Monday, November 30, 2009

Beauty Deep - Ivory Gull et. al. in Cape May

[Birders, among them Liz Gordon, collected fish carcasses last evening for the Ivory Gull, or so I hear from Kevin Karlson. An acceptable replacement for Polar Bear leftovers. This great photo is by Michael O'Brien. Click to enlarge all photos. I'm thinking we'll post a daily photo of the Ivory Gull as long as it remains, so if you get any good ones, especially of the bird "doing stuff," please sent them along.]

The Ivory Gull continues. We've been texting, twittering, and blogging these words (thankfully) for four days now. Perhaps it will even linger for February's CMBO Gull Workshop?

[Dan Haas sent this beautiful photo of the Ivory Gull, thanking everybody for getting the word out on the bird.]

As long as the stripers keep running, and the fishermen at the Breezee Lee keep catching them and cleaning them at the dock, we can hope the Ivory Gull will continue.

The Hawk Watch ends today - can you believe it? I stopped by to see Melissa Roach, who went from interpretive naturalist last year and this to part-time counter for November. Only a few birds were flying, though I joked with Melissa that now she's jaded - yeah, yeah, a couple Red-shouldered's, a few sharpies, a few coops, some red-taileds - it's really slow. . . an unenlightened person could become jaded in Cape May. Happily, almost no one here is jaded.

Tom Parsons, a senior member of the Cape May birding community, was up on the platform and shared an amazing, 60 year old Ivory Gull story. We were talking about the gull, and Tom mentioned it was a state bird but not a life bird. I asked him where he had seen it before, and Tom told, in an understated way, an amazing tale.

In 1949, Tom, a freshman at Harvard, took the bus to Newburyport to look for Black-headed Gulls, which were regular at the famous sewer pipe there. He saw this very white gull with scattered black spots on it, didn't know what it was, and returned to tell his adviser at Harvard about it.

His adviser was Ludlow Griscom.

Ludlow, who was baffled or perhaps feigned being baffled, sent the Salem, Massachusetts Peabody Musem ornithologist to check on the bird. It was, indeed, an Ivory Gull, and if you look in the old, great book, Birds of Massachusetts you will find Tom's name as the discoverer!

[Hawk Counter Melissa Roach with Tom Parsons on the hawk watch platform today, the last day of Cape May Hawk Watch 2009.]

[The Selasphorus hummingbird, photographed here by Michael O'Brien, continues at the corner of Coral and Cambridge in Cape May Point. The house there is home to two of the birder-friendliest people in Cape May, so of course birders are welcome. Just please don't block the street with your car or yourself.]

[This American Bittern flew across Bunker Pond in front of the hawk watch while I talked with Melissa and Tom. Bunker Pond also hosted 2 Lesser Scaup, Hooded Mergansers, and the array of waterfowl that trades about between Cape May ponds.]

Ivory Gull Continues, Harlequin Duck

The Ivory Gull continues for the fourth day at the Breezee Lee Marina. See below for a map and directions.

Doug Gochfeld reports there is a Harlequin Duck at Poverty Beach near the pilings this morning. A number of people have asked about how to bird Poverty Beach, so: reach it from the north end of Beach Avenue in Cape May. Under good conditions and with a good scope, you can check the pilings to the north right from the sea wall, otherwise walk up the beach to the Coast Guard's No Trespassing sign (no farther!!) and look north from there.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Images from Today

[Northern Mockingbird, flushing insect prey at the Beanery today, reminds us that common birds are just as interesting as rare ones. The Beanery had multiple Rusty Blackbirds, Eastern Meadowlarks, Eastern Bluebirds, Winter Wrens, Palm Warbler, and, oh yeah, a Swainson's Hawk today. Click to enlarge all photos.]

[The Selasphorus hummingbird at the corner of Coral and Cambridge in Cape May Point today.]

[Lesser Black-backed Gull on the beach at Cape May National Wildlife Refuge, Two Mile Beach Unit today.]

Ivory Gull Continues Plus Updates - Patagonia Picnic Table Effect

The Cape May Ivory Gull continued all day today at the Breezee Lee Marina on Ocean Drive. I'll post any "last seen" info when/if available.

The Swainson's Hawk was found this morning near the junction of Bayshore Road and Stevens Street. Vince Elia later reported it soaring near the West Cape May canal bridge shortly after noon.

An immature male Selasphorus hummingbird frequented a feeder at the corner of Coral and Cambridge Avenues in Cape May Point. There are apparently two different hummingbirds there (plus a third, a Ruby-throated, at a home on Steven's Street.) From Lighthouse Avenue heading towards Cape May Point State Park, turn right on Coral and follow it to Cambridge. The house is on the right before Cambridge. Park sensibly and stay on the road when viewing, please. Photos of one of these birds will be up here soon.

A Western Kingbird was seen from the hawk watch and the same or another was located at The Nature Conservancy's (TNC)'s Cape Island Creek Preserve. Reach the preserve by going east to the end of Wilson Avenue from Broadway in West Cape May. Cross the railroad tracks, enter the fields, and go left, checking the field edges. The preserve ends at a private farm, please pay attention to the TNC boundary postings.

Apparently 11 White Pelicans flew north over the Breezee Lee Marina today, I'm not sure who that report originally comes from.

A Yellow-headed Blackbird female or first winter male flew over the Cape May Point State Park Hawkwatch this morning and almost certainly the same bird was seen minutes later flying over the Beanery headed towards Higbee Beach.

An American Avocet was found at and/or continues at TNC's Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge a.k.a. the South Cape May Meadows. Look from the east path at "Gull Island," the island opposite the bend in the path.

Lighthouse Pond at Cape May Point State Park now hosts 3-4 Eurasian Wigeon of immature male/female persuasion, plus 2 female Redheads first reported by Vince Elia. View it from the bird blind on the red trail in the morning and from Lighthouse Avenue in the afternoon for best light.

The Two Mile Beach Unit of the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge, on Ocean Drive farther "in" (east/northeast) from the Ivory Gull, had an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull on the beach early this morning, and even more Common Eiders going by headed south.

Farther north, Karen Johnson just texted in a Short-eared Owl and 2 dark morph Rough-legged Hawks seen today at Mott's Creek, up near Brigantine, as well as 80 Tundra Swans flying over.

