Sunday, February 28, 2010

Context for Spring

[Looks like the Adirondacks or Canada, but in fact it's East Creek Lake in Belleplain yesterday, click to enlarge all photos.]

I took a wander through snowy-clean and pristine Belleplain State Forest yesterday, hiking about 3.5 miles and spending a good three hours. Here's my bird list from the expedition:

Location: Belleplain State Forest
Observation date: 2/27/10
Notes: Walked East Creek Trail and Tom Field Road. 6-8 inches of snow on ground except melted areas.
Number of species: 14

Hooded Merganser 12
Pied-billed Grebe 1
Black Vulture 1
Belted Kingfisher 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Downy Woodpecker 1
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 1
Carolina Chickadee 5
Tufted Titmouse 5
Golden-crowned Kinglet 6
Hermit Thrush 2
American Robin 150
Yellow-rumped Warbler 1

Not overwhelming, but interesting nonetheless. Only a month or so until the first Louisiana Waterthrush!

Karl Lukens et. al. garnered the two Eurasian Wigeon, a Peregrine on the Water Tower, and a nice mix of ducks et. al. on Saturday's Cape May Point Walk; details on Field Trip Reports. Tony Leukering reported a movement of Snow Geese across the bay yesterday, heading north.

[Script in the snow, courtesy of a white-footed mouse who ventured from below the snow (tracks top left), plowed around a bit, then said forget this and headed back under.]

In the afternoon I visited Avalon, which held all the usuals of late, meaning Harlequins, Common Eiders, Purple Sandpiper, Great Cormorant, etc. Four Green-winged Teal flying south past the jetty reminded me a bit of October, and an American Bittern flying over the marsh on the west side of Avalon was a nice surprise and I think my first since fall.

[Dunlin with Sanderlings, gliding in for a landing. Avalon yesterday.]

[Spring on the way - Red-winged Blackbirds were lined up along all the causeways yesterday - Avalon, Stone Harbor, Nummy Island - singing away. This one persisted into evening at Nummy, with the full moon behind.]

Friday, February 26, 2010

Gull Workshop Postponed + Some Cancellations

[Slide from CMBO Gull Workshop indoor session, click to enlarge. The weather forced us to reschedule the workshop until March 6.]

Due to inclement weather, the CMBO Gull Workshop scheduled for tomorrow has been postponed to next Saturday, March 6. A few spaces remain, to register call 609.861.0700.

The CMBO Brigantine and Barnegat Light Field Trip for tomorrow is cancelled.

The CMBO Nightfall at Corbin City field trip for Sunday is also cancelled, since the dikes at Tuckahoe and Corbin City remain unsafe.

The 8:00 a.m. Sunday Morning at Turkey Point field trip will go as scheduled - and hopefully find the Golden Eagle that has been wintering there!


Chris Hajduk had a Razorbill yesterday in King Eider land, i.e. off the pilings at the Coast Guard base, which can be viewed from Poverty beach. It was last seen with a group of Red-throated Loons, and not relocated later in the day. Extensive scanning did turn up White-winged Scoter, Horned Grebe, and the immature male King Eider. This is a tough pick because of distance, let alone the waves from today's wind.


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

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, February 25, 2010. Highlights this week include sightings of BLACK-HEADED GULLS, SANDHILL CRANES, LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL, HARLEQUINS, COMMON EIDER, EASTERN PHOEBE, KING EIDER, EURASIAN WIGEON, REDHEADS, apparent arrivals of WOOD DUCK and GREAT EGRET, and an announcement about the CMBO annual Optics Sale March 13-14, 2010.

-For up-to-the-minute Cape May sightings information, photos and downloadable birding maps and checklist of Cape May, visit . Follow review list sightings and spectacles on -

Two BLACK-HEADED GULLS have been noted in Cape May and along the Delaware Bay, last reported on Thursday, February 25, 2010 at Sunset Beach in Cape May. Look for these birds from Cape May Point north along the bay at places like Sunset Beach, the Cape May-Lewes Ferry Terminal, the mouth of Cox Hall Creek, and the end of Miami Ave. in the Villas.

Two SANDHILL CRANES were noted in the uncut cornfield south of St. Mary's Cemetery on Cape Island, between Broadway/Seashore and Shunpike Road, on Sunday, February 21, 2010.

