Saturday, January 30, 2010

Lark Sparrow - No + King Eider - Yes

[A half hour poking around the junction of Shunpike and Route 9 yielded plenty of sparrows, including Field Sparrows, Fox Sparrows, whitethroats, songs, juncoes, Eastern Towhees and Savannahs like this one, but no Lark Sparrow, though it easily could still be there. Click to enlarge all photos.]

Though the Lark Sparrow previously reported was not evident during a short search this morning, the King Eider was at a frigid Poverty Beach. A female Common Goldeneye flew north along the shore, and Great Cormorants are starting to look really spiffy, with the adult birds developing flank patches and white on the cheeks.

[What an immature male King Eider looks like about a mile away, Poverty Beach. Remember, stay outside the Coast Guard property. Get the steeper forehead profile (kind of visible in the photo as the bird sleeps), plus yellow-orange on the bill (looks like it's over the bill), and entirely dark back - neither visible in this photo - to separate from Common and clinch the i.d. ]

Friday, January 29, 2010

Greater White-fronted Goose + Marsh Raptor Survey Results

Brian Johnson found a Greater White-fronted Goose at Tuckahoe WMA yesterday, on the middle impoundment. Tuckahoe is in northern Cape May County, and is well covered in Bill Boyle's book Birdfinding in New Jersey and Clay and Pat Suttons Birds and Birding in Cape May. With the cold snap (it feels like winter again in a big way!) it is possible that the impoundments will freeze again, and regardless goose flocks move around, so the upshot is check all the goose flocks you see!

Tuckahoe is one of the 15 sites surveyed during CMBO's Winter Marsh Raptor Survey. The first survey of 2010 was January 23, and results from that are now up on View from the Field.

Speaking of winter raptors, a couple of raptor events are coming up. The annual Cumberland County Eagle Festival will be February 6, featuring indoor exhibits and programs at the Mauricetown Fire Hall as well as eagle viewing sites with CMBO Interpretive Naturalists on hand with spotting scopes to point out eagles and other birds.

CMBO's Wintering Hawks, Eagles and Owls Workshop (follow the link and scroll down to view workshop details) February 13-15 will immerse participants in raptor-rich southern NJ over President's Weekend. Megan Crew will be leading this with me, and we'll try to track down good views of many species, including at least one nocturnal session for Eastern Screech-owl and other species.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Hotline: Cape May Birding Hotline
To Report: call (609) 884-2736 or email sightingsATbirdcapemayDOTorg
Coverage: Cape May, Cumberland and southern Atlantic Counties, NJ
Compiler: David Lord, Cape May Bird Observatory with additions by Don Freiday

This is the Cape May Birding Hotline, a service of New Jersey Audubon's Cape May Bird Observatory. This week's message was prepared on Thursday, January 28, 2009. Highlights this week include sightings of LARK SPARROW, KING EIDER, COMMON EIDERS, WHITE-WINGED SCOTER, BLUE-WINGED TEAL, TRI-COLORED HERON, EURASIAN WIGEON, SNOWY EGRET, REDHEAD, SHORT-EARED OWL, NORTHERN HARRIER, BALD EAGLE, AMERICAN WOODCOCK, and an announcement about CMBO's coming 3 day Winter Raptor Workshop.

A LARK SPARROW was found at the junction of Shunpike Road and Route 9 (the road leading to the Cape May-Lewes Ferry) in North Cape May on Sunday, January 24, 2010, and was relocated on Tuesday January 26, 2010. Look along Shunpike Road immediately south of Route 9.

An immature male KING EIDER has been noted at the Coast Guard Jetty in Cape May (private beach but viewable at great distance by looking north from Poverty Beach), last reported on Wednesday January 27, 2010.

Over 100 COMMON EIDERS were at Avalon Thursday, January 28, 2010, viewed from the 8th Street Jetty. A sizeable flock of other sea ducks is present there, and 5 WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS were seen flying south.

3 BLUE-WINGED TEAL were observed in the South Cape May Meadows on Saturday January 23, 2010.

A TRI-COLORED HERON was seen at Turkey Point in Cumberland County on Saturday January 23, 2010, in the pond before the last car bridge.

2 drake EURASIAN WIGEONS continue on Lighthouse Pond at Cape May Point State Park, last seen on Sunday, January 24, 2010, along with a drake REDHEAD.

A SNOWY EGRET was seen in the South Cape May Meadows/TNC Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge on Saturday January 23, 2010.

SHORT-EARED OWL sightings include 4 at Turkey Point, 2 at Newport Landing Road, 2 at the end of Ragged Island Road (all in Cumberland County); and one at Jakes Landing Road. These were observed on Saturday January 23, 2010 during CMBO's Winter Marsh Raptor Survey, which also recorded 127 NORTHERN HARRIERS and 38 BALD EAGLES, mostly adults, at 15 sites in southern NJ.

AMERICAN WOODCOCK were noted displaying at Higbee Beach earlier in the week.


CMBO'S WINTERING HAWKS, EAGLES, AND OWLS workshop, Saturday February 13 to Monday February 15 (President's Weekend), still has a few spaces available. A weekend of raptor watching and learning, the workshop will seek to find many of the 13 diurnal raptors and 8 New Jersey owls possible in southern New Jersey's mosaic of prey-rich habitats. More information is available at (scroll down for the workshop list). Preregistration required; call CMBO at (609) 861-0700 x11 to register.

CMBO is offering a special to new and upgraded membership renewals. Join CMBO for the first time or upgrade from Individual or Family to The Hundred and receive Charley Harper's Migration Mainline - Cape May lithograph poster, valued at $50. Call either CMBO center to ask an associate about joining today!

******CMBO Bookstore WINTER HOURS are as follows: Northwood Center on East Lake Drive in Cape May Point is open Wednesday through Monday, 9:30am to 4:30pm; closed Tuesdays. The Center for Research and Education on Rt. 47 in Goshen is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9:30am to 4:30pm; closed Sundays and Mondays. ******

The Cape May Birding Hotline is a service of the New Jersey Audubon Society's Cape May Bird Observatory and details sightings from Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic Counties. Updates are made weekly. Please report sightings of rare or unusual birds to CMBO at 609-884-2736. Sponsorship for this hotline comes from the support of CMBO members and business members, and should you not be a member, we cordially invite you to join. Individual membership is $39 per year; $49 for families. You can call either center to become a member or visit. Become a member in person and you'll receive a FREE gift (in addition to member discounts in the stores).

Good Luck and Good Birding!

Ducks Flying In

[At dawn, almost no ducks were in the ocean at the mouth of Towsend's Inlet in Avalon, but as the sun rose they began flying in. These are Common Eiders. Click to enlarge all photos.]

