Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Migration is not always what it appears....

(Base Reflectivity radar image, Mt. Holly, NJ radar, from approx 3:30 a.m.,

(Base Reflectivity radar image, Dover AFB radar, from about 3:30 a.m.,

Yesterday we ran the September Cape Island Big Day and with high hopes hit the birding trail at about 4:20 a.m. Before we'd left the house, I did as I usually do and stood outside for a time listening for calls over head. Worried that I was not hearing as many calls as I should be, the weather was perfect for migration with a nice NW wind blowing, I went in to check the live radar on the Birding Forecast section. The above screen shots were what I found when I clicked "Animate." Looks like David was right, there were huge numbers of migrants over head, but why was I not hearing many? Well I may never have a good answer to that particular question but my mind was already racing for what we would find on our days birding. Or, I thought, "would the migration weather be so good that most of the birds pass us by"?

Laura and I had hopes of hitting 120 species for the day and figuring the amount of migration happening (by the looks of the radar) when I awoke at 3:00, I was secretly hoping for about 5-10 species more. We were aided for some of our day by a third pair of eyes and ears. Bob Fogg wanted to get up early for some missing owls he had from his Cape May Big Year list and ended up being there for some of the bigger finds along with adding a good deal to our days birding.

I became a good bit more worried about the days birding when we were out hooting and whistling for owls only to hear very few migrants over head. And even worse, few owls! Closer to first light we did start to hear some chips and calls and were able to tally a number of species. Swainson's and Gray-cheeked Thrushes. Possible tanagers but not countable. Savannah Sparrow, Green and Black-crowned Night Herons to name a few. At one point I thought that I'd heard a Black-billed Cuckoo but not well enough to count. Luckily we found this species later in the morning at Hidden Valley.

Higbee was "slow" in the fact that many of the birds were not sitting in the trees easy to see. But, if you found a flock of feeding/moving birds chances are that if you took some time and watched you were treated to a nice diverse flock of birds. At least that was our experience. We did have a flyover Red-headed Woodpecker while were were looking for birds in the second field at Higbee which is always a very nice find.

One excellent surprise for the day was a Wild Turkey family group which pretty much all but seals the case on breeding turkeys south of the Cape May canal. The young birds were too young to have flown across the canal, in my opinion. Having raised turkeys growing up I know they are not the over all strongest fliers in the avian world. That being said, I've seen adult fly across all four lanes of traffic on Rt. 55. I am just not thinking that these young would be able to make the approximately 125+ yrd. flight. Maybe they could but I'm betting on a new Cape Island nester!

Another surprise came in the later morning in the way of a rail we flushed at the Beanery. We were walking along the trail next to the pond and a bird, very "yellowish" in color with dark back with light streaks flushed. Immediately my mind jumped to Yellow Rail, and wouldn't that have been a heck of a find! Very quickly we realized that none of us had seen any amount of white in the secondaries. When the bird flushed a second time, Laura confirmed the id for us. She noticed that there was a faint white trailing edge in the secondaries which is spot on (with the other observations we made) for a young Sora. If nothing else this was a great learning event and an even better second, or fifth wind. Maybe next time it will be a Yellow Rail?

The rest of the day went well, we were a little behind "schedule" most of the day but it didn't end up hurting the daily total over all. We found a Baird's Sandpiper at the state park on the second plover pond where there has been at least one most of the month. As well, there was a very nice mix of warblers hanging in the cedars on the boardwalk trail. We picked up a species or two, most notable a Cape May Warbler (actually in the cedars next to the Hawkwatch platform) about our fourth Philly Vireo and Prairie Warbler.

Over all some of the more interesting observations were at the end of the day. Of course most are, especially since you kind of go into overdrive looking for any and all species that you may be missing for the day. We ended the day at TNC's CMMBR (the Meadows) adding about 8 or species at the very end. The 48 (my estimate) Common Nighthawks were a very nice sight especially since many of the birds ultimately moved from the Cape May Point area to the Meadows and were over head hawking insects. Also a young Great-horned Owl screeching in the woods at the east end of the Cape May Point State Park was a nice "find." And, in fact I did find one bird sitting on a dead branch at the edge of the woods. I was even treated to a quick look at the bird in flight as is swooped down to attempt a catch at some prey. I never saw the bird get back up so hopefully it was successful.

