Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Snowy Owl, Sea Ducks, Eagles and Swans

[Karl Lukens took this marvelous photo of the Stone Harbor Snowy Owl on Monday December 29. This bird apparently has decided to winter -we all hope!]

I visited Stone Harbor on Monday, more for a beach walk than a bird walk - but as we often say, we're never not birding. I was with my kids, and we sandwiched some pretty fancy birds between admiring the sand and shadow patterns in the low-angle winter sun. The star of course was the Snowy Owl - thank-you to Roger and Kathy Horn for tipping us off as to it's exact location.

We had a couple other fancy raptors. A Peregrine Falcon came tearing down the beach, waist high and passing only 25 yards away, and we watched it until it disappeared over North Wildwood. Bizarrely, as we were walking back to the parking lot, a Great-horned Owl flew from behind us (out of the bayberry thicket?) and took off north over the elaborate houses of Stone Harbor.

All the usual "rockpipers" were present on the jetty at Stone Harbor, including a single Purple Sandpiper. Kathy and Roger reported finding Red Knots. Quite a few scoters floated offshore, with plenty of Long-tailed Ducks, a few Red-throated Loons, and one female Common Eider.

[Roger Horn took this photo Monday, a nice comparison shot of a male Black Scoter and female Surf Scoter.]

Sunday's Cumberland Christmas Bird Count apparently turned up nothing particularly bizarre. Mike Fritz told me a Snowy Owl had been found a couple days earlier, but just outside the count circle in or near Bivalve, and I'll be sure to post furthur details if this bird sticks. Pete Dunne and I covered Turkey Point as we always do, where the highlight this year was simply the mass of Snow Geese, 4,500 or more, flying over. A single Long-billed Dowitcher and a Sedge Wren were other highlights. Bird numbers seemed low, perhaps because of last weeks severe cold snap - e.g. we somehow missed Gray Catbird in a whole day's birding. An exception was Bald Eagle, which we literally found in small flocks occasionally and singles almost constantly.

Speaking of eagles, the day after Christmas found me up at Mannington Marsh in Salem County near sundown, where at least 17 different Bald Eagles appeared in the span of a half hour or so - there's a roost somewhere up there. What an impressive sight - eagles dueling, standing on the ice (and falling through), hunting, or roosting, with 4-5 in one scope view at a time.

[I was tempted to send this photo to Michael O'Brien to use in the photo quiz. Mannington Marsh has as many Mute Swans as anywhere in NJ, but it was delightful last week to see almost as many Tundra Swans, 25 or more. Compare height and location of the peak of the back on the these two birds, as well as tail length and neck thickness. The bird in the foreground, a Mute Swan, appears relatively much bigger because it is closer, although Mute Swans are significantly larger and heavier than Tundras. People tend to focus on bill characters when separating these two, which can be difficult to see at great distances (or if they are feeding). Tundra Swan has a thinner neck, and a more evenly rounded back with the peak lower and more central on the body than Mute. Mute Swan has a long tail, for a swan anyway. Photo by Don Freiday.]

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