One of the male Harlequins and a couple Long-tailed Ducks comprised the sole occupants of the little ocean cove at the mouth of Townsend's Inlet north of the 8th Street Jetty at Avalon first thing this morning, but ducks poured in from offshore with the sun. Eventually, at least 2 male Harlequins, 107 (!) Common Eiders, 300 dark-winged scoters with about an even mix of Black and Surf, and about 75 Long-tailed Ducks congregated, actively feeding, courting, and flying back in to shore when the tide drifted them out. Numbers and species change here; these were counted/estimated at about 8:15 a.m. 5 White-winged Scoters flew south well offshore, and 15 Common Loons and 5 Red-throated Loons were present. An adult Peregrine, probably a male based on size, briefly harassed the usual Purple Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones, Dunlin and Sanderlings.

[Surf Scoters at Avalon this morning. In many ducks, you will notice a sex ratio skewed towards males. Sex ratios are essentially equal at hatching, but females experience higher mortality, mainly because in ducks (except whistling-ducks), only females incubate eggs and tend the young, making them more vulnerable to predators.]

[This male Long-tailed Duck was one of the first ducks to fly in from offshore.]

[Female Long-tailed Duck.]

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hereford Inlet + Alcid Movement to Our North

[Immature Great Cormorant, from the North Wildwood Sea Wall this morning. Note the massive gray (not orange) bill, white at the base of the bill, and thick neck, all of which separate this species from Double-crested. Click to enlarge all photos.]

Tom Reed sent a message that a substantial alcid movement is occuring to the north of us, with wrecked Dovekies in New York and Massachusetts and over 4000 Razorbills from Montauk on Sunday. Something to think about.

And I was thinking about alcids this morning at Hereford Inlet, though none of the "penguins of the north" appeared. Great Cormorant, Horned Grebes, both loons, Red-breasted Mergansers, and other sea ducks fed near the North Wildwood Seawall, however, and hundreds of Dunlin, Black-bellied Plovers and Sanderling fed on the beach south of the inlet.

[Common Loon, showing its distinctive head shape, with the bumped-forehead look. Almost distincitve; Yellow-billed loon gives a similar look. The loons were catching crabs, bringing them to the surface following long dives.]

[Male Red-breasted Merganser.]

Lark Sparrow and Woodcock

The Lark Sparrow at the junction of Shunpike and the "Ferry Road" (a.k.a. Route 9) was relocated yesterday by Steve Leitner in bushes on the east side of Shunpike, south of Route 9, near where the new winery field is going in.

Mike Crewe reports that a couple American Woodcock have been displaying at Higbee Beach.

Bonaparte's Gulls are present as expected along the bay from Villas south to Cape May Point, and on the Atlantic side, too. Mike had 25 concentrated at the mouth of the Cape May Canal yesterday, and I had 50 near the Concrete Ship and about 50 more in scattered groups farther north, from the Ferry Terminal north to Miami Beach in the Villas. A few were off North Wildwood this morning, too. None of the fancier hooded gulls have been reported with the bonies recently.

The immature male King Eider at the Coast Guard jetty continues this morning but is a tough chance because of the distance. Intense scoping of the jetty by looking north from Poverty Beach (the north end of the Cape May City beaches) on a day with excellent viewing conditions is the best bet. Do NOT go past the Coast Guard's no trespassing sign.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Storm Hawk, Lark Sparrow, King Eider

[Immature Northern Goshawk on Mallard, Brigantine NWR yesterday at 4:00 p.m. For anyone who wonders if size is a good field mark on gos. Click to enlarge all photos.]

You could tell weather was on the way yesterday afternoon at Brigantine NWR, with Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, Black Ducks and wild Mallards feeding heavily on a marsh flooding with a storm tide under dense gray skies. A / the Northern Goshawk (as I later learned, one has been at Brig for a few days, apparently possibly even since December) made the air a whole lot heavier for one Mallard, then fed on it for over an hour 40 yards off the south dike.

[After feeding for an hour, the gos flew back to the trees, crop distended. Undoubtedly it is now perched under the canopy, waiting for the rain to subside.]

Jim Dowdell detected a Lark Sparrow north of the canal which was later enjoyed by many yesterday. It was at the junction of Shunpike and the "ferry road, " i.e. the road leading to the Cape May-Lewes Ferry.

An elusive distant immature male King Eider is south of the coast guard jetty, viewable by those with good scopes, persistence, and possibly a little imagination from Poverty Beach. Common Eiders, Great Cormorants and Horned Grebe can also be found there.

[Yesterday's Lark Sparrow, photo by Karl Lukens.]

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Short-eared Owls, Blue-winged Teal

[East coast prairie: salt marsh, here at the mouth of the Cohansey, decorated by a perched Short-eared Owl (upper left) during yesterday's raptor survey. Besides the below-mentioned 4 Short-eareds found at Turkey Point, 1 at Jake's Landing, and 2 here at the end of Ragged Island Road, 2 others were at Newport Landing, Cumberland County, observed by Janet Crawford and Tony Klock. Click to enlarge photos.]

[Blue-winged Teal, South Cape May Meadows a.k.a. TNC Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge yesterday. Unusual in winter. Look for the big bill, the lack of a buff horizontal stripe under the tail, and the facial crescent to distinguish these birds from Green-winged Teal.]

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Marsh Raptors + Duckage, Herons

Today was CMBO's Winter Marsh Raptor Survey, with day raptors and owls counted at 15 widely spread points in southern NJ from an hour before sundown until dark. We'll have full results up when available. Northern Harrier is the main species of interest for this annual survey, but everyone loves owls - so far I hear Turkey Point (near Dividing Creek in Cumberland County) had 4 Short-eared Owls and Jake's Landing 1. No word on any Rough-legged Hawks so far.

I was at a lesser known site at the mouth of the Cohansey River, counting from the end of Ragged Island Road. Two Short-eared Owls were present there, one of which spent 4:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. perched on the same post, making only one short flight the whole time until it disappeared at dark.

More interesting, perhaps, were the 4 pairs of adult Bald Eagles. At sunset, all 8 birds were in view, perched in twos almost shoulder-to-shoulder but with the pairs spread evenly across the vast marsh at the Cohansey's mouth, obviously representing the local breeders. At 5:21, 15 minutes after sunset, what had been pairs abruptly became 4 single birds - one of each pair, probably each female, had departed, most likely to their nests. On the final scan of the evening at 5:31 p.m. (our protocol calls for 360 degree scans every 15 minutes starting an hour before sunset and ending a half hour after), all the eagles had gone home, replaced by four hooting Great-horned Owls, two of which perched clearly visible at the edge of the marsh.

A quick turn at the South Cape May Meadows this morning found the water half open and populated by a selection of waterfowl featuring a (the) female Common Merganser and 3 Blue-winged Teal among Green-winged Teal, Pintails, Shovelers, Gadwall, Hooded Mergansers, etc. The Hidden Valley Bald Eagle pair soared over with vultures, a Red-shouldered, and a Peregrine. I hear later in the day the meadows hosted a Snowy Egret, and that a Tri-colored was at Turkey Point.

