Tuesday, December 30, 2008

TWO Snowy Owls, Harlequins, Gannets o' Plenty

It was a pleasant afternoon to be out birding along the Atlantic Coast, and the results weren't bad, either-

At the Two Mile Beach unit of Cape May NWR, there were 3 Harlequin Ducks- a male and two females. The beautiful ducks, while common at Barnegat Light, are a scarce species elsewhere in the Mid-Atlantic, including the Cape May area. The trio was feeding along the north side of the northern-most jetty at Cold Spring Inlet, where there were also several individuals of all three scoter species, numerous Long-tailed Ducks, a few Common Loons and a handful of Bonaparte's Gulls. Razorbills are starting to appear in the region, and while there were none there today, this inlet is perhaps the best place to look for alcids in Cape May. 

Also of interest was a large and ever-growing feeding frenzy of Northern Gannets about a mile offshore, at least 800 strong. Small groups of Gannets were continually flying in from farther offshore to join the feeding flock, which made for quite a sight. There was also a steady trickle of southbound scoters offshore, comprised primarily of Black Scoters.

Stone Harbor Point provided quite a bit of excitement at dusk, highlighted by TWO Snowy Owls. The first bird, which appeared to be a male, was sitting atop a dune on the far west side of the point for most of the early evening. The second bird, a heavily-marked female, appeared at last light, flying in from the dunes in the southwest corner before proceeding to hunt the southern end of the point. There was also a bit of activity offshore, including all three scoters, one southbound flock of scaup and three Horned Grebes. 

Snowy Owl, Sea Ducks, Eagles and Swans

[Karl Lukens took this marvelous photo of the Stone Harbor Snowy Owl on Monday December 29. This bird apparently has decided to winter -we all hope!]

I visited Stone Harbor on Monday, more for a beach walk than a bird walk - but as we often say, we're never not birding. I was with my kids, and we sandwiched some pretty fancy birds between admiring the sand and shadow patterns in the low-angle winter sun. The star of course was the Snowy Owl - thank-you to Roger and Kathy Horn for tipping us off as to it's exact location.

We had a couple other fancy raptors. A Peregrine Falcon came tearing down the beach, waist high and passing only 25 yards away, and we watched it until it disappeared over North Wildwood. Bizarrely, as we were walking back to the parking lot, a Great-horned Owl flew from behind us (out of the bayberry thicket?) and took off north over the elaborate houses of Stone Harbor.

All the usual "rockpipers" were present on the jetty at Stone Harbor, including a single Purple Sandpiper. Kathy and Roger reported finding Red Knots. Quite a few scoters floated offshore, with plenty of Long-tailed Ducks, a few Red-throated Loons, and one female Common Eider.

[Roger Horn took this photo Monday, a nice comparison shot of a male Black Scoter and female Surf Scoter.]

Sunday's Cumberland Christmas Bird Count apparently turned up nothing particularly bizarre. Mike Fritz told me a Snowy Owl had been found a couple days earlier, but just outside the count circle in or near Bivalve, and I'll be sure to post furthur details if this bird sticks. Pete Dunne and I covered Turkey Point as we always do, where the highlight this year was simply the mass of Snow Geese, 4,500 or more, flying over. A single Long-billed Dowitcher and a Sedge Wren were other highlights. Bird numbers seemed low, perhaps because of last weeks severe cold snap - e.g. we somehow missed Gray Catbird in a whole day's birding. An exception was Bald Eagle, which we literally found in small flocks occasionally and singles almost constantly.

Speaking of eagles, the day after Christmas found me up at Mannington Marsh in Salem County near sundown, where at least 17 different Bald Eagles appeared in the span of a half hour or so - there's a roost somewhere up there. What an impressive sight - eagles dueling, standing on the ice (and falling through), hunting, or roosting, with 4-5 in one scope view at a time.

[I was tempted to send this photo to Michael O'Brien to use in the photo quiz. Mannington Marsh has as many Mute Swans as anywhere in NJ, but it was delightful last week to see almost as many Tundra Swans, 25 or more. Compare height and location of the peak of the back on the these two birds, as well as tail length and neck thickness. The bird in the foreground, a Mute Swan, appears relatively much bigger because it is closer, although Mute Swans are significantly larger and heavier than Tundras. People tend to focus on bill characters when separating these two, which can be difficult to see at great distances (or if they are feeding). Tundra Swan has a thinner neck, and a more evenly rounded back with the peak lower and more central on the body than Mute. Mute Swan has a long tail, for a swan anyway. Photo by Don Freiday.]

