Saturday, October 31, 2009

This Halloween Moment Courtesy of "Cooter," the Great Black-backed Gull

If you're squeamish, you'd better not read this . . .

[Great Black-backed Gulls are strong and capable predators. This sequence happened yesterday in front of the hawk watch platform at Cape May Point State Park, to the amazed horror of the onlookers. "Dive, Dive!" we kept telling the American Coot, but the water was too shallow and the gull too strong and persistent. Photos by Don Freiday, click to enlarge.]

[The coot fought back with its feet. . .]

[. . .to no avail.]

Great Black-backed Gulls at Cape May Point State Park have made a habit of attacking the coots each fall. It seems likely most of the predation is from a single gull, nicknamed various things including "Cooter," that has made coots a specialty.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Clay-colored Sparrow, Eiders, Gannet

[This Clay-colored Sparrow, originally found by Michael O'Brien, lingered during the day today along the path between Bunker Pond and the dune at Cape May Point State Park. Photos by Don Freiday; click to enlarge.]

13 Common Eiders were seen off Coral Avenue today, along with 4 Long-tailed Ducks. Common Eiders were also easy to find at the Avalon Sea Watch, where several Great Cormorants also flew past. Multiple White-winged Scoters passed Avalon in the early afternoon, including about 9 in a single species flock - headed north.

[Above and below, this Northern Gannet rested on the Jetty at the Concrete Ship, not normal behavior and probably indicating the bird was sick or in poor condition, although someone reported seeing it feeding.]

All Quiet on the Western Front

Western meaning west side of the peninsula, and quieter meaning quieter than it's been. This morning's Higbee Beach walk, the last of fall, featured lots of robins and blackbirds overhead, including a flock of 15 Rusty Blackbirds. Eastern Meadowlarks and Eastern Bluebirds passed over regularly, some giving almost good looks. On the ground, the featured bird was. . . White-throated Sparrow. A lot of them, plus one White-crowned Sparrow, plenty of Swamp Sparrows, and a few Song Sparrows. A Blue-headed Vireo gave us a nice, though brief, look in the southeast corner of the first field. I heard a Winter Wren and there were bunches of Hermit Thrushes, though seeing them was problematic (as in, 15-20 heard, a couple glimpsed). Brown Thrasher was similarly common but elusive. A Baltimore Oriole flew west along the New England Road side of the tower field. Of warblers, we had just one, Yellow-rumped of course.

Doug Gochfeld told me there was a Magnolia Warbler at the Beanery yesterday. Like Doug said when he showed me the picture, anything yellow you see at this time of year is good. Doug also had an immature Red-headed Woodpecker in the woods bordering the dike at Higbee this morning.

There are plenty of puddles in Cape May, and the one along Stevens Street had 5 Greater Yellowlegs in it when I drove past. Up on the Higbee Dike, the shorebird flock contained as many as 27 White-rumped Sandpipers, plus Dunlin, a few Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers. One Spotted Sandpiper foraged along the shore.

I just got a report of a possible immature Northern Shrike along the bay near Villas ( afew miles north of Cape May) that has not been refound. If right, it's not so quiet after all.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bad Frog Jokes; Western Kingbird Reappears

[This Great Egret caught and consumed, after a struggle, an apparent Green Frog in Bunker Pond this morning. The frog fought hard - if you've seen the comic of a frog with its hands around the throat of the bird about to eat it captioned "Never give up," well, we almost literally saw that - the frog had its "hands" clasped tightly on the egret's bill until it eventually succumbed. Quickly digiscoped by Don Freiday, click to enlarge.]

Josh Lawrey deadpanned, "That frog croaked." When the egret later flew past calling, Mark Garland, King of the Pun, commented that it sounded like it had a frog in its throat. . .

CMBO's Hidden Valley Walk this morning found a (presumably "the") Western Kingbird on an otherwise fairly quiet morning. A Yellow-headed Blackbird flew past the Higbee Dike. The final Bird Walk for All People at the state park this morning featured an American Bittern flushed at close range along the red trail, great looks at Golden-crowned Kinglets, loads of ducks, and a few raptors including perched scoped Red-shouldered Hawk and Osprey, a Peregrine on the beach, and a male Northern Harrier. Cloudy and with a northeast wind, not much was happening flight-wise today. We're inching closer to 30,000 birds on the year for the hawk count. A Barn Swallow fed around the platform, and I had an interesting pale-rumped swallow at the far end of Bunker Pond that eventually disappeared towards the meadows before I could see everything I needed to, i.e. a definitely pale throat (looked good at a distance), dark forhead and more rufous-colored rump than a Cliff.

