Tuesday, August 14, 2007

An hour at Higbee's: Golden-winged Warbler and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

Given the weather (and my birding prediction from last night) I pretty much had to wake early and try Higbee Beach before work. I'm glad I did. At first it seemed pretty quiet, with only one Yellow Warbler and one Northern Waterthrush to show for the first half hour, migrant wise.

Then an empid popped into view underneath the canopy on the edge of the first field, and I said right away (to myself) very un-scientifically, "Hey, a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher!" Not exactly the right way to identify non-calling empids, especially since this one did not even have a yellow throat! But Yellow-bellieds are little with a compact, round-headed look, making them reminiscent of Least Flycatcher - which this bird definitely was not since it was washed with olive-yellow below and was overall olive-yellow, not gray like a Least. The bill was too narrow for Least, and for Acadian, too. A little more scrutiny revealed an eye-ring widest behind the eye but complete all the way around. When I finally got a look at the wing tips, I was satisfied it was a Yellow-bellied - I couldn't exactly count the number of primary tips sticking out past the tertials (a trick I think may be useful with photographs but not so much in the field), but my impression was of significant but not exceptional primary projection - in other words, the bird was too long-winged for Least and too short-winged for Acadian.

I've talked with a lot of excellent birders about identification by GISS (General Impression of Shape and Size), and most agree that such i.d.'s should be tentative and then backed up with details of plumage and structure. It helps to have studied known-identity birds at length - in this case Yellow-bellied Flycatcher is a bird I've been able to know well from trips to Maine and Newfoundland, and Acadian is a bread-and-butter summer bird in Cape May County. Of course what often happens with me is I'll be leading a group and blurt a GISS-based i.d. - out loud - and then follow up by looking at the bird closely and discovering it is something else. Oh well, if you're not mis-calling any, it can only be because you're not calling any.

At the hedgerow boundary between the first and second field of Higbee, and just beyond it, titmice and chickadees were calling and with them was a feeding flock of warblers, including a male Golden-winged, a scarce bird in Cape May. Several Blue-wingeds were with the Golden-winged, in fact a Blue-winged and the GWW bickered for a bit, chasing each other around.

Later I met up with a couple other birders and we enjoyed a long, close look at a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and a low flyover by a juvenile Cooper's Hawk, perhaps one of the local brood from Cape May Point State Park, or perhaps a migrant.

The morning's list is below.

Location: Higbee Beach
Observation date: 8/14/07
Notes: One hour walk, first-third fields. Dry front passed last night, winds north 10ish.
Number of species: 35
Snowy Egret 1
Cooper's Hawk 1 juvenile, perhaps a local
Lesser Yellowlegs 2
Laughing Gull 10
Mourning Dove 10
Yellow-billed Cuckoo 1 worn-looking adult
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Downy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 1
Eastern Wood-Pewee 1 singing
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 1 worn adult, early
Great Crested Flycatcher 2 calling
Blue Jay 2
Purple Martin 5
Carolina Chickadee 3
Tufted Titmouse 3
Carolina Wren 5
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 10
American Robin 1
Gray Catbird 1
Blue-winged Warbler 5
Golden-winged Warbler 1
Yellow Warbler 5
Black-and-white Warbler 5
American Redstart 10
Ovenbird 1
Northern Waterthrush 1
Common Yellowthroat 1
Field Sparrow 1
Northern Cardinal 5
Indigo Bunting 2
Bobolink 10 flyovers
Red-winged Blackbird 30
Baltimore Oriole 1
American Goldfinch 2
This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(http://ebird.org)

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