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Villas Woodpecker Show

Christmas morning, after the usual festivities that accompany it, found me on a walk around Villas WMA, the former golf course now grown into an oak-pine savannah. I wasn't technically birding, but the species typical of that habitat were too obvious too ignore. Two of the hatch-year Red-headed Woodpeckers that have been reported appeared, feeding on and caching acorns in the south-central portion of the WMA. Flickers seemed common, 20 or more flying up as we walked, and Red-bellied and Downy Woodpeckers rounded out the picids present. Five Eastern Bluebirds and five Field Sparrows foraged in the grassy margins, and it was especially fine to enjoy a close-range male American Kestrel. Seeing the kestrel, and Villas WMA generally, reminds me of places in the Piney Woods of Texas where birders seek Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, and where kestrels sometimes find tree cavities to nest.

Fifteen or so Ring-necked Ducks floated on the main pond, with several American Wigeon and two Ruddy Ducks. The ruddies were bothered, briefly, by a Great Black-backed Gull with dinner on its mind.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Photo Salon

Information emailed to me from Karl Lukens, re: the whereabouts of the Snowy Owl found 12/20, is posted below. I have not heard any word on the re-sighting of the Snowy since 12/20.

From Karl Lukens on 12/20;

"Michael O'Brien re-found the Snowy Owl flying from the point towards the beach....We had long range looks from the point parking lot crossover with the bird at about 115th street sitting on the beach. It flew when a truck drove up beach. We followed as it kept moving up the beach and was last seen about ~ 80-85th street."

In addition to the Snowy Owl, Kathy & Roger Horn send word of an ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER that they found at the TNC's Cape Island Preserve on 12/20. The bird was hanging in the vicinity of the entrance to the property on Wilson Ave.

From Kathy & Roger Horn on 12/20;

"The ash-throated flycatcher was right where you enter at Wilson Street, first on the tall grasses then perched in the hedgerow. There was a large feeding flock of bluebirds (25-30) and an even larger flock of goldfinches (60). Further down the hedgerow to the left, we had an orange-crowned and an Eastern palm warbler. In the 3rd field down (mowed one) we had a flock of about 65 pipits. There were also meadowlarks, a beautiful male harrier, fox and field
sparrows and lots of white throated and song sparrows. Of course, we never found the bird we went looking for - the vesper sparrow that was there last weekend."

SNOWY OWL in Stone Harbor Point- Photo Courtesy of Karl Lukens, www.home.comcast.net/~jklukens/

Snowy Owl in flight- Photo Courtesy of Michael O'Brien

Short-billed Dowitcher, Stone Harbor Point

Long-billed Dowitcher, Wetlands Institute- Dowitcher Photos Courtesy of Michael O'Brien
(Note the shape differences between the two dowitchers. The Long-billed exhibits a "pot-bellied" look)

ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER at the TNC's Cape Island Preserve (above). American Pipit (below)- Photos Courtesy of Kathy & Roger Horn

Saturday, December 20, 2008

SNOWY OWL @ Stone Harbor Point

I just received a call from the CMBO Center for Research and Education (CRE), in Goshen, that a SNOWY OWL has been reported at Stone Harbor Point.

The bird was first observed at the point at about 10:00 a.m. this morning. The couple who found the bird were made aware of it's presence by the flock of gulls which were harassing the bird. At some point the bird started to move north along the beach as was last seen in the vicinity of 115th Ave in Store Harbor.

After some further discussions at CRE, I was told that it seems that this bird is probably a young male, based on the descriptions of the initial observers.

Please keep this birds best interest in mind if you are heading out to see if you can relocate the bird. It seems like it was getting a good harassing from the gulls, there is no need for birders to add to the stress that this bird my be under.

Also, please forward further reports of this bird to CMBO via phone 609-884-2736 or 609-861-0700. Or you can use the email sightings submission link at the top of this page.

NOTE: that both CMBO locations (Northwood Center and Center for Research and Education in Goshen) will be closed from 12/24/08 thru 1/1/09

"Chasing the Ghost Owl"

During the off-season, when David is recuperating after posting daily to the Birding Forecast, he will be posting mini articles on topics that we birders like to learn about and discuss. The first topic kicks off the holiday season with an all time favorite of mine, and perhaps yours as well, the mystical Snowy Owl. So head on over to the Mid-Atlantic Birding Forecast page to read "Chasing the Ghost Owl."

