Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Movement and activity

Judging by all the photos and text alerts I've received over the past few days, there is quite definitely an element of movement in the air. Even as early as February, it is possible to detect the very first signs of spring's movements. Perhaps the first signs are increased vocal activity from wintering birds; my local Northern Cardinals are certainly getting vocal now and, while I was attending to our noticeboard at The Meadows at the weekend, it was easy to hear the male Red-winged Blackbirds singing "Congaree" from the cattail stems - though it will be a good month yet before the females start showing an interest in them! Just yesterday, I was giving my meadow its once-a-year haircut and a Field Sparrow was putting its vocal chords through its paces too.

Other signs include increased flocking behavior by wintering birds. Small parties of up to half a dozen Killdeers are not uncommon around Cape May over the winter, but on Sunday, I counted 32 of them in the back field at The Beanery. A sure sign that they are thinking of moving soon - this is a species that can be hatching young by late March in our area. The male King Eider seems to have taken the first step toward shipping out too, having recently moved from the Ferry Terminal area to the Cold Spring Jetty by the Coast Guard Unit. Unfortunately this means he is currently pretty much off limits to us mere mortals who don't have a Coast Guard pass, but maybe he'll move somewhere more accessible soon. Other increased flocking behavior I have witnessed lately includes a build up of Greater Scaup off beaches in the Villas (probably just drifting down river from wintering grounds further up the bay) and a build up of Bonaparte's Gulls on the Villas beaches. Associated with this latter event, perhaps, was the second Black-headed Gull that I discovered there on Sunday morning - shortly afterward, Tom Magarian reported two together. This newly-arrived bird has more dark on its head than the original, long-stayer, due to being a little more advanced in its spring molt.

Slow northward drift accounts for some other movements at this time of year, especially with ducks and gulls. A build-up of Green-winged Teal at Cape May Point State Park over this past week resulted in the discovery of a male Eurasian Teal on Lighthouse Pond on Monday, while a male Blue-winged Teal with them was perhaps one of the two that has been wintering with us this year. Also in the category of slow northward drift comes an Osprey, reported from the state park on 25th and an early Piping Plover, reported by Tom Reed on South Cape May Beach this very morning (27th). Even now, structuring this post is tricky since reports are coming in as I type! Tom also just reported five American Oystercatchers, seven Northern Pintail and three Great Blue Herons, all heading north at the point this morning.

Despite all this movement, some long-stayers also remain, while other birds are clearly just winter wanderers - such as the Red Phalarope seen flying over Bunker Pond by Doug Gochfeld on 23rd. Other wintering birds still around include a party of Red Crossbills in the Cape May Point dunes (10 were also seen flying north in Del Haven on 23rd and one or two have been noted on and off at Cox Hall Creek WMA), a juvenile Golden Eagle and male Eurasian Wigeon at Corbin City Impoundments (a Short-eared Owl was also at Corbin City at the weekend), a Tricolored Heron in the Two Mile Landing area and at least one Orange-crowned Warbler still at the state park. Sam Galick reported another Golden Eagle in Belleplain State Forest on 24th - nice reward for going 'off piste' and checking some different areas. Finally, on 24th, a Lark Sparrow was found with a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos on Millman Lane in Villas by Vicky, Richard and Hannah Smith.

Other signs of spring include a few Red Maple trees starting to break into flower, while I heard my first Spring Peeper of the year on Sunday.

Male Eurasian Teal on Lighthouse Pond on Monday. Note that the white stripe goes horizontally on this bird, not vertically like Green-winged Teal. Many taxonomic committees recognize this taxon as a separate species, but the American Ornithologists' Union remains to be convinced [photo by Karl Lukens].

Lark Sparrow on Millman Lane in Villas, February 24th [photo courtesy of Vicky Smith].

The Crested Caracara connundrum continues - the Atlantic County bird has disappeared, but now there is one back in Salem, after a lack of sightings for a while. Is there really only one bird then?! This bird was photographed along the Kings Highway near Sharptown, Salem County on 24th [photo by Jeff White].

I had to share this photo of Eastern Bluebirds, showing great presence of mind by roosting each evening at a school in Salem County, inside a cage and no doubt benefiting from a certain amount of heat from a nearby security light - hope they get out each morning before the school P.A. system starts up though! [Photo by Jeff White]

Duck movements are worth studying now as numbers build up prior to heading north. This up close shot of a male Red-breasted Merganser was taken by Beth Polvino at Avalon recently.