Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Sunday, November 27, 2011
"This mysterious hermit of the alders, this recluse of the boggy thickets, this wood nymph of crepuscular habits is a common bird and well distributed in our Eastern States, widely known, but not intimately known. Its quiet retiring habits do not lead to human intimacy." - Arthur Cleveland Bent on the American Woodcock, 1927. See Wordless Wednesday, below. And be it noted: photographing a woodcock in flight is about as easy as catching one with a baseball glove. . .
One must love both Bent and his classical natural history prose, and the woodcock and his "quiet retiring habits."
Some fine rare birds were discovered this Thanksgiving weekend, like Ash-throated Flycatchers, Western Kingbirds, and Western Tanagers, plus kittewakes et. al. offshore. But determined both to walk off Thanksgiving calories and to try to meet widely known birds more intimately, I resisted the very strong temptation to chase the rare in favor of creeping through "boggy thickets."
How much do you walk off trail? I confess to doing it all the time, a habit acquired during a farm-boy-hunter-trapper youth, and prefer it. Never where regulated against, of course - but recluse paths lead to reclusive birds.
It was a warm Thanksgiving weekend, one where Snow Buntings, dragonflies, and Buckeye and the last lingering Monarch Butterflies shared the same space. I'm pretty sure I saw my last Osprey of 2011 last weekend, too - pretty sure only because these things are changing. Consider this: I remember blithely telling NJ birding dean Rich Kane about an Osprey I saw at "Brig," (Forsythe NWR) one early December day about 25 years ago. Rich said, "Really?" Enthusiastically - and, I now know, with much doubt. Ospreys don't happen in December, or didn't used to. How long will it be until a few Ospreys winter in Cape May every year?
Posted by Don Freiday at 7:43 PM
Sunday, November 20, 2011
November is called rarity month by many Cape May birders, but spectacle in numbers beats rarities any day, so with some "good" birds this weekend, how cool were the swarms of Northern Gannets, scoters, teal and Red-throated Loons passing the Avalon Seawatch on Saturday? Very cool, thought I, and Tom Reed, Clay Sutton, Sam Galick, and others at the seawatch. And just as cool was the continued abundance of short-distance migrants like bluebirds, waxwings, robins, yellow-rumps, sparrows and towhees at Cox Hall Creek WMA, and elsewhere around Cape May.
Friday afternoon found me in pursuit of cheese to melt over some pheasant breasts obtained with the assitance of my pup Daniel Boone (today I added more "hero" pics to his slide show in the right hand column of this page). Since Roger Horn's text about the re-located Ash-throated Flycatcher reached me just as I was leaving the wonderful Seaside Cheese Shop in Cape May (with a delectable pepper-laced pecorino), how could I not go for it? Results above, and below.
Lucky for me, Roger escorted me to the Ash-throated Flycatcher, lucky because it had moved and Roger made a nice pick on it along the north hedgerow of the first field at TNC's Cape Island Preserve, which is accessed from the end of Wilson Avenue off Broadway, by the way. The flycatcher was incredibly active until dark, moving all around that first field, and I'm not surprised it disappeared, since "moving all around" is a symptom of zugenruhe, or migration restlessness. That bird probably migrated somewhere else Friday night.
Saturday morning was to be all birds, and I started by trolling the backstreets of the Villas, looking for fruit-laden cedars and general patches of activity. At "Lake Champlain," the detention pond named for the street it's on, a cormorant perched in sillhouette stopped me.
Next stop on the way to Cape May on Saturday was the ferry terminal and environs. There's a pretty good thicket to the right as you drive into the terminal, and it was loaded with Cedar Waxwings, American Robins, sparrows including several Fox Sparrows, and of course, Yellow-rumped Warblers.
[Speaking of orange tail tips on Cedar Waxwings. . . these birds were at the Cape May Ferry Terminal Saturday. Note the upper right bird, and see post below.]
I decided to put a stop to the Eurasian Collared Dove-less NJ list (mine), finally, and checked in on the three still hanging out at the corner of Lincoln and Whildin in Cape May Point. How long have these things been there? I can't even remember, but you see them so commonly to the south now that somehow I haven't mustered the will to notch one for NJ. Until Saturday.
If you can find fruiting eastern redcedars, work them - and you can find lots of them, since everywhere in southern NJ some members of this species have superabundant fruit. I've been hearing numbers like 10,000 for Cedar Waxwings on last week's Cape May big flight, and many of these seem to have stuck around. Cape May Point has plenty of cedars, and birds are there, e.g. around Lily Lake.
Cox Hall Creek WMA in the Villas is practically in my backyard, and it has been utterly loaded with birds. Today (Sunday) I clicked 87 Eastern Bluebirds, and carefully counted 25 Eastern Towhees amongst a riddlement of sparrows. At least 6 Red-headed Woodpeckers are wintering there, seeming to most often give their trilled krrrrrr contact call.
Today's (Sunday's) Cox Hall Creek highlight for me started with a rising seep while I stalked about trying to photograph some of the wary towhees - a whole lot of birds were making a whole lot of notes in the southeast part of the WMA, but this one stood out. In addition to the flight calls CD-ROM by Bill Evans and Michael O'Brien, another useful resource for the criminally insane - oops, I mean those trying to learn warbler flight notes, which are often given by birds perched as well as in flight - is the Rosetta Stone for warblers. And this sound was one of the Vermivora, and I was pretty sure which one. . . .
