Sunday, January 25, 2015

Black-headed Gull, and enjoying the bayshore

The appearance of a scarce or rare bird is always the greatest inspiration for getting the coat on and getting out into the chilly January weather. After yesterday's forecast bad weather gave Cape May a wide berth, the sun returned today and provided even more impetus to get out and enjoy Cape May.

An adult Black-headed Gull continues to attract people to Cape May Point at the moment, but it also gives a great excuse to take in the other treats of a bayshore day in January. Right now, there appears to be some good nursery schools of young fish off Sunset Beach and good numbers of birds are gathering to feed on them, offering some wonderful opportunities to enjoy a few species that you might not normally see so well. The presence of the Black-headed Gull should have everyone checking their field guides for the key identification features for that species, but that then encourages familiarity with the commoner confusion species - always a good first step when looking for something rare. Currently, Bonaparte's Gulls are putting on a wonderful performance here and it's a great opportunity to remind ourselves that not all gulls are aggresive brutes that go around in scavenging gangs!

Bonaparte's Gull is one of the smaller gull species and even has certain tern-like qualities in their dainty flight and delicate bills. Most of the time they feed by picking food up at, or just below, the water surface. They may do this either in flight or by swimming; either way, when the fish shoals are in close, it's a great opportunity to enjoy these smart birds [photo by Mike Crewe].

As is so often the case, familiarity with the usual will help you pick out the unusual if it should show up. Spend time watching Bonaparte's Gulls and notice the clean white underwing, pale pink legs and black bill [photo by Mike Crewe].

Against the light, Bonaparte's Gulls look grayer on the underwing, but this grayness is uniform across the outer and the inner wing, while the delicate, black bill is still apparent [photo by Mike Crewe].

Sunset Beach's Black-headed Gull can be a little restless and it often disappears around the corner for periods of time. But watch for it flying past and note the deep red bill and legs, as well as the very blackish look to the underside of the outer wing which makes the white leading edge really stand out. Black-heads are a little chunkier and longer winged than Bonaparte's too [photo by Mike Crewe].

As well as dainty gulls, the appearance of baitfish shoals has brought Red-throated Loons and even Horned Grebes in close - again providing a great opportunity to watch these birds up close. It is interesting to study the behavior of these birds as they come into the shallows to feed on fish - what's the typical duration of a feeding dive? How far do they typically travel underwater before surfacing again? So many interesting questions to answer - or you could just marvel at those bizarre red eyes!

Red-throated Loons are wonderful birds when seen up close. The speckled pattern of the back gives them their scientific name, Gavia stellata, the latter word meaning starry. The head shape of loons can vary a lot according to the birds mood - bumpy like this usually means relaxed. But note the relatively delicate, slightly upturned bill of this bird, which helps to tell it from Common Loon [photo by Mike Crewe].

Horned Grebes mostly keep themselves out in the deeper channels, so any close encounter is always enjoyable - and that eye is just freaky! [Photo by Mike Crewe]

Come and enjoy CMBO's Saturday and Wednesday morning winter walks and get first hand guidance and tips on enjoying some great winter birding!

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