Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sibley Says Stone Says

Toodling around Belleplain by bike this evening - okay, not toodling, cranking, trying to rebuild some form of capacity post knee surgery, what a freaking job that is - I heard several Whip-poor-wills right at dusk. It being the end of August, I thought that notable, though I learned when I got home that Whips call through September, at least so says David Sibley in The Birds of Cape May. Didn't know that, since I don't live where whips are and normally don't go to places like Belleplain much past July.

What really brought me up short, though, was Sibley talking about how Witmer Stone (Bird Studies at Old Cape May) characterized Whip-poor-will as common throughout Cape May County, including Cape May Point, which certainly is no longer true. So I fished out my Stone, and found this gem:

"Charles Page who for several reasons occupied a little cabin directly in the woods had an abundance of Whip-poor-wills immediately about his door and even on his roof. . . "

Interesting about the abundance, but what I really want to know about is the "several reasons. . ."

Refugees II: Terns for the Better

I've often (too often) said this about poker, after losing: I'd play that hand the same way again. And I'll say the same thing about Irene, or maybe I'll adapt the old pilots' adage instead: I'd much rather be out of the storm wishing I was in it, than in the storm wishing I was somewhere else.

So I missed all the fancy storm birds my friends had at Cape May Point, or almost all of them: the White-tailed Tropicbirds, for example, and it should be noted that Mike Fritz, who apparently spotted the first one, has a tropicbird painted on his boat. But we managed to glean a few storm birds out in Bucks County:

 [Above and below: different views of the same two Sooty Terns at Lake Nockamixon on Sunday morning. These images are heavily cropped - these guys were a long way off.]

What better to do in a hurricane, when inland, than go to the nearest lake? Which for us was Lake Nockamixon, and during the period while the rains from the hurricane subsided and before the post-storm west wind kicked in, we hit some great birds. Our first stop found 15 Black Terns foraging over the flooded lake shore, and scoping over the lake yielded very distant view of our two Sooty Terns. We headed over to the boat launch area, where the terns eventually came a bit closer, and where numerous Common Terns and a few Caspians entertained. We also had a wayward Laughing Gull, pretty far from the coast.

[Black Tern at Lake Nockamixon.]

[And finally, one of the Caspians.]

Friday, August 26, 2011

Refugees Part I

They're not exactly tropical terns, but four species of woodpecker ain't bad, especially since one is a Pileated, and us refugees are enjoying them over Humbolt Fog cheese and Pinot Noir...Boonie and I fled the Cape May madness (no more gas on the barrier islands, parkway's closing, and oh yeah, there's this hurricane..)

Some friends have stayed in CM, and I may wind up wishing I had, but Boonie thinks life's pretty good up here in Buck's County with Kathy and Roger, swimming in Lake Nockamixon and waiting for the wind and rain to come. I still haven't sorted out the chickadees here, which leads me to think they haven't sorted it out themselves. Ragged bibs, neat bibs, white hind cheeks, grayer hind cheeks... But they're small with fast calls... Oops, we've got a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak flycatching (!) overhead, haven't seen one of them in a while. Young BT Green, some kind of hatch going on, like it says on the boarded up Cape May Cheese Shop, we'll Brie right back!

Later: well, that was cool, we just had a dinnertime feeding flock here in the hills above the Delaware River. Headed for Cape May? About 10 warbler species, including a female Blackburnian, that's a good color to learn, the color of her throat.

Right, refugees signing off for now.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Whimbrel in a Hurricane

I'm about to evacuate myself out of Cape May (sniff, sniff, missing all the storm-driven tropical waifs), but wanted to call attention to the following, which I found courtesy of a Michael Gochfeld post on the jerseybirds listserve. Whimbrels have been a recurring theme for me this summer, in the Arctic and at home (see the blog archives), so this story was especially compelling:

Scientists Track Shorebird into Hurricane Irene (Williamsburg, VA)---Scientists have tracked a migrating shorebird into Hurricane Irene. The shorebird, a whimbrel migrating from Canada to South America left Southampton Island in upper Hudson Bay on Saturday, flew out over the open ocean and appears to have encountered the outer bands of Irene on Tuesday.

The bird named Chinquapin flew through the dangerous northeast quadrant of the storm during the day on Wednesday. It is being tracked by a small satellite transmitter and is scheduled to transmit a new set of positions within the next day.

In 2010 this same bird flew around Tropical Storm Colin while a second bird flew into the storm and did not survive. The long-term tracking study has documented several previous encounters between whimbrel and major storms. Earlier in August one of the birds flew through Tropical Storm Gert in the North Atlantic. This bird encountered high headwinds for 27 hours averaging only 9 miles per hour. Once through the storm, flight speed increased to more than 90 miles per hour as the bird was pushed by significant tail winds and made it back to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. In 2008, a bird was tracked into Hurricane Hanna and landed in the Bahamas only to be hit later by Hurricane Ike.

