Saturday, April 12, 2008

Higbee, Cape May Point State Park and a plug for eBird

EDIT: Sorry for any confusion in this first paragraph in particular. I was having issues with the blog program last night and thought that I had straightened out the post. Evidently not.

I was out yesterday and today doing a bit of searching for what might have been blown in to the the Cape May vicinity. Yesterday the State Park was a little lackluster except for the continued gannet, scoter, and loon show. While I was unable to identify many of the scoter flying by to exact species, comparisons of Black and Surf Scoter in close to shore were again relatively easy. Even a couple of White-winged Scoter were observed in my scans. I had the sense that the flight was dominated by Surf Scoters but as I said most had to be tallied as dark-winged scoter. Many times it was simply that I had been paying attention to loons or something else when I spied a flock that was well past the angle of identification for me.

One nice surprise, a species that can bee seen mixed in with flocks of scoter in the fall (at the Avalon Sea Watch) but I'd never have expected to see over the ocean in the spring, a drake Wood Duck flew out of the Delaware Bay headed north. In the company of scoter of course. Also a couple of handsome drake Long-tailed Ducks. While I think I prefer this species' winter plumage, you just never get enough of this bird in it's breeding garb. Mostly because I just don't see it often enough.

Other highlights from my walk yesterday were four American Oystercatchers on the beach along with two Piping Plovers who were chasing each other around. Swamp Sparrows singing a good bit and a Savannah Sparrow in the dunes doing a "whisper" song. Basically this is a term used for a song given at less than full power. I've witnessed this type of song numerous times when I was working on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, studying Grasshopper Sparrows. I can't say that I came to any solid conclusions about when exactly they would give a whisper song but many times if a male was on the very edge of his territory (or in a rival male's territory) he might give the whisper song so as to not draw much attention his way by the rival male. But this is my personal conclusion.

As for Higbee Beach WMA this morning, well, after speaking with Don yesterday and hearing about the new birds they had on the walk....I figured that I had chosen the wrong birding destination. So, Laura and I decided to see if any of the finds they had yesterday may have stuck around. After all, it is possible to relocate the same species in near the same spot a day or so apart. Mostly it comes down to the weather, but I was also hoping for some new arrivals myself.

We did have a Prairie Warbler in the first field which is where I believe the CMBO walk had this species the day before. Other than that not much in the way of new birds. Not that there were no birds. The woods were alive with song. Catbirds, Brown Thrashers, towhees, Filed Sparrows and the list goes on. Most in full song.

One of the coolest sighting that Laura and I observed today were the Common Loons flying over. Not only were they going over in good numbers, at times three to four in a small "flock". We noticed that the majority, probably 12-13 out of the 15 we observed, were flying over with beaks agape. When I first noticed this I thought that they were calling and for some reason I just wasn't hearing them. But, then after more and more flew over with beaks open we started to ponder. The best I could come up with; they were basically panting like a dog. We know that many birds migrate at night, for one reason, due to the cooler atmospheric temperatures which aids in keeping them cool. Well, panting does the same thing. At least this was my educated guess.

At the back of the third field we happened upon a nice sized flock of mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers in the trail, shrubs and grasses feeding. Some males were in quite nice breeding plumage and even singing a bit but not as heartily as other species in the area. Four yellow Palm Warblers brightened up the flock and as a bonus one was singing quite a bit. Like the Long-tailed Ducks in breeding plumage, not something that one gets to experience much at this latitude. Honestly, I was just happy that after the long winter I did not have to struggle to identify the song. So, for a short walk (we only had about 45 min. before we needed to get into the Northwood Center) not all that bad.

Now, my plug for eBird. As the spring progresses, think about trying eBird out. Sure it means that you have to pay a bit more attention to your birding, more than just "White-throated Sparrow....check.....Prairie Warbler....check." I personally find that trying to keep track of the actual numbers of individuals forces me to be a bit more observant in other ways as well. There is also nothing that says every time you go out birding that you must report to eBird but I am sure they'd like it.

