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Updated Friday, January 2, 2009
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Sandra Keller's Gloucester County Big Year (2008)

Final Tally 216

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"Final Tally - 216.
December - Well, one new year bird - the RED-NECKED GREBE on the Delaware River at National Park on 12-1. I was surprised I must admit at not seeing anything else new. I went chasing sparrows and waterfowl mainly as I was missing some of each. I wasn't able to search for Long-eared Owls as hunting season was in full swing and all my Sundays were comitted to other birding ventures. And a couple of birding day possibilities were weathered out.
My goals of exploring new areas, of learning the distribution of certain species that I don't chase much in the county, of seeing what number I could attain with only one day a week of birding in the county were all met. And yes, I didn't spend all my time birding here in Gloucester County. Just one day a week, with two half days during the peak of both the spring and fall migration periods.
I found a few new areas to bird. The Winslow WMA is an existing area but I have never birded it before. YELLOW-THROATED WARBLERS probably breed here. COMMON NIGHTHAWK on 6-3 were either breeders or late migrants. I will be hitting this area in 2009 to explore some more.
The new Gloucester County Park - Dream Park - is open to birders after you check in at the maintenance buidling. The fenced horse areas were good for HORNED LARK and shorebirds. The weedy field to the north was good for sparrows, but this area might be developed in the future. Again, I will be exploring here much more in 2009. Wheelabrator Refuge is a great migrant trap depending on species. It's right on the Delaware River. Floodgates is another area right on the river, but hard to explore for passerines. It did seem to be the spot for Terns with a LEAST TERN here 7-29 and 32 CASPIAN TERNS here on 9-15. The National Park dredge spoils and Glassboro Woods were probably my 2 other main areas. The farm areas are not as extensive as Salem County and probably why I didn't have any SNOW GEESE until many started migrating and I spotted then flying over the county! My first was not until 10-30. Then every other time out, I spotted big flocks in flight. That species was going to be my biggest miss!
WARBLERS - missed Connecticut, Cerulean, and Wilson's. All would have had to have been seen on migration.
SPARROWS - I couldn't find anything out of the ordinary like Lark or Seaside.
The National Park dredge spoils were probably my main sparrow area.
GULLS - no white-winged gulls which did surprise me.I didn't have too many sightings of LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL either which also surprised me.
That species has been expanding in the state. 45 BONAPARTE'S GULLS at Floodgates on 3-31 was a surprise. I did what could scanning for Little, but no luck. That area is probably the best possibility though. Morning at low tide is best for here.
WATERFOWL - lower species count than I expected. I was chasing Long-tailed Duck and White-winged Scoter a few times after emails and phone calls, but no success. So they were around at least. I have seen Eurasian Wigeon a few times in the past at Wiggins Pond. Not this year. No Cackling or Ross' Goose. I have had Ross' before in the county.
RAPTORS - what I expected once I started scanning and waiting in open areas like the National Park dredge spoils. No Goshawk, Golden Eagle, or Rough-legged Hawk though. 11 AMERICAN KESTRELS at the Dream Park on 9-25 was a great surprise. They were hunting over that north weedy field.
SHOREBIRDS - were disappointing. Areas that were great in the spring - like the Pedricktown and Raccoon Creek Marshes - were covered in vegetation and not suitable for shorebirds come the fall when I expected to get most of my species. A possible good fall spot is that Dream Park. I should have checked more after storms and such.
A flyover WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER at the Pedricktown Marsh area on 7-31 was nice. I did have DOWITCHERS in flight, but never could figure out what species they could have been. Either is a possibility in the area. I never counted.
OWLS - no Long-eared or Short-eared. Not for lack of trying! I hit spots where I had Long-eared in the past. No luck. Hit some new areas. Ditto. I hit areas at dusk where I had NORTHERN HARRIER during the day. No luck with Short-eared Owl. A SCREECH-OWL
11-28 at Scotland Run was unexpected. I didn't have much of a chance to stay out late and try for this species in other areas. Got lucky there at Scotland Run!
Big misses - of course! Here's some that I haven't already listed
above:
Ring-necked Pheasant, Little Blue Heron, Sora, Black-bellied Plover, Ruff, Iceland Gull, Rufous Hummingbird, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo, Cave Swallow, Sedge Wren, and Dickcissel. Some of these are rarities, but I really thought I had a good chance to see in the county based on distribution elsewhere in the tri-state area.
Rarest finds - always a tough choice - especially so since I don't know what to expect in the county for certain species: SNOWY EGRET, SNOW BUNTING, YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD, and WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER.
My number is easily beat by anyone willing to spend more time in the county. I think.
With all those big misses that I know are probably around, the totals could probably be 225 at least. 230 is probably possible depending on observer effort and the numbers of vagrants around.
I am happy to answer any questions - just email me at the address below."


