Monday, February 28, 2011


Ok, so I'm sill a foreigner and this only my second spring here - and the last one was a whole year away! So please forgive me for not immediately recognising what all you locals would have identified straight away; it's a rainy evening here in Cape May, but even so, the peculiar noise outside the window was bugging me. Literally bugging me, I thought, because it sounded like a cicada trying to start up and failing dismally, or someone rubbing a thumb nail very quickly down the teeth of a plastic comb. I went outside in the drizzle right on 6PM, when it was still light enough to see out. It was coming from a clearing I had only just made this very weekend in the mass of Multiflora Rose bushes invading our garden. Six steps from the back door and the game was up. A male American Woodcock, wings whistling rapidly, shot up like a rocket and flew a huge circle before disappearing behind the house. As I stood there, at least three others could be heard calling nearby. Who knows, maybe we'll get a pair nesting in the garden!

And oh how timely it all is, for this coming Saturday, March 5th we have the first of our Woodcock Dance evenings (the second is on March 19th) so come along and learn about this amazing little bird and its strange call. Maybe afterwards you'll find one in your backyard!

I think it's an illness - I just can't stop photographing them! I photographed this American Woodcock a short while ago when there was still a little snow on the ground. It was sat beside me as I filled the feeders at the Northwood Center, and even waited while I went and got my little point-and-shoot camera and took its picture from just three feet away! [Photo by Mike Crewe]

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Slow but sure, and news from Villas WMA

A bit of sun, an increase in temperature and a weekend day all came together to ensure that people were out and enjoying Cape May today. First the big fanfare as we announce this year's LAGU Award winners: Sam Galick and Tom Reed got the first Laughing Gull of the year which cruised north past St Peter's at Cape May Point at around 2:30PM today. The first real, surefire sign that spring is not too far away. Eleswhere, Tom Reed reoprted a Piping Plover on Two-mile Beach, while Roger and Kathy Horn found American Tree Sparrow and Wood Duck at The Beanery.

To any-one coming birding at Cape May in the near future, be aware that the Villas Wildlife Management Area is currently completely closed to public access while the old building complex by the main lake is demolished. Looks like they expect the area to remain closed right through the spring period so we'll let you know if that changes. Please take advance notice that our Villas/Cox Hall Creek walk scheduled in the The Kestrel as running sundays at 07:30AM from April 3rd, will need to be moved and will be replaced by a Higbee's Beach WMA walk on the same time and dates. Roger and Kathy Horn will lead this walks and are pleased to have the opportunity to take weekenders to this excellent site, which we haven't given Sunday coverage to of late.

Sometimes you have to take what you can get! American Tree Sparrow plays hide and seek with its observers. [Photo by Roger Horn]

Male Wood Duck at The Beanery today - on the little pond at the north end of the back field. [Photo by Roger Horn]

Piping Plover - the first returning bird to be reported this year was reported by Tom Reed at Two-mile Beach today. [Photo by Roger Horn]

Friday, February 25, 2011

Sleepy Cape May

When the birding community starts a doodling competition on bar napkins during the local quizz-o night, you know that the birding is quiet at Cape May (decorum prevents me from naming the artist, but I have the originals safely hidden away!!). But of course, this is Cape May and there's always something out there. If you're thinking of coming down this weekend, you might check along the bayshore from the ferry terminal northwards to Miami Beach, where two Black-headed Gulls lurking somewhat elusively. Don Freiday reported them both, along with four Forster's Terns and some 80 Bonaparte's Gulls at Miami Beach on the 24th and in the current weather they're probably not going anywhere just yet. Don also reported a first cycle Lesser Black-backed Gull from Champlain Lake, which nestles in a residential area along Champlain Drive, between the Villas Wildlife Management Area and the bayshore (if you're really keen on testing your identification skills, there's also a mottly collection of hybrid Mallard x Black Ducks there!).