Looking ahead, winds are supposed to go northwest beginning Sunday morning and stay north-northwest through Tuesday at least. Hawks on Sunday, hawks and passerines on Monday, and as the wind tapers off, owls and passerines on Monday night-Tuesday. How's that for a long range forecast?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Snipe, Snow Bunting, Stone Harbor Reports

2 Wilson's Snipe entertained observers by feeding on drowned earthworms in the exit road puddle at Cape May Point State Park yesterday, and at least one was still there this morning.

Terry Randolph sent a report of a Snow Bunting seen at Poverty Beach at the corner of Wilmington avenue yesterday evening, the first one I've heard of this fall.

Speaking of yesterday evening, Mike Fritz sent this report about the final CMBO Stone Harbor Point field trip last night: "The last Stone Harbor trip for CMBO for 2009 had incredible numbers of shorebirds! Season highs for many species and 4 Long-billed Dow on the beach was unusual. Red Knots inluded "dozens" of juvs which is nice to see. VERY birdy walk with huge numbers of birds. All the terns were roosting on a sandbar island and got up when a Peregrine cruised by. Another Peregrine this one an aduld male came in off the ocean to chase the thousands of newly arrived dunlin, but came up empty."

Here are Mike's shorebird numbers:

Black-bellied Plover 75
Semipalmated Plover 30
American Oystercatcher 370
Willet (Western) 45
Marbled Godwit 11
Ruddy Turnstone 35
Red Knot 380
Sanderling 1200
Western Sandpiper 35
Dunlin 2200
Long-billed Dowitcher 4

Mark Garland and Louise Zemaitis, leading the CMBO Cape May with Everything On It [including thunder and heavy rain!] workshop, also reported good birding at Stone Harbor and around Avalon/Townsend's Inlet yesterday as well, featuring 3 Marbled Godwits roosting at high tide, viewed from the southwest side of the bridge over the inlet. Louise will be leading our final workshop of 2009, Cape May with Everything Else on It, November 7-8, which still has a couple spaces open and is a great time and place for late-season flights, rarities, and glamor raptors like Golden Eagle and Northern Goshawk.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Rain, Rain, Go Away Plus Bat News

We're watching the surface front forecast for Sunday-Monday with great interest right now. The forecast from now until then is pretty complicated, and rainy.

I spent the day at a meeting of The Wildlife Society's NJ Chapter, which featured speakers on White-Nosed Syndrome in bats. Scary stuff, to say the least. Over 1 million cave-dwelling bats are believed to have died so far in the northeast. The fungus causing the disease was first documented in NJ in January 2009, and has already caused devastating effects in NJ hibernacula. Tree-dwelling migratory bats, such as Red and Hoary Bat, are less affected - so far. We should pay attention to cascading trophic interactions from the decline of bats, which could, ironically, include increases in bird species like nightjars (e.g. Whip-poor-wills, Chuck-wills-widows, and Common Nighthawks) which share some foraging targets with bats.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Quite a Day + Western Kingbird

[Western Kingbird, Cape May Point State Park today. Click to enlarge.]

"Don! There's a Western Kingbird perched in a bush on the dune, in front of the sign!" That was Michael, shouting back to the hawk watch platform today. And, well, there was a Western Kingbird.

[The kingbird flew east along the dune, perched cooperatively and then flew north.]

The radar was really lit up last night, and between the flight calls heard in the dark and the flight this morning, it was sparrows, American Robins and blackbirds. I've pasted the complete list from the hawk watch this morning, 6:30-a.m. to 11:30 a.m., compiled while I counted hawks. There were birds everywhere all morning, including constant American Pipits, my choice for bird of the morning. . .until the kingbird showed up.

