Friday, January 30, 2015

Week in review: 24 – 30 January, 2015


CMBO is pleased to provide weekly summaries of the Cape's birding highlights. Coverage is limited to bird sightings in Cape May County. Readers should keep in mind that some reports may not be confirmed. The vast majority of information utilized in these reports comes from eBird data and "Keekeekerr" text alerts. Observers are also encouraged to send reports and photos to compiler Tom Reed (coturnicops at gmail dot com).

Location Abbreviations/Explanations: CMP (town of Cape May Point); CMPSP (Cape May Pt. State Park); Cold Spring Inlet (entrance to Cape May Harbor, accessed from Two Mile Beach); SHPt (Stone Harbor Point).

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WATERFOWL THROUGH HERONS
       Cold weather continued to adversely affect freshwater duck numbers, with significant ice cover remaining on most fresh and brackish water. An unbanded and free-flying female Ruddy Shelduck that appeared at Erma 15 Jan (SWh) continued to be seen between Erma and Villas through at least 28 Jan (m. ob.). Though most North American records presumably refer to individuals that have escaped from captivity, it is worth fully documenting the species’ occurrences here, as it is also a candidate for natural vagrancy. A Cackling Goose was again reported on the pond at Champlain Drive, Villas 27 Jan (TB). Other noteworthy waterfowl included a female King Eider at Avalon’s 8th Street jetty 29 Jan (WK) and the continuing Harlequin Duck duo at Cold Spring Inlet through at least 25 Jan (m. ob.). The week’s only American Bittern was a single at Jake’s Landing 24 Jan (TR et al.). A hardy Tricolored Heron continued to play hide-and-seek in the marshes along Ocean Drive, between Cape May and Wildwood Crest, through at least 27 Jan (m. ob.).

RAPTORS THROUGH TERN
       There were no reports of the lingering Osprey this week. Rough-legged Hawk has been in short supply; therefore 1 at Jake’s Landing 25 Jan (CV, DV) was notable. Beachfront Red Knots remained in the Wildwoods through the period (m. ob.) and a ‘Western’ Willet-- a first for 2015, was noted in the vicinity of Cold Spring Inlet 28 Jan (MP). Alcid reports were reduced, though that may be reflective of observer effort in recent days. A Dovekie was seen from Sunset Beach, on the heels of a strong coastal storm, 27 Jan (TJ). An adult Black-legged Kittiwake provided scope views from Avalon’s 8th Street jetty 28 Jan (TB). The year’s first Little Gull, an adult, was observed during a ferry crossing 26 Jan (DD, SD). At least 2 adult Black-headed Gulls remained along the lower Delaware Bay, with regular reports from the Ferry Terminal and at Sunset Beach through 30 Jan (m. ob.). Forster’s Terns hung on through at least the middle of the week, with near-daily sightings from Sunset Beach until 27 Jan (m. ob.).

COLLARED-DOVE THROUGH REDPOLL
       A long-staying Eurasian Collared-Dove was most recently encountered at CMP 25 Jan (CBs). There were apparently no Snowy Owl reports this week, but at least 3 Short-eared Owls once again entertained dozens of observers at Jake’s Landing through the period. Predictably, the Tree Swallow flock at CMP dwindled through the recent stormy and progressively colder weather-- only a single individual was reported by 30 Jan (m. ob.). Additional lingerers included a Yellow-breasted Chat at CMPSP 28 Jan (WC) and 2 Orange-crowned Warblers at CMPSP 30 Jan (KH). Noteworthy on the barrier islands, an American Tree Sparrow was reported at SHPt 24 Jan (CBr, WC). Pierce’s Point was home to 229 Boat-tailed Grackles, a strong midwinter total, 29 Jan (SG). Common Redpolls were not as conspicuous this week but there were still several sightings, the most recent including 10 at SHPt 30 Jan (TB) and 1 at Villas the same day (SR).


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Contributors:
Tom Baxter (TB), Claudia Burns (CBr), Catherine Busch (CBs), Warren Cairo (WC), David Disher (DD), Susan Disher (SD), Sam Galick (SG), Kathy Horn (KH), Tom Johnson (TJ), Will Kerling (WK), Mike Pasquarello (MP), Tom Reed (TR), Steven Rodan (SR), Colette Visser (CV), Derk Visser (DV), Scott Whittle (SWh).


