Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Meet the Fall Team; A Few Reports

[CMBO's 2010 Fall Migration Project team. Left to right, back row: Doug Gochfeld, Swing Counter; Andy Northrup, Seawatch/Hawkwatch Interpretive Naturalist; Tom Johnson, Morning Flight Counter. Left to right, front row: Ashley Green, Morning Flight/Hawk Watch Interpretive Naturalist; Jenny Howard, Monarch Migration Project Naturalist; Melissa Roach, Hawk Counter; Alyssia Church, Hawkwatch Interpretive Naturalist; Kaitlyn Marczi, George Myers Field Naturalist; Tiffany Kersten, Hawkwatch Interpretive Naturalist. Not pictured: Steve Kolbe, Seawatch Counter, who starts September 22.]

The CMBO Hawkwatch starts tomorrow - and today Scott Whittle reported an American Kestrel party of at least 6 birds catching dragonflies at Lighthouse Pond. Mike Crewe had a Dickcissel in the second field at Higbee Beach. Doug Gochfeld had a Baird's Sandpiper on the mud at the Higbee Beach dike.

Monday, August 30, 2010

And They're Off!!

It most certainly felt like the first proper day of fall today as it seemed that, no matter where you went, there were birds to be found. Even at the Northwood Center, there was plenty to be seen and it really wasn't easy getting that six-monthly inventory finished off and emailed to headquarters!! The main problem was American Redstarts; they are just so mobile, chasing insects up and down tree trunks, on the ground, out on the topmost limb - and with that amazingly flashy tail fanned out for balance. All that flicking and chasing about just draws your attention! To make it even harder to focus on desk duties, a high proportion of the redstarts were adult males in all their glorious black and orange breeding splendor. Accompanying them was a seemingly endless supply of other birds, all feeding avidly in the trees around the store: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Yellow, Black-and-white and Blackburnian Warblers, Northern Parula, Eastern Wood-pewee, Red-eyed Vireo, Eastern Kingbird - how is a guy supposed to get any work done?!

Bath time... there were so many birds around today that one only had to look out of the window to enjoy a treat. At one point, four American Redstarts and a Northern Parula were all bathing together in the small birdbath at the front of the CMBO store - here's the parula with one of the soggy redstarts [photo by Mike Crewe]

With all those birds around there was bound to be casualties. This young Yellow Warbler was so focused on catching lunch that it flew straight into a window. Fortunately it recovered fully and flew off to carry on its personal quest to annihilate Cape May's insect population [Photo by Mike Crewe]

Buff-breasted Sandpipers seemed to be replicating themselves on the South Beach and there was four birds present by the day's end - here's three of them playing a game of tag around a Prickly Saltwort [Photo by Mike Crewe]

The South Beach, behind the Migratory Bird Refuge, was a good place to be this evening with four Buff-breasted Sandpipers and a Lark Sparrow all on view - while the refuge itself held a Long-billed Dowitcher and Baird's Sandpiper. Five juvenile Black Skimmers were with a small party of adults too - the first youngsters I've seen this year, while just a single Least Tern showed that that species has certainly started to head off south. Walking back through the refuge, Northern Waterthrushes and Yellow Warblers were getting restless and ready for the off against a setting sun, while a male Merlin was repeatedly catching and devouring Green Darner dragonflies right at the parking lot.

It's time to head to Cape May!!

Lark Sparrow in Meadows; Good Shorebird Photos

Tom Johnson reports a Lark Sparrow feeding at the dune crossover of the west path at the South Cape May Meadows, a.k.a TNC Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge, 4:18 p.m. this afternoon.

[At least somebody had a camera - today's meadows Marbled Godwit by Karl Lukens. This bird managed to disappear in the salt marsh fleabane for moments at a time - e.g. it was not visible when we first walked up. Quite a feat for a bird so tall. Click to enlarge photos.]

[Karl also photodocumented the Buff-breasted Sandpipers, one of which is shown here.]

The weather pattern has me wondering when the well will dry up. I was a bit taken aback by the volume of birds in Cape May today, given the flights of the previous few, and yet though tonight the winds are forecast to be very light, what wind there will be is to be west or north, and it will be clear - what for tomorrow?

Whet your appetite on the photos from Tom Johnson and Michael O'Brien on View from the Field - which will make you want to drool get a new camera, and admire the skill of the folks on the dike, and the photographers. . .

A Good Problem to Have. . .