In general, there are still plenty of ducks on the ponds round and about, some smart, breeding-plumaged adult Great Cormorants with highlights in their hair now and there may well still be a Short-eared Owl at The Meadows - I saw one perched on a white post there as I drove along Sunset Boulevard Wednesday evening but techno-fear took over me and I discovered that my efforts to text on a new phone had not come off - apologies for that!

Michael O'Brien's Gull Workshop takes place this Saturday so I hope to see you there (you might still squeeze on last-minute if you call 609-861-0700 NOW!!)

American Herring Gulls at Cape May Point - just waiting to be sorted out by the gull workshop... [photo by Mike Crewe]

Sunday, February 20, 2011

It's Spr....

Was it really just two weeks ago when our home thermometer read a mere 8 degrees fahrenheit on the porch?!

Not quite spring yet, but starting to feel like it - oh how we long for those balmier days, more hours of daylight and the thought of those wonderful warblers, which even now are probably wondering whether it's time to think about heading north from that Cecropia tree that has kept them well supplied with bugs all winter. I walked around The Beanery quickly at lunch time today for - I'm ashamed to say - the first time this year. Though there was no sign of the Rusty Blackbird flock that Sam and Tom had last Friday, I was more than compensated by the presence of no less than three adult Bald Eagles soaring overhead in the sun. Even assuming that two were the local pair (which they may not have been!) that still leaves at least one that was a-wandering.

When a Bald Eagle comes right over your head, how often do you have a camera? Well, at least today at The Beanery I did! [photo by Mike Crewe]

Bald Eagle number 2 passes The Beanery lunchtime today [photo by Mike Crewe]

I couldn't manage all three in one shot, but here's eagles numbers two and three, thermalling over Bayshore Road today - it's good to be alive! [Photo by Mike Crewe]

Aside from the birds, spring is certainly beginning to make its presence felt here with Spring Peepers starting to call (though not the full-on, deafening chorus yet!), a Mourning Cloak seen by Sam and Tom on Friday and a Winter Firefly reported to me by Will Kerling. Plant-wise, the elm and maple flower buds are threatening to burst their seams pretty soon and the year's first wild flower is up in great quantity at The Beanery - those bizarre Skunk-cabbages!

No they're not old beetroots or rotten eggs (though they smell like them!) These really are the bizarre flowers of Skunk-cabbage, probably appearing in a swamp near you right now! [photo by Mike Crewe]

Keith Seiger deserves a mention too, for being kind enough to call me amd let me know that the leaves of Crane-fly Orchid were now poking through in the local woods. This is an uncommon and declining species, but still to be found here and there in the county. It's a weird plant; although it flowers in mid-summer, each plant sends up just a single leaf in mid-winter which provides sustenance for the plant then withers away before spring closes the woodland canopy over its head and blocks out the light.

The mysterious appearance of Crane-fly Orchid leaves on the forest floor [photo by Mike Crewe]

If you're unsure if you have a Crane-fly Orchid leaf, be sure to check underneath for purple blotching (though a few plants don't have it, while some have purple on the top too (very confusing!) [photo by Mike Crewe]

Friday, February 18, 2011

Spring and Spiffiness, both part II

[All photos copyright by Tony Leukering; click on image(s) to see larger version(s).]

With the temperature as measured by my car reaching 65 degrees today, I was out with Mike Crewe looking for something to be found. Though we enjoyed the day, the duo of Sam Galick and Tom Reed beat us out by actually finding some interesting found things. The first of these was a Tree Swallow (TRES) first heard high overhead and then coming down to make a circuit of the pond at the Beanery. As there certainly haven't been any around all winter, the wee beastie was certainly an arrival. In contrast, the two also saw an American Tree Sparrow (ATSP) there, one of the fair number of wintering individuals of this locally scarce species, and a flock of 143 Rusty Blackbirds (RUBL).

