Monday, February 4, 2008

Super Sunday walk and some late night television

Well, after a sleepless night (I at least was able to get some interesting TV time in, but more on that later) we decided to take a walk the Cape May NWR Schellenger Tract before the big game, in hopes that the Great horned owl would show again. No luck on the owl but there were a few good birds to be seen. We walked toward the back of the property finding many of the usual suspects which included a couple of Fox sparrows, a bird that always seems to bring a smile to my face. Also Hermit thrush at the beginning of the wooded area, though the best was yet to come. All the way back the woods meets the salt marsh where there are numbers of dead trees and along the edge the area was ripe with robins and woodpeckers. Somewhere back off the trail a bit, there was an interesting raspy "trill" rattle type call which I was having a hard time placing (with the World Series of Birding approaching this is not a good thing.) Since we could not find the bird readily, and it seemed to disappear we walked out the small trail through the phragmities in to the marsh to find that the trail had been washed out and cutting the walk ultimately short. Once we returned to the woods edge we again heard this mystery call. It took a few minutes to actually find this bird but all of a sudden it landed in view at the top of one of the snags; a Redheaded woodpecker with a good amount of red starting to show in the "bib" area on the breast. All at once I knew why the call seemed so familiar! I was so glad to see this bird as every time I walk back in this area I either say out loud or think to myself that the area would be perfect for this species to spend at least a little time. Now, to see if it stays here for some time.

As for the interesting television programs, one I will not expound on much, but I was watching a program called Eco-Tech on the Science Channel. The program covered a number of research project that are on going to help rid the human race (mostly the USA) of its dependence on oil. One of the mot amazing was a researcher who was developing a new type of battery which was very small but many times more powerful than today’s standard batteries. To make a long story short, he had replaced the batteries in his Toyota Prius and thus was able to garner upwards of 150 MPG from his car. Imagine that! The batteries were also used to power a drag racing motorcycle which was able to go 0-60 MPH in something like 1.4 seconds (don't quote me on this) only to erupt in flames at the end of the run due to the over abundance of power.

The best program in my opinion was Raptor Force on PBS's Nature. Being a raptor enthusiast I was psyched to find this on in the midst of endless channels to paid advertising. The program covered a hand full of raptors, mostly North American, and discussed various adaptations that make these species unique and well suited for their particular environment. It started off with the Peregrine falcon, many of the typical peregrine adaptations were touched on and the cinematography was fantastic. They of course talked about the aerodynamic features, one of which is the cone in the nasal cavity of the falcon which allows the bird the ability to breathe while in high speed pursuit. One fact that I did not know, this is where the military learned to develop improved air intake systems for jets! Take a look some time you’ll see what I am talking about. The program very often and too much in my opinion was dedicated to comparison of military jets and the such, interesting but I'd rather have seen more of the raptors.) One other very interesting fact was that a peregrine can pull up to approximately 25 Gs where as a pilot in the most advanced military jet can only attain 9-10 Gs.

Other topics were the hearing adaptations of a Great gray owl (asymmetrical ears) which allow the bird to pinpoint exactly where its prey is under the snow. The coolest shot was of the owl "adjusting" the feathers of the facial disk (you could actually see this happen) to funnel the sound toward its ears. This is the equivalent to us cupping our hands behind our ears to hear sounds better. Also, the cooperative hunting techniques of the Harris's hawk. Slow motion footage of a Harpy eagle maneuvering between trees and branches in pursuit of prey. Amazing that a bird that big can maneuver like a little Sharp-shinned hawk. A Lesser kestrel (some footage of American kestrel not sure if this was footage eror) hovering in flight and the ability of the bird to keep its head motionless to better see prey. The ability of raptors to see UV light and pick up on the light signature of prey urine. Oh, one thing I just remembered; I didn't know this at least, maybe you did. A raptors retina has no veins running through it to allow for more light gathering ability. As well, at the back of the retina, it is indented to allow for greater magnified (up to 40x if I remember what the program stated) vision. On the topic of vision there was also discussion about the fact there peregrines actually have two points of focus to their sight. Their peripheral is extremely good as well as their straight away. This allows for the ability to lock on to prey and attack at an angle which allows the most maneuverability.

One of the coolest, and the last I'll write about, they attached a camera to the back of a hand full of species to be able to "see" what a raptor sees as they fly and hunt prey. Falconry birds were used where they attached this small camera and you actually had a front row view as a Red-tailed hawk took flight. Or, a Golden eagle chased down and grabbed a rabbit, so very cool. They even put the camera on the red-tail to view the tail so that you could see how the bird adjusts its tail to maneuver in the air. So very, very cool. Lastly they had the camera on a peregrine/gyr hybrid falconry bird and were going to show what it looked like "birds eye view" of a stoop, a hawk watchers dream. I could have died when the channel dropped out just before they showed the footage, ahh, blast that Comcast! Of course this was the end of the show. Oh well, I'll just have to keep and eye out for the next time the program airs.

The only negative aside for the numerous military air craft references which took up too much program time was the footage of a Black vulture (only a few seconds) when they were discussing thermal soaring and dynamic flight and using a Turkey vulture as the species of choice. Either way, a good program to take some time and watch if given the chance; if noting more than for the flight footage.

Location: Cape May NWR--Schellenger Tract
Observation date: 2/3/08
Notes: 2400 steps = 1.5 miles
Number of species: 24

Red-tailed Hawk 2
Mourning Dove 6
Red-headed Woodpecker 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker 2
Downy Woodpecker 2
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted) 1
Blue Jay 2
Carolina Chickadee 8
Tufted Titmouse 4
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
Carolina Wren 5
Hermit Thrush 1
American Robin 25
Gray Catbird 1
Northern Mockingbird 2
European Starling 8
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) 7
Eastern Towhee 4
Fox Sparrow 2
Song Sparrow 3
White-throated Sparrow 22
Northern Cardinal 3
Red-winged Blackbird 1
Common Grackle 8

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(

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