Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Rough-winged Swallow/migration notes; Ruff turns into RuffS at Heislerville

The weather in these parts hasn't exactly been stellar as of late, but it's just that time of year when things start happening, regardless of the weather. Even through the recent rain and wind, Snowy Egrets and Great Egrets have continued to pile up, with numbers of the latter increasing from 15-20 to 40-50 in the Reed's Beach area just over the past few days. Additionally, Red-breasted Mergansers have magically appeared in decent numbers in Delaware Bay; I counted roughly 75 in Reed's Beach yesterday, where there had been no more than a dozen for the past month. Forster's Terns have also finally arrived along this portion of the bay, with 7 sitting on the pilings in the mouth of Bidwell Creek yesterday.

Another species I've been noticing quite a bit of during the past few days, at least along the bayshore, is Dark-eyed Junco. While driving I've flushed numerous flocks of several dozen from roadsides, including at least 55 along Reed's Beach Road on Sunday, and another 20-25 along Cook's Beach Road the same day. I also encountered my first Northern Rough-winged Swallow of the year at Stockton College (Atlantic County) this afternoon.

Word has it that there are now two- yes two, Ruffs at Heislerville WMA, and that they are often posing for superb study opportunities. Additionally, Janet Crawford forwarded the following picture she snapped of the 'Western' Willet that has been hanging out there recently. This picture, while it doesn't show the bird up close, is a good tool if you're a fan of not identifying birds by their "classic" field marks.

You can tell that this is a relatively tall, bulky shorebird with a rather proportionate, straight bill. Its rather uniform grayness and dark legs will also tell you that it's a Willet. From here, separating the "two" Willets is largely a matter of perception, as Western Willets average a little more upright in posture, are slimmer-/longer-billed, and can appear longer-legged than their Eastern counterparts...something you'll notice only after studying many individuals of both subspecies- but something that isn't particularly too difficult to pick up on once you do. Western Willets also seem to like getting their feet wet a bit more than Easterns, and you'll notice that there is quite a bit of water in this picture. The Shorebird Guide (where some of my knowledge is derived) goes into quite a bit of detail about separating the willet subspecies, and all the other shorebirds of North America. It's a must for your birding bookshelf.

'Western' Willet, by Janet Crawford

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