed had joined two of its cohorts.

The third bird seemed upset by my presence and made off across the grass. I photographed it and then moved back behind the clump of trees and around the other side. This brought me closest to the one that had just flown in. It decided to hop up on to a branch of a nearby tree, allowing me to get the last shot.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Hawk, Ducks and More

I went to Shark River Hills looking for ducks. With the recent run of cold weather, a lot of the local lakes and ponds are frozen over, so I hoped to see some interesting birds at Shark River where the water flows both because of the river and the tides. But had I really wanted to see an interesting bird, I should have stayed home because shortly after I set out a Cooper’s Hawk showed up in our front yard. Pam reports that it started out on the ground, trying to get at the sparrows and juncos which had scrambled under the bushes. After a while, it retreated to the tree where Pam was able to get this picture:

I started out as usual at the little park by the bridge at Brighton Ave. While there was a lot of ice and snow covering the mudflats, the river ran strongly through the middle. There were many Canada Geese and some ducks (but no Cackling Geese that I could see). One of the first ducks I saw was this Red-breasted Merganser paddling strongly in the river. This was the first time I ever saw one at this location.

Up-river from the bridge, all was snow and ice so there were no birds there, but huddled under the bridge on the east was a dozen or so Hooded Mergansers. As usual, they were very skittish. Before I could get off a shot, they'd flown off to join the Canada Geese. So I set off along Riverside Drive. My attention was first caught by a couple of Brant Geese walking across the road. But I stopped because I saw two huge gulls. But the problem with photographs of gulls is that without context, they all look the same size. However, there were some interesting looking duck-like birds close to the shore. They turned out to be American Wigeons. Here are four pictures. They all appear to be males. The first two are in the breeding plumage; the third non-breeding, and the fourth is in basic plumage.

I made my way further along Riverside Drive where it turns to the north. In a couple of places, large numbers of Brant Geese had gathered around the run-off from the town's drainage system. I was able to take one shot that has most of them in the picture at one of the run-offs, but many of them flew off. That's when I noticed the Mallard with the geese.

With fewer geese still hanging around, it was now quite clear that their primary interest was in the water running down from the drains. Also interested in that water was the Killdeer in the second picture. It had spent the previous couple of minutes in the water with its back to me. When it finally turned around, it wandered away from the water.

I drove on to an area where there are jetties looking more than a little worse for wear presumably because of Hurricane Sandy. Huddled in a fairly small area sheltering from the bitterly cold wind were well over 100 Ruddy Ducks. Mixed in with them were some Greater Scaups (which, at the time, I mistakenly thought were Common Goldeneyes). In the picture of the scaups, there are two females and a male (on the right).

I was able, on a second visit this afternoon, to get close-up shots of both a male and female Ruddy Duck.

Also this afternoon, I was lucky to get a great shot of a Hooded Merganser. This was taken from a jetty at Belmar. And then, back at Shark River Hills, I was able to get closer to a couple of Buffleheads than usual.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Busy Front Yard

Inauguration Day. Martin Luther Kind Day. And cold. Perhaps it was the coldness that made the feeder, and the rest of the front yard, so popular today. I posted a lot of pictures on Facebook. I took up my vantage point at the front window after seeing both the cardinals and blue jays come by. This is usually a sign that a Red Belly Woodpecker isn't far behind, and indeed, it showed up shortly after I was settled in place with the camera.

The first sign that it was in the area was its call. It's a noisy bird so I always get a warning that it's on its way, but it is also easily spooked by my presence, and so while I was at the window it didn't get any closer to the feeder than the tree. Oddly, after I saw it fly off, I thought I could still hear its call. But it was a Mockingbird in one of the bushes next to the house. I'm not sure what it is about the front yard that appeals to this bird, but we've seen it a few times this month.

The next unusual occurrence happened almost at once. The White-throated Sparrows live under the bushes and normally can be seen scampering back and forth from their safe haven to the foot of the feeder where they are often joined by juncos. This morning, there were plenty to be seen under the feeder and they were indeed joined by some juncos. But I was surprised to see the sparrow in the tree and I don't recall seeing a Junco spread its tail like this shot.

The Downy Woodpeckers were in and out of the feeder with enthusiasm.

Unlike the Blue Jays and Red Bellies, the Cardinals are not so put-off by my presence at the window, but they can be somewhat cautious when I first show up there. Here, the Cardinal was watching proceedings from the far side of the yard. The Red Belly had retreated north to the tree in our neighbor's front yard.


While I was processing those pictures and posting most of them on Facebook, I couldn't help but notice that the Red Belly had visited the feeder three times. So I decided to try again while listening to the inauguration proceedings. Perhaps the sound of the television put off the woodpeckers because they didn't show again. But I did get a number of pleasing pictures.

Chickadee in the tree

This shot came as a surprise when I was processing the images. It looks as though the finch is perched on thin air.

The White-breasted Nuthatches were very active. I was pleased to get this shot of one of them in the tree. They do not keep still very long.

This young-looking House Finch on top of the feeder appeared to be on the look-out for incoming bandits.

When the house sparrows arrive, the perches on the feeder fill very quickly, so some of them wait patiently on the railing of the front steps.

One of the Cardinals came a lot closer. Here, it is at the foot of the feeder among the spilled seeds.

Male House Finch in the tree.

Tufted Titmouse hard at work breaking open a seed it had retrieved from the feeder.

I had not previously noticed the white bib visible in this juvenile House Sparrow, but indeed, Sibley captured it in his drawing of the bird.

Even some Robins dropped by, although they have no interest in the feeder or the spilled seeds from it.

Another female House Finch atop the feeder.

This female Cardinal was less skittish than usual, spending quite some time in the tree close enough for me to get this shot.

Then it flew down to the feeder.

After this shot of a Tufted Titmouse in the tree on the way down to the feeder, I gave up on the idea of getting pictures of a Red Belly at the feeder.