. . .is too many birds and not enough time, which is how it was on the meadows a.k.a. Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge walk this morning. A good way to guarantee this experience seems to be forgetting one's camera, which I almost never do anymore. . .except this morning. Among the birds was a delightful cooperative Marbled Godwit on the plover pond, the 2 continuing Buff-breasted Sandpipers on the beach, 2 Merlins, a kestrel, and 70-odd other species. These, plus results from the weekend field trips (with a photo of one of Sunday's Villas WMA Olive-sided Flycatcher) is up on field trip reports.

Add to the reports a Lark Sparrow and Baird's Sandpiper at the Higbee dike today.

We've had three days of good morning flight, results from Higbee available on View from The Field. Saturday's flight featured many adult male American Redstarts:

In the non-bird department, the rhythmic droning of Scissor-grinder Cicadas can be heard throughout Cape May, the buzz increasing then decreasing in volume. One such posed for me Saturday:

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Picking a WIPH out of a Crowd

[The flyby Wilson's Phalarope at the state park yesterday evening (third from left), with Lesser Yellowlegs, by Tom Johnson. Tom reports: "As I was getting out of the car a sizeable group of Lesser Yellowlegs was flying off Bunker Pond calling, with one similar sized but skinnier, very pale shorebird among them. The paleness of the phalarope, even the translucence of the wings (evident in the photos), was really obvious in comparison to the darker yellowlegs. - tbj" Click to enlarge.]

Friday, August 27, 2010

Olive-sided Flycatcher; Wilson's Phalarope; Buff-breasted Sandpiper

[Conspicuous atop a snag in late August. . .check any such bird. This Olive-sided Flycatcher was at Villas WMA tonight, along the paved path in the southeastern part of the tract.]

Tom Johnson had a Wilson's Phalarope this afternoon, last seen flying towards the Beanery from Cape May Point State Park. Not to be outdone, the CMBO evening South Cape May Meadows walk tonight found a Buff-breasted Sandpiper on the beach, reports Karl Lukens. Hmmm. . .Yellow-headed Blackbirds last week, Buff-breasted this week, might be time to join that walk. . .

I went looking for Zugenruhe, or "migration restlessness" at the Villas WMA tonight, and "all" I found was an Olive-sided Flycatcher, a couple Blue-winged Teal, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Bluebird, Green Heron, a bunch of juv. Chipping Sparrows, &c. No sign of pre-migratory excitement, such as warblers actively feeding and chasing each other. However, what little wind there will be tonight is forecast to be out of the north or northwest, it will be clear & down around 59 degrees, and the radar shows birds getting up. . .tomorrow will be worth investigating for migrants.

King Eider

[Here's your search image for the immature male King Eider at the Concrete Ship, courtesy of Karl Lukens.]

Fairly Good Flight at Higbee; Whistling-ducks Resurface

[Red-breasted Nuthatch in the Higbee parking lot. Something like 30 RBNU's were counted at Morning Flight today. Click to enlarge photos.]

Higbee Beach WMA had a decent landbird flight today, with hordes of Eastern Kingbirds and Bobolinks (most BOBO's are flyovers, but look for them in the sorghum in the third field, where we had a small group with the Red-winged Blackbirds), and of course American Redstarts, Red-eyed Vireos, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, but other species were mixed in. We had a couple Magnolia Warblers on the walk, as well as Warbling Vireo, and glimpses of other species: Black-throated Blue Warbler, Yellow Warblers, Northern Waterthrushes. Baltimore Orioles came by in a few small flocks. We heard a couple Veeries, and Richard Crossley tells me he had 2 Mourning Warblers. Watchers at the dike had more species, including Cape May Warblers. A Peregrine sizzled over the tower field at the end of the walk.

I hear the Black-bellied Whistling-ducks were seen yesterday, but I am not sure where. The King Eider is being seen this morning at the Concrete Ship.

[One of several Great-crested Flycatchers at Higbee this morning.]

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Warblers, Shorebirds; News from Stone Harbor and Tuckahoe

[A brace of Chestnut-sided Warblers, Higbee Beach this morning. It's refreshing when morning flight birds pause for a moment. Not many warblers are as different in appearance between spring/breeding and fall plumage as Chestnut-sideds. In truth, Peterson's "confusing fall warblers" plates give the group a bad name - most are not so difficult. I often say, "Fall warblers look like spring warblers. . . only less so." Click to enlarge photos.]

