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DVOC Field Trip Report
by Steve Kacir
September 9, 2007 (Saturday)
Johnson Sod Farm, Cumberland County, NJ
Image by Bert Filemyr
The morning of September 9 was clear and cool in Pennsylvania, but by the time I was in southern NJ, I knew the field trip was not going to go as smoothly as the scouting had gone on Labor Day. Soon after leaving Route 55, driving became challenging due to a pea soup fog that made visibility as low as five feet in some patches. I had left early to scout the Johnson Sod Farms and try to locate where the birds were feeding before the participants showed up. I had hoped to do a little photography as well, especially because some of the grasspipers are well know for close approaches to the roads early in the morning. I kept telling myself that the rising sun would still burn off enough fog for both of these projects.
Reality sunk in soon after turning onto Grier’s
Lane. The fog was thick here. Visibility was limited to about 5-8 feet
from the road. To make the best of it, I photographed the fog, and did
some ear birding: Northern Cardinal, Mourning Dove, European Starling
and Killdeer. Visibility increased a little, so I drove over to Olivet
Rd, where two previous scouting trips had been very successful. Somehow
Olivet Rd managed to be foggier than Grier’s Lane. I stopped to
pick up a roadkilled Wood Duck for the Academy and Jeff
Holt appeared out of the fog. After some brief meteorological discussions,
we took two different paths back to Grier’s. I went to the traditional
meeting point and waited, finishing off the Dunkin Donuts breakfast I’d
purchased back in PA.
We headed down Grier’s Lane and found Jeff standing
vigil over a little puddle that had attracted an Upland Sandpiper and
a Baird’s Sandpiper already. Both had flown off into the fog, however,
so we decided to try our luck with the Olivet Rd side of the fields.
The puddle had no birds, but we did find some distant
peeps at the edge of the fog. Peering through the fog, we could see that
heat haze was already beginning to form. We were going to go from limited
visibility due to fog to limited visibility due to heat shimmer in a very
short period of time. I put my scope on the peeps and pointed out Semipalmated
Sandpipers to the group. At the same time, a group of larger, longer shorebirds
crystallized into view. I announced our first Baird’s Sandpiper
and soon we had found 3-4 Baird’s Sandpipers in with an equal number
of Semipalmated Sandpipers. Everyone in the group got to see these birds.
While we were gone Mick and Linda saw a flock of 15 American Golden-plovers fly away, but everyone who went to see the Upland Sandpiper got very nice looks at the bird even though it was a little distant. We returned to the Olivet Rd flock, and in short order found 3 fairly close juvenile Baird’s Sandpipers. Later on, the same location would also yield an adult Baird’s Sandpiper, so we know we had at least 4 Baird’s Sandpipers that day. However, the ease with which we kept finding them suggests there were many more than four present. The high count for Buff-breasted Sandpipers was 26 birds seen all at once, though a conservative estimate of 35 birds probably still understates the number we had seen. A little down the road we also found 4 American Golden-plovers, which puts the estimate at 19 Golden-plovers for the day. Everyone had excellent close looks at Baird’s and Buff-breasted Sandpipers, and good looks at the somewhat distant American Golden-plovers. No Black-bellied Plovers showed up to give us comparison shots, but the fieldmarks were quite evident on these molting birds, many of which still had black feathers in the undertail coverts.
In addition to the shorebirds, at least one Peregrine Falcon was flying around the fields, and American Kestrels, Red-tailed Hawks and Turkey Vultures were evident. Bobolink and Horned Lark flyovers persisted through the field trip, and we had some nice looks at Horned Larks in the fields. A Great Blue Heron was foraging in a weed-choked stream. Barn and Tree Swallows were noted, and some birders from the Cape May Bird Observatory found Cliff Swallows. After only four hours of birding, and two hours after the fog allowed any real observations, we had already found every target bird, and the field trip participants started to head out for other areas. We did not try DeLea Sod Farm or the Forrest Lane areas because we’d already found the species likely to be there, and scouting trips and reports through the week showed those sites to be unproductive. Of course, I still had to make a pit stop at Richman’s Ice Cream before heading back to PA.
Great Blue Heron 1
Images by Steve Kacir