With all these great birds around, and so many birders, one wonders what will be found next? This could hardly be a more obvious scenario for the famous Patagonia Picnic Table Effect -wherein good birds attract good birders who find more good birds. Speaking of good birders, my apologies if the first discoverers of the birds listed are not always mentioned - today reports rained in from all around, a very good thing, and it is difficult to know who first saw what. Collectively, we saw a lot!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Quick Updates

The Ivory Gull left the Breezy Lee Marina around 5 p.m. and was seen briefly at the Ocean Drive draw bridge. I'm not sure who last reported it.

The, or at least a, Western Kingbird was relocated by Paul Guris at TNC's Cape Island Preserve, reached at the east end of Wilson Avenue running off Broadway.

Ray Duffy had the Swainson's Hawk by the winery along Steven's Street this afternoon.

Ivory Gull Update + Other News

[Updated 3:15 p.m.]

[Here's where to look for the Ivory Gull. Click to enlarge. The hottest spot through 3:00 p.m. today has been the BreeZee Lee Marina.]

The Ivory Gull continues through 3:00 p.m. at the Breezee Lee Marina on Ocean Drive just north of Cape May. It has been flying around and perching only occasionally, generally giving great point blank views for an ebbing and flowing crowd of birders.

From the end of the Garden State Parkway, turn east (left if southbound) at the light before the big bridge into Cape May, onto Ocean Drive. The Breezy Lee is one of several marinas on the right hand side of Ocean Drive (see map). There is a big sign for it. Turn right into the marina. There is better parking and better afternoon light if you stay to the right after entering the marina, going as far as you can to the water. In the morning, for better light (but worse parking) stay left and drive through the boats as far as you can go towards the water. The bird seems to be homed into the Breezee Lee today, seldom leaving the area. Perhaps the marina's name is apt, a bit out of the wind and so preferred by the gull, though you wouldn't think such a bird of the north would be concerned about wind.

Mike Fritz, who docks his boat at a nearby marina owned by the same person who owns BreeZee Lee, spoke with the owner about the bird and many birders. The owner is okay with the birders. Just please drive slowly and park sensibly. We are fortunate that today is very windy and not many people are going fishing. If the wind lays down it will be especially important for birders to park out of the way. Also, everyone should stay off the fish cleaning dock in front of the gas filling dock.

The gull also swings by the Lobster House, and if it were to disappear for any length of time, the NJAS Nature Center of Cape May is in a strategic spot overlooking most of the harbor.

In other news, the Swainson's Hawk continues through today, seen at Cape Island Preserve by Linda Matula. Check there, at the Beanery (especially scanning from Stevens Street), or ask at the hawk watch for the latest.

A new record for Cape May Common Eiders was set by Tom Johnson yesterday, with 227. I had 75 (different?) Common Eiders fly south past Second Avenue Jetty in Cape May this morning, as well as all three scoters. And up to 4 Eurasian Wigeon, most female-plumaged (several are immature males), can be found amongst the many American Wigeon on Lighthouse Pond.

I just heard about a Western Kingbird on private property on Cape Island, which could easily turn up at the hawk watch or elsewhere.

[Ivory Gull giving a show at Breezee Lee this morning. Click to enlarge all photos.]

[A fabulous bird. This Ivory Gull is apparently the 4th modern state record (there are other old records). The last one was seen in February 1986. Ivory Gull becomes the 420th bird species to be recorded in Cape May.]

Friday, November 27, 2009

Ivory Gull Update and Pictures

[Kevin Karlson's life Ivory Gull - and probably a lifer for many others. Photo by Kevin Karlson, click to enlarge all photos.]

Hard to top this one. The juvenile Ivory Gull was last seen, according to Doug Gochfeld, still in the vicinity of Cape May Harbor near the cannery at the Ocean Drive Toll Bridge just after 4:30 p.m. According to Vince Elia and others, it moved around constantly in the Harbor. Those looking tomorrow should look near the Lobster House, from across the harbor near the Nature Center of Cape May, from Ocean Drive vantages - and especially, I suspect, for throngs of excited birders! Please respect all private property, no parking signs, and be courteous to non-birders.

I'll Twitter updates during the day tomorrow - texts can be sent to your cell phone if you subscribe to

Thanks, guys, for sending photos!

[Perched on a dock, by Karl Lukens.]

[Tony Leukering managed to combine Turkey Vulture and Ivory Gull in a single frame - has this ever been done before?]

IVORY GULL!!!!!!!!!!!!!

An Ivory Gull is being seen right now (11:40 a.m.) in Cape May Harbor. It is being reported as a non-adult-plumaged bird. First reported by Jim Dowdell, who had a long-distance view from the Coast Guard Base, it was later relocated and photographed by Tom Johnson.

Undoubtedly many birders will descend to find this bird - please be sure to obey all local rules regarding parking and remain courteous to nonbirders and birders alike.

I believe this is the 8th state record for this species.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Shorebirds, Virginia Rail, Swans, Snow Buntings

[Among the shorebirds flying ahead of the rising tide this morning at the free bridge to Nummy Island, south of Stone Harbor, were these six Marbled Godwits, of about a dozen total. Willets, Greater Yellowlegs, Red Knots, Dunlin, oystercatchers, and Western Sandpipers were also present, and a female Common Eider was in Great Channel with the hundreds of Atlantic Brant. Click to enlarge all photos.]

During his 11-hawk-day vigil at the hawk watch platform today, Doug had a couple nice consolation birds. A Virginia Rail was apparently walking around in the marsh in front of the platform, for one. 19 Tundra Swans flew over, and he also had a flock of Snow Buntings flying down the dunes.

[This young Peregrine hunted along the causeway to North Wildwood this morning.]

[Determination to photograph a turkey on Thanksgiving pays off.]

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Misty Thanksgiving Eve

[The Cape May Lighthouse beam cuts the mist at dusk this Thanksgiving Eve.]

Doug Gochfeld, hawk counter today, was finishing up as I arrived at the state park this evening. I believe he matched Melissa's 3 birds yesterday, though he was waffling about counting a Cooper's Hawk that perched for quite some time in the late afternoon. East winds.

A lone Purple Sandpiper foraged on the Concrete Ship this evening, and several Red-throated Loons fished around it. A few Laughing Gulls are still around, tonight following the Cape May-Lewes Ferry.

