A late morning exploration of Belleplain State Forest today with my son Tim yielded several interesting sightings, not least of which included people: Sam Galick, last year's morning flight counter; Chris Brown, swing counter; Steve Bauer, a.k.a. "California Steve" of the fall hawk watch platform (and finder of NJ's first Lesser Nighthawk, near the hawk watch platform; if you didn't see the posts about it on this blog, read about it in the forthcoming issue of Peregrine Observer, CMBO's annual journal for our members); and Jim Zamos, seasoned birder of North Jersey and undisputed king of the Hyper Humus marsh. All were encountered, where else, at "the" bridge, a.k.a the Sunset Road Bridge. If you want to meet pretty much any NJ birder, park yourself at that bridge from now through mid-May, and you probably will, along with the Louisiana Waterthrush, Yellow-throated Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and, soon, Hooded, Worm-eating, Acadian Flycatcher. . .
Tim and I started farther north, up Weatherby Road way, hoping to track down a Prothonotary Warbler, but none was evident. Whether this is proof of absence or not, I can't say; April 12 would be a fine time for the first Protho to appear, but it was almost the "crack of noon" and windy when we hit the field (my fault on the late start, some friends and I checked out the Mike Doughty concert at the Fillmore in Philly last night). We did hear a Louisiana Waterthrush along Weatherby, and of course Pine Warblers and Chipping Sparrows, among others. I spent some time trying to explain to Tim the difference between Pine and Chipping songs, all of which differences are relative: Pine is slower, more musical, usually shorter in duration, with the individual notes "thicker." But I think any birder that hasn't hung up on a trill, be it Pine v. Chipping or v. Worm-eating Warbler or junco, is just fooling themself. It isn't always obvious.
Elsewhere in Belleplain, both Ovenbird (at least 1) and Black-and-white Warbler (at least three) were in - Sam let us know they were around before we detected them. Highbush blueberry was in bloom in several places. The little bell-like flowers will undoubtedly be welcome sights for soon-to-arrive Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.
By the time we reached Heislerville, thunderstorms had rolled in, and we checked the impoundment at Matt's Landing from the car. We found no Ruff, but the yellowlegs were delightful - both species, and in a mixture of winter through full breeding plumages, and everything in between. One Greater was absolutely stunning, the back a study in complex white, black and gray-brown patterning, the underparts well-patterned, more patterned than any Lesser. None of the Dunlin present were anywhere near the height of plumage that earned them their old name of Red-backed Sandpiper, but you could see it coming, with scattered red feathers above and scattered black feathers on the belly. A few dowitchers mixed in, too, and I heard my first Short-billed call of the year.
Multiple Yellow-throated Warblers chased each other and sang along Matt's Landing Road on the way into the impoundment, seemingly newly arrived birds sorting out who would mate with whom, and who would occupy what territory. A little pishing stirred up more than half a dozen Hermit thrushes, too many to be just local winterers, so they were migrants too. A White-eyed Vireo in the same spot was a "new-for-the-year" singer for me. And yet, the "winter" ducks are still abundant, and we saw plenty of Bufflehead, shovelers, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, and several others.