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Sunday, October 03, 2004

A day trip to Sandy Hook, New Jersey

A view of Coney Island and Manhattan from Sandy Hook

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Breezy Point and Sandy Hook are like the two halves of a permanently open lock allowing the tides of the Atlantic Ocean to flow in to and out of Raritan Bay and New York Harbor. Breezy Point is at the end of the Rockaway Peninsula to the northeast and Sandy Hook juts off the New Jersey highlands to the southwest.

-click to see a map-

Sandy Hook's varied habitats and location along the Atlantic Flyway sometimes attracts a large concentration of migrating birds. Clear, cool weather and northwest winds are a good combination for fall migrants so Peter, Tom and I took a trip across Staten Island and into New Jersey optimistic that we'd find some interesting birds. Thompson's Park, in Monmouth County, is about 10 miles from Sandy Hook. They have extensive grasslands and it has a reputation for good birding so we stopped there first before heading over to the shore.

-click to learn more about the Thompson's Park-
-click to learn more about the Sandy Hook-

We walked a trail along the edge of a field planted with corn and flushed up Lincoln's, Swamp, White-throated and Song Sparrows. There were also a few Indigo Buntings in the area. Overhead large flocks of blackbirds were on the move. Cattails within the wet meadows were releasing their feathery seeds to the wind.

Cattail in the early morning sun

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The birding at Sandy Hook was fairly slow as we explored overgrown gardens, short grass fields, woodland edges, coastline, salt ponds and salt marshes. We stopped at the Sandy Hook Audubon Center where they told us about a Connecticut Warbler sighting near what is known as the boyscott camp area. Like the Baird's Sandpipers and Eastern Phoebes we had seen earlier in the day, Connecticut Warblers are late migrants and are usually seen towards the end of the fall migration.

Connecticuts are a shy, skulking species usually found foraging on the forest floor. The bird we eventually located, however, behaved in a manner more suited to a pigeon. I imagine that the poor bird was exhausted and near starvation as it fed non-stop with complete disregard to our presence. I lied down on my belly to watch it feeding and, at one point, it was inches from my face. Connecticut Warblers are considered large and chunky by warbler standards but when it was close to my face it looked tiny, delicate and vulnerable.

Photographer with very cooperative Connecticut Warbler

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Connecticut Warbler approaching my feet

(Photo credit - Rob J)

A Connecticut Warbler with only eating on his mind

(Photo credit - Rob J)

There were a number of Merlins and Sharp-shinned Hawks in the area and I feared that by foraging in the open the warbler wasn't long for this world. Scott Elowitz, a photographer who we met there, wrote me that he stayed for 3 1/2 hours and the warbler was still there at the end of the day. Had this 15 gram bird just flown the entire length of the Hudson River, crossed Raritan Bay then collapsed, tired and hungry on this sand spit? I hope he makes it to his destination in the Amazon basin.

Before leaving Sandy Hook we stopped at an area called Spermaceti Cove. We walked the western shoreline to the back of the saltmarsh looking for sparrows. Above the edge of the beach a flock of twelve Royal Terns folded their wings back and plunged into the water one by one. The individuals that returned with a speared fish were pursued by the lazy ones in the flock attempting to steal their meal. In the saltmarsh Tom was able to call out a Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow, moments later it was joined but his more colorful cousin - a Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow.

Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

It was a very long day but I came home exhilarated by the experience. There were several highlights but I'll never forget the moment that I was nose to beak with a Connecticut Warbler.

Leaves of three, leave me be

(Photo credit - Rob J)

- - - - -

Thompson Park & Sandy Hook, NJ, 10/3/2004
Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Wood Duck (Thompson Park)
Black Vulture (Thompson Park)
Turkey Vulture (Thompson Park)
Sharp-shinned Hawk (Thompson Park, Sandy Hook)
Cooper's Hawk (Thompson Park)
Red-tailed Hawk (Thompson Park)
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Greater Yellowlegs
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
White-rumped Sandpiper
Baird's Sandpiper
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Royal Tern
Belted Kingfisher
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Red-eyed Vireo
Fish Crow
Tree Swallow
Carolina Chickadee (Thompson Park)
Brown Creeper
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
Cedar Waxwing
Northern Parula
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Palm Warbler
American Redstart
Connecticut Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Indigo Bunting (Thompson Park)
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow (Thompson Park)
Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow
Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow (Thompson Park)
Swamp Sparrow (Thompson Park)
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco (Thompson Park)
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

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