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References:

eBird. 2012. eBird: An online database of bird distribution and abundance [web application].  eBird, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Available: http://www.ebird.org. (Accessed: 30 January 2015)

Fogg, B. 2013. Keekeekerr: Recent Text Alerts. Available: http://keekeekerr.com/textalerts/keekeekerr. (Accessed: 30 January 2015)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Black-headed Gull, and enjoying the bayshore

The appearance of a scarce or rare bird is always the greatest inspiration for getting the coat on and getting out into the chilly January weather. After yesterday's forecast bad weather gave Cape May a wide berth, the sun returned today and provided even more impetus to get out and enjoy Cape May.

An adult Black-headed Gull continues to attract people to Cape May Point at the moment, but it also gives a great excuse to take in the other treats of a bayshore day in January. Right now, there appears to be some good nursery schools of young fish off Sunset Beach and good numbers of birds are gathering to feed on them, offering some wonderful opportunities to enjoy a few species that you might not normally see so well. The presence of the Black-headed Gull should have everyone checking their field guides for the key identification features for that species, but that then encourages familiarity with the commoner confusion species - always a good first step when looking for something rare. Currently, Bonaparte's Gulls are putting on a wonderful performance here and it's a great opportunity to remind ourselves that not all gulls are aggresive brutes that go around in scavenging gangs!

Bonaparte's Gull is one of the smaller gull species and even has certain tern-like qualities in their dainty flight and delicate bills. Most of the time they feed by picking food up at, or just below, the water surface. They may do this either in flight or by swimming; either way, when the fish shoals are in close, it's a great opportunity to enjoy these smart birds [photo by Mike Crewe].

As is so often the case, familiarity with the usual will help you pick out the unusual if it should show up. Spend time watching Bonaparte's Gulls and notice the clean white underwing, pale pink legs and black bill [photo by Mike Crewe].

Against the light, Bonaparte's Gulls look grayer on the underwing, but this grayness is uniform across the outer and the inner wing, while the delicate, black bill is still apparent [photo by Mike Crewe].

Sunset Beach's Black-headed Gull can be a little restless and it often disappears around the corner for periods of time. But watch for it flying past and note the deep red bill and legs, as well as the very blackish look to the underside of the outer wing which makes the white leading edge really stand out. Black-heads are a little chunkier and longer winged than Bonaparte's too [photo by Mike Crewe].

As well as dainty gulls, the appearance of baitfish shoals has brought Red-throated Loons and even Horned Grebes in close - again providing a great opportunity to watch these birds up close. It is interesting to study the behavior of these birds as they come into the shallows to feed on fish - what's the typical duration of a feeding dive? How far do they typically travel underwater before surfacing again? So many interesting questions to answer - or you could just marvel at those bizarre red eyes!

Red-throated Loons are wonderful birds when seen up close. The speckled pattern of the back gives them their scientific name, Gavia stellata, the latter word meaning starry. The head shape of loons can vary a lot according to the birds mood - bumpy like this usually means relaxed. But note the relatively delicate, slightly upturned bill of this bird, which helps to tell it from Common Loon [photo by Mike Crewe].

Horned Grebes mostly keep themselves out in the deeper channels, so any close encounter is always enjoyable - and that eye is just freaky! [Photo by Mike Crewe]


Come and enjoy CMBO's Saturday and Wednesday morning winter walks and get first hand guidance and tips on enjoying some great winter birding!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Week in review: 17 – 23 January, 2015


CMBO is pleased to provide weekly summaries of the Cape's birding highlights. Coverage is limited to bird sightings in Cape May County. Readers should keep in mind that some reports may not be confirmed. The vast majority of information utilized in these reports comes from eBird data and "Keekeekerr" text alerts. Observers are also encouraged to send reports and photos to compiler Tom Reed (coturnicops at gmail dot com).

