Thursday, January 31, 2013

Thoughtful Thursday

“Live with vultures, become a vulture; live with crows, become a crow.”
- Laotian Proverb

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Places and Habitats Untried of Late

 [Male Horned Lark at Cape May County Airport, NJ, January 26, 2013. Click to enlarge all photos.]

If you want to see new birds, seek out new places and new habitats. Seems obvious, and Cape May County Airport's barren fields seemed a likely place to find Horned Larks. Hadn't been there this year, the airport is reliable for them, and a little snow makes open-country birds easier to track down. The theory worked on Saturday morning, with four larks right near the airport diner (you do have to peer through a chain-link fence to see.) I was hoping for American Pipits, too, but it took until today in a close-cut field along Route 47 to find them.

Believe it or not, there are some birds you either have to leave Cape May County to see, or at least it's a whole lot easier to see them farther north or west. Among those are Common Merganser and Common Goldeneye - we can get them in Cape May, but they're expected and often easy along the Delaware River, so on Saturday afternoon we went up to Riverwinds to gaze over the river, and find our year Common Mergs and goldeneye, and Canvasbacks and eagles and a few other this's and that's, scaup and so on. Very nice bonuses were the American Tree Sparrows foraging near a patch of brush and Phragmites, just their sort of habitat. I love Tree Sparrows - their calls, their brown tones, and the fact they breed waaay up north - check the range map in the field guide. A Tree Sparrow in NJ has come a long way, from the James Bay area or farther.

[American Tree Sparrow at Riverwinds, near National Park, NJ January 26. A tough bird in Cape May County, much easier a few dozen miles north.]

Then this morning I thought, why not try hitting the salt marsh edge hard for "salt sparrows?" I.e., Saltmarsh Sparrow, Seaside Sparrow, and Nelson's Sparrow. It's a full moon, high tide, and frozen, maybe they'll be up near the edge. And they were, all three, along the causeway on Nummy Island. But they were NOT easy - skulky, running through the wrackline, giving tantalizing views. Mostly. But two out of three cooperated long enough for photos, the Nelson's Sparrow being the one I just couldn't get the camera on in time.

 [Saltmarsh Sparrow, Nummy Island, NJ January 27 2013. Notice how the face is the brightest part of the bird, and the streaks are well defined, two field marks to tell it from Nelson's Sparrow. Not so much shy as skulky, this one paused in its feeding only 8 feet from me.]

[A piece anyway of a bright Seaside Sparrow, Nummy Island, NJ, January 27, 2013. Between the cold, the wind, and their very nature, the salt sparrows were tricky today.]

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Rusties in the Snow

[Rusty Blackbirds, Cox Hall Creek WMA, NJ, January 26 2012. Click to enlarge.]

What a delight to discover the flock of 20 Rusty Blackbirds at Cox Hall Creek this morning while walking the dog, especially because I hadn't seen them since New Year's Day. The flock foraged near the main parking area (not the one by the lake), perhaps eating sweet gum seeds.

It should also be noted that the big lake at Cox Hall is not fully frozen and was packed with waterfowl, mainly Canada Geese but also wigeon, ruddies, ring-neckeds, etc.

Friday, January 25, 2013

"Fri-D" - Sparrows

Five species of sparrows are in this photo. Click to enlarge, and see if you can find them all. Answers next week! Taken on Cape May National Wildlife Refuge, NJ on Monday, January 21 2013.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Thoughtful Thursday - Starlings in Shakespeare

"The king forbade my tongue to speak of Mortimer. But I will find him when he is asleep, and in his ear I’ll holler ‘Mortimer!’ Nay I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but Mortimer, and give it to him to keep his anger still in motion."
- Henry IV, Part I, William Shakespeare


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Warblers, Raptors and Duckage: Piecing Together a Birding Weekend

 [Female Townsend's Warbler, Cape May Point, NJ, January 20 2013. Continuing bird, but for how long given the weather forecast? Click to enlarge photos.]

My kind-of, sort-of resolution for this year is to bird more. It started with the chase for the lapwings and rare geese - what will make my year better, working more, whether at the job or around the house, or revelling in birds? Duh, right?

Yesterday I was planning to write a little about how in winter we're left with ducks and raptors, but some good landbirds and a gull interfered with that theorem, as you can see from the pictures. With a high of 32 and low of 19 forecast down here in Cape May for mid-week, I don't how long some of these warblers are going to last - I had the Towsend's, Orange-crowned, and a Palm Warbler, and of course Yellow-rumped Warbler today, and there's been a Nashville around that keeps eluding me. Persistent icy cold isn't good for these guys. Not to mention for the multiple Great Egrets wintering around Cape May, they're not much good at ice fishing.

