Friday, October 19, 2012

Boat Trips and More on Siskins...

Though we are right in the midst of our autumn birding extravaganza, many of us here at the bird observatory are already well into our planning schedule for 2013 and it is during October that I spend most of the time thinking of our schedule for next spring. Having just spent a couple of hours going through these schedules with our local boat captains and some of our keen volunteers, you can expect to see some new ideas popping up next year - including some special kayak trips during the summer months.

Birding out on the open water is always a treat and it was a nice coincidence, having just been down at the dock talking boat trips, to receive some photos from our recent trip out of Somer's Point, courtesy of the Duke o'Fluke. While birding at Cape May, it can be easy to slip into the mistake of remaining entirely focused on Cape May Point, but look at any map of the area and you will soon see a region awash with fabulous back bays to visit. The Duke o'Fluke actually sails out of the very southern tip of Atlantic County and heads into Great Egg Harbor - the large body of backbay water where the Great Egg Harbor River and the Tuckahoe River meet. This is a fabulous area to get into by boat as there is almost no access by road, and you soon get into some wonderful out-of-the way places. Tour participant Bill Snelling sent me an array of great shots from last weekend's boat trip, including the couple I've added here. Look out for more trips up the Great Egg Harbor River next year!

Belted Kingfishers can be pretty jumpy if you try to get close to them on foot, but approaching by boat can be a different experience. Participants aboard the Duke o'Fluke enjoyed getting close enough to this bird to see the extra chest band that makes it a female [photo by Bill Snelling].

Bald Eagles getting commonplace? Surely not!! OK, so we see Bald Eagles an awful lot more now than we used to, but they are still pretty amazing things to watch. Here, a pair cozy up together on a channel marker and give great photo opportunities to our boat trip group [photo by Bill Snelling].

Pine Siskins continue to be in the news right now, as impressive numbers of these understated birds head southward. This is one of a group of northern breeding species which tend to be irruptive rather than regularly migratory, their movements dependent more on food availability than on weather. Right now, Cape May is almost awash with Pine Siskins and our walk groups are enjoying unusually good views of these confiding birds. It seems likely that tree species that regularly provide food for these birds have had a crop failure this year and the birds have no choice but to head south and look for alternative sources. Though the field guides show the wintering range of this species as being throughout the USA, in reality, they are far from guaranteed each year in any one location, so I suggest you make the best of them while they are here. To get a feel for the scale of the movement, take a look at the following maps, which Sam Galick kindly prepared from eBird data (all maps generated from eBird/Cornell Lab of Ornithology) - you can click on the maps to get larger images and see more detail.

Data from eBird showing reported sightings of Pine Siskins for September 2011

Data from eBird showing reported sightings of Pine Siskins for September 2012

Data from eBird showing reported sightings of Pine Siskins for October 2011

Data from eBird showing reported sightings of Pine Siskins for October 2012

Pine Siskins are overall brownish-gray and streaky, but usually have yellowish edges to the wing feathers and have narrowly-pointed bills, ideal for probing deep into flower heads to dig out seeds. Watch for them at backyard feeders or in sunflower patches (native as well as introduced species) and expect to see them associating with American Goldfinches [photos by Mike Crewe].