Friday, January 22, 2010


Birds Mentioned:
Black-Legged Kittiwake
Cackling Goose
Common Crane
Eastern Phoebe
Eurasian Wigeon
Little Blue Heron
Rough-Legged Hawk
Short-eared Owl
Snowy Egret
Tri-Colored Heron

Hotline: Cape May Birding Hotline
To Report: call (609) 884-2736, or email
Coverage: Cape May, Cumberland and southern Atlantic Counties, NJ
Compiler: David Lord, Cape May Bird Observatory with additions by Don Freiday

This is the Cape May Birding Hotline, a service of New Jersey Audubon Society's Cape May Bird Observatory. This week's message was prepared on Thursday, January 21, 2010. Highlights this week include sightings of SANDHILL CRANE, COMMON CRANE, BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE, CACKLING GOOSE, EURASIAN WIGEON, LITTLE BLUE HERON, TRICOLORED HERON, EASTERN PHOEBE, REDHEAD, SNOWY EGRET, ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK, and SHORT-EARED OWL.

Two SANDHILL CRANES were found behind the First Assembly of God Church on the west side of Seashore Road/Broadway in Cape May on Friday, January 15, 2010 and continued there on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Cumberland County flock of cranes was seen at Husted Landing on Tuesday, January 19, 2010, along with a COMMON CRANE and hybrids.

An adult BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE was seen flying out of Townsend's Inlet on Sunday, January 17, 2010.

A CACKLING GOOSE was seen in a field opposite Hidden Valley WMA on New England Road on Saturday January 16, 2010.

2 Male EURASIAN WIGEONS were seen on Lighthouse Pond on Saturday January 16, 2010.

2 LITTLE BLUE HERONS were seen at Two Mile Landing on Saturday, January 16, 2010, along with a TRICOLRED HERON and two SNOWY EGRETS.

An EASTERN PHOEBE was seen at the Rea Farm on Tuesday January 19, 2010.

A drake REDHEAD was still being seen on Lighthouse Pond as of Saturday January 16, 2010.

A dark morph ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK was seen on Glade Road in Cumberland County on Monday, January 18, 2010.

A SHORT-EARED OWL continues to be seen at the end of Jakes Landing Road, last seen on Tuesday, January 19, 2010.

ANNOUNCEMENTS: CMBO is offering a special to new and upgraded membership renewals. Join CMBO for the first time or upgrade from Individual or Family to The Hundred and receive Charley Harper's Migration Mainline- Cape May lithograph poster, valued at $50. Call either CMBO center to ask an associate about joining today!

******CMBO Bookstore WINTER HOURS are as follows: Northwood Center on East Lake Drive in Cape May Point is open Wednesday through Monday, 9:30am to 4:30pm; closed Tuesdays. The Center for Research and Education on Rt. 47 in Goshen is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9:30am to 4:30pm; closed Sundays and Mondays. ******

The Cape May Birding Hotline is a service of the New Jersey Audubon Society's Cape May Bird Observatory and details sightings from Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic Counties. Updates are made weekly. Please report sightings of rare or unusual birds to CMBO at 609-884-2736. Sponsorship for this hotline comes from the support of CMBO members and business members, and should you not be a member, we cordially invite you to join. Individual membership is $39 per year; $49 for families. You can call either center to become a member or visit. Become a member in person and you'll receive a FREE gift (in addition to member discounts in the stores).
Good Luck and Good Birding!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

State Park Birds

It suddenly seems to have gone very quiet around Cape May, with not a single text message of bird news being sent for two straight days now. There doesn't seem to have been any news of the two Sandhill Cranes since they were reported flying high to the northwest over Bayshore Road at the beginning of the week. So I thought I better go take a look what was going on! Of course the problem with a migration hotspot is that birds tend to move in response to weather patterns, so if the weather is rather static, so are the birds! Even so, Cape May always has a wealth of birds to enjoy. I took a lunchtime stroll around Cape May Point State Park and along the beachfront, primarily to look for the Snow Buntings, which I still haven't seen this year yet!! My bad luck with them continued, but Karl Lukens reported that the flock was still present yesterday, so no doubt they are out there somewhere. On Bunker Pond, the six Tundra Swans are still easily seen and at least 12 Hooded Mergansers were spread between there and the Plover Ponds. The latter ponds also have four Lesser Scaup in winter residence. The female Common Merganser continues to hang out but can be elusive. Karl told me that yesterday it was on the cut at the extreme east end of the state park, almost bordering the Nature Conservancy property - and it was still there today.

Most enjoyable was an unexpected flash back to the joys of September when I watched five species of raptor soaring round together on a small thermal. Two Turkey Vultures and singles of Black Vulture, Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk and Red-shouldered Hawk all briefly came together over the marsh - a fine sight on a chilly - but sunny - January day. Finally, it was nice to see the ducks spread out and enjoying the full smorgasbord of food available to them as all the ponds are finally completely ice-free for the first time this year.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Northern (High)Lights

It's 85 miles from my house to Barnegat Light, so it's pushing things quite a lot to call it 'local birding', but Barnegat is such a famous winter destination for New Jersey birders (as well as birders from neighboring states) that it earns an honorary mention on the Cape May blog from time to time. Not least because we like to keep folks posted on what's up there. Anyone who's been to Barnegat Light will know that there's one huge reason to go there - the Harlequin Ducks. So the good news is, there was at least 28 Harlequins at Barnegat today, in the usual place along the stone jetty that leads out from the lighthouse and protects the south side of the inlet (nine half way along and 19 at the end). Good numbers of Common Eider, Surf Scoter and Long-tailed Duck can be seen all along the inlet, while I also noted at least 40 Common Loons, a fly-by male Common Merganser, 25 Red-breasted Mergansers and a smart female King Eider, the latter hanging out with a party of Surf Scoters. On the jetty itself, some 250 Dunlin and 50+ Purple Sandpipers were roosting at high tide as well as a scattering of Ruddy Turnstones, Black-bellied Plovers and a single Sanderling.

If you go to Barnegat Light, be sure to pick a day with little wind and preferably dry weather; even then, be sure to wrap up very warm and try not to get wet from sea spray as this can quickly chill you. It can be deceptively cold in such an exposed location.

(Harlequin Ducks at Barnegat Light today. Click picture to enlarge.)

(First-winter female King Eider at Barnegat Light. King Eiders have a different profile to Common Eiders, largely due to the different bill structure. In this species, the bill is shorter than in Common Eider and there is an obvious bump on the bridge of the nose (corresponding with the bill shield of the male). The bird can be aged as a youngster by the lack of an obvious white line on the trailing edge of the secondaries (note the poorly-marked line here) and also by the flank patterning which unfortunately can't be seen in this shot!


Early this morning I encountered a flock of 18 Eastern Bluebirds along Kimble's Beach Road (the road Cape May NWR HQ is on, not far south of Goshen on Route 47 along the Delaware Bay shore). 18 is larger than the usual winter flock. A car drove down the road, and 17 bluebirds took off, flying south and gaining altitude until they were out of sight. The eighteenth julie-d a few times from its telephone line perch, then took off and followed. Those birds, I can only guess, are in Cape May right now.

Vince Elia and I often compare the morning's sightings at the office, and when I mentioned the bluebirds, Vince observed that birds had redistributed during the harsh weather around New Year's, and are redistributing again with warmer temperatures and lighter winds.