If you want to be sure you don't miss any of David's posts be sure to enable the RSS feed. (Look for this icon on the page, click it and you will be given several set-up options.) You'll be alerted as soon as a new post is published!

CMBO Cape May Point walk- 12/20/08

The weekly CMBO walk around Cape May Point seems as though it was productive this morning. At least I am of the opinion that 57 species in a short morning walk is a good way to start the day. Karl Lukens shares the list from today's walk.

NOTE: The drake CANVASBACK, which was initially found last Sunday (12/14) on the Cape May CBC, is still around as of this morning.

"Saturday morning CMBO Cape May Point Walk. Nice array of ducks including
thousands of scoters off shore both flying and sitting on the water. Also
had 5 fly-over Greater Yellow-legs, 100 fly-over Snow Geese, 2 Harriers and
1 Merlin as well as the usual winter suspects."

Location: Cape May Point
Observation date: 12/20/08
Notes: CMBO Trip-K,T,C&MJ,K&RH,+0.Cldy,35,N8.
Number of species: 57

Snow Goose 100
Brant 15
Canada Goose 15
Mute Swan 15
Gadwall 10
American Wigeon 10
Mallard 100
Northern Shoveler 10
Green-winged Teal 25
Canvasback 1
Surf Scoter 20
Black Scoter 30
dark-winged scoter sp. 2000
Long-tailed Duck 3
Hooded Merganser 10
Red-breasted Merganser 1
Ruddy Duck 15
Red-throated Loon 8
Pied-billed Grebe 1
Northern Gannet 10
Great Blue Heron 1
Turkey Vulture 2
Northern Harrier 2
Red-shouldered Hawk 1
Merlin 1
American Coot 12
Greater Yellowlegs 5
Ruddy Turnstone 3
Sanderling 1
Purple Sandpiper 5
Bonaparte's Gull 4
Ring-billed Gull 5
Herring Gull 10
Great Black-backed Gull 5
Rock Pigeon 5
Mourning Dove 6
Red-bellied Woodpecker 3
Blue Jay 10
American Crow 8
Carolina Chickadee 2
Tufted Titmouse 3
Carolina Wren 8
American Robin 20
Gray Catbird 2
Northern Mockingbird 4
European Starling 15
Yellow-rumped Warbler 3
Fox Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 3
White-throated Sparrow 12
Dark-eyed Junco 6
Northern Cardinal 8
Red-winged Blackbird 5
Common Grackle 10
House Finch 8
American Goldfinch 4
House Sparrow 25

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Penultimate Dovekie

These things almost always happen only in fairy tales. Although the Avalon Seawatch runs until December 22, yesterday was primary counter Sean Fitzgerald's last day on duty. Sean's final birds came in the form of a flock of Snow Geese, a fine way to finish out a season, but the bird that came immediately before was Sean's most wanted (or so he told some of us over dinner last night) - a Dovekie buzzed by on, literally, Sean's last scan of the season.

Sean's on his way back to Michigan now. We wish him well, and he will be missed for the outstanding job he did.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

eBird Frequency Bar Charts Updated

For those of you who are eBird users, you may already know about this new bar chart update. And for those who are not eBird users, well, you should think about giving it a try (especially now that you'll be out and about or looking from your home windows at the feeders) for Christmas Bird Count season is upon us.

Also, non users should know about these eBird functions because they are a very valuable source of info not only to the local birder but to the traveling birder as well. Often birders who come into or call the Northwood Center are looking for info on what species they may be likely to encounter in the field during their visit. More often than not I pull Sibley's Birds of Cape May off the bookshelf and show them the frequency bar charts in the back. While the bar charts in general don't change significantly over the long haul (though I've read much in recent years about observations of some species timing of migration changing slightly) the textual accounts which include maximum counts, early and late dates does need some updating.

In the past to access this type of frequency information for a given location you would have to pick up a book while at the birding destination or call ahead to place an order. And, often no such bar charts exist to be referenced. Of course now with listservs you can seek information from other birders in a specific location via email or, with eBird you have all of the same information provided in these wonderful reference books, accessible at the click of a mouse. But there are a couple of caveats at this point with the eBird program.

As I've stated before, the more users who are inputting data, the more robust the data set. You don't have to have a PhD to know that this is the case. So if you are looking for frequency data on some areas that are not as popular as others, the charts my not be fully representative of the bird life in the area. The eBird team explains this a bit and how their frequency histograms work, on their site.