Karl and company report a good meadows walk today: "CMBO Morning Walk at the Meadows - TNC property. A nice chilly, partly cloudy day, with wind less than 10 mph (higher by the end of the walk). Good variety of ducks including a fly-by Common Eider and a Ruddy Duck in the fresh water pond, and one in the ocean. Also nice raptors, some Pipits, a Lesser Black-backed Gull eating Mole Crabs in the surf, and a lingering Pectoral Sandpiper. - Karl (Pete, Chuck, Mary Jane, Warren, Bill, Connie, Steve, David, Judy)

[After disappearing, being refound near Davy's Lake by Michael, and disappearing again, the Western Kingbird flew back near the hawk watch before heading for the meadows.]

[This was Michael's pick for the best bird of the morning, a flyby Hairy Woodpecker in Cape May Point, not at all usual. Photo by Michael O'Brien.]

Location: Cape May Point SP
Observation date: 10/26/09
Notes: All from Hawk Watch Platform
Number of species: 98

Canada Goose 75
Mute Swan 10
Wood Duck 15
Gadwall 10
American Wigeon 50
Mallard 20
Northern Shoveler 10
Northern Pintail 5
Green-winged Teal 10
Ring-necked Duck 4
Surf Scoter X
White-winged Scoter 2
Black Scoter X
Ruddy Duck 4
Red-throated Loon 2
Common Loon 10
Pied-billed Grebe 5
Northern Gannet X
Double-crested Cormorant X
American Bittern 1
Great Blue Heron 10
Great Egret 2
Black-crowned Night-Heron 1
Black Vulture X
Turkey Vulture X
Osprey X
Bald Eagle X
Northern Harrier X
Sharp-shinned Hawk X
Cooper's Hawk X
Red-shouldered Hawk X
Broad-winged Hawk X
Red-tailed Hawk X
American Kestrel X
Merlin X
Peregrine Falcon X
American Coot 27
Killdeer 10
Solitary Sandpiper 1
Greater Yellowlegs 2
Sanderling 20
Pectoral Sandpiper 1
Dunlin 10
Wilson's Snipe 1
Laughing Gull 1
Ring-billed Gull 5
Herring Gull X
Great Black-backed Gull X
Forster's Tern X
Royal Tern X
Rock Pigeon X
Mourning Dove X
Great Horned Owl 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker 3
Downy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker X
Western Kingbird 1
Blue Jay X
American Crow X
Fish Crow X
Tree Swallow 1000
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 20
Barn Swallow 10
Carolina Chickadee 1
Red-breasted Nuthatch 2
Brown Creeper 1
Carolina Wren 4
Golden-crowned Kinglet 5
Eastern Bluebird 10
Hermit Thrush 5
American Robin 3800
Gray Catbird 2
Northern Mockingbird 5
European Starling 300
American Pipit 200
Cedar Waxwing 75
Yellow-rumped Warbler X
Blackpoll Warbler X
Common Yellowthroat 3
Eastern Towhee 2
Chipping Sparrow 10
Savannah Sparrow 5
Song Sparrow 25
Swamp Sparrow 25
White-throated Sparrow 20
White-crowned Sparrow 5
Dark-eyed Junco 5
Northern Cardinal 3
Red-winged Blackbird 4000
Eastern Meadowlark 40
Rusty Blackbird 5
Common Grackle 70
Boat-tailed Grackle 20
Brown-headed Cowbird 100
Purple Finch 10
House Finch 250
American Goldfinch 100
House Sparrow 20

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Migration Tonight + Spoonbill Update

The wind is currently out of the northwest under clear skies, and is forecast to go to north, then north-northeast overnight, staying light. Nexrad, if I am reading it right, shows blooms at most sites across the northeast beginning about 1/2 hour after sundown tonight - meaning, birds taking off. Auspicious for landbirds in the morning, although it would be better, for Cape May at least, if the winds remained out of the northwest or north, without the east component. The forecast has the wind becoming more easterly as the day progresses tomorrow, okay for Peregrines, less good for other raptors.

The Roseate Spoonbill at Brigantine was found by today's autumn weekend field trip there.

Flight and Flux

[Atlantic Brant are solidly in, e.g. the 600+ we had on today's Back Bay by Boat trip on the Osprey. Witmer Stone reported Brant as scarce in the 1930's - the time of a blight on their primary food, eelgrass. Brant have since switched to other food sources, and their numbers in coastal NJ have increased markedly. Photo by Don Freiday; click to enlarge all photos.]