Location Abbreviations/Explanations: CMP (town of Cape May Point); CMPSP (Cape May Pt. State Park); Cold Spring Inlet (entrance to Cape May Harbor, accessed from Two Mile Beach); SHPt (Stone Harbor Point); WMA (Wildlife Management Area); Two Mile Beach (beachfront at south end of Wildwood Crest).

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WATERFOWL THROUGH HERONS

       Cold weather continued to adversely affect freshwater duck numbers, with significant ice cover remaining on most fresh and brackish water. An unbanded, female Ruddy Shelduck that appeared at Erma 15 Jan (SWh) continued to be seen in the area, with the most recent report from the pond at Champlain Drive, Villas 23 Jan (m. ob.). Though most North American records presumably refer to individuals that have escaped from captivity, it is worth fully documenting the species’ occurrences here, as it is also a candidate for natural vagrancy. A trio of Cackling Geese was reported on the pond at Champlain Drive, Villas 20 Jan (KH). Exciting first-of-2015 reports included a female King Eider at Avalon’s 8th Street jetty 19 Jan (CS, PS) and a duo of female Harlequin Ducks at Cold Spring Inlet the same day (TR). The Harlequins remained through at least 22 Jan (m. ob.). Other notable ducks included a drake Eurasian Wigeon at CMPSP 20–23 Jan (m. ob.), a drake Canvasback at Reed’s Beach 22 Jan (KH), 6 Common Eiders at Avalon 19 Jan (JN, DW), and several reports of the locally uncommon Common Merganser (m. ob.). A significant total for the southern half of the peninsula, 60 Wild Turkeys were counted in a Green Creek field 21 Jan (SG, SWi). American Bittern sightings spanned the length of the county. Singles were detected at Tuckahoe WMA 17 Jan (BR), CMPSP 21 Jan (VE), and Sunset Lake, Wildwood Crest 21 Jan (SG). A hardy Tricolored Heron continued to hang around the marshes along Ocean Drive--between Cape May and Wildwood Crest--through 23 Jan (m. ob.). 

[Female King Eider near Avalon's 8th Street jetty, 19 Jan. Photo by Pat & Clay Sutton.]


RAPTORS THROUGH TERN

       A/the wandering Osprey appeared again at Two Mile Beach and Cape May Harbor 23 Jan (m. ob.). There were apparently no reports of Rough-legged Hawk during the past week. Shorebird news was headlined by a Marbled Godwit at Hereford Inlet 17 Jan (JA). No reports of that bird since, though 56 American Oystercatchers remained at the same site 21 Jan (SG, SWi). A sizable wintering flock of Red Knots remained in the Wildwoods through the period, with a recent max of 82 at Two Mile Beach 19 Jan (TR). Alcids again featured prominently. Single Dovekies were observed from Two Mile Beach 19 Jan (TR) and 23 Jan (KH). Large alcids were also evident from Two Mile Beach 19 Jan, and included 28 Razorbills plus 31 alcids too distant to identify to species (TR). Black-headed Gull appeared again in recent days, with 1-2 adults present at Sunset Beach 21–23 Jan (m. ob.). Forster’s Terns remained through the cold weather, highlighted by a total of 18 at Two Mile Beach 20 Jan (MP). 


[Snowy Owl at SHPt, 22 Jan. Photo by Dustin Welch.]


COLLARED-DOVE THROUGH REDPOLL

       A long-staying Eurasian Collared-Dove was most recently encountered at CMP 19 Jan (SG, EH). A Snowy Owl was discovered at SHPt 22 Jan (m. ob.), and the same or another was seen flying in from the ocean at North Wildwood 23 Jan (MK). At least 3 Short-eared Owls once again entertained observers at Jake’s Landing throughout the period. A pair was again seen from Nummy Island 17 Jan (MP), and another was at Pond Creek Marsh, just north of Sunset Beach, 19 Jan (TB, TG). Notable given the cold weather, 3 Eastern Phoebes persisted on private property at West Cape May 22 Jan (MP). Remarkable were the 50+ Tree Swallows that survived at Cape Island through at least 21 Jan (m. ob.). Additional noteworthy lingerers included Orange-crowned Warbler and Yellow-breasted Chat at CMPSP 17 Jan (m. ob.). A snow-covered SHPt hosted a noteworthy count of 53 ‘Ipswich’ Savannah Sparrows 22 Jan (TR), along with Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows (MP). Another Nelson’s Sparrow was photographed along the Delaware Bay at Pierce’s Point 21 Jan (SG, SWi). A substantial influx of Common Redpolls arrived during recent days-- particularly 18–23 Jan. Largest totals included 25+ at CMP 18 Jan (m. ob.), 13 at CMPSP 20 Jan (m. ob.), and 11 at SHPt 21 Jan (TR). Almost all reports have come from the immediate coast.

