How big was my ‘Big Day’ in 2023?

My 2023 Spring “Big Day” was a lot of fun as I logged 51 species in e-Bird, doing my part to contribute to the crowd-sourced science that makes these annual counts so important in preserving our avian friends.

Unlike last year when I traveled to Cape May County during the World Series of Birding, I stayed close to home this year, never venturing out of Mercer County. But variety abounded, from my own backyard and the Mercer Meadows Pole Farm to the Millstone River Impoundment and the Charles Rogers Preserve in Princeton and the Dyson Tract along the Delaware and Raritan Canal.

The day started at the impoundment, where, thanks to a tip from a fisherman that the bird was headed in my direction, I got the post-topping shot of a great blue heron preparing to land.

One of two green herons spotted at the D&R Canal Dyson Tract.

Next up I made two stops with my birding buddy Laura, first to the Dyson Tract along the canal to see the prothonotary warbler, a lifer for her and a second sighting for me. We also spotted two green herons in the marsh, our first sightings for the year, nearly a year after we had our first sighting of one together last year.

From there we drove to the Pole Farm — my home court, if you will — and in the parking lot ran into Laura’s friend Joe. The three of us meandered up the central fields to the woods and back down the paved Lawrence Hopewell Trail. We were disappointed that the “warbler wall” at the old AT&T Building One site was quiet other than for catbirds. Laura stalked a blackpoll warbler in the evergreens there, and we heard it repeatedly but never saw it.

We recorded it but could not justify doing the same for the Wilson’s warbler that popped up a few times nearby on the Merlin sound app. A bird for another day, if not another year!

A couple of surprises awaited us as we made our way back to the parking lot. First up was the buzzy call of the willow flycatcher, one I’d been hoping to hear since they flew away last summer. We heard the call several times and settled on reporting two of them. I am eager to go back and spot one.

The final surprise came as we reached the car in the parking lot. Something big flew past us and landed on a bare, spikey tree. It then flew into the large tree to the right of the trail out of the lot, and by then Joe had nailed the ID: another green heron.

Late in the afternoon, I made one more foray into the woods, at the Charles Rogers Preserve, tucked behind graduate student apartments on the outskirts of the Princeton University campus. Not much was happening there, although I did spot a female wood duck flying across the marsh from the observation deck at the parking lot.

Twenty-four hours later, I reflect on the day and note that as much as I enjoy my solitary walks, birding is better with a friend, and even better when you make a new one.

Published by Dan

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

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