With the first month of the year officially behind us now, I thought I would take a look the current status of my year list. Beginning a new year is always fun – every single bird is ‘new’, it’s winter, and there are typically a bunch of winter rarities and other good birds around to chase. You never really know what the year will bring, what lifers you might get that year, where you might end up traveling, or what your year list with end up totaling. My friends and I planned to take a 5 day trip through Delaware, New Jersey, and eastern Pennsylvania to really kick off 2013. On January 1st, we joined our friend Tim Schreckengost to do a Big Day in the state of Delaware. Tim and I wrote a post summarizing our Big Day (link). In short, we ended up with 102 species as a team for the day! We picked up some really great birds including Brown-headed Nuthatch, 22 waterfowl species including Eurasian Wigeon, 4 species of owl including Barn Owl, and a frustratingly distant gray godwit that we left unidentified. Overall, it was a really fun day and a great way to start off 2013.
On January 2nd, we left Delaware and headed for Cape May, New Jersey but not after chasing a Delaware rarity we didn’t have time for on the Big Day – a stunning Anna’s Hummingbird, representing the state’s first record! Later that day we also saw two Sandhill Cranes at Mannington Marsh in Salem County, NJ. For the next day and a half, we birded the Cape May area. Our targets there were the many winter rarities hanging around. Our first major stop was to Stone Harbor Point, which I posted about previously at this link. At Stone Harbor, we found our first-of-the-year American Bittern, Peregrine Falcon, Snow Buntings, and Red Knots! We spent the last hours of January 2nd watching the continuing Western Grebe in Cape May Harbor, and the immature male King Eider off Cape May Point. The next morning we birded Cape May Point and were successful in finding the female Townsend’s Warbler and also had a flyover flock of White-winged Crossbills.
The last major stop of our New Jersey birding for that weekend was to Barnegat Inlet on the 3rd. Here we picked up some really cool years birds and had a generally great time, something that is surely bound to happen on any visit to Barnegat. Harlequin Ducks, Long-tailed Ducks, Red-breasted Mergansers, Common Eiders, both loons, and many other winter waterbirds were around in good numbers. My personal favorite from our time at Barnegat were the three Razorbills we saw there! We first saw a single bird that swan fairly close to us and then saw a pair that were even closer! None of us had ever been so close to a Razorbill before and it was year bird #130!
The next day, I dropped my friend Mark Mizak off at the bus station in Philly and Josh Lefever and I birded some spots in eastern Pennsylvania. We were able to find three Iceland Gulls during a very brief stop by the Tullytown dump in Philly but then spent the majority of the day following up on recent Pink-footed Goose reports and were completely unsuccessful.
I drove back up towards State College on January 6th, and stopped by Port Royal on my way north to see the continuing Rufous Hummingbird. The bird was very cooperative and I was able to get a few nice photos. Once I got back to State College that day, I was determined to head out towards Bald Eagle SP and attempt to see a Common Redpoll. During the time we were on our 5 day trip, a number of reliable redpolls had shown up throughout the northern half of PA and Centre County had quite a few reports. I really love adding species to my Centre County life list and redpoll would be a new addition. I was able to find a single bird visiting Bob Snyder’s feeders near the state park but then found an incredible 90 redpolls at the state park’s Nature Inn feeders!! I wrote about the sudden influx of redpolls at this link. That same day I also saw my FOY Rough-legged Hawk – a light type adult that has been hanging out since December 2012 near State College.
The next weekend, four of my friends and I were set on finally seeing our lifer Pink-footed Goose at all costs. This would be our 3rd attempt at seeing a Pink-footed and we dedicated an entire day trip to seeing one. Luckily a pattern had been figured out for one of the Pink-footeds and we were easily able to see it at Dorney Pond in Allentown at daybreak! We also picked up the continuing Greater White-fronted Goose nearby and then drove down to bird around Philly. At Waterloo Mills Preserve, we saw the continuing Le Conte’s Sparrow, at John Heinz NWR we saw a roosting Northern Saw-whet Owl, and at the water treatment plant we were able to find 3 over-wintering Cave Swallows! I posted about this trip at this link - a really great day, bumping my year list up to a solid 153 by the end of January 13th and adding the Pink-footed Goose as my first lifer of the year (ABA #575).
