Saturday, July 30, 2011
Terns by the hundreds are piling into Cape May, or so I hear - Tony Leukering tells me over 700, with birds going in and out so who knows how many are really there. Check the beach and Bunker Pond. Multiple Sandwich Terns were among them today. Most of the tern colonies are finishing up, so watch for juveniles following adults begging for food. Forster's Terns mostly nest on wrack in salt marsh, Commons also nest on the marsh but prefer undisturbed sandy beach if they can find it, no mean feat in NJ.
Posted by Don Freiday at 9:21 PM
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Sunday, July 24, 2011
A sound of summer (the audible kind) I forgot to mention, how I know not, is the piping whistle of Osprey. Taylor Sound, between the parkway and Wildwood, should be renamed "The Place of Ospreys," since it is ringed with Osprey nests: nests on duck blinds, on derelict cabins, and on more conventional Osprey towers. And the birds pipe constantly, or whenever one of their number flies over with a fish, which is nearly the same thing as the young near flying stage and insistently beg for food from busily hunting adults.
We saw many shorebirds while kayaking today: Whimbrels feasting on fiddler crabs; peep probing worms from the muckiest mud you can imagine; Spotted Sandpipers teetering on sod banks; Greater Yellowlegs chasing fish. All the shorebirds were adults; the first juvenile shorebirds (not counting the local Willets) will probably be Least Sandpipers appearing around August 1.
Posted by Don Freiday at 9:01 PM
Saturday, July 23, 2011
I don't mean sounds you hear, though there are plenty of them: the laughing of gulls, keee-aaahrr's of Common Terns, drone of flies, music of the ice cream truck driving the streets of North Cape May, crash of waves and laughter of children at the beach. The sounds I mean have water in them, at least at high tide: sound, noun: an inlet, bay, or recessed portion of the ocean.
Of both sounds, Cape May has many. Of the aquatic kind, Great, Grassy, Jarvis, Jenkins, Richarson, Townsend (who were these people?) fill and empty with the twice daily tides. Today I paddled Stite's Sound and down to Townsend's Inlet; tomorrow it will be Taylor Sound, on a falling tide, passing the marsh shack hosting an Osprey nest on the roof, the one, I fancy, that Witmer Stone stayed in 100 years ago or so. He wrote of visiting such a place, and the location matches, roughly, though without maintenance a shack in the marsh falls down several times over in the span of a century. According to the plan, I'll pass "Stone's" shack again on the way back in as the tide rises and gives me a lift to the landing. That's the theory. We'll see what the wind says, but one thing I can tell you is you don't want to wind up in a kayak fighting both an outgoing tide and the wind at the same time. At least not in the narrow channels, where the tidal flow can outstrip a small outboard or weak kayaker. In bigger channels, the water spreads a bit and you can go against the flow, but it's not much fun.
The sounds are shallow, so shallow that at low tide they won't float a kayak in places - which means they won't float a boat, or, hallelujah, a jet ski. But on the mud left behind at low tide there are shorebirds, foraging gulls, terns, egrets, and night-herons, and the myriad creatures that are the supermarket for these birds.
More on the shorebirds later. Today I checked in on another gull colony I know, a large gull colony, by which, as Tony Leukering made me clarify, I mean a colony of large gulls: mostly Herring, a few Great Black-backeds.
Mike Crewe told us over crab cakes and beer tonight that in the U.K., gull chicks are banded by teams of people,because the chicks so effectively disappear when approached. And it's true: there had to be dozens of chicks in the gull colony I visited this morning, yet a quick but careful walk-through yielded none apparent to the eye. Mike said the teams use radios, with observers guiding the banders: "Okay, put your hand down next to that shrub, the chick is right there." I stepped away from the colony to watch, and sure enough, chicks started reappearing from their hiding places, including the one pictured above.
It was 94 degrees next to the water near Avalon when I came off about 10:00 a.m. The outside thermometer reading, according to my truck, peaked at 99 in the center of the Cape May Peninsula a little later, dropping again as I got close to the bay. Who knows what the high was; mowing the lawn at midday left me soaking, and the birds visited the water drip constantly, lawnmower running nearby or not. I got on the water before sunup this morning and swam several times to cool off, watching schools of silversides flee in front of me.
These sounds teem with life. When people ask me why Cape May is so good for birds, that's part of the answer.
