Haggard and Happy Until....

May 11, 2005 | Dr. Jeff Wells

Posted by: Jeff Wells, team leader
Today is a 4 AM wakeup. A few minutes after waking, I step out into total darkness in the hotel parking lot and find Will Russell sipping his first cup of coffee of the day. We exchange our plans quickly and find that we will likely be doing the same thing over the next few hours. My plan is to try a mini dry-run of the grassland portion of the route which will be what we do on the first minutes of dawn.

The sky is just beginning to pale at 4:54 as I walk briskly along the dirt road that leads up the hill--the only hill within 50 miles--that has a resident Vesper Sparrow. Ahead of me I can see the outline of someone from another team who is already in place to wait for the first quiet whispers of song from this very popular bird. At precisely 5 AM the sparrows begins to sing, softly at first, then louder as he warms up. Will is just arriving as I start down the hill.

At 5:12 I am around the corner on Beemer Road listening to the sizzly songs of Grasshopper Sparrows while a loud Mockingbird tries to drown out every other singing bird.

5:28 - The Ruffed Grouse drums three times from the woods behind the silo of the abandoned farm. The Connecticut Audubon team drives up and we exchange greetings before I am on my way.

5:35 - The Virginia Roving Ravens scouters are at the beaver pond when I arrive. As I step out of the car a Belted Kingfisher rattles as it flies over and is answered by another sitting on a tree snag in the pond. It would be nice if we were able to get it so easily on the day of the event.

5:48 - At the T-intersection a Savannah Sparrow sings while an Eastern Meadowlark scolds.

5:58 - Although on the World Series day itself I would like to be out of the grasslands before this time, today I must go back to another field to see if any American Kestrels are out of their nesting boxes this early. If not we may have to find another location for them further south. Two birders are already there when I drive up. They are from the Wicked Witcheties team and as I look into their haggard faces I realize I am looking at a reflection of myself. But they, like me, are seeing BIRDS and lots of them. Sure we're tired but we're loving every minute of it.

6:08 - I am at the High Point State Park entrance. The recently fledged Common Raven family is squawking and chortling from the woods on the ridge but I am unable to locate the Purple Finches that other teams have found here.

From here I stop doing the mini-run and start just plain scouting locations to find what's there. The sky seems to be filled with Yellow-rumped Warblers descending from their night flight into the ridgetop woods. Over the next few hours I see well over 100 of these boreal migrants.

This morning I did a quick tally of the number of species I found yesterday here in northern New Jersey. The list totaled 106 species and you might be surprised ay how many of them are species that occur regularly in the boreal forest. But I won't say how many now in case you are guessing the number we will see on Saturday for the contest (see earlier blog entry).

Both the bird activity and my brain begin to slow in the heat of early afternoon so, after walking a few pine and spruce groves in the vain hope of stumbling across a Sharp-shinned Hawk nest, I motor up to the Jumboland diner for my one hot meal of the day. I walk in to discover a veritable army of scouts from the Cornell team filling the two booths in the back and a few minutes later the Virginia team shows up as well. Lot's of pumping for information ensues but it seems no one has found a Sharp-shinned Hawk or a Common Snipe or any number of super-hard-to-find-in-NJ species. There's a consesus that neither Canada Warblers nor Acadian Flycatchers have yet to return to any of their usual places.

In the middle of enjoying an omelet my phone rings and it is Derek calling from southern New Jersey. He has tried a dry-run of a version of a southern route and it is taking too much time. He now thinks he may have to throw it all away and start from scratch! And we only have a day and half left to figure out anything new.

Dave Sherwood, our dedicated team driver, will be finishing work this afternoon and will drive south tonight. He will meet Derek tomorrow morning in Cape May and will spend the day assisting him in sorting out the route.

Meanwhile Evan Obercian, our last team member, is probably now in the midst of a final exam or strudying for the next one over at Rutgers, I'm guessing that he would rather be scouting with us.

Now, back at the New Jersey School of Conservation, I am charting my plan for the remainder of the day. A nap, I think, may be the next order of business then some evening listening for Hermit Thrushes. Top it off with a little owling and then its to bed and we start it all over again in the morning.



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