After listening for 10 minutes along the bay in the wee hours this morning and hearing little (that's been the pattern with northwest winds), I moved over to Stone Harbor Point and heard 5-10 flight notes/minute in the 5-6 a.m. hour, the great majority being Yellow-rumped Warblers but also including 5 species of sparrows and some Great Blue Herons. There was thus an apparent movement of landbirds, though not a huge one.

Cape May Point State Park at dawn was kind - in the form of two Long-eared Owls flying around roughly over the yellow trail, out towards the Meadows, as seen from the red trail. Three separate American Bitterns flew past at different locations along the trails, and a Great-horned Owl teed up in a pine for a bit. A bat, perhaps a Hoary Bat, came in off the water, and numbers of sparrows were noticeably higher than yesterday.

[David Sibley on the Back Bay by Boat trip today.]

David Sibley remarked to me that he was at Higbee this morning and found it notable that there were multiple non-Yellow-rumped Warblers, e.g. Blackpolls, Black-and-white, and others. This was after the traditional checklist review at last night's autumn weekend dinner, during which, despite the relative lack of migrants yesterday, I blithely and without much remark ticked off Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Cape May, Northern Parula and Redstart. David said that during his time in Cape May during the early 80's, warblers other than Yellow-rumpeds were very unusual in late October.

We had about 3 Bald Eagles during the back bay cruise this morning, and got to talking about how this is a record year for eagles, with a single day total of 46 and a season total of roughly 350. David told me in 1980 they broke the all time record for eagles. . .with 18!! And that was unheard of.
The hawk flight today was outstanding, with several multi-hundred Sharp-shinned Hawk hours, a Peregrine, many Merlins and Kestrels, great looks at Red-shouldereds, still a few lingering Broad-wingeds. . . all showing what a northwest wind can do. The gannet show continues offshore, and a Stilt Sandpiper was a hawkwatch flyby.

Swallows swirled all around, with Barn and Rough-winged Swallows amongst the Tree Swallows. Doug Gochfeld had a good candidate for a Cave Swallow, it's only a matter of time until they get here. There's another change - Cave Swallow has gone from a first-record to a howling raritity to getting voted off the NJ review list in a very few years.

[These American Oystercatchers were on the south jetty at Cold Spring Inlet. Here's another bird in flux - for the better. Extirpated from NJ by 1896, they have now returned in numbers and hundreds can be seen in the Cape May coastal system, especially on mussel beds and mud flats around Hereford Inlet in fall. Not all bird population news is bad.]

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Birds Left, None Came, Still Okay

The surprise today was that, other than the persistent south-southeast wind, the weather for birding was fine, with partial sun through 12:30 p.m. It's coming, however, "it" being heavy rain.

It seemed that many of the birds present yesterday left last night (into a south wind, surprisingly) - the Beanery definitely was low-volume, even accounting for the windy conditions. Bill Schul told me his yard, which features the "magic tree," was empty, and I hear Higbee was so light on birds that the Fall Weekend field trips there went out to the dunes to find gannets and scoters offshore (they did).

The Beanery had some cool stuff, however. Over a dozen Eastern Meadowlarks were up and down in the fields, and several kestrels hunted over the vineyard. We twice heard Winter Wren, I suspect the same bird since both were in the same area, near the "Protho spot" where the main path goes through the wet woods. White-crowned and Savannah Sparrows appeared several times, and a handsome male Belted Kingfisher posed at the "oxbow pond." We were unable to extract a definite Vesper Sparrow, but flushed two Wilson's Snipe from surprisingly dry areas in the fields near Stevens Street - a Merlin pursued the second of these at length until the snipe faked left, went right and shook the Merlin off - sweet! Pre-sunrise, 6:45 ish, I watched a Merlin fly out of the big trees near the Beanery parking lot, where I can only assume it spent the night.

A special observation was the Red-bellied Woodpecker, which perched flat-footed atop a telephone pole along Bayshore Road and caught some large insects, possibly wasps or hornets from a nest in the pole, with long reaching grabs with its bill.

A Harlequin Duck flew past the Avalon Seawatch today, the first I've heard of this fall. Sam Galick found a drake Common Eider off St. Peters in Cape May Point.

