Thursday, March 5, 2015

Of woodcocks, weather and winter wildlife...

With the possibility of a foot of snow being unceremoniously dumped upon us today, it certainly seems premature to be thinking about spring just yet - even though there is a clear indication of northward movement of ducks taking place right now. Although drier weather is on its way, things look pretty cold for the coming weekend and we have made the decision to postpone our Woodcock Dance event which was scheduled for this coming Saturday. There is not much sign here as yet that the woodcocks are starting to call and display and, though we could still proceed with the indoor part of the event, it is the moonlight walk to hear and see woodcocks displaying that really makes the event. This is always a popular event so we are re-scheduling for Saturday, April 4th, 6:30-8:30pm. Give us a call to sign up and come and enjoy learning about woodcocks!

American Woodcocks struggle when the ground is frozen, or when the snow is deep enough that they can't reach through to look for food. At such times they often congregate on roadsides, where salt run-off can produce thawed areas along the grassy edges. Such birds are very vulnerable to traffic, so do keep an eye out while driving at this time of year [photo by Mike Crewe].

While we are on the subject of winter wildlife, another layer of snow on its way reminds me yet again of what we can do to help wildlife during difficult times. The half acre or so of natural meadow that we have developed at home is a good case in point at this time of year. When we moved in, the area looked like a sheep, shortly after having a full on shear and just before heading for the sheep dip! Nothing of interest grew there; nothing of interest visited. A few European Starlings and Common Grackles would stop by and check it out, maybe the occasional passing American Robin, but that was about it. Roll on a few years and we regularly attract at least six species of sparrow (with others on migration), and a whole bunch of other birds and it is winter in particular that sees the area benefiting wildlife. All you need to do is to let you hair down a bit; we all like a bit of tidiness around the house, but why do so many people feel the need to apply a 'scorched earth' policy to their entire property? Early March is usually the time when our meadow gets its annual haircut but, with the weather the way it is, we will leave it just a little longer and cut it in a couple of weeks.

Part of our property the year we moved in. Notice how even a thin cover of snow can make large areas of ground unsuitable for feeding for most birds. If there are any seeds in this patch, they are well hidden and birds are reduced to checking out the thin strip of native Virginia Beard-grass along the back edge [photo by Mike Crewe].

Leaving the vegetation uncut until spring finally starts to cut in, leaves plenty of food available for birds during the winter. Notice here how even a relatively deep snow cover does not completely cover the plants, leaving seeds available to sparrows and cardinals and plenty of stems for chickadees and titmice to check out for grubs. Something very simple that we can all do on at least a small area of our land - it's good to share! [Photo by Mike Crewe]

The recent ice storm that we had made for great wildlife photography opportunities. Here, seed heads of Frost Aster are encased in ice [photo by Mike Crewe].

Spring on the way? Though these Siberian Elm flower buds are swelling now, a good covering of ice certainly stopped them in their tracks for a while [photo by Mike Crewe].

Lack of time over the past couple of months meant that I was unable to get a few photos into posts that I received during January in February, so here's a few winter shots of some Cape May highlights...

Earlier in the winter there was a little flurry of Common Redpoll activity and several small parties were reported from coastal and bayshore beaches - but the big invasion never happened and the few that showed up quickly moved on. Sam Galick sent me these photos of birds feeding on Seaside Goldenrod seeds [photos by Sam Galick].

Some birds seem not to get the message when migrants move on! While the vast majority of our Red Knots move well south to winter in Argentina, a few brave the Cape May weather and hang out along the coast - these two were at Two Mile Beach in January [photo by Sam Galick].

Blue-winged Teal like to winter around the Gulf Coast and in the south-east States, but odd birds can be found in our area at times in the winter. This male was at Dennis Creek in January and nicely shows how Blue-winged Teal has a different molt timing to most other dabbling ducks, not acquiring its mating plumage until late winter or early spring [photo by Mike Kilpatrick].

Being out and about is the best way to find out what the birds are doing and can almost always turn up surprises. Though Common Yellowthroats often hang on into winter well to the north of us, a January find of one of these birds is always noteworthy. This individual was found at Stone Harbor Point during a quest for wintering sparrows [photo by Mike Kilpatrick].

And just sometimes, you find a bird that you really don't expect at all!! This snow -ee Owl mysteriously appeared at CMBO's Center for Research & Education recently. I suspect that the photographer might just have had something to do with it! [Photo by Sam Galick]

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