[Male Downy Woodpecker displaying, Higbee Beach today. Note the fanned tail feathers, and while you're at it, note the black markings on the outer tail feathers, which Hairy Woodpeckers lack. A tough mark to see, but useful when you see it. Click to enlarge photos.]
I've said before you can't step in the same Cape May twice. The Cape May we stepped in this morning was a foggy one, quite the change from yesterday's exquisite weather.
"We" was me, Mark Garland and Vince Elia wandering around a much less birdy Higbee Beach WMA than the Higbee of yesterday. No matter. Quoting "punkbirder" in the January issue of Birdwatch, a UK birding magazine, ". . .many protest that the list is unimportant - they really do care for the encounter regardless of the context. Those well-adjusted souls can simply watch a bird to find out what makes it tick, rather than watch in order to get a tick." Tick is Brit for check on a list.
We watched a trio of Downy Woodpeckers tick at the southwest corner of the first field, as they chrrr'd and displayed to each other, and eventually start drumming. We tried to figure out who was doing what, because the fog made it tough to even tell males from females. Eventually one bird flew off and two males remained, and the drumming emanated from the departed bird's direction. And one of us asked, do female woodpeckers drum?
Well of course they do, right? Right? Well, do they? Having never really thought about it, we became unsure - shameful, truly. We were indeed right, female woodpeckers do drum, as it turns out, and BNA online explains futher that all calls of Downy are made by both sexes and further: "Functions proposed for Downy drumming include: (1) establishing and defending territories; (2) attracting mates; (3) maintaining contact with mates; (4) promoting or strengthening pair bonds; and (5) signaling readiness for copulation . . . Duet drumming suggested to play a role in nest-site selection . . .or in maintaining a pair bond . . . Drumming seems to occur least frequently in fall and more often from Jan to May, especially during courtship and early nesting (New Hampshire). . . but in Kentucky. . . no seasonal differences in drumming rate. Drumming rate may also vary with mating status of males and with availability of nest sites . . ." (Source: Jackson, Jerome A. and Henri R. Ouellet. 2002. Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/613 )
Right. Haven't quite crammed every factoid of bird natural history into the brain yet, but we're trying.
After Higbee and its Golden-crowned Kinglets, woodpeckers (only 2 Northern Flickers compared to yesterday's flight of 55), singing Field Sparrows, flyby Great Cormorant in the bay, and the immature male Wild Turkey along New England Road, we headed to the South Cape May Meadows, which were also well populated with fog, but also a few ducks and my season-first Glossy Ibis. Two Piping Plovers and two American Oystercatchers were on the beach there. We could hear, if not see, the displaying Black Scoters offshore.
Glen Davis has been birding up a storm along the Atlantic side this morning, and reports immature White-crowned Sparrow and 2 Black-crowned and 8 Yellow-crowned Night-herons at 44th Street in Avalon; Saltmarsh, Nelson's and Seaside Sparrows and 3 Whimbrel on Nummy Island; and a Louisiana Waterthrush singing along 3rd Ave. just northwest of Stone Harbor Point. That last bird is likely to wind up in the Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, a prime little migrant trap.
BJ Pinnock reports Blue-gray Gnatcatcher's arrival in Belleplain, near the concession stand.