NOAA is still calling for the west-east front to pass around midnight, with northwest winds from then on. Mmm-mmm-mmm. . . we're all a little worried about a landbird flight, as in, it might not happen, because the front is passing a little late and there could be showers thereafter, but I am optimistic for day 3 of the Autumn Weekend. Hawk-watching will be good for sure Sunday, maybe great.

A Few More Reports from Friday

[Karl Lukens did a great job capturing this Vesper Sparrow yesterday at the South Cape Meadows a.k.a. the Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge. Another Vesper was found at the Beanery. Click to enlarge.]

The Sea Watch had 20,000 birds yesterday, mostly scoters with lots of gannets and both loons. A female King Eider was another highlight there. Nick's got the full report up on View From the Field. Also there are reports from the hawk watch platform and Morning Flight, courtesy of Doug and Cameron. Both species of scaup were found on Bunker Pond yesterday.

All the expected shorebirds except Piping Plover were found at Stone Harbor/Nummy Island, including hundreds of Red Knots.

Dave Lord told me they a good quantity of Black-crowned Night-herons, and one Yellow-crowned, on Thorofare Island on the back bay boat trip yesterday.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday Bird News

It was a bit of a garbled flight this morning at Higbee Beach, with a lot of birds in the air going in all directions. Species involved included Yellow-rumped Warblers, American Robins, Red-winged Blackbirds, and a few others. Highlights from the two CMBO Autumn Weekend walks at Higbee included numbers of flyby Eastern Meadowlarks, Brown Creeper; Black-throated Green, Blackpoll, and Palm Warblers; Lincoln's and White-crowned Sparrows; bunches of thrashers; and a brief but good hawk flight as the front finally cleared mid-morning and we had a spell of north winds, which quickly went east.

I hear a Vesper Sparrow was at the meadows, and 2 Long-eared Owls were reported hunting there at dawn. The meadows walk had a lengthy view of an American Bittern in flight, according to Megan Crewe.

Off Cape May Point, there were lots and lots of Northern Gannets, some close, a Parasitic Jaeger, and a cluster of four ducks off Coral Avenue that contained male and female Black Scoters, a female Surf Scoter, and a female Common Eider. Avalon had a female King Eider today.

I understand the Roseate Spoonbill was not found at Brigantine today, wonder where that bird is.

About the weather. . .tomorrow's going to be crappy, but at least they're saying the thunder will hold off until noon ;>). With southeast winds and possible rain overnight tonight, birds that are here now are unlikely to leave, which is good, because there are a lot of birds, sparrows and kinglets and such. New nocturnal migrants are unlikely to come, unfortunately. A major west-east cold front is supposed to pass sometime Saturday night, so Sunday looks like a pretty fun day of birding, with northwest winds at 15 mph from midnight on. Will it be epic? Yeah, it could be.

Nocturnal Flight

10 minutes listening along Delaware Bay, 5:55-6:05 a.m., yielded 25 flight notes of the following species, most common to least common: Chipping Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Song Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Hermit Thrush, Swainson's Thrush, Saltmarsh Sparrow. Hopefully this means migrants on the ground in Cape May today. Winds were light from the east.

42 White-rumped Sandpipers

[Michael O'Brien photographed this White-rumped Sandpiper, a juvenile, one of 42 (!) at the Higbee Dike yesterday. Note the wingtip projection beyond the tail. As is true with most shorebirds, juvenile White-rumpeds migrate later than adults.]

Thursday, October 22, 2009

They're Not All Yellow-rumpeds + Extralimital Sage Thrasher (not)

It sometimes felt like they were all Yellow-rumped Warblers today, thanks to a big morning flight push of these birds. But other species were around, including a Clay-colored Sparrow at the dike at Higbee Beach. Several Peregrines entertained at the Hawk Watch this morning with the "lesser" raptors, and a Parasitic Jaeger, not so far offshore, chased a Forster's Tern for a bit before sitting down on a fairly calm ocean and drifting westward. Lines of Gannets passed Cape May Point this morning, too. Tree Swallows swirled and landed on bayberry bushes, and on the beach, and at least 7 Pied-billed Grebes joined the mixture of ducks on Bunker Pond.

Multiple Eastern Meadowlarks and American Pipits were flyovers at the hawk watch, and I hear the Hidden Valley walk had a meadowlark teed up for scope views, a likely spot for that to happen.