The state park itself was pretty quiet, as you'd expect in misty rain and near dark, although Fox and other sparrows offered their goodnight calls and even a few songs. A Common Yellowthroat added its decidedly unmusical kjhek, and a Wilson's Snipe flushed scraish-ing along the Red Trail. Hermit Thrushes phewed and whined, Great Blue Herons craarkk-ed. . . during migration or in summer it seems impossible to identify every sound from every bird you hear, but in winter that is a worthy and feasible project. The "duckage" is still around, another set of birds that likes to vocalize at dawn and dusk.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

More Looking Seaward

A juvenile Caspian Tern flew past the seawatch today, possibly the latest fall record ever for New Jersey.

On the other hand, Chris Hajduk reports of the Poverty Beach pilings, and I quote, "Zilch, nada, zippo, dearth of birds, at the pilings." As in, especially the Harlequins which had been there of late.

Western Kingbird Photo

[Michael O'Brien took this photo of the Western Kingbird at the hawk watch this morning and notes, "Primary shape indicates a young male. I watched it eat sumac and porcelain berries, so maybe it'll be OK without bugs?" Adult Western Kingbirds have deeply notched outer primaries (p6-p10), which this bird does not, so it is a hatch year. Hatch year males do have a slight notch in the outermost primary which hatch year females lack, so this looks good for a male. Click to enlarge.]

Western Kingbird at Hawk Watch + Looking Offshore

There is a Western Kingbird at the Cape May Point State Park Hawk Watch right now, according to Melissa Roach, who has the pleasure of counting in this (still blowing) northeaster.

I watched the ocean at North Wildwood for a while this morning. Red-throated Loons migrated past fairly steadily, and a few other species were flying around but not seeming to be headed any particular place - Northern Gannets, Common Loons, Black and Surf Scoters, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser and cormorants. A few Great Egrets contrasted with the browning spartina on Nummy Island.

[This Great Cormorant took off from the pool next to the North Wildwood Sea Wall, sometimes a good spot to check for sea ducks, gulls and shorebirds. Note the bird's heavy head and neck. Click to enlarge.]

[What happens when you get interested in photographing a Great Cormorant and stop paying attention to anything else in gusty winds. The scope itself was undamaged - demonstrating why you invest in good optics, so you can abuse them!]

Monday, November 23, 2009

Swainson's Day 17, A (nother) Northeaster, and Common Eider Highs

The long-staying Swainson's Hawk was seen today over Sunset Avenue, making day 17 for this bird, which apparently arrived November 7. That was the only bird report I heard about today, other than the adult Bald Eagle, 10 Northern Harriers, and kinglets, creepers, and sparrows I had on Jake's Landing Road before work. The dearth of birding, and bird reports, is not surprising given that we're immersed in another northeaster. It looks like some sort of a front will clear out the junk for the weekend, but I'm suddenly struck by the thought that the weather will be making much less difference on what birds are around for the next couple months, only on how easy or hard it will be to find them.

If I was free to bird in the next few days, I would look at the ocean - check our counters' View from the Field for details on what's being seen from the seawatch, and the hawk watch, too, the latter of which ends November 30.

[Single location high counts of Common Eiders are being one-upped throughout the state on a regular basis. I think the NJ high is 217, at Barnegat Light. The Cape Island high is 163, recorded by Doug Gochfeld on Saturday. This photo, taken that day, contains 102 of them if I counted right - some of the birds pictured are scoters. This is an unprecedented phenomenon.]

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Orange-crowned Warbler, Tundra Swan, Harlequins, Strong Seabird Flight. . .and the Swainson's has a flair for the dramatic

[The Swainson's Hawk hunted grasshoppers kicked up by Les Rea's tractor today. Click to enlarge.]

A substantially larger landbird migration than yesterday's was evident this morning, and seabird movement seemed better today than yesterday, too. Highlights, rarity wise, included the continuing Swainson's Hawk from the hawk watch and at the Beanery; American Avocet at the Meadows on "gull island" reported by Tom Reed; Orange-crowned Warbler found by Sam Galick at the junction of the red and yellow trails at the State Park; and the 5 continuing Harlequin Ducks amongst the pilings at Poverty Beach and another, a drake, at Avalon.

A very strong seabird flight happened today - I haven't seen Avalon's numbers for today yet, but Doug Gochfeld counted 274 Red-throated Loons in 6 minutes from Cape May, and this afternoon it was wall-to-wall Northern Gannets around Cape May Point. The Common Eider accumulation continues - Doug counted 163 yesterday. At least 4 Eurasian Wigeon are with the American Wigeon on Lighthouse Pond, according to Tom Reed, and a Tundra Swan flew over the hawk watch today.

At dawn this morning I watched from the dunes shortly before sunrise as thousands of American Robins and hundreds of blackbirds, including (for better or worse) a healthy dose of cowbirds descended as they reached the point. Most seemed to turn around and head north for the day rather than crossing the bay. Later I birded a Higbee Beach deserted by birders, but not by birds. At least 10 each of Fox Sparrows and Hermit Thrushes, and plenty of thrashers, white-throats, and other common late season migrant and/or winter resident species made for a good morning.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Swainson's, Gos, Cave Swallows - It May be the End of the Match, but Keep Watching

[Cave Swallows, perhaps 20, were in view much of the day at Bunker Pond. On this one, photographed there today, note the pale throat, pale rump but not as pale as that of Cliff, and lack of the bright "headlight" above the bill, which is prominent on Cliff. In today's harsh light from the light overcast, the Cave Swallows often looked completly dark above when flying against the sky, but you could usually pick up the warm buff-orange on the throat, or at least a sense of color there. Photo by Don Freiday; click to enlarge all photos.]

Mike Crewe was talking about the season's passage last week and, in his very British way, said that while birding was still good it "feels like the end of the match." It felt that way today, for sure - despite northwest winds all night and all morning, not much of a passerine flight materialized and not all that many raptors were about. Well, maybe a couple hundred raptors will have been counted by day's end, Red-shouldereds and Red-taileds, a couple Peregrines, a few Bald Eagles, Sharpies, Coops and. . .when I walked up the platform around 10:30 a.m. Pete and Melissa had a juvenile Northern Goshawk in the scopes, perched over the "red roof." Yah, but where's the Golden. . . .kidding, of course.

