Monday, May 26, 2008

Whip-poor-wills GALORE!

What a night to get out and participate in some research. For the last few years we've participated in a few Citizen Science projects with New Jersey Audubon. This particular night we were conducting research as part of the Northeast Nightjar Survey. If you're like me, you don't get out to experience the night bird life as often as you should. Taking part in surveys such as this, forces you to get out at night as well as has the bonus of contributing to science. Plus, not only are the survey results going directly to the primary investigators at NH Audubon but by putting our survey findings into eBird we are allowing any potential researchers access this data.

Given that last night the moon was still more than 50% illuminated and the wind was a bout nill for most of the evening, this made for perfect conditions to hear nightjars calling. And boy did we hear birds. The protocol of the survey (in addition to requirements regarding moon illumination and wind) requires that notes be taken on surrounding noise conditions which may impede the observers ability to hear the intended subjects.

So we started out at about 2 a.m. under a clear, moon lit sky because the survey requires that the moon be above the horizon. Our first stop yielded a handful of Whip-poor-wills and pretty much every stop for the rest of the route had at least one calling bird. I think we only had two out of tens stops that had no birds calling in fact. The most we had at one stop was about six individuals with a final total of no less than 25 birds. What a night! I can tell you that after three to four calling whips it can get very hard to distinguish additional calling birds.

What was interesting to me was the difference compared to last year. At best we had about 8-10 total birds calling last year. But we also had to do the survey during the second round in the middle of June and the weather had us on the verge of having to call the attempt. In a quick look at Stone's Bird Studies at Old Cape May he indicates that Whip-poor-wills were much more common in even the extreme southern part of the county. "In the immediate vicinity of Cape May Whip-poor-wills are found only in the woods and thickets of the Point but farther up in the peninsula they are of regular occurrence in all swampy wooded localities......They are particularly abundant at Higbee's Beach and other densely wooded localities along the Bay shore". The reason I find this passage interesting is that today, whips are by no means common on Cape Island, or Higbee's Beach. In fact they can be down right hard to come across most of the time. Tom Parsons did tell me the other night he had one calling near his house. Some excitement surrounding the observation of one singing whip is a far cry from the "May 20, 1928" observation of eight individuals calling around Cape May Point. And, evidently "while heard more frequently than are seen, about the Point, Whip-poor-wills can easily be flushed in the daytime from the huckleberry thickets". Well, it is a little reassuring to have a night like we did, giving hope that the nightjar numbers are not in as a precipitous decline as is the current thinking.

Below I've created a map of the area where our survey route is located. (As you can tell I'm on a map kick, it's just so easy and hopefully these are helpful to someone out there.) Our route is in the vicinity of Estelle Manor and Dorthy (near Corbin Cinty and Tuckahoe) just inside Atlantic County north of Cape May. If you are on the search for whips you'd do well to drive around this area. We were even treated to one bird very close to the road and obliged us with short views in flight and perched. At least enough to finally be able to add this specie to my life list.

Other good birds for the night were two Grey-cheeked Thrushes (flying over of course), three Ovenbirds and an Eastern Wood Pee-wee. The full list is below.

Location: Northeast Nightjar Survey Rt # 009
Observation date: 5/26/08
Notes: Survey route 10 stops, one mile apart between stops.
Number of species: 9

Yellow-billed Cuckoo 2
Eastern Screech-Owl 1
Great Horned Owl 1
Whip-poor-will 25
Eastern Wood-Pewee 1
Gray-cheeked Thrush 2
Northern Mockingbird 1
Ovenbird 3
Northern Cardinal 1

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2

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