Saturday, July 31, 2010

Meadows and Cape May Point Walks + Whistling-ducks Continue

[This Great-horned Owl has been detected with great consistency on CMBO's Friday evening meadows walk. Photo by Karl Lukens, click to enlarge.]

Reports from Friday night's meadows walk and today's Cape May Point State Park walk are up on the field trip reports page. Among the findees this morning were the three celebrity Black-bellied Whistling-ducks.

[The Great Egrets (and Ospreys and Great Blue Herons) have been capitalizing in part on a bumper crop of sunfish in the ponds at Cape may Point State Park; Karl caught this one with a fish perhaps too big to swallow this morning.]

Friday, July 30, 2010

Excellent Bombay Hook NWR (DE) Shorebirding; Higbee Dike

[Female Ruff, right, with Lesser Yellowlegs in Bear Swamp Pool, Bombay Hook NWR yesterday. The term Reeve is often used for female Ruffs. Note the chunky body and small-headed look. Click to enlarge photos.]

"Don, do you know about the Ruff?" I was talking to the CMBO shorebird workshop group about banded plovers, as we watched a Killdeer, when Michael O'Brien came over and sort of whispered this to me. No, we didn't know - our workshop group had just reached the Bear Swamp Pool at Bombay Hook NWR, DE, and hadn't scanned it yet - but needless to say, very quickly a bunch of people got their life Ruff! Shortly after, a Wilson's Phalarope was discovered - there is some debate as to which Cape May vagrant-birder spotted that one, but it was pretty cool to see Ruff and WIPH next to each other. This all came down during CMBO's Bombay Hook Workshop, across the bay in Delaware. A few Wilson's Storm-petrels were had on the return trip from the Cape May-Lewes Ferry near dark after the workshop. Our list from the refuge - which included 92 species, among them American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, both eastern races of Short-billed Dowitcher and numerous Long-billed Dowitchers, Stilt Sandpiper, etc. - is up on Field Trip reports. Mark Garland and/or I lead this one almost every year, but if you can't wait there are just a few spaces left on the August Shorebird Workshop, with Michael O'Brien and Pete Dunne.

A few of us gathered on the Higbee Dike this morning for a flight that would have had everyone complaining. . .if it were mid-August or later. Conditions after the cool front (can't quite call it cold) were very good, but a few Yellow Warblers, a few American Redstarts, a single Prothonotary Warbler, and a few other this-and-thats were "all" we could muster.

Chris Hajduk had an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull at Poverty Beach yesterday. There was a 2nd cycle (i.e. a first cycle just starting to molt) at Port Mahon, DE yesterday and the day before.

[Ruff in flight - note the u-shaped white patch on the rump, and the gleaming white underwing. This is a bird easily picked out from a flock in flight.]

[An unusually marked Semipalmated Sandpiper, with normal ones and a Western Sandpiper (back left bird) yesterday at Bombay Hook. This kind of thing can result from a mutation or appear in a bird that received a blunt trauma injury that damaged pigment-producing cells, e.g. being hit by a Peregrine or flying into a wire.]

[American Redstart in a glide, this morning at the Higbee dike.]

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at State park!

Just got word that there is a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at Cape May Point State Park near the second plover pond (the plover ponds are behind the dune beyond Bunker Pond, which in turn is the one in front of the hawk watch platform.) I believe Glen Davis is the finder.

Black-bellied Whistling-ducks Continue

Chris Borkowski reports that yesterday evening the three Black-bellied Whistling-ducks flew in and landed in Bunker Pond at Cape May Point State Park and were there from 5:30 p.m. to 6:20 p.m., after which they flew off in the direction of Lily Lake.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Evening at the Park

[One of the two Sandwich Terns which thought about settling with the Forster's Terns on the Bunker Pond platform tonight, before changing minds and drifting offshore. Click to enlarge photos.]

After braving the dragonfly flight on a bike ride to Cape May last night - I'm not kidding, the Swamp Darners were bouncing off my helmet the whole way there and back - I went back tonight to enjoy and photograph the concentration of birds at Bunker Pond at Cape May Point State Park. I haven't heard if the Black-bellied Whistling-ducks were seen today or not, but plenty of herons and shorebirds made the trip worthwhile.

[A couple Stilt Sandpipers (one here, left bird) joined the Short-billed Dowitchers and yellowlegs tonight.]

[After a month's absence, Green-winged Teal have returned to Cape Island, well, two have anyway.]

Northern Bobwhite at Goshen

A Northern Bobwhite appeared first thing this morning at CMBO's Center for Research and Education in Goshen, and has been calling consistently in the vicinity of the center all day, to the point of absurdity. He's been seen several times as well, though thus far has eluded the camera.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Darner Flight, Meadows Report

[Some of the bazillion Swamp Darners this morning, in front of the Northwood Center at 10:00 a.m. Click to enlarge photos.]

The Swamp Darner flight this morning in Cape May Point was magical - I stood open-mouthed until one nearly flew in. Walking along East Lake Drive near the Northwood Center, you could profoundly hear their wingbeats and occasional collisons with each other, with vegetation, and occasionally with oneself.