The second issue is the dates for high counts, early arrivals and late departures. While it may be the case that the more recent data entered into eBird is the more accurate, there is the issue that much of the historical data has yet to be integrated into eBird and possibly never will. Take Cape May for example, the high count for American Kestrel is listed at 1,031 birds on 9/23/2007, on eBird. If you look at Birds of Cape May you'll find the number of 24,875 from 10/16/1970. In this case the newer counts are the more accurate since Kestrel numbers have been plummeting. You can't, unfortunately, come to Cape May in late Sept. to early Oct. and expect the huge falcon flights of the past.

None the less, it's worth taking a look, at least at the county level for frequency information. At the very least this information should help to make you a much more informed birder when planning your next outing, whether near home or even across the country.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

And so it ends.....cold and a bit windy

On Monday, 12/8, Laura and I set out to run our last 2008 Cape Island Big Day attempt. Where has the year gone?! It really seems like just days ago that we were planning this year-long venture and agonizing about whether or not you really could hope to see 100 species in one day for each month of the year, south of the the Cape May Canal.

December was one of the months that I really worried about in terms of achieving the hoped for century mark. Since there can be big fluctuations in weather, which can mean fluctuation in species diversity, you never know what this time of year may bring. A fluctuation in weather is exactly what we have see these last few days/week—there had been a slight warm up and then a cold front moved through days prior to our attempt. In fact, the 40 mph winds the day before alone were enough to make us reconsider. The temps dropped and it was a crisp 20 degrees F when we started at 5:00 a.m. And unfortunately we had to deal with a 15 mph wind that persisted during the morning with the exiting system.

One of the first birds tallied were Snow Geese as they passed overhead in the darkness of the night. Along with Canada Geese we were two down, 98 to go. Our trusty little Screech Owl proved to be easy, responding to my whistles, and we heard Great-horned Owls calling in a couple of locations pre-dawn.

For big day birding I am of the opinion that seawatching first thing can be of paramount importance to getting a good tally of birds for the day and this day I was not proved wrong. Along with all three scoter, Long-tailed Ducks, and Red-throated Loons the other expected oceanic species were Lesser Scaup, Common Goldeneye (9 all told) and loads of Canada Geese moving out over the ocean. While we had heard numbers of geese on the move in the night, the day light revealed the true magnitude of the goose flight that day.

All day long flocks of 100-300 (sometimes more) Snow Geese cruised high over head. Canada Geese were also well on the move but the overall flight seemed to be restricted to the morning hours. All in all we estimated at least 15,000 Snow Geese had passed overhead and about 5,000 Canandas. Though as I always say, these numbers are well on the conservative side.

After some seawatching we hit the woods and decided to walk Hidden Valley first since most of the fields at Higbee had been mowed down in the last few weeks. At the back of Hidden Valley we found the expected (hoped for really) Rusty Blackbirds (one bird with a white throat made for an interesting view), loads of White-throated and a few Fox Sparrows. One nice treat was a Woodcock which obliged us by walking around only steps from us allowing us to get great, not often seen, views of this species intricate plumage.

Higbee Beach was on the slow side in the fields where the vegetation had all been mowed. But in the one last un-mowed field (just north of the pond) we found that the Sedge Wren is still kicking about and was rather cooperative. At least is called frequently, we did not even see the bird. A very nice surprise was just down from the wren, where an American Tree Sparrow was hanging in some Bayberry bushes—not an easy bird to come by on Cape Island—in loose association with a flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers.

By lunch time, with our tally only in the high seventies or so, we were beginning to loose hope of reaching 100. We had yet to look at Lily Lake, the Meadows for dabbling ducks or, walk the State Park so we still had ground to cover but it looked like the best we might do is to hit the mid-nineties which would be on par with our January run.

We wandered around Cape May Point birding-by-car some (well, as much as possible given the very cold temps and winds which we mercifully dying down as the day progressed) and picked up a number of much needed duck species which were concentrated toward the northern end of the lake due to ice cover. Try as we might we could not pull a Cackling Goose out of the 65+ Canadas that were mixed in with the various other duck species, grebe and coot. Then it was on to the Cape May Point State Park to look for Ash-throated Flycatcher, Orange-crowned Warbler and Northern Parula that had been hanging around. Unfortunately, the back trails were closed due to more trail work that is being done so we had to settle for what we could find on the other open trails.

As the day progressed toward sunset we found ourselves in the midst of one of those end of the day good luck runs that sometimes helps you more than you expect and usually when your hopes are dashed. In fact, it is these this "good luck runs" that can give you that second, third or fourth (what ever the case may be) wind to help carry you on to the end of the day.

