I could not let this final day of the year pass by without heading out with my camera and binoculars, even if the weather was less than ideal. Heavy fog rolled in before sunrise and remained with us the entire day.
Hoping I might catch a few waterbirds that were unlikely to appear at the Mercer Meadows Pole Farm, I drove out to the Plainsboro Preserve about 20 minutes from home. Lake McCormack, the centerpiece of the park, was socked in with fog. Through the trees on the main trail I could faintly make out scores of Canada geese, although I had no trouble whatsoever hearing them. They were making their presence known liberally.
I walked the main trail and turned right onto the blue trail, then turned right again onto Maggie’s Trail. I like that trail because it’s on a spit jutting into the lake, and it has views on each side. While previous warm-weather trips gave me sightings of Baltimore orioles and warbling vireos, no songbirds were present this day, and I could only see maybe 100 feet off shore in either direction.
But surprises were in store. First, I spotted three birds in the water off to the right. I assumed I was seeing three ring-necked ducks. I took a few quick photos before they slipped into the fog.
I continued walking and reached the end of the trail, telling myself the trip was worth it just to see those ring-necked ducks. I turned back and quickly spotted a small, duck-like bird to my right. It hung around long enough for me to snap a few pictures through the branches, and I could not figure out what it was, even while Googling a few guesses on my cell phone.
The answer would be revealed back home, when I put the photos into the Merlin app. The answer — a ruddy duck, a lifer for me, No. 202!
I went back toward the parking lot as a misty rain began to fall. I wandered up onto the observation deck at the park visitor center. It was closed, but the feeders surrounding the building were very much open, with cardinals and sparrows darting about the nearby bushes. I was able to capture a white-breasted nuthatch opening its beak, and that picture is atop this post, showing the fine rain in the background.
I came home, sorted through my photos and updated my e-Bird report, not expecting a surprise that would come in by email from an e-Bird reviewer late in the afternoon.
My three ring-necked ducks were actually two ring-necks and a redhead, another lifer for me, No. 203.
A little sheepish about my mistaken ID, I fixed the record in e-Bird. I also decided to check to see how many checklists I filed this year. I thought I’d be close to one per day, as I occasionally make two or even three reports on a single day and bird from home on days I can’t get away.
The total: 370, just over one per day.
I don’t know what the new year holds, but I’m excited at the prospects for birding and sharing my stories and photos with others. Thanks to all who are reading this post and following me. I wish you good health and great adventure in 2023!