Monday, July 30, 2012

Brown Booby in New Jersey

So, I'm laying in bed at 5am this morning, wondering whether to go to Cupsogue or to Jamaica Bay, and I realize that I'm honestly not all that excited to do either.  My usual morning troll through bird alerts and e-mails, fails to come up with any other exciting New York options but, while I'm wondering if there's something else to do, I see the chatter from New Jersey.  Apparently a Brown Booby has popped up at a small, inland lake in Warren County.  Even though I know I'm not supposed to cheat on New York this year, I just know instantly that I'm going to go for it this morning.  I need a break from New York so I crawl out and nudge the car past the Brooklyn Bridge and over to the Holland Tunnel.

For some historical context: through the 90s (back when I was a serious local birder), even though I lived in New York, I birded mostly in New Jersey.  Birding for me back then meant heading South or West, and almost never East.  I spent a lot of time at Cape May and, while participating in four World Series of Birding, spent a ton of time scouting the state in the Spring.  Even in Winter, I was more likely to be found along the Jersey Shore (or at Cape Anne) than at Montauk.  In fact, when I slipped into World Listing in the 00s and stopped birding locally, my New Jersey list was still bigger than my New York list.  Fast forward 20 years though, and I haven't really done any birding in the state since; so am excited to add a State Bird for the first time in many years.

The drive out is easy and the navigation system on the Range Rover guides me easily into the parking lot at the lake.  Walking over to the shore, I see Rick Wright and a couple of other locals with scopes set.  The bird is sitting at the far end of the lake on a dock and apparently had just finished a fishing trip so will probably be sitting there for a while.  Now what on earth is a Brown Booby doing in this small, shallow freshwater lake in the heavily wooded farmlands of Warren County?  Birding is full of mysteries ....

After a half hour of waiting for closer flight views I end up joining a group of local birders who hike a trail (the Blue Trail) over towards the bird.  The trail ends at a gravel road, but it isn't posted so we make our way closer to the lake.  Before we get there however, we hit some black and red "no-entry" signs, and while they don't look very official, I demure when some of the group push on.  At that point though I'm close to the water, so I take advantage of the fact that I'm wearing sandals (I live in Teva River-Runner shoes) and wade out into the lake.  The lake bottom is hard (Marl?) and just 20 feet out I find myself with a distant (50m) but unobstructed view of the Booby.

Got my "proof shots" and so headed out.  The guys who got closer (found a way to work around the signs and stay on public property) got truly excellent shots.  A very cool bird for New Jersey.  Now if I could just get one in New York .....

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