In praise of the not-quite-so-early birder

Most of my morning birding walks are at dawn or even slightly ahead of it, typically a convergence of my believing the birds are most active when they wake up and my needing to get home and get ready for work.

Even on the weekends and especially on Saturdays, I stick to the same early morning schedule, in large part to get home so my wife and I get a chance to run errands together.

This past Saturday, I got a slightly later start, getting out to the Mercer Meadows Pole Farm at the luxuriously late hour of 7:30 a.m. I was there to rendezvous with my birder friend Laura, who although still crazy enough to venture out into 15-degree weather, sensibly suggested that a slight delay after dawn might be in order.

We had fair luck tramping along the paths in the first hour, and one of the highlights was spotting a pair of hermit thrushes in some woods as we moved from the traditional Pole Farm side of the park to the Reed Bryan Farm.

Two hermit thrushes hunker down in tree branches on a cold morning.
A pair of hermit thrushes take shelter from the cold in the woods at the Mercer Meadows Pole Farm, Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022. After I took off a glove to snap several frames, Laura rescued my icicle fingers by giving me a hand heater.

But it was at 8:30 — a time when I’m typically either fast-walking back to my car or driving home — when things really got interesting. We emerged from the woods and followed the trail past the Reed Bryan observation platform and approached a big clump of trees. Laura was the first to notice the movement and the orange.



Robins. Lots of robins. A big robin party! Their orange breasts gleamed brightly in the low-angle sunlight as they flew back and forth among several trees.

Something else, smaller, was in big patch of evergreens. It took us a while to get our binoculars on the quick little creature, and a yellow-rumped warbler revealed itself. We spent probably 10 minutes gawking at those trees, figuring we must have seen at least 30 robins.

A yellow-rumped warbler cocks its head while sitting in tree branches.
A yellow-rumped warbler soaks up a bit of sun in the woods at the Reed Bryan Farm side of Mercer Meadows on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022.

Pressing on down the trail, we stopped at the next major clump of trees and spotted more yellow-rumped warblers. We got close enough that I was able to get a couple of decent shots

I looked up down the trail to the right and spotted a hawk, near where I’d seen a red-shouldered hawk a few weeks earlier. As we approached, the bird flew off, revealing a red tail.

Also in the area were several bluebirds. We logged eight on eBird but there could well have been more.

An Eastern bluebird perches on a brnach.
Another breath-taking Eastern bluebird.

Laura and I (and her very good boy black Labrador retriever) were excited about our good luck in spotting so many birds, and we got even more excited when she heard the call of a pileated woodpecker. Not long after, she spotted one flying in the distance. I wasn’t able to catch up to that one, but the red-tailed hawk made a flyover and I was able to get my camera up quickly enough to snap one decent shot.

In two hours, we logged 71 birds in 15 species, plus one chickadee that in our cross-over area we enter as black-capped/Carolina. Most of that action came in the second hour. From now on, I may just sleep in or linger a little longer over my coffee before strapping on the bins and my Canon.

A red-tailed hawk soars overhead against a bright blue sky.
A red-tailed hawk flew over us. Note: I do little manipulation of my images other than bringing out the details and cropping; on this one, I did a bit of vignetting to draw more attention to the bird. On the rare occasion I do anything out of the usual like that, I will make note as I have done here.

Published by Dan

University media executive by day, blogger by night, I am a well-traveled resident of New Jersey

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