The meadows field trip report is up - a Tricolored Heron flyby at the beginning was nice, as was the juvenile (as in, this year's bird) Bald Eagle at the end. In between, a couple Belted Kingfishers, a nice variety of shorebirds, and some of the many herons that have accumulated in Cape May of late. Mike Crewe told me there were 86 Great Egrets on Bunker Pond yesterday.

[Blueclaw Crab for dinner.]

[Marsh Rose Mallows are in full bloom now.]

Our MAPS station in Bear Swamp, Cumberland County revealed some quality reproductive output on Sunday, with hatch year Hooded Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, and Ovenbird banded. Heartening indeed to know that at least the nests these birds came from didn't succumb to cowbirds or predation. The woods were very quiet, although Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Black-and-white Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, and Acadian Flycatcher occasionally sang, and Red-eyed Vireos sang constantly.

[Hatch-year female Hooded Warbler's fresh green new clothes, acquired through the preformative molt young passerines go through to replace much of their juvenal body plumage prior to migrating. Her head feathers are a bit dissheveled from "skulling," where we part the feathers to examine how much (or in her case, how little) the skull has ossified, an important aid to aging birds in the hand. Bear Swamp on Sunday.]

Ducks continue; Dragonfly Flight

Just a quick note - the Black-bellied Whistling-ducks continue on Lighthouse Pond this morning (they were found yesterday, too, as it turns out).

More impressive is the dragonfly accretion in Cape May Point right now - 1000's or 10,000's of the huge Swamp Darners plus a few other species. Their was a bit of nocturnal migration of songbirds last night with the front, which manifested itself on the meadows walk this morning in the form of Yellow Warblers and 3 Louisiana Waterthrush flyovers.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Uppie, Whistling-ducks and Learning from a Crow

[The Fish Crows lurk along the dune path near the plover ponds at Cape May Point State Park - because they're after the plover chicks, sometimes anyway. But they're interesting, tame, and allow study as close as you could want. This one's missing greater coverts, revealing the white flight feather bases beneath. What's going on? Click to enlarge photos.]

Instead of tracking down the 2 Upland Sandpipers that tarried for a bit on the edges of the plover ponds and Bunker Pond Saturday, or pursuing the Black-bellied Whistling-ducks on Lighthouse Pond (found again Saturday, no reports from Sunday), I hung out with the Fish Crows as they preened, caught cicadas, and otherwise lived the good life along the dune trail.

[This Fish Crow's outer primaries are worn and tattered, having survived a full year since they were last replaced. The inner 3 primaries on each wing have been replaced (P3 is still growing in), the new ones nice and glossy, shiny and new. P4 is still missing. Primaries are numbered from the inside out, by the way - crows and other corvids have 10 primaries, the outermost reduced in size. They also have 12 tail feathers (called rectrices), but this crow only has 10 - it's molted the inner 2. The truncate tips of the outer tail feathers indicate a bird more than a year old - juv.'s/first years in many species have more pointed tail feathers, without an inner corner at the tip. Corvids molt once a year (except for their first year, when there is another molt to replace juvenal feathers); Fish Crows finish by September.]

Friday, July 23, 2010

Scissor-tailed! + Egrets et. al. + King Eider Still Around

[After cycling past two large egret and heron concentrations on Nummy Island this morning, I stopped for a quick photo of this one along the Stone Harbor Causeway. 175+ Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Glossy Ibis, and a couple of the scarcer herons were in this group. Herons often concentrate like this around fish trapped in high tide pools.]

Sam Galick found a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at the Higbee Dike this morning, which was seen by a number of other observers before it took off headed southwest and high - magnesite plant? Across the bay? Who knows.

I keep forgetting to mention that the immature male King Eider is still around, lately being seen on or near the Concrete Ship.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Whistling-ducks Re-surface; Nice Shorebirds et. al. at State Park

[It's good to know birds from every angle - Black-bellied Whistling-ducks, Cape may Point State Park, Lighthouse Pond from the bird blind this morning. Click to enlarge photos.]

Bunker Pond continues to be the happening place, though the Black-bellied Whistling- Ducks were over on Lighthouse Pond fraternizing with the Mallards. When I walked up to Bunker Pond this morning, 5 Stilt Sandpipers there feeding. These promptly took off, but 4 more flew past us during the Bird Walk for All People. The pond held a rich assortment of shorebirds et. al., including both yellowlegs, Short-billed Dowitchers, Semipalmated Plover, Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers, Spotted Sandpipers, ibis, the continuing herd of Great Blue Herons . . . good stuff. A young Peregrine made two passes during the walk.

At the second plover pond, 2 downy Piping Plover chicks, products of a late brood, were accompanied by an adult. Speaking of babies, a fledged juvenile Laughing Gull was with mom or dad in Bunker Pond, the first fledge I've seen this summer, though I've been away for a few days, and all the Great Blues we saw were juveniles, too. A Royal Tern flew past offshore. The full list is up on Field Trip Reports.

[Stilt Sandpipers, Bunker Pond this morning.]

[The Peregrine earned a crow and Purple Martin escort.]

[Spotted and unspotted Sandpipers - the bird in the front is a juvenile Spotted, you might be able to discern the pale feather edges above. That's a Least Sandpiper in the back.]