Updated tracking maps may be viewed online.http://www.ccbwm.org/programs/migration/Whimbrel/whimbrel.htm

How migratory birds navigate around and survive major storm systems has been an open question to science. Achieving an understanding of this process is important because the Caribbean Basin is a major flyway for many bird species moving from breeding grounds in North American to winter in South America and their migrations coincide with the period of highest hurricane formation. Changes in storm frequency, intensity, or distribution may have implications for timing and routes of migratory movements. This tracking project is a collaborative effort between The Center for Conservation Biology, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program, and Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Brown Booby in Jarvis Sound!!

[As seen from Two-mile Landing off Ocean Drive early this afternoon.]

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Almost Wordless Wednesday: This Summer's Recurring Themes

[Salt sparrows, one of each kind (right bird is a hatch year Seaside, left a Saltmarsh.)]

[Whimbrels are big, compare the dowitchers.]

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Land in Your Bones

This Sunday evening, rain bounces off the study windows, and the yard denizens whisper heavy sighs of relief. Finally, say the winterberry hollies and buttonbushes and other water-needy things the owner here (me) coddles far too little, finally some relief.

I suppose I'll go on record and say the first significant Higbee Beach morning flight of 2011 will happen this Tuesday, if the NOAA  frontal forecast is right - bookmark that page, by the way, very useful and accurate. A cold front clears Monday, although some unsettled weather to our north may persist, making the bird forecast tricky. But there will be a northwest wind overnight Monday into Tuesday, according to the local forecast. And the local wind is the thing, wherein we'll catch the birdies on the wing (sorry, Shakespeare, and cf. Hamlet act 2, scene 2). Tuesday should also bring hawks to Cape May, harriers and such. In case I'm wrong, watch Wednesday too.

I spent the weekend in river country, Susquehanna River country to be precise, out there in Pennsyltucky fooling with canoe and smallmouth bass, and watching an Osprey merely call in protest when the adult eagle flew past, but proceed later to run a hatch-year bird off its territory with confidence suggesting it knew the difference between the two. Shortly I'll be Googling "best way to repair broken wood canoe gunnel on Mad River Kevlar Explorer" - another story for the poor old girl to warn the newer kayaks it bunks with. . .

I'm feeling reflective this evening, post-river-trip, and one thing I reflect on is that people, some people at least, develop a feel for a certain landscape early in their lives, and that landscape never leaves them. My fishing buddy Fletch and I talked about this on and off all weekend. Not that I don't love the coastal plain, the beach walks at sunset when tourists have cashed it in for the night, or the season, or Morning Flight, or the shorebirds in Bunker pond and the harriers that will soon be over it. But I grew up exploring northern NJ, on a farm between two hills, or two mountains, depending on your perspective. They were mountains by Cape May standards, that's for sure. The farm is sadly now dead, growing office buildings and McManshions instead of hay and cows. Other places I've loved up north have met similar fates, but by far not all of them in the rural, hilly land running up to and over the Appalachian Ridge.

The land in my bones has hills and valleys, rocks and swift streams, tall oaks and hickories over spicebush and dogwood, sycamores and silver maples along a river, corn and soybeans between hedgerows, deer at the edge of a clearing, Great-horned Owls haunting the hollow below me during a December dusk.

Perhaps, after all these past years visiting Cape May, and a few more in the future living and exploring this place, its marshes and maritime forests and tides and storms, I'll harbor two different lands in my bones. We'll see. I've been here 5 years now, and going north still feels a bit like going home.

[A Susquehanna raccoon's favorite fishing spot.]

[Hills, valleys, rocks, moving water. . . you can go home again.]

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Trip Across the Bay

 [Yellow-billed Cuckoo foraging on the ground, Cape Henlopen State Park, DE last Friday.]

Why does the birder cross the bay (the Delaware Bay that is)? To get Brown-headed Nuthatch on the other side, and maybe a few birds on the way across. We did that last weekend, but what was really surprising to me were the many, varied and active birds at Cape Henlopen State Park, besides the nuthatch. In spite of heat, crowds of campers and beach goers (and beach drivers, aargh), the birding was damn good, with something approaching 70 species and some really great views of special birds. Without even trying, I might add - we were camping with the "puppy," all 83 pounds of him, and a lot of the trip was about continuing his socialization. He was a real hit with kids on the ferry, though not so much with the female poodle, nor its owners. . .

Right away in the campground Friday afternoon, a couple Yellow-billed Cuckoos entertained us, and were really very confiding - the shot above was in our campsite, range maybe 10 feet. I don't know about you, but any day with a cuckoo in it is a good day for me, cuckoos of the bird variety I mean. A Pine Warbler father worked hard to raise young, and their constant rapid chattering (begging calls) was a fixture. Walking the bike trail yielded multiple Blue Grosbeaks, shorebirds overhead, and nightly nighthawks calling, chasing and foraging. The morning beach was awesome, with multiple Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a wayward White-winged Scoter up on the beach, terns and more shorebirds, and a chance for Boonie to bodysurf some heavy waves while practicing retrieving. By mid-morning beach was packed with vehicles, something of a drag.

Sunday we hit Bombay Hook, where over 100 American Avocets and many Black-necked Stilts, however expected, were real treats. We saw lots of other stuff, Stilt Sandpipers etc., but it was hotter than snot (like 94 and humid, which didn't bother the greenheads one whit), so we just did it by binocular through closed windows. A couple small flocks of Long-billed Dowitchers in Raymond and Shearness pools were nice, each round as softballs after the short-billeds we've been looking at.