Posted by Don Freiday at 9:23 PM
Sunday, July 17, 2011
It is SO worth getting up at 4:00 a.m., even if you pay for it by dark. On the water by 5, sun not even up, not a soul in sight - or, on the contrary, many souls, those of birds. Dowitchers down from Labrador, Whimbrels from farther (Alaska, even, maybe), Yellow-crowned Night-herons crouching in shady salt creeks stalking fiddler crabs. That was my Sunday morning, foraying into Jenkins Sound and then circumnavigating Nummy Island by kayak.
This was my first visit of the year to the massive Laughing Gull colony, or colonies, on the marshes west of Stone Harbor and Wildwood. The gulls nest on piles of wrack, or build their own piles. Something like 10,000 birds are in this colony, the world's largest, and it is a cacaphony indeed.
Posted by Don Freiday at 9:33 PM
Saturday, July 16, 2011
I've spent most of the last two days in salt marsh, yesterday posting refuge boundaries at Forsythe via airboat (and seeing more salt sparrows in one day than I have in a lifetime of looking); today, completing my third SHARP secretive marshbird survey at Tuckerton, where the Saltmarsh Sparrows are feeding young, some of them, anyway. Tuckerton was even more riddled with herons than usual, including 2 Tricolored, one Little Blue, a half-dozen Great Blues (post breeding dispersers, I guess), and many Black-crowned Night-herons.
If all goes well, tomorrow will be saltmarsh day 3 - the kayak's loaded in the truck, as is the waterproof (I hope) camera bag. Hope to get there at dawn, well before the crazies and their jet skis. . .
Posted by Don Freiday at 9:53 PM
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
After 25 years of working in nature centers, answering calls from people complaining about some woodpecker banging on their house. . .
[. . . I finally got one of my own. Several actually, apparently a brood of Hairy Woodpeckers. At least it's a quality species! Note the red's in the "wrong" place - in many woodpeckers, juveniles of both sexes get some red on the crown.]
Posted by Don Freiday at 4:09 AM
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Both photos above were taken Saturday afternoon. Did you notice the color band on the Common's leg?
At the pig roast, Vince Elia commented to me that he drove through Belleplain the other day and heard not an Ovenbird - remember, I was clicking 80+ there in May (check the archive). Those OVEN's are still there, in fact more of them, since not only the adults are present but their young of the year, too. They're just quiet, and busy - molting. We banded 2 young-of-the-year Ovenbirds in Bear Swamp, Cumberland County today - not to mention a young Kentucky Warbler. We also caught an adult female Worm-eating Warbler with a brood patch showing no sign of receding - perhaps a bird involved with or recently finished with a second nesting. The adult Black-and-white Warbler pictured below was in heavy molt, a major reason why the forests are so quiet in late summer. Molting takes energy, lots of it.
This is not to say nothing's singing - we heard pretty much every expected species in full song from 5:30 a.m. to 5:45 a.m., including both Summer and Scarlet Tanagers. Then most everybody shut down, with only intermittent vocalizations thereafter.
Posted by Don Freiday at 6:12 PM
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
There are pros and cons to this summer thing in south Jersey. The crowds and traffic . . . ugh. At least we have Greenheads to keep the tourists at bay. Not many migrants to be had, though yesterday we paddled around the Green Creek marsh on the bay side and not only got away from the crowds, but flushed a couple Spotted Sandpipers (presumed migrants). A more interesting flush was the immature male Northern Harrier, which rocketed from a dense patch of phragmites at close range and was immediately set upon by Red-winged Blackbirds, which relentlessly pursued this bird until it was out of sight, escaping at high speed by beating its wings as rapidly as a Sharp-shinned Hawk, in fact, I might well have called it one at distance. The marsh is riddled with Clapper Rails, and we glimpsed a dingy youngster with traces of black down sticking through the feathers.
Then, the fireworks. They float this barge every year off the west end of the Cape May Canal, near the ferry terminal, and spend what must be a bargeload of money on the pyrotechnics. Call me a guilty envionmentalist - all that smoke and fire can't be good for the atmosphere, and I'm not sure the local avifauna, bats, etc. are so thrilled by the explosions, either. But I go watch them anyway.
"I'm glad you have a plan for this," she said. yeah, I had a plan. It went like this: Stop at WaWa for iced coffee in our travel mugs (no paper - the guilt thing), then the liquor store for Frangelica, and drive as close as we could get, not very, to the festivities. Drop a pin on the iPhone's map and label it TRUCK so we can find it again, pour Frangelica into cups, and start walking and sipping. Buy a hot dog along the way. . .
Posted by Don Freiday at 6:30 AM