At lunch, I walked Beaver Swamp Road, as I regularly do. A few Fox Sparrows flew out ahead of the truck when I drove in, and after parking I paid attention to the high pitched seeps, the "flight notes" of Fox Sparrows, though they often give flight notes from the ground. They were constant, at least 10 individuals along the road I walk at least twice a week and where I normally encounter maybe 2-3 at most. Then at a thicket where an Eastern Towhee called I spished a bit, and SIX towhees popped up for a look. Hmm. I'd had only one there since January 1.

I hear Will Kerling had an Eastern Phoebe at the Beanery today, another bird that seems not to have been there earlier this winter. Hmm. Redistribution? Facultative migration? Northbound migration already? All of those, or something else?

A decent raft of scaup floated far off Kimble's Beach, and a female Common Goldeneye was to the south.

More Weekend Highlights - Rough-legged Hawk, Herons & More

[The new moon high tides over the weekend limited habitat on some jetties for Purple Sandpipers, pushing them close to shore. This one was at the Cape May Ferry Terminal Monday morning. Click to enlarge all photos.]

Monday offered much better birding conditions than Sunday, with the results to prove it - although Tom Reed and Sam Galick had an adult Black-legged Kittewake fly out of Townsend's Inlet on Sunday, seen from the 8th Street Jetty in Avalon, perhaps the only two guys um, dedicated enough to be on that jetty in a rainy January northeaster.

CMBO's Winter Raptors of the Delaware Bayshore provides a comprehensive look at what birds are where at the bayshore hotspots, courtesy of Dave Lord et. al.'s report up on Field Trip Reports. Their highlight was the dark Rough-legged Hawk on Glade Road, which is the road going in to Thompson's Beach off Route 47. As I understand it, the bird was on the left in the marsh before you get to Heislerville. 17 Bald Eagles, a dozen Red-tailed Hawks, 3 Red-shouldered Hawks and 12 Common Goldeneye at East Point were other highlights.

Mark Garland's group tracked down 2 Little Blue Herons, 2 Snowy Egrets, and 1 Tricolored Heron at Two Mile Landing, along with point blank looks at an Ipswich Sparrow. A very tame Snow Bunting and another Ipswich Sparrow were on Two Mile Beach, and 8 Great Cormorants decorated the jetty at Cold Spring Inlet.

[Aggression in Buffleheads is hard to imagine, but these two had issues over a hen in Cape May Harbor yesterday.]

[Hooded Merganser, a common and welcome inhabitant of Cape May salt marshes and ponds this time of year. This male was at Two Mile Landing.]

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Cape May Birding Armies

[If you hear what you think is wind whistling at a coastal jetty, think again. It may be courting Black Scoters, like this one captured by Tony Leukering at Avalon yesterday. Pay attention to the sounds - Black Scoter may be a distinct species from the Common Scoter of the Western Palearctic. Though very similar in appearance, the two differ in call, with "our" bird's call much longer in duration, described in a recent paper as whuuuuuuuu, rising and then falling (I find it easily imitated by human whistling), while Common's is an abrupt pju.]

It seemed legions of birders covered every square inch of Cape May yesterday. Karl Lukens et. al.'s results from Cape May Point State Park are up on Field Trip Reports, and reflect many other birders' experiences at the State Park yesterday, highlighted by the drake Redhead and 2 male Eurasian Wigeons on Lighthouse Pond, Tundra Swans on Bunker Pond, a perched Red-shouldered Hawk, and a hunting young darkish Peregrine. Our workshop had a flock of about 30 Snow Buntings over the dunes, as well as a single Horned Lark and one of the local adult Bald Eagles. Vince Elia had a flyby Common Eider, now more significant than it would be in December when there were droves of the things. Vince also had a Common Yellowthroat near the hawkwatch, and later on Tom Reed added a Virginia Rail in the grass along Bunker Pond 30 yards ups the trail.

Mike Crewe located a Cackling Goose in a flock of Canadas opposite the Hidden Valley parking lot along New England Road, and circling back around to Cape May after seeing it, our workshop found the two Sandhill Cranes along Seashore Road (which becomes Broadway), on the west side of the road just south of the cemetary driveway feeding in a field of cut corn. An American Pipit was also there.

Cape May Harbor, viewed from the Nature Center of Cape May, hosted a nice mix of bay ducks, including 160 Ruddies and a few Greater Scaup. Michael O'Brien had 27 Greater Scaup and 16 Lessers at Sunset Lake in Wildwood Crest, generally a reliable place for these. They were still there, but pretty far out, around noon.

Snowy and Great Egrets and nice flocks of Northern Pintails were at the Coast Guard Ponds, but there was no sign of the Canvasbacks, and we did not find the Little Blue Heron. A kind of weird, meaning out of place, adult Red-shouldered Hawk sailed over the marsh at Two Mile Landing.

The 8th Street Jetty in Avalon still offers great seawatching, highlighted by two Harlequin Ducks. We had about 18 Common Eiders there, as well as maybe 10 Purple Sandpipers. The birds move in and out, so it's best to stay a while.

At Stone Harbor Point, another flock of a dozen eiders flying south contained a bird I was tempted to call a female King, and still am, but they were far and fast - oh well. There was a blowout low tide at Great Channel - free bridge south of Stone Harbor - with plenty of Dunlin, Black-bellied Plovers, turntsones and probably et. al., but the birds were far. Add two American Oystercatchers to that array.

We finished up at Jake's Landing, where the excitement of great looks at a Short-eared Owl were nearly matched by the big 4X4 pickup hanging off the sand roadway, clinging barely with two wheels, with attending tow trucks and noise. Jake's Landing Road isn't so awful bad, I'm not sure what happened with the truck, but if you're in doubt, park within the woods and walk out the road, which is what the 20 or 30 birders there last night had to do.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Short-eared Owls, Snowy Egret, Kestrel, Cranes

It's a bit depressing that American Kestrel makes a headline that also includes cranes and a wintering Snowy Egret, but they're so scarce anymore that the one Mike Crewe found at the Beanery along Bayshore Road was pretty noteworthy.

So were the two Sandhill Cranes seen by Will Kerling along Broadway near the church/cemetary, in a field on the right hand side if you are heading south. Tom Reed had the Snowy Egret, with the Little Blue Heron in the same general area as before, on Ocean Drive between the toll bridge and Two Mile Landing.

A Short-eared Owl got up for a bit around 4:45 p.m. tonight at Jake's Landing, and it plus another were seen by Dave LaPuma, Tom Reed et. al. later on. I'd reckon a 5:00 p.m. arrival at Jake's would be the right timing to maximize your short-eared chances. A Great-horned Owl also hooted in the woods along the road.

The Redhead and Eurasian Wigeons are still around today - check Lighthouse Pond and Lily Lake. With the slightly warmer weather, more open water is appearing, so include Bunker Pond and the plover ponds in your rounds, and TNC's Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge, too.

CMBO Northwood Center Closed Friday

CMBO's Northwood Center at 701 East Lake Drive in Cape May Point will be closed today while new carpet is installed in the bookstore. We anticipate reopening for business on Saturday, barring unforeseen circumstances.