"D__n you, La Puma." All in good fun, of course - just that it was 1:00 a.m. last night, I was checking my phone in the driveway after driving back from a rainy canoe camping trip on the Upper Delaware with a truckful of wet gear to unload, and Dave La Puma's text message about good flight conditions meant I'd want to be at Higbee Beach WMA in the morning, or regret not going - never mind that I'll be there tomorrow morning for the CMBO walk, too.

[Another pauser - Northern Waterthrush, I think that's La Puma's car behind it. . .]

Morning Flight Counter Tom Johnson's already got today's results up on View from the Field - it was indeed a good morning. I heard the fields were hopping, too.

At day's end I wandered over to Stone Harbor Point. There were a lot of shorebirds on the beach (and be warned, a lot of no-see-ums). The vast majority were Sanderlings, but there were 2 Red Knots, a dozen or so Western Willets, Semipalmated Sandpipers and Semi-Plovers, a couple Piping Plovers, and many gulls and terns flying in to roost.

["Western" Willet, Stone Harbor tonight.]

[Red Knots and Willet, Stone Harbor tonight.]

Tom Johnson sent some much appreciated updates from yesterday, since I've been away for a bit:

"Nummy Island
- Marbled Godwit from the free bridge with 20+ Western Willets
- ~110 Red Knots
- both species of night-herons in the trees at the base of the free
bridge on Nummy
- good numbers of Royal (55) and Caspian (6) Terns in Hereford inlet

"Two Mile Landing
- adult Ruddy Turnstone with green flag (code photographed)

- Black-bellied Whistling-ducks not seen since 8/23 as far as I've heard
- migrant ducks increasing with 20 Blue-winged and 21 Green-winged
today - also 2 Northern Pintail.

"Sunset Beach
- King Eider still there today"

To which Clay Sutton added the following report from today: "We had 3 American Avocets today at the Tuckahoe WMA middle impoundment [quite the avocet year! - DF]. It is still drawn down. Looks good. 1129 total shorebirds including 3 Pectoral Sandpipers, 11 White-rumped Sandpipers, and a Long-billed Dowitcher. 5 Gull-billed Terns and 2 Caspian Terns.

"The Longport Sod Banks Black Skimmer colony was hugely successful this year. Of the 1000 + still present, it seemed that half were fledged or nearly fledged young."

Finally, a rumination on Bald Eagles. As noted, I spent the past two days paddling in the rain on the Upper Delaware River, in PA and NJ, and saw nearly as many Bald Eagles in 2 days as I saw in a week in northwestern Washington state, easily 20 different birds. Most were either adults or hatch years, evidence of local and successful nesting. When I first started canoeing this stretch, it was hit or miss whether you'd see an eagle at all - this is a population recovery not to be taken for granted.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Birds On The Way

A nice flight of passerines is occurring tonight throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, *possibly* the best so far of the season. You can bet Higbee Beach will be a popular destination tomorrow morning, which is certainly where you'll find me. Seeya out there!

Monday, August 23, 2010

The one that got away

When visiting the dike (the impoundment berm in the NW corner of Higbees Beach SWA) to watch migrants fly by in 'morning flight,' those of us that are both birders and photographers face a conundrum: look at the bird with a binocular or try to photograph it. One can only rarely accomplish both. Those of us that have been attempting photography of small, darting things like warblers flying over the dike, usually opt for the camera. One of the reasons, and the primary one for me, is that the vast majority of such going over are of regular, even abundant, occurrence, so getting that killer shot (see previous post about Tom's Wormer pic) is more of a draw. Additionally, modern digital cameras have an advantage -- sometimes -- in the ID arena, as one can check the picture(s) afterward, something one cannot do with a binocular.

At one point this morning, Michael O'Brien opted to get a picture (note the singular article!) of a warbler going by in the neighborhood of a few Blue-gray-Gnatcatchers. Looking at the picture on the camera's LCD, he thought that it was probably an American Redstart (one of those species of abundant occurrence), despite the seemingly large amount of yellow in the wing. Looking at it on the computer, however, produced quite a different response. He sent it to me for my opinion and, amazingly, our opinions matched. First, the picture.

[Click the picture to see a larger version.
Those experienced at identifying warblers in flight will notice a strong resemblance to the species of the initial ID, American Redstart, with the bird's gray head, white underparts, and longish dark tail. However, the yellow in the wing is both extreme for that species and not positioned correctly. With that yellow patch, one might proceed to Chestnut-sided Warbler, but the rest of the bird doesn't look like such, particularly seeming to lack a large white eye ring. So, both Michael and I feel that the bird is either an aberrant American Redstart or a previously unknown hybrid: a Golden-winged Warbler x American Redstart.