An adult LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL was at Avalon on Sunday, February 21 2010. Up to 4 HARLEQUINS and 60 or so COMMON EIDERS are present there as well. View from the 8th street jetty or the end of 3rd Avenue.

An EASTERN PHOEBE was noted at the Railroad Tracks along Bayshore Road just north of the Beanery on Saturday, February 20, 2010.

An immature male KING EIDER was seen at Poverty Beach on Monday, February 22, 2010. Look far to the north and/or offshore from the boundary with the Coast Guard Station.

An EURASIAN WIGEON and drake REDHEAD were noted on Lighthouse Pond in Cape May Point State Park this week, through Thursday, February 25, 2010.

A pair of WOOD DUCKS were seen at Villas WMA on Monday, February 22, 2010, while a flock of a dozen were seen flying by at Turkey Point in Cumberland County the same date.

A possibly arriving GREAT EGRET was seen along Kimble's Beach Road on Wednesday, February 24, 2010.


CMBO's Fifteenth Annual Optics Sale will be Saturday and Sunday, March 13 and 14 from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the CMBO Center for Research and Education in Goshen. A large selection of closeout, demo, factory-refurbished, new and used optics will be priced to move. Binoculars and spotting scopes from all major brands will be available. There are no advance or phone orders: first come, first served. You must be a member of NJAS or CMBO to take advantage of these great deals, so join today if you’re not already a member.

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 (but open Sunday March 14 for the Optics Sale); closed Mondays and Tuesdays. ******

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!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Black-headed Gull, King Eider, Great Egret

[A late February Great Egret, like this one this morning on Kimble's Beach Road, is gray in terms of origin. They sometimes do arrive in late February, though most years they begin trickling in in March. If this one survived the winter, well, it's a survivor.]

The Black-headed Gull (s) continue, with the latest report coming from Bob Fogg at Sunset Beach this morning. Chris Hajduk reports the immature male King Eider continues at Poverty Beach, and Great Cormorants are really prettying up.

It's gonna snow again. . .sigh. It almost started feeling like spring, with woodcock calling, Mourning Doves and Northern Cardinals singing, and the Great Egret, which I'm thinking of as an arriving bird, mainly because that's what I want. Its breeding plumes looked in pretty good shape for a bird that went through two blizzards.

Scott Whittle's March Photography Workshop filled, but we're adding a second session April 10-11, call CMBO 609.861.0700 to register. The Gull Workshop this Saturday also has a few spaces open - and a Black-headed Gull on the agenda, though we'll spend more time simply learning, really learning, the common gulls (as opposed to Common Gulls with capital letters, the European version of Mew Gull!)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Wood Ducks, Eurasian Wigeon, Yellowlegs, Oystercatcher

[Wintering Greater Yellowlegs are routine in south coastal NJ, but anyone who saw the frozen, snow-covered marshes this month knows any still surviving are tough birds indeed. This one was along the Avalon Causeway this morning. Click to enlarge.]

There was a report of two Wood Ducks flying over the big pond at Villas WMA this morning, and Pete Dunne told me he had a flock of a dozen or so flying north near Turkey Point - spring migrants!

An American Oystercatcher flew past the 8th Street jetty at Avalon this morning, and a single female Harlequin lingered near the jetty.

A Eurasian Wigeon and 2 Redheads were found at Lighthouse Pond yesterday.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Avalon and Cape May Reports

[Three plumages of Harlequin Duck at Avalon this afternoon. Left to right, immature male, adult male, female. A fourth bird, an immature male, was there as well. Click to enlarge.]

The two Black-headed Gulls turned up at the Concrete Ship as well as the Ferry Terminal today. The two Sandhill Cranes were in the cornfield south of the cemetary again as well.

Avalon this evening hosted about 60 Common Eiders, 4 Harlequins, an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, 10 Purple Sandpipers, Horned Grebes, both loons, &c. A Belted Kingfisher, the first I've had for a while, was along the Avalon Causeway.

Gull(s), Crane, Phoebe; Winter Marsh Raptor Survey

[One of two Horned Larks along Shepard's Mill Road, north of the Cohansey River in Cumberland County. Click to enlarge photos.]

Dave LaPuma's got "the" Black-headed Gull right now at the same spot he had it yesterday, the mouth of Cox Hall Creek. Two were reported at the Ferry Terminal yesterday, seen simultaneously.