CMBO's Center for Research and Education in Goshen is open today and Saturday as usual, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.


January 14, 2010

Birds Mentioned:
American Tree Sparrow
American Woodcock
Cackling Goose
Common Eider
Eurasian Wigeon
Harlequin Duck
Little Blue Heron
Sandhill Crane

Hotline: Cape May Birding Hotline
To Report: (609) 884-2736,
Coverage: Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic Counties, NJ
Compiler: David Lord, Cape May Bird Observatory with additions by Don Freiday

This is the Cape May Birding Hotline, a service of New Jersey Audubon’s's Cape May Bird Observatory. This week's message was prepared on Thursday, January 14, 2010. Highlights this week include sightings of SANDHILL CRANE, HARLEQUIN DUCK, COMMON EIDER, LITTLE BLUE HERON, CANVASBACK, REDHEAD, EURASIAN WIGEON, CACKLING GOOSE, TREE SPARROW, AMERICAN WOODCOCK, and announcements about coming CMBO birding workshops.

Two SANDHILL CRANES were seen across the creek from Lucky Bones Restaurant in Cape May on Wednesday, January 13, 2010. Another or the same has been seen at Villas WMA and in fields on Cape Island this week.

2 HARLEQUIN DUCKS were seen at the Avalon 8th Street Jetty on Wednesday, January 13, 2010 with 36 COMMON EIDERS.

An unseasonal LITTLE BLUE HERON was seen on Ocean Drive, across from the Coast Guard Ponds, on Wednesday, January 13, 2010.

2 CANVASBACKS were seen in the first Coast Guard Pond along Ocean Drive on Thursday, January 14, 2010. Another was located in the center of Cape May Harbor, viewed from the Nature Center of Cape May, the same day.

Several REDHEADS have been seen in Cape May this week, including a drake on Lighthouse Pond on Tuesday, January 12, 2010, and a hen at Lily Lake on the same date.
Male and female EURASIAN WIGEON were seen on Lighthouse Pond on Tuesday, January 12, 2010. Check Lily Lake if they are not there.

A CACKLING GOOSE has been noted at various Cape Island sites, last noted on Tuesday, January 12, 2010 in a field on Seagrove Avenue in Cape May Point.

A flock of AMERICAN TREE SPARROWS was seen along the West Side of the Maurice River Bridge in Cumberland County on Saturday, January 9, 2010, scarce in southern NJ.

AMERICAN WOODCOCK have been common and easy to find around Cape May Point, including CMBO’s Northwood Center, this week.


Coming CMBO Birding Workshops include a Cape May Winter Birding Sampler with Don Freiday January 16-17; Techniques of Field Observation with Michael O’Brien January 23; Wintering Hawks, Eagles and Owls with Don Freiday and Megan Crewe February 13-15; and How to Look at Gulls with Don Freiday and Mike Crewe February 27. More information can be found at .

CMBO is offering a special to new and upgraded membership renewals. Join CMBO for the first time or upgrade from Individual or Family to The Hundred and receive Charley Harper's Migration Mainline- Cape May lithograph poster, valued at $50. Call either CMBO center to ask an associate about joining today!

******CMBO Bookstore WINTER HOURS are as follows: Northwood Center on East Lake Drive in Cape May Point is open Wednesday through Monday, 9:30am to 4:30pm; closed Tuesdays. The Center for Research and Education on Rt. 47 in Goshen is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9:30am to 4:30pm; closed Sundays and Mondays. ******

The Cape May Birding Hotline is a service of the New Jersey Audubon Society's Cape May Bird Observatory and details sightings from Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic Counties. Updates are made weekly. Please report sightings of rare or unusual birds to CMBO at 609-861-0700. Sponsorship for this hotline comes from the support of CMBO members and business members, and should you not be a member, we cordially invite you to join. Individual membership is $39 per year; $49 for families. You can call either center to become a member or visit. Become a member in person and you'll receive a FREE gift (in addition to member discounts in the stores).
Good Luck and Good Birding!

End Transcript

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Wonderful Woodcocks!

A real highlight of the year so far has been the gathering of outrageously tame American Woodcocks around Cape May Point. It started in late December, after the first snow fell; then, woodcocks were coming out to feed at dusk and after dark along road verges where the snow was beginning to clear away sooner than elsewhere. With the ground having been largely frozen since then, they are probably struggling to find food, so are having to spend more time feeding. This means having to feed during the day as well as at night and brings them into closer association with us Humans.

I started by trying to stalk woodcock in the grounds of the Northwood Center - and found it predictably near-impossible!! American Woodcock have eyes placed right round on the sides of the head, which means that they have 360 degree vision! Don't ever think that you can sneak up on a woodcock because they can see you coming from any direction. This is an amazing adaptation, but works well with their cryptic colouration, allowing them to sit tight and keep an eye on any potential predator. If they need to take flight, a whistling sound from the wings draws attention to the bird; this probably helps during the breeding season as it would draw attention away from a vulnerable nest or young. The whistling sound is created by another adaptation, this time to the wings. The outer three primaries have been reduced to thin blades which allows the air to pass between the feathers when they fly and creates the sound. It's a bit like when children put a piece of grass between their thumbs and blow across it; the air speeds up as it passes through the constricted gap and causes the grass to vibrate rapidly, which is what makes the noise.

Having spent time more or less unsuccessfully stalking wary woodock, the continuation of cold weather has pushed them into areas where they can't help but show themselves. At work this has meant the wonderful sight of woodcocks pottering about on the very steps leading up to the store, and ambling around in the front yard. I've seen up to 10 different birds during lunch time sorties around the local block, even coming across birds strolling across the road in the middle of the day! When walking out in the open, they adopt a peculiar rocking or slow bobbing gait which is out of cinc. with their leg movements. I'm not really sure why they do this; some people suggest that it mirrors windblown movements of vegetation, but this wouldn't work if they're going to do it when they're right out in the middle of the road!

(Spot the woodcock! I took this picture from the front door of the store, to show a typical view of a cryptically-coloured bird doing what it does best. If you can't see it, it's in the leaf litter between the bench and the upright posts.)

(Cryptic plumage and bobbing isn't much good when you're crossing the road!)

So, after all my stalking efforts, I eventually came down to just sitting with the birds and photographing them, at times from as little as eight feet or so away. I'd like to think that the local ones might get used to me and maybe I could offer them a few worms - wouldn't it be great to be hand-feeding your local woodcocks?! Having got so close, I could see two other amazing woodcock adaptations. The first is the use of the bill and the method of feeding. All woodcock species have a tactile tip to the bill, so it basically works in exactly the same way as our finger tips. If they touch something with the tip of the bill, they can tell pretty much what it is; whether it's soft, hard, granular, slimy. Ideal for detecting earthworms and soil borne invertebrates that are living below the surface. So, their feeding strategy is to stick their beak into the soil and just feel for a second or two. So this is what they do; they bury their beak and hold still. If there's something there, they will grab it, if not, they lift out and stick the beak in somewhere else. So they're not poking around and turning over the soil, it's a much slower and more measured action.

