Friday, July 22, 2016

Fri-D: Long-billed Dowitcher

[South Cape May Meadows, NJ July 19, 2016. Click to enlarge.]

I've never been a fan of identifying dowitchers based on the kind of produce they've been eating - cf., "it looks like it swallowed a grapefruit."

The pitfalls of this approach are many - shapes change as postures change, and especially, birds in different condition exhibit different shapes. A classic example of this challenge is spring dowitchers at places like Heislerville, NJ. New arrivals are skinny, indeed sometimes emaciated from a long migratory flight. Birds that have been there a few days are intermediate, and the ones that are ready to continue north are so fat they look like they are going to have to walk, not fly. They're all Short-billed Dowitchers, even if some look like they swallowed a carrot and some a watermelon.

So it was delightful earlier this week when I stood alone on the South Cape Meadows observation platform and this dowitcher dropped in, keek -ing multiple times. Long-billed Dowitcher by call, case-closed, and way, way better than this swallowed-a-kumquat or whatever stuff. Earlier that morning, Tom Johnson had been on the platform and picked what I called an "orangy" and he called a "foxy" dowitcher (LBDO is oranger below than SBDO) and wise a birder as Tom is, he said he'd like to hear it call. Me too, I thought, and when it did, it was the rapid mellow tlu-tlu-tlu of a short-billed.

All that being said, when the Long-billed Dowitcher later dropped in calling, and began feeding into the west wind, facing away from me, it really did look like it had swallowed a grapefruit. A supporting mark is that the orange below swept completely up to the vent on this bird - eastern race dow's are typically white from between the legs and back.

But the best mark is and will forever be voice on this pair.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Thoughtful Thursday: The Republican Primary

[Snowy Egret and killifish, South Cape May Meadows, NJ, July 19, 2016. Click to enlarge.]

"Fish recognize a bad leader." 
- Conan O'Brien

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Wordless Wednesday: Calling for a Friend

[South Cape May Meadows, NJ July 15, 2016. Click to enlarge.]

Monday, July 18, 2016

New Gadget: Accubirder eBird Rarities for Cape May County

If you scroll down, you'll find a new feature to this site on the right side: a listing of rare birds for Cape May County reported to eBird over the last 7 days. Built using Accubirder. Enjoy!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Fri-D: Shorebird Flocks

[One of the first things experts do when addressing a flyby flock of shorebirds is decide if they are all the same species. This group looks all the same size, but compare the top right and bottom left birds with the rest. What's different? The feet and legs project well past the tail, the bodies are slimmer, and the bills are shorter. These two are yellowlegs with a group of dowitchers. Which yellowlegs? You'd be inclined to evaluate the bill size to make that call, but that's not necessary. Since they are about the same body size as the dowitchers, they are Lesser Yellowlegs; Greater Yellowlegs would appear obviously larger. Which dowitchers? The odds heavily favor Short-billed, and indeed I heard their mellow descending tlu-tlu-tlu. If I had not heard them, with this view I would combine probability with the white bellies (not orange) and say Short-billed Dowitchers. South Cape May Meadows, NJ this week.]

Shorebirding has much improved over the past few days here in Cape May, which is to be expected since July is an important month for southbound shorebird migration. This surprises some people, the business of "fall" migration in July (or even late June). Several mornings this week I've enjoyed watching shorebirds fly past or drop into the South Cape May Meadows, a.k.a. The Nature Conservancy's Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge, arguably the best July birding spot in Cape May.

Shorebirds headed south in July are all adults, with, generally speaking, failed breeders coming earliest, then females (especially in species where the male parent gives the little care baby shorebirds need), then males, though these different groups overlap very broadly.

Important fact: all southbound shorebirds in July are adults in worn breeding plumage; we won't see the bright, neat juveniles until the very last days of the month, most not until August. This means if you have a shorebird and are using plumage features to aid identification, you don't have to age it right now: they're all adults (unless they are first year birds that didn't migrate all the way to the nesting grounds. Sigh. You can't say always or never when it comes to nature.)

But shorebirds are best identified by size, shape and behavior - see the caption above.