Wednesday, December 12, 2012

More Duckage and other things

As we head into winter, ducks certainly become a main draw around the waterways of Cape May. The latest addition to the species currently known to be hanging out at the point is a first-winter male King Eider. If you are coming down to Cape May in December, a route that takes in the Avalon Seawatch, Two-mile Beach Coastguard Ponds, Cape May Harbor and the ponds around Cape May Point and the state park will certainly provide you with a great variety of ducks (weather permitting of course!) and if you can take in Sunset Lake at Wildwood and some of the stone jetties around Cape May Point, all the better.

As ever, some interesting reports of out-of-season birds have come in and include a Little Blue Heron at Two-mile Landing on 9th, a Blackpoll Warbler in a Villas backyard until December 5th (feeding on suet, grape jelly and shelled peanuts) and a Brown Pelican off Avalon on 11th. A Yellow-breasted Chat was at The Beanery on 8th and Common Redpolls continue to tease - it might be worth walking areas with Beach Goldenrod in seed on the barrier islands or along the bayshore if you want to find one. A group of eight White-winged Crossbills at The Beanery on 9th were the first I had heard of for a while (still plenty of Red Crossbills around) and were particularly interesting as Roger and Kathy Horn reported them feeding on the spiky seedpods of Sweet Gum. Two Cave Swallows were over the point on 11th, at least one Northern Goshawk remains in the area and small numbers of Common Eider are slowly returning to the point. The Avalon Seawatch has been producing a small trickle of Razorbills over the past few days, as well as some nice scoter flights, while off the point itself, The Rips produced reports of a Black-legged Kittiwake and Pomarine Jaeger today. Sand pumping for beach replenishment work is currently taking place so do please be careful of machinery and other equipment if you come to the beaches here at the moment, and if you do, the beach works is a good place to check out the gulls, with five Lesser Black-backed Gulls there today.

First-winter male King Eider at Cape May Point today. Note the bill size and shape which is relatively much smaller than in Common Eider. Also note that a male Common Eider of this age would almost invariably show at least some white on its back once it had this much white on the chest [photo by Mike Crewe].

The two female Redheads continue to switch between Bunker Pond and the Plover Ponds at the state park. Compare the gray bills with black tips and silvery stripe with the all black bill of the Canvasback below [photo by Mike Crewe].

Female Canvasback at the Plover Ponds. Note the all black bill (the base is just wet and shiny here) and paler gray body compared with the Redheads above. Note also the long, sloping profile of the head and bill [photo by Mike Crewe].
Little Blue Heron at Two-Mile Landing. This species occasionally attempts to over-winter so is not overly unexpected on Christmas Bird Counts, but even so, it's always a nice find at this time of year [photo by Sam Galick].

The wonderful grunting chattering of Pale-bellied Brant is filling the backbays now and is one of my all-time favorite winter sounds. A quick check of birds around Cape May recently revealed almost no first-winter birds (there was just one with these birds, in a gathering of 50+ in Cape May Harbor last weekend) so it looks like our local wintering birds seem to have had a poor breeding season this year. After the collapse of eelgrass in the 1930s due to an infection, Brant numbers crashed throughout most of their range (eelgrass is their main food) and still remain much lower than they once were. Brant are slowly recovering however, thanks to continued protection from hunting in many winter-range countries [photo by Mike Crewe].

A typical December flurry of Baltimore Orioles provided these two birds at Cape may Point State Park last weekend. Keep an eye out for them at backyard feeders, especially if you provide half oranges or handfuls of raisins [photos by Sam Galick].

Sometimes birds don't understand the rules - and Orange-crowned Warbler is a shocker for this! They have a nasty habit of being constantly on the move and flatly refuse to pose for proper portraits. Orange-crowneds usually feed low in fairly dense vegetation at this time of year and often favor the marsh edge of reed fringe and Eastern Baccharis bushes in the state park [photo by Sam Galick].