Fishers and tracking in New Jersey

Check out the latest article over at New Jersey Outdoors for a pair of articles written about and by Charlie Kontos, wildlife biologist and member of the Scarlet Knight-Herons. The first deals with the reappearance of fishers in northern NJ. The second, written by Kontos, discusses tracking predators (bobcats and fishers) in the Garden State during the winter months. Both are great reads and can be found in the latest issue of Trail Walker.

Only 370 more days until the next World Series of Birding

The World Series of Birding has come and gone.

It all started around 10 p.m. on Friday night, when Scarlet Knight-Herons captain Brian Clough drove his mother’s Toyota Avalon to pick up other team members Bill Lynch, Charlie Kontos, and David LaPuma. We were in high spirits when we arrived at the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge for the start of our day. The clock struck midnight and we could finally tally the first birds on our list. Virginia Rail, Sora, Swamp Sparrow, Marsh Wren, and Canada Goose were all heard quickly. Despite our best efforts, the Eastern Screech Owl wasn’t being cooperative, so we moved on to toward the Overlook parking lot. American Woodcocks were abundant, but with cars constantly coming and going, hearing into the distance was becoming exceedingly difficult. We decided to head north.

Standing out in the cold rain, we heard Common Moorhen and Northern Mockingbird. While hoping to hear Pied-Billed Grebe, we instead were treated to another birder skulking into the marsh and failing miserably to recreate the bird’s call. We had to retreat before we all burst into laughing and further bothered the other birders in the area.

With dawn quickly approaching, we climbed up Vesper Hill. At this point, a little after 5 a.m., there were seemingly walls of bird songs hitting us from every direction. It is almost a surreal experience. On our way back down, we finally heard the Vesper Sparrow vocalizing, which prompted us to hoof it out of there quickly to move onto our next spot.

Moving through the High Point area, we stopped occasionally to listen and look for more species. We hiked into the woods and heard Pileated Woodpecker, Winter Wren, and finally a Barred Owl. At another stop we heard Golden-Winged Warbler, but without seeing it we couldn’t say for certain whether or not it had been a Blue-Winged Warbler singing a Golden-Winged song. That location still produced for us, as we added Belted Kingfisher, Northern Waterthrush, and Red-Breasted Nuthatch. We were also treated to a close-up view of a Swainson’s Thrush as it sang perched on a nearby branch. On one of our last northern stops, we were able to hear Cerulean Warbler, and viewed Common Merganser and Spotted Sandpiper out on the water.

We were heading south around 9 a.m. with 15 hours to go. Our species count had eclipsed 100, but glaringly absent from our list was Hairy Woodpecker, American Bittern, and Pied Billed Grebe, among others. Visiting Duke Farms helped us add to our total. Bald Eagle and Bobolink were our first new birds. As we drove through the grounds, we added quite a few more, including Northern Rough-Winged Swallow and a migrating Cape May Warbler.

Recent father David had to depart at this time, so we dropped him off at his car and said our goodbyes. Then it was off to Brigatine’s Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. This was the longest leg of the trip, driving down the Parkway after having been up for about 28 hours straight already (the three of us remaining had all taken our big final the day before). We passed the time listening to bird songs, eating trail mix, and reminiscing about the now legendary Pied-Billed Grebe imitation.

Forsythe immediately produced a handsome Merlin flying overheard, as well as Caspian Terns, Black Skimmers, and a Least Bittern. Scanning a distant flock of birds, Brian was able to spot Gadwall, Northern Shoveler and Green-Winged Teal. Unfortunately by this time we running behind schedule, and had little time to scan individual flocks of shorebirds for less common species.

We arrived at Belleplain State Forest around 4 p.m., which turned out to be a big mistake. The temperature had reached the mid-80s and the trees were, for the most part, silent. Only one new species, Yellow-Throated Warbler, was added to the list. We had to make up for lost time with only a few hours of daylight left.

On the way to Cape Island we stopped at Reed’s Beach for Ruddy Turnstone and Red Knot. After arriving at Cape May point, we scanned the ocean and were rewarded with Northern Gannets and two Parasitic Jaegers. Soon after we got looks at Horned Lark, Piping Plover, and Least Tern. We headed north again, stopping at Nummy’s Island (which produced a Peregrine Falcon) and Stone Harbor. With about 20 minutes of daylight left, the Scarlet Knight-Herons were in serious danger of not seeing any night herons! While that could have been mildly amusing, we did end up adding Black-Crowned Night Heron on our last daytime stop.