[ABOVE: Map of Common Redpoll reports in Cape May County, NJ during January 2014 (no reports). BELOW: Map of Common Redpoll reports in Cape May, NJ during January 2015. Images provided by eBird (www.ebird.org) and created 23 January 2015.]

 --===============--
Contributors:

Jesse Amesbury (JA), Tom Baxter (TB), Warren Cairo, Vince Elia (VE), Sam Galick (SG), Tom Gleason (TG), Emily Heiser (EH), Kathy Horn (KH), Mike Kilpatrick (MK), Josh Nemeth (JN), Mike Pasquarello (MP), Tom Reed (TR), Bill Roache (BR), Clay Sutton (CS), Pat Sutton (PS), Dustin Welch (DW), Scott Whittle (SWh), Sam Wilson (SWi).  

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References:

eBird. 2012. eBird: An online database of bird distribution and abundance [web application].    eBird, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Available: http://www.ebird.org. (Accessed: 23 January 2015).

Fogg, B. 2013. Keekeekerr: Recent Text Alerts. Available: http://keekeekerr.com/textalerts/keekeekerr. (Accessed: 23 January 2015).

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Things to do on a snowy day - sorting out the sparrows

Sometimes it can be tough making the decision to go birding when there is snow lying on the ground, the temperatures hover around the freezing mark and there are so many diversionary tactics close to hand, like hot coffee, an unread magazine and isn't it time to dust behind the radiators or sort the M&Ms into alphabetical order - or something....

Well, right about now you really should be thinking of dressing up warm and seeing what's happening in the natural world, for winter can be a very interesting time - and certainly a great time to observe and contribute to our knowledge of wildlife. In the past few days, two locations have featured strongly in the observational reports we are receiving from around Cape May - Sunset Beach and Stone Harbor Point. Sunset Beach, overlooking the concrete ship is currently a great place to sit and study Red-throated Loons, Bonaparte's Gulls and Surf Scoters, all of which are feeding on an apparent wealth of food there right now. Scan carefully and you might also find the Black-headed Gull that has been showing well there early mornings (I hear there may have even been two yesterday), as well as several Forster's Terns. Other birds ferry up and down the bay and parties of Black and Surf Scoters, Brant, Red-breasted Mergansers and others should be expected.

A phone call at the Northwood Center at 08:30 this morning revealed that a Snowy Owl had been found near the southern tip of Stone Harbor Point - now there's a gung-ho observer! Stone Harbor Point was in the news this time last year for a number of good birds - Snowy Owl, Smith's Longspur and Le Conte's Sparrow were all there for the finding. At present, at least one Lapland Longspur is hanging out there, but one of the best reasons to head out to the backbay marshes right now is that it is a good time to get to grips with those elusive marsh sparrows! Seaside, Nelson's and Saltmarsh Sparrows all winter in good numbers in New Jersey's spartina marshes but getting a good look at them can be tricky. So here's what you need to do. Pick an area of marsh that has easy access - somewhere that a road passes right through the saltmarsh, or where a boat ramp gives you easy access (Stone Harbor Point and Nummy's Island are good places, but there are many more). Take a look at the tide tables for the area of marsh that you choose and plan to visit an hour or two either side of the highest spring tide of the month. On such tides, the birds can be pushed right off the marsh and onto the roadsides. Wrap up warm and walk quietly along any line cover that there might be along the side of the road and you should soon be spotting dark and elusive shapes flitting ahead of you. Careful watching and patience are required but, almost inevitably, you will eventually get birds settling where you can see them. And now the fun begins - identifying them!

