Well, as Michael O'Brien joked with me this morning, we're past the solstice, so it's fall. He has a point, though the Laughing Gulls with their downy chicks out on the marshes would disagree, as would the Pine Warblers feeding recently fledged young at Cox Hall Creek WMA in Villas, NJ. That's the mark of summer in the North American bird world for me - birds making and caring for babies. Most Pine Warblers will remain on their breeding grounds though August at least, and yet we saw one flying west along the dunes at Cape May Point this morning. What was that bird doing? And certainly there are plenty of other species for which the "normal" southbound migration period includes the tail end of June, especially certain shorebirds. So it's fall and summer both.
If you haven't already heard, there was an epic movement of shearwaters out of Delaware Bay this morning, which is why a bunch of us were crowded onto one of the dune crossovers in Cape May Point, watching. Tom Reed came up with the following extraordinary numbers: 182 Great Shearwaters, 19 Cory's Shearwaters, 2 Manx Shearwaters, 1 Sooty Shearwater. Steady east winds and a rising tide overnight contributed to putting these birds into the bay, or that's what we think. Speaking of seasons, for these shearwaters (except Manx) it is their winter, since they breed in the southern hemisphere during our winter. Manx is the exception, breeding as it does on islands with rocky cliffs in the northern hemisphere during our summer. I believe the only breeding site for Manx in North America is in Newfoundland.
I missed the first part of the shearwater thing because I was birding Cox Hall Creek WMA as I have most early mornings, with my dog, since January. I've come to think of this as my Cox Hall Creek "project" - a semi-serious effort to learn exactly what birds use the area when, and how. It's also been a bit of a birding game. Some readers will remember that last winter I threatened to do a big year just on Cox Hall Creek. Well, I'm sort of doing it. In the course of the "project," I've submitted 92 complete checklists to eBird for Cox Hall Creek since January 1, 2015, and recorded 155 bird species there so far this year. Normally on each visit I take about an hour to walk the approximately 2 mile outer loop of trails, and I'll confess to mainly birding by ear since a) that's what I do in landbird habitat and b) I'm also keeping an eye on the dog, and sorting through life's mysteries in my mind.
June is a time of year in Cape May County when you might think you could do your bird checklist before you go out the door, if you know the area well. Breeders are there, migrants are not, so it's breeders plus a few stray overhead wanderers like egrets and gulls, or so you would think. Yesterday I had a Great Blue Heron at Cox Hall Creek. It was an adult (told by the well-marked head pattern) on the big pond. Great Blues don't breed anywhere particularly nearby, so what was that bird doing?
Here's another mystery. Since May, there has been one Eastern Wood-pewee at Cox Hall Creek, almost always singing near the parking lot at the end of Shawmount Road, although it sometimes ranges a bit farther. I'm guessing by its persistent singing and ranging that it is an unpaired male. But this morning there were three Eastern Wood-pewee's singing at the WMA. What's up with that? Unpaired floater males from farther afield? Migrants? - and if so, which way are they going?
And another mystery: Last fall three Northern Bobwhite appeared at Cox Hall Creek, origin uncertain. After November, they went missing. Yet on May 20 a bobwhite called there, and after missing the species on something like the next 15 visits, on June 25 I saw what was either a female or juvenile - it didn't fly well - and heard a male give the full bob-white call. What's up with these birds, and did they in fact breed there?
Looking further back, in early winter I was detecting Hairy Woodpecker regularly at Cox Hall Creek. Then the species went missing from early February until mid April. Hairy is generally considered to be non-migratory, and February would be an unusual time to head south, but I wonder, did the Hairy Woodpeckers facultatively migrate somewhere more hospitable during the harsh winter and return? Did the wintering birds die and new ones replace them, "migrating" in in April?
It's been fun, birding one place so regularly. A great way to explore bird occurrence at Cox Hall Creek is to check its hotspot report on eBird. This, by the way, is a great way to explore any birding hotspot, anywhere.
For the record, here's my year list for Cox Hall Creek WMA to date:
American Black Duck
Great Blue Heron
Great Black-backed Gull
Great Horned Owl
Great Crested Flycatcher
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Cape May Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Friday, May 29, 2015
My son Tim called it epic. We chanced upon a foraging Worm-eating Warbler at very close range in Belleplain State Forest, NJ early Wednesday morning, and spent several minutes watching it as it foraged in classic wormie fashion, hanging upside down at leaf clusters. Using different foraging styles is one way birds in a forest, or anywhere, can partition resources - not that they choose to do that, it's just what has evolved and allowed different species to coexist in the same place at the same time. Thus Worm-eating Warblers avoid competition with, say, neighboring Red-eyed Vireos, which tend to spot-and-stalk openly visible caterpillars higher in the canopy.
Posted by Don Freiday at 8:15 AM
Sunday, April 26, 2015
Rarities add a little spice to birding, not that the gulf coast needs much spice (the crawdads were almost as spicy as the birding!] We tracked a couple goodies on our trip, including the Gray Kingbird above, and below, a Black-whiskered Vireo, the first North American lifer I've had in a long, long time.
Posted by Don Freiday at 9:45 PM
As explained in the previous post, I'm just back from a week in coastal Alabama, where we had, among ~160 bird species, 29 (!) species of warblers! And many, even the skulkers, were readily observable as they fed hard after their 600 mile journey across the Gulf of Mexico.
We couldn't quite manage to find that 30th species, though we tried hard. Swainson's Warbler and Mourning Warbler were among the missing prospects, but still, it's hard to complain about this kind of diversity. Here's a sampling:
[Male Cape May Warbler at Bottlebrush on Dauphin Island, AL, April 20, 2015.]
Up next: a couple Alabama rarities.
Posted by Don Freiday at 2:03 PM
Saturday, April 25, 2015
Some dear friends and I spent the past week on the Gulf Coast, which is where birders often go in April to witness the spectacular trans-gulf migration of neotropical migrant birds, like warblers, vireos, tanagers, orioles, and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Both diversity and numbers of birds can be high when conditions are right, which means right for the birders, not the birds. Basically what you want is either north winds or, even better, rain, on the coast or out in the Gulf of Mexico to make migrating difficult, and force tired birds down in the first available patch of cover.
We were in a new spot to witness this amazing annual phenomenon, new for us anyway. Most birders think Texas when they think of fallouts along the gulf, and rightly, but the other gulf states have legendary birding as well, and we chose Dauphin Island, Alabama for our stay.
[Dozens of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds thronged to the feeder at our rental house on Dauphin Island during a rain squall, April 20, 2015.]
Some of our high counts of birds were impressive - 75 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, 25 Red-eyed Vireos, 25 Scarlet Tanagers, 40 Indigo Buntings - even though we didn't hit true fallout weather conditions. And I'm glad - seeing stressed, tired birds can be, well, stressful and tiring. . .
[Alabama abundance of a different kind - blooming White-topped Pitcher Plants at Splinter Hill Preserve, north of Mobile, Alabama. Bachman's Sparrow was singing in the background.]
Up next: diversity (29 warblers!)
Posted by Don Freiday at 10:18 AM