Sandra Keller
Barrington, NJ
sandrakeller@verizon.net


Message from Sandra on 11/1

"Fall is going well on my big year quest. I am hitting areas along the Delaware River mainly. This area is a good fall migration corridor and there are many places to bird. The National Park dredge spoils have been good for sparrows with Lincoln's on 9-18 and Vesper on 10-26. This is probably my best area for trying to track down a Clay-colored as there is usually a good-sized Chipping Sparrow flock around. I will keep searching but species like Lark, Seaside, and Sharp-tailed Sparrow are probably unrealistic. I picked up Tennessee Warbler at Floodgates. Warblers were more or less everywhere that I checked along the Delaware. Wilson's and Connecticut proved elusive and I missed for the year. I have yet to track down an Orange-crowned for the year. Thrushes were absent for much of the fall. Or I just missed them. Good thing I got most in the spring! I ticked off Merlin and Broad-winged Hawk this fall. Raptors were fairly well represented in the county depending on the weather. Winds with a northerly component was the ideal for seeing them. I will keep a sharp eye out for Golden Eagle, but again, I don't really expect to see that species in the county! I have some waterfowl species to still get if possible - all three scoters, Long-tailed Duck, Red-necked Grebe, and Eurasian Wigeon. A tough list! I have some other species to get if possible, Screech-Owl, Long-eared Owl, Sedge Wren, etc. One of my surprises this fall was a 2 day period where I had Snow Goose flying overhead each day! That sore thumb of a miss is no longer. I am currently at 210 and expect maybe 5 more species before year's end."


 

Message from Sandra on 8/22

My summer birding search for herons, egrets, shorebirds, and terns was productive. I had some new species, found a new area to explore, but am still missing many shorebird species. These are going to be troublesome!
Summer is the time for post breeding dispersal for terns and herons. And I did find some starting the latter half of July.
SNOWY EGRET - 7-27 down at the Pedricktown Marsh area. I have had a couple sightings since, but have concluded that this species is uncommon in the county in the summer. The smae for Black-crowned Night-heron. Little Blue and Tricolored Heron are still sought after.
With the National Park dredge spoils dried up, my only other alternative for some marsh species still needed is Pedricktown.
I have been there a few times, but can't seem to track a Moorhen down. I picked up LEAST and BLACK TERNS. LEAST TERN is rare in the county and I was lucky to get off of Floodgates Rd.
There's no breeding colony anywhere near there except maybe in PA. I had a few sightings of BLACK TERN in the county from mid July through mid August.
In all my searching for missing shorebird species, I only picked up SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER as a flock flew over the Pedricktown Marshes on 7-27. I am missing too many species to list! My best options are still watching fot flying birds, and hitting some areas during and after storms. For example, that new Dream Park horse park has great potential. I haven't found any new shorebirds there, but did pick up EASTERN MEADOWLARK and YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD. This Dream Park has lots of horse pastures and weedy fields which I have not really even begun to explore yet. I am not sure of the park's policy re birders walking off the road.
I am up to 198 as of 8-21. That includes GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER. I'll write more on that come the fall. I have switched gears and am concentrating now more on passerines.


 

Message from Sandra on 6/22

"I was concentrating on missing breeders while still getting out for migrants. My concern is that the breeders get quiet. But I might have some success in July with birds just plain moving around some. Birds like Summer Tanager and Yellow-throated Vireo breed in southern NJ. Winslow WMA has possibilities for them as wanderers. WHIP-POOR-WILL and COMMON NIGHTHAWK were good to pick up on 6-3 at Winslow WMA.
Three CATTLE EGRETS flew south as I was listening along Floodgates Rd. for Least Bittern. Herons and Egrets are proving hard to come by so far, so that was a nice pickup. Although I am still missing Least Bittern! They should be in the Pedricktown area so I'll hit there in July. I was trying to see if they could be found in other areas in the county. VIRGINIA RAILS were around Pedricktown. I haven't had any of these marsh birds at the National Park dredge spoils yet. Interesting as the habitat looks perfect. Back to the migrants - a CLIFF SWALLOW at Raccoon Island 5-29, SWAINSON'S THRUSH was at Scotland Run 5-21 and GRAY-CHEEKED on 5-30. Scotland Run is proving a good place for migrant thrushes. They can be easily seen there in certain spots. A NASHVILLE WARBLER was at the NP dredge spoils on
5-25 and a BLACK-THROATED BLUE was at Scotland Run on 5-21. A search for singing GRASSHOPPER SPARROWS on 6-1 had some around Woolwich Township. The habitat for this species is declining drastically in the county. I stand at 188 for the year at present.
My goals for July and August are Herons and Egrets moving about, Black Tern, and early migrants like Olive-sided Flycatcher."