During the next week Anna Fasoli, Ian Gardner, and I visited Ron Rovansek’s home in Stormstown, PA which is just a few miles away from State College. For some reason, Ron’s feeder setup was attracting incredible numbers of redpolls and we were hoping to pick out our lifer Hoary. After a few hours of scrutinizing every pale-looking redpoll, we finally picked out a textbook female Hoary – a 2nd county record and lifer for all three of us!
For the extended weekend of January 18th – 21st, thanks to the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Josh Lefever and I planned a trip through New Jersey. We spent the first day birding northern jersey with Justin Bosler and Chuck Berthoud. Our goal that day was to see one of the multiple Barnacle Geese and Pink-footed Goose as well as hunt down a few other continuing rarities. We spent hours searching areas for geese and searching for the special geese, but dipped. Luckily, we were fairly successful with other targets – easily seeing the Palmyra Cove Rufous Hummingbird, hearing the Medford WMA Ash-throated Flycatcher, and seeing the three Northern Lapwings in New Egypt! More info and photos from that day can be seen at this link.
For the rest of the weekend, we wanted to focus entirely on seeing the wintering birds around Cape May with an emphasis on a few rarities. Josh really needed to see the Western Tanager, which would be a lifer for him plus we wanted to find and photograph as many of the wintering warblers and other interesting passerines at Cape May Point SP. We had tried multiple times for the tanager and just when all hope was lost, Josh spotted it and the bird cooperated incredibly well – offering nice photo opportunities and showing off a little bit. As we were watching it, something truly nuts happened – the adult Crested Caracara that has been wandering around southern New Jersey all fall/winter flew up and landed 100 ft away from us! We were blown away – the caracara hadn’t been reported in the Cape May area for over a week and a half at that point and we never thought we would run in to it. You can read about this exciting hour and a half of birding, at this link.
Josh and I, along with some tips and assistance from Cape May birder Sam Galick, managed to find most of the uncommon to rare wintering passerines around Cape May Point. I posted photos and info of what we saw at this link. In short, we added 10 species to our 2013 year list around the point including Orange-crowned Warbler, Nashville Warbler, White-eyed Vireo, and Red Crossbill. We also saw the female Townsend’s Warbler again.
Our last stop in Cape May before heading back north was Miami Beach. We had stopped on the bayshore of Cape May a few times during the weekend to search for the adult Black-headed Gull that wanders around that area and were finally able to time it right to see him on the afternoon of January 20th! We had (probably) seen this very same adult Black-headed Gull a year ago, in 2012, so it was nice to see it again.
For the last week of the year, I was able to run my Winter Raptor Survey in northern Centre County, PA. As always, the survey was a ton of fun but a closed bridge forced be to run it as two parts – the first stretch on January 26th, and the second stretch on the 27th. Highlughts were multiple Rough-legged Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks, a Northern Shrike, a Hoary Redpoll mixed with a wandering flock of Commons, and my FOY Golden Eagle! The eagle brought my 2013 year list up to 172.
Now in to the second month of the year (and arguably the slowest month for birding in central PA, behind July) I am excited to see how my year list grows. I am very anxious to head up to Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario with the Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology in two weeks, where I am hoping to pick up some much-desired boreal lifers! Other than to try to see as many species as I can based on where ever I end up spending time this year, and finding as many species as I can come across in Centre County I have a few small birding goals for 2013. I am thinking about maybe trying to do a Big Year at a local patch in State College, called the Duck Pond but haven’t really planned anything out yet. And I usually average 300 checklists per month on eBird, but I am up to 346 for this year so far – I am hoping to try to break my total checklist count from last year. What are some of your year lists so far and what are some of your birding highlights so far this year? Do you have any birding goals for the year? Have you gotten any lifers this year?