[My fifth weekend warbler, a Palm at Cox Hall Creek today.]
I spend this afternoon trying to photograph American Woodcock in flight - you'd be surprised how many of them are present, once you start walking off trail. Which, by the way, where allowed, has much to recommend it. Perhaps the results will wind up on Wordless Wednesday.
Villas--Cox Hall Creek WMA (Villas WMA), Cape May, US-NJ
Nov 20, 2011 8:00 AM - 11:00 AM
Canada Goose 10
Mute Swan 2
Wood Duck 22
Pied-billed Grebe 1
Black Vulture 1
Turkey Vulture 2
Sharp-shinned Hawk 3
Cooper's Hawk 2
Red-tailed Hawk 3
American Woodcock 7
Mourning Dove 8
Red-headed Woodpecker 6 careful count
Red-bellied Woodpecker 10
Downy Woodpecker 3
Northern Flicker 4
Eastern Phoebe 1
Blue Jay 5
American Crow 20
Carolina Chickadee 3
Tufted Titmouse 8
White-breasted Nuthatch 2
Carolina Wren 4
Winter Wren 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet 5
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 5
Eastern Bluebird 87 actual count by clicker
Hermit Thrush 1
American Robin 100
Northern Mockingbird 3
Brown Thrasher 1
European Starling 200
Cedar Waxwing 25
Orange-crowned Warbler 1
Palm Warbler 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 10
Eastern Towhee 25 careful count, all in same area, essentially a flock
Chipping Sparrow 35
Field Sparrow 15
Fox Sparrow 8
Song Sparrow 10
Swamp Sparrow 10
White-throated Sparrow 20
Dark-eyed Junco 2
Northern Cardinal 8
Red-winged Blackbird 50
Rusty Blackbird 10
Common Grackle 100
Brown-headed Cowbird 40
Purple Finch 4
House Finch 20
American Goldfinch 5
Posted by Don Freiday at 6:36 PM
Monday, November 14, 2011
Many, many birds adorned Cox Hall Creek WMA on Sunday, and as we wandered and wondered enjoying them, I got to thinking about birds in context of habitat. They're pretty much always where they're supposed to be - imagine that!
Like, why is the WMA so good for Eastern Bluebirds? With at least 100 (!!) there today? Because it's a mixture of open woods and meadows, with abundant fruiting trees and shrubs like eastern redcedar and multiflora rose, and has water to produce insects the year round, and plenty of snags with cavities to roost in at night or in inclement weather. The definition of bluebird habitat. I sincerely doubt all those bluebirds will winter at Cox Hall Creek, but a sizeable chunk of them will.
Posted by Don Freiday at 6:53 AM
Sunday, November 6, 2011
On Saturday morning, after quickly concluding there was no big flight underway (due to the absence of robins and other flocks overhead), and after not finding the Western Kingbird lingering along Sunset Boulevard near the bread stand, I decided instead to find me a redcedar in heavy fruit and with bird activity on it.
(By the way, I'm waiting for kingbird searchers to find another rare bird there, and thus create Cape May's answer to the Patagonia Picinc Table Effect - the Cape May Bread Stand Effect).
Driving around Lily Lake I found just the cedar, laden with berries and with ponderous low boughs riddled with yellow-rumpeds, House Finches, Robins, a Blackpoll Warbler. I was thinking about Townsend's Solitaire. There's one in the state right now, apparently, and there've been enough cold fronts and west wind days to push such a western stray here. TOSO's descend from high elevation breeding areas to winter on junipers in the west, and the two I've seen in NJ both were doing something similar, maintaining territories for several weeks in eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) thickets. No TOSO materialized, but the oriole above was a nice consolation.
I drove by the Western Kingbird spot again, and missed it again, and headed on to the South Cape May Meadows to look for more juniper birds. First a hatch year Bald Eagle flushing the many ducks and coots in the meadows distracted me, then some sparrows (I think half the birds on the radar Friday night were migrating Song Sparrows, based on the number of seeps in the meadows on Sunday), and then I chanced to look up and see a high-flying Short-eared Owl. Unexpected. It disappeared heading south over the dune before I could get a good photo, and I resumed sparrowing until it occurred to me that the owl was unlikely to keep going across the bay on such a strong NE wind, so I hustled to the top of the dune and found the owl dog-fighting with gulls, low over the breakers.
Eventually the Short-eared made its way back to land, flying pretty much right past me, and went back over the dune to roost somewhere between the meadows and Cape May City.
My theory on the Western Kingbird, supported by Tom Johnson and Sam Galick who had seen the bird before, was that eventually it would return to its favored haunts along Sunset, once it warmed up a bit. So for a third try, I drove by the spot again, and missed it again, but did secure a nice loaf of rosemary-thyme bread, and said hello to other folks who were also waiting around buying bread and missing the bird. I hear its being seen again this morning as I write. . . grrr.
I'm up in my old north Jersey haunts this weekend, doing some hiking and leaf-peeping. Speaking of cedars, we've encountered more Cedar Waxwings so far than I've been seeing in Cape May, perhaps more will move south later in the fall.
Posted by Don Freiday at 8:10 AM