Thursday, December 11, 2008

And so it ends.....cold and a bit windy

On Monday, 12/8, Laura and I set out to run our last 2008 Cape Island Big Day attempt. Where has the year gone?! It really seems like just days ago that we were planning this year-long venture and agonizing about whether or not you really could hope to see 100 species in one day for each month of the year, south of the the Cape May Canal.

December was one of the months that I really worried about in terms of achieving the hoped for century mark. Since there can be big fluctuations in weather, which can mean fluctuation in species diversity, you never know what this time of year may bring. A fluctuation in weather is exactly what we have see these last few days/week—there had been a slight warm up and then a cold front moved through days prior to our attempt. In fact, the 40 mph winds the day before alone were enough to make us reconsider. The temps dropped and it was a crisp 20 degrees F when we started at 5:00 a.m. And unfortunately we had to deal with a 15 mph wind that persisted during the morning with the exiting system.

One of the first birds tallied were Snow Geese as they passed overhead in the darkness of the night. Along with Canada Geese we were two down, 98 to go. Our trusty little Screech Owl proved to be easy, responding to my whistles, and we heard Great-horned Owls calling in a couple of locations pre-dawn.

For big day birding I am of the opinion that seawatching first thing can be of paramount importance to getting a good tally of birds for the day and this day I was not proved wrong. Along with all three scoter, Long-tailed Ducks, and Red-throated Loons the other expected oceanic species were Lesser Scaup, Common Goldeneye (9 all told) and loads of Canada Geese moving out over the ocean. While we had heard numbers of geese on the move in the night, the day light revealed the true magnitude of the goose flight that day.

All day long flocks of 100-300 (sometimes more) Snow Geese cruised high over head. Canada Geese were also well on the move but the overall flight seemed to be restricted to the morning hours. All in all we estimated at least 15,000 Snow Geese had passed overhead and about 5,000 Canandas. Though as I always say, these numbers are well on the conservative side.

After some seawatching we hit the woods and decided to walk Hidden Valley first since most of the fields at Higbee had been mowed down in the last few weeks. At the back of Hidden Valley we found the expected (hoped for really) Rusty Blackbirds (one bird with a white throat made for an interesting view), loads of White-throated and a few Fox Sparrows. One nice treat was a Woodcock which obliged us by walking around only steps from us allowing us to get great, not often seen, views of this species intricate plumage.

Higbee Beach was on the slow side in the fields where the vegetation had all been mowed. But in the one last un-mowed field (just north of the pond) we found that the Sedge Wren is still kicking about and was rather cooperative. At least is called frequently, we did not even see the bird. A very nice surprise was just down from the wren, where an American Tree Sparrow was hanging in some Bayberry bushes—not an easy bird to come by on Cape Island—in loose association with a flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers.

By lunch time, with our tally only in the high seventies or so, we were beginning to loose hope of reaching 100. We had yet to look at Lily Lake, the Meadows for dabbling ducks or, walk the State Park so we still had ground to cover but it looked like the best we might do is to hit the mid-nineties which would be on par with our January run.

We wandered around Cape May Point birding-by-car some (well, as much as possible given the very cold temps and winds which we mercifully dying down as the day progressed) and picked up a number of much needed duck species which were concentrated toward the northern end of the lake due to ice cover. Try as we might we could not pull a Cackling Goose out of the 65+ Canadas that were mixed in with the various other duck species, grebe and coot. Then it was on to the Cape May Point State Park to look for Ash-throated Flycatcher, Orange-crowned Warbler and Northern Parula that had been hanging around. Unfortunately, the back trails were closed due to more trail work that is being done so we had to settle for what we could find on the other open trails.

As the day progressed toward sunset we found ourselves in the midst of one of those end of the day good luck runs that sometimes helps you more than you expect and usually when your hopes are dashed. In fact, it is these this "good luck runs" that can give you that second, third or fourth (what ever the case may be) wind to help carry you on to the end of the day.

At the Meadows we had a flock of four Great Egrets flying down the beach and a couple of Great-blue Herons flying about in the marsh. A quick stop at Bob's place to look for the Dickcissel that has been visiting his feeders proved unsuccessful but, we did have a young White-crowned Sparrow—a nice surprise bird for the day. Also a Palm Warbler which Bob had heard at the Beanery proved to be an easier tally than expected. I actually heard the bird and pished for it to see whether or not it was an eastern or western, and no sooner had I uttered my first pish than it came darting out of the grasses straight for my face. Luckily for me it swerved but unlucky for us, the Ring-necked Ducks which had been on the pond at the Beanery were nowhere to be found.

As the daylight faded we hurriedly checked Poverty Beach for Great Cormorant and hoped the Common Eider would be easy to see, but was not. There were a number of ducks in and amongst the pilings but the heat distortion was too great and we didn't have enough daylight to try and scrutinize the birds present. A second stop at Bob's was worth it since we had the Dickcissel in seconds flat and we were off again, knowing that we were very close to the 100 species mark.