(American Woodcock in feeding mode, with tactile bill tip placed well below the soil surface.)

The final adaptation was one I was wholly unaware of and discovered when looking closely at the photos I had taken. This adaptation involves the positioning of the ear opening. Birds have open-barbed feathers covering their ear openings which are structured differently to the other feathers on the head. Thus, it is easy to see - on most birds - that the ear opening is situated behind and slightly below the line of the eye. Pretty much as ours are. However, with woodcock, it turns out that the ear opening is actually immediately beneath the front edge of the eye, in the middle of where we would expect the cheek to be! This is remarkable and I'm not sure why it should be that way, unless the ears are angled forwards to listen for invertebrate movement in the soil or leaf litter.

(Note the open-barbed feathers covering the ear opening, in the pale area between the two dark stripes, immediately below the front (left in the picture) edge of the eye.)

The forecast is for slightly warmer weather over the next few days, so I'm expecting my new-found friends to disappear for a while. However, I'll be happy in the knowledge that this actually means that living conditions have improved for them, at least for a while.

(Nicely silhouetted on the front steps as the sun sinks low in the late afternoon.)

Sea Ducks, Little Blue, and it's No Longer "the" Crane

Tom Reed was out birding the Atlantic side of the peninsula yesterday, and found 2 Harlequins and a White-winged Scoter with 38 Common Eiders at the 8th Street jetty in Avalon. Tom also had a Little Blue Heron hanging on along Ocean Drive across from the Coast Guard Ponds, i.e. near Two Mile Landing.

Karl Lukens had 2 Sandhill Cranes behind Lucky Bones Restaurant, on the right fronting Cape Island Creek as you come into Cape May on the big/parkway bridge. One wonders about the origin of the Cape May cranes of late, and observers should check them carefully for signs of Common Crane (look especially for black on the crown), which would tag them as members or descendants of the resident Cumberland County flock. There is an article about this flock in New Jersey Birds spring 2009 issue by Bill Boyle and Laurie Larson.

A morning stroll down Cook's Beach Road yesterday yielded a bay frozen nearly to the horizon, and a frozen marsh inhabited by a half-dozen Boat-tailed Grackles. The woods were fairly lively, with Eastern Towhee, Fox Sparrows, Hermit Thrushes, Winter Wren, and Brown Thrasher among the more common winter regulars.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Kleptoparasitic Ducks

[Female Gadwall relieving American Coot of food on Lily Lake yesterday. Click to enlarge all photos.]

Neither the Redhead nor the Eurasian Wigeon were on Lily Lake yesterday late afternoon (but with limited open water in Cape May, they had to be somewhere nearby, and were - see below). The beauty and antics of the ducks on Lily Lake were reason enough to linger. With pockets of open water limited, the dabblers seem to be confined to water where they cannot merely tip up to reach bottom for food. Instead they rely on diving ducks and especially American Coots to bring bottom matter, consisting of aquatic vegetation and detritus (perhaps occasionally containing living invertebrates) to the surface -where they promptly steal it! The American Wigeon and Gadwall were the worst offenders, with dozens of American Wigeon in particular piling in around any diving bird.

[We always pause for scope views of the humble Gadwall, for obvious reasons.]

[The Eurasian Wigeon, center back, and Redhead, right center, had migrated over to Lighthouse Pond yesterday afternoon. Lighthouse Pond is the one visible, not surprisingly, from Lighthouse Ave., on the left as you head for Cape May Point State Park. Also in the photo are Ring-necked Ducks, Gadwall and American Wigeon. All will be targets for study in CMBO's Winter Birding Sampler workshop this weekend (follow the link and scroll down to see all CMBO's 2010 workshops).]

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Blue Goose, Woodcock, et. al. + Cumberland CBC results

[A lovely "Blue" Snow Goose at the Shunpike Road pond. Photo by Karl Lukens, click to enlarge all photos.]

Courtesy of Mike Fritz, Cumberland CBC results and a photo of the (now deceased) wintering Rufous/Allen's Hummingbird at a private feeder in the count circle are up under Field Trip Reports.

Karl Lukens reports from yesterday: "Snow Geese at several locations; 2 with the large flock of Canada Geese in the field behind 621 Sea Grove as well as the Cackling Goose. A group of 10 Snows at Shun Pike Pond also had one Blue Goose, and 63 in the field across from the Beanery Parking Lot. Male and Female Eurasian Wigeons on Lighthouse Pond. Drake Redhead on Lily Lake [Vince Elia had a female there today, and Bill Boyle had the male and the 2 EUWI this morning - DF]. A flock of ~ 100 Snow Buntings on the beach at 1st Plover Pond crossover at the CMPoint State Park."

[Although the woodcock I had yesterday at Beaver Swamp seemed poised to survive the winter - flying well and at a good location - extended cold is very hard on this species, often forcing them to unusual locations, like along, or even on, roads. Photo by Karl Lukens in Cape May Point.]

[Partial albino Common Grackle at my feeders this morning. Albinism has been recorded in nearly all North American bird families, but seems to occur more commonly in grackles than most other species.]

Monday, January 11, 2010

Beaver Swamp Woodcock, Sap, Hermit Thrush

[American Woodcock are somewhat common during Cape May County winters, sometimes displaying as early as January on nice evenings. This one was unusually cooperative in the wet woods at Beaver Swamp WMA at lunchtime. Click to enlarge.]

Other birds at Beaver Swamp included Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and 2 Hermit Thrushes. The local Bald Eagles there were absent, and the open water was 90% frozen.

Saturday Cape May Point Report

From Karl Lukens et. al.: CMBO Birding Cape May Point Walk Saturday. Cold and windy but some open areas on the local ponds contained a nice variety of ducks including one of the Eurasian Wigeons. The Tundra Swans are still on Bunker Pond, and a White-crowned Sparrow was feeding under the Hawk Watch Platform. Sunny sheltered areas had sparrows and a Hermit Thrush. Coral Ave. jetty had a dozen Purple Sandpipers although you could see only 3-4 at a time - the count came as they flew to another jetty.

The full list is up on Field Trip Reports.

Mission Accomplished

[Adult Bald Eagle, Cohansey River yesterday. Click to enlarge all photos.]

On the heels of a record-breaking Cape May Hawk Watch count of 459 Bald Eagles and the recent discovery of the first Bald Eagle nest south of the Cape May Canal, last weekend's Mid-winter Bald Eagle Survey in southern NJ (coordinated by NJAS) seems likely to also set records. Results for the entire survey are not yet compiled, but I can tell you at least 25 eagles were on the Maurice River and 33 on the Cohansey River (both Cumberland County, NJ), because that's where I was lucky enough to be.