[Speaking of juvs, this is a juvenile Great Blue Heron. Besides the head pattern (dark crown), note how all the feathers are the same condition (brand new, all grown at once), and the coverts tipped in buff. Uniform, neat fresh feathers are characteristic of juvenile birds of any species in late summer or early fall, before they start to wear and molt.]

[The whistling-duck does have a head.]


Hotline: Cape May Birding Hotline
To Report: call (609) 884-2736, or email
Coverage: Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic Counties , NJ
Compiler: David Lord, Cape May Bird Observatory with additions by Don Freiday
URL: ;

This is the Cape May Birding Hotline, a service of New Jersey Audubon Society's Cape May Bird Observatory. This week's message was prepared on Thursday, July 22, 2010. Highlights this week include sightings of BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCK, SANDWICH TERN, and WHITE-FACEDxGLOSSY IBIS hybrid.

-For up-to-the-minute Cape May sightings information, photos and downloadable birding maps and checklist of Cape May, visit . Follow rarity sightings and spectacles on -

3 BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCKS were located at Cape May Point State Park on Bunker Pond on Sunday, July 18, 2010, and were last seen Thursday, July 22, 2010 on Lighthouse Pond from the bird blind.

A SANDWICH TERN was seen on Bunker Pond on Tuesday, July 20, 2010.

An apparent WHITE-FACED IBIS x GLOSSY IBIS hybrid was seen on Bunker Pond on Tuesday, July 13th, 2010.


If you appreciate this hotline service, and care about the birds of Cape May, please consider becoming a member of Cape May Bird Observatory.

******CMBO SUMMER HOURS are as follows: Northwood Center on East Lake Drive in Cape May Point is open daily, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Center for Research and Education on Rt. 47 in Goshen is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9:30am to 4:30pm; closed Sundays and Mondays ******

The Cape May Birding Hotline is a service of the New Jersey Audubon Society's Cape May Bird Observatory and details sightings from Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic Counties. Updates are made weekly. Please report sightings of rare or unusual birds to CMBO at 609-884-2736. Sponsorship for this hotline comes from the support of CMBO members and business members, and should you not be a member, we cordially invite you to join. Individual membership is $39 per year; $49 for families. You can call either center to become a member or visit. Become a member in person and you'll receive a FREE gift (in addition to member discounts in the stores).

Good Luck and Good Birding!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Migrants + Report from the Arctic

[Pectoral (left) and Solitary Sandpipers, Bunker Pond today. Photo by Karl Lukens; click to enlarge photos.]

Mike Crewe's field trip report on this morning's Cape May Point Walk is worth the read - nice morning, with shorebirds and migrant Yellow Warblers zeeping overhead. To that Vince Elia adds an adult Least Flycatcher at Higbee Beach with a mixed flock of migrant Yellow Warblers and local Prairie Warblers. Vince says he had 25 Great Blue Herons on Bunker Pond this morning, but Mike's report only has 23, so I don't know who to believe. . .

In other news, the following information came across my desk while I was away. I quote part of Ron Pittaway's email to a shorebird group: "Reports from the Canadian Arctic indicate a generally much better breeding year for most shorebirds compared to the late snow melt and cold nesting season in 2009. Map shows the Canadian Arctic is mostly snow free and the sea ice in Hudson Bay is almost gone whereas ice remained well into August in 2009. . . Counting juvenile shorebirds south of the breeding grounds will give an indication of breeding success in 2010, which is a good reason to learn how to distinguish the age classes. . . -Ron Pittaway, Minden, Ontario"

This report contrasts with last year's difficult breeding season for shorebirds, which seemed to show in the form of a decided lack of southbound juveniles last summer/fall. The first juveniles of Arctic and sub-Arctic nesting shorebirds will begin appearing here at the very end of the month, probably in the form of a bright orangy Least Sandpiper or a speckly Lesser Yellowlegs.

[This juvenile Killdeer, part of a family group I found in Salem County this morning, shows marks we repeat like a broken record when explaining how to tell juvenile shorebirds from adults. The upperparts feathers are of uniform condition (because they all grew in at the same time and none have yet molted) and have pale fringes, giving the bird a scaly look. Many juvenile shorebirds are much more boldly marked above than this, with broader contrasting feather edges. This is a young juvenile, with some wispy natal down feathers showing at the nape, upper and undertail coverts, and tail, something not seen on the long distance migrants when they get here. Both juvenile and adult shorebirds are present by the time our shorebird workshop rolls around in August, offering a great chance to practice aging.]

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Scenes from the Meadows

[Least Tern parent and chick, South Cape May Meadows yesterday. Some tern chicks are now fledged, and can be seen following parents around. Others, like this one, have to wait a few more days. Click to enlarge photos.]

I'm just back from a week section-hiking the Appalachian Trail, and in only a week much changes in Cape May - much besides the appearance of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks (see below). In particular, the Least Terns at the meadows are growing like crazy, and very heartening, shorebird numbers are not only up, but a significant number were using the meadows to forage yesterday, as opposed to just flying over, including dozens of Least Sandpipers, a few each of both yellowlegs, and a Pectoral Sandpiper. Yesterday's meadows list is up on Field Trip Reports.

