Monday, March 10, 2008

Mon. 3/10: Yellow-crowned Night-Heron @ Mott's Creek (was Tuckahoe); Least Sandpiper and American Bittern @ Jake's; Bayshore gulls revisited

The first ever "informal" Short-eared Owl survey in South Jersey took place tonight, and once I learn the total number of owls seen I'll let you know. This effort, the brainchild of Karen Johnson, should become an established survey next winter, so stay tuned.

Karen herself was stationed at EDIT: Mott's Creek (not Tuckahoe WMA) this evening, where she saw 2 Short-eared Owls-but the real highlight was a rather early Yellow-crowned Night-Heron.

I was stationed at Jake's Landing, where there were 3 Short-eared Owls, as well as a Least Sandpiper (either a very early arrival or a wintering bird), an American Bittern, 9 Clapper Rails, a Wilson's Snipe and a Seaside Sparrow singing.

Gull numbers continue strong along the bayshore beachfront, as well as in the marshes, and I might have found a piece of the puzzle as to why this is happening.. Upon walking outside this morning I noticed some movement in our small saltwater pond, which is connected to the Delaware Bay via a small ditch that runs southwest from our property. The movement in the pond was obviously being made by a decent-sized fish, the first time anything larger than a minnow has ever been seen in this little pond, or so I'm told...and that covers 37 years. Looking around, I found several dozen 8-10'' long fish flopping along the edge of the pond. These Atlantic Menhaden, a.k.a. Bunker, had somehow found their way 1/4 mile from the Delaware Bay, through a narrow, shallow ditch and into our very shallow pond. This species is a common fish in the area that is commonly harvested in large numbers and used as bait by recreational fishermen, normally found in near-shore waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay.

There were no big tides associated with the latest storm that could've seemingly brought the fish in from the Delaware Bay, so I'm not quite sure how they got here, and likewise the fish seem too large for the gulls to be eating, so I wonder if instead there are other organisms in addition to the fish that have also washed up in salt marsh pools that could be attracting the large number of gulls to the bayshore right now. Hopefully I'll find out more in the coming days.

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