YBC Summer Wrap-Up: First Half

Summer is generally a slow time for the YBC with warm-weather species generally having been ticked by the end of May and generally less diversity after migrants have passed on to northern breeding areas.  For that reason I'm condensing June, July and August into two posts.  This one covers June and the first half of July.

The main storyline for June birds is Mike's real entry into the competition.  After an abortive start (and then a change of "yards") he restarted his count at the end of May and then in earnest in June.  Most of these birds were typical warm-weather yard birds like American Goldfinch, Tufted Titmouse, House Sparrow, and so on.  I was able to stop by his yard for a few minutes and helped him add some others, like Chimney Swift.

Meanwhile June was quite a slow month for everyone else.  No new species was added to the competition during June (though one was added on the last day of May and the first day of July).  A few new ticks were had, but nothing of special significance.  Early July was a little more interesting.  Justin and Kellie had an Acadian Flycatcher on July 1.  The following day I added Northern Rough-winged Swallow and Warbling Vireo.  On the third I added Eastern Wood-Pewee.  Later in the month Justin and Kellie tallied Green Heron and Eastern Screech Owl.

Things ended pretty tight and honestly not much changed from May's end.

Dan - 89
Justin - 89
Julie - 65
Mike - 24
Kellie - 89
Rob - 84

YBC May Wrap-Up

What a month!

First, let's put things in a historical perspective:  In 2011 the group tallied nineteen new species in May.  This year we put up an incredible thirty-seven new species, including seventeen species of warbler! It seemed that just about every few days one of the competitors would put up four or five new species and the lead would change.  Here's the highlights...

The month opened with some of the typical species expected in early May; Yellow Warbler, Northern Parula, Chimney Swift, Scarlet Tanager, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Nashville Warbler.  Julie found a Field Sparrow on May 4th and remains the only yard with one to date.  On May 7th a singing Cerulean Warbler showed up for Justin and Kellie and was viewed the following day, along with a Bay-breasted Warbler.

May 8th was a day with a significant flight.  Lots of birds were tallied on that date, but one sticks out for me: Mississippi Kite.  It was a Sunday morning and while at church I got an alert that a Glossy Ibis had flown past Garret Mountain.  I was (and am) still a bit unclear about the route birds take from Garret past my house, but I know that there is at least some concurrency.  At any rate, I rushed home in hopes of getting a yard ibis.  On the way another alert game out from a well-known Bergen birder Marc about a strange raptor he saw leaving Garret.  The description seemed open to Mississippi Kite.  Upon arriving home I set up watch on the back porch.

After twenty or thirty minutes a raptor emerged from over the ridge.  The shape of the bird almost recalled Laughing Gull or Caspian Tern for a moment, but it was entirely gray.  I considered a young Herring Gull, but the bird was unmottled and in the back-lit sun a pale panel in the secondaries could be seen.  It had a longer tail than a gull, and in the heavy winds carried it closed and squarish.  Its wings were sharp, but with a blunt tip.  The bird descended rapidly on bent wings and flew directly overhead into the valley below--a Mississippi Kite!  I don't like to toot my own horn, but it is definitely in the top 2 or 3 birds for the competition thus far.

That morning three Eastern Kingbirds travelled the ridge north.  Normally I cannot tally songbirds from the ridge within the parameters of the competition, which stipulate that optics not be used for birds off-property, but the kingbirds' unique appearance and terminal band made identifying them with the naked eye possible.  The winds also carried an American Kestrel by the yard.  Both of these were new for the competition, though Justin and Kellie got the kingbird later in the month.

The following day was nearly as impressive for Rob; tallying Eastern Wood-Peewee, Solitary Sandpiper, Least Flycatcher, and Common Yellowthroat in one day.  All were new species for the competition.  Justin and Kellie answered the next day with Blue-headed Vireo and Worm-eating Warbler.  Julie answered back on yet the following day with Cape May Warbler and the day after with Rock Pigeon, remarkably the first for the competition.