After the sun set we had just enough energy to try for the missed Barred Owl and headed to Higbee to try one last time with this most unreliable species to help us end our year's journey the right way. Unfortunately we were not able to get out to Higbee so we chose to try the Hidden Valley Ranch area. For many reasons the night time is where things got a bit more interesting for more than just us, but that is a story for another time... Ends up that Laura heard a Barred Owl way in the distance but we agreed the last bird should be heard by us both so we went to the Hidden Valley parking lot to see if we could get closer to where the sound was coming from. I heard one small sound from presumably the same bird but then another Barred Owl piped up from the direction of the Morning Flight Dike, ensuring that we ended our day with a smile. Adding the four different Great-horned Owls we heard from the Hidden Valley parking lot brought our day's total for this species up to a whopping nine for Cape Island.

Oh, by the way, we ended the day with 103 species which I think is a heck of a fine total for Cape Island in December!!

We've had a most excellent time doing these monthly big days and the effort has really helped us learn a good bit about the status and distribution of species that can be found on and around Cape Island throughout the year. We have yet to put all our figures together but as last I checked our cumulative list for the year was well above 225 and I'm guessing might be in the vicinity of 235+ species. Not at all bad for only "twelve days" of birding.

I can say that 100 species in a day each month is most definitely a possibility. We were not always able to take advantage of the best weather and often had to try and squeeze the big day run in (in July, as you may remember, we actually ran the big around a full days work at the Northwood Center.) So despite the above obstacles we are very excited that we only missed 100 species three out of the twelve months. The list of monthly totals is as follows:

January- 94
February- 93
March- 102
April- 115
May- 144
June- 109
July- 99
August- 114
September- 125
October- 122
November- 121
December 103

My intention is to post some minor statistics for our years worth of big days (probably sometime in the beginning of the new year after I can compile the numbers) but those of you who are members of CMBO can look forward to a more through assessment of our attempt in the upcoming publication of the CMBO member magazine The Peregrine Observer.

As always, our final list is below:

Location: Cape Island
Observation date: 12/8/08
Notes: December Cape Island Big Day, 17606 steps = approx. 13.5 miles
Number of species: 105

Snow Goose 15000
Brant 145
Canada Goose 5000
Mute Swan X
Wood Duck 8
Gadwall 95
American Wigeon 135
American Black Duck X
Mallard X
Northern Shoveler 10
Northern Pintail 18
Green-winged Teal 250
Greater Scaup 1
Lesser Scaup 8
Greater/Lesser Scaup 8
Surf Scoter 25
White-winged Scoter 2
Black Scoter 50
dark-winged scoter sp. 3000
Long-tailed Duck 20
Bufflehead X
Common Goldeneye 9
Hooded Merganser 45
Red-breasted Merganser 75
Ruddy Duck 60
Red-throated Loon 2
Common Loon 1
Pied-billed Grebe 1
Northern Gannet X
Double-crested Cormorant X
Great Cormorant 1
Great Blue Heron 2
Great Egret 5
Black Vulture X
Turkey Vulture X
Bald Eagle 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk 6
Cooper's Hawk 2
Red-tailed Hawk 1
American Kestrel 1
American Coot 55
Killdeer 8
Greater Yellowlegs X
Ruddy Turnstone 3
Sanderling X
Purple Sandpiper 5
American Woodcock 25
Ring-billed Gull X
Herring Gull X
Great Black-backed Gull X
Rock Pigeon X
Mourning Dove X
Eastern Screech-Owl 1
Great Horned Owl 9
Barred Owl 2
Belted Kingfisher 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker X
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 5
Downy Woodpecker 8
Hairy Woodpecker 2
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted) X
Blue Jay X
American Crow X
Horned Lark 1
Tree Swallow 6
Carolina Chickadee X
Tufted Titmouse X
Carolina Wren X
Winter Wren 6
Sedge Wren 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2
Eastern Bluebird 20
Hermit Thrush 35
American Robin X
Gray Catbird 4
Northern Mockingbird X
Brown Thrasher 6
European Starling X
American Pipit 75
Cedar Waxwing X
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) X
Palm Warbler 1
Yellow-breasted Chat 1
Eastern Towhee X
American Tree Sparrow 1
Chipping Sparrow 1
Field Sparrow 1
Savannah Sparrow X
Fox Sparrow 35
Song Sparrow X
Swamp Sparrow X
White-throated Sparrow 250
White-crowned Sparrow 1
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored) 40
Northern Cardinal X
Dickcissel 1
Red-winged Blackbird X
Eastern Meadowlark 1
Rusty Blackbird 15
Common Grackle X
Boat-tailed Grackle 1
Purple Finch X
House Finch X
American Goldfinch X
House Sparrow X

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2

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