On January 18th Justin Bosler, Chuck Berthoud, Josh Lefever, and I literally went on a wild goose chase. There were reliable reports of a Pink-footed Goose and at least 2 Barnacle Geese just over the border in New Jersey, and that’s not to mention the incredible mini-flock of 3 Northern Lapwings nearby! There were a few other notable birds in the area such as a Rufous Hummingbird and Ash-throated Flycatcher so we decided to make a day trip out of it with the focus on seeing the geese and lapwings.
The four of us met near Peace Valley Park in Berks County, PA just after daybreak and carefully scanned through the thousands of geese there. There had been a single Barnacle Goose occasionally reported at Peace Valley, and it would have been a state bird for all four of us. Long story short, we did not find the goose although there were at least 100 Lesser Black-backed Gulls on the lake as well as a pair of male Common Goldeneyes. From Peace Valley we made a bee-line for Lake Etra near East Winsor, NJ. The evening before, one of the Barnacle Geese and the Pink-footed Goose had both flown in to Lake Etra with Canada Geese. Our hopes were that the geese would still be there. When we arrived, there were over 2000 goose on the lake and we had high hopes that the two special geese would be mixed in. After a few minutes of the four of us scanning with scopes, it was clear there wasn’t either of the two geese species there. We were disappointed but still had high hopes since there were multiple back-up locations where the geese had been seen foraging in fields and other ponds, nearby. We drove around to all those sites and could not find any collections of geese, in fact most of the spots didn’t have any geese at all. We were constantly checking ABA’s Birding News on my iPhone to see if people were reporting them elsewhere, but we didn’t see any positive reports (and it was a little frustrating that the Birding News only updates once per hour).
From there we decided to take a break from the geese and go down to see the 3 lapwings. The Northern Lapwings had been very reliable for at least a week at that point and we expected them to be there, despite a little scare the day before when trespassing birders flushed the birds and caused them to another flooded field about a mile away from the Brynmore location. We pulled up to the spot a little after 11am to find a line of birders scoping into the fields. The four of us set our scopes up and quickly spotted the lapwings, at the very back edge of a flooded field with a few longhorn cattle and Killdeer. The birds were pretty far away, but we did have some great looks through our scopes and managed to get a few iPhone-scoped photos. What an amazing and rare sight to see not just 1, but 3 Northern Lapwings in New Jersey! Luckily these lapwings have been very reliable for loads of birders and at least one is still hanging around the area.
Our next stop was to Medford WMA to search for the continuing Ash-throated Flycatcher. Over the next 30 minutes, we heard the Flycatcher calling at least 8 to 10 times but could never get a view of it. The bird was hanging out back in a patch of trees and we didn’t want to go in after it, hoping it would make its way to the edge of the forest on its own. After a while it appeared as though the flycatcher must have moved back even farther, so we decided to give up on it and head over to the Rufous Hummingbird at Palmyra Cove Nature Park.
A little before 3pm, we arrived at Palmyra Cove and drove over to the visitor center where there is a hummingbird feeder set up. Chasing hummingbirds isn’t too hard since you just have to wait and watch a feeder and that is exactly what we did. After a few minutes, the hummer flew in and fed from the feeder and occasionally perched in the brush nearby. I had some difficulty getting a photo of the bird, but did manage one shot through the leaves and branches of a bush. There was also an adult Red-shouldered Hawk perched in a tree close to the visitor center, which offered some nice looks.
We spent the last hours of the day back up by East Winsor, hoping we could find the Pink-footed and Barnacle Geese coming back in to roost locations with Canadas. We checked Assunpink WMA which has had the Barnacle Goose in past days but there were hardly any geese there at all. We drove around to a bunch of fields near Lake Etra and did find groups of a few hundred Canadas but the special geese were no where to be found although we did see a few Cackling Geese. As the sun was dropping lower and lower, we scanned through one last goose flock but didn’t find anything out of the ordinary.
In short, we weren’t able to find any of the three geese, we did see the 3 Northern Lapwings, we only heard the Ash-throated Flyctacher, but we did see the Rufous Hummingbird. We were really hoping to see those geese, so it was a little frustrating but they always end up being pretty fun no matter what!