Torrential downpours followed us up through Cape May County, but finally subsided at around 10 p.m. We exited our car at Jake’s Landing and waited for the Black Rail, but it was not to be. Fortunately enough we did add Chuck-Will’s-Widow, Common Nighthawk, and Whip-Poor-Will to our list. It was time to call it a day. We tallied up our 178 species and handed in our list at the finish line in Cape May.

We were exhausted and borderline delirious. 24 straight hours of birding had come to an end, and our upstart team of first-time WSB participants had ended up placing 7th among statewide teams. We were all excited, and looking ahead to an improved number at next year’s May 15th event.

The Atlantic City Press actually pulled us aside at the awards the next day to give a quick interview. Here is their brief article along with a photo of 3/4ths of the Scarlet Knight-Herons: 24 hours, 77 teams, 269 species of birds

We want to thank everyone who supported us and/or donated. Thanks to all the other great teams out there who helped scout the state and make this event so much fun, particularly the Nine Inch Rails. A big thank you to the EcoGSA for their support. And thanks to River Horse, our unofficial sponsor and supplier of free beer and t-shirts. Drink River Horse!

The day has arrived!

This is it, folks!  Charlie, Bill, and Brian just finished their last final of the semester, kicked back a few bottles of River Horse outside of class (seriously), and are now gearing up for the World Series of Birding.  At approximately 10 p.m. they will depart for the Great Swamp to start the 24-hour extravaganza listening for bitterns, rails, and owls.  From there it's straight to the tip of New Jersey, listening for more night birds along the way, and finally settling in for the dawn chorus.  Warblers, sparrows, and bears - oh my! we may or may not see a bear, but they don't count anyway.  World Series of Mammals isn't until next month.

Down through central NJ until we hit Duke Farms.  Breeding Bald Eagles and grassland birds await.  South Amboy is a possibility for Little Gull and Great Cormorant, and then it's down south until we reach Brigantine National Wildlife Refuge.  From there it's onto Heislerville, Belleplain, Cape May Point, Stone Harbor, and finally to Jake's Landing for any rails or night species we may have missed.  Of course we'll have a big update on Sunday or Monday with a full report including species seen and cups of coffee chugged.

Thanks for your support, everyone!  This is going to be a blast, and we're already getting excited for next year when we have a little more time before the event.  Get ready, birding world, the Scarlet Knight Herons are about to make a name for themselves!

Scouting, Fund-raising updates

One last push in the fund-raising department has helped us reach our original goal of $800! Not too shabby - although we'd still love to get to our slightly loftier goal of $1000. Time isn't up yet, folks. If you're still thinking of donating please feel free to contact us or use the PayPal button on the right-hand side of the blog.

We headed out on Saturday to scout and map out the Great Swamp NWR - but unfortunately our days were mixed up and we weren't able to access the management areas. On the bright side (pun intended), the sun came out and we were able to get some casual birding in. Highlights included Lincoln's Sparrow, a stunning White-Crowned Sparrow, Yellow-Throated Vireo, Warbling Vireo, a lone Solitary Sandpiper flying overhead, and a female Hooded Merganser which might be worth checking up on before the big day. It's late in the season for them and if she's still hanging out it wouldn't be a lengthy detour to add another species to our list.

Charlie and Bill continued to bird the area and visited Scherman-Hoffman Audubon Sanctuary. A Pileated Woodpecker swooped in and gave us some good looks right out of the car. House Wrens aplenty, with Black-Throated Blue Warbler, Wood Thrush, and Rose-Breasted Grosbeak rounding out the afternoon.

Brian will valiantly time our northern route this week, and hopefully the team will be able to lock down a few final breeding bird locations. The World Series of Birding is less than one week away...let's hope it's not going to pour.

River Horse Brewery Sponsors the Knight Herons!

In what many have deemed a “match made in heaven” the Scarlet Knight Herons have fired up a sponsorship with River Horse Brewery. Located along the banks of the Delaware River in Lambertville, NJ, River Horse has been brewing fine craft ales and lagers since 1996. River Horse also participates in a number of environmentally friendly programs such as recycling waste grains for use as livestock feed and offsetting energy consumption with carbon credits.