The Swainson's Hawk hangs on, seen at the Beanery, over the meadows, and from the platform. A White-rumped Sandpiper went by the hawk watch this morning. Cave Swallows were in steady view at the platform, along with at least a couple Rough-winged Swallows and the many Tree Swallows, and the Cape May Duck Festival is still underway, with all the wigeon still on Lighthouse Pond (including more than one Eurasian) and today's Common Eider count off Coral Avenue at 137. The dabbling ducks are busy courting - it's a good time to learn your duck vocalizations.

At Cape May Point State Park at dawn, the only owl I could come up with was a Great-horned, but there were a half-dozen each of American Woodcock and Wilson's Snipe flying about. As dawn broke into day it became evident that Fox Sparrows are in, with several singing and chipping.

The day's award for unseasonal goes to the Yellow-billed Cuckoo I found in a patch of groundsel bushes at the Magnesite Plant, which is the southern portion of Higbee Beach WMA off Sunset Boulevard. Pretty darn late for this species, especially considering it winters om South America, south as far as northern Argentina! A White-crowned Sparrow was in the fields there, too.

[Green-winged Teal courting in front of the platform. The male at left really had his act on.]

[My favorite bird of the day was this White-breasted Nuthatch at Hidden Valley, one of two I saw south of the canal today and the first I've seen on Cape Island in a year! White-breasted is exceedingly scarce south of the canal, and you have to go looking for one in their known haunts to find them. Way more Cave Swallows than White-breasted Nuthatches are on Cape Island right now.]

Friday, November 20, 2009

Swainson's Hawk, Cave Swallow Update; Perfect Night for Owls; Tomorrow. . .?

Doug Gochfeld had the Swainson's Hawk from the hawk watch platform at Cape May Point State Park around 2:00 p.m. today, out over the meadows. We're going to have to dig into the records a little to verify this, but I think this bird is the longest staying Cape May Swainson's Hawk on record.

But, if you haven't seen the Swainson's yet and want to, you better come tomorrow, because if it hasn't left already it may well leave tomorrow, with the forecast winds northwest 8-10 mph. It's a good bet we'll have Golden Eagle tomorrow, too, and an excellent hawk flight in general.

Doug also had at least four Cave Swallows today. I was up at Island Beach State Park leading an NJAS field trip with Scott Barnes, and we had 2 other southbound Cave Swallows there at 1:30 p.m. that likely are now in Cape May, as well as two flocks of Snow Buntings during the day.

It's a positively lovely night in Cape May, with light northwest winds. If every there were a night when owls, or woodcock, or late-season passerines were going to migrate, it's tonight.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Avocet; Harlequins; Sparrow Clinic Goes On; & the Next Last Big Day

[Continuing our marsh sparrow theme (see posts below), here's another "sharp-tailed" sparrow, a Saltmarsh Sparrow photographed this morning at Jake's Landing. This bird shows obvious dark streaking across the breast, and bright orange color on the face which contrasts with the pale buffy breast. Click to enlarge photos.]

Karl Lukens just sent a text message along that there is an American Avocet at the Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge, a.k.a. South Cape May Meadows, at the "gull island," which is east of the east path. A nice bird at any season.

Chris Hayduke reports the 5 Harlequin Ducks continue at Poverty Beach near the pilings. Do NOT walk up the beach past the Coast Guard's No Trespassing sign, or you will be detained. A good scope and some patience makes pretty much any bird around the pilings identifiable from the legal side of the sign.

An hour at Jake's Landing this morning before work was productive, yielding at least three Saltmarsh Sparrows, two Seaside Sparrows, and an adult Bald Eagle perched on the cedar tree last winter's Rough-legged Hawk liked. Flyover groups of shorebirds included Black-bellied Plovers, Greater Yellowlegs, and a dowitcher sp., and two Hooded Mergansers hummed by as well. Where the woods meets the marsh, a little pishing brought in a Pine Warbler, three Red-breasted Nuthatches, two Winter Wrens, Brown Creeper, and Golden-crowned Kinglets. A vigil at the end of the road at Jake's Landing the night before last yielded no Short-eared Owls, but Dave Lord did pick out a flying American Bittern.

We'll find out this weekend if the Monday past was indeed the last "big day" of fall 2009, starting tomorrow and going through Sunday. A cold front is supposed to pass late tonight with rain to our north, which should mean few passerines on Friday, BUT northwest winds are predicted all day Friday, all night Friday night, all day Saturday, and into Saturday night, staying north or maybe northeast through Sunday morning. Figure on late season raptors Friday and Saturday, and landbirds Saturday and maybe Sunday. Looks like a good weekend to come to Cape May, or to bird anywhere.

[My quick initial glimpse of this Pine Warbler was followed by the "huh?" moment these drab ones usually cause, before I got a better look and figured out what it was. Pine Warblers sometimes linger for south Jersey Christmas Bird Counts.]

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Raptor Reports & Sanderling Photo Salon

[Mole Crab's-eye view of a charging Sanderling, early this morning at Stone Harbor Point. Click to enlarge all photos. Stone Harbor Point may be closed on and off for the next few days while beach replenishment equipment is operating there, or so one of the workmen informed me.]

Doug Gochfeld reports that the Swainson's Hawk is still around, seen from the hawk watch while looking towards the Beanery at about 9:00 a.m. this morning. Doug also had a Northern Goshawk north of the state park heading east at about 8:00 a.m., and a Cave Swallow from the platform at about 10:30 a.m.

[Mole Crabs move up and down the beach with the tides. They ingest seawater and extract plankton, algae and detritus as food. With legs specially adapted to burrow downward and backward constantly, they are often turned up by wave, or bird, action, and are a favorite food of Sanderlings, Willets, and gulls. Even sea ducks foraging close to shore partake.]

[Bickering over the remains.]

[One of the Sanderlings was color flaggged. NJAS co-sponsors a web site where you can report color-marked shorebirds.]

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Swainson's Update, Kittewake, and Define Purple

[See if you can get any purple off this Purple Sandpiper, photographed by Kevin Inman at Barnegat Light today. I can on my monitor. Avalon had at least 5 Purple Sandpipers yesterday, and single digit counts have been had around Cape May. Click to enlarge.]

If you haven't been keeping up with View from the Field, our blog on CMBO's seasonal counts, by our seasonal counters, check it out. Note, for example, that Avalon had the first Black-legged Kittewake of the season yesterday, a darn scarce bird from shore - and yet, expected at this season if you put your time in.