Armed with your favorite field guide, take careful note of face and chest color and pattern, consider the relative size of the bill - and get photos if you can. Here's a quick photo guide to help you in your quest, oh, and don't forget to eBird your sightings afterward. If you find a good spot and visit it on a regular basis, you can really contribute to citizen science and give researchers some useful data on these elusive birds.

Given a high tide and a good strand line of dead plant material, there is plenty of opportunity to study the elusive 'little brown jobs' of the backbay marshes. Typical views like this can leave one bemused and confused; these birds are perhaps not identifiable from this single shot and such brief views are commonplace. Take it from me though, the left hand bird turned out to be a Saltmarsh Sparrow and the right hand is a Nelson's! [Photo by Mike Crewe]

Views like this are to be dreamed about, but they can happen! Seaside Sparrow is the largest, plainest and grayest of your target species. They have long, stout bills and a yellowish patch on the front of the supercilium. Note how dingy-looking the bird is on its underparts. [photo by Tom Reed].

Nelson's Sparrow can be a complicated species as we have birds from more than one population wintering with us. Birds like this come from a coastal population that breeds in New England. They are overall dull and gray-looking but they differ from Seaside Sparrows in being shorter-billed and whiter underneath, with an orangey wash to the breast [photo by Sam Galick].

We also have Nelson's Sparrows from an interior breeding population, centered around Alberta, Saskatchewan and North Dakota. These birds are more brightly colored and can be hard to tell from Saltmarsh Sparrow. Indeed, until recently, Nelson's and Saltmarsh Sparrow were all considered a single species and you will find them called Sharp-tailed Sparrow in older books. On this bird note the clean, orangey supercilium, contrasting gray nape patch and well-defined dark flank streaks, as well as the relatively small bill [photo by Mike Crewe].

Seen from the front, interior Nelson's Sparrows usually show a strong and well-defined contrast between the orangey wash on the breast and the white belly [photo by Mike Crewe].

The final species of the marshland trio is Saltmarsh Sparrow and this is probably the hardest to find of the three species. This species has many differences in plumage from interior Nelson's Sparrows, but they are all rather subtle. Note the lack of color contrast between the chest and belly, the dark flecks in the orange supercilium, subtly longer bill and stronger flank streaking compared with the Nelson's Sparrows above [photo by Mike Crewe].

Now that you have those all sorted out, here's something to be aware of - Savannah Sparrow! Savannah Sparrows are common birds of the saltmarsh edge, which means you are more likely to find them along the roadside or edge of the dunes than right out in the saltmarsh. So they will be around if you go searching for the other sparrows at high tide. Savannahs are much paler and finely streaked all over. Many of our coastal wintering birds are from the Sable Island population known as Ipswich Sparrows - like the bird above - and these are especially pale and frosty-looking [photo by Tom Reed].

Go check out the sparrows and put all this into practice. It won't be easy, but that's all part of the fun - any bird that you have to work a little harder for will be so much sweeter once you crack it!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Owls in the News

Owls have been a recurring theme at the bird observatory the past few days and winter often does seem to be the time of year when these birds become more obvious to us. The larger species of owl have pretty long breeding seasons so need to start early and, at this time of year, Great Horned Owls are always very vocal as they reconfirm territories with their duet calls. Yesterday evening, a number of us were out at sites along the coast and bayshore throughout South Jersey, taking part in a long-running survey to monitor wintering raptors on our coastal wetlands. At the site I was counting, we finished off with a stunning bayshore sunset, flaming the sky behind the silhouette of a Great Horned Owl, perched on an Osprey platform. Surely one of the most iconic images of the Delaware Bay in winter.

The earlier anticipation of another Snowy Owl winter has faded, but one or two of these wonderful Arctic birds has been reported along the New Jersey coast so it's certainly worth keeping an eye out - there's a few out there somewhere. In the meantime, Project Snowstorm continues to provide us with amazing data on these birds and it is well worth visiting the project website on a regular basis to see what else has been learned.

