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

Sunday, January 13, 2013

What a Day This Was

It was overcast. I toyed with taking the 300 mm lens rather than the 500 mm, but in the end stayed with the longer lens. On setting out, I had visions of Canada Geese and Cackling Geese and gulls galore at the "island" at the east end of Interlaken. I parked the car and there were some geese on the south side of Grassmere near the railroad tracks, but before I could take a picture of any of them, let alone work out which might be which, they panicked and started running away from me towards the water. I couldn't believe that I'd brought on this behavior and then I saw the cause of the trouble: a couple of women were coming along the sidewalk taking a little three-legged dog for a walk. We had a little chuckle and I gave up on the geese.

But, the island was bare. Not a bird in sight.

Out on the water there was a large number of distant black dots about halfway to the Route 71 bridge. I watched them for a while and realized that they were heading in a vaguely southwesterly direction which would take them near the bank on the Asbury Park side of the lake. I set off across the bridge and my attention was caught by a bird which at first I thought was a cormorant. From a distance, it had the same general look and it was diving under the water for extended periods. Indeed, it was shocking just how far it traveled each time it dived. And, it was getting closer to the bridge. But it stayed above the water for such a short time each time that I didn't succeed in getting a shot, and the bird completely disappeared. I even check the other side of the bridge, but it wasn't over there.

I completed crossing the bridge and walked a short way along the bank when I again saw the bird almost under the bridge. This time, I was able to get some shots including the first one below. Then I noticed that all the other birds were no longer headed in my direction. If anything they looked as though they were closer to the "island." So I set off back across the bridge, and that's when I got the second shot, taken from a steeper angle looking down from the bridge. Pam helped me research the identity of the bird when I got the pictures home. We determined that this was a non-breeding adult Red Throated Loon.

I trudged back to the "island" and watch the progress of the birds. I could now see that most of them were Red-breasted Mergansers. There were maybe as many as forty of them spread out over a wide area of the lake. One was separated from the rest on the north side and it was diving energetically. At first, I thought it might be heading towards me. I was hoping that one at least would come close enough for me to get a really good picture. While the pictures I already had of the birds I'd seen earlier were ok, there was plenty of room for improvement if I could get closer to a bird.

I realized that many of them had resumed their earlier movement towards the southwest. They were getting quite close to the bridge. I hurried on to the bridge again, and then I noticed that some of the birds looked distinctly different from the others. They were not the black and white of the mergansers but a lighter brown color. At first, I thought they might be youngsters, but then I saw that they were completely different birds. There were just four of them, and while the mergansers again seemed spooked by my being on the bridge, these four came right towards me.

They looked hauntingly familiar but didn't appear to be in any of our guide books. Here are a couple of the pictures I took:

It took help on the Internet (thank you Laura) to realize that these were Egyptian Geese. They're not native to North America and probably escaped from a local zoo during Hurricane Sandy. Pam and I had visited Popcorn Park Zoo in Ocean County last summer, and it is likely there that we had previously seen these birds, which is why they seemed to familiar. Pam will call the zoo on Monday.

While I was taking these pictures, some of the Red-breasted Mergansers had drifted close to the Asbury Park bank of the lake, so I headed over there to get these two pictures.

After lunch, I headed out again. I started with a fruitless visit to Oceanport's Wharf Park where the most interesting bird was a lone Mallard that was too far away to photograph. From there, I set off for Franklin Lake in West Long Branch. This lake was drained and overhauled a couple of years back and I'd not seen much in the way of waterbirds there since, so I approached the lake with low expectations. Boy was I wrong!

Immediately on alighting from the car, I saw three Northern Shovelers swimming right past me. They were heading southwest away from the bank. I had to hurry to get these shots of one male and the female:

I walked up the east bank, eyes peeled. There were lots of birds out there on the water, including a colony of gulls that I chose to ignore -- they were too far away to photograph anyway.

But out there at the southern end of the lake were ducks. One of which stood out because it was mainly white. I took its picture from a distance, but hoped it would stay where it was so I could get a better shot when I had walked around the end of the lake. But alas that was not to be. On examining the picture, I realized that this was a "lifer" for me, a Common Goldeneye. There was also a family of Hooded Mergansers paddling hard heading across the lake. I grabbed a shot of them, but I've taken enough pictures of these birds lately that I wasn't too bothered that they were quite some distance away.

In the extreme southeast of the lake another pair of ducks was enjoying the surface plant life. These were also "lifers" for me. Gadwalls. A male and female. I took quite a few pictures because they were dipping their beaks into the water so frequently, I feared I might not have a shot that showed the beak. I needn't have worried: the first couple of shots of each were perfect. Here's one of each:

As I made my way around the southern end of the lake, I had my eye on the Common Goldeneye. I was getting closer to it, but the brush along the southern side makes it hard to take pictures. I had to wait until I'd turned the corner on to the western side, and just as I did that, the bird disappeared -- I didn't even see it leave. But the western side had a couple of surprises install for me (three, if you include my encounter with Gail, my dental hygienist).  On a branch that extended low over the water was yet another Great Blue Heron. This one also looked rather old and worn, and it didn't seem to be bothered at all by my approach. Then I noticed a second one, a younger looking bird that was more skittish on another branch.

But then I again heard the sound of a Belted Kingfisher. I'd heard it earlier across the lake and dismissed it as wishful thinking. But there it was again, quite close to where I was standing. And then I saw the bird. I was trying to get a picture when my Gail and her husband came walking by and it again flew from one tree to another. I was able to point the bird out to them as it flew across the water. As I chased the kingfisher, I noticed that the younger-looking heron was now up a tree about 20 feet above the water (where the kingfisher had been a few moments earlier). I grabbed a shot and then returned my attention to the kingfisher. I had one more chance to get its picture, but it was behind many thick branches. I wrestled the lens and camera into manual focus mode and did the best I could, but the picture is nothing to be proud of: it merely records the fact that there was a kingfisher there.

Also on the western side of the lake was a large flock Mallards. I took a couple of pictures to document their participation in the afternoon's events.

Given the prevailing conditions, it was amazing that I had any chance to get a picture of a small bird, but as I passed the extreme end of the northwestern branch of the lake, there in a small bush were a couple of House Sparrows looking down at me. This is the first picture of the year of this bird. I'd seen a couple at the feeder earlier without getting a picture. And then I noticed a peculiarity. Among one of the small groups of Mallards patrolling the lake was a female Hooded Merganser. It eventually came close enough for me to get quite a good picture, in spite of the gloom.

Also among the Mallards were a couple of very small birds which for a moment I thought might be baby ducks, except it's not the time of year for baby ducks. Later, with help from Internet sources, I recognized them as Pie Billed Grebes. The second picture was the last I took during my visit. The bird was almost exactly where the Northern Shovelers had been when I first arrived.

As I was completing my way along the north side of the lake, I couldn't help but notice a young girl who was noisily flapping her arms at some geese on the bank. They took refuge in the water. From the distance I'd first seen them, they'd looked too small to be Canada Geese and indeed they weren't, they were Brant Geese. There were four of them. Here's a picture of one, along with a picture of one of two American Coots who were hanging out in the same area.

As the title of this post says: what a day this was!


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