Winter break was an outstanding week of rarities in our area! I could barely keep up between the Black-headed Gull in Philly, the Crested Caracara in Delaware, and the Brewer’s Blackbird in Cape May. Of all the rarities though, the one that piqued my interest most was a Rock Wren in Somerset County, New Jersey! This was not a life bird for me as I saw a Rock Wren in June 2015 in South Dakota, but this bird in the east is a big deal!
This bird represents the second record of this species ever in the state of New Jersey. The location of this bird is slightly unusual as it had been hanging out for over a week in a construction site for a new neighborhood development. We observed this bird on December 30th. The first record of this bird for the state was seen between December 1992 through February 1993 in Cape May, and from what I’ve been told by other birders, this first Rock Wren was also in a construction site! Seems like construction sites in winter are the preferred habitat of Rock Wren, but I’m still wondering who was birding this construction site to find this spectacular rarity!
We had quite the crew as we drove up to Somerset, New Jersey. It was Chad, Mike H., and Matt H. along with an alumni crew from the Upper Main Line YMCA School of Birding program: Nathaniel, Tyler, Liam, and Ben. After a Wawa stop, we rolled up to the construction site to loud sounds, piles of lumber, bitter cold winds, and a group of dejected birders who had been searching the area for the Rock Wren, some for hours. Things looked grim, but it wasn’t long before Matt spotted the Rock Wren hiding under a large piece of iron. The bird immediately perched for all to see while birders went running to catch a glimpse!
After perching for a few moments on the iron structure and piles of dirt, it flew across the empty parking lot and began foraging along the curb. For a few minutes, the only sound was that of excited birders and rapid-fire camera clicks.
After the Rock Wren, we loaded up our car and went chasing flocks of geese in Holmdel, New Jersey where some rarities had been reported recently. Our target was Pink-footed Goose, which would’ve been a lifer for me! However, we struck out after a few hours of chasing flocks of geese across farm fields and public parks. We did manage to get Canada Goose, Cackling Goose, Snow Goose, and a Ross’s Goose during our scouring of the area.
Finally, we ditched a few other sites we had in mind to make it to the Pole Farm section of Mercer Meadow County Park at sunset for Short-eared Owl, a crepuscular owl species that becomes active mostly at dawn and dusk. This field habitat was outstanding and very picturesque! On our stroll down the main path of the meadow, we picked up Savannah Sparrow and American Tree Sparrow. Then, the Northern Harriers put on quite the show for us! Northern Harriers and Short-eared Owl both prefer the same habitat: large, tall grass meadows. A few minutes after the Northern Harriers arrived, two Short-eared Owls made an appearance!
As the day got darker and temperatures began dropping, we decided to call it quits. After today, my 2016 list for the state of New Jersey is 251 species, and my life list for the state is 295 species! I wonder what the next five species will be…
eBird lists for the day:
Rock Wren in Somerset, NJ: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S33323549
Holmdel Goose Chase: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S33323546
Mercer Meadows County Park, Pole Farm Section: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S33323544