Friday, June 20, 2008

"Hope is the thing with feathers..."

Or so goes the poem by Emily Dickenson (Poem 254 ca. 1861).

The reason I quote this poem you ask? Well, I received a call from Glen Davis this morning about some observations he made at TNC's Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge (a.k.a. the Meadows) last evening. He called to let me know that he had heard a Least Bittern calling at the back side (beach end) of the Meadows for about 10 min. at around 8:30 p.m. I am not sure exactly sure where he heard the bird, the call was breaking up as he was calling me form the boat he is working on doing sea/waterbird surveys. What I did get was that he was not 100% sure either if the bird was calling form the middle pond or of the to the side of the trail. Like I say this all happened at the back of the property.

Why did I equate this observation with the poem? Well, for one it's one of Laura's favorite poems and, because to me this means that the recent restoration of this property may be showing signs of its effectiveness. As many of you may remember the TNC property was closed for most of fall and through the spring about a year ago. One question I am asked quite frequently (especially on Laura's Twilight Watch walk which takes place at the Meadows in the fall keep an eye on the Naturalist Calendar for the updated fall schedule when available) is whether or not I think that the restoration will truly be effective. While I have many thoughts on the subject, I do think that ultimately the restoration that took pace was a good thing. If nothing else than to reduce the amount of Phragmities that was choking out the place. But, as I answer this question pretty much every time, restoration project's effectiveness are usually measured in time. We'll see if this restoration meets its intended goals over the next few years. One thing to keep in mind is that when humans intervene and carry out these types of projects we usually have certain species or gaols in mind that are trying to be met. No matter how through the detail on the restoration plan or how much funding there is to carry out the restoration, humans will never be able to match the natural process in the world. Take it form me, I'm originally from Florida, a state which consistently allows developers to bulldoze and fill in wetlands under the guise that the developer can build a smaller mitigated wetland in its place and all will be okay. At least it might be a little better if the state actually enforced this crazy mitigation most of the time. But none the less you have to allow time for nature to change things the way they need to be changed. Yes, there is a lot of work to continue to up keep the restoration but nature has a funny way of always doing what it wants in the end.

So, the short answer is that I am truly hopefully that this is a sign of things to come. It may not be and this may just happen to be a mid-breeding season wandering bittern who is looking for a good place to set up and try to attract a mate. Or, it could mean that there is enough suitable habitat that a Least Bittern likes the looks of the habitat enough that it would think about hanging there for a little while. Wait, that is already the case...... only time will tell ....

Also of note from Glen, 12 count 'em, twelve, White-rumped Sandpipers. Now as you may know, White-rumped Sandpiper is not an extremely rare bird here at all, especially in the fall. But twelve at this time of year is rare. They should be in the Arctic breeding right now. In fact the south bound migrants of this species don't show up in Cape May until later July usually (according to Sibley's The Birds of Cape May). One thing I like about birding is you more often than not, walk away with more questions than answers. So, are these non-breeding individuals or very early southern migrants? My guess would be non-breeding, but we are edging closer and closer to those first waves of south bound shorebirds.

Lastly, there was a nice alternate plumage Lesser Yellowlegs at the Meadows as well.

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