Monday, March 23, 2009

A Windy Day in the Meadows, plus Notes from the State Park and Belleplain

[Windy or not, it was a delight to find two Piping Plovers on the beach off the South Cape May Meadows today. This one was beautifully captured huddled next to a shell by Karl Lukens. Click to enlarge.]

This year's inaugural CMBO meadows walk met with very un-springlike weather, but birds were still there to be seen. I could hardly take my eyes off the Piping Plovers, gorgeous in the low wintry light. Two pairs of American Oystercatchers bickered on the beach, undeterred by the wind. A Wilson's Snipe flushed from west path, and the offshore show consisted of many gannets, distant scoters, both loons, and a small flock of Bonaparte's Gulls. .

TNC is doing some work in the meadows (a.k.a. the Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge), work that involves heavy machinery (which flushed some birds from the site) and occasional partial closures. We were unable to get to the east path, which undoubtedly reduced our duck list, but a pair of Wood Ducks flew out of the meadows, and Green-winged Teal, Gadwall and Northern Shoveler gave great views from the west path, and a male Bufflehead was in the plover pond. A single Lesser Yellowlegs also fed on the edge of the plover pond. The full list is below.

I learned from our Associate Naturalists that Friday evening's meadows walk featured a flyby American Bittern.

I look forward to spring in the meadows with a healthy measure of curiosity, especially since we have ebird lists from nearly every CMBO walk there last year. For example, I found that on March 24, 2008 we had a slightly more diverse walk, with 7 more species which included Osprey and Laughing Gull, as well as 6 Piping Plovers. Of course, comparing results of single walks from one year to the next is a dicey proposition - especially if one of them featured the 15-20 mph north winds and machinery activity we had today!

The important question is, with two years gone, how will birds respond to the maturation of vegetation and soil development following TNC's restoration of the site? Will Least Bitterns return? How about other marsh birds, like Virginia Rail and Sora? Will more shorebirds use the site, and use it longer? Will Piping Plovers and Least Terns fare well again?

In other bird news, Karl Lukens reports from Saturday:

"CMBO Walk at Cape May Point. Usual suspects for winter/spring birding although the numbers of ducks seems to be thinning out. Black Scoters close to the jetty at St. Mary's could be heard and seen, as well as a few Purple Sandpipers and Ruddy Turnstones. A Pied-billed Grebe on Bunker Pond was a nice find and after the walk a Piping Plover was found on the beach close to the Meadows boundary. - Karl (Judy, Tom, Warren, Roger)"

A bike ride through Belleplain State Forest on Saturday yielded my FOS Pine Warblers, just two, and two pretty quiet ones at that, only singing occasionally. We had more Red-breasted Nuthatches than White-breasted, and Brown Creepers were pretty easy to find.

Location: South Cape May Meadows
Observation date: 3/23/09
Notes: CMBO's inaugural Monday meadows walk
Number of species: 42
Canada Goose 10
Mute Swan 15
Wood Duck 2
Gadwall 10
American Wigeon 10
Mallard 10
Northern Shoveler 6
Green-winged Teal 4
Black Scoter 2
dark-winged scoter sp. 500
Bufflehead 1
Red-throated Loon 5
Common Loon 1
Northern Gannet 50
Double-crested Cormorant 3
Black Vulture 5
Turkey Vulture 10
American Coot 2
Piping Plover 2
Killdeer 3
American Oystercatcher 4
Lesser Yellowlegs 1
Sanderling 4
Wilson's Snipe 1
Bonaparte's Gull 25
Ring-billed Gull 2
Herring Gull X
Great Black-backed Gull 10
Rock Pigeon 2
Mourning Dove 1
Northern Flicker 2
Fish Crow 25
Horned Lark 1
Carolina Wren 1
American Robin 2
European Starling 10
Yellow-rumped Warbler 5
Savannah Sparrow 2
Song Sparrow 2
Red-winged Blackbird 10
Common Grackle 20
House Sparrow X

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