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

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