While Sam and Tom (mind if we call you 'Dave?') were scoring Tree Swallow, Mike and I were searching the bayshore for either or both of the Black-headed Gulls, with no luck. We started at the Ferry Terminal and hit most lookouts all the way up to the Cox Hall Creek mouth. Of course, during this time, Sam and Dave, I mean Tom, were reporting on six Forster's Terns (FOTE) at Miami Beach. Truly unfair. Here I am searching south on the bayshore for interesting birds, when I should have been looking from my yard at Miami Beach! As with the Tree Swallow, there have been no Forster's Terns around this winter, so they're arrivals of at least some sort.

Upon returning home, I immediately headed out to look for the terns, quickly finding them off the spit at the mouth of Fishing Creek. As it was dead low tide, I trudged out to get photos of the six birds on the beach with some 16 Bonaparte's Gulls (BOGU). The shifting and departure of a few Bonaparte's revealed a seventh Forster's Tern that had been hiding. Unfortunately, I couldn't get all seven birds in the same frame, but the below picture shows six of 'em, and I could barely get the sixth one in the frame.

And now, for spiffiness. At the Ferry Terminal beach, Mike pointed out a pair of Herring Gulls (HERG) that were acting like, well, a pair of Herring Gulls (below).

Note that their heads are spiffily white, thus probably local breeders, in strong contrast to the next-door Herring Gull, which is almost certainly a wintering migrant from farther north, as it retains most of its streaky-headed basic plumage (below).

Finally, as another sign of the advancing season and hormone loads, Mike and I noted a pair of Black Vultures (BLVU) copulating just north of the West Cape bridge.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Spiffiness is happening!

[Photos are copyright by Tony Leukering; click on image(s) to see larger version(s).]

With the approaching spring, as noted in a couple previous entries in this venue, song is being sung, migration is being migrated, and, now, spiffy is being, hmm... I've painted myself into a corner. The wintering adult Great Cormorants have now, for the most part, put on their fancy dress and are all ready to go to the ball. These two were flying out the Cape May inlet as Glen Davis, Michael O'Brien, and I were coming in the inlet after having conducted a day of at-sea bird surveys off Delaware.

Note the bright white flank patches -- part of their alternate plumage -- and the second bird's extensive gray tipping on the feathers behind the ears, so to speak. Er, write.

Speaking of off Delaware, but on a completely unrelated note, we ran across a smattering of Common Murres today (see below); we hadn't seen any since 25 January. I'd sure like to know what moves the alcids around out there (other than their wings, of course).

I'll leave you with yet another spectacular Villas sunset (this evening).

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Scenes from Weekend Workshop

[Adult Red-shouldered Hawk at Turkey Point Sunday, a real treat for the workshop.]

CMBO's Winter Raptor Workshop enjoyed relatively mild (for February) but windy weather. Highlights included 4 Short-eared Owls hunting at Jake's Landing at 5:30 p.m. Saturday; something like 15 Bald Eagles of various ages at Turkey Point and environs; a responsive Eastern Screech-Owl, also at Turkey Point; and the birds pictured here.

[Mingling with the commoners: some of the 23 Eastern Meadowlarks which fraternized with European Starlings at Cape Island Preserve Monday.]

[HOW windy was it at Forsythe Monday? 40 mph! This Northern Pintail attempts to feed.]

[Forsythe's Canvasvback flock was a bit closer today. I clicked 190 in the west pool!!]

[Canvasbacks in flight: very fast, direct and graceful.]

[Northern Harrier sings a swan song on the workshop, Monday at Forsythe NWR.]

Monday, February 14, 2011

Signs of Spring Continue

After holding a firm grip on Cape May for the past 10 weeks, Old Man Winter is thankfully starting to give in a bit. In fact, temperatures around Cape May are currently inching over 60 degrees, with more warm days in the forecast for the rest of the week.