Birds on the AT were quiet last week, though I managed 87 bird species from New York to the Delaware River (not to mention six Black Bears). A good example is American Redstart - I'm sure I hiked past over a hundred, yet only detected 3, none singing. Redstarts and other early migrants are molting now, and very secretive. Landbird migrants have been trickling through already, a prelude to what a good August cold front can do.

[Wait, Glossy Ibis don't have light wing patches. . .this shot demonstrates how the eye can be deceived, in this case by a bird with most of the underparts in the shade, but just a wingtip catching the sun. One of many ways birds seen only briefly can be misidentified. South Cape May Meadows yesterday.]

Bunker Pond Goodies

Bunker Pond - the pool in front of the Hawkwatch Platform at Cape May Point State Park - is proving to be the place to be at present, but it seems you have to camp down there to be sure of catching the goodies as migrants pause to rest then continue on their way in a here today gone tomorrow fashion. The three Black-bellied Whistling-ducks obligingly stayed all day and ensured that many a visitor added them to their lists. Shorebirds turned over quite quickly with at least three Pectoral Sandpipers, a White-rumped Sandpiper and two Semipalmated Sandpipers present early on. Later in the day, a fine Long-billed Dowitcher still in pretty much full breeding plumage fed with two Short-billed Dowitchers, offering great opportunities to directly compare the two species. Least, Solitary and Spotted Sandpiper numbers see-sawed throughout the day and up to 11 Great Blue Herons were present in the afternoon. Tree Swallow numbers are starting to build up at several sites now with flocks of up to 100 birds around the state park, Migratory Bird Refuge and other favored sites. Take a look at them and notice how they are now getting that two-toned look to the wings as they reach the point in their annual molt where they suspend the process until they get to their wintering grounds (see the great illustration of this in the Sibley Bird Guide). A couple of reports of a Sandwich Tern drifted in to us from Bunker Pond too - and not surprising given the great show of Common, Forster's and Least Terns there at present. All in all, a great place to be right now.

Looking back on last week's White-faced Ibis report, several observers have commented that the bird looks more likley to be a hybrid White-faced x Glossy Ibis, based mainly on the apparent darkness of the face. Other observers say that the bird looked different in the field so the jury is still out on that one it seems.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks continue

The three Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks returned to Bunker Pond this morning, and were still there when I left them at 10:15am. They were hanging out along the back edge of the pond, easily visible from the path.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Trio Of Whistlers

Cape May's birders were all homing in on Bunker Pond at Cape May Point State Park this evening after Kathy Horn spotted three Black-bellied Whistling-ducks while checking through the terns resting in front of the Hawkwatch Platform. The ducks fed in the south-east corner for quite a time before flying off east towards the Migratory Bird Refuge.

We're now plunging headlong into that time of year when being at Cape May is the only way to be sure that you don't miss anything - see you in the field!

Black-bellied Whistling-ducks at Bunker Pond this evening - you can bet Vince Elia was checking that the birds had a full set of claws this year (they did)!! [Photo by Mike Crewe]

Another shot of the three Black-bellied Whistling-ducks, this time taken in better light by Karl Lukens at the Migratory Bird Refuge.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Morning at Tuckahoe

A visit to Tuckahoe/MacNamara WMA produced some nice midsummer birding this morning. I started at the Corbin City portion of the wildlife management area, accessible from Route 50, a few miles north of the town of Tuckahoe.

Most of my time at Corbin City was spent atop the observation deck, where four Least Bitterns made short flights over the course of an hour, and two were also audible. Two recently-fledged Forster's Terns were in the nearby impoundment begging for a meal, and an interesting trio of warblers consisting of Yellow, Yellow-throated and Common Yellowthroat made a brief appearance.

The Tuckahoe portion held another Least Bittern, along with two distant Northern Harriers, a few fly-over Bobolinks, a couple Meadowlarks, a singing Blue Grosbeak, and a single Caspian Tern in the main impoundment. Also in attendance were numerous Greenheads, and a rather disturbing number of Horse Flies.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Of Shorebirds, Harriers and Other Winged Things

[Stilt Sandpiper seen during this morning's 'Bird Walk For All People' at
Cape May Pt. State Park. Photo by Karl Lukens.

Results from this morning's walk at the State Park are up on the Field Trip Reports page. I spent the morning on the bayshore marshes of northern Cumberland County, searching for evidence of breeding Northern Harriers as part of an ongoing survey.

The marshes along Seabreeze Road (click for map) hosted a growing number of shorebirds, including small groups of Greater Yellowlegs, Short-billed Dowitchers and Least Sandpipers. A single Least Bittern called once, and there were at least 5 Willow Flycatchers singing from vegetated islands in the marsh. The frequent sound of "bink" rained down from above, as several flocks of Bobolinks passed over. There was also a substantial northward movement of dragonflies, dominated by hundreds of Swamp Darners (our largest dragonfly), but also including small numbers of Wandering Gliders and Black Saddlebags. Subsequent stops at Husted Landing and Bay Point produced comparable results, but alas, no Harriers.