At the Meadows we had a flock of four Great Egrets flying down the beach and a couple of Great-blue Herons flying about in the marsh. A quick stop at Bob's place to look for the Dickcissel that has been visiting his feeders proved unsuccessful but, we did have a young White-crowned Sparrow—a nice surprise bird for the day. Also a Palm Warbler which Bob had heard at the Beanery proved to be an easier tally than expected. I actually heard the bird and pished for it to see whether or not it was an eastern or western, and no sooner had I uttered my first pish than it came darting out of the grasses straight for my face. Luckily for me it swerved but unlucky for us, the Ring-necked Ducks which had been on the pond at the Beanery were nowhere to be found.

As the daylight faded we hurriedly checked Poverty Beach for Great Cormorant and hoped the Common Eider would be easy to see, but was not. There were a number of ducks in and amongst the pilings but the heat distortion was too great and we didn't have enough daylight to try and scrutinize the birds present. A second stop at Bob's was worth it since we had the Dickcissel in seconds flat and we were off again, knowing that we were very close to the 100 species mark.

After the sun set we had just enough energy to try for the missed Barred Owl and headed to Higbee to try one last time with this most unreliable species to help us end our year's journey the right way. Unfortunately we were not able to get out to Higbee so we chose to try the Hidden Valley Ranch area. For many reasons the night time is where things got a bit more interesting for more than just us, but that is a story for another time... Ends up that Laura heard a Barred Owl way in the distance but we agreed the last bird should be heard by us both so we went to the Hidden Valley parking lot to see if we could get closer to where the sound was coming from. I heard one small sound from presumably the same bird but then another Barred Owl piped up from the direction of the Morning Flight Dike, ensuring that we ended our day with a smile. Adding the four different Great-horned Owls we heard from the Hidden Valley parking lot brought our day's total for this species up to a whopping nine for Cape Island.

Oh, by the way, we ended the day with 103 species which I think is a heck of a fine total for Cape Island in December!!

We've had a most excellent time doing these monthly big days and the effort has really helped us learn a good bit about the status and distribution of species that can be found on and around Cape Island throughout the year. We have yet to put all our figures together but as last I checked our cumulative list for the year was well above 225 and I'm guessing might be in the vicinity of 235+ species. Not at all bad for only "twelve days" of birding.

I can say that 100 species in a day each month is most definitely a possibility. We were not always able to take advantage of the best weather and often had to try and squeeze the big day run in (in July, as you may remember, we actually ran the big around a full days work at the Northwood Center.) So despite the above obstacles we are very excited that we only missed 100 species three out of the twelve months. The list of monthly totals is as follows:

January- 94
February- 93
March- 102
April- 115
May- 144
June- 109
July- 99
August- 114
September- 125
October- 122
November- 121
December 103

My intention is to post some minor statistics for our years worth of big days (probably sometime in the beginning of the new year after I can compile the numbers) but those of you who are members of CMBO can look forward to a more through assessment of our attempt in the upcoming publication of the CMBO member magazine The Peregrine Observer.

As always, our final list is below:

Location: Cape Island
Observation date: 12/8/08
Notes: December Cape Island Big Day, 17606 steps = approx. 13.5 miles
Number of species: 105