Spring migration in these parts is just starting to get revved up. Numbers of Black and Surf Scoters, as well as Red-throated Loons, are starting to build in the mouth of Delaware Bay- one of the surest signs of the coming season. A small push of sea ducks moving out of the bay on Saturday morning, along with a few Gannets on Sunday morning, also indicates some migration. The quantity and quality of these waterbird movements will increase markedly over the next several weeks.

However, perhaps the most obvious way to realize winter's demise right now is with your ears. Northern Cardinals, Carolina Wrens and Red-winged Blackbirds were all in full song along the Delaware Bayshore this morning. Song Sparrows are tuning up, and I wouldn't be surprised to hear some of our winter visitors like Fox Sparrow start to get vocal over the next few days.

In the rarity department, two adult Black-headed Gulls continue to linger along the Delaware Bay beaches in Town Bank, though I heard that they ranged as far as Sunset Beach, the Ferry Terminal and Miami Ave in the Villas this weekend. The dull hen Eurasian Wigeon also continues in Cape May Harbor. Other notables this weekend included a trio of Tundra Swans at the State Park's plover ponds, and a flock of 50 Rusty Blackbirds at the Beanery.

With warm temps and south winds this week, who knows what might show up next. Might there be an early Laughing Gull, Osprey or Purple Martin on the way?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Cape May Birding Hotine 2-11-11

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
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 Friday, February 11, 2010. Highlights this week include sightings of EARED GREBE, BLACK-HEADED GULL, RAZORBILL, GRASSHOPPER SPARROW, EURASIAN WIGEON, NORTHERN GOSHAWK

An EARED GREBE was observed near the Avalon Seawatch on Monday, February 7th, 2011.

Two reports of BLACK-HEADED GULL have come in over the past week: one bird was reported along the Delaware Bayshore north of the Ferry Terminal on Friday, February 4th, 2011, and two were seen in the same vicinity on Sunday, February 6th, 2011.

A RAZORBILL was noted flying southwest past Cove Pool (Mt. Vernon Ave.) in Cape May on Monday, February 7th, 2011. A GRASSHOPPER SPARROW was observed there on the same day.

A EURASIAN WIGEON was found in Cape May Harbor near the Nature Center of Cape May on Friday, February 11th, 2011.

Two NORTHERN GOSHAWKS have been seen in the area during the last week: a juvenile was observed at the Villas WMA on Sunday, February 6th, 2011, and another was observed at Mile Marker 20.4 on the Garden State Parkway on Friday, February 11, 2011.

-For up-to-the-minute Cape May sightings information, photos and downloadable birding maps and checklist of Cape May, visit . Follow rarity sightings, many spring arrivals, and spectacles on -


******CMBO WINTER HOURS are as follows: Northwood Center on East Lake Drive in Cape May Point is every day except Tuesday, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. 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!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Eagles in the Fog + Reports Here and There

[Note the "obvious" active  Bald Eagle nest, just right of center. . .Newport Landing during Saturday's Cumberland County Eagle Festival. It was kind of foggy. . . off to your right, off screen, there's a light morph Rough-legged Hawk perched on a low post. A great day in challenging conditions. Click to enlarge all photos.]

Well, we got kinda fogged for the 10th Bald Eagle Festival, but nonetheless a good time was had by all.

Following Bill Boyle et. al.'s epic Razorbill flight on Sunday, which was completely off the charts, Tom Reed had a single at Cape May's Cove Pool heading south today. Tom also relocated the continuing Grasshopper Sparrow at Cove Pool, which is a.k.a. the Mt. Vernon meadows crossover in Cape May. An Eared Grebe was at Avalon today as well.

Snow Geese in the dense eaglefest fog Saturday.]

[Turkey Vultures, um, resting, near Newport Landing, Cumberland County Saturday.]

[In the wake of Tony's diving duck post below, here's our next quiz bird. . .note how fluidly it is diving, and that it doesn't use its wings, a good clue. . . it's a duck, anyway]

[Wandered up to Forsythe on Sunday, this is one of the resident Peregrine Falcons.]