The other thing I've resolved this year is to bird a little harder. What I mean is, you can wander around hoping something sings in your ear or flies up to your face, but you'll see WAY less that way than if you really dig, stay sharp for soft calls, scan and scope a lot. . .bird. So bird, then when you find something, switch to birdwatching. That's what I'm going to try to do. Keep the knife sharp.

Anyhow, here's what I've found so far this weekend.

[Orange-crowned Warbler, Cape May Point State Park, NJ, January 20, 2013.]

 [Winter Wren, showing that wonderful short, cocked tail, January 20 2013, Cape May Point State Park, NJ.]

[Is there a prettier raptor than adult Red-shouldered Hawk, like this one perched near the Beanery, Cape May Point State Park, NJ January 19, 2013?]

 [This adult Cooper's Hawk made me glad I'm a birder who carriers a camera when it flew right over Mark Garland and I, January 19, 2013. The tail's ragged, but notice the shorter outer feathers creating a rounded shape.]

 [Lighthouse Pond, Cape May Point State Park, NJ, has excellent duckage at present. We'll see what happens with the pending freeze next week.]

 [Green-winged Teal rocketing overhead, Cape May Point State Park, January 19, 2013.]

[Northern Pintails.]

[These Red-breasted Mergansers were diving sequentially, front to back, near Stone Harbor on Saturday.]

[The finale - Black-headed Gull (right) with Ring-billed Gull at Norbury's Landing at Sunset, first reported today by A. Lamoreaux. Although similar to Bonaparte's Gull, Black-headed Gulls function differently, flying less (Bonaparte's fly a LOT)and often walking the flats with Ring-billeds.]

Friday, January 18, 2013

"Fri-D" - Great Corm

This immature Great Cormorant was snuggled up to the solar panels on a channel marker at dawn for our pelagic trip last week. The bird is heavy overall, thicker-necked and thicker-billed than a Double-crested, but the two obvious field marks on an immature Great Cormorant are:
1. Clear white belly, dirty neck. On a Double-crested, the pattern is reversed, with a darker belly and white neck. If a Double-crested Cormorant has a white belly (they sometimes do), it's going to have a white neck too. The neck on Double-crested is always paler than the belly.
2. Just a bit of orange on the throat,  and none on the bill. Double-crested Cormorants show orange throats and extensive orange on the bill, e.g. the bird below.

Below, an immature Double-crested Cormorant. Click to enlarge photos.

Your're Runnning Out of Time. . .

 [Big Bend Sunset.]

. . . running out of time to join me and Mark Garland on our tour of Big Bend and the Davis Mountains April 20-28, 2013, that is!!  Learn more at Mark's website, and email Mark at for a full itinerary or to sign up! Hurry, only two spaces remain!

[Vermillion Flycatcher, a target species for our West Texas Trip.]

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Thoughtful Thursday - Gull Wisdom

[Ring-billed Gull, Cape May Ferry Terminal, NJ, December 2012.]

“Jonathan Seagull discovered that boredom and fear and anger are the reasons that a gull's life is so short, and with those gone from his thought, he lived a long fine life indeed.”
― Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull

[Which, if any, do real gulls feel? Fear, almost certainly. But boredom? Anger? - DF]

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Chase

 [Northern Lapwing , top left, and Longhorn, west meets east, New Egypt, NJ today. Click to enlarge all photos.]

[Note: This blog sometimes gives the reader information on how and where to chase birds, but that's not our main purpose. If you want to get the best info on NJ rare bird locations, check out keekeekerrjerseybirds, and njbirds. Subscribe to all three to stay current.]

 I don't want to be labeled a chaser. Neither do you. Chasing, in the birding world, means running down the birds someone else's skill (or luck) found.

That being said, I went chasing today. I couldn't stand it anymore, the pack of good birds in central NJ featuring lifer (for me) Pink-footed Goose, ABA-area lifer (for me) Northern Lapwings, and year bird and very cool Barnacle Geese. When Warren Cairo and Chris Marks invited me to join  the chase, how could I refuse? A call to an understanding boss, and off we went.

We started with the lapwings, a species I've seen in Europe and whose flight profile, with big paddles for wings, I well remembered and got to see again when a passing Bald Eagle put the birds to flight.

I was surprised how the Pink-footed Goose, up off Route 33 in Monmouth County, affected me. It's a beautiