Wednesday, October 8, 2008

4 Owl Night

Unlike the band, 3 Dog Night, the title of the post does not indicate the number of owls it would have taken to keep one warm at night. Though in starting out at about 4:00 a.m. the world was a lot chillier that it has been in quite a while and I was at times wishing that I had a down jacket with in arms reach.

So in case you haven't figured out what we were up to, yesterday was Laura's and my October Cape Island Big Day attempt. And with the winds forecast to be NW at 10+ we figured we'd be in for a great day, and hopefully night, of birding. Little did we know how tough the day would turn out yet how rewarding it would be.

Laura has always said that the month of October is one of her favorite months of the year here in Cape May. I think it's the changing of the seasons that does it for her. Being a native of the Mid-Atlantic it's no surprise. Me, I love the changing seasons very much but being a Florida boy I could live as well with the more subtle change that I grew up with back home. My guess is, if you ask her to tell the honest truth I bet she'll say it's cause this is the month when the owls start to show up!

Recently friends in town have been hearing Barn Owls migrating over head at night. I remember sitting around nights when I was counting hawks and we'd hear them fly over our house on NY Ave. So of course we both were really hoping for this particular species for the day.

Back to the start of the count. Immediately after stepping out of the car at our first spot we heard passerines and herons and some Snow Geese calling as the migrated. It always makes me wish I could simply turn on a light to be able to see the sheer magnitudes of birds in the sky. Luckily we have things like the live streaming radar on the Mid-Atlantic Forecast section of this site or David LaPuma's site where he posts the complete nights radar images.

While night birding we tallied Gray-cheeked and Swainson's Thrushes, American Bittern, Black-crowned and Yellow-Crowned Night Herons and Great Blue Heron to name a few. At one point, while standing listening on Columbia Ave. I heard what I think was Black Rail call but the call seemed to be sped up in tempo or cadence if that makes sense. Either way I was not completely sure so this species did not make it on to our big day tally, no matter how bad I wanted it to be there.

Probably the best bird of the day were the owls. We've only swept the owls once before I think on our WSB run. Barred Owl for some reason or Great Horned for that matter have been somewhat quite over the last few months. I know some of it is due to breeding responsibilities but they have been somewhat talkative 10 miles north up behind my house all along. But I digress. So, we had to work a bit harder for screech owl than we have been used to and Barred and Great Horned Owls we didn't have to work for at all, a funny switch. The fourth you ask, (remember the title of the post) well that's a story in and of itself and if you'll allow for a slight longer than usual post I'll give a brief synopsis.

We were at the entrance to the Meadows listening for flight calls and hoping for the fourth owl (and actually at this point hoping for horned to call as well). I tried to string a peenting Woodcock to no avail and we struggled to identify various other calls and then we heard an interesting series of sounds punctuated by a distant screeching sound. We both immediately stopped talking and moving and strained our ears in hopes we'd hear another screech to confirm what we thought the sound was. Time went by and talking and movement resumed and then another screech call. By this time Laura was certain of the sound but I was a good bit more skeptical and we were heavily debating the sound. I was definitely on her side but I tend to be too conservative at times. So I decided to step away from the car and do my imitation of a Barn Owl call. After about call number three or four I stepped back hoping to hear a call back and then out of the dark a form flew in and circled the car and at one point looked like it might land on the telephone pole near us. Of course scaring me a bit, and bring back memories of a Barn Owl that dive bombed me years ago, I ducked. The bird flew off and I called again in hopes it would call back. After a minute or two it came back for another investigatory look. And at one point Laura even got a glimpse of the bird in the light of the Light House. After that I suppose it realized that there were no others of its kind near us and it took off to hunt the Meadows. The moment the bird flew off the second time I hear a simple statement. "See, I told you so!" So we high-fived and then were on our way with hopes of a great day to come.

The surprise for us was that as the day light came on the birding became a bit more difficult than we had figured it would be. Not to say we had a bad birding day, we certainly did not. I guess I just overestimated October in my mind. Sure you have the sparrows coming in and sea ducks picking up. But, you've also lost many of the neo-tropical migrants which in their abundance can make a big day a whole lot easier if you have a goal to meet. As I am sure those of you keeping up remember our goal is 100 species. And given the business of the fall working for CMBO and trying to spend as much time outside on off times as possible, we were really hoping for a slightly easier day. In the end this was not so.

Our morning at Higbee produced the bulk of our land birds. Cape May Warbler, a Late Philly Vireo, Nashville Warbler, Dickcissel, Black-throated Green Warbler, Gray-cheeked Thrush, four or so House Wrens and a Scarlet Tanager stand out in my mind. We also has loads of Swamp and White-throated Sparrows, with Savannah and Field Sparrows to round out this group. On a side note there certainly seems to have been an influx in Song Sparrows around. We noted many in various locations. Another surprise bird of the day was a Grasshopper Sparrow (see image below), found by Dick Walton, in Cape May Point which seemed quite content to sit on a concrete step at a house across from St. Peter's Episcopal Church. Now this is a bird that is dear to my heart given my research past but I've never seen one sitting on a concrete step.

(Photo courtesy of Michael O'Brien)

By now you may be asking yourself how I was so worried about our reaching 100 after some of the species I've mentioned. Well, at lunch we did a quick tally and we had only seen about 80 species, there seemed (until we stopped to really look, though I knew they were just too high to naked eye scan for) to be not much of a hawk flight, we were missing a land birds that I thought we should have easily seen and the days are much shorter now. Time is always against you on a big day. That being said, I tend to worry about mid day on every big that things are not going well enough.

But, in the end we actually did quite well. Much better than I thought we might. The afternoon proved to be very productive with all the hawks and ducks that we expected showing. A little sea watching produced a couple Parasitic Jeagers and a Northern Gannet. Many scoter were on the move as is evidenced in the Sea Watch count on View from the Field. And as always a few surprise birds along the way. Initially I was thinking that we should get to 110-115 species for the day. Of course at about 12 noon, I'd have been happy to see 100 even. In the end we finished the day with 122 species tallied. We worked a bit harder than we had planned but it was certainly worth it.

Thanks to Dave and Meg, Michael, Liza, Bob and others who helped to make this day such a success.

As usual, below is the complete list of birds we tallied for the day. I think we'll probably need a few more layers for the November run!!!!

Location: Cape Island
Observation date: 10/7/08
Notes: October Cape Island Big Day
23503 steps = approx. 15.3 miles
Number of species: 122

Snow Goose X
Canada Goose X
Mute Swan X
Wood Duck 4
Gadwall 9
American Wigeon X
American Black Duck 2
Mallard X
Blue-winged Teal 1
Northern Shoveler 18
Northern Pintail 5
Green-winged Teal 30
Surf Scoter X
Black Scoter 1
Hooded Merganser 1
Common Loon 2
Pied-billed Grebe 3
Northern Gannet 1
Double-crested Cormorant X
American Bittern X
Great Blue Heron X
Great Egret 5
Snowy Egret 8
Black-crowned Night-Heron 18
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron 1
Black Vulture X
Turkey Vulture X
Osprey X
Bald Eagle 7
Northern Harrier 6
Sharp-shinned Hawk X
Cooper's Hawk X
Broad-winged Hawk 5
Red-tailed Hawk 12
American Kestrel 2
Merlin 10
Peregrine Falcon 6
Common Moorhen 1
Killdeer 4
American Oystercatcher 2
Greater Yellowlegs X
Lesser Yellowlegs X
Ruddy Turnstone 6
Sanderling X
Western Sandpiper 2
Least Sandpiper 1
Wilson's Snipe 1
Laughing Gull X
Ring-billed Gull X
Herring Gull X
Lesser Black-backed Gull 1
Great Black-backed Gull X
Common Tern 1
Forster's Tern X
Royal Tern X
Black Skimmer 250
Parasitic Jaeger 2
Rock Pigeon X
Mourning Dove X
Barn Owl 1
Eastern Screech-Owl 1
Great Horned Owl 1
Barred Owl 1
Common Nighthawk 1
Belted Kingfisher 6
Red-bellied Woodpecker 13
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 4
Downy Woodpecker 4
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted) 75
Eastern Phoebe 4
Philadelphia Vireo 1
Red-eyed Vireo 3
Blue Jay X
American Crow X
Fish Crow X
Tree Swallow X
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 4
Barn Swallow 1
Carolina Chickadee X
Tufted Titmouse X
Red-breasted Nuthatch 10
Brown Creeper 1
Carolina Wren X
House Wren 4
Golden-crowned Kinglet X
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 6
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 3
Gray-cheeked Thrush 4
Swainson's Thrush 2
American Robin X
Gray Catbird X
Northern Mockingbird X
Brown Thrasher X
European Starling X
Cedar Waxwing X
Nashville Warbler 1
Northern Parula 12
Cape May Warbler 3
Black-throated Blue Warbler X
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) X
Black-throated Green Warbler 2
Palm Warbler X
Blackpoll Warbler X
Black-and-white Warbler 8
Common Yellowthroat X
Scarlet Tanager 1
Eastern Towhee 15
Field Sparrow X
Savannah Sparrow X
Grasshopper Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow X
Swamp Sparrow 75
White-throated Sparrow 150
Northern Cardinal X
Indigo Bunting 4
Dickcissel 2
Red-winged Blackbird X
Boat-tailed Grackle 1
House Finch X
American Goldfinch 6
House Sparrow X

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2

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