Determined not to completely dip on the target bird, a stop along Gandy's Beach Road finally produced a Harrier, and a recently fledged youngster at that. A fine way to end the morning.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Shorebirds at The Meadows

I took a lunchtime stroll around TNC's Migratory Bird Refuge ("The Meadows" to us birders!) and found a reasonable scattering of shorebirds there, including three Semipalmated Plovers, six Killdeer, One Lesser Yellowlegs, four Greater Yellowlegs, 12 Short-billed Dowitchers, one Spotted Sandpiper and a fly-over Whimbrel. No sign of any ibises, but two Black Ducks and a Black Duck x Mallard hybrid were present. The east trail looks particularly nice now that the Marsh-pink is flowering.

White-faced Ibis and State Park morning walk

I've heard no reports of the White-faced Ibis from the Migratory Bird Refuge so far today, nor the two wigeon which appear to have gone AWOL too, maybe it's not unconnected with the hideous thunderstorm and amazing torrential rain we had last night!

At the State Park this morning, fall continues to head our way as we found little mixed parties of this year's youngsters feeding through the tree tops - House Wrens, Pine Warblers, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice and a Downy Woodpecker were all in the mix. Visible migration included at least six Ruby-throated Hummingbirds flashing overhead and a party of three Blue-gray Gnatcatchers heading east. Single adult Black-crowned Night Heron and juvenile Green Heron added to the variety. As for local birds - Black Skimmers ferried fish over toward the beach so it may be that chicks have hatched there. The regular Yellow-breasted Chat gave stunning views yet again and a family of young Orchard Orioles mooched around the Trumpet Creeper flowers (we saw two smart males too). A single Wood Duck remains on Lighthouse Pond. Interesting to note that we saw no Ospreys on the walk this morning, though they may have still been drying out after the overnight storm. Certainly there are still plenty around and I'm told that the nest right next to North Wildwood Boulevard (Route 147 across the saltmarsh to the barrier islands) has some chunky, fluffy youngsters sitting in it.

Lake Lily has been cleaned of dead fish to some extent, though a good number at the north end are still making the area pretty smelly. We've not yet had an update on the cause, though sample testing can take time.

Yesterday's White-faced Ibis at the Migratory Bird Refuge [Photo by Karl Lukens]

OK, we've featured the Yellow-breasted Chat at the State Park a lot, but he is a real beauty! This morning his song seemed to have renewed vigor and I wonder whether a second brood is on the way. Though I walk the trail regularly, I have not seen any young but the bird has regularly been pestered by Brown-headed Cowbirds and I wonder if the first nest was parasitized. [Photo by Karl Lukens]

A sure sign of fall - Tree Swallows lining up on the Plover Ponds fence [Photo by Karl Lukens]

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

White-faced Ibis at The Meadows

Karl Lukens just reported a White-faced Ibis in front of the platform at The Nature Conservancy's South Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge (aka "The Meadows"), a bird found by Chris Vogel. I have no details on age, though assume that it must be an adult or, at least, near adult, as juvenile Plegadis are impossible to identify (at least, I don't know of a way to do it).

Monday, July 12, 2010

Slow But Sure...

A trickle of migrants is perceptable through Cape May Point now; sure, it's still slow but it's there. Sam Galick has been nobly proving that birds do pass over Higbee Dike this early in the season and he's noting a sprinkling of Baltimore Oriole, Yellow Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, a few Bobolinks - all in small numbers yet. Juvenile Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are puting in an appearance too, with one in my yard on Saturday morning and one right outside my office window in a small holly tree yesterday. Perhaps the same pair of Gull-billed Terns keeps popping in and out of Bunker Pond and the mixed pair of Eurasian and American Wigeons continues in the state park.

Following on from Friday's seabird reports, Brian Johnson picked up a moribund Greater Shearwater on the beach at Sea Isle City the same evening; sadly it died later that night.

Down at the Northwood Center, an unholy smell greeted me first thing this morning and I was faced with a massive fish die-off in Lake Lily. This must have started Sunday and would explain the large number of Laughing Gulls showing interest in the lake. Hundreds of bass and Bluegill have succumbed and we have notified NJDEP as this should be checked out. An algal bloom can cause die-offs like this from botulism, but it is perhaps more likely that the fish have either succumbed to a lack of oxygen during the very hot weather we have been having (though it has actually been cooler this past four days or so) or it may be that the welcome rains we had a couple of days ago have washed chemicals off manicured lawns into the lake. Either way, it's not good for the ecology of the site, but hopefully the balance will be redressed.

Gull-billed Terns at Bunker Pond, Cape May Point State Park [Photo by Karl Lukens]

Great Egret enjoying an eel for breakfast! [Photo by Karl Lukens]

Fish die-off in Lake Lily this morning. Such events can be a natural phenomenon, but are often exaserbated when the ecosystem has been artifically altered [Photo by Mike Crewe].

Gotcha!! Someone's been helping themselves to our mulberries of late and this guy was caught in the spotlight last night - guilty as charged! [Photo by Mike Crewe]

Bug of the Day: Robber Fly

[Click on image for larger view.]

The family of robber flies (Asilidae) comprises a group of nearly 1000 species in North America, alone. The Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America describes them as being "to other insects what falcons are to other birds: swift predators on the wing." That book's introduction of the family continues with "Many act like flycatchers, perching on logs, foliage, twigs, or on the ground, cocking their heads at insects passing overhead, and dashing out to apprehend a victim." In this picture's case, the victim is a damselfly -- a group not known for aerial speed.

