Boreal Bird Blog
Observations and updates from our Senior Scientist, Dr. Jeff Wells, and the BSI science team

Tension Begins...and Wind Too - Jeff

May 12, 2005 | Dr. Jeff Wells

Posted by: Jeff Wells

My alarm rings at 4 AM again this morning but today when I step into the dark parking lot there is no one else to be seen. By about 4:30 I am on top of a small hill trying to listen to sounds from marsh birds in the Black Dirt marsh. Nearby a loud nasal "peent" from an American Woodcock drowns out most of the other sounds. Cold gusts of wind from the north are a sign that birding today may be more challenging (and cold) than the last few days. This becomes especially clear when, at a few minutes before five, I walk up the Vesper Sparrow hill. The wind is so strong that it roars in the ears. Eventually the sparrow begins to sing but not until scouts from several other teams have already given up and moved on.

Like many other teams I try another dry-run of the first few hours after dawn to test out a route that will word to find us the birds that are here as quickly and efficiently as possible. There is beginning to be a feeling of tension in the air as teams rush from one place to another. Many times today I will hear the words, "Can't talk now, we're in the middle of a dry-run," when I arrive at the same place as a departing team. Of course, I'm also trying to stay close to the times in my draft route so I don't take offense when they rush off.

Today I am impressed by the number of Solitary Sandpipers that have arrived. It seems amazing to think that this little bird feeding in a muddy farm pond in New Jersey might have been in South America only a month-or-so ago and, in a few weeks, will be arriving at the wetlands dotted throughout the boreal forest wilderness. Today I also logged my first sightings of three warbler species that are highly reliant on the boreal and can often be tough to find on the World Series--Bay-breasted, Tennessee, and Blackpoll Warbler. Despite the cold north winds apparently a few birds made it here.

I run into Will from the Cape May Bird Observatory team at the High Point State Park entrance where we are bothing searching for Purple Finch--an elusive species this year. He tells me that he overslept by mistake which is why I didn't see him in the parking lot this morning--too many 4 AM wakeups in a row for him. Will has been here and on this grueling schedule since Saturday.

My list of team's sighted today is almost as good as my bird list. Let's see. Along with the Cape May team I also bumped into scouts from the Wicked Witcheties (Friends of Salem Woods), the Four Loons (TNC PA), Cornell, Fairview YMCA, Delaware Valley Ornithological Society (just saw them zoom by at one point), and what I think was a Nikon youth team. I don't know what happened to the Connecticut Audubon and Virginia Ornithological Society teams today--maybe they went down to Great Swamp for scouting.

Later in the morning I start to worry that I haven't lined up many Brown Thrashers and Eastern Bluebirds--birds that fall into that category of common-enough so you forget to worry about them. Now throughout the rest of the day I am thinking about where to find them. While listening for grassland birds at a field in Layton I find three bluebirds fighting ove a nestbox. An hour later while stopped by the side of the road south of Stokes State Forest I look up from a conversation with Carl from the Wicked Witcheties to notice a female bluebird carrying food to her young. Now I am worried about the apparent exodus of the abundance of White-throated Sparrows from the days before--I haven't found a single one today. Yesterday I had flocks of them at several places!

But the good news is that a Canada Warbler arrived last night and is now singing from the rhododendron thicket at Cat Swamp. An interesting thing about Cat Swamp is that various teams know it also as as Sawmill Swamp, Sawmill Bog, the Hemlock Swamp, and probably several other names. This is true of just about every one of the popular spots up here. This lack of standardization of names sometimes has interesting consequences when teams share sightings and try to give directions to each other. I wonder how many times someone has gone to the wrong location and found what turns out to be a new location for the species in question.

Late afternoon, just before I arrive here where I am blogging at the New Jersey School of Conservation, I spot Carl again near the Oquitunk Lake campground. He is holding in his hands a wrinkled scrap of paper on which is drawn a crude map that he has received from another team. He tells me that it purports to show the directions to a Red-breasted Nuthatch nest--a hole in a broken-off snag. It turns out that I had also received a tip the day before about this nest and had the good fortune to see one of the birds fly to the nest cavity. Neither one of us can make any sense of the map which shows a sign that doesn't seem to exist. Luckily we've found it without the map.

Tomorrow is the last chance to find any late arriving birds and figure out how to schedule them in. I am hoping to leave here early enough to do a scout of Amboy before we all meet at Derek's dad's place for final planning before the adventure begins. Tonight's our last chance for a full night of sleep. Dave met Derek this morning at Cape May and they are now working together to plan the southern route. It seem's like everything's coming together!


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