The Cape Island Sandhill Cranes live on, with a report from the uncut cornfield south of the St. Mary's cemetary. The cemetary is between Broadway/Seashore and Shunpike Roads.

Speaking of living on, Tony Leukering had an Eastern Phoebe at the Beanery thaw area along Bayshore Road near the railroad tracks yesterday. Dave LaPuma had a Pied-billed Grebe on"Lake Champlain," the small development pond along Champlain Avenue in the Villas, north of Villas WMA. Best bet is to find it on your Cape May County map and navigate your way there.

The drake Redhead was among the 47 species found on CMBO's Saturday Cape May Point field trip, see the full results on Field Trip Reports.

A midday stroll around the Villas WMA yesterday yielded plenty of wet snow. The large pond was 30% open, with a single Double-crested Cormorant roosting on the ice with 6 Green-winged Teal. The usual Ring-necked Ducks, American Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallards and Black Ducks were on the pond , too.

Yesterday evening was CMBO's second Winter Marsh Raptor Survey of 2010. At least one survey point (Tuckahoe) and maybe others were unreachable thanks to the snow. Tom Reed and Tony Leukering had one Short-eared Owl at Jake's Landing right at dark, but I don't know if they had to walk out the road to get there. My survey point at the end of Ragged Island Road at the Cohansey River mouth was lovely and had a beautiful Short-eared Owl lit up from below by the snow, with only slightly diminished numbers of harriers compared to January - but it was a long walk through drifts up to three feet deep to get out there. Karen and Brian Johnson had 3 Short-eareds at Mott's Creek. Their's, like mine, were close to the woods edge - less wind and maybe more prey.

[Female Northern Harrier going to bed with a full crop at the mouth of the Cohansey. We'll post the survey results when all points have reported - will numbers be down after the blizzards?]

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Prelude to a Gull Workshop

[This is a good gull to dial in on, a first cycle=first winter American Herring Gull. The truth is, most gulls in the east are easy to identify, including this one - if it's big and brown, it's a young Herring Gull, unless it's something quite rare. Pay attention to exact wing pattern on young gulls, e.g. the pale inner primaries and primary coverts forming a pale wedge on Herring. Newburyport, MA yesterday, click to enlarge all photos.]

Dave LaPuma had the adult Black-headed Gull this morning at the mouth of Cox Hall Creek along Delaware Bay. To find this bird, start looking on the beach at the park north of the Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal, and if it's not there, just work your way north along the bay, looking for Bonaparte's Gulls to sort through. This one is a pretty small individual, and at a distance doesn't exactly jump out of the Bonaparte's Gull flock in hangs with, at least until you get a good look at the underwing. Black-headeds are a bit paler than Bonaparte's, have dark underwing tips that really stand out, a dull red bill, and bright red legs. Scroll down for a photo from an earlier post.

We just got back from our annual Newburyport, MA trip, always delightful winter birding (and sometimes our first look at snow for the year, NOT this year!) And a great place to take photos for the gull workshop next Saturday.

[Second cycle Iceland Gull. Dove like proportions, small size, very pale overall with variably darker primaries. Second cycle because of adult like back feathers and pale bill base. Icelands are fairly easy to find in north coastal MA.]

[Now, how about this one (bird at right)? Pale bird, but quite dark primaries with pale tips, quite dark tertials. . .Scott Whittle picked this one out, and study of the bird and digiscoped photos convinced us it was a second cycle Thayer's Gull. Nile's Pond, MA on Wednesday.]

[See, not all gulls are difficult! Notice the extensive black on the underwing tip of the adult Ring-billed Gull Scott's feeding, a good quick-trick for separating ringbills from adult Herring's when flying overhead. Herrings average much less black.]

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Sunny Day...

It was a sunny day at Cape May today and a noticeable thaw really set in on the snow that still persists here. Roads are pretty much clear now, but if you go 'off piste', walking can be tough. As it has been a couple of weeks since I ventured into Cape May Point State Park, I thought that a nice sunny day would be the time for a quick lunchtime foray to find out what is still out there. As it transpired, I found a pretty empty landscape, the endless sea of slushy snow and dead cat-tails stems broken only by the dark brown mounds of Muskrat lodges. Persistence threw up a nice party of eight female Hooded Mergansers, a Great Blue Heron and a peculiar mixed passerine flock that consisted of single Brown Thrasher, Carolina Wren, Carolina Chickadee, American Robin, Yellow-rumped Warbler and White-throated Sparrow! Somewhat strangely, the commonest bird aside from the expected ducks turned out to be Northern Flicker as I logged five of them feeding on the ground in spots where the snow had just cleared. The highlight was a Great Horned Owl which flushed from a stand of pines. Back near the road, the male Redhead was still on Lighthouse Pond.

