Garret Mountain, “like the old days”

Although the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s “Birdcast” app suggested that only 59,000 birds moved across all of Essex County last night, and an equal number moved across all of Passaic, who would have predicted that so many of them would end up at Garret Mountain Park this morning? The first alert about “new” warbler species arrivals trickled through on the GroupMe app around 7:30. By the time I arrived around 8, the woods at the north end of Barbour Pond had so many warblers (mostly Yellow-rumpeds) that it was very difficult to figure out what bird to look at next. Over the course of about two hours and two miles of walking (all in a tight area), other birders and I encountered at least 16 species of warblers, some in onesies or twosies, others in large numbers. Mixed in were many other spring migrants: kinglets, vireos, mimic thrushes, orioles, grosbeaks, and a Lincoln’s Sparrow, the first time I’ve ever seen one in the springtime. The latter bird violated all rules and behaviors by perching up on an exposed twig for a good minute or so to have a preen and a sunbath. Equally showy was a quiet American Bittern, which offered great photographic opportunities if one had a long lens, as it sat out in the open at the edge of the pond. Jim Kuelke and I showed it to a novice birder who had made the mistake of asking, “Anything interesting here today?”

I had been, and continue to be worried about Garret Mountain as a birding location: the overabundant deer have eaten everything that doesn’t have thorns, other than what’s contained in the exclosure that Passaic County built in the interior of the park. The presence of just mono-specific ground cover–barberry–ought to bode ill for thicket-loving migrants (Kentucky, Mourning Warblers, etc.). And I don’t think a new tree will ever grow outside that exclosure; every leaf will be eaten and therefore it would seem that no sustained photosynthesis is possible. How would a tiny oak ever survive all those ungulate mouths to grow to 40-50 feet high?

But at least for today, the barberry brambles and the numerous insects in the “wet area” and up on the ridge were enough. Birds were everywhere, singing, flitting about, chasing each other…like Garret Mountain when I first visited, after the late Pete Bacinski first mentioned it to me in 2012. Fifty-four species for me, many more that others encountered. Birdcast suggests tonight as another big migration night. Let’s see what flies in at sunrise tomorrow – at Garret, or all over the state!

Good birding!

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