Unfortunately, this is the only physical evidence and you could say that it lacks a little something in definitiveness. But, this is another good reminder to us, that even the most highly-skilled birders often have to let individual birds go unidentified. There are simply times when one cannot see enough, well enough, to be sure of an ID and this is certainly one of those times.

Morning Flight Results Now Available Online

Tom Johnson is now posting his daily Morning Flight Counts on View from the Field. Tom noted about today, "Considering the soft N/ NW winds for several hours pre-dawn this morning, the flight was a bit lighter than expected. Eight observers noted a light to moderate warbler flight that peaked about 45 minutes after sunrise and died down quickly thereafter. This list only includes species and numbers of birds that appeared to be engaged in morning flight behavior."

Meadows Walk - Least Tern Fledge

[This late Least Tern fledgling, photographed today by Karl Lukens, better hurry and grow up - many Least's have already left, and the rest will all but disappear sometime in early September. Full results from the meadows walk are up on field trip reports.]

Tom Johnson "Kills" Worm-eating Warbler + Spontaneous Generation by Whistling-ducks

[Worm-eating Warbler absolutely nailed by Tom Johnson from the dike at Higbee Beach a couple days ago. I've previously explained how birds reported "from the dike," i.e. at the CMBO Morning Flight count at Higbee Beach WMA, are generally in flight, often far, often in bad light, etc. etc., just not to create false expectations. Birders hoping for decent views are better off checking the tree line from the Morning flight platform at Higbee, or walking the fields. Every now and then, however, if you're quick enough with your bins, or your camera. . . ]

The Cape May Black-bellied Whistling-duck trio has grown by one - 4 were along the west path this morning. I've been stuck in the office this morning and haven't heard much more about the flight - the meadows walk apparently didn't have piles of landbird migrants flying round, despite the west winds - but a Northern Bobwhite has been calling here at CMBO-Goshen close enough and loud enough to be heard through the windows. Very early this morning, a young Bald Eagle flew north near Norbury's Landing, scattering a mob (well 100+) of primarily American Robins and Eastern Kingbirds as it passed over the town there. Donald Phillips reports a Sandhill Crane was near Dividing Creek, Cumberland county yesterday in a cow pasture, perhaps one of the Husted Landing flock.

Mississippi Kites Nesting in New York

Out of area but of great interest: successful nesting of the Mississippi Kites in Montgomery County, NY was confirmed recently by Rich Guthrie, via video of a parent bringing food to a begging fledgling. When will they nest in NJ, e.g. at the Beanery?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A scratching good time at the Meadows or Good things come in threes

[Click on photos to see larger versions.]

The Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks put on what may have been the best show of their long stay today, as they lounged 25 feet from the bridge on the west path at The Meadows (aka TNC's South Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge) for most of the morning. They were seemingly oblivious to all but the banner planes flying along the beach -- they woke up and looked around each time one flew by. Observers wondered at one point if itching was like yawning -- contagious.

This trio of juvenile Tricolored Herons flew in to The Meadows from the west and turned over the whitstling-ducks to land a bit to the north. The age of the birds can be determined by the rufous necks of the birds, as compared to the blue-gray (mostly) necks of adults.

[Photo by Tony Leukering]

Rush Fall No More + Barred Owl, Dickcissel, Wilson's Snipe, Yellow-headed Blackbird

[This Barred Owl, one of a pair hooting in the wet woods along the road to the dike at Higbee Beach WMA, flew in of his own accord, to the delight of Morning Flight observers. Note the changing Wild Grape (yellow) and Virginia Creeper (red) leaves. Click to enlarge photos.]

We like to rush fall - the first southbound dowitcher in late June and fall's arrival is proclaimed. Well, that's fine, and hopeful, but southbound birds or not, June and July don't really feel like fall. There's no denying the turning season now, however.

Morning Flight at Higbee was active again, though not so much as yesterday. A Prothonotary Warbler flashed by, and there were 30 American Redstarts in the first hour for Vince Elia, who counted this morning (only 1 redstart passed the second hour). A first fall male Blackburnian Warbler, piles of Bobolinks, a decent number of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, a few Yellow Warblers and Northern Waterthrushes, two Least Flycatchers - birds were on the move.