[When asked, after a morning field trip, "What should I do next?" I often suggest trying the Rea Farm, a.k.a. the Beanery, for passerines and also hawks. This Nashville Warbler foraged a weedy edge at the Beanery when I took a break there at lunchtime today.]

[One of five Vesper Sparrows at the Beanery today around noon, a good count for this scarce sparrow. They were more or less in the center of the property, feeding on crabgrass and other weed seeds. I never made it to the "sparrow fields" at the west side of the property, where I bet there were more Vespers and other sparrows.]

[This is the Sandy Hook Sage Thrasher, photographed two days ago by Tom Boyle. The bird was NOT found today, at least not so far.]

The weather pattern for the coming CMBO Autumn Weekend is pretty confused, with cold fronts supposed to push through Friday pre-dawn and sometime Sunday morning. Unnsettled weather, including rain and possible thunder, is forecast in between - frankly, the forecast discussion reads like a badly called football game. With hawks there's a basic recipe: cold front passes, northwest winds build, we get hawks. With other birds, it's not so simple and thus the best I can say is tomorrow morning, and the rest of the weekend, should be very interesting. Fronts move birds, and rain can put them on the ground.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bird Reports, a Whole Lot of Learning, and Why we're Glad Cooper's Hawks Aren't the Size of Dogs

With very light winds, the hawk flight was light this morning, but included enough of both common accipiters (Sharpie and Coop), Broad-wingeds, and Bald Eagles to keep it interesting for CMBO's Hawks in Flight workshop. Loads of short-distance migrants like sparrows and kinglets are around, a female Greater Scaup remains with the other ducks on Bunker Pond, and a few Pine Siskins and Purple Finches were flybys at the hawk platform, as were Eastern Meadowlarks, American Pipits, Wilson's Snipe, and a great bird south of the canal: White-breasted Nuthatch, picked by Michael O'Brien as it flew past headed for the lighthouse.

I heard of a few American Woodcock south of the canal in the predawn. Pick a fieldy-brushy-woodsy-wettish spot with a good view of the horizon at dawn to try for this species. Saltmarsh Sparrows have been found at Two-mile Landing off Ocean Drive, along with 1-2 Nelson's Sparrows.

Mike Fritz sent a note reporting on last night's Sunset Birding at Stone Harbor walk: "Lots of Monarchs finally, and the Seaside Goldenrod is now in full bloom. Also had a pod of about 12 Bottlenose Dolphins just outside the surf." Among the birds found were 3 Common Eiders, a Marbled Godwit, Northern Gannets, Brown Pelicans, Red Knots, and all the usual Stone Harbor good stuff.

We had some neat happenings around the hawk watch today . . .

[NJAS's Nature Center of Cape May had a big bunch of kids at the state park learning about hawks, helped by Richard Crossley (second from left), Linda Dill and Kim Hannum of NCCM, and CMBO Interpretive Naturalists Ari Waldstein and Josh Lawrey. This photo was taken only a few minutes before the events depicted below happened - some of the kids got to see the whole affair. . . photos by Don Freiday, click to enlarge all.]

[At least 2 Wilson's Snipe were flying around the state park at mid-morning. Note the pointed wing (woodcock have round wings) and the long, downpointed bill. The bill pointed down, plus erratic flight, help separate snipe from dowitchers.]

[And then there was this juvenile Cooper's Hawk, which flew into the sparrow thicket in front of the platform, emerged, and then, well, look what it did. . .click to enlarge any of these photos.]

[The victim, happily, was a House Sparrow., at the wrong place, wrong time. The school kids, however, were in the right place - wish all readers could spend more time in Cape May. It must be tough, working jobs elsewhere, at nurseries or gas stations or offices (like me, now), when migration is in full swing. Seize the day - Get down here!]

Warblers in the Night

[Yellow-rumped Warbler landing pre-dawn along the beach at Cape May City, having just come in off the ocean. Watch especially around lighted areas for arriving migrants before dawn. Photo by Michael O'Brien, click to enlarge.]

[Michael O'Brien "killed" this Yellow-rumped Wabler in flight, which is to say, he took a great photograph of a difficult subject - but that's not how photographers say it. Click to enlarge.]

