January may be the middle of winter, but it is always a busy time for birdwatchers, since it marks the exciting start to a new year list! The information highways are awash for a few weeks as everyone catches up on all the over-hangs from the previous year, and - let's be honest - it's the only time of the year that most of us take a sideways glance at a House Sparrow!
Indeed, the amount of effort put in to eBirding by New Jersey birders in January 2012 was recently celebrated by Sam Galick who noted that over 7000 eBird lists had been submitted for the state by the end of January, presumably in no small part due to the remarkable run of rare birds that has graced the region this year so far. Such great rarities as Barnacle and Pink-footed Geese, Mew Gull, Northern Lapwing, Townsend's Warbler, Western Grebe, Pacific Loon, Pine Grosbeak, Western Tanager, Lazuli Bunting, Common and Thick-billed Murres, Rufous Hummingbird and those puzzling Crested Caracaras, have all been there for the chasing - and hopefully, folks have been logging their local birds too.
By February though, winter is well and truly settled in and most people are starting to get into the winter doldrums; this certainly seems to have been the case this past week or so, with much less being reported (though several consecutive days of below freezing temperatures may have something to do with that!), but there is still a scattering of goodies around South Jersey, as well as some great events looming on the horizon to get you out and about. At Cape May Point State Park, House Wren and the White-eyed Vireo seem still to be hanging on despite the cold weather - as do the Nashville Warbler and at least one Orange-crowned Warbler, but the Townsend's Warbler doesn't seem to have been reported for a while now. With ponds freezing and thawing, ducks are moving around a lot and Lake Lily, down at the point, remains a good bet, as the aerator filters keep up water movement and usually result in a few unfrozen patches that became crammed with birds - the mix can change daily, even hourly, at this tme of year and is always worthy of a check. Up at Cox Hall Creek WMA, a good mix of ducks has recently included a Common Merganser. Of interest at Cox Hall Creek recently was a female Ring-necked Pheasant, reported by Will Kerling. This is a species that is not part of the established avifauna of the Cape May area and only persists for short periods after repeated releases for the purposes of shooting, so doesn't usually get a mention by me. However, I wasn't aware of any released in the Villas area so its presence is interesting (the species was released in the Tuckahoe/Corbin City area last fall).
Two Lapland Longspurs were noted at the corner of Wetherall and Bayside Roads in Cumberland County on February 3rd, a Short-billed Dowitcher has been reported on a number of occasions at the shorebird roost at the south end of Brigantine Island (just north of Atlantic City and not to be confused with the main Brigantine NWR area that birders usually visit) and a young Golden Eagle is there for the finding at Corbin City Impoundments if you can make the walk in - this site still remains closed to vehicles after Hurricane Sandy. Finally, on February 3rd, a Brown Pelican was reported flying low over the coastguard ponds on Ocean Drive, just south of Wildwood Crest.
So there are still birds to be found out there, but there's also some great events coming up. This coming Saturday, February 9th, sees the annual Cumberland County Winter Eagle Festival taking place, and it looks set to be an even more interesting day than usual. Why? Well we have some very high/low spring tides forecast, associated with the new moon and Cumberland County's coastal wetlands are always exciting at such times. Normally reclusive wetland birds such as rails and saltmarsh sparrows are often pushed up into more open areas along roadsides, while raptors may well be taking the opportunity to hunt for food. Do come along - the weather is forecast to be a little warmer than of late and - if it does get too cold for you - there's some great indoor events at the Mauricetown Fire Hall too.
A little further into the month, Pete Dunne's 'Break into Birding' workshop is well subscribed and guaranteed to run, but there's still time to book your place. This event is a return to a very popular program we ran in the past and is a fabulous introductory course to all aspects of birding - the who, where, what, how, when and why of birding, all wrapped up in a fun weekend event. If you feel you have that early training nailed and want to put it into practice, February 16th also sees our annual Longtails in Love event. This is a great walk that takes in some wonderful winter waterfowl locations, but its main focus is the fabulous experience of watching - and listening to - the manic parties of courting Long-tailed Ducks along the barrier island inlets - and all timed as close to Valentine's Day as we can get. Be an old romantic and come and join us!