So the day ended with a team total of 125 species, not bad at all! Given what I was afraid the day would be like when I hear next to no birds calling over head at 4 a.m., I am quite pleased with our total for the day. In fact, next to our World Series of Birding total, this is the second highest for the year.

Location: Cape Island
Observation date: 9/16/08
Notes: 24020 steps = approx. 15.7 miles
Number of species: 125

Canada Goose X
Mute Swan X
Wood Duck 11
Gadwall 2
American Wigeon 1
Mallard X
Blue-winged Teal 16
Northern Shoveler 8
Green-winged Teal 8
Hooded Merganser 1
Wild Turkey 8
Double-crested Cormorant 25
Great Blue Heron 4
Great Egret 20
Snowy Egret 35
Little Blue Heron 2
Green Heron 22
Black-crowned Night-Heron 8
Glossy Ibis 1
Black Vulture X
Turkey Vulture X
Osprey X
Bald Eagle 2
Northern Harrier 2
Sharp-shinned Hawk 30
Cooper's Hawk 8
Red-tailed Hawk 2
American Kestrel 18
Merlin 10
Peregrine Falcon 2
Sora 1
Semipalmated Plover 1
Killdeer 1
Spotted Sandpiper 2
Greater Yellowlegs X
Lesser Yellowlegs 45
Sanderling 6
Semipalmated Sandpiper 1
Least Sandpiper 5
Baird's Sandpiper 1
Pectoral Sandpiper 5
Short-billed Dowitcher 1
American Woodcock 1
Laughing Gull X
Ring-billed Gull 3
Herring Gull X
Lesser Black-backed Gull 3
Great Black-backed Gull 135
Common Tern 3
Forster's Tern 35
Royal Tern 130
Black Skimmer X
Rock Pigeon X
Mourning Dove X
Black-billed Cuckoo 1
Eastern Screech-Owl 1
Great Horned Owl 1
Common Nighthawk 48
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 6
Belted Kingfisher 4
Red-headed Woodpecker 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker X
Downy Woodpecker 3
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted) 9
Eastern Wood-Pewee 3
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 1
Eastern Phoebe 2
Great Crested Flycatcher 6
Eastern Kingbird 10
White-eyed Vireo X
Yellow-throated Vireo 1
Philadelphia Vireo 4
Red-eyed Vireo X
Blue Jay X
American Crow X
Fish Crow X
Tree Swallow X
Carolina Chickadee X
Tufted Titmouse X
Carolina Wren X
House Wren X
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 12
Veery X
Gray-cheeked Thrush X
Swainson's Thrush X
American Robin X
Gray Catbird X
Northern Mockingbird 16
Brown Thrasher 18
European Starling X
Cedar Waxwing X
Tennessee Warbler 1
Northern Parula 25
Yellow Warbler 1
Chestnut-sided Warbler 10
Magnolia Warbler 15
Cape May Warbler 1
Black-throated Blue Warbler 30
Black-throated Green Warbler 1
Prairie Warbler 5
Palm Warbler (Western) X
Blackpoll Warbler 6
Black-and-white Warbler X
American Redstart X
Ovenbird 1
Northern Waterthrush X
Common Yellowthroat X
Scarlet Tanager 3
Eastern Towhee 1
Chipping Sparrow 2
Field Sparrow 6
Savannah Sparrow X
Northern Cardinal X
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 4
Blue Grosbeak 1
Indigo Bunting X
Bobolink 1200
Red-winged Blackbird X
Common Grackle X
Boat-tailed Grackle 1
Brown-headed Cowbird X
House Finch X
American Goldfinch X
House Sparrow X

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2

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