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DVOC Field Trip Report
by Steve Kacir

September 9, 2007 (Saturday)
Johnson Sod Farm, Cumberland County, NJ

Image by Bert Filemyr

The morning of September 9 was clear and cool in Pennsylvania, but by the time I was in southern NJ, I knew the field trip was not going to go as smoothly as the scouting had gone on Labor Day. Soon after leaving Route 55, driving became challenging due to a pea soup fog that made visibility as low as five feet in some patches. I had left early to scout the Johnson Sod Farms and try to locate where the birds were feeding before the participants showed up. I had hoped to do a little photography as well, especially because some of the grasspipers are well know for close approaches to the roads early in the morning. I kept telling myself that the rising sun would still burn off enough fog for both of these projects.

Reality sunk in soon after turning onto Grier’s Lane. The fog was thick here. Visibility was limited to about 5-8 feet from the road. To make the best of it, I photographed the fog, and did some ear birding: Northern Cardinal, Mourning Dove, European Starling and Killdeer. Visibility increased a little, so I drove over to Olivet Rd, where two previous scouting trips had been very successful. Somehow Olivet Rd managed to be foggier than Grier’s Lane. I stopped to pick up a roadkilled Wood Duck for the Academy and Jeff Holt appeared out of the fog. After some brief meteorological discussions, we took two different paths back to Grier’s. I went to the traditional meeting point and waited, finishing off the Dunkin Donuts breakfast I’d purchased back in PA.
At 7:35am, I wondered where the field trip participants were, so now I was scouting for birders. I found them clustered very near the intersection of Grier’s Lane and Route 77 – the first success of the day. Normally, I’d have been able to see them from where I’d parked but the fog was so thick we may as well have been miles apart. Finding birds would be challenging when we couldn’t even find cars.

We headed down Grier’s Lane and found Jeff standing vigil over a little puddle that had attracted an Upland Sandpiper and a Baird’s Sandpiper already. Both had flown off into the fog, however, so we decided to try our luck with the Olivet Rd side of the fields.
Olivet had a wonderful little wet area where the irrigation had created lots of puddles. It was perfect shorebird habitat, but no one seemed to have told any shorebirds except two Least Sandpipers. Farther down the road, we found a group of 6 Pectoral Sandpipers in a field that had yielded American Golden-plover, Buff-breasted, Baird’s and Upland Sandpipers during scouting. We decided to see how Jeff’s puddle was doing, and returned to Grier’s Lane.

The puddle had no birds, but we did find some distant peeps at the edge of the fog. Peering through the fog, we could see that heat haze was already beginning to form. We were going to go from limited visibility due to fog to limited visibility due to heat shimmer in a very short period of time. I put my scope on the peeps and pointed out Semipalmated Sandpipers to the group. At the same time, a group of larger, longer shorebirds crystallized into view. I announced our first Baird’s Sandpiper and soon we had found 3-4 Baird’s Sandpipers in with an equal number of Semipalmated Sandpipers. Everyone in the group got to see these birds.
Our next move was to exchange cell phone numbers and split up. The disappearing fog was leaving heat shimmer in its wake, and we wanted to make the best use of our time. Bill Reaume and I headed to Olivet Rd with some participants while others stayed with Tony Croasdale at Grier’s Lane. Bill and I had just found a nice flock of Buff-breasted Sandpipers with some Baird’s Sandpipers when Tony called about an Upland Sandpiper at Grier’s Lane. We all converged on the Upland Sandpiper site except Mick Jeitner and Linda Rowan who wanted to study the Olivet Rd sandpipers.

While we were gone Mick and Linda saw a flock of 15 American Golden-plovers fly away, but everyone who went to see the Upland Sandpiper got very nice looks at the bird even though it was a little distant. We returned to the Olivet Rd flock, and in short order found 3 fairly close juvenile Baird’s Sandpipers. Later on, the same location would also yield an adult Baird’s Sandpiper, so we know we had at least 4 Baird’s Sandpipers that day. However, the ease with which we kept finding them suggests there were many more than four present. The high count for Buff-breasted Sandpipers was 26 birds seen all at once, though a conservative estimate of 35 birds probably still understates the number we had seen. A little down the road we also found 4 American Golden-plovers, which puts the estimate at 19 Golden-plovers for the day. Everyone had excellent close looks at Baird’s and Buff-breasted Sandpipers, and good looks at the somewhat distant American Golden-plovers. No Black-bellied Plovers showed up to give us comparison shots, but the fieldmarks were quite evident on these molting birds, many of which still had black feathers in the undertail coverts.

In addition to the shorebirds, at least one Peregrine Falcon was flying around the fields, and American Kestrels, Red-tailed Hawks and Turkey Vultures were evident. Bobolink and Horned Lark flyovers persisted through the field trip, and we had some nice looks at Horned Larks in the fields. A Great Blue Heron was foraging in a weed-choked stream. Barn and Tree Swallows were noted, and some birders from the Cape May Bird Observatory found Cliff Swallows. After only four hours of birding, and two hours after the fog allowed any real observations, we had already found every target bird, and the field trip participants started to head out for other areas. We did not try DeLea Sod Farm or the Forrest Lane areas because we’d already found the species likely to be there, and scouting trips and reports through the week showed those sites to be unproductive. Of course, I still had to make a pit stop at Richman’s Ice Cream before heading back to PA.

Species List

Great Blue Heron 1
Turkey Vulture 2
Wood Duck (roadkill) 1
Northern Harrier 1
Cooper's Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 2
American Kestrel 3
Peregrine Falcon 1
American Golden-plover 19
Semipalmated Sandpiper 4
Least Sandpiper 2
Baird's Sandpiper 4+
Pectoral Sandpiper 12
Buff-breasted Sandpiper 35
Laughing Gull 1
Rock Pigeon 15
Mourning Dove 8
Blue Jay 1
American Crow 3
Fish Crow 14
Horned Lark 20
Tree Swallow 10
Barn Swallow 3
Carolina Chickadee 1
Carolina Wren 1
American Robin 2
Gray Catbird 2
European Starling 32
Northern Cardinal 1
Bobolink 12

Images by Steve Kacir