Down here at Cape May Point, the buzz about owls has mostly been about Barred Owls - and one Barred Owl in particular (though maybe there is more than one...). Back in late fall, a Barred Owl showed up at the state park and bucked the usual trend by sitting out in full view for all to see. Ideas of keeping the bird's presence quiet to allow it not to be unduly disturbed seemed rather moot - this bird was free to go off and hide in the darkest depths of the wet woods, but was choosing to watch the world go by from prominent perches right beside the trails! With the start of a new year comes the start of new year lists and interest in this bird was renewed. Was it still around? Well, yes, and it's still disporting itself for all to see! Tales of close encounters with this bird have been many and we have received a lot of photos of it. There's no telling exactly when and where it will reveal itself as it does move around but, if you are at Cape May Point State Park, keep your eyes peeled. A couple of evenings ago, I received a phone call from one of our volunteers and was soon watching the bird right near the lighthouse, before it wafted across the road and sat watching traffic right in a roadside pine tree.


Two wonderful portraits of the Barred Owl that is currently calling Cape May Point home. There's little in the way of suitable breeding habitat for this species down here, so we will probably lose this bird in due course, as it wanders off to set up a territory elsewhere. But for now, it's a welcome addition to the neighborhood [top photo by Tom Reed, bottom photo by Sean McDermott]

One other encounter that I had with owls this weekend was not quite so wonderful - but was interesting as it involved a bit of detective work. At the bird observatory we received a phone call from a resident in North Cape May who had found what she thought to be a dead owl beside the road near her house. Expecting the usual blunt trauma encounter with a vehicle during the night, I went over and soon found the bird - a majestic Great Horned Owl. These birds often hunt along roadsides as many animals have to break from cover to cross open roads, making them easy targets for silent owls during the hours of darkness. Indeed, since owls, like most birds, have a very poor sense of smell, Great Horned Owls are probably the most significant predators of skunks and the well-eaten remains of a skunk in your yard is almost certainly a sign that Great Horned Owls are in your area.

Picking up this unfortunate owl, I was immediately struck by a strong smell. Not the smell of decay, for this was a freshly dead bird. This was a smell of burning. So what had happened to this bird? A closer look revealed that many of the bird's feathers had blackened melted tips with blackened blobs at the ends. I had seen this before and knew that this was a sign that the bird had been electrocuted. Sadly, a number of owls and diurnal birds of prey meet an untimely end when they collide with power lines. Landing on a power line is fine - it's if they touch two lines and complete a circuit that the problem arises. Talking by phone with the original caller later in the day, she revealed that they had experienced a power outage that night. It seems that our owl was the reason.

Some of the upper wing coverts of the unfortunate Great Horned Owl. Note how the feather edges are curled up and melted. Learning to be a nature detective can be useful in understanding the lives of the animals that live around us, such that we can learn to share space with each other in the best way for all of us [photo by Mike Crewe].

Though the loss of this owl is sad, some benefit for science can be gleaned from it. The bird will go to become part of the ever increasing collection of study skins at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. In addition, the bird carried a US Fish & Wildlife band on its leg and the details of the finding have been submitted to the banding lab, adding to our knowledge of bird movements and longevity in the region.

Humans have always had a great fascination with owls. If you want to know more about these fabulous creatures and have a chance to go and look for some, our Wintering Eagles, Hawks and Owls program is filling fast but still has one or two places left. Check out the details and give us a call on 609-761-0700 - we'd love to have you along!

A bayshore sunset at Thompson's Beach - Great Horned Owl in there somewhere! [Photo by Mike Crewe]

Friday, January 16, 2015

Week in review: 10 – 16 January, 2015


CMBO is pleased to provide weekly summaries of the Cape's birding highlights. Coverage is limited to bird sightings in Cape May County. Readers should keep in mind that some reports may not be confirmed. The vast majority of information utilized in these reports comes from eBird data and "Keekeekerr" text alerts. Observers are also encouraged to send reports and photos to compiler Tom Reed (coturnicops at gmail dot com).

Location Abbreviations/Explanations: CMP (town of Cape May Point); CMPSP (Cape May Pt. State Park); WMA (Wildlife Management Area).