While other teams are sponsored by lame optics companies, the Knight Herons have opted to pursue the adult-beverage industry to help with their quest to identify multitudes of rare birds throughout New Jersey. What better way to do that than with a pair of binoculars in one hand and an ice-cold River Horse in the other (or just use a beer helmet if you have trouble holding binoculars with one hand – come on man, do I have to think of everything?). Obviously the more beer we drink, the easier it will be to get into “the zone” when trying to track down extremely elusive birds such as dickcissels and bushtits. Being that we already drink River Horse at our graduate student association meetings on Fridays (as well as every other day in between those meetings) it seemed logical to team up for the World Series of Birding.

Through dynamic sponsorships such as this, we hope to usher in a new era of conservation awareness combined with beer appreciation. With the support of New Jersey’s finest brewery, the Scarlet Knight Herons are now poised to endure 24 straight hours of frenetic birding on May 9th. Many thanks go out to River Horse Brewery not only for their sponsorship but more importantly for brewing such great-tasting beer!  Please check out the River Horse website by clicking the link or the photo on the right-hand side of our blog.

-Charlie Kontos

Scouting, 4/18-19

Back up north again. Spring has seemed slow to start in New Jersey, but this past weekend was much more seasonal. Warm weather and calm conditions made for a couple great days to be out in the woods! I took full advantage, and was rewarded with some good "intelligence".

There was still an abundance of early migrants to be found. Ruby-crowned Kinglets were everywhere; I heard their short "chi-ditt!" calls almost everywhere I went. Juncoes were singing in several locations, as were Palm Warblers. A striking number of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers have been present on Crigger road in Stokes, and the Spruce grove near Ocquitunk campground were thick with Golden-crowned Kinglets. While most of these will be long gone come May 9th, its always good to know where such migrants are hanging might just be the spot you find that lingering bird on the big day.

New breeding birds were in as well. The pair of Yellow-throated Warblers that have nested in the Blewett Tract (just outside of Bevans) has returned again. This species is common in southern New Jersey, but it doesn't hurt to get it out of the way. Red-breasted Nuthatches were also there, and I observed a pair of Common Mergansers loafing on the Flatbrook. The perrenial Cliff Swallows were down the valley a bit at the DOT Barn. They had already refurbished their nest and one of them was sitting inside with its head poking out. Heading up Struble rd I heard several Blue-headed Vireos and numerous Brown Creepers.

Our northern route seems to be working itself out nicely, but we need to see how the next few weeks go. There are a few holes in our plan, and I'll be trying to patch them up. Of course everyone is wondering what the status on Golden-winged Warblers in Sussex County will turn out to be. Last year they seemed to have disappeared entirely from traditional WSB spots, but I have a few new locations we're going to check out. This is a disturbing development in the ongoing plight of an endangered species.

I'll probably be taking a weekend off from scouting to actually do some school work. Stay tuned though, more to come!


Knight Herons featured on Wild NJ

Hey everyone,

Wild New Jersey has posted a short article about our World Series of Birding team and our fund-raising efforts.  You can check out the article by visiting the site here: Wild New Jersey

Keep helping us raise awareness for our cause!  The big day is less than a month away!

Thanks for reading,

Sunday in Sussex

On Sunday morning I did a few hours of scouting in High Point and Stokes State Park, and man was it cold!

Beyond the frigid temperature, though, it was really nice to finally get out and check a few locations along our WSOB route (and yes, it did eventually warm up). I forget how beautiful it is in the northwest corner of the state, and right now at the end of winter, it's alive with the new sights and sounds of spring. Doing a little recon on my own I trekked around the Cat Swamp area looking for any signs of nesting raptors. I found none, but I did get to watch Tree Swallows foraging over fields of tussocks, and pairs of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers courting and chasing each other to and from various dead hemlocks. The sapsuckers would become the common theme through the morning, with their loud "waa" call and drumming being heard at almost every stop. It's great to see them in such high numbers during migration, but by the time the WSOB rolls around, we better have a pair staked out as they rarely breed in the state.

The strangest encounter of the day was definitely a dead porcupine at the base of a hemlock tree in Cat Swamp. Being from Florida, these creatures are totally "outside of my reality" (a phrase commonly used by the late and great Ted Stiles), and therefore I never expect to run into them. Once I saw it, thought, I immediately thought of our teammate Charlie Kontos, who studies carnivorous mammals in New Jersey. This carcas was pretty hefty, I'd say at least 15 lbs, and yet Charlie tells me that they're a delicacy for Fishers, his current research focus. I don't think this particular dead porcupine had anything to do with a Fisher, but man what a confrontation that would be!