The robber fly depicted is of the genus Efferia (probably albibarbis), "an enormous genus" of some 100 species in North America. The genus is most diverse in the West, but this species is, I believe, relatively common in Cape May Co., as I've photographed it on multiple occasions (though multiple species may certainly be involved). The grayish-silver bands on the abdomen and the "conspicuous bulbous claspers" at the abdomen's tip are both good field characters of the genus. I included this picture (taken 7 July 2010 at Cape May Point SP), rather than others, because this fly's victim is an odonate, which is a group that has a considerable following among birders. The individual is a spreadwing (genus Lestes) and almost certainly a male Sweetflag Spreadwing, a species that has recently emerged in large numbers at various coastal-plain ponds.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Continuing wigeons

[Click on image to see a larger version. Karl Lukens took this picture of the Eurasian (in front) and American wigeons yesterday (9 July) at Cape May Point SP.]

This morning, Vince Elia noted the continuing presence of the record-early American and Eurasian wigeons at Cape May Point SP, found yesterday by Sam Galick. They were in the east Lighthouse Pond. Vince also found a Western Sandpiper and two Gull-billed Terns on Bunker Pond in the Park. The late-morning rain here probably negatively impacted the amount of birding effort, but perhaps the rain also knocked some stuff down; hopefully, others have had more time today than I have to search for such things.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Skewered. . .er. . .Skua'ed + Eurasian Wigeon

In the wish you had been there department, Tony Leukering, Glen Davis and Clay Sutton had a remarkable South Polar Skua a mere 3 miles or so off Atlantic City. The skua was headed north at a good clip. In the much more normal but still good department, the trio also had 10+ Cory's Shearwaters, 1-2 Greater Shearwaters, and 5+ Wilson's Storm-Petrels between the shore and about 5 miles out. Seems like a little seawatching is in order.

It seems also to be a day for weird records, because Sam Galick discovered a Eurasian Wigeon at Cape May Point State Park, which was later seen flying towards Bunker Pond in the company of an American Wigeon by Karl Lukens. Both, I believe, are the earliest southbound wigeon of their respective kinds ever for Cape May county.

Earlier Sam had some more normal action at the Higbee Dike, in the form of southbound Prothonotary Warbler (already), 13 Bobolinks, and 2 Orchard Orioles.

Vince Elia and Mark Garland had an apparent male Peregrine Falcon over Mark's West Cape May deck yesterday evening, and Vince also heard a Northern Bobwhite in the TNC Cape Island Preserve. Chris Hajduk reports that a Brown Pelican was sitting on the Poverty Beach pilings today.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Shorebirds and More

[This is an interesting photo of Short-billed Dowitchers and Lesser Yellowlegs from Karl Lukens, taken yesterday at Cape May Point State Park. Counting just dowitchers from the left, #'s 1, 3, 6, 7, 10 & 12 are of the eastern subspecies griseus, and the rest are of the brighter central Canadian subspecies hendersoni. One wonders how long these birds have been traveling together - Michael O'Brien suggested they met up in Cape May or not far away when I asked him about it. You can't always be sure of subspecies, especially in the mid-Atlantic where intermediates seem to be more common than they are at the ends of their ranges. The left two birds make for a nice comparison, far left being griseus, 2nd from left hendersoni. Hendersoni has more orange below, is evenly spotted or with short bars on flanks and sides, brighter on the upperparts, and has well marked wing coverts. Remember, if you use plumage to i.d. shorebirds to subspecies or species, you have to age them first, because juvenile and non-breeding birds look different from these adults. On the other hand, size and shape characters are always good - for example, we can tell these are Lesser Yellowlegs with the dows because they are about the same as the dows in body size. Greater Yellowlegs is noticeably larger than a dowitcher. If you want more on this, there could be no better place to get it than from Michael on our August Shorebird Workshop. Click to enlarge photo.]

It's really started, southbound migration I mean. Yes, there have been ibis, dribbles of shorebirds, and landbirds too, e.g. the Bobolinks of late or the Yellow Warbler on Monday in the meadows, but Karl's photo (above) stopped me - a pack of migrants. Today I had a flock of 45 Short-billed Dowitchers over the Garden State Parkway. Like Mike said below, every day is different until winter. But you can never step in the same Cape May twice, regardless of season.

A favorite sighting on this morning's Bird Walk for All People was the family group of Barn Swallows, 5 young out with their parents, obviously new young with not only stubby tails but fleshy yellow gapes, clearly recent fledges. The swallows spent some time perched on the ropes near the plover pond. Perhaps thanks to the cloud cover, the locals were singing well, including a vocal and visible Song Sparrow along the dune path (maybe they're working on a late summer brood?), Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, etc. The dowitchers and yellowlegs were still about, with Least Sandpipers and Killdeer, including a fledgling. The second plover pond had a fledged Piping Plover, and the near-grown American Oystercatcher chick was with its parents out on the beach towards the meadows. 10 Great Blue Herons on Bunker Pond were also noteworthy. The full list is up on field trip reports - we had enough activity along the dune trail that we never made it into the woods.