Snow Goose 15000
Brant 145
Canada Goose 5000
Mute Swan X
Wood Duck 8
Gadwall 95
American Wigeon 135
American Black Duck X
Mallard X
Northern Shoveler 10
Northern Pintail 18
Green-winged Teal 250
Greater Scaup 1
Lesser Scaup 8
Greater/Lesser Scaup 8
Surf Scoter 25
White-winged Scoter 2
Black Scoter 50
dark-winged scoter sp. 3000
Long-tailed Duck 20
Bufflehead X
Common Goldeneye 9
Hooded Merganser 45
Red-breasted Merganser 75
Ruddy Duck 60
Red-throated Loon 2
Common Loon 1
Pied-billed Grebe 1
Northern Gannet X
Double-crested Cormorant X
Great Cormorant 1
Great Blue Heron 2
Great Egret 5
Black Vulture X
Turkey Vulture X
Bald Eagle 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk 6
Cooper's Hawk 2
Red-tailed Hawk 1
American Kestrel 1
American Coot 55
Killdeer 8
Greater Yellowlegs X
Ruddy Turnstone 3
Sanderling X
Purple Sandpiper 5
American Woodcock 25
Ring-billed Gull X
Herring Gull X
Great Black-backed Gull X
Rock Pigeon X
Mourning Dove X
Eastern Screech-Owl 1
Great Horned Owl 9
Barred Owl 2
Belted Kingfisher 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker X
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 5
Downy Woodpecker 8
Hairy Woodpecker 2
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted) X
Blue Jay X
American Crow X
Horned Lark 1
Tree Swallow 6
Carolina Chickadee X
Tufted Titmouse X
Carolina Wren X
Winter Wren 6
Sedge Wren 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2
Eastern Bluebird 20
Hermit Thrush 35
American Robin X
Gray Catbird 4
Northern Mockingbird X
Brown Thrasher 6
European Starling X
American Pipit 75
Cedar Waxwing X
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) X
Palm Warbler 1
Yellow-breasted Chat 1
Eastern Towhee X
American Tree Sparrow 1
Chipping Sparrow 1
Field Sparrow 1
Savannah Sparrow X
Fox Sparrow 35
Song Sparrow X
Swamp Sparrow X
White-throated Sparrow 250
White-crowned Sparrow 1
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored) 40
Northern Cardinal X
Dickcissel 1
Red-winged Blackbird X
Eastern Meadowlark 1
Rusty Blackbird 15
Common Grackle X
Boat-tailed Grackle 1
Purple Finch X
House Finch X
American Goldfinch X
House Sparrow X

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Eiders, Harlequins and the Usual Good Stuff at Barnegat

CMBO's traditional early December field trip to Barnegat Light and surrounds yesterday featured some groovy ducks. "Best" among them was the immature male King Eider, which fraternized with 10 Common Eiders including a gorgeous adult male, and 22 Harlequins. We were there in the morning on an incoming tide and with calm conditions, and all the above ducks were south of the Barnegat Jetty, feeding over the submerged old 8th street jetty. It seems like Barnegat gets better and better for sea ducks each year, perhaps a consequence of the maturation of the sea life community along Barnegat Inlet's south jetty, which was finished in 1991.

The jetty hosted many Dunlin, plus about 10 Purple Sandpipers and a similar number of Ruddy Turnstones. The shorebirds gave great views near the end of the jetty, seeming to prefer the area where the jetty first meets the ocean when not being flushed by passing fishermen. Fifty Snow Buntings settled on the jetty briefly before flying north across the inlet to Island Beach. I also heard a Savannah Sparrow that I presumed an Ipswich, both beause it was at its traditional location along the jetty and because the note sounded more modulated than a typical Savannah, but we never saw the bird. Other parties reported Ipswich Sparrows along the jetty, however. Five Horned Larks fed on the sandy flats near the lighthouse.

An apparently injured immature Northern Gannet floated past with the incoming tide. Bonaparte's Gulls were common, as were Long-tailed Ducks. Some of the Long-taileds were courting and calling.

On the bayside at Harvey Cedars, we enjoyed two Common Loons following each other in a tight circle as they took turns looking underwater - it seemed like they had something cornered and were trying to capture it - a large crab, perhaps? An adult Peregrine was perched on an island, and by looking westward across Barnegat Bay to the Manahawkin marshes we were able to spot a very, very distant dark morph Rough-legged Hawk.

We always finish this trip by looking for Short-eared Owls, often at Manahawkin's Bridge to Nowhere. When I scouted the road to the bridge in the morning, I discovered it was in even worse shape than usual, so instead we opted to go to Cedar Run Dock Road. No short-eareds appeared, but we did see several groups of Hooded Mergansers, 4 Greater Scaup, and the usual harriers. Also of interest was a large flock of Boat-tailed Grackles, at least 120 strong, which foraged on the edge of a channel for a bit and then apparently went to roost in a phragmites stand.

Thanks to Chuck and MJ Slugg, Bill and Lee Smythe, Janet Crawford and Carole Hughes for helping out as leaders with our big group, and also to Bill Roache and Tom McParland for tipping us off to the King Eider.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

CMBO Cape May Point walk- 12/6/08

Birding in the winter is often viewed as a bit of a chore, at least here where it is cold. But winter birding days, while obviously not as productive as the days in the heart of migration, can be very rewarding. Of course the birding visitor-ship in Cape May dwindles this time of year and even most of the locals take the opportunity to sleep in every now and again. That being said I want to point out the Saturday Cape May Point walk that takes place (meeting that the Cape May point State Park) for the next two Saturdays in the month of December.