Richard Crossley refound one of Karl Lukens' Yellow-headed Blackbirds from last night's meadows walk this morning near Sunset Boulevard along the meadows east path. Photos of one of them, and of the walk's Sora from last night, and a full trip report, are up on field trip reports.

A fresh-plumaged adult male Dickcissel appeared in front of the hawk watch platform this morning, to the delight of the handful of birders there. One Peregrine, 3 American Kestrels, an adult Bald Eagle and a Northern Harrier were "countable" types at the state park while I was there mid-morning, typical August vanguard birds. The official hawk watch used to start August 15, but the August count can be a daunting two weeks with proportionately few birds compared to the entire season's total, so now we start September 1.

A Wilson's Snipe on the first plover pond was a bit of a surprise - though occasionally arriving as southbounds in August, this is normally a later bird. There was a report of a flyby Wilson's Phalarope at the South Cape May Meadows, where the three Black-bellied Whistling-ducks continue to perform. I had a single White-rumped Sandpiper among many flyby shorebirds at the state park this morning.

[Water levels remain high at Cape May Point State Park, and shorebirds there are mainly flybys, though there is some shoreline, particular on the plover pond bordering the South Cape May Meadows. This juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher passed this morning.]

[This lovely male Dickcissel was a real treat in front of the hawk watch. The black bib is masked by yellow feather tips to those feathers, which wear to reveal the black. Michael O'Brien and I concluded on examining the photo that this is an adult male - according to Pyle, one key mark for aging males is the solid rufous median coverts, which are duller in hatch years.]

[Wilson's Snipe on the first plover pond at Cape May Point State Park this morning.]

Friday, August 20, 2010

Early Season Migration at Higbee

[Morning Flight Counter Tom Johnson, at his post early this morning.]

Between the Higbee Beach WMA walk (results on field trip reports), the Morning Flight count, and people wandering around generally at Higbee, a nice list of migrants was compiled. Most numerous were Eastern Kingbirds, Bobolinks, and Cedar Waxwings, all in the 100's, but there were many American Redstarts, Blue-gray gnatcatchers and Black-and-white Warblers, and enough action in general that we spent a fair bit of time in the parking lot on the walk, and most of the rest of the time in the first field. At the dike, the report from Vince Elia is that there was a steady stream of birds. "The dike" is where we conduct our morning flight count, reached by bearing right at the end of New England Road. We encourage people to view morning flight from the observation platform across from the dike; the dike itself is part of a steep dredge spoil pile that is tricky to climb. Beginning September 1, we'll have an interpretive naturalist on the dike each morning while morning flight lasts.

Scarcer species included a couple Blue-winged Warblers, along with a hybrid Brewster's Warbler, along the edge of the first field, the latter spotted by Megan Crewe. Megan, I just heard, also detected an early (all-time record early, I believe) Connecticut Warbler. We had a quick glimpse of a Prothonotary Warbler in the parking lot, which was later seen at the dike, presumably the same bird. Other warblers on the walk included Prairies, chestnut-sided, and Northern Waterthrush, to which the folks on the dike added Blackburnian, Nashville, Worm-eating, Tennessee and Black-throated Blue. Something to keep in mind if you haven't been to Higbee Beach is that birds seen "from the dike" means counted in morning flight, and for the most part seen flying past, sometimes at a distance. A few Red-breasted nuthatches were had at the dike, and Vince Elia had a couple later on in the woods. It is shaping up to be a good RBNU year.

So the weather/migration prediction proved correct. Tomorrow could be an equally interesting morning.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ducks Move; Good Flight Conditions Ahead; Shorebirds Flying Around

[This White-rumped Sandpiper found itself at the other end of Scott Whittle's camera during Tuesday's photo walk at the state park. Molting fall migrant White-rumpeds look hooded in dusky gray, a good character. Notice the long wing tips, too. Click to enlarge photos.]

Well, as predicted the rain - all 5.5 inches of it according to Karl Lukens' rain gauge - swelled Bunker Pond to near bank full, eliminating most of the shorebird habitat. The result was a lot of shorebirds flying around this morning, but not too many sitting for the Bird Walk for All People at Cape May Point State Park. There was one Stilt Sandpiper on Bunker Pond, and a Black Tern over it, and Bobolinks overhead almost constantly. I here there were many kingbirds and an otherwise nice selection of birds at Hidden Valley this morning, too. Results for both are up on field trip reports.