Melissa Roach reports that the Swainson's Hawk was last seen, in flight, from the Hawk Watch at Cape May Point State Park just before 1:00 p.m. today. It was not reported from its usual haunts at the Beanery despite searching, and one wonders if it has flown the coop, so to speak. More literal than one might think, since yesterday the Swainson's perched for several minutes over Les Rea's chicken coop, inspecting the inmates with some interest. (That's Les Rea, the Rea of The Rea Farm, who honors us with the privelege to lease the birding rights to that delightful property. )

A look at the Cape May Bird Checklist reveals that a serious effort could certainly result in 24 species of ducks in a day south of the Cape May canal right now - and that excludes goodies like King Eider, Canvasback, and Redhead, which are theoretically possible anyway.

I took a spin on my bike in Belleplain State Forest after work this afternoon. Nobody birds Belleplain in fall (we sure do in spring!), and I guess that makes sense, given the opportunities elsewhere. I did pass a flock of Wild Turkeys, plus Eastern Bluebirds, and heard Brown Creepers, kinglets, and the usual forest birds of late fall and winter.

Jake's Landing at sundown featured hunting Northern Harriers, a bazillion Clapper Rails giving a tutorial on rail vocalizations, 3 Marsh Wrens at the parking lot, flyby Hooded Mergansers and a flyby American Bittern spotted by Dave Lord. . .but no Short-eared Owls. Yet.

Nelson's Sparrow - the Gray One

[Tony Leukering managed a shot of the duller, presumed subvirgatus subspecies of the Nelson's Sparrow at the Meadows, which was present yesterday and the day before. The bird's face/malar area and breast are similar to each other in hue, good for Nelson's, but this bird is duller than the bird pictured below, grayish, and weakly patterned. Click to enlarge.]

If you're confused by this Nelson's Sparrow buisness, by the way, you should be. Nelson's Sparrow used to be called Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow, and, before that, was lumped with Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow. Back when the two were considered one, they were called just Sharp-tailed Sparrow. For now anyway there is the Saltmarsh Sparrow and the Nelson's Sparrow.

The skinny on Nelson's Sparrows is that each subspecies breeds in separate areas. Ammodramus nelsoni nelsoni breeds from the southern Northwest Territories and east-central British Columbia south and east through the prairie provinces to the northern Great Plains states in the U.S. A. n. alterus nests along the coasts of Hudson Bay and James Bay, and annoyingly is not illustrated in any of the field guides. A. n. subvirgatus occurs along the St. Lawrence River and along the Atlantic coast from southeastern Quebec and the Maritime Provinces to southern Maine.

All three Nelson's Sparrow subspecies winter along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts from New York to Texas (nelsoni also winter along the Pacific coast). The ones in the meadows are migrants and very unlikely to winter there, since it's freshawater and will freeze. It is possible to dig up Nelson's and Saltmarsh Sparrows in salt marshes in winter, however.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Last Big Day of 2009?

[Here they come - American Robins, White-throated Sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Dark-eyed Juncos, Chipping Sparrows, Song Sparrows, American Goldfinches, Blackbirds, Fox Sparrow, and others - that's what was calling overhead last night. This nexrad 0.5 degree velocity radar image is from last night - but wait, it wasn't raining. . .?]

Yesterday there was a strong flight, today there was a strong flight. . .but it is mid-November, and the well of southbound migrants gets drier every day. Fall goes by so fast.

In the pre-dawn hours, just-arrived Dark-eyed Juncoes flushed in front of my vehicle as I drove through Cape May City, and the sound of robins was constant overhead when I got out.

As I hopefully waited for owls against the lightening eastern sky, American Woodcock, Wilson's Snipe, and a steady flow of dawn flying dabbling ducks crossed the horizon in Cape May Point. The dunes at Cape May Point gave a vantage on sheets of robins as the sun rose, 3,000 strong from 6:30 to 7:00 a.m. along with blackbirds, including a couple Boat-tailed Grackles, finches including many goldfinches, not a few Purple Finches, Red-breasted Nuthatch, American Pipits, a few Pine Siskins, and a couple Dickcissels. "Only" 80 Common Eiders were visible from my vantage at Coral Avenue.

Most (not all) of CMBO's weekly walks finish up for fall this week, and today was the last South Cape May Meadows walk. The full list from that is below and speaks for itself - I still don't get why birders don't congregate here through November, because the birding is extraordinary and frankly you see more birds and see them better than at other times during the fall - ducks, short-distance passerine migrants that aren't hell-bent to get out of town, and rarities. Including, today, the Swainson's Hawk, which was in view on and off today from the hawk watch.

Yesterday's Cumberland County trip was extraordinary. From Dave Lord: "If you bring binoculars to Cumberland and don't see an eagle, well. . . today's Birding Cumberland trip came up with 23 Bald Eagles! The bird of the day was the subadult Common Eider found by Chris Krupa at East Point and enjoyed by the whole group. On top of that: three Common Goldeneye at Heislerville [one's been on Bunker Pond the past couple days, too], a Great-horned Owl in broad daylight at Seabreeze, a field filled with 75 American Pipits, Sandhill Cranes calling form the marsh at Husted Landing Road, and a flight of 900 Robins at Heislerville. One of the best trips in recent memory! - Karen Johnson, Janet Crawford and Dave Lord."

[Mike Crewe took this great picture of a Nelson's Sparrow yesterday in the meadows, but, a bright interior race bird, it's not one of the original eastern race birds found by Tony Leukering. Mike notes: "Vince Elia and I had had pretty good views of it, then I decided to try to get photos after Vince had continued back to the parking lot. It was apparent to me that this was not the drab, subvirgatus bird that I had seen the evening before courtesy of Tony Leukering. This morning's bird appears to be a Nelson's Sparrow of the interior form as it shows a blue, not pink, wash to the shortish bill, orange throat with poorly-defined, dark submalar line; clear-cut contrast between orange wash to breast and white belly; and warm brown rather than blackish streaks on flanks. Not easy to track as it ran around like a mouse in the grass!" Photo by Mike Crewe, click to enlarge.]

Mike got a great photo of a tough bird to see well, let alone photograph. One of my personal favorite marks to separate Nelson's of either race from Saltmarsh Sparrow is the blend of the face color with the breast color. On Saltmarsh Sparrow, the face is substantially brighter than the breast. On Nelson's, face and breast are similarly shaded, brighter on the interior race, drabber on the Atlantic race, but face and breast are similar for either bird.

[Melissa had a good, but tough, flight to count today, with birds high in the blue, including this Red-shouldered Hawk. Alas, no Golden Eagle today. Photo by Don Freiday, click to enlarge.]

[Ever watch Canada Geese weave as they come in to land when they're traveling with the wind and need to lose altitude fast? Check out the bird at right. There was every reason to think these arriving Canadas at the meadows were in fact arriving from Canada, perhaps birds that bred on the Ungava Peninsula. Photo by Don Freiday, click to enlarge.]

Doug Gochfeld sent me the following note about what he found around Cape May County yesterday:

"Higbee: We observed the large Robin/Goldfinch etc. flight, although it was kind of all over the place and not exclusively heading north. There were certanly a lot of birds around. Highlights were a heard only Pine Siskin and a flyover Purple Finch.

"Cape May Point: 146 Common Eider (Tony had 147 and Sam Galick had 150). 4 Purple Sandpipers. 1-2 White-winged Scoter (couldn't find the Lesser Scaup today).

"Cape May Point State Park: 2 Indigo Buntings behind the Classrooms, all 3 Eurasian Wigeons, and maybe even a fourth (there was an additional female that looked very interesting).

"Poverty Beach: 5 Harlequin Ducks (2 male (1 adult, 1 apparent 2nd year, but maybe just a weird looking full adult), 3 female), 4 Great Cormorants. 4-6 Comon Eider (Sam Galick had 10).

"Nummy Island: 14 Marbled Godwits on the free bridge mudflats, 1 Long-billed Dowitcher, probably something like 25 or more Willets, and a flyby of a raptor that was almost certainly a Northern Goshawk. We didn't go out to the point to investigate the tons of birds on Champagne Island and on the beach itself.

"Wetlands Institute: A dusk egret roost in excess of 80 birds out in the marsh to the south, as well as probably over 20 Clapper Rails calling."

Like I said, I don't get why birders don't just camp in Cape May right through November! Here's today's meadows list:

Location: South Cape May Meadows
Observation date: 11/16/09
Notes: Final CMBO meadows walk of 2009
Number of species: 70
Brant 1
Canada Goose 400
Mute Swan 20
Gadwall 40
American Wigeon 20
American Black Duck 20
Mallard 40
Blue-winged Teal 10
Northern Shoveler 6
Northern Pintail 15
Green-winged Teal 10
Lesser Scaup 6
Surf Scoter 2
Black Scoter 20
dark-winged scoter sp. 200
Bufflehead 4
Ruddy Duck 10
Pied-billed Grebe 5
Northern Gannet 10
Double-crested Cormorant 10
Great Blue Heron 5
Great Egret 1
Glossy Ibis 2
Black Vulture 10
Turkey Vulture 8
Osprey 1
Northern Harrier 2
Sharp-shinned Hawk 10
Cooper's Hawk 1
Red-shouldered Hawk 3
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Virginia Rail 1
American Coot 20
Lesser Yellowlegs 1
Wilson's Snipe 6
Ring-billed Gull 25
Herring Gull 40
Great Black-backed Gull 40
Forster's Tern 10
Rock Pigeon 10
Mourning Dove 10
Belted Kingfisher 1
Northern Flicker 5
Eastern Phoebe 1
Blue Jay 1
Fish Crow 1
Tree Swallow 50
Carolina Wren 3
Marsh Wren 1
Eastern Bluebird 20
American Robin 1000
Gray Catbird 2
Northern Mockingbird 3
European Starling 500
American Pipit 20
Cedar Waxwing 10
Yellow-rumped Warbler 50
Chipping Sparrow 1
Savannah Sparrow 5
Song Sparrow 5
Swamp Sparrow 15
White-throated Sparrow 5
Dark-eyed Junco 5
Northern Cardinal 2
Red-winged Blackbird 200
Common Grackle 20
Brown-headed Cowbird 10
Purple Finch 15
House Finch 5
American Goldfinch 200
House Sparrow 10

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Flight There Was, and Swainson's Photo du jour

[The Swainson's Hawk was seen by many hunting some kind of small insect along Stevens Street today. Photo by Don Freiday, click to enlarge.]

Mike Crewe reports: "I was at the Meadows this morning and witnessed the biggest American Robin flight I've seen this fall; not massive, but several thousand birds. Accompanying them, a great assortment of American Goldfinch, Purple Finch, American Pipit, Cedar Waxwing, Rusty Blackbird, Tree Swallow, Eastern Bluebird - a real treat! I also heard a Dickcissel which may have been the bird later seen at the state park."

Mike's report is of interest, because at Hidden Valley this morning I did not notice a particularly large flight of anything. This is actually typical in Cape May - sometime there are birds evident in one part of the peninsula but not others.

Kathy Horn reports from the CMBO Villas WMA walk this morning, "Two brightly-colored Baltimore Orioles and a couple large mixed flocks of ground-feeding Dark-eyed Juncos, Eastern Bluebirds, American Goldfinches, and Chipping, Field and Song Sparrows were highlights of this morning's Villas WMA walk. The large pond in the back held Ring-necked Ducks, Pied-billed Grebe, American Coot, Mallard and a Double-crested Cormorant."

A tentative photographic guide to ageing and sexing of Common Eider, part I: females

Photographs (copyrighted) taken at Cape May Point 14-15 November 2009 by Tony Leukering

This fall's unprecedented and incredible showing of Common Eiders has enabled me the opportunity to really study plumages of the species, as one can get quite close to them as they loaf and forage near shore at Cape May Point, particularly near St. Mary's. Last night, Dave Czaplak and I pored over my 100s of photos of the birds attempting to make sense of the great variation in plumages. We referred to a variety of field guides, but primarily used the Identification Guide to North American Birds, part II by Peter Pyle (2008, Slate Creek Press; Note: I have no financial interest in the product). Though the two volumes of Peter's tour de force is primarily a guide for banders, I consider it an indispensible tool for birders.

