Sunday, October 17, 2010

Updates + Sneakin' Around at Dawn

 [A real "Gray Ghost" - Northern Harriers fly early, this male was up well before the sun in a Higbee back field today.  Click to enlarge photos.]
The radar was sure lit up with birds last night, and Higbee Beach WMA, though mosquito-ridden, had plenty of kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and other typical late season migrants. There were a lot of more-ofs - more White-throated Sparrows, Swamp Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncoes than recent days, for example.  A lot of Purple Finches were flying over everywhere I went today - their little tic note is a good one to learn - along with a few Pine Siskins and, in more open areas, quite a few American Pipits. The hawk flight seemed good this morning, but lighter than yesterday. I have not heard any more on yesterday's Sandhill Crane or Whimbrel.

Tom Reed had some interesting stuff from his vantage 15 miles or so up the bay at Reed's Beach, including a morning flight of 3200+ Yellow-rumped Warblers, 1500 American Robins, and close to 200 Sharp-shinned Hawks.  One of the most common questions we get at the hawk watch, and morning flight, is "how do you know you are not counting the same birds twice?"  Flights like the one Tom had this morning give insight on what the birds are doing - they round Cape May, and (for the species that don't like crossing open water) turn north and fly up along the bay. We still undoubtedly do double-count some birds, but not many, and that's not the point anyway - by using the same methods every year, we create an index of bird populations in order to detect downward or upward trends.

With only a couple hours to bird, I started in the pre-dawn darkness, oozing around some little-birded areas hoping for close looks.

 [Immature male Northern Harrier lit by the rising sun this morning.]

 [This Cooper's Hawk made me glad I wasn't the Swamp Sparrow he was scrutinizing -look at the size of those legs and feet!]
A little later I wandered the Red Trail of the State Park, which held a similar mix of species to Higbee plus, of course, its suite of ducks, including the female Eurasian Wigeon on Lighthouse Pond.

[The benefits of creeping about - if you bird like you are hunting, you sometimes get close.  This Winter Wren was right next to the board walk on the red trail of the state park this morning. Note the rich brown upperparts and stubby little tail, and you can see a just bit of the dense barring on the flanks.]

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