[Karl Lukens sent this Golden-crowned Kinglet photo, at the hawk watch yesterday, to go with the Ruby-crowned (see below). I neglected to note about the Ruby-crowned that it is a male with its crown feathers raised. Seeing that much red on a Ruby-crowned is not usual. Karl's Golden-crowned is a male, too - told by the orange center to the golden crown. Click to enlarge.]

Chuck and MJ Slugg report: "The Two Mile Beach walk [every Tuesday 8:30 a.m.] had long strings of migrating Double-Crested Cormorants and swirls of Tree Swallows peppering the sky." Close to 50 species were found on this walk, which has a bit "kinder" start time than some other CMBO weekly morning walks.
Winds seem to be west now (pre-dawn), and are forecast to go light southwest mid morning, which means there easily could be passerine migrants today (Michael had 20 calls/minute going on overhead in Cape May around 5:30 a.m. ), and that hawks will be moving early and kettling quite a bit in the light wind, in some ways making for the most interesting hawk watching if difficult counting.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cape May Flight Report

[Ruby-crowned Kinglet pauses at the Higbee Dike this morning. Click to enlarge most photos.]

There were birds out there last night - Derek Lovitch, Mark Garland, Michael O'Brien and I watched them bloom on the radar images during the Phillies game - but you wouldn't have known it from where I was listening along the bay on the west side of the Cape May penninsula in the pre-dawn this morning. The 30+ shooting stars crossing a glorious October night sky about matched the total number of flight calls I heard in an hour's listening, but the birds had to be somewhere, didn't they? There was decent diversity, including a Least Bittern.

Then Michael texted me that he was hearing 30 calls a minute on the beach front in Cape May, like a morning flight of Yellow-rumped Warblers with some sparrows. West winds put the birds ocean-side or offshore, I guess. We wondered if today was going to be the big Yellow-rumped Warbler flight, but it was not - just another good day.

I hurried to Cape May Point hoping to glimpse some owls against the sunrise - when lo and behold a Long-eared Owl flew through streetlight level through my headlights, across Broadway headed west, about a quarter mile south of the West Cape May Bridge! Better to be lucky than good.

Owl-watching yielded only an American Woodcock and the fun, unusual sounds of courting ducks on Lighthouse Pond - be sure to spend some time with the Northern Shovelers and their churk-chuurk - ing.

Morning Flight was Yellow-rumpeds and kinglets of both kinds, with scattered other species, and a mixed flock of shorebirds on the dike including Pectoral Sandpipers, Lesser Yellowlegs and, later in the morning, Cameron reported as many as 19 White-rumped Sandpipers up top.

[Michael O'Brien, left, and Scott Whittle throw down on a passing Blue-headed Vireo. We had several Blue-headed's this morning, along with Pines, Palms, Blackpolls, Chipping Sparrows, juncos, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and others. Another highlight was the Yellow-rumped Warbler flying by with a loose tailfeather trailing behind - this bird was labeled a "get on this. . .hmmrp. . .long-tailed. . .thing!" before we figured it out.]

[Scott's dog Monkey supervises. Monkey and Scott have been welcome fixtures at Cape May this fall.]

[Seen any of these lately? Yellow-rumped Warbler at the dike.]

[This Broad-winged Hawk over the State Park this morning shows a missing primary and some tail damage.]

[Two Brown Pelicans over St. Mary's this morning, from the hawk watch.]

I hear from Tom McParland that his Golden Eagle and Josh's from yesterday were both adults, likely the same bird?

In the extra-limital department (since it is north of Cape May), a Sage Thrasher is being viewed right now at Sandy Hook. The following is from Scott Barnes: "A Sage Thrasher is currently being viewed at Sandy Hook (20 Oct).The bird is at Plum Island (accessed via B-lot) and is feeding in Poison Ivy thickets at the southwest corner of the northern cove.In other words, take the crosswalk across the road to Plum Island and head straight (west) until you hit the edge of the large scrub thicket. The bird is being seen here.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Spectacles and More to Come

Pete paused while hawk counting this afternoon to pick a flyby Sandhill Crane from the hawkwatch, a nice find but unfortunately long gone.

All CMBO's seasonals joined Michael O'Brien and Derek Lovitch, down from Maine, on the platform in the South Cape May Meadows to watch for owls, and were not disappointed. One Long-eared Owl, one Barn Owl, and one "sp." appeared. Michael also told me about a truly wonderful sighting: a Pied-billed Grebe TOOK OFF and circled, wings beating like crazy, as it gained altitude against the sunset and headed south.

