Grey Catbird Curiosity

While on the hunt for migratory warblers to photograph, I stumbled upon Mercer Meadows in Lawrence Township.

I stumbled upon Mercer Meadows last Spring when I was Google hunting for some good spots to photograph migrating warblers. Located in Lawrence Township and part of the Mercer County Park system, the place is massive—about 1,600 acres of open space. It's got everything from meadows and forests to wetlands. The draw for me was the Pole Farm area, a well-known bird-watcher haven. Since I'm into hiking and photography, I thought, "Why not take a morning walk with my XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR (229-914mm FFE) lens?"

I was at Pole Farm for the first time. I started by wandering through the meadow before diving into a shaded trail surrounded by tall trees. I walked quite a distance without spotting birds, so I considered returning. Just then, I heard this distinctive call. I had never heard it before, but thanks to the Merlin ID app, I discovered it was a Grey Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis).

The Grey Catbird, known for its cat-like calls, is a common resident of New Jersey. These slate-grey birds have a dark cap atop their heads and a rufous (reddish brown) undertail. Their melodious "mew" calls are reminiscent of a cat's meow, giving them their unique name.

Gray Catbird
Gray Catbird · Monday 15 May 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 at 1/1000 sec, · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR at 600 mm at f/8.0

Grey Catbirds are skilled mimics, often incorporating the sounds of other birds into their songs. They are primarily insectivorous, feasting on a diet of insects, berries, and fruits, making them valuable for pest control and seed dispersal.

These birds are frequently spotted in dense thickets and shrubby habitats, where they prefer to stay hidden. What caught my attention was how curious this bird seemed, sitting on a tree branch, with its dark plumage contrasting against the background of green leaves. It's like she was watching me, almost as interested in what I was doing as I was in her—pretty cool first experience.

Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge

Located in Princeton, the Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge is a 350-acre natural area that is an essential habitat for various wildlife species.

During my job search, I understand the importance of taking breaks and getting fresh air to maintain focus and motivation. This morning, I worked on job applications and updated my resume. I searched online for the best places to photograph birds in Princeton. The Birding Hot Spots in Mercer County page on the Princeton Township tourism website offered many suggestions. After some consideration, I settled on the Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge. Although I had visited the refuge before on a birding field trip with the Washington Crossing Audubon Society, I never got "around to it". Like the crew racing at Carnegie Lake, I finally decided to have my "round 2 it".

After firing off another job application, I packed my X-T3, XF27mmF2.8 R WR, XF16-55mF2.8 R LM WR, and XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR lenses and drove to the Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge.

Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge
Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge · Wednesday 3 May 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF27mmF2.8 R WR

Located in Princeton, the Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge is a 350-acre natural area that is an essential habitat for various wildlife species. The refuge was established in 1970 and is named after Charles H. Rogers, a local conservationist who was instrumental in preserving the area. The Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge provides wildlife viewing and quiet walks among marshes and riverine forests along Stony Brook.

The refuge features diverse habitats, including wetlands, forests, and meadows, that provide a home for many bird species, such as woodpeckers, owls, warblers and songbirds. The refuge also offers educational programs and events for visitors of all ages, such as guided nature walks, birding workshops, and wildlife photography classes.

According to the Tips for Photographing Birds website, the best time for bird photography is early morning, just after sunrise, or late evening, before sunset. It was already past 1 PM, so I didn't have high expectations.

The air felt cold, and the slight breeze forced me to wear my spring coat. I grabbed my gear and walked to the observation deck just behind the trees near the parking area. Photographing small birds can be rewarding but is a challenging experience for wildlife photographers. I saw a red-winged blackbird but struggled to use the XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR. The lens is heavy, and my out-of-shape arms quickly tired. A tripod or monopod would help me keep my camera steady and avoid blurry shots.

I was ready to give up when I heard a bird call behind me. I turned to see a Grey Catbird "posing" in a nearby tree. The bird sat long enough for me to capture a sharp, in-focus image. This bird has a slate-grey colouration with a black cap and tail. Its bill is black and slightly curved, while its eyes are a bright reddish-brown.

From what I read in the Princeton Institute Woods & Charles Rogers Wildlife Refuge bird database, the GGrey Catbird's vocalisations are unique. It has a wide range of songs and calls, including a cat-like "mew" sound, which is how it got its name. It is also known for mimicking the songs of other bird species and the sounds of insects, frogs, and other animals.

Grey Catbirds can be found in various habitats, including wooded areas, shrublands, and suburban gardens. They feed on various foods, including insects, berries, and fruits. These birds are also known to be attracted to habitats with dense vegetation, where they can build their nests and raise their young.

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) · Wednesday 3 May 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

Taking pictures of little birds can be a real test of patience and time. You have to wait for them to come close and keep an eye on them as they move about in their natural surroundings. But even then, they may sit on the spot on a tree branch right behind a left or another branch. It's frustration.

Even though I was willing to stay there for a long time and be on the lookout for any unexpected photo opportunities, it was getting late, and I needed to go pick up Bhavna from work. I plan to come earlier in the morning. Maybe I'll get lucky.