It's not all that hard, you keep a note book with you to keep track of your sightings and then go back to your computer and at your leisure to enter your sightings. When entering your data you can simply note a species presence by entering an "X" in the data entry page or if you would like, actually tally all individuals for each species. The more robust data is of course the individual tallies. In my opinion the most important thing is to keep your data collection and entry as consistent as you can. Science works on trying to keep the variables controlled. Sure in citizen science there are numerous variable but you can do your part by always trying to enter your data in a consistent manor. Many who scoff at eBird (citizen science) and Christmas Bird Count data as erroneous because of the number of varied observers do have a small point. But then this is an easy excuse for not bothering. Sure if the world was a better place and scientific research had all the funding it needed more "professional" birders could be collecting data. But there are way many more things to study than people to study them. The important part is that the data is collected. Without any data, well, we really have nothing to go on.

Take Cape May for instance. You've noticed that most all of our observations are entered into eBird. Sure we are not all experts nor do we make every identification correctly, no one does. But if none of us were out and cared to note sightings into a centralized data base then tons of important information is simply lost. There have been numerous reports of loads of gannets, gantcatchers, scoters, loons, Pine Warblers ans so on in the last few weeks. All the observations that were noted and not entered into some sort of data base (personal or public) are basically gone with the birds. I just think in this day and age any thing we can do to further scientific understanding of species population size, distribution, migration timing and movements is very important. After all you are already out there so why not take a few extra seconds and write down your observations. Couple this with David LaPuma's radar work (in that you are essentially ground truthing what the migration densities and species compositions for a given area) and you have a decent data set to contribute to science. This was the method that the NJAS Research Department used a hand full of years ago on a project where they were recording nocturnal flight calls over night and banding during the day. Similar things are being done with radar such as David uses.

I could continue to go on for how eBird accounts for duplicate entries, and "X" notations verses individual numbers, possible sightings errors and so on. But, I'd have nothing more to write about later. Ok, enough for tonight. I'll get of my soap box now! I know this is long and that is sometime brutal to read but I appreciate you taking the time to look. Now, get out and see what has blown into your neighborhood in the morning.

Location: Higbee Beach
Observation date: 4/12/08
Notes: 1561 steps = approx. 1.01 miles
Number of species: 41

Canada Goose 4
Common Loon 15
Double-crested Cormorant 2
Great Egret 2
Snowy Egret 1
Northern Harrier 1
Laughing Gull X
Herring Gull X
Great Black-backed Gull X
Mourning Dove X
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Downy Woodpecker 2
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted) 12
Blue Jay X
American Crow X
Tree Swallow X
Carolina Chickadee 8
Tufted Titmouse 2
Carolina Wren X
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 14
American Robin X
Gray Catbird 3
Northern Mockingbird X
Brown Thrasher 6
European Starling X
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) 65
Prairie Warbler 1
Palm Warbler (Yellow) 6
Eastern Towhee 15
Field Sparrow 12
Song Sparrow 3
Swamp Sparrow 2
White-throated Sparrow 18
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored) X
Northern Cardinal 25
Red-winged Blackbird X
Common Grackle X
Brown-headed Cowbird 18
House Finch X
House Sparrow X

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2

Location: Cape May Point SP
Observation date: 4/11/08
Notes: 3235 steps = approx. 2.1 miles
Number of species: 61

Canada Goose 7
Mute Swan 6
Wood Duck 1
Gadwall 4
Mallard 8
Green-winged Teal 18
Surf Scoter 95
White-winged Scoter 2
Black Scoter 45
dark-winged scoter sp. 295
Long-tailed Duck 2
Ruddy Duck 2
Red-throated Loon 48
Northern Gannet 125
Double-crested Cormorant 59
Great Egret 1
Turkey Vulture 1
Osprey 1
Piping Plover 2
Killdeer 1
American Oystercatcher 4
Greater Yellowlegs 2
Dunlin 1
Laughing Gull 75
Ring-billed Gull 4
Herring Gull 15
Great Black-backed Gull 20
Forster's Tern 6
Rock Pigeon X
Mourning Dove X
Belted Kingfisher 1
Downy Woodpecker 3
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted) X
Blue Jay X
American Crow 2
Fish Crow X
Purple Martin 4
Barn Swallow 1
Carolina Chickadee X
Tufted Titmouse X
Carolina Wren X
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 2
American Robin X
Gray Catbird X
Northern Mockingbird X
European Starling X
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) 45
Palm Warbler (Yellow) 1
Eastern Towhee X
Savannah Sparrow 2
Song Sparrow 4
Swamp Sparrow 3
White-throated Sparrow 25
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored) X
Northern Cardinal X
Red-winged Blackbird X
Common Grackle 25
Brown-headed Cowbird 15
House Finch X
House Sparrow X

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2

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