[The white or whitish birds here are Canvasbacks. I counted 170 from the south dike tower at Forsythe NWR on Sunday, reaching the same number on two separate counts. . .either I can't count, or there were a lot of Canvasbacks, possibly northbound birds pausing at the edge of the east coast ice line. . .click to enlarge.]

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Immature male diving ducks

[How many male Buffleheads are in this picture? See below for the answer. Click on picture(s) to see larger version(s).]

This essay deals with molt, so all those true moltophobes, skip down the blog now. However, if you read on, you might learn something that will make you a better birder, so, please, stick around.

‘Tis the season for birder confusion over the age, thus the sex, of individual diving ducks. Unlike most dabbling-duck species that we find in winter in New Jersey, many immature males of various diving-duck species delay transition from their female-like juvenile plumage to male-like plumage. This delay can be short or quite long. The Cape May birding community will probably long remember the “female” Hooded Merganser that summered at the Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge in 2008 that molted into male plumage in July-August of that year!

First off, a quick synopsis of the nitty-gritty of plumage transition. These ducks leave their natal grounds (waters?) in mostly Juvenal plumage and transition to a more adult-male-like plumage (Formative plumage) via their pre-formative molt, which is conducted during fall migration and/or (primarily) winter. In this essay, the timing of the pre-formative molt in the various diving-duck groups are presented in month spans (e.g., Nov-Mar) within the genus parentheticals, and these data are taken from Peter Pyle’s Identification Guide to North American Birds, part II (2008. Slate Creek Press). Note that all adult males of all of these species will have attained Definitive Basic plumage (colloquially known in ducks as ‘breeding plumage’) before arriving on winter grounds. To wit, they will look like males! Beware, though, that a not-insubstantial minority of male eiders and Harlequin Duck are diagnosable as sub-adults in their second winter, as they do not quite achieve Definitive Basic in their second fall. Finally, beware that some older females of many of these species can obtain some male plumage traits, with older female Surf Scoters being particularly prone to this phenomenon and molting in white or whitish nape patches.

Bay ducks (genus Aythya, Sep-Mar) do not typically delay very long, with virtually all immature males sporting at least some obviously male-like plumage before December.

Eiders (genus Somateria, Oct-Mar;’ we’ll skip Steller’s Eider, which is in a different genus) are quite variable in this regard, with many immature male Common and King eiders exhibiting, at least, white chests by December; however, a largish minority delay onset of their pre-formative molt until mid-winter.

Harlequin Duck (genus Histrionicus, Sep-Mar) molt timing is more like that of the bay ducks, in that immature males have molted enough before January as to be obvious.

Scoters (genus Melanitta, Oct-May) are like eiders in their molt strategy, with most immature male Surf Scoters and many immature male Black Scoters diagnosable as such before December (White-wingeds presumably follow this pattern, too, but there are many, many fewer of them here in Cape May to study).

Long-tailed Duck (genus Clangula, Nov-Mar) can delay their pre-formative molt (or, at least, obvious aspects of their pre-formative molt) fairly long, though the bills of most immature males start sporting pink by December, whether their plumage has changed appreciably or not.

Goldeneyes and Bufflehead (genus Bucephala, Aug-Mar) are quite variable in the timing and speed of the pre-formative molt, with most immature male Common Goldeneyes exhibiting at least something of the white loral patch by November, but with many (most?) immature male Barrow’s Goldeneyes and Buffleheads not being easily diagnosable as males until January or later.

Mergansers (genera Lophodytes and Mergus, Aug-Mar), like the members of Bucephala, are quite variable in pre-formative molt timing and speed. I have already noted the truly laggard Cape May Hooded Merganser example, above, and, despite Pyle (2008), many immature male Common and Red-breasted mergansers are still sporting primarily female-like plumage well into spring. Such birds can be sussed by the dark green patch around the eye that many seem to obtain before any of the rest of the male-like formative plumage is attained.