Cape May Point State Park has remained open throughout the bad weather, but note that parking is very limited at present as the parking lot has not been ploughed, while the longer blue trail is closed for maintenance work until April 1st. If you're coming down this weekend, don't forget to visit the Northwood Center, where the feeders are bustling with action, including up to three Brown Thrashers, two male Eastern Towhees and all the regular guests.

Cape May Harbor has a nice selection of wintering ducks at present, including nearly 200 Ruddy Ducks and good numbers of Buffleheads, Brant, Red-breasted Mergansers and a couple of Common Loons - all visible from right by the Nature Center of Cape May on Delaware Avenue.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Hopes of Spring?

Just a couple of quick snippets to keep you all going; news reached me late yesterday of an Osprey, seen fishing the creek near CMBO's Center for Research and Education on Route 47 just north of Goshen. The bird was found by Dale Rosselet and later seen by Will Kerling. It's always difficult - if not impossible - to work out what such out-of-season birds are up to. Has this bird been wintering well north of traditional wintering grounds, or has it somehow picked up early spring fever and decided to head north to be first back at a prime breeding site?

Another nice report that came through by way of a phone call from Loralea Kirby late yesterday, involves a Dickcissel which Loralea photographed at her yard feeder. A nice find of a bird that should be wintering well south of New Jersey, in southern Mexico or northern South America. I bet he's feeling the cold! Loralea lives in Little Egg Harbor in Ocean County, so wherever you are, it always pays to expect the unexpected!

Dickcissel at Little Egg Harbor, Courtesy of Loralea Kirby.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Black-headed Gull

[Black-headed Gull, with a Ring-billed Gull, on the beach north of the Ferry Terminal this morning. Bright red legs, red bill, dark under the primaries all separate from Bonaparte's. Click to enlarge. This bird was discovered a couple days ago, I believe by Steve Kerr.]

Besides the Black-headed Gull, the American Kestrel continues along Bayshore Road, Rusty Blackbirds are still at the Beanery, and American Woodcock, Fox Sparrows, etc. are all around. Two Red-breasted Nuthatches and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker were near the Cape May Point State park entrance this morning. Check Field Trip Reports for various bird sightings today. A number of CMBO naturalists are off for our annual Newburyport, MA field trip tomorrow, and a few highlights may appear here, but we'll still keep you up to date on sightings around Cape May.

Tales of a Snow-covered Marsh

[Female Northern Harrier hunting along Turkey Point Road, near Dividing Creek in Cumberland County on Sunday. The marsh, though lovely, is eerily silent compared to easier times. Click to enlarge.]

The undoubted highlight of CMBO's Wintering Hawks, Eagles and Owls Workshop, day 2, was the Long-eared Owl that flew over the group along Turkey Point Road at dusk and proceeded to perch on the edge of the marsh for a silhouette view - one with long ears! A Great-horned also came to the marsh edge, and the world's toughest Virginia Rail bellowed its "stuck pig" call several times as darkness fell.

With everything concentrated along the roadsides, the landbirding was pretty incredible in the Turkey Point Area- over 20 Hermit Thrushes for example. We managed one each of Cooper's Hawk, Peregrine and Merlin, and many Bald Eagles. The full list is up on Field Trip Reports.

Other Field Trip highlights included reports from Cape May Point Saturday, the long list from Longtails in Love on Saturday, and the first Sunday Morning Turkey Point Walk.

A Golden Eagle was seen from Turkey Point on Sunday morning by several different observers at various times.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Winter Continues, But Birds Are Out There

It will be interesting to hear how Don and Megan got on in Cumberland County today, as some of the more remote tracks are still snowed in up there, but Cape May Point is pretty much opened up now - though Bayshore Road and Stevens Street remain tricky (which is a pain because it's my route to work each day!). American Woodcock continue to be reported at many locations, especially in yards around Cape May Point and the Rea Farm stand had two American Tree Sparrows as I drove past this morning. A scattering of Horned Larks were noted and I had a party of 11 which flew south along the beach by the Cape May Ferry Dock. The latter site had a Black-headed Gull yesterday, still present today so probably well worth a look tomorrow. Vince Elia reported a single Razorbill flying south off Sunset Boulevard this morning and a good scattering of Black Scoter were to be seen there.

