Sunday, September 12, 2010

Notes from the Weekend

[Broad-winged blue, Cape May Point State Park Saturday. Read all about it on View from the Field, our page for seasonal research reports.]

Tweets, migration count results, and field trip reports capture the weekend sightings pretty well. Highlights include some good grasspipers in the rain today: an adult American Golden-plover and 2 Buff-breasted Sandpipers at the Cape May County Airport found by Doug Gochfeld, and 6 Buff-breasts at Tuckahoe courtesy of Karen Johnson. Jon Kaufman, CMBO fall interpretive naturalist from 2 years ago, was in town this weekend and discovered a Clay-colored Sparrow near the jetty at Reed's Beach today.

The Lily Lake warbler show thinned out Saturday, but birds were still there, including a Philadelphia Vireo near the CMBO Northwood Center on East Lake Drive. A Connecticut Warbler in the tower field at Higbee Beach was a weekend highlight for me on Saturday. Note that Palm Warblers outnumbered American Redstarts at Morning Flight on Saturday, the beginning of eventual dominance of that phenomenon by the late season migrants.

I've been thinking about finding warblers - or not finding them. Anyone who birded this past weekend saw a bunch of redstarts - they're obvious, active, often feeding mid-canopy at woods' edge, right where we're training our eyes. Redstart, redstart, redstart - ooh, a Black-and-white. But where are the scarcer birds?

Well, rare birds are rare, but part of the reason is how we look. Connecticut Warblers love rank, weedy stuff, like the ragweed in the tower field at Higbee. Cape May Warblers are often at eastern redcedar branch tips. Ovenbirds and waterthrushes like wetter woods with a dense canopy, if they can find it. Palms are on the dunes. Black-throated Blues like the understory, Blackburnians and Tennessees are often up high. So check a variety of habitats, and look low to high. Also remember to "dig" for birds with your eyes and binoculars - redstarts are obvious, active, constant dancers. Other warblers are also active, but not so showy with their movements. One of the best birding days of last fall happened when there was a little warbler fallout at Cape May Point State Park (it was September 25, 2009, a cold front had passed Cape May but stalled to the south, and there were occasional pre-dawn showers.) If you just casually walked the Red Trail at the state park waiting for birds to "hit you in the face," you'd never have realized there were 20+ species in the cedars, oaks and gums.

When's that going to happen again? Wish I knew. The winds are light and north tonight in the midst of an occluded front (or so says the NWS), but I just heard a Swainson's Thrush over the house (9:00 p.m.). A more conventional front, and migration scenario, looks to be Tuesday night-Wednesday morning.

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