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WATERFOWL THROUGH BITTERN
       Cold weather continued to adversely affect freshwater duck numbers, with significant ice cover remaining on most fresh and brackish water. The award for week’s most bizarre report goes to the Ruddy Shelduck that appeared at Erma and Villas 15 Jan (SW, JD, TL). The bird, an unbanded female, has not been seen since. Though most North American records presumably refer to individuals that have escaped from captivity, the species is a candidate for natural vagrancy and free-flying birds should be thoroughly documented. A Cackling Goose remained on the pond at Champlain Drive, Villas through at least 14 Jan (m. ob.). Both a Cackling Goose and a Ross's Goose were seen flying with Snow Geese over West Cape May 16 Jan (MO). Notable ducks included 12 Canvasbacks and 21 Redheads that flew south past Avalon 11 Jan (TR), and multiple reports of the locally uncommon Common Merganser-- including a max of 9 at Tuckahoe WMA 14 Jan (SG). Grebes were in the news this week, headlined by 70+ Horned Grebes at Avalon 11 Jan (TR et al.) and at least 1 Red-necked Grebe at Avalon 11–12 Jan (m. ob.). Reports of American Bittern were limited to CMPSP, where 2 were noted 11 Jan (TB), followed by 1 on 13 Jan (WC). 



[Ruddy Shelduck at Champlain Drive, Villas on 15 Jan. Photo by Tony Leukering.]


RAPTORS THROUGH GULLS
       After nearly a week without sightings, a/the Osprey appeared at CMP 13 Jan (MP). The same or another was photographed at Stone Harbor Point 11 Jan (HT, LW). Tuckahoe WMA continued to host a dark-type Rough-legged Hawk through much of the week (m. ob.). An unprecedented southbound alcid movement, involving 2 Dovekies, 131 Razorbills, and 488 unidentified large alcids, was witnessed from Avalon’s 8th Street jetty 11 Jan (TR, m. ob.). Additional Razorbill reports from Avalon included 2 on 12 Jan (MP) and 1 on 15 Jan (TR), while at Cape Island several were scoped from CMP 11 Jan (GD) and 7 moved west past Cape May City 12 Jan (MO). Perhaps a product of increased observer effort, multiple Black-legged Kittiwakes were tallied--7 were offshore CMP 11 Jan (GD et al.) along with 2 offshore Avalon 13 Jan (TR). An adult Black-headed Gull once again appeared in the vicinity of the Cox Hall Creek outflow, near the south end of Villas, 15 Jan (JN, DW, m. ob.).


[Black-headed Gull at Villas, 15 Jan. Photo by Dustin Welch.]


COLLARED-DOVE THROUGH FINCHES
       A long-staying Eurasian Collared-Dove was most recently encountered at CMP 12 Jan (SG); there were no White-winged Dove sightings this week. The year’s first Snowy Owl was discovered roosting on a rooftop at 61st Street, Avalon 13 Jan (TR et al.). At least 1 Short-eared Owl again entertained observers at Jake’s Landing through the period, and another was seen from Nummy Island 13 Jan (CM). CMPSP’s Eastern Phoebe continued through 16 Jan (JK), and at least 60 Tree Swallows survived the Cape Island winter through 16 Jan (m. ob.). Additional lingerers included at least 1 Orange-crowned Warbler at CMP through 13 Jan (m. ob.), a Palm Warbler at Rea Farm/Beanery 15 Jan (BB), a Yellow-breasted Chat at CMPSP 10 Jan (v. ob.), and a Baltimore Oriole at CMPSP 16 Jan (SG). Always notable at Cape Island, a single American Tree Sparrow was reported at CMPSP 11 Jan (SS). After a notable absence during early winter, Pine Siskins became more conspicuous in recent days-- at least 7 reports came in from Cape Island, including a flock of 11 over CMP 11 Jan (MO). A few more Common Redpolls followed behind last week’s single sighting, such as 1 over CMP 10 Jan (DF), 6 over CMP 13 Jan (MP), 1 at Reed’s Beach 14 Jan (TR), 1 at CMBO’s Northwood Center 14–16 Jan (BM, m. ob.), and 1 near Villas 15 Jan (JN, DW). 


[Snowy Owl at Avalon, 13 Jan. Photo by Tom Reed.]



[Common Redpoll at CMBO's Northwood Center, 14 Jan. Photo by Michael O'Brien.]