My evening amazement came from the throngs of sparrows, finally detectable in full at the state park now that the wind has laid down, and there were a LOT - I eBirded 350 Swamp Sparrows and 150 Song Sparrows - and that is just what I heard or saw. I also found 10 Hermit Thrushes and a Winter Wren foraging near the yellow trail as light faded. The best, though, was the Ruby-crowned Kinglet, one of dozens. This one, though, hover-gleaned next to my ear, wings brushing my hair, and shortly after landed on me, clinging to my sweater as it looked for its next prey.

The folks at the meadows watched a Cooper's Hawk flying along the dune at owl time, and I had two high Ospreys in near dark that seemed to be heading across the bay. Migrants are flying overhead already (8:00 p.m.), and we'll all be listening once the Phillies game is done.

Golden on the Way, Warblers at the Beanery

Josh Lawrey had a Golden Eagle a little west of Vineland, Cumberland County at 12:36. At 1:52, Tom McParland saw one (same) over Route 47 near Woodcock Lane, Cape May County, though it was headed north towards CMBO-CRE, apparently.

The hawk flight had gotten up into the stratosphere when I left Cape May around 11:30 a.m. this morning, i.e. the sharp-shinneds were "disappearing" straight overhead.

Michael O'Brien found 11 species of warblers on the sunny edges of the Beanery, a sort of repeat of what he found there during the CMBO workshop yesterday.

If you have never tried listening for nocturnal migrants, tonight would be the night to go out. Winds are forecast to be light west, going to nearly calm late in the night, making listening conditions great. Passerines, herons, owls, who knows?

Kinglet and Hawk Flight

Apparently not everything moved last night, but kinglets sure did, with a "ton" around, especially on the west side of Cape Island. I listened for migrants around 5 a.m. and heard almost nothing, just a couple Yellow-rumpeds and Savannah Sparrows.

The many White-crowned Sparrows are still at the state park, and a Nashville Warbler entertained platform regulars in the cedars at the end of the platform. Duck numbers on Bunker Pond continue to increase, most noticeably today in the Gadwall department. One of the many flyby Eastern Meadowlarks landed in the state park parking lot. Pipits were regular over the platform, and I heard one Purple Finch.

And hawks are flying - I had over 200 Sharp-shinneds in the 9-10 a.m. hour while swing counting for Pete, and a few Broad-wingeds, harriers, eagles. . .good day shaping up.

Mike Crewe tells me there are three Common Eiders in the Coral Avenue scoter flock this morning.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Images from a Windy Day

What a marvelous day in Cape May. Click to enlarge all photos.

[Peregrine Falcon moving the Laughing Gull it just killed to a less windy location at the Cape May County Airport. A Peregrine came over the hawk watch today carrying a Sharp-shinned Hawk! Another Peregrine was doing more than playing with a female American Kestrel, which eventually dove into the cedars next to the hawk watch and stayed there for 2-3 minutes to escape, not exactly normal behavior for a kestrel. There were 10 kestrels on the wires at the Beanery as I drove home this afternoon.]

[The two American Avocets spent all day on Bunker Pond.]

[Ruby-crowned Kinglet hover-gleaning. Hover-gleaning allows tiny, athletic birds like kinglets access to prey that larger, clumsier birds can't reach.]

[There were more White-crowned Sparrows than White-throated Sparrows at Cape May Point State Park today.]

[This Swainson's Thrush was feeding on Virginia Creeper berries near the Cape May Point State Park entrance. Note the buffy eye ring and supraloral, forming spectacles.]

[A nearby Hermit Thrush also fed on Virginia Creeper. Note that the eyering is whitish, not buffy, that the spectacle-effect is absent, and that the bird has rufous edging to the primaries and primary coverts.]

[Field conditions, Northern Gannet from Coral Avenue. Pointed at all ends, big, with a completely black "hand."]

[The scoter flock off Coral Ave held all three species, including this male White-winged Scoter, 4th bird from left. Note the slightly larger size compared to the Black Scoters, and of course the markings around the eye and on the bill.]

[A Common Eider was also with the scoters, center bird, more or less. Bigger, browner, with a sloping forehead.]

Tomorrow and Tuesday should be awesome days of birding.