Sunday, November 18, 2007

Cumberland County Birding

I spent the day birding Cumberland on a CMBO trip co-led by Associate Naturalists Karen Johnson (a.k.a. the Queen of Cumberland County) and Janet Crawford. Rain threatened all day, but never materialized, and the birding proved to be excellent. We found roughly 75 species, including some quality stuff: Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Fox Sparrow, American Pipit, all amidst glorious scenery. Cumberland seems to still be lingering at peak fall foliage.

We started at East Point on Delaware Bay. The Bay was almost devoid of birds, other than gulls and a smattering of Black Ducks, but raptors quickly made their presence known, always the case in Cumberland: a Sharp-shinned dogged a redtail, and two Cooper's Hawks appeared. There's a good reason why CMBO offers a 3-day Raptor Workshop in winter - Cape May and Cumberland County host plenty! This year, the "Winter Hawks, Eagles and Owls" workshop will happen from Friday February 8 through Sunday, Feb 10, 2008. Pete Dunne and I will be leading it; thirteen diurnal raptors and all eight New Jersey owls are possible on this workshop, thanks to southern New Jersey’s mosaic of prey-rich habitats. Check for more info.

Heislerville WMA held many birds (a full day list is below), including the expected duck mix for this time of year, featuring many Bufflehead, Ruddy Ducks, Lesser Scaup (punctuated by one female Greater), Green-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, and Hooded and Red-breasted Mergansers. The raptor list grew, thanks to an adult Peregrine settled on an Osprey platform feeding on a recent kill, and a 3rd year Bald Eagle, the first of roughly 7 Bald Eagles on the day.

I so well remember the days when, if you saw a Bald Eagle, you watched it from the first glimpse until it finally sailed out of view - you didn't know when you might see another one. In the late 70's, NJ was down to a last lingering Bald Eagle nest in Bear Swamp, Cumberland County. Now, rebounded thanks to the ban of DDT and an intensive re-introduction effort by the state, more than 60 pairs breed here, and well over 100 are recorded on CMBO's mid-winter eagle census.

Egrets continue to linger, and Heislerville held two Snowy Egrets (one with a bad leg that, sadly, most likely won't live to see the new year) and 3 Greats, along with at least 6 Great Blue Herons, some of which likely will weather the entire winter here, switching to mice for food if all water freezes over. 6 Forster's Terns foraged at the Heislerville Impoundments, as did 20 Lesser and 25 Greater Yellowlegs.

We visited the Natural Lands Trust's Peek Preserve at lunchtime (this preserve is off Route 47 north of it's intersection with Route 55), where we saw adult Bald Eagle,Wood Ducks, and a flock of goldfinches feeding on the wild rice growing along the Maurice River. Later we crossed the river and explored The Nature Conservancy's Maurice River Bluffs preserve, where two adult Bald Eagles (one of which likely was the same bird as the one we saw at Peek) and one first year thrilled the group, and where my first Fox Sparrow of the fall "seeep'd", higher pitched and more rising than the seep note of white-throats and song sparrows. A pish or two and the Fox Sparrow posed for us, this species being particularly susceptible to pishing. The Purple Finches, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and Cedar Waxwings set me to listening hard (and negatively) for Evening Grosbeaks - but the grosbeaks have been detected at Cape May, so keep the sunflower feeders full and your ears alert. We all enjoyed a magnificent, open-grown Chestnut Oak, limbs spreading in all directions and trunk 4' plus across.

Our final stop was Bay Point Road near Cedarville, where 10 American Pipits joined 50+ Horned larks in the fields. Karen says the Horned Lark flock lately has included as many as 300 birds. I heard a Snow Bunting, but we never located it. The day finished with the Bald Eagle pair that nests along Bay Point Road.

The list for Heislerville WMA is below.

Location: Heislerville WMA
Observation date: 11/18/07
Notes: CMBO Birding Cumberland Field Trip
Number of species: 49
Mute Swan 4
American Black Duck 75
Northern Pintail 2
Green-winged Teal 5
Greater Scaup 1
Lesser Scaup 25
Bufflehead 75
Hooded Merganser 3
Red-breasted Merganser 3
Ruddy Duck 35
Double-crested Cormorant 10
Great Blue Heron 6
Great Egret 3
Snowy Egret 2
Turkey Vulture 25
Bald Eagle 1
Northern Harrier 7
Cooper's Hawk 2
Red-tailed Hawk 2
Peregrine Falcon 1
Black-bellied Plover 1
Greater Yellowlegs 25
Lesser Yellowlegs 20
Dunlin 30
Laughing Gull 1
Ring-billed Gull X
Herring Gull X
Great Black-backed Gull X
Forster's Tern 6
Rock Pigeon 5
Mourning Dove 5
Belted Kingfisher 2
Downy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 2
American Crow 5
Carolina Chickadee 2
Tufted Titmouse 1
Red-breasted Nuthatch 2
Carolina Wren 2
American Robin X
Brown Thrasher 1
European Starling 75
Yellow-rumped Warbler 5
Song Sparrow 1
Northern Cardinal 1
Red-winged Blackbird 20
Boat-tailed Grackle 5
House Finch 10
American Goldfinch 5

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