The hotline report below gives other recent highlights, including a report of Western Kingbird. The Black-bellied Whistling-ducks went missing from Lighthouse Pond but later did turn up in the South Cape May Meadows, with at least one still there (fide Tom Johnson) this afternoon.

Weather guru Dave La Puma and I agree that the forecast seems ripe for a landbird flight tonight, with a bigger one tomorrow night, or at least a more extensive one across the NE. tomorrow morning may be the better day for Cape May, since the winds will have a west component at least later tonight and early tomorrow morning.

[Scott photo'd this immature Little Blue Heron on Bunker Pond Tuesday, and we were eyeing it up again this morning. Snowy Egrets can have pale on the bill base when quite young, but not pink, not usually on the upper mandible, and not showing the demarcation between light base and dark tip that becomes even more prominent as Little Blues age.]


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

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, August 19, 2010. Highlights this week include sightings of WESTERN KINGBIRD, BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCKS, KING EIDER, AMERICAN AVOCETS, LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL, LAWRENCE’S AND GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLERS, and announcements about coming CMBO workshops.

-For up-to-the-minute Cape May sightings information, photos and downloadable birding maps and checklist of Cape May, visit www.birdcapemay.org . Follow rarity sightings, seasonal arrivals, and spectacles on www.twitter.com/CMBObirds -

A WESTERN KINGBIRD was reported from the South Cape May Meadows, a.k.a. TNC Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge, flying west towards the state park, on Thursday, August 19 2010.

3 BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCKS continue on Lighthouse Pond as of at least Tuesday, August 17, 2010. The whistling-ducks were not seen Thursday, August 19 as of 10:30 a.m., after Cape May received over 5 inches of rain the day prior, but may still be around.

The immature KING EIDER was seen on Saturday, August 14th, 2010, at Sunset Beach.

Two AMERICAN AVOCETS were seen at Bunker Pond on Tuesday, August 17th, 2010.

Two LESSER-BLACK BACKED GULLS were seen on the beach in front of the Meadows on Monday, August 16th, 2010.

A LAWRENCE’S WARBLER was near the dike at Higbee Beach WMA Thursday August 19, 2010, and a GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER was in the second field at Higbee Beach the same day.


Space remains on a few CMBO fall birding workshops, including WARBLERS, VIREOS AND FLYCATCHERS August 24-25 with Louise Zemaitis; BIRDS IN FLIGHT September 4-5 with Michael O’Brien; FALL MIGRATION SAMPLER September 10-12 with Louise Zemaitis; and BIRD AND TREE I.D. September 20-21 with Don Freiday. Learn more at http://www.birdcapemay.org/school.php or by calling 609.861.0700.

******CMBO FALL 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!

Morning flight photography

First off, at 6:58 this morning, Tom Johnson reported a male Lawrence's Warbler (recessive hybrid of Blue-winged and Golden-winged warblers) at the dike at Higbees Beach SWA.

Second, since I was up anyway, I decided to check out the skies over my Villas house to see if the promising weather with a light WNW breeze at my house would produce any migrants partaking in northbound morning flight. I thought I'd also put the new camera body through its paces relative to focusing on wee little birds that weren't close. I watched for an hour from official sunrise (6:16), tallying 4 Snowy Egrets, 1 Green Heron, 2 Yellow Warblers, 1 Prairie Warbler, 2 American Redstarts, 7 unidentified warblers, and 1 American Goldfinch; not bad for 19 August. Below are some of the pix that I took in these low-light conditions. I have to say that I'm quite happy with how the new camera body performed. I also look forward to seeing Tom's totals from the dike for the morning, which is still going on for him, of course! Me, I've got to get back to that online 40-hr HAZWOPER course. Wanna trade, Tom?

In chronological order: Green Heron @ 6:29,

Eastern Kingbird @ 6:36,

American Redstart @ 6:46,

Snowy Egrets @ 7:00,

and Prairie Warbler @ 7:16.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Little Yellow Butterfly Incursion

[Little Yellow, photo by Will Kerling.]

Will Kerling sent me the following note: "On Sunday August 15, 2010, the Little Yellow butterflies (Eurema lisa) started to emerged big time - counted 32 males and females - along the dunes in Cape May Point State Park. Attached to this message is an image of a male Little Yellow nectaring on Salt-marsh Fleabane. Today, Tom Reed saw at least 52 of them in the same area of the park!