Don't fear though, the walks pick up again in January after the Christmas and New Year's holiday season. Also note that on January 1, the Kick off Your New year List in Cape May pre-registration trip, which if memory serves tallied some 70-75+ species. In fact, take a look at the Naturalist Calendar to see what natural history events have taken place in Cape may in the past for the winter months, see what walks are schedules or the listing of other pre-registration programs or School of Birding workshops.

Below is the list from today's CMBO Cape May Point walk. Thanks to Karl Lukens for the provided, most excellent, photo of one of the Snow Buntings encountered on the walk. Now, only if that Longspur will show back up!

"CMBO Cape May Point Walk. The walk this cold morning included the beach,
plover ponds, and yellow trail. Although we were unable to locate the
Ash-throated Flycatcher, we did manage to find 8 fairly close Snow Buntings
on the beach. Still a nice variety of ducks, as well as a couple of
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and a Merlin that looked like it was headed to

Location: Cape May Point SP
Observation date: 12/6/08
Notes: CMBO Trip-K,T,+4+Bev. Clr,28,SE5
Number of species: 45

Canada Goose 75
Mute Swan 5
Gadwall 10
American Wigeon 20
Mallard 25
Green-winged Teal 100
Black Scoter 15
Hooded Merganser 4
Northern Gannet 8
Great Blue Heron 1
Turkey Vulture 20
Northern Harrier 2
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1
Cooper's Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 3
Merlin 1
American Coot 15
Herring Gull 5
Great Black-backed Gull 5
Rock Pigeon 2
Mourning Dove 5
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 3
Downy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 3
Blue Jay 5
American Crow 5
Carolina Chickadee 5
Carolina Wren 3
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1
Northern Mockingbird 2
Brown Thrasher 1
European Starling 15
American Pipit 2
Yellow-rumped Warbler 15
Savannah Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 3
Swamp Sparrow 1
White-throated Sparrow 1
Dark-eyed Junco 2
Snow Bunting 8 /p
Northern Cardinal 4
Red-winged Blackbird 10
Purple Finch 4
American Goldfinch 6

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Bird notes

This past Tuesday Laura and I were able to fit in a good bit of birding around the holiday errands. We started off the morning with a bit of seawatching while we waited for the day to warm up and hopefully bring out the Ash-throated Flycatcher. We started off at the Convention Center where I was somewhat surprised to find that there was really very little action over the ocean. We decided to move to the point since it seemed like there might be birds flying out of the bay (ie. we had more birds flying north than south.) Unfortunately the bay proved to be just as unproductive though there was a sizable raft of scoter sitting out on the bay, too far to be able top see most of the birds.

The State Park, like the water, was relatively slow over all. Probably the best part of our wanders in Cape May Point area were the continued numbers of "blackbirds" flying over. More than anything we simply sat and enjoyed watching the numbers of birds that were flying over. In fact, looking back at the eBird list below, I think my numbers are more than underestimates of the actual number of birds. Maybe it's just memory making me think there were more but I'd say that you could multiply my number by 2.5 and come a little closer to the true representation.

Other interesting State Park sightings were one Orange-crowned Warbler, both kinglets, a few singing Fox Sparrows, 4 Winter Wrens, a lone Palm Warbler and of course the previously mentioned blackbird flight.

The afternoon proved productive as after having received word that the flycatcher was indeed still alive and kicking, we made our way back to the State Park. After about 30+ minutes we were about to head out unsuccessful when I decided to try one last time looking along the west side of the mature pines in the area that we'd had an Eastern Phoebe hanging around. In fact, we'd heard a higher pitch call in the area but I was unsure if it was the phoebe or not, not being extremely familiar with all of the Ash-throated's vocalizations. Needless to say it was one of those one last effort pays off situations. We walked back to the area and low and behold there the Ash-throated was sitting on one of the wire cages surrounding the planted trees.

Probably the best part of this last ditch effort was that Laura and I heard a White-winged Crossbill flyover. This took us a little by surprise even though we are all expecting the flocks being reported up north to descend on Cape May any day. It's been a while since we have both had much contact with this species (since we lived in Maine where there were times we were lucky enough to be amidst flocks of hundreds at a time) so I was cautious about jumping to any immediate conclusions.

