Sunday, October 25, 2009

Flight and Flux

[Atlantic Brant are solidly in, e.g. the 600+ we had on today's Back Bay by Boat trip on the Osprey. Witmer Stone reported Brant as scarce in the 1930's - the time of a blight on their primary food, eelgrass. Brant have since switched to other food sources, and their numbers in coastal NJ have increased markedly. Photo by Don Freiday; click to enlarge all photos.]

After listening for 10 minutes along the bay in the wee hours this morning and hearing little (that's been the pattern with northwest winds), I moved over to Stone Harbor Point and heard 5-10 flight notes/minute in the 5-6 a.m. hour, the great majority being Yellow-rumped Warblers but also including 5 species of sparrows and some Great Blue Herons. There was thus an apparent movement of landbirds, though not a huge one.

Cape May Point State Park at dawn was kind - in the form of two Long-eared Owls flying around roughly over the yellow trail, out towards the Meadows, as seen from the red trail. Three separate American Bitterns flew past at different locations along the trails, and a Great-horned Owl teed up in a pine for a bit. A bat, perhaps a Hoary Bat, came in off the water, and numbers of sparrows were noticeably higher than yesterday.

[David Sibley on the Back Bay by Boat trip today.]

David Sibley remarked to me that he was at Higbee this morning and found it notable that there were multiple non-Yellow-rumped Warblers, e.g. Blackpolls, Black-and-white, and others. This was after the traditional checklist review at last night's autumn weekend dinner, during which, despite the relative lack of migrants yesterday, I blithely and without much remark ticked off Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Cape May, Northern Parula and Redstart. David said that during his time in Cape May during the early 80's, warblers other than Yellow-rumpeds were very unusual in late October.

We had about 3 Bald Eagles during the back bay cruise this morning, and got to talking about how this is a record year for eagles, with a single day total of 46 and a season total of roughly 350. David told me in 1980 they broke the all time record for eagles. . .with 18!! And that was unheard of.
The hawk flight today was outstanding, with several multi-hundred Sharp-shinned Hawk hours, a Peregrine, many Merlins and Kestrels, great looks at Red-shouldereds, still a few lingering Broad-wingeds. . . all showing what a northwest wind can do. The gannet show continues offshore, and a Stilt Sandpiper was a hawkwatch flyby.

Swallows swirled all around, with Barn and Rough-winged Swallows amongst the Tree Swallows. Doug Gochfeld had a good candidate for a Cave Swallow, it's only a matter of time until they get here. There's another change - Cave Swallow has gone from a first-record to a howling raritity to getting voted off the NJ review list in a very few years.

[These American Oystercatchers were on the south jetty at Cold Spring Inlet. Here's another bird in flux - for the better. Extirpated from NJ by 1896, they have now returned in numbers and hundreds can be seen in the Cape May coastal system, especially on mussel beds and mud flats around Hereford Inlet in fall. Not all bird population news is bad.]

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