"This butterfly hasn't been seen in Cape May County since I've been here and then some. Michael O'Brien saw a few on July 22, 2010 during the Cape May Butterfly Count. I watched a number of females laying eggs on very young Sennas (Cassia sp.) since the first sightings. It was great to see so many fresh ones Sunday."


Wednesday Walk Rained Out...

Well it's been a good three months since we had any appreciable rain at Cape May Point so we shouldn't complain, but I reckon it could about stop now! Karl Lukens tells me that his rain guage measured three inches of rain overnight and it's still not let up much. The weather was bad enough that we sort of cancelled the Wednesday morning walk as Karl, Warren Cairo and I stood under the east shelter with no takers. However, three brave souls turned up, so we gave Bunker Pond a good going over from the shelter and found a nice range of birds. Two Belted Kingfishers hunted actively, a juvenile Black Tern breezed in and out and a restless mass of Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers was present - both species now turning up in juvenile plumage too. With a slight break in the weather, we braved a walk to the first Plover Pond and back - and got soaked for our efforts! However, a total of 17 Stilt Sandpipers was a nice count and there seemed to be a surprising number of warblers on the move in such rough conditions, though Prairie and Yellow Warblers were the only two species I positively identified in the tricky conditions. Bobolinks called frequently - but unseen - overhead and a single juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron flew by. So, we didn't count it as an official walk, but we did at least get to see some birds.

At the Northwood Center this morning, at least 10 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are fighting over the feeders - well up on the one or two we've had to date; also, an American Redstart and two Black-and-white Warblers are feeding right outside my window...

Rain Rain Go Away?

Vince Elia just poked his head into my office and commented that all this rain is a game changer in terms of shorebird habitat. Bunker Pond, which has been absolutely rocking in terms of shorebirds, could be bank full by day's end, meaning no more shorebird habitat. The South Cape May Meadows, on the other hand, could get better with the rain, to a point. Another spot someone ought to go check is the Cape May County Airport, especially if you can get there at high tide - not that the airport is tidal, of course, but high tide means no place to go for shorebirds, which are of course highly mobile and easily capabable of finding the airport's open, and now quite wet, fields.

On Being Back

Haven't been here in a while - literally not here in Cape May, where we presently enjoy a badly needed soaking rain, and also not here writing on View from the Cape. Our most Cape May-relevant sighting out on Washington's Olympic peninsula (where I was leading a tour with Mark Garland) was none other than Ashley Green, who some may remember as a hawk watch interpretive naturalist two years ago, and who is returning this fall as an interpreter again.

It's getting to be that time. Tom Johnson is already up on the Higbee Beach WMA dike conducting the Morning Flight count each morning - I hear there was a nice Bobolink movement yesterday morning - and Bill Schuhl mentioned he had a Northern Harrier in Cape May yesterday, right on time for an early migrant. The official hawk watch starts September 1, and so does this year's group of interpretive naturalists. If you haven't heard, Melissa Roach will be back as official hawk counter, and last year's seawatch naturalist Steve Kolbe will return September 22 as seawatch counter.

All of which reminds one it is time to look at the weather forecast a little more closely. Did you notice the forecast northwest winds for late Thursday night/Friday morning, relating to a complex series of weather fronts? Just in time for the 7:00 a.m. Friday Higbee Beach walk, which I'll be leading with the usual crew of CMBO associate naturalists. Should be migrants, if the forecast is right. Thinking about August cold fronts reminds me of one last year on August 25, which coincided with my day to swing count at the dike and produced a marvelous flight of over 3,000 birds, including 352 American Redstarts.

On being back. . .my bike ride yesterday morning featured a quiet landscape, with songs from birds like Blue Grosbeak and Indigo Buntings largely absent from places I'd been hearing them before I left two weeks ago. I see from Tony's Laughing Gull photos below that some of the laughers are white-headed now, and many are well along in wing molt (the bird in his bottom photo is missing three inner primaries, it appears). Which reminds me of a fun photo I got along the Strait of Juan de Fuca. . .

[Washington last week. If you're a gull weirdo, this is a cool photo. You can get to Mew Gull on the bill, but what's fun is the molt. The bird is going from second cycle to third cycle, and it's growing in adult-like inner primaries, quite contrasty with the rest of the wing. There is no accepted record of Mew Gull for NJ, yet. Click to enlarge photos.]