Here is a picture of an immature male Lesser Scaup from San Diego Co., CA, on 28 December. Notice how the bird's eye color has already made the transition from muddy yellowy-brown to bright yellow, despite that the plumage has only just started to change. We can see that it has some adult-male-type scapulars and side feathers, but that more than a quarter of its head and all that we can see of its chest are still clothed in brownish female-like Juvenal plumage.

And here is our opening picture, again.

So, how many male Buffleheads are represented in this picture? The best answer to that question is '2 < x < 5' (that is, more than two, fewer than five). This is because there are certainly three, but there might be four. The bookend individuals are both adult males, with crisp black-and-white plumage and with the white wing patch extending from leading edge to trailing edge. The second in line is also obviously a male, but it's also obviously not an adult, as its white head patch still has a bit of dark Juvenal plumage mixed in and it still sports its Juvenal wing plumage.

The third bird is the problematic one. Almost any birder will identify this bird in the field as a female without giving it a second thought; and in May or June, that birder would be right. However, recall that timing of the pre-formative molt in immature males is individually quite variable and though this picture was taken on 4 February (at Sunset Lake, Wildwood Crest), this might still be a male. In fact, looking more closely at the greater coverts (that tract of feathers that forms the narrower band of white in the wing), the extent of the white in those feathers is in the overlap zone between adult female and immature male (see Fig. 98, pg. 144, in Pyle 2008), but on the extensive end of that overlap, which might suggest that the bird is an immature male. There's just no certain way to tell, short of getting the bird in hand or incredibly-better pix of the bird than this.

Friday, February 4, 2011


I'm not a particular fan of winter (though I do admit that winter in Costa Rica is just fine), and my usual mindset once December rolls around is, "Once Christmas Bird Count season is done, let's just skip ahead to mid-March." So, you can imagine my joy at experiencing my first sign of spring this week. You might be thinking that that sign occurred on Wednesday when the thermometer here in Cape May flirted with 60 degrees F. Well, while I certainly enjoyed my brief toodle around Cape May Point that afternoon in the sun while wearing short sleeves (and nothing over them!), my first sign occurred earlier in the week. In fact, it occurred on Sunday, when I saw a flock of nine Northern Pintail.

Now, as Northern Pintail winters here in at least some numbers most years, one might wonder whether the mushrooms on the pizza that I'm eating are hallucigenic or not. I don't think that they are, but let me explain further. This flock was flying in a northward direction.

Still not convinced of my sanity? I agree that if one is on the Point and sees a local flock of Northern Pintails moving around, there are not many directions other than north for the birds to move locally without leaving the state. However, I maintain that the direction is critical to my joy because, you see, this flock was not on the Point, it was over the Atlantic Ocean off Delaware. In fact, it was miles out to sea. Over the Atlantic Ocean. Heading north.

I would find it difficult to imagine that a flock of Northern Pintails that is just moving locally would find itself miles out to sea. Over the Atlantic Ocean. Heading north.

My conclusion, and I gotta believe that it's right, was that this flock was in active spring migration! Miles out to sea. Over the Atlantic Ocean. Heading north. Yippee!

Northern Pintail is a very early spring migrant, with much of the species' passage at this latitude occurring in February. So, with this portentous sighting, could Laughing Gulls, Baltimore Orioles, and Wilson's Storm-Petrels be that far behind?

I Saw a Rare Bird. . .Black-headed Gull

[First, these are NOT Black-headed Gulls, they are Bonaparte's Gulls, which are prettier than BHGU IMHO. Adult above, 1st cycle below, both were along Delaware Bay north of the Cape May ferry terminal this morning. Click to enlarge.]

If you need a good laugh today, I beg, implore and beseech you (but first must warn you: it contains mild cursing and intentional sterotyping) to check out this short video entitled: What happens when the tragically uninformed meet the regrettably uptight. Trust me, it's worth it!