Just as exciting as the numbers were the age ratios. During the DDT years immature eagles were few and far between - indeed, the absence of young birds was one of the warnings that DDT was affecting raptors. The breakdown on the two river systems this year was:

24 adults
13 juveniles (first life year, second calendar year)
2 "white-belly I" (=second life year=third calendar year)
2 "white belly II" (= third life year=fourth calendar year)
4 transition (=4th life year=fifth calendar year)
15 immatures too distant to age exactly

It's easy to be doom-and-gloom about bird populations, but here's one formerly endangered bird that, thanks to efforts by many people, clearly has recovered - mission accomplished! Let's not drop the ball on this particular mission. . .

[2 Adult Bald Eagles running off immatures on the Cohansey River. The upper left bird is a "white belly I," meaning second life year/third calendar year, aged by the white belly (duh) and the uneven trailing edge to the wing. The wing shape is caused by a mixture of older, longer juvenile flight feathers and newer, shorter replaced flight feathers. The other young bird could be the same age or a year older, since it seems to have a more even trailing edge to the wing - i.e. it may have replaced nearly all its juvenile feathers - but given the way it is holding its wings, it is hard to tell.]

Other birds near the Maurice River included a flock of American Tree Sparrows on the west side of the Maurice River Bridge, Common and Hooded Mergansers various places, Northern Pintails at the Maurice River bluffs, and Common Goldenye at Shellpile, along with a zillion gulls that seemed to contain nothing special, but I'd bet there are white-wingeds and lessbacks to be had there. The Cohansey had a similar duck collection.

[American Tree Sparrow, near the Maurice River bridge at Mauricetown Saturday.]

[Common Mergansers have been pushed south by the ice. These bask in the sunset along the Cohansey.]

[Hooded Mergansers became my new favorite bird (until the next one surfaces) during last weeks Cumberland CBC, when I watched a male hoody fly right into the teeth of the 30-50mph wind, turning and twisting against the gusts and crossing the Turkey Point marsh like an F16. This pair enjoyed more tranquil flying along the Maurice River.]

[How cold has it been?]

In other bird news, Tom Reed watched 10,000+ American Robins come to roost at Jake's Landing Saturday night - good luck finding a European rarity in that! Vince Elia had the pretty male Pine Warbler along the Cape May dunes at Saint Peters yesterday - that bird and the flock it hangs with (which includes Red-breasted Nuthatches) moves around the point. The Sandhill Crane was seen yesterday both at Villas WMA by several birders and on Cape Island on Shunpike Road at the pond east of the road by Mike Crewe. Mike will be co-leading this weekend's Cape May Winter Birding Sampler workshop with me - there's still room, sign up now!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Jake's Landing Road, Bald Eagle Survey, and Get out Your European Field Guide

Jake's Landing yesterday evening had 10-plus Northern Harriers, Bald Eagle and a Wilson's Snipe, but did not produce any Short-eared Owls for me or Karen and Brian Johnson, though none of us stayed out at the end of the road until the bitter end. I decided instead to walk the road back towards Route 47. Near dark, most of the expected species were saying their goodnights, including Golden-crowned Kinglets and Winter Wren. Large numbers of American Robins, 500+, came to roost in the mountain laurel at the east side of the tall white pines along Jake's Landing. With the snow, ground foraging birds concentrated along the road almost until you couldn't see. These included a half-dozen Fox Sparrows and a similar number of Hermit Thrushes among the dozens of White-throated Sparrows. A Great-horned Owl hooted where the woods meet the marsh as darkness fell. I did not detect any "marshy" birds at all, other than Swamp Sparrow, no Clapper Rails or even Marsh Wrens, though surely those species were there, as (likely) would be salt sparrows. It was cold and quiet on the marsh.

Yesterday Scott Whittle called our attention to interesting developments across the pond - much of Europe is experiencing an extremely harsh winter and the birds are responding. 3-4 Northern Lapwings have appeared in Newfoundland, and conditions seem ripe for more of them, and perhaps other species, e.g. this post from Dermot Breen on Surfbirds: ". . .we are experiencing a particularly cold snap this side of the pond at the moment. Huge numbers of Redwings all over Ireland at the moment especially here in the west of the country followed by Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Fieldfares, Mistle Thrushes in that order. Dermot." Also check out this announcement by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds , which begins: "The savage wintry weather is pushing Britain's wildlife to the brink of a crisis, says the RSPB. To help wildlife struggle through potentially the greatest single wildlife killer of the new millennium, the Society is publishing a four-point plan to help the most vulnerable species." And we thought our weather was tough!

Today is the first day of the annual mid-winter Bald Eagle Survey - highlights will be reported here.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Cape May CBC Results + Eiders, Seal

[A few of the 11 Common Eiders near the jetties at Stone Harbor Point yesterday. Several were feeding on blue mussels plucked from the rocks, including this hen (lower right). Click to enlarge photos.]

Thanks to Louise Zemaitis, the results from the Cape May Christmas Bird Count are now up under Field Trip Reports, with too many highlights to list here - check out, for example, the sparrow counts, which make me think we should hold our sparrow workshop in the winter! 150 total species were found, and the Cape May CBC cumulative species list is now 264.

Stone Harbor Point yesterday had nice flocks of sea ducks including 11 Common Eiders, scoters, Long-tailed Ducks, and a Horned Grebe. 6 Purple Sandpipers were on the jetty there.

[This Harbor Seal sent the sea ducks pattering far offshore when it appeared near the Stone Harbor Point jetty yesterday. Harbor Seals are predators, but they eat primarily fish and shellfish. The ducks weren't taking any chances. ]

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Goshawk, Crane, Cackler, More

Nice birding came with relatively nicer weather in Cape May today. And what is relatively nicer? Temperatures near 40 degrees, and winds that could finally be downgraded from "blustery" to "breezy". Now of course, there's snow on the way again tonight, with a couple inches of the white stuff in the forecast, followed by yet another blast of arctic air for the duration of the weekend. Simply put, this winter has proven to be the real deal so far.

Anyway, the highlight of my day came early this morning, when a Northern Goshawk blasted across Route 47 while I was driving south through Dennisville. The bird was moving along the upland edge of the salt marsh, and was headed toward Jake's Landing (which is a very short distance away). Keep your eyes open.

Dave Lord reports that the Sandhill Crane was again seen at Villas WMA/Ponderlodge this morning, and Michael O'Brien confirmed that the female Common Merganser was again on the first plover pond at the State Park. The recent cold snap might bring a few more of these handsome ducks to Cape May.

I spent the late-morning hours poking around Cape Island, where Sunset Beach was home to two Common Eiders and a distant Bonaparte's Gull. Bunker Pond still holds half a dozen Tundra Swans, and the Cackling Goose was again roosting atop the ice on Lily Lake, along with a colorful assortment of other waterfowl.

Dave Lord also made note of 2 Short-eared Owls at Jake's Landing around sunset this evening. I sense a Rough-leg in our future...perhaps this weekend?

Speaking of which, if you're out in the field this weekend, please dress will be bitter. I know I'll be bundled up thoroughly for this weekend's statewide Bald Eagle Survey- updates and results of which will be posted here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Sandhill Crane Continues at Villas, Geese in Cape May

[Sandhill Crane at Villas WMA, today in the field southeast of the big lake. Click to enlarge all photos.]

