[Adult Cooper's Hawk, back to the wind, hangs on for dear life - albeit with one foot, the other tucked under for warmth. Photo by Clay and Pat Sutton, click to enlarge photos.]
One could make a case that birding in January and February is better up the bayshore in Cumberland County, NJ than it is in migration central, a.k.a. Cape Island. And I'm sure the birding was wonderful in Cumberland today, and will be tomorrow. But yesterday (Sunday)?
It would be a stretch to call anything involving being outside yesterday wonderful. A species total isn't available yet for the Cumberland Christmas Bird Count, but yesterday certainly didn't shatter records - although our CBC party found 69 species at and around Turkey Point, with Clapper and Virginia Rails, herons, a point blank American Woodcock, Fox Sparrows, thrashers, towhees, Bald Eagles, duck concentrations, and even Eastern Screech and Great-horned Owls. Our full list (not the whole CBC, just our territory) is posted under field trip reports. Working the lee places was the way to go, but a lot of Cumberland, and specifically most of Turkey Point, is wide open marsh, and temperatures in the 20's with sustained winds of 25-30 and gusts to 50 (!) mph make such places umm, unpleasant.
Birds respond to such conditions, of course. Passerines and other landbirds disappear - some dead, many holed up, literally in the case of woodpeckers and other cavity nesters. We had only 3 Downy Woodpecker in 9 hours of birding and an estimated 10 miles of walking. Ducks migrate south facultatively, frozen out up north, as the 200+ Common Mergansers on one of the impoundment pools at Turkey Point attest. Fish eaters. . .suffer.
The seminal event of the big blow, for me, was saddening - the Great Blue Herons huddled around any and every bit of unfrozen water - we counted 39 of them, plus a Great Egret and two Black-crowned Night-herons. Some of the Great-blues were moribund, though some will survive, undoubtedly, on fish picked from open pockets and small mammals.
[Another Cumberland CBC higlight, this River Otter frolicked and rolled around on the frozen Maple Avenue Impoundments at Turkey Point. What cold? Click to enlarge. 6 Tundra Swans were not far away.]
Several people asked me to post what I wore to survive the day fairly comfortably, including 6:00 a.m.-8:00 a.m. outside the vehicle at the end of Turkey Point Road and literally 10 miles of hiking the various trails. There is a Birding Fieldcraft article on the general principles of keeping warm, but here's what I chose for the extreme conditions:
Base layer (most important layer): Patagonia Capilene 3 zip-neck top and bottoms.
Additional pant layers:
Mountain Hardwear Canyon Pants (lightweight but tight weave);
Marmot breathable rain pants (used against the wind, but had to remove mid-morning, too warm).
Additional top layers, from inside out:
Cabelas MTP zip-neck expedition weight base layer;
North Face heavy fleece sweater;
Eastern Mountain Sports 650-fill goose down vest (had to remove this by mid-morning, too warm);
Marmot 800-fill down sweater;
Patgonia Micropuff jacket.
Head, hands, feet:
Patagonia knit cap with a woven wool hat on top;
Patagonia neck gaiter;
Cabelas Gore-Tex insulated shooting gloves with disposable handwarmers inside;
Ultimax heavy wool socks;
insulated leather hunting boots;
Cabelas Gore-tex gaiters.