Continuing the theme of feeder birds (yet again!), three Brown Thrashers were gracing the Northwood Center feeders today along with the usual selection of other birds, including our faithful male Eastern Towhee.

Well, we had to go one better at the Northwood Center today - at least for silliness if not for rarity value. Three Mallards somehow discovered the feeders yesterday, and brought along another seven mates today - here's a few of them!

A scarce winter bird at Cape May, this wonderful male American Kestrel was along Bayshore Road at lunch time - and a nice addition to our yard list!

Six Tundra Swans were on the Cape May Canal this evening by the ferry dock and flew off over a snowy Higbee Dike. Being five adults and one juvenile, I'll wager they're the birds that have been wintering at Cape May Point State Park.

Sparrows, Cranes, Raptors

Birders were back out in force yesterday, finding mainly things driven to plowed areas by the persisting deep snow. Tom Reed & Sam Galick had a White-crowned Sparrow at the Cape May Point State Park entrance, and more American Tree Sparrows turned up, including one with Horned Larks at the Rea Farm Stand along Stevens Street, seen by several observers.

The Cape Island Sandhill Cranes live on, seen by several observers in various places, the most reliable of which is the vicinity of the Assembly of God Church on Seashore/Broadway south of the West Cape May Bridge. Sheila and Marleen had one of the Cape Island Bald Eagle pair flying towards the nest site with prey.

The best site we found yesterday during CMBO's Wintering Raptor Workshop was Glade Road/East Point Road in Cumberland County. The big salt marsh along Glade had an immature Red-shouldered Hawk harassed first by a Sharp-shinned hawk, then by a harrier and crows, as well as several Bald Eagles, including a copulating pair.

Past Heislerville heading towards East Point, multiple sheltered and melted areas along the road held LOTS of birds, with many Fox Sparrows and Hermit Thrushes, Gray Catbird, Brown Thrasher, and 2 American Woodcock that seemed to be managing well. Part of me would love to walk that road again today, but we're headed up to Turkey Point to try to track down Golden Eagle et. al. in what looms as a bitter cold and windy day.

Along Thompson's Beach Road we bumped into some Tree Sparrows feeding on the left side (heading out) in an old field. Initially it looked like maybe 6 birds, but when the flock flushed there were more like 20 and the 10 or so I could be sure of were indeed Tree Sparrows.

Disturbingly, a vigil along Reed's Beach Road at dusk produced nothing, not even a harrier, and a serious attempt for Eastern Screech Owl at a known location turned up empty. Our lists from yesterday are up on Field Trip Reports.

Friday, February 12, 2010

It's Always Worth Going Out!

With the weather gradually improving at Cape May (though still very chilly!), cabin fever is kicking in with all of us and the birding community are getting out and checking up on our local birds. Of course, we are spoiled at Cape May with all-round great birding, but even spending time watching the backyard feeders can produce unexpected finds. Unusual weather conditions can produce unexpected bird movements and the last few days have certainly been interesting.

 Don has mentioned the American Tree Sparrows that have been turning up in Cape May and we have been lucky enough to be entertaining one for the last two days at our own feeder (along with five other species of sparrow - six if you count my British conpatriots!).

Amongst the hordes of Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds at our feeder today, I found a lone male Rusty Blackbird. I find it easiest to pick these out by the combination of pale eye and small bill rather than looking for any rusty markings, especially if looking against the light.

My final surprise at the feeder today was a colour-marked Northern Cardinal. Some interesting data can be obtained by individually marking birds rather than just using a metal ring and it will be interesting to find out where this bird has come from and what its movements have told the bander - we'll keep you posted!

Cold weather movements of birds often provide us with unexpected sightings and this Horned Lark was no exception. I found it feeding quite happily in the middle of a busy road, at the junction of Stevens Street and Bayshore Road beside the Rea Farm.

