At least once each spring I like to visit Garret Mountain Reservation, the top spring migrant trap in New Jersey. This year I needed a Garret fix more than usual, since the 2017 spring migration here in NJ has been…how should I put it? Tepid? Slow? Disappointing? Pitiful? I’m beginning to worry that this is the new normal and the good old days of trees dripping with migrants are a thing of the past, but let’s leave that discussion for another day and instead try to focus on the positive side of today. Hopes were high; despite the lousy migration so far, yesterday the number of birds picked up a bit locally, and with winds coming from the south, we were hoping that today would be ‘The Day’. Clearly other birders had the same hopes, as we saw several familiar faces before we even left the car. Due to the long commute, we arrived at 9AM, late by birding standards, and started strolling the grounds. One thing that I do like about places like Garret is the ability to stroll; to wander towards wherever the next bird appears or is singing from.
The birding today was good by Garret standards, great by the standards of any other location. The highlight reel starts with a Mourning Warbler. Any day with a Mourning is a good one, but this bird was cooperative, feeding in the phragmites instead of hiding in the thick underbrush. I enjoyed watching the bird so much that I forgot to take the camera out. That’s the way that it is these days; I’m not sure if it’s maturity or laziness, but photos don’t seem so important most days. But I did take the camera out occasionally. Like when a textbook-perfect male Scarlet Tanager was feeding on some insects hatching low to the ground. Or at lunchtime, when our lunch partner Joan pointed out an orange variant Scarlet Tanager. This bird was so orange that I incorrectly identified it as a Baltimore Oriole upon the first view.
Lunchtime included two other highlights. As I was eating my tuna on toast with hot peppers (trademark GP), I heard a familiar song. Is that a Tennessee Warbler? Jeanine agreed, and we put down our sandwiches (what’s more important…food or birds?), picked up the bins, scrambled towards the sound, and found the bird singing loudly and persistently from high up in the canopy. So we sat back down to our sandwiches and after just one bite of my tuna on toast with hot peppers (trademark GP), I mentioned that a Canada Warbler was waist-high 10 feet behind the girls. Sandwiches back down again. That was immediately followed by the Orange Tanager. You get the idea. What a great lunch.
Among other highlights were several eye-level Blackpoll Warblers and dozens of Swainson’s Thrushes that were feeding low. The challenge was to locate a Gray-cheeked Thrush within the more common Swainson’s, and we were able to find two of them, including one popping into the background while watching our first-of-season Lincoln’s Sparrow. Late in the day we still didn’t want to go home despite the scorching 95-degree temperatures that greatly reduced bird activity, and we were rewarded with a few more Bay-breasted Warblers, another Tennessee Warbler, and spotting an unexpected Solitary Sandpiper in the wet woods. It was a fitting end to a super day.
We ended up with 17 wood-warbler species, a tad shy of the hoped-for 20-warbler day, but with these high-quality sightings nobody was complaining. I look forward to returning again next year. Maybe then we’ll find that Cape May Warbler that we missed today.