First up in our efforts to understand the bewildering variety of plumages is to understand the timing and progression of molt in the species. Turning to pg. 128 in Pyle, we find that young-of-the-year conduct a partial pre-formative molt away from breeding grounds during Oct-Mar. As juvenile males are similar in plumage to that of adult females, this is a critical point. Also on that page, we find in a boldfaced note that (and I paraphrase here) some juvenile males don't initiate this molt (or, at least, obtain some white feathers) until Mar-Apr. In combination, these two pieces of information let us know that while some juvenile males have started down the road that makes them, plumage-wise, obviously males, some may not have and that we have to be careful at assigning all the juvenile birds as females.

Looking directly at plumage now, juvenile females are described as having "head and body pale brown"while both adult females and juvenile males have "head and body dark brown." This, then, would suggest that this bird is a young female.

[Click pictures to view a larger image size.]

If we look at the inner greater coverts (gc) and inner secondaries (ss), we can see indistinct whitish tips, a feature of juvenile/immature females; juvenile/immature males should show virtually no white here. I do, however, have some concern about the two worn nearly-white feathers on the back that might indicate some other age and/or sex, but I cannot reconcile all the other features with anything but a young female.

The next bird is darker-headed and -bodied and shows substantially more obvious white tips to the inner greater coverts and secondaries. These two features make me quite confident that this is an adult female.

I will treat the ageing of males, a much more complex aspect of this task, in a day or two. Right now, the sun has finally come out (after 5.5 days of gray) and I've got more photographs to take! Also, if I've gotten any of this wrong, please feel free to drop me a note and let me know, as Im not at all an expert in this!

Eurasian Wigeon: The Saga Continues

Photographs (copyrighted) by Tony Leukering

For a short while yesterday morning (14 Nov), Dave Czaplak and I had solved the mystery as to the sex of the "bright" one of the two female-plumaged Eurasian Wigeons that have been gracing Lighthouse Pond. That's because we found the bright bird to now be sporting patches of gray on both sides (as noted, below, by Don), a certain indicator that the bird is a male. However, a bit later when viewing the ducks from the blind in the State Park (rather than from Lighthouse Ave. as earlier), we found the bright bird and it lacked gray on the sides. Hmm. We also found the "duller" bird. Hmm, did we imagine things? No, because we then found the "bright" bird with gray on the sides. There are now three Eurasian Wigeons present, none of them being adult males -- the age/sex that accounts for virtually all records of the species in North America away from the West Coast.

Below, I've included photos from the 14th of both the bright one lacking gray and the bright one with gray. Oh, our new Brit resident, Mike Crewe, tells me that the original bright one (the one lacking gray) is obviously a juvenile, as it sports gray down the culmen. Thus, with the age determined, the whiteness of the one white inner secondary (Americans sport a pale gray inner secondary) tells us that it must be a male (adult females can have a similarly bright white secondary). He should know. Finally, Melissa Roach and Doug Gochfeld noted a bird there that might have been a second female Eurasian Wigeon; my, oh my.

Not a Flight, but Duckage and Miscellaneous Landbirds add up

It does not appear that much of a landbird flight occurred last night, and yet I found my first Fox Sparrow of fall at Hidden Valley this morning. Even better were the two Northern Bobwhites at Hidden Valley, one of which flushed in front of me along the west path, which inspired me to whistle bob-white a bit, which in turn inspired a different quail to call.

The Common Eider accumulation around Cape May is off the charts, with 150+ around Cape May Point. A few White-winged Scoters are with them, and Sam Galick just reported 2 male and 3 female Harlequin Ducks around the pilings at Poverty Beach, in front of the Coast Guard Station.

The Common Eider thing is unprecedented, and both Tony Leukering and I have had eiders flying down the Delaware Bay the past couple days, which leads me to believe the ones at Cape May are birds that were blown inland by the northeaster and followed the bay south. Lending credence to that theory is the Common Eider being seen right now on CMBO's Exploring Cumberland field trip - at East Point!

At least 3 Eurasian Wigeon are present on Lighthouse Pond, one of which is developing gray patches on the sides and so is a male and soon will look like one, if it stays.

In the non-duck department, apparently both Clay-colored Sparrow and Dickcissel were found behind the Cape May Point State Park museum today, and at least two Cave Swallows are about. Tony Leukering found two Nelson's Sparrows of the gray subvirgatus race at the meadows yesterday, and they were still there this morning. Look along the east path near the bend. There are two Glossy Ibis lingering in the meadows, too, and three Long-billed Dowitchers there yesterday.

Oh, the Swainson's Hawk is still there, same general area, seen yesterday on the CMBO Beanery walk and this morning, too, "over the chilis" according to Tony, meaning the field with the peppers in it, kind of between Stevens Street and the birds normal haunts (see map, below). The Beanery Walk also had a calling Virginia Rail near the parking lot, and Rusty Blackbirds.

Other raptors include a juvenile Northern Goshawk at the Beanery seen by Tony Leukering yesterday, and a Golden Eagle reported over Bridgeton, Cumberland County yesterday by Michael Cesario. There's a bird that will be seen from the hawk watch this afternoon or tomorrow, maybe not that individual (it was headed northeast when last seen), but with northwest winds (light though they are) it seems that a Golden in the next two days would be a good bet.

Plenty of late fall good things were just flying around this morning, things like Eastern Bluebirds in flocks up to 30, Eastern Meadowlarks, Wilson's Snipe. The clear, light-northwest night that was forecast for last night (and didn't happen, it was overcast and misty) is now on tap for tonight. Owls? Passerines? We'll see.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Swainson's Continues, More Eiders, and Plan on Birding Sunday

Remaining perhaps the most chaseable Swainson's Hawk in history, the light morph juvenile at the Beanery/a.k.a. Rea Farm is still there today. I would hazard that it will still be there tomorrow morning, too. Here's map to the area it has been hanging out, click to enlarge:

In other bird news, the Common Eider count at St. Peter's in Cape May Point is up to 80, way the highest count ever for Cape May County. Three White-winged Scoters and two Purple Sandpipers are also there.

Some weather, eh? The tides have been amazingly high, higher than anything from Hurricane Isabel in 2003, according to Chris Hajduk over at the Coast Guard Base. But keep your eye on Sunday, because it will have been 5+ days of backed-up migrants from bad weather (which is one good reason why the Swainson's Hawk is still here) and good flight conditions are forecast for Saturday night and Sunday.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Rumors and Speculations while Waiting for Good Weather

We make our living off the birding news
Just give us something, something we can use. . .

