Monday, May 21, 2012
Bert Filmeyr caught me over the weekend after I gave a program for the CMBO Spring "Maygration"gathering called "How to Identify Birds Like an Expert," and reminded me that of all the steps along the path to being an expert birder, I left one of the most crucial out. That would be time in the field, something so obvious and implicit I never really thought of it for the talk. Duh, you want to get good at identifying birds? How about you get out and look at them?
And ideally in a place where you see a lot of birds. I moved to Cape May in 2007 thinking I was a pretty good birder. Illusion. Five years and tens of thousands of birds changed my skill level dramatically, though, like I always say, expert is a dangerous word.
Field time dropped off substantially in 2011-12 for me, down to a half-day day a weekend most of the time. And I feel the change, the regression if you will. But the less you do it, at least the more you love it. . .
Some folks were playing recordings last weekend to suck birds into view, or so it's been reported. Let's be clear: there is no place in Cape May County where using recordings on potentially breeding birds is appropriate, except for scientific and sanctioned surveys. I've written about this stuff before. The main thing is that it's bad for the birds. Too many birders potentially doing it to the same individual birds. But IMHO it's also using a cheap gimmick instead of patience and skill. Please don't do it.
I do pish, though. I was thinking about this the other day. Pishing is like the bird is hearing the neighbors fighting again and listens in and maybe peaks over the fence to see what's going on. Playing a tape is like barging into a bird's house and saying the house is yours and you're going to take his wife, too - creating a whole different level of response. Even at that, I don't pish much in the really heavily birded spots - in part, frankly, because it doesn't work well. Stuff has been pished out.
A trip to Heislerville in the afternoon on Sunday yielded, after much searching, the female Curlew Sandpiper that has been reported there for at least a week. That bird, and the Yellow-crowned Heron above, was in the second impoundment. The main impoundment has been slow to come down in water level - I understand the water control structure has been damaged - but is now loaded with Semipalmated Sandpipers, dowitchers, dunlin, and a few others. Shorebird numbers will peak this week.
With Bob Lubberman and Dave Lord of the tour boat the Osprey, and my neighbors Bob and Stephanie Brown, I led the Sunday afternoon boat tour out of the Miss Chris marina in an east gale. You can't explore the sounds of southern Cape May without seeing great stuff, but conditions were tough on us and tougher for the birds, especially because the combination of new moon tide and east wind was looking like it would flood many salt marsh nests later that night. Bob Lubberman also told me the heron rookery near Wildwood's Sunset Lake is inactive this year, a shame indeed. Colonial waterbirds on the Atlantic side of NJ seem not to be doing particularly well the past few years.
Field time - got a lot of it last weekend, something like 24 hours over 3 days. Maybe we'll make it to expert status yet. Like I said, time in the field didn't make it into my talk Friday night, but will next time. Here's a summary slide from that talk someone asked for (click to enlarge):
Posted by Don Freiday at 10:11 PM