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Contributors:
Barb Bassett (BB), Tom Baxter (TB), Warren Cairo (WC), Glen Davis (GD), Jim Dowdell (JD), Don Freiday (DF), Sam Galick (SG), John King (JK), Tony Leukering (TL), Christina Marks (CM), Brian Moscatello (BM), Josh Nemeth (JN), Michael O'Brien (MO), Mike Pasquarello (MP), Tom Reed (TR), Susanna Stippick (SS), Harvey Tomlinson (HT), Dustin Welch (DW), Scott Whittle (SW), Linda Widdop (LW).


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References:

eBird. 2012. eBird: An online database of bird distribution and abundance [web application].  eBird, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Available: http://www.ebird.org. (Accessed: 16 January 2015).

Fogg, B. 2013. Keekeekerr: Recent Text Alerts. Available: http://keekeekerr.com/textalerts/keekeekerr. (Accessed: 16 January 2015).

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Redpolls headed our way, and other winter birds

While an icy blast might be all it takes to keep you indoors for a few days, there's certainly plenty of reasons to be looking for birds around Cape May right now. If you want to brave the chilly conditions along the beachfront, there seems to be a Snowy Owl lurking somewhere out on the barrier islands, and last reported from 61st Street in Avalon. The stone jetties are alive with Purple Sandpipers (at least 30 were off Coral Avenue at Cape May Point a couple of days ago) and, if you take a scope and have plenty of patience, it's worth scanning the Bonaparte's Gull flocks out in the Delaware Bay for the odd Black-legged Kittiwake that is lurking among them - though these birds seem to be feeding well offshore right now.

If you want a modicum of sanity about your birding during this cold snap, you might make a hot mug of coffee, grab a chocolate brownie and snuggle down in your favorite chair to view the backyard feeders, for something of interest may be lurking there. Brian Moscatello took a casual glance out of the Northwood Center windows today and noticed a Common Redpoll at one of the feeders. This is a bird of very unpredictable appearance in Cape May and getting one at the feeder is certainly a real bonus! These nomads from the north don't head south in any number most years, but maybe we can hope for more to show up. To date, the only New Jersey records this month have come from Cape May so there's no clear sign of a movement yet - but you never know.

Of course, your best chance for a Common Redpoll right now is to head to the Northwood Center and enjoy a cup of coffee with us - and don't forget to check for American Woodcocks along Sunset Boulevard on your way!

When the bayshore looks like this, it's tempting to stay indoors, but such watery sunsets on an icy day can be truly spectacular and it's worth making the effort now and again [photo by Sam Galick].
 
Keep an eye out for Red-shouldered Hawks checking out your feeder. This juvenile bird at the Hawkwatch Platform this week is perhaps not the most obvious of individuals and it can sometimes be difficult to tell them from Red-tails. In this slightly odd pose, the bird looks broad-shouldered and small-headed like a Red-tail, but notice the thick, dark tail bands, the even distribution of markings on the underparts and the suggestion of a rusty shoulder patch (difficult to see in this cropped photo, but worth looking for in the field) [photo by Linda Widdop].

In contrast to the juvenile, adults - like this one on Sunset Boulevard - can be easy to tell from Red-tails. This bird shows a classic rusty wash to the underparts and bold, black-and-white checkering on the wings [photo by Stephanie Vacek].

Some birds can be easier to see during cold snaps than at other times, especially if they get drawn to road surfaces which get thawed by salting. American Pipits have been reported from a number of places around Cape May these past few days and most sightings have involved birds on thawing roadsides. Stay in the car and you can get amazingly good views of these birds if you are careful [photo by Sam Galick].
 
Take a careful look at the birds at your feeders right now and let us know if a Common Redpoll comes winging in! Look for a rather plain, streaky bird, with a red cap on the forehead and a small black bib. Adult males can be pink-washed on the chest but most are likely to be first-winter birds like this one, with no pink on the chest. Ageing redpolls can be difficult as there is a lot of individual variation, but this bird has a contrast in its tail feathers - showing two inner pairs with quite fresh, rounded tips, and the rest of the feathers being more pointed and a little more worn at the tips. The presence of such a contrast in the feathers indicates a partial molt and makes this a young bird [photo by Mike Crewe].