Thursday, January 31, 2008

Thurs. 1/31: Golden Eagle at Brig/Forsythe NWR, and birding tomorrow

Steve Mason and Katie Montagnaro, my friends-turned-birders, joined me for a trip around the dikes at Brig/Forsythe around mid-day. The highlight of our drive was a Golden Eagle visible from the last leg of the north dike at 12:30pm. The bird was quite distant (1/2 mile+), and probably would've been easier to see from Leeds Point Road, which is located a little north of Brig.

If you're curious as to why this was a Golden, and not a Bald Eagle, especially at that distance- in flight, Golden Eagles usually display a slight dihedral (wings held up in a slight V), appear smaller-headed and longer-tailed, have a more buteo-like structure, and are slightly more agile than Bald Eagles. Balds, on the other hand, have flat, broad, plank-like wings, a more obvious head (the head and tail will look closer to the same length), and tend to have a "heavier" appearance than Goldens when flying. The bird we saw this afternoon was hunting low at first, coursing back and forth over the marsh almost like a harrier on steroids (and flushing hundreds of Black Ducks all the while), and then found a thermal and quickly became a spot in the sky before sailing off toward the NW. This pattern of behavior is something I've seen several times while watching Goldens in winter, even though it certainly shouldn't be used as a definitive characteristic.

Other nice sightings included 4-5 American Tree Sparrows along Jen's Trail (on your right just after you leave the NW Pool) and 9 Eastern Bluebirds near the Experimental Pool. Waterfowl numbers as a whole were nothing compared to last week, courtesy of the recent warm-up.

As for tomorrow, the current forecasts have winds out of the east tonight, increasing overnight into tomorrow, and then switching to the southeast and south, at 20-30mph. Heavy rain is also expected tomorrow afternoon. Nasty? Yes indeed... but storms like these always have at least some potential to bring in neat birds from farther offshore. Keep in mind that this has been a good winter for nearshore Dovekies (one was found just yesterday in Longport, Atlantic County), and that a Black-legged Kittiwake was seen just last week from the ferry (and that was during a northwest gale). My suggestion is to make a stop at Sunset Beach at some point tomorrow, take a few minutes and see what gets blown by...can't hurt to try.

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