Later in the morning I met up with fellow teamate Brian Clough and his better-half, Amy Manning, to do some more sleuthing for signs of spring fever in raptors. We encountered more Wood Ducks, both Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal, and several pockets of mixed passerines such as Golden-crowned (very common) and Ruby-crowned (less common) Kinglets, and some downright specky breeding plumaged Palm Warblers. At several stops we heard the distant high stacatto song of recently returned Pine Warblers. These encounters remind me that It won't be long now before the dawn chorus expands to include dozens of breeding birds. By the end of the day we found a single nest that looked promising but we could not confirm whether it was currently occupied. During the next week one of us will have to go back with a spotting scope... and maybe a camp chair and a thermos of coffee (it's a rough life, I know).

The Knight Herons have been 'toonized!

A fellow graduate student, Dom D'Amore, has been gracious enough to lend his artistic hand to the Scarlet Knight Herons.  Along with creating a few logos for our use, he also drew and colored this cartoon version of the team:

There's only a little over four weeks left until the big event!  We've all been swamped with work and school, but the scouting efforts should increase a little in the coming week or two.  Stay tuned, everyone, and help us spread the word about our fund-raising efforts.  Thanks!


and we begin..

I headed up to Stokes State Forest to do some early scouting, and to refresh myself on the "lay of the land" this past weekend. Stokes, combined with High Point State Park, comprises one of the largest tracts of contiguous forest in northern New Jersey. It is critical habitat for a large variety of species. There are perhaps a dozen or more that will be difficult to come by during the WSB if we don't see or hear them here!

Residents and early migrants are hard at work, preparing for spring. Many Eastern Phoebes were present and clearly establishing territories. Brown Creepers were singing, and I observed one individual carrying nesting material. White-breasted Nuthatches were frequent and vocal, presumably engaged in courtship. It may seem overly cautious to make note of common species, but keep in mind that by May 9th nuthatches, our local Picids & Parids, etc will be well into their nesting season. Once they have eggs and young ones to defend they tend to keep quiet, so knowing precisely where to look can save you time. A pair of Red-shouldered Hawks were clearly courting, flying just above the forest canopy and frequently vocalizing to each other. However they were moving around quite a bit, leading me to believe they were not quite yet on territory.

Most astounding was the number of Pine Siskins. I heard or saw them everywhere I went (including my stop at Jumboland for a coffee on my way up)! Flocks of 10-30 were frequently observed along Crigger, Park Ridge, & Sawmill Rds. I heard several singing and took the time to watch for any indications of breeding when the chance arose. Breeding Siskins is something all NJ birders should have on mind this year, given the incredible numbers being reported state-wide.

Well, that's it for now. In the coming weeks, the natural areas of New Jersey will fill with bird song, and then the real scouting effort begins! I'm hoping my experience in the north will help us locate sought after species efficiently. Planning our trek down south- Cape May by way of SE NJ- will definitely take a little more work. Of course the real trick is going to be balancing our school & work schedules with time spent scouting....we'll just have to wait and see how that goes.


Brian Clough ( is an ecosystems ecologist studying the effects of land use on ecosystem-level functions, such as carbon cycling. He also works for Duke Farms as a part of their Natural Resources Team. Brian has a wide breadth of interests including (but not limited to) birding, ecosystems ecology, botany, and local agriculture.

Bill Lynch ( is currently writing an exhaustive literature review on the breeding success of wetland birds on the east coast. He is also assisting the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife with their current survey of inland heron colonies. Bill is passionately interested in birding, wildlife conservation, and photography.

David La Puma ( has been working closely with the federally endangered Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow and how fire processes in the Everglades affect the species. He also started Woodcreeper to track bird migration using radar. David is an avid birder and photographer.

Charlie Kontos ( is THE fisher expert in the state of New Jersey. He is credited with the first verification of fishers in NJ, and has also conducted research on bobcats, coyotes, timber rattlesnakes, and red knots. Charlie holds a Master's in Biology from Montclair State University and is a recent convert to birding.

All four gentlemen are currently enrolled in the Ecology & Evolution Graduate Program at Rutgers University. They are planning to compete in the 2009 World Series of Birding to help raise money for their Graduate Student Association. The GSA is a valuable member of the scientific and local communities. They run weekly student seminars on interesting ecological research, help to manage and conserve vital habitats (including Helyar Woods and Hutcheson Memorial Forest), and much more.

If you would consider donating, please feel free to contact any of the team members or to click on the donate link on the right-hand side of this page. If you have donated and have a business or other site you would like advertised on this page, please contact Bill with a website link or small button/logo. Thank you everyone for reading and for donating!