Sunday, April 7, 2013

The assortment box continues to grow

As spring slowly unfolds on us, the wonderful array of choices of things to see and do gradually broadens. Slightly warmer weather this weekend (temperatures got threateningly close to 60F today!) certainly helped to increase the number of butterflies on the wing, as well as a variety of other insects, while the frog chorus at many ponds is winding up to a crescendo now. A sprinkling of Snowy Egrets and Glossy Ibises are trickling into our wetlands, squadrons of Double-crested Cormorants are passing overhead or pausing for a rest on pilings (and the concrete ship) and Belleplain State Forest rings to the cheary trills of Pine Warblers. Small parties of Golden-crowned Kinglets and Eastern Phoebes are popping up all over the place and busy groups of Tree Swallows are being joined by smaller numbers of Barn and Northern Rough-winged Swallows.

Offshore, Northern Gannets seem to be all over the place and Red-throated Loons are very easy to see right now. Tom Reed counted 443 Red-throated Loons from Coral Avenue this morning, as well as 1090 Black Scoters and 780 Surf Scoters flying out of the bay. A little further afield, an adult Black-headed Gull in full breeding plumage was at Heislerville on 6th and Forsythe NWR opened its doors to the public for the first time in many weeks as post-Sandy clear-up work gradually comes to a conclusion. Forsythe will be open at weekends from now on so hopefully we'll be hearing some interesting bird news from there soon.

Golden-crowned Kinglets are northbound right now - this one was right up close and personal on our Birds, Beasts & Botany walk at Cox Hall Creek WMA last Thursday [photo by Mike Crewe].

Yellow-crowned Night Herons are very unassuming and easy to miss in the spring as they slip quietly back to their breeding sites. Colonies in the barrier islands already have a number of these birds back in residence so keep an eye out for them in the back bays in the evenings [photo by Mike Crewe].

Be observant on the beaches and you might find a color-banded Piping Plover in residence. By using ultra-lightweight, colored plastic bands of different combinations, researchers can identify individual birds in the field which can help with studies of population size, movements, site fidelity, territory size and a whole bunch of other things. This bird was at Avalon today [photo by Mike Crewe].

With gradually increasing temperatures, Belleplain's dirt trails are starting to attract a few butterflies to take salts from the wet ground. As well as several Mourning Cloaks, there was a number of Blueberry Azures on the wing today and all the ones that I saw were of the 'marginata' color morph like the one above. This form has a distinct dark band around the outer edge of the underside of the hindwing, but lacks the dark central patch which is shown by the 'lucia' morph [photo by Mike Crewe].

Beating a regular patch can pay dividends as you often quickly notice when something different pops up. Our Birds, Beasts & Botany walk last Thursday turned up a great surprise when we found this Fingered Speedwell, a species which has never been recorded in Cape May County before and may be a first for New Jersey. Though not a native species, it is unlikely to become an invasive and adds a touch of color to disturbed ground [photo by Mike Crewe].

There are a number of introduced speedwell species in Cape May County, but Fingered Speedwell (Veronica triphyllos) had deeper, darker blue flowers than the other species. Most distinctive, however, are the upper leaves on the stems, which are deeply cut into a series of two to four, finger-like segments [photo by Mike Crewe].