Wild Turkeys + Snowed In (or is that out?) Roads

[Five of the fourteen Wild Turkeys foraging in a field south of Dividing Creek along Cumberland County Route 553 today. Note the sparrows digging in the foreground, finding bare ground where the turkeys scratched. Note also the turkeys' beards and dark irridescent plumage - they are males, or "toms" in farmer or hunter lingo. In deep snow turkeys depend on fields windswept of snow, seeps and wetlands to find accessible food. Click to enlarge.]

Megan Crewe and I took a couple hours today to figure out what our options were for this weekend's workshop. Jake's Landing Road has not been plowed and is probably impassable to anything but a 4WD with high clearance, and iffy even at that. Same for Beaver Swamp Road once it turns to sand. Thus Jake's and its Short-eared Owls and Beaver Swamp with its eagle nest are currently inaccessible. I've forgotten to mention that two days ago I had a Short-eared Owl up on a post in the salt marsh at high tide along Route 47 south of Goshen, likely one of the birds that frequents Jake's Landing since it is all one vast complex.

Happily, Turkey Point and Newport Landing are well plowed out, and both have nesting Bald Eagles. A Red-shouldered Hawk and a harrier with an incredibly full crop were at Newport Landing around lunchtime today. Karen Johnson and Janet Crawford had a distant perched eagle from Beaver Dam, along Route 553 north of Dividing Creek, that may have been the wintering Golden Eagle. Megan and I watched a male harrier precisely and effortlessly drop to the edge of a muskrat mound and come up with a meadow vole at Bivalve, seen from the Strawberry Lane boardwalk, which is a walk-in or 4WD only proposition at the moment.

Thompson's Beach and Heislerville are reachable and worth it, with harriers, eagles, redtails, and a couple Sharp-shinned Hawks. Five Bald Eagles of varying ages were feeding out at the end of Turkey Point Road.

Feeder Birds; 7 Tree Sparrows = Migration?

[Carolina Wren takes a break from the suet yesterday. Click to enlarge photos.]

Reports totalling 7 Tree Sparrows yesterday in Cape May County, when before none were being reported, seem to indicate these birds were not wintering locally but who really knows? 2+ are at my Del Haven feeders, Dave LaPuma has one in the Villas, 2 are at Dave Lord's in Goshen, plus one more in Goshen at Amy Gaberlein's, and Mike Crewe has one on Cape Island.

[Another sparrow reported at feeders during and after the storms is Swamp Sparrow, like this one at mine yesterday.]

[Feeder watching is fun. . .to a point. We're ready to see a bit more of the countryside, hopefully the weather will let us!]

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Stores are open...

Wednesday was hideous, that's about all I can say! High winds and snow raked us all day, but we got through and - somehow - so did the birds. CMBO's Northwood Center (Cape May Point) is open and the main roads around and about are surprisingly clear (CMBO-CRE in Goshen is not yet plowed). I think the partial thaw and rain did us some good before the second snowfall came. So, if you're thinking of heading our way, we plan to be open for you - but do check the local weather forecast before leaving home.

As we all know, nature is red in tooth and claw and the principals and practices of 'survival of the fitest' were all too readily visible over the last couple of days. We witnessed a Common Grackle killing and eating a White-throated Sparrow on Wednesday at our feeder and, with improved weather this morning, both Cooper's and Red-shouldered Hawks were patrolling the back yard.

One big tip I would give to anyone is to try and keep an area clear of snow where there is deep soil and leaf litter, under trees or in flower borders rather than on lawns. This will provide many birds with feeding opportunities that otherwise wouldn't be available to them. With a good blanket of snow, the ground should be unfrozen; at the Northwood Center yesterday, American Woodcocks, Grey Catbirds, Brown Thrashers, Carolina Wrens and Fox Sparrows were all grateful for this.

Sunset Beach remains a good area for smart little Bonaparte's Gulls and at least 42 were there on Wednesday morning (along with seven Red-throated Loons).

American Woodcock toughing it out at our feeder.

A sign of tough times; two Eastern Meadowlarks risked the close proximity of our house and joined the Red-winged Blackbirds in our yard for a while.

Tree Sparrow CBC Data - U.S and Canada

Sorry to clutter things with graphs - but this one more, of American Tree Sparrow for the entire U.S. and Canada, illustrates this species' decline. Ignore count year 59 on these graphs, by the way, there is obviously a problem with that year's online data. See below for more on Cape May tree sparrows.