Rob's tirade continued on the following day, May 12th, with Spotted Sandpiper, Swainson's Thrush, and Alder Flycatcher; all firsts for the competition and each having the potential to be the only ticks for this species.  Other birds from the second half of the month included Blue-winged Warbler and Indigo Bunting for Justin and Kellie, Magnolia Warbler and Canada Warbler for me, and Red-eyed Vireo for all but Julie and Mike.  Speaking of Mike, having finally moved into his new 'yard' at the end of May his tally was reset and birds only he had tallied were removed from the list (which were only 'sp.' species).  In June he began ticking new species, but those will wait for the June update.

The last new bird of the month was mine on the last day of the month.  I thought I hear a familiar song in the distance, but figured I must have imagined it.  After pausing and giving it some time, my suspicions were confirmed--a Willow Flycatcher was singing in the adjacent yard.  I caught only fleeting looks at it in the crown of a short tree, but I was able to record a good audio sample of its diagnostic call.

After all of that, the scores are incredibly tied.  An incredible month!

Dan - 86
Justin - 86
Julie - 65
Mike - 0
Kellie - 86
Rob - 84

YBC April Wrap-Up

April has been a strange month for the YBC.  First, the big picture: The weather has been generally average or above average for migration.  We haven't had the long stretches of north or northeast winds that have crippled migration for the last two years.  Birders in the Northeast US will remember with anguish the experiences of spring 2014 when the North Atlantic Oscillation (the North Atlantic's 'version' of El NiƱo) cemented a northeasterly wind pattern over the region for more than twenty straight days from mid-April to early May.  Only marginally better was 2015.  This year we have had average or conducive weather patterns every couple of days or better.

Next, the spring seemed to arrive early with species becoming available seemingly weeks before they had been in the last two springs.  Then an early April cold spell halted the emergence of leaves, already underway, and seemed to cause time to move in a retrograde fashion to a season before.  It was as if winter had poked its head from behind the curtain in hopes that the crowd of humanity, eager for warmer weather, would yet applaud for its encore.  The unwelcome reprise lasted about a week.

And that is where things get a little strange.  At the close of March the competition had listed six species more than had been listed by the same time in 2011.  By April 20th it was fifteen species behind; a swing of twenty-one species.  In 2011 a new push every couple of days added a handful of new species during this period.  On April 18th of that year, seven new species were added to the list on what must have been a good day for migration.  We have had none of that thus far in 2016.

The month would close with 86 species compared with 98 in 2011.  In late April a trough in the Jetstream took up residence such that a southerly flow covered New Jersey (and not much else).  While birds streamed up the Central Flyway and even through Pennsylvania western New York, New Jersey was left as an island devoid of substantial migration.  (This post being a little late, we now know that pattern would last into early May.)

One day of note, morning rain on April 26 gave way to foggy clearing skies for a few hours in the evening.  Birds took advantage of the opportunity to move after being socked in for so long.  Raptors were moving all around Northern New Jersey.  At my house I would log an incredible FIVE Merlin passing by on their way North.  Justin, Kellie, and I would see tens of Red-shouldered and Broad-winged Hawks between us.  I spied a Northern Harrier (out of my countability) and an Osprey only to have Justin, to my North, see both within a few minutes of my sighting.  These are far less common migrants, causing us to speculate that the individuals were actually the same birds.  A look at a topographical map seemed to confirm a logical pathway North for the birds along the ridge and valleys in the area.  It's quite amazing to get to track these birds over a distance in a way that we typically cannot.

Score on April 30th:

Dan  - 63
Justin - 59
Julie - 43
Mike - 4
Kellie - 58
Rob - 58

33rd Annual World Series of Birding - May 14, 2016

Once again, Team Fly or Die will be participating in the 33rd Annual World Series of Birding on May 14, 2016.  Be a part of our team's fundraising effort!  The WSB is the country's largest and most prestigious birding competition! Play, pledge, or sponsor to help raise funds for conservation.  Please feel encouraged to donate any amount of money and feel free to invite friends or family who are conservation-minded or birders to donate as well!

Team Fly or Die Announcement: WSB 2016

With the 2016 World Series of Birding quickly approaching we have been forced to answer a question that has been perplexing us for a year:  Who will replace Rob?