The ferry crossings both had several Wilson's Storm-petrels for entertainment. By the way, these birds are not generally close to the boat, so you've got to scan and also make sure you're not looking at Purple Martins or other swallows. The tip of Cape Henlopen, closed to people, was packed with gulls and had a few Brown Pelicans, and more flew past the ferry out in the bay. The Atlantic Bottle-nosed Dolphin show was great, and I pointed them out to a bunch of passengers. One worker at the ferry snack bar told me she had still not seen a dolphin - she always hears about them, but never gets to leave her station. Let's protect ourselves from jobs like that!

 [Bedraggled male Pine Warbler just fed a bug to one youngster, with the other begging mercilessly.]

 [Blue Grosbeak still singing away - we saw one pair carrying food to a nest.]

 [The Cape Henlopen State Park target bird, if you're from Cape May or points north - dial in on their squeaky-bath-duck calls, and Brown-headed Nuthatches are easy to find. One evening we hit a flock of 10 or so, probably a couple family groups.]

 [Fence Lizard along Cape Henlopen bike trail.]

[Yes! the "moon" shot with a calling Common Nighthawk. Nighthawks were active and visible at twilight at Cape Henlopen, obviously local breeders.]

Friday, August 5, 2011

Meanwhile, Back in the Woods

We're about to take Daniel Boone (my Chessie) on his first trip across the Delaware Bay since I picked him up from Eastern Waters Kennel a little over a year ago, for a bit of camping, but figured I'd offer a final update on Bear Swamp, Cumberland County, from our MAPS (Mapping Avian Productivity and Surviorship) banding station last weekend, the last banding session of 2011.

It's quiet, but not empty.

 [Red-eyed Vireo, second year (i.e. hatched last summer), Bear Swamp on Sunday.]

The Red-eyed Vireos continue to do what vireos do: sing, sing, sing, "Here I am," "Where are you?" "Over here!" "Higher!" We heard a few songs from both tanagers, several from Yellow-billed Cuckoos, one or two from the Blue Grosbeak along 555 near the tracks. Of Ovenbirds, we heard none - but we caught five, hatch-years all, so in terms of productivity, Bear Swamp had a good year.

[Any flycatcher with wing chord over 80mm is no Empid. . . if we catch flycatchers in Bear Swamp, they are universally Acadian's, so this bird was a surprise, note the very long primaries. This Eastern Wood-pewee, another hatch year (note the buffy wing bars) was a first capture for us. They're always there, but stay above the level of normal mist nets. That's actually a field mark - if it's lower than 10 feet, it's not a wood-pewee.]

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Walk on the Beach

 [4th cycle (right, near adult) and 2nd cycle (a little over a year old) Lesser Black-backed Gulls, on the beach at Stone Harbor Sunday.]

I hadn't been to Stone Harbor Point since before I went to Alaska in June, an unusual circumstance for me since it's one of my favorite places. Especially in the evening when the beach crowds have thinned and the light is warm, the walk to the tip is a great way to regroup the stories in your mind, see some birds, dip a toe, turn over a shell, maybe take some pictures. Makes me want to keep it a secret, but there I've gone and told you.

It seems that nothing in the way of tern or skimmer nesting happened on the point this year - its topography currently allows flooding at full and new-moon tides over most of the point, and Champagne Island fell into the sea, though the sandbars left behind in Hereford inlet host gulls, terns, and a few shorebirds. I'm sure steady searching would turn up something rare.

Though none were nesting, there certainly were terns to see Sunday night - Commons, mainly, heading inland to their colonies up on wrack in the salt marsh west of Nummy Island, also a few Forster's, and a few Royals. Many of the Royals had youngsters in tow, presumably birds that nested to our south but came up for good late-summer foraging.

Four Lesser Black-backed Gulls were a bit of a treat. There still, as far as I know, has not been proven nesting of Lesser Black-backed in North America, apart from individual birds paired with Herring Gulls.

[This Lesser Black-backed Gull, the same individual as the one in the photo above right, will look like an adult at the end of this molt. It's replaced 4 primaries, started a 5th, and shed most of its greater (secondary) coverts.]

[Another gull in molt, this one a Ring-billed.]

 I'm always pleased to see the Ring-billed Gulls come back, they get scarce to absent in early summer, since the nearest they nest is the north shore of Lake Erie, I believe. Someday I'd like to visit a RBGU colony, I find this bird particularly striking, probably because it was the common gull where I spent most of my adult life, in Hunterdon County, NJ, with thousands flying over my home there each morning in evening as they headed out and back from reservoir roosts.

[Lesser Black-backed Gull. How old is it?]

 [Royal Tern chick, bottom, about to get a meal from mom or dad. Speaking of chicks, there was this chick sitting on the beach just left of these terns, and I think she thought I was taking her picture. . .]

[How many species can you find in this photo? I am sure there are 3, that's easy - but could there be 4? Top 4 are Semipalmated Plovers, rightmost is a Sanderling, how about the two little ones, same or different?]