Friday, December 31, 2010

One Last Cape May Spectacle...

Well, the year is just about out, but for one last chance to be gregarious over a drink or three to see the New Year in. And that's pretty much what was happening at Cape May today, in the fields just south of the canal. When seen in big numbers, most things can present a spectacle which we somehow seem to have an innate appreciation of, and today, that spectacle involved birds that are all too easily overlooked in our quest for something rarer - the common birds of our backyards...

Today, a plague desended!! We knew they would find us, sooner or later and today they found us with a vengeance!!! To what do I refer? Well, it's those greedy old grackles that ate us out of house and home up at Cape May Court House last winter. At that time, we were troubled by a flock of some 300 birds, but this time that seemed like a mere trifle! OK, we like them really, it's just that when they arrive at your feeders, it costs you a flippin' fortune!
Having noticed all these birds at the feeder, I looked outside to see how many had descended on us this time and found myself spending an hour photographing a real avian spectacle. Indeed, there was so much going on out there that I could just so easily have been on the Serengeti!

Down at the waterhole....

Brown-headed Cowbirds, bathing in puddles in the road left by the melting snow, started a trend that others soon followed.
Common Grackles, with their staring pale eyes join the cowbirds, along with a Red-winged Blackbird.

Common Starlings, Common Grackles and Brown-headed Cowbirds. I like this picture not because it shows the birds well (it doesn't!) but because it just shows the madness and mayhem that ensues when birds throw themselves whole-heartedly into a mass bathing session!

Out on the plains....
Walking down Bayshore Road, I soon found that this flock was to leave our old party of 300 in the shade!

Common Grackles massed across the road - and left this driver not knowing which side to drive down it seems!!

Sun on the backs of the Common Grackles picks out an array of blue, purple and bronze sheens as the birds twist and turn in the air with the passing of every car (and photographer!).

The birds along Bayshore Road gradually worked their way further off from our house, so I walked back and checked the fields along New England Road. Here, even more Common Grackles were steaming through the area and I reckoned some 1500 Common Grackles were in the vicinity of our house - but there was more!

Common Grackles tend to prefer the vicinity of trees and generally stick to the edges of fields, or even feed on the woodland floor. The larger fields along New England Road were avoided by them, but the air was still full of birds here and a closer look revealed that this was a large flock of Brown-headed Cowbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds.

And the male Red-winged Blackbirds really presented an awesome sight with dazzling red splashes of color flashing from their gaudy epaulettes. This picture shows just a small part of the flock of some 500 Brown-headed Cowbirds and 1000 Red-winged Blackbirds feeding out on the fields - to add to the 1500 Common Grackles already seen!

And, like the Serengeti, with the flocks come the predators....

At least three Red-shouldered Hawks were along Bayshore Road, all calling noisily and seemingly having helped themselves to the bounty before them. I also saw a male Merlin shoot through the flock at one point, while several American Crows were getting in on the action, harassing the raptors and stealing scraps. Over on New England Road, three Red-tailed Hawks were following the flocks and I watched two of them having a real set too, rolling around and fighting over a dead Common Grackle (though too far off for pictures sadly).

And finally....

One more, just like the Serengeti, nature's clean up gang were on hand to tidy things up once everyone else had moved on! At least 20 American Black Vultures and eight Turkey Vultures were hanging around the scene, knowing that there would be some pickings to polish off at the end of the day. These guys were biding their time on a house roof.

Well, you never know what's going on outside if you don't go and look and the sight of at least 3000 birds clean-sweeping the area was pretty amazing, especially with all the predator stuff going on as well. In addition to all this, a passing flock of 13 American Pipits on Bayshore Road was a nice bonus, as was a group of at least five Eastern Meadowlarks feeding in the field along New England Road. A nice way to round off the year!!


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