We have known, more or less since WSB 2015, that Rob's schedule at the hospital would not allow him to compete in this year's event.  Consideration was given to a variety of options.  First, could Riv who has been in pseudo-retirement rejoin the team.  That didn't end up being a possibility.  Next, could someone from Avian Avarice fill the spot?  Two problems arose with this possibility.  First was the issue that whoever took over for Rob would need to be in keeping with Fly or Die's birding experience and athleticism.  Yes, I said it.  That limited to pool.  The bigger issue was simply that most of the rest of Avian Avarice is already on a team for the World Series and we'd simply be undercutting another team to benefit ours.

We hoped that just maybe Rob would be unexpectedly free, but in the end we decided to go with the last possible option: a new recruit!  Introducing Alyssa...

Larry suggested we consider Alyssa because of birding experiences he has had with her.  He felt certain that she would be able to keep up with he and I, both in terms of birding ability and physical stamina. As if a birding competition isn't absurb enough of a thing, I conducted a lengthy 'bird interview' with Alyssa to make sure she fit in with my view of our team.  After plenty of discussion we are happy to add her.

Alyssa is already paying off dividends.  Being from a vastly different part of the state than Larry, Rob, or myself, she has already suggested a pair of new locations and provided general scouting that have helped me make major changes to this year's edition of the route.  We haven't decided for certain whether we will complete under the Fly or Die name or another, but we are looking forward to an excellent competition.

YBC March Wrap-Up

As far as the YBC is concerned, it was in like a lamb and out like a lion for March 2016.

The first week of March saw six new species added, four of which come on the seventh of the month and all of which were expected or even overdue species.  These included Fox Sparrow, Wild Turkey, and Brown Creeper from Rob and Bufflehead from Kellie.  Rob also scored a Gray Catbird, assisted by his latitudinal advantage.  By the seventh, we were tied to date with our 2011 effort at fifty-one species.  Fox Sparrow and Wild Turkey have already been ticked by additional competitors.

The slow accretion has begun to accelerate now:  On this last day of the month we are now actually six species ahead of 2011 with sixty-four!  Expected species have added up; Eastern Phoebe, Chipping Sparrow, Tree Swallow, and Double-crested Cormorant to name a few.  But it has been a good month for good birds as well.  In the middle of the month I added a lone Pine Siskin that spent the afternoon in my yard.  A few days earlier a male Eastern Towhee was a similar visitor.  Rob scored multiple American Woodcock; a bird that he may very well be the only one to get, though I have seen at least one in each of my last two falls.  Earlier in the month Rob also had the good fortune to happen across a daytime Great Horned Owl.  Justin and Kellie nabbed a Rusty Blackbird.  While this bird really could show in any of our yards, their absurd population decline has left them a very unexpected visitor.  A Pine Warbler earlier in the month was also an excellent yard sighting for the duo despite the species itself being fairly common.

The big shocker, however, came just a few days ago, and not to toot my own horn, but I believe it is the best sighting of the competition thus far:  I was on the phone with Justin well after dark, appropriately speaking about the competition a bit.  Since my cell service can be spotty indoors at times I spent the conversation outside.  As luck would have it, Justin and I still managed to get disconnected.  While I waited for his return call, I began to hear a strange, almost melodic double-honk; clearly a flying bird and clearly not far to my southeast.   My immediate reaction was 'waterfowl' and Tundra Swan crossed my mind.  The bird sounded off eight or ten times as it moved quickly north.  I looked desperately to see the bird but it was after dark and the sky was completely white with cloud.  By now Justin was back on the phone with me and I described my observations.  Now he suggested Tundra Swan.  After I got off of the phone I headed to Xeno-cant.org to see what bird matched my sound.  The sound clip best matching what I heard is linked here.  And after eliminating sound-alike like Sandhill Crane, other geese, ducks, swans, and so on, sure enough the bird was Tundra Swan!

The competition is really quite close.  Mike is now in transition to the property where he will conduct his count for the year, leaving his temporary total (which will be replaced) superficially low.  For now, I remain in the lead with basically everyone right behind and hordes of migrants on their way.

Dan - 46
Justin - 43
Julie - 37
Mike - 4
Kellie - 43
Rob - 43