With apologies to Don Henley.

If anybody is seeing any birds in Cape May lately, i.e. in this northeaster provided courtesy of Tropical Storm Ida, complete with gusts to 55 mph, we're not hearing about it here at CMBO. Other than a rumor that the Common Eider flock off Cape May Point near St. Mary's/St. Peters numbers more like 50 now, something worth checking, although good luck counting eiders in the big waves.

A few seabirds were moving at Avalon before our counter abandoned ship. A whopping two raptors were counted yesterday at the hawk watch before that, too, was sensibly abandoned.

If I were to go birding now, I'd find a sheltered spot to look offshore and hope for a wayward. . .ummm. . .tropicbird? I heard about a recent study that had non-breeding White-tailed Tropicbirds summering way north, as in off Newfoundland but out in the middle of the Atlantic. The only accepted White-tailed Tropicbird record for NJ was November 23, 1985 at Barnegat Inlet. Bring a camera. . .

Getting out the crystal ball, weak high pressure is supposed to bring northwest winds on Sunday. A cold front is supposed to then cross the area late Sunday, which in theory is good but it looks like the winds are forecast to go right around to east-northeast.

At 4 Golden Eagles thus far, we're way below our long term average of 13 per season for this species. You can find a summary of Cape May hawk data since 1976 on this web site, by the way, interesting to study while we wait for the next flight. Maybe Sunday?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Eiders Continue, Other Cape May Point Birds

[Two of the 26 Common Eiders off Cape May Point this morning. Photo by Karl Lukens.]

Karl Lukens reports the following from this morning's CMBO Birding Cape May Point Walk: "Rain and wind greeted us this morning. We decided to visit the pavilion dune crossover, Coral Ave. jetty, and the Sunset Grill porch for a seabird watch. There are still 26 Common Eiders (4 near adult drakes), both Black and Surf Scoters at the jetties, as well as 2 Purple Sandpipers and Ruddy Turnstones.

"From the state park, the Gannet count was 660, and at the concrete ship we found 2 Bonaparte's Gulls, 4 Long-tailed Ducks, and a couple of Parasitic Jaegers. - Karl (Warren, Steve, Bill, Tom)"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Swainson's Continues, Cave Swallow, King Eider, Late Season Pearls

[Winter Wren playing hide-and-seek at the Beanery this morning, one of five heard there. Click to enlarge.]

The Swainson's Hawk was perched in nearly the same place in the second/winery field at the Beanery this morning. Other Beanery birds of interest were Winter Wren, Rusty Blackbird, Pine Siskins (flyovers), a lingering Red-eyed Vireo, Eastern Meadowlarks, Eastern Bluebirds, and a flock of 40 American Pipits in the Stevens Street field.

The King Eider at Poverty Beach is a first-winter male type, and was still there today according to Chris Hajduk. While you're there, look for Snow Buntings - Doug Gochfeld had 7 southbound from Avalon this morning.

A Cave Swallow was seen from the hawkwatch at about 9:45 this morning, reported by Vince Elia. Melissa Roach, who is counting two days a week at the watch, had not counted a single raptor through 9 a.m., on a day with wind and water as still as glass. By days end only 28 raptors were recorded.

I was out fishing the Cape May Rips most of the day, and most birds, including about 6 Parasitic Jaegers, were sitting, waiting for some wind for motivation. Multiple flocks of Common Loons rested farther offshore, near Five Fathom Bank.

[One of the forty or so American Pipits at the Stevens Street field at the Beanery lingered on an above-ground perch.]

Chuck and MJ Slugg et. al. report "The Two Mile Beach walk was rather quiet although we had the "Two Mile" Peregrine eating breakfast on the radio tower and a "gray ghost" male Northern Harrier fly along the dune. A variety of ducks can be seen from the new platform looking toward Ocean Dr. Seaside Sparrows are present on the restaurant (Two Mile Landing) side of Ocean Drive."

Monday, November 9, 2009

Swainson's + Goshawk + Rails

[Watch this.]

[Big picture view of the "winery field" at the west side of the Beanery around 10:00 a.m. this morning. That's the Swainson's Hawk in the Sweet Gum tree at left, and if you squint you might find our seawatcher, Nick Metheny, sitting at the right side of field, out birding on his day off. Nick called us about the Swainson's, which has been hunting this field for a couple days. A number of people came to see the bird, and everyone was, happily, very respectful and kept their distance, letting the bird do its thing. Click to enlarge all photos.]

[The Swainson's flew down into the field - it's been catching big grasshoppers - and then. . .]

[The Swainson's gives Nick "the eye" as it passes.]

[Thanks, for the call, Nick! The Swainson's was seen from the hawk watch, but far, later in the morning.]

Other birds at the Beanery this morning included Winter Wren, Hairy Woodpecker, Eastern Meadowlarks, Eastern Bluebirds , and Virginia Rail giving a weird, chattery call.

We also heard Virginia Rail at the Meadows during the next-to-last Monday walk of fall there, and even found the remains of one (see below), but the clear star was the Northern Goshawk sighted by David Lord as it perched at length in the treeline over at the boundary with the State park - looking west from the west path.

Hawks were flying this morning despite the light south wind, including many buteos, and at one point the hawk watch had 6 Northern Harriers in a kettle at the same time, with Turkey Vultures and others.

[Northern Goshawk, digiscoped at long distance by Karl Lukens. Big, prominent eyebrow, and more light spotting above than the other accipiters.]

The abundance and selection of ducks in Cape May right now is truly awesome, and I hear a King Eider was added today at the pilings near Poverty Beach by Chris Hajduk. All the ponds hold dabblers, including showy things like Hooded Mergansers. Tundra Swans have been seen migrating over in each of the last two days.

[This Red-tailed Hawk, photographed this morning in the pre-dawn fog along Bayshore Road, provided an interesting behavioral note. I "put it to bed" on the exact same perch last night while looking for the Swainson's in the fading light, and it obviously spent the entire night there, fairly exposed.]

[Proof of Virginia Rails in the meadows, or at least former occurrence. All the rails have long slender toes and a long hind toe. Virginia has pinkish-red legs. Not sure what got this one, one of the bigger accipiters seems a reasonable guess.]