Since the sun was on its way to setting we decided to head back to the car to dig out the iPod to verify the crossbill when we had just emerged from the cedars on the red path and looked up to see a flock of birds flying over. The flock was in complete silhouette and flying profile to away from us but the size and shape worked well for me to think that they were more than most likely crossbills. The birds did not call and I was wishing that I had looked up just a minute or two earlier but these would have to go in the probably file. None the less given that a small flock of White-winged Crossbills were seen flying over the Meadows just after Thanksgiving and with our possible flock of 8-10 birds I'd suggest that birders in Cape May keep this species in the for front of your mind. My guess is that we won't find many sitting in trees (the cones in Cape May are inviting looking but I don't see much that will keep birds around if they do sit) but most observations will be of these nomads flying over as they wander looking for suitable feeding locations.

After leaving the park we decide to try and make a quick try for the the Selasphorus hummer and were resoundingly successful. Ms. Young was again generous enough to allow us to watch from the driveway since the bird has been coming to the front feeder primarily as of late. We had a few quick but identifiable sightings but as Laura had not looked for this bird before I was hoping that we'd have had better views. Again, with one last ditch effort to find the bird in the hedge near the feeder I found the bird sitting quite as could be on a bare branch allowing us to get very nice looks.

On a quick side note, something to keep in mind when you are searching for crossbills. When we had finished seawatching at St. Peter's jetty in the morning and were walking back to the car I had for some reason decided to take a look at the tops of some of the pines on the dunes and to my surprise found a flock of birds crawling around, crossbill like, feeding. Fumbling for my scope I set it up to at the top of the pine to find that it was a group of Red-winged Blackbirds feeding. The way they were tucked in and moving around looked for all the world like a group of crossbills and had I had more distance between me and them and no scope I might have been more inclined to think they they were.

Other sightings of note for the last little while are as follows;

11/28 Short-eared Owls and a Great Horned Owl at Jakes Landing. An Orange-crowned Warbler was at the Beanery on 11/29 and a Blue-headed Vireo was at the State Park on the same day. A Nashville Warbler and Orange-crowned Warbler continue at the Meadows, near the west trail dune crossover, as of today. A Norther Parula was at the State Park on 11/29. The Dickcissel At the Meadows continues to be seen sporadically and another is coming to a feeder in West Cape May. Lastly, a flock of Snow Buntings was on the beach at the Cape May point State Park, in the grasses east of the bunker, on 12/1. no word of the Lapland Longspur being with these birds.

Below is a list from out 20-25 min. or seawatching today and below that the list from our birding on Tuesday.

Location: Cape May- Convention Hall
Observation date: 12/4/08
Number of species: 8

Surf Scoter 25
White-winged Scoter 4
Black Scoter 10
dark-winged scoter sp. 125
Long-tailed Duck 1
Red-throated Loon 25
Northern Gannet 50
Sanderling X

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2

Location: Cape Island
Observation date: 12/2/08
Notes: 9233 steps = approx. 6.75 miles
Number of species: 74

Brant 7
Canada Goose X
Mute Swan X
Gadwall 22
American Wigeon 25
Mallard X
Northern Pintail 8
Green-winged Teal 85
Surf Scoter 35
Black Scoter 45
dark-winged scoter sp. 250
Long-tailed Duck 1
Bufflehead 6
Hooded Merganser 8
Red-breasted Merganser 6
Ruddy Duck 12
Red-throated Loon 6
Northern Gannet 45
Great Blue Heron 2
Black Vulture X
Turkey Vulture X
Sharp-shinned Hawk 3
Purple Sandpiper 6
Bonaparte's Gull 1
Ring-billed Gull X
Herring Gull X
Great Black-backed Gull X
Black Skimmer 6
Rock Pigeon X
Mourning Dove X
Rufous/Allen's Hummingbird 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker X
Downy Woodpecker 4
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted) 8
Eastern Phoebe 1
Ash-throated Flycatcher 1
Blue Jay X
American Crow X
Tree Swallow 16
Carolina Chickadee X
Tufted Titmouse X
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
Carolina Wren X
Winter Wren 4
Golden-crowned Kinglet X
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 4
Eastern Bluebird 25
Hermit Thrush 6
American Robin 150
Gray Catbird X
Northern Mockingbird X
Brown Thrasher 4
European Starling X
Cedar Waxwing 65
Orange-crowned Warbler 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) 150
Palm Warbler 1
Savannah Sparrow 35
Fox Sparrow 3
Song Sparrow 25
Swamp Sparrow 12
White-throated Sparrow X
Dark-eyed Junco X
Northern Cardinal X
Red-winged Blackbird 650
Common Grackle 250
Brown-headed Cowbird 350
blackbird sp. 3000
Purple Finch 10
House Finch X
White-winged Crossbill X
Pine Siskin X
American Goldfinch 150
House Sparrow X

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2