Vince Elia had a Red-eyed Vireo singing near the Higbee parking lot and two young-of-the-year Prairie Warblers that had moved into the fields from the dunes, one of which traveling around with a young-of-the-year White-eyed Vireo. The locals were singing there, too - Chat, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, & White-eyed Vireo all still singing.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Wednesday Morning Walk at the Point

A fun morning was had at Cape May Point State Park today with plenty of signs of breeding activity and early fall migration. A family of recently-fledged Orchard Orioles shared a tree with a young male Blue Grosbeak and eight Wood Ducks graced Lighthouse Pond. Two Black-billed Cuckoos were chased around by cherry-eating American Robins - the cuckoos were most likely after the hairy Fall Webworm caterpillars that are now fattening up on various tree leaves. At Bunker Pond, Short-billed Dowitchers, both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and several Least Sandpipers were present to add to two nice Solitary Sandpipers seen earlier. Glossy Ibises seemed ever-present overhead, an adult Bald Eagle cruised by in the distance and a southbound Double-crested Cormorant moved through. In addition to the birds, we notched up 16 species of dragonflies & damselflies. (Go to our Field Reports section to see a full list of the 61 species recorded this morning).

Don't miss out on our next State Park walk, Thursday at the Hawkwatch Platform at 08:30 - every day is different from now until winter comes!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Early-morning Treats

Scott Whittle was out early with his Tuesday morning photographic group and reported two Gull-billed Terns, 21 Short-billed Dowitchers, two Greater Yellowlegs, 30+ Least Sandpipers and 35 Glossy Ibis all on Bunker Pond at Cape May Point State Park. At least 18 Bobolinks were in the area too - fall migration is heading our way!

Two Gull-billed Terns at Bunker Pond - note the heavy, all black bill and black legs [photo by Mike Crewe]

Short-billed Dowitchers winging in to Bunker Pond this morning [Photo by Mike Crewe]

Black Cherry Fireworks

[American Robin with Black Cherry, Del Haven over the weekend. The native cherry is universally acclaimed as one of, if not the best wildlife plants. Click to enlarge photos.]

Something happened with my big black cherry on July 1, roughly - apparently, all the cherries ripened more or less on the same day, and the onslaught of birds, from American Robins to even hover-gleaning Laughing Gulls, has been constant. Find a cherry, or a fruiting mulberry, in mid-summer, and you will find the local breeders - including fancy ones like tanagers and orioles. Grow one, and you'll attract them to your yard, and you might not even need to plant one, since the birds are apt to "pass" a seed in your yard. My weeding rule of thumb is not to pull it until I'm sure I don't want it, and the cherries are one reason why. I should warn you, though - expect a mess, on your deck, car, or anything else under a cherry in summer.

[Juvenile plumage in Northern Mockingbirds is short-lived - they lose the breast spots quickly.]

[Gray Catbird inspects his options. The catbirds and American Robins often hover-glean cherries, i.e. hovering in front of a laden branch and snatching their choice.]

[Cape May Ferry Terminal, North Cape May last night.]

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Hunters & The Hunted

The sun beat down on my head from an almost cloudless sky; I wanted shade, but I knew that if I moved, I would be spotted and the dramas playing out before me would come to a sudden end. From my lofty position, a group of hunters had gathered and were lying in wait beneath me. Their prey needed to get into the area, but each time one tried, a predator would break ranks and dart for it. If they were too slow, they would soon be eaten; a short distance in front of me another drama was playing out. A single large predator had cornered a number of its prey and had them penned in; periodically it made sudden, startlingly dramatic lunges to take out one of its victims. Finally, to my right another lone predator, this time a prowler, stalking very slowly, at times motionless, at other times creeping forward inch by inch, ever in search of its prey which it was trying to ambush from within dense vegetation.

So where was I? The Serengeti? The Maasai Mara? Nope - this was lunch time on one of the little metal bridges at The Nature Conservancy's Migratory Bird Refuge off Sunset Boulevard. The first scenario wasn't a line of crocodiles waiting for wildebeast to cross the river, it was a line of Green Sunfish, waiting for any opportunity to grab the pairs of Common Bluet damselflies that were trying to lay eggs in the area. The second scenario saw a single large fish, the water just too murky to determine exactly what it was, hunting minnows in the shallows; finally, the third scenario involved all the stealth and guile of a Northern Water Snake as it patrolled for sticklebacks amongst submerged waterweed.

Sometimes - especially when it's hot - it's good to just sit and watch from a suitable vantage point and it's amazing what you can see. The various hunting strategies taking place at a single small bridge in Cape May just shows how nature has found a way to fill every niche, to take advantage of every opportunity. You don't have to go to Africa to see nature red in tooth and claw - and you don't have to be David Attenborough to witness it first hand!

Green Sunfish lying in wait for lunch [Photo by Mike Crewe]

The hunters become the hunted. Tandem pairs of Familiar Bluets have to run the gauntlet of the local fish population if they want to ensure that their species survives. More often than not, it is the damsels that are doing the hunting. [Photo by Mike Crewe]

A Northern Water Snake pauses for air during its underwater sorties. Water snakes can often be seen hunting fish and can hold their breath for several minutes at a time. [Photo by Mike Crewe]

As a quick after note to Don's previous post, I heard from TNC staff that at least one pair of Black Skimmers has laid eggs on the South Cape May beach which is great news. Now we've just got to keep the Fish Crows at bay...

