Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Western Meadowlark

On this day in 1940, John T. S. Hunn and Miriam Minton were birding south of South Plainfield in Middlesex County. The original goal of their day was to find Upland Sandpipers, but Hunn heard a song he recognized from trips out west as belonging to a Western Meadowlark. Although Hunn returned to the location several times during May 1940, the bird was never refound.

It was a good thing that Hunn knew the Western Meadowlark's song, since Eastern and Western meadowlarks look very similar and the best method of distinguishing them is by song. There have been seven accepted records since, all from the spring to summer season. In contrast to many NJ rarities, all Western Meadowlarks so far have been away from the expected coastal rarity magnets such as Cape May or Sandy Hook.

Hunn, John T. S. 1941. Western Meadowlark in New Jersey. Auk 58:265. PDF here

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


On this day in 1749, Pehr Kalm set down some notes about the Whip-poor-will. The impetus for his journal entry was the arrival of the species on this day of that year. Kalm's teacher, Carl Linne (Linnaeus) considered the Whip-poor-will a variety of the European Nightjar, but Kalm noted that the species' voice was different from the European bird. He compared it to the Common Cuckoo of Europe for its habit of remaining unseen by day but calling at night. He also wrote, "It commonly comes several times in a night, and settles close to the houses; I have seen it coming late in the evening, settling on the steps of the house in order to sing its song" (Kalm 1987). Kalm also relates the story of a Whip-poor-will that played dead when his servant attempted to shoot it.

The photo that illustrates this post shows what would have been a brand new house in 1749; the Whitall House in National Park, Gloucester County, which was built in 1748. A fine example of the brick houses of that era, its fame was sealed when it found itself a front-row spectator of the Battle of Red Bank in 1777.

Kalm, Peter. 1987. Peter Kalm's Travels in America. Dover, New York, NY.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Mothy Monday 4: The Dark Side

There was a time when birders were seen as having no interest in other aspects of the natural world apart from birds. I'm sure there have always been well-rounded naturalists, and birders who were interested in learning about other types of fauna and flora, but the stereotype was something I became aware of as I "grew up" as a birder (and yes, was primarily interested in birds).

Time passed, though, and as it did, I got more interested in insects. Butterflies were the initial flirtation, then came dragonflies and damselflies. But moths were the group that really sucked me in.

Lo and behold, as I started looking for identification information on these insect groups, I came across names that I knew (even if I didn't know the people in question) as birders. But here they were, often putting up complicated and useful resources on the web, not for bird ID, but for bug ID. I think this is why one birder I know refers to birders getting interested in insects as "going over to the Dark Side."

Well, if I had any doubt that I had gone over to the Dark Side myself (honestly, I've suspected it for a while; if I'm digiscoping Elderberry Borers, that obviously means it's high time for an intervention)
Elderberry Borer
the moth that illustrates this post sounded the final death knell.

For sixteen years (ouch), a friend of mine and I have been doing something we call the March Ramble. We wander around Cape May County in late March and try to find as many species of waterfowl as possible (twenty is the goal). We also like to build a good day list of other birds. It's a very relaxed Big Day; some years (such as this one) the Ramble slides into early April. The day totals are usually around 70-80 species, and the cumulative total is over 100.

This year, when we arrived at Bunker Pond, we walked up onto the hawkwatch platform and set up the scopes to look out on the pond. As we did, I saw a tiny fluttery thing flush and fly off. I knew it had to be a moth. I watched its flight; luckily, it landed on another part of the platform.

Then, with my scope ready to scan Bunker Pond for various species of waterfowl and other birds, I walked away from it and took this picture of a tiny but nicely-patterned moth that turned out to be a Red-banded Leafroller Moth (Argyrotaenia velutinana). I made sure I had a good photo of the moth (for ID purposes) before walking back to my scope and getting back to birding. Yes, I have truly gone over to the Dark Side.

Friday, April 17, 2009

White-faced Ibis

On this day in 1977, J. Galli and J. Penkala found a White-faced Ibis at Brig (aka Forsythe NWR). The bird was refound on 21 April at Tuckerton. This record was so unprecedented that it merited an S.A. in the relevant issue of American Birds. From that issue: "This is a first regional record, and the fourth for the east" (Paxton et al. 1977).

Since then, White-faced Ibises have become almost routine in the state. World Series of Birding teams try to pin them down in the spring, and the typical intermittent reports of them at locations like Brig over the summer challenge birders while at the same time encouraging them to ignore the ibises as routine birds.

Paxton, Robert O., Paul A. Buckley, & David A. Cutler. 1977. The Spring Migration, Hudson-Delaware Region. American Birds 31:979-984.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Moth and Me #2

I know it's not Monday, but the latest installment of a new blog carnival called The Moth and Me is now up. I had intended to submit something for it, but never got around to it because I was distracted by homework and such. No fear; Seabrooke Leckie at North American Moths Backyard Inventory (NAMBI) was kind enough to pick up a couple of my Mothy Monday posts. So, here's The Moth and Me #2.

Seabrooke is working on the range maps for a new Peterson guide to Northeastern moths (due 2012, so don't be camping out at your local bookstore just yet) and the blog is part of a drive to get more data for the maps. There's also a NAMBI Flickr pool. The blog features lots of attractive moth photos and tips on identification and mothing technique, so it's well worth reading.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Tuckerton Bird Names

Dowitcher Decoy
Originally uploaded by ammodramus88
Continuing in a series of old bird names from various Jersey locations drawn from Gurdon Trumbull's Names and Portraits of Birds..., this list is of Tuckerton bird names. The decoy that illustrates this post probably would've been considered a brown-back.

Bay-coot - Surf Scoter
Big Yellow-legged Plover - Greater Yellowlegs
Black-breast - Dunlin
Black-breast Plover - Black-bellied Plover
Blaten Duck - Gadwall
Brant-snipe - Dunlin
Broad-bill - Greater Scaup
Brown-back - Short-billed Dowitcher
Bull-head - Black-bellied Plover
Cock-robin - Hooded Merganser
Cock-robin Duck - Hooded Merganser
Creek Broad-bill - Lesser Scaup
Crow-duck - American Coot
Cub-head - Common Goldeneye
Fat-bird - Pectoral Sandpiper
Field Plover - Upland Sandpiper
Fresh-water Sheldrake - Common Merganser
Gannet - Ruddy Turnstone
Long-billed Curlew - Long-billed Curlew
Marlin - Marbled Godwit
Mud-hen - Clapper Rail
Quill-tail Coot - Ruddy Duck
Robin-snipe - Red Knot
Salt-water Sheldrake - Red-breasted Merganser
Short-billed Curlew - Whimbrel
Shovel-bill - Northern Shoveller
Sleepy Broad-bill - Ruddy Duck
Small Yellow-legged Plover - Lesser Yellowlegs
Smees - Northern Pintail
Smethe - Northern Pintail
Sprig-tail - Northern Pintail
Telltale - Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs
Winter Snipe - Dunlin

Friday, April 03, 2009

A Little Link Love

No, really, I'm still here. But I have to say that being a grad student while holding down a job and serving on a BRC can definitely have its time management challenges (not that you need to get out the violins or anything). However, I noticed a couple of interesting posts this week and suspect they might be of interest to anyone reading this blog (assuming anyone is patient or forgiving enough to still be out there!).

1. For anyone curious about the daring, high-stakes, glamorous life of a New Jersey Birds regional editor, wait no longer. Patrick Belardo has written a great exposé on The Hawk Owl's Nest. Since Patrick is now Region 2 Editor, he is the lucky soul who will be receiving my local sightings. I guess I'd better get to work on learning my way around the eBird interface...

2. Just recently there was a discussion on the BRC listserv regarding photographic documentation and how it is swamping other sorts of documentation. I'm working on a blog series on this topic, but in the meantime, a software package was announced earlier this week that should gladden the heart of the most Old School BRC member (unless that BRC member is so Old School as to still demand a specimen).

and, as a Rutgers grad student...

3. I've got to give a shout-out to David La Puma and the Scarlet Knight Herons, who are doing the World Series of Birding this year to benefit the Rutgers University Graduate Student Association. Of course they have a blog.