National Audubon Society (2010). The Christmas Bird Count Historical Results [Online]. Available at [February 11, 2010]

Tree Sparrow CBC Data

Here are the American Tree Sparrow data for Cape May (top) and all of NJ combined (bottom). Data before 1950 is not available online in this form. See the post below for more on American Tree Sparrows.

National Audubon Society (2010). The Christmas Bird Count Historical Results [Online]. Available at [February 11, 2010]

American Tree Sparrows; Snowfall Totals

[This American Tree Sparrow appeared at my feeders first thing this morning, new for the yard. Another appeared in Dave LaPuma's Villas yard today, too. Click to enlarge.]

Continuing my project to read both volumes, cover-to-cover, of Witmer Stone's 1937 Bird Studies at Old Cape May, last night I came upon these startling lines: "The Tree Sparrow is found in flocks all winter long and sometimes as many as two hundred may be found together. It forms the bulk of most of the mixed sparrow flocks of winter but is as frequent in flocks of its own."

Holy population collapse, Batman! American Tree Sparrows are now rare at best in Cape May County, so rare I have been searching in vain for just one for the year since January 1 and the one that appeared at my feeder today is a yard bird. Christmas Bird Count data shows American Tree Sparrows plummeting in the early 1970's. I'll put the CBC graphs up on the blog in a minute - it's not just Cape May, though the bird still remains fairly common to the north.

Since we had the high sweep through last night, with stars overhead at 5:00 a.m. or before, I wonder if David LaPuma's and my tree sparrows came in overnight from points north, or if they, like so many other birds, were wintering locally but forced to the feeders.

"Preliminary Official" snowfall totals from the NWS:

Philadelphia - 28.5" February 5-6; 15.3" February 9-10.
Atlantic City - 18.2" February 5-6; 7.1" February 9-10.
Wilmington - 25.8" February 5-6; 5.6" February 9-10.

It seems to me Cape May matched Philly for the first storm, at least in the northern part of the county, but had closer to what A.C. got with the second storm - with a fair bit of rain before and during the snow. At least two local gas stations had their roofs over the pumps completely collapse under the weight of rain and snow.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

More Snow Birds + Golden Eagle

[Another Eastern Meadowlark seeking habitat anywhere it can find it. Photo by Will Kerling, click to enlarge.]

An adult Golden Eagle has been seen reliably of late, well, pre-blizzard, near Turkey Point from the end of the Eagle Trail and Beaver Dam Boat Rentals along Route 553 north of Dividing Creek.

[What happened here? An American Woodcock landed in front of Will Kerling and buried itself in the snow to hide.]

Monday, February 8, 2010

Feeder Birds, Primarily

[If only Common Grackles were 6 feet tall and carried snow shovels. Del Haven yesterday, click to enlarge photos.]

If Mike Crewe hadn't been so busy of late shoveling and dealing with lack of power, he would have posted his photos of the two Eastern Meadowlarks at his feeder, undoubtedly driven out of the Cape Island fields of Higbee/Hidden Valley. They are my pick for the "best" feeder birds on Cape Island born of the recent storm - sad though it is to see birds challenged so.

Michael O'Brien and Louise Zemaitis have had a couple nice feeder/yard birds on Cape Island similary storm-forced, with Eastern Phoebe and Chipping Sparrows included yesterday.

CMBO-CRE in Goshen is finally plowed and shovelled out, and hosted Brown Thrasher, Gray Catbird and Eastern Towhee at the feeders today.

Truth is, other than Mike Fritz's report of a nice mixed bag of alcids off NJ (but north of Cape May) while mackeral fishing pre-storm, the only non-feeder reports coming in have just a few roadside birds - including poor American Woodcock, all around the Cape, how they will survive I don't know, especially in light of another snowfall forecast for tomorrow.

In other news, the Cape May "team" - birders collected at one of the few houses Sunday that had both functioning electricity and cable - garnered a meager 10 bird species during the Superbowl, including Peregrine, Red-tailed, and some sort of vocalization flashed in the background of a commercial (yes, these are TV birds we're talking about) that was part Indigo Bunting, Yellow Warbler, or maybe something completely different. . .can't say our senses were at full faculty at the time. . .

[Fox Sparrows dig vigorously, and may manage better than other sparrows in snow -especially if bird feeders are augmented with handfuls of seed cast out regularly during snow events. This one paused at length near the feeders on Sunday.]

