Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Redpolls headed our way, and other winter birds

While an icy blast might be all it takes to keep you indoors for a few days, there's certainly plenty of reasons to be looking for birds around Cape May right now. If you want to brave the chilly conditions along the beachfront, there seems to be a Snowy Owl lurking somewhere out on the barrier islands, and last reported from 61st Street in Avalon. The stone jetties are alive with Purple Sandpipers (at least 30 were off Coral Avenue at Cape May Point a couple of days ago) and, if you take a scope and have plenty of patience, it's worth scanning the Bonaparte's Gull flocks out in the Delaware Bay for the odd Black-legged Kittiwake that is lurking among them - though these birds seem to be feeding well offshore right now.

If you want a modicum of sanity about your birding during this cold snap, you might make a hot mug of coffee, grab a chocolate brownie and snuggle down in your favorite chair to view the backyard feeders, for something of interest may be lurking there. Brian Moscatello took a casual glance out of the Northwood Center windows today and noticed a Common Redpoll at one of the feeders. This is a bird of very unpredictable appearance in Cape May and getting one at the feeder is certainly a real bonus! These nomads from the north don't head south in any number most years, but maybe we can hope for more to show up. To date, the only New Jersey records this month have come from Cape May so there's no clear sign of a movement yet - but you never know.

Of course, your best chance for a Common Redpoll right now is to head to the Northwood Center and enjoy a cup of coffee with us - and don't forget to check for American Woodcocks along Sunset Boulevard on your way!

When the bayshore looks like this, it's tempting to stay indoors, but such watery sunsets on an icy day can be truly spectacular and it's worth making the effort now and again [photo by Sam Galick].
Keep an eye out for Red-shouldered Hawks checking out your feeder. This juvenile bird at the Hawkwatch Platform this week is perhaps not the most obvious of individuals and it can sometimes be difficult to tell them from Red-tails. In this slightly odd pose, the bird looks broad-shouldered and small-headed like a Red-tail, but notice the thick, dark tail bands, the even distribution of markings on the underparts and the suggestion of a rusty shoulder patch (difficult to see in this cropped photo, but worth looking for in the field) [photo by Linda Widdop].

In contrast to the juvenile, adults - like this one on Sunset Boulevard - can be easy to tell from Red-tails. This bird shows a classic rusty wash to the underparts and bold, black-and-white checkering on the wings [photo by Stephanie Vacek].

Some birds can be easier to see during cold snaps than at other times, especially if they get drawn to road surfaces which get thawed by salting. American Pipits have been reported from a number of places around Cape May these past few days and most sightings have involved birds on thawing roadsides. Stay in the car and you can get amazingly good views of these birds if you are careful [photo by Sam Galick].
Take a careful look at the birds at your feeders right now and let us know if a Common Redpoll comes winging in! Look for a rather plain, streaky bird, with a red cap on the forehead and a small black bib. Adult males can be pink-washed on the chest but most are likely to be first-winter birds like this one, with no pink on the chest. Ageing redpolls can be difficult as there is a lot of individual variation, but this bird has a contrast in its tail feathers - showing two inner pairs with quite fresh, rounded tips, and the rest of the feathers being more pointed and a little more worn at the tips. The presence of such a contrast in the feathers indicates a partial molt and makes this a young bird [photo by Mike Crewe].

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