A short wintry ramble around Villas WMA produced, besides the crane above, good-sized groups of Ring-necked Ducks and American Wigeon on the pond, a mixed flock of sparrows including 50 Chipping Sparrows, Eastern Bluebirds, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, adult Bald Eagle, and a pair of Red-tailed Hawks acting, well, like a pair.

Karl Lukens found a Cackling Goose in a big flock of Canadas along Sunset Boulevard in Cape May, and there was a blue Snow Goose on the Shunpike Pond.

[This Red-bellied Woodpecker at Villas WMA found a drink in an ice-rimmed pond.]

[And then flew up into an oak.]

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Some Quick Ramblings

Don's post about the Cumberland CBC certainly painted a vivid picture of what the weather is like at Cape May at the moment. If you're still in any doubt, here's a picture (below) I took at Sunset Beach, overlooking the concrete ship, yesterday. The snow is long gone from Cape May, but the bitter weather remains and here, the foam whipped up by the wind on the wave tops is piling up on the beach in great drifts, and is coating both the concrete ship and all the beach woodwork. Despite this, at least four Common Eiders, two Surf Scoters and several Bonaparte's Gulls were still hanging out, along with the usual Ring-billed, American Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls.

If you can get out of the wind, as Don said, you can often find the birds hunkered down or searching for food. The back yard at CMBO's Northwood Center offers great shelter (and of course, plenty of feeders!), and continues to host Grey Catbird, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Towhee, Fox and White-throated Sparrows and all the other regular yardbirds (including plenty of Carolina Chickadees if you're visiting us from New York northwards!). This morning, I was distracted for quite some time by a noisy pair of American Crows out back, and finally decided to go and check out what their problem was. It turned out to be a fine Great Horned Owl and Sheila, Marleen and I managed good looks through one of the trusty display scope in the store (I shan't show favoritism by naming it here!).

Great Horned Owl at CMBO's Northwood Center, Cape May Point, today.

Venturing into the thicket behind the Northwod Center at lunchtime yesterday, I played a game of cat and mouse with the American Woodcock that I had been seeing regularly there in the evenings of late. Trying to stalk a woodcock in daylight is no mean feat and almost invariably they flash away with a whistle of wings, never to be seen again. At least four American Woodcock have been hanging out here of late, so I thought I should have a chance of at least one. The trick is to have a precise search image of a woodock in your head before you start. Key targets are the bright rufous on the flanks and the crisp, cross barring atop the head. I crept as carefully as was humanly possible through the thicket; one saw me and was off across Lighthouse Avenue - a second exactly the same. No fair! I didn't even see them before they moved! Number three gave himself away by slowly walking into a rose tangle; I'd seen him but there was no chance of a picture - too many branches, which is so often the way in woodland. Finally, number four got caught out, I appeared from behind a tree too close to him and he decided that staying still and looking like a pile of dead leaves was a better bet than risking flight. A few branches made life difficult for me, but I did get a good look at him.

Ever wondered why it's so hard to sneak up on an American Woodock? The answer is, they have 360 degree vision. This photo taken from behind the bird clearly shows both eyes keeping me in their sights! The birds eyes are situated right out on the sides of the head - like our ears -  and, but for a narrow cone of about three feet in length, both forward and aft, the bird has alround vision.

American Woodcock make a distinctive whistle when they fly away, which comes from the wings. The noise is caused by air passing between the very narrow, outer primaries, which can be seen here (top of picture) on the wing of a bird I picked up dead on the road recently.

Elsewhere around Cape May, the Cackling Goose continues to be seen today, either roosting on Lily Lake or feeding with Canada Geese in fields between Sunset Boulevard and Seagrove Avenue - though note that the flock is often feeding in a field that can't be seen well except from private property. The Sandhill Crane continues at Villas WMA and six Tundra Swans can usually be seen sleeping on the ice at Bunker Pond.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Cumberland CBC Blows Birders Away

[Adult Cooper's Hawk, back to the wind, hangs on for dear life - albeit with one foot, the other tucked under for warmth. Photo by Clay and Pat Sutton, click to enlarge photos.]

One could make a case that birding in January and February is better up the bayshore in Cumberland County, NJ than it is in migration central, a.k.a. Cape Island. And I'm sure the birding was wonderful in Cumberland today, and will be tomorrow. But yesterday (Sunday)?

It would be a stretch to call anything involving being outside yesterday wonderful. A species total isn't available yet for the Cumberland Christmas Bird Count, but yesterday certainly didn't shatter records - although our CBC party found 69 species at and around Turkey Point, with Clapper and Virginia Rails, herons, a point blank American Woodcock, Fox Sparrows, thrashers, towhees, Bald Eagles, duck concentrations, and even Eastern Screech and Great-horned Owls. Our full list (not the whole CBC, just our territory) is posted under field trip reports. Working the lee places was the way to go, but a lot of Cumberland, and specifically most of Turkey Point, is wide open marsh, and temperatures in the 20's with sustained winds of 25-30 and gusts to 50 (!) mph make such places umm, unpleasant.

Birds respond to such conditions, of course. Passerines and other landbirds disappear - some dead, many holed up, literally in the case of woodpeckers and other cavity nesters. We had only 3 Downy Woodpecker in 9 hours of birding and an estimated 10 miles of walking. Ducks migrate south facultatively, frozen out up north, as the 200+ Common Mergansers on one of the impoundment pools at Turkey Point attest. Fish eaters. . .suffer.

The seminal event of the big blow, for me, was saddening - the Great Blue Herons huddled around any and every bit of unfrozen water - we counted 39 of them, plus a Great Egret and two Black-crowned Night-herons. Some of the Great-blues were moribund, though some will survive, undoubtedly, on fish picked from open pockets and small mammals.

[Another Cumberland CBC higlight, this River Otter frolicked and rolled around on the frozen Maple Avenue Impoundments at Turkey Point. What cold? Click to enlarge. 6 Tundra Swans were not far away.]

Several people asked me to post what I wore to survive the day fairly comfortably, including 6:00 a.m.-8:00 a.m. outside the vehicle at the end of Turkey Point Road and literally 10 miles of hiking the various trails. There is a Birding Fieldcraft article on the general principles of keeping warm, but here's what I chose for the extreme conditions:

Base layer (most important layer): Patagonia Capilene 3 zip-neck top and bottoms.

Additional pant layers:
Mountain Hardwear Canyon Pants (lightweight but tight weave);
Marmot breathable rain pants (used against the wind, but had to remove mid-morning, too warm).

Additional top layers, from inside out:
Cabelas MTP zip-neck expedition weight base layer;
North Face heavy fleece sweater;
Eastern Mountain Sports 650-fill goose down vest (had to remove this by mid-morning, too warm);
Marmot 800-fill down sweater;
Patgonia Micropuff jacket.

Head, hands, feet:
Patagonia knit cap with a woven wool hat on top;
Patagonia neck gaiter;
Cabelas Gore-Tex insulated shooting gloves with disposable handwarmers inside;
Ultimax heavy wool socks;
insulated leather hunting boots;
Cabelas Gore-tex gaiters.