Riding the Storm

As of Monday evening, my advice for would-be visitors to Cape May Point is - think twice before making the journey, at least over the next couple of days. The snow might look pretty but there's still a lot of homes with no power at all after three days (including ours!) and some streets in town still have power lines down across the road. The blizzard that hit us on Saturday looks like it was the worst in living memory and - on top of that - another similar day of bad weather is forecast for Wednesday.

At present the CMBO Northwood Center remains closed; this morning we managed to fight our way in, sadly discovering that a number of our Red Cedars that line the entrance steps had succumbed under the weight of snow and snapped in two. We had to cut a couple to get in.

Birds seem to be riding the weather reasonably well. I've not heard of any signs of birds being found suffering from starvation, though the local American Woodcocks may well be the first to succumb - I saw several wandering aimlessly on Sunset Boulevard today. There are plenty of feeders in the area and it's important - now that we've produced an artifically high bird population by feeding - that we maintain all feeders as best we can.

Stay warm and stay healthy and we'll keep you posted on how Wednesday develops.

Jackson Street, Cape May - typical of the conditions in town at present.

CMBO's Northwood Center - two feet of snow and fallen trees block the entrance to the store.

Believe it or not, this was the entrance to the Northwood Center this morning.


CMBO's Northwood Center will be CLOSED today due to the heavy snow and power outage, and will be closed tomorrow in accord with normal winter hours. Be sure to check here or call ahead if you plan to stop by Northwood this week to make sure we've been able to reopen. Northwood's normal winter hours are Wednesday to Monday 9:30 to 4:30, closed Tuesdays.

CMBO's Center for Research and Education is open Tuesday through Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., closed Sundays and Mondays. We're busy shoveling and the plow truck has gotten itself stuck in the parking lot at the moment, but we currently anticipate being able to open as usual tomorrow.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

What Would Witmer Think

[Fox Sparrow, Del Haven (10 miles north of Cape May on the Bay) today. "This, the largest of our sparrows, seems to be a regular transient in March and November while a varying number remain through the winter." (Stone, 1937) Click to enlarge all photos.]

20+" of snow fell, and it falls still. Birds rained on the feeders today, and, now that the power's back on, we can let Witmer Stone cast wise light on the scene. A re-read of his 1937 classic was overdue - what better for a birder to do in a Cape May blizzard, in between laying on the floor and poking the camera's nose out the dog door towards the feeders?

[Cape May birders profit from those who came before - Wilson, Stone (here), Peterson, and more modern giants.]

[White-throated Sparrow this morning. "This large plump sparrow is a regular winter visitant to the Cape region and a more abundant transient in autumn. . .The brilliant coloration of the old males with their black heads, and conspicuous crown stripes is in strong contrast to the duller females and young males. . ." - (ornithologists of Stone's time didn't know the details about the white-striped and tan-striped forms of the whitethroat.)]

[Dark-eyed Junco today, "Slate-colored" Junco to Stone: "'Snowbirds' as they are usually termed, here, always occur in flocks, sometimes by themselves, sometimes mingled with the various winter sparrows and often drifting about with the flights of Myrtle Warblers in windy weather and snow flurries."]

[Song Sparrow today. "The Song Sparrow may be regarded as a regular resident about Cape May, but whether the birds that we find in winter are the same as our summer breeding birds is open to question." (Stone, 1937). Song Sparrow has been as ubiquitous as you'd expect along the bayshore roadsides of late.]

[Brown-headed Cowbird today. "Snow, when heavy enough to cover the ground, disturbs the Cowbird flocks not a little and on March 11, 1934, a number of them were forced to repair to the orchard on Otway Brown's place at Cold Spring and flew down close to the house to feed on the scraps we threw out to them." (Stone, 1937).]

[European Starling today. "The Starling, which man so unwisely introduced from the Old World in 1890. . .has been increasing since its first appearance. . .by consuming the winter food supply it makes it difficult for many of our former winter residents to survive the cold months." (Stone, 1937) ]

[House Sparrow with female Brown-headed Cowbird today. "Those that come to feed on scraps of bread thrown out in our garden for other bird visitors defer to Starlings, Grackles, and Red-wings but they do not leave the field and by watching their opportunity will snatch up a crust form under the very bill of one of the larger birds and fly off with it." ]

[Female House Sparrow. "Even this familiar bird would seem to warrant further study!"]