Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Tale of Two Counts

 [Something's going on with several key bird food plants this winter, one of which is sweetgum. I've never seen so many birds of so many species feeding on the seeds of sweetgum, contained in prickly "gumballs". This Carolina Chickadee at Cape May NWR is an example, but watch for sparrows, finches and blackbirds on, or under, this tree.]

It's only about 125 miles as the robin flies from the Walnut Valley Christmas Bird Count circle in (mainly) Warren County, NJ southward to the Cape May circle. Other than the obvious (like ocean versus no ocean), the following numbers speak volumes about how NJ is more than one state, biologically:

                                 Walnut Valley     Cape May
Carolina Wren                     4                    30
Hermit Thrush                     1                    30
Gray Catbird                        0                     5
Brown Thrasher                   0                   10
Eastern Towhee                  5                    14
American Tree Sparrow    20                     0
Fox Sparrow                        6                    33

The above numbers are just from my territories on both counts, but the implication is clear: north Jersey is the northeast verging on New England; south Jersey is the mid-Atlantic verging on the southeast.

 [Used to say you can't sneak up on Wild Turkeys, but we did on these in the Schellenger tract of the Cape May NWR on Sunday, right after we found some of the distinctive, pie-pan sized, somewhat triangular patches of scraped-away leaves that feeding turkey flocks leave behind.]

Speaking of north-south differences, one difference that has largely disappeared is where you go to find a Wild Turkey. They're all over the south now, but 25 years ago, Sussex and Warren counties were the place to look, near the original reintroduction site for turkeys in NJ in Sussex, which I believe occurred in 1977.

[The Green Creek Bald Eagle pair put in a showing north of Norbury's Landing during the Cape May CBC. Not sure where this pair nests - but it has to be nearby, they're often out there, sometimes sitting right on the muddy sand flats at low tide.]

Our count territory list for the Cape May count on Sunday is below.

Freiday Cape May CBC territory, Cape May, US-NJ
Dec 18, 2011 5:15 AM - 4:00 PM
Protocol: Traveling
17.0 mile(s)
Comments: Cape May CBC. Owling: 1:15, 5 miles. Day: 9.5 hours on foot, 1 hour by car, 5 miles on foot, 12 miles by car. a.m. partly cloudy 30's, p.m. clear 40. With Beth. covered Norbury's Landing, Del Haven north of Millman, Cape May NWR Burleigh, Schellenger, and "Paul's spot" west of 47.
68 species (+1 other taxa)

Snow Goose 450
Canada Goose 302
American Black Duck 29
American Black Duck x Mallard (hybrid) 2
Mallard 2
Hooded Merganser 4
Red-breasted Merganser 4
Wild Turkey 8
Great Blue Heron 6
Black Vulture 9
Turkey Vulture 20
Bald Eagle 2
Northern Harrier 1
Red-tailed Hawk 6
Merlin 1
Clapper Rail 13
Black-bellied Plover 2
Greater Yellowlegs 1
Western Sandpiper 1
Dunlin 170
Wilson's Snipe 2
American Woodcock 2

Ring-billed Gull 12
Herring Gull 16
Great Black-backed Gull 3
Rock Pigeon 16
Mourning Dove 17
Great Horned Owl 6
Belted Kingfisher 2
Red-bellied Woodpecker 17
Downy Woodpecker 1
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 1
Blue Jay 12
American Crow 12
Carolina Chickadee 32
Tufted Titmouse 9
Brown Creeper 1
Carolina Wren 30
Winter Wren 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 3
Eastern Bluebird 16
Hermit Thrush 30
American Robin 4264
Gray Catbird 5
Northern Mockingbird 15
Brown Thrasher 10
European Starling 1055
Cedar Waxwing 5
Orange-crowned Warbler 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 14
Eastern Towhee 14
Field Sparrow 1
Savannah Sparrow 30
Seaside Sparrow 1

Fox Sparrow 33
Song Sparrow 27
Swamp Sparrow 5
White-throated Sparrow 175
Dark-eyed Junco 16
Northern Cardinal 30
Red-winged Blackbird 1980
Rusty Blackbird 13
Common Grackle 2450
Brown-headed Cowbird 360
House Finch 10
American Goldfinch 16
House Sparrow 115


  1. Just a thought re the Sweet Gum...the acorn production is down this year, perhaps the Sweet Gum is serving as a substitute for acorns for a number of species?

  2. @ songbird, I don't know how much sweet gum seeds substitute for acorns, since the gum seeds are much smaller, but it's a possiblity. I do hypothesize that, since acorn production is down in most places but seemed not to be a Cox Hall Creek WMA, that's why the multiple Red-headed Woodpeckers and many Red-bellied Woodpeckers are wintering there.