Yellow Warbler + Shorebirds at the Meadows

A Yellow Warbler along the dune at the South Cape May Meadows a.k.a. TNC Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge this morning is right on schedule to be a southbound migrant; Yellow is usually the earliest warbler migrant at Cape May. Vince Elia tells me he's had Yellows breeding at Cape Island Preserve, but they haven't been at the meadows that I know of.

Other highlights of this morning's CMBO meadows walk included a first year male Blue Grosbeak with a female near the parking lot, as well as another, an adult male, at the SE corner of the trails there. It was heartening to see 2 very young American Oystercatcher chicks, which had been thought gone (meaning dead), as well as a juvenile Piping Plover - juv's have all dark bills. More Least Tern chicks have hatched, and the Black Skimmers are still by their scrapes, though exactly what they are up to remains to be proven. A Royal Tern flew past, the first I've seen in some time. After two years with significant colonies at Champagne Island, Royals are not nesting in NJ this year, as far as I know. A Black-billed Cuckoo put in a fleeting appearance in the shrubs at the center of the meadows, and at least 2 Bobolinks passed overhead, one a black-bellied male. We had several groups of yellowlegs, only one with a Greater in it, and about 8 Least Sandpipers, to which you can add Richard Crossley's Western Sandpiper and hendersoni Short-billed Dowitchers, also at the meadows from earlier in the morning.

The full list from the meadows walk and other recent trips are available on Field Trip Reports.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Red-breasted Nuthatches, Shorebirds

Maybe the funnest report of the week is from Sam Galick, who had 2 Red-breasted Nuthatches from the dike at Higbee Beach WMA yesterday morning. This is fun because RBNU is a funny bird, just in general, and also because they don't nest in Cape May (with very rare exceptions) and were pretty scarce in their traditional northern NJ nesting sites this past year, and yet here we are, early July and we've got a couple migrants. It does jive well with what we saw a few weeks ago in Vermont, where in some spots RBNU were vermin. Bodes well for a nuthatch flight year.

Come to think of it, it's also funny that SG, former Morning Flight counter, is sick enough to check on the dike flight on JULY 2, albeit winds were out of the north. . .

Vince Elia had a Black-billed Cuckoo at the State Park and a number of shorebirds at the meadows today, including 32 Least Sandpipers and one each of Solitary Sandpiper (first southbound I've heard of), Spotted Sandpiper, and Semipalmated Plover. Add to that a Belted Kingfisher and 8 Great Blue Herons at the back of Bunker Pond, I'm guessing mostly non-breeding one-year olds. Vince told me yesterday that the White-rumped Sandpiper hanging out in the meadows of late is missing an eye - "ol' one-eye" from now on.

I've been mostly holed up at home, avoiding shore traffic and enjoying American Robins hover-gleaning black cherries from the tree in the yard, with maybe 6-8 other species drawn to the bounty. The tree makes a mess, so do the birds come to think of it, but there is perhaps no better wildlife tree than black cherry. We did make a kayak trip into Stite's Sound, north of the Avalon causeway, where a Gull-billed Tern and singing Saltmarsh Sparrows were the most notable sightings.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Keys to the Kingdom

[Glossy Ibis, Snowy Egret, and Great Egret (right, hidden) at nesting colony on "Bird Island," near Somer's Point during last night's boat trip. Click to enlarge photos.]

CMBO sponsors many boat trips to explore the back bays for good reason. Boats are the keys to the back bay kingdom, bringing you where birders otherwise can't go - close to nesting herons, egrets, terns, gulls, shorebirds, salt sparrows. . .the panoply of salt marsh bird life. Last night's trip out of Somer's Point on the Duke O' Fluke is a fine case in point. The full list is up on Field Trip Reports; all images are from last night.

[American Oystercatcher parent (left) and chick. Unlike many shorebird species, e.g. Piping Plovers, where chicks can obtain their own food, American Oystercatcher chicks depend completely on their parents for food for two months or more, because they need help not only finding food, but haven't grown bills sufficiently strong to excise mollusks from their shells.]

[If we only had a dollar for every time someone asks how to tell Common Tern from Forster's Tern. It's a fair question, since this is one of the tougher i.d.'s, in a league with Sharp-shinned vs. Cooper's Hawk. The nesting colony west of Longport has plenty of Commons to practice on. We often emphasize that Common Terns, like this one, are gray below in breeding plumage, not white. With a view like this, from a boat looking straight overhead, you can use a "cheater's" field mark - the dark on the outer tail feather of Forster's would be on the innner web, not outer. Just like any tough i.d., it's best to use multiple characters with the medium sized terns.]

[You can tell this is a Yellow-crowned Night-heron by plumage, but night-herons, being, well, night-herons, are often seen as sillouettes. A great clue is leg length - Yellow-crowned's legs are long enough that the entire feet and part of the leg extend beyond the tail as they fly by. . .]

[while Black-crowned Night-herons are short-legged, and only part of the toes reach past the tail tip. Compare the photos.]