[Here's the Black-headed Gull, center-right, red bill and a bit bigger than the bonies. Click to enlarge. Two Black-headed Gulls continue along the Delaware Bay north of the Cape May Ferry terminal. They move around, to you might have to hunt and peck a bit to find them. This one was opposite Emerson Ave. this morning. BHGU doesn't always jump out at you from Bonaparte's.]

[Already inspecting nest sites, Canada Geese at Bunker Pond, Cape May Point State Park this morning. Can Valentine's Day be far away?]

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Jake's Landing Rough-legged Hawk

[Dark morph Rough-legged Hawk, Jake's Landing this afternoon. Click to enlarge.]

At lunchtime I wandered up the road to Beaver Swamp WMA and on to Jake's Landing. The Wintering Hawks, Eagles and Owls Workshop, which I lead with Megan Crewe (the link will take you to Meeg's page at Field Guides), is coming up February 12-14, and it's time to start keeping tabs on things a little more carefully.

Beaver Swamp was eagle-less, a surprise and disappointing given the very visible nest there, but Jake's Landing produced a Cooper's Hawk flashing through the pines and a dark Rough-legged Hawk out at the end of the road.

[Here's where to look for the Rough-legged Hawk, across Dennis Creek from the far corner of the parking lot (left corner if you're facing the creek). It likes this cedar, at least when the local Bald Eagle isn't sitting there. . .]

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Don't Miss It - Eagle Fest This Weekend!

The Tenth Annual Cumberland County Eagle Festival is this Saturday, February 5. The day features guided and unguided trail walks, four staffed viewing sites, and dusk owl walk as well as indoor activities at the Mauricetown Fire Hall including speaker presentations and vendors. And I personally guarantee that if you go and visit each viewing site, you WILL see a Bald Eagle (some of the sites even have eagle nests in view).

More info and directions can be found on the official Eagle Festival website.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Gull Food and Quiz Photo Answer

This is very cool: CMBO volunteer leader and Stockton College student Kyle Rossner sent me a note about what the Black-headed Gull in a previous post from me was eating (that previous post, by the way, developed some technical issues and had to be deleted, sorry about that!) Here's the original photo:

And here's a cropped image showing the gull's prey:

Kyle writes: "I talked to some Marine Science folks over at Stockton about the Black-headed Gull's food of choice in your recent post. At first, I thought that it was a sand shrimp (Crangon septemspinosa), and that seems to be the likely candidate. Sand shrimp are likely to be found in surf area sand, since they have a slightly shovel-shaped beak that allows them to dig under the sand in rough conditions or to escape predation. The size and proportions also seem consistent. This is also a species that, according to my younger brother, is caught in abundance by Cape Tech's Natural Science students around the area."

Now, on to the photo quiz:
[This should have been a "gimme" if you noticed the little patch of chesnut on the shoulder (technically the lesser coverts), but what if you didn't or if we couldn't see that, as you often can't? Would this bird have stopped you? It's not scaly and it's out in the open, so not an Ammodramus. It's not showing much in the way of rufous tones, which eliminates a bunch of other possibilities. Not all streaked-backed things are streaked the same way. This one has very obvious, uniform streaks. . .]
[. . .and it's a Vesper Sparrow. We can see the eyering, finely streaked crown, and even the white outer tail feathers, which fold underneath the tail so you can't see them from above unless the tail is spread. Field guides emphasize the dark frame to the cheek (auriculars) but I think of Vesper Sparrows as looking plan-faced compared to similar birds, in part because they lack a prominent eyebrow (supercilium). This Vesper Sparrow was at the corner of Bayshore Road and Stevens Street in Cape May last week, one of three consorting with Savannah Sparrows there.]

[Jeff White photographed the Harlequin that's been wintering at Avalon on Saturday. It's been a nice little spectacle of sea ducks there, normally best viewed from the jetty at the end of 8th street, with Surf and Black Scoters and Long-tailed Ducks, loons, etc.]