We've been doing a fair bit of fine point "tertial talk" discussion of i.d. and aging on bird photos here on the blog, which is great when you're looking at a photo or a particularly cooperative bird, and it certainly makes one a better observer to look at fine details. But Cape May birding is often about birds in flight (we've got a whole workshop on it) and jizz i.d., like separating the accipiters. . .
[Washington last week. This was above Hurricane Ridge in the Olympics, but there's no better place and time to see this kind of thing than Cape May in fall. It seemed clear to me that the Cooper's Hawk (top bird) was not playing around - it was hunting the Sharp-shinned Hawk with breakfast in mind, something the sharpie of course resisted. Notice how big the Coop's head looks, and for a fine point, compare the legs and feet of the two. Coop's have noticeably thicker legs and bigger feet than sharpies, something you can notice on a close bird, say, one that hunts around your feeding station.]

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bayside evening photography

I got a new camera body recently, so tore myself away this evening from the online 40-hour HAZWOPER training with which I was enthralled for most of the day (did you hear the sarcasm?). I took a short walk out to the Villas beachfront to practice with it -- see what it could do and couldn't do with difficult lighting. It was a fun way to spend some time... that is, until the no-see-ums drove me back inside. (Note: later in the photo stint, the light was so poor, that I had to crank the ISO up to 1600 to have a chance to freeze wing motion, with the expected concomitant diminution in photo quality, as in the Laughing Gull pictures, below.)

Anywho, the Sanderlings and Semipalmated Sandpipers were enjoying a nice evening snack on the emerging (??) Horseshoe Crablets, with lots of the typical bickering among various of the Semi Sands trying to hold tiny feeding territories and chasing out intruders.

[Adult Sanderling with very tiny Horseshoe Crab]

The local Ospreys continue to pull fish out of the Bay, perhaps being joined by early migrant Ospreys from farther north -- 'tis the season.

[Adult Osprey with a Menhaden (aka Bunker) and its distinctive forked tail]

There was a very low-density southbound flight of Common Green Darners crossing in front of me from the land and heading almost due south across the Bay.

[Male Common Green Darner with its green thorax and blue abdomen]

But, the highlight of the evening was the Laughing Gull squabble over an eel (I think). A white-headed individual (possibly a younger bird) was endeavoring mightily to retain the fish, while two still-black-headed birds were trying to talk it into sharing with its friends. You can see the upshot in the last picture.

Some Recent Pictures and Cape May Point Update

Tom Reed already posted Scott's two American Avocets this morning, but they were around barely five minutes - indeed I was on the beach just off the parking lot, got the text message and still managed to miss them! However, Bunker Pond still provided a great range of birds with some 15 Stilt Sandpipers present this morning, along with plentiful Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers, Short-billed Dowitchers, Semipalmated Plovers and more. The skies overhead were thick with the calls of Bobolinks, passing right along the beach and out over the bay just west of the lighthouse and Michael O'Brien tells me that Higbee's Beach was similarly busy with Bobolinks this morning. Royal Terns are currently plentiful along the beach, where Least Terns still have late broods of chicks to attend. For full lists of birds seen on all our recently walks and programs, don't forget to visit our Field Trip Reports page.

The egret show continues at Bunker Pond, but is now much reduced with many birds already having moved on - and surely the fish stocks must be much depleted by now. At its peak, some 250 egrets were reported to be present on Bunker Pond, with some people commenting that it was like visiting the African Rift Valley (luckily no crocs or hippos though!). [Photo by Mike Crewe]

And here's what they've been feasting on. Most of the Great Egrets appear to be pulling out Green Sunfish - a species that luckily seems to be plentiful in the state park ponds, but their numbers have certainly taken a hit with even the local Ospreys getting in on the action. [Photo by Mike Crewe]

One or two Marbled Godwits have starred in the shorebird showe at Bunker Pond and Karl Lukens got this great shot of one a few days ago there. Though these birds pass regularly through Cape May in small numbers, getting an up-close-and-personal view of one is rarely easy here.

Sandwich Terns are scarce birds at Cape May, but small numbers pass by in late July and early August and there has been a good run of sightings recently. Look for them amongst roosting tern flocks anywhere from 2nd Avenue beach, west to Cape May Point. More often than not, they are tucked in with Royal Terns. Note the black bill, complete with yellow tip (the mustard for his sandwich of course!) [Photo by Karl Lukens]

Yes, they're still around, but it's taken me this long to get a decent shot of them! The three Black-bellied Whistling-ducks continue to show well on Lighthouse Pond, though occasionally they hide themselves away for an hour or two. [Photo by Mike Crewe]