 

 

Message from Sandra on 5/20

I run county big years periodically to learn more about a county.

I like to explore new areas and learn new things about the bird distribution in New Jersey and SE PA. I am interested in both breeding birds and migrants. It's nice to find a rarity now and then also! And especially with these county year lists, rarities can make or break a year. And I am not doing well in that department so far!

I am writing basically a 5 1/2 month synopsis here, and a lot is just from memory. I will keep this more up to date in the future. I would also request if anyone else has run a big year in Gloucester County to please send me the final numbers. I have no idea what to expect as no one has gotten back to me yet.

I was going to do an Atlantic County big year, but the forecasts with the gas prices changed my mind on that! I wanted to stay local.

One thing to keep in mind with my runs - this isn't the norm - is that I basically am only hitting spots in Gloucester County once a week. That's not the best for rarities. I might change that come the fall though. Try and get some rarities and southbound migrants twice a week.
Winter - warm - record breaking warm. That sums up what I went through. Felt good being out in that weather, but waterfowl numbers were so scattered and low as to be very difficult to come by. Wiggins Pond in Greenwich Township, Riverwinds, and the National Park Delaware River overlook were key places. I did try for some rarities like Scoters in March when they migrate back north. I tried during bad weather and good. I spent hours along the Delaware River. No luck! And that huge hole in my excel checklist where Snow Goose goes is particularly annoying. I never expected to be missing that species. It was an off year in Salem County numbers wise, but I still thought I would find a few small flocks around some field areas in the south and eastern areas of Gloucester. Well, no one mentioned that to the Snow Geese! I'll try again in the fall. Some other species that I need to work on come this fall that I thought I would have already are: Red-throated Loon, Red-necked Grebe, the Scoters, any rare ducks like Eurasian Wigeon. Owls - after that record-breaking Saw-whet migration, I figured no problem. Sure. I finally found a Saw-whet Owl after hours and hours of searching various areas. I found one at Glassboro Woods on 1-20. No Long-eared Owl yet, but when I do search in Dec. I have fairly good luck finding this species. My work schedule is not conducive to much night birding, but I did manage a few dusk tries for Short-eared Owl. No.
Horned Lark was difficult. I did not manage any until 3-24 when I found a small flock in Repaupo. The plowed farm fields in Gloucester County are much smaller than those in Salem County. I am wondering if this has anything to do with my difficulties! A flock of 15 Pipits in the Williamstown area on 1-6 was a nice surprise.

I actually wasn't expecting that one without hard searching. 3 Pine Siskins at the National Park dredge spoils on 1-8 was nice. We were in the midst of a good winter finch invasion year. I was hoping for other winter finches but never managed to track any down! I faded out with the gulls. Lesser-black backed a couple times, but no white-winged gull. Best area is probably the National Park Delaware River area and floodgates at low tide. Only the birds can be far which makes searching difficult. 45 Bonaparte's Gulls at floodgates on 3-31 was a nice surprise. That was a first of the season and so far the only of the year list!

Early spring - herons and egrets. No. Well, I am still searching! All I have is Green Heron, Great Egret, and Great Blue Heron. Maybe come fall breeding bird dispersal, I will find more species. An American Bittern at Wiggins Pond on 3-24 was good. Although I thought I would see more of these this spring. No.

Spring - shorebirds - are slowy coming. I will have to wait until the fall now though.
And unfortunately, the places I was using in the early spring are now covered in marsh vegetation. I was hoping the National Park dredge spoils would be good for shorebirds. Not so far. Maybe in the fall. I still need stuff like Stilt Sandpiper, White-rumped, Dowitchers, and the grasspipers. Rare stuff like Ruff is actually still eluding me. Those are usually annual at Pedricktown.

Late spring - the returning breeders and passerine migrants have been good so far.
Bay-breasted is always nice in the spring. The usual breeders are around. I do want to explore Winslow WMA more though for breeders. Finding Yellow-throated Warblers there was somewhat expected. This species is rare in Glassboro Woods as a breeder.

I need to do a couple June night-birding sessions. One at Winslow and the other at a spot for rails. Maybe floodgates. Other than that, I'll be just exploring in June for breeders and new areas. I still am hoping for a couple more migrant warblers this spring as I am not sure how easy they will be come the fall migration.

My current total as of 5-20 is 172. I was hoping for 200, but with all those big misses this past winter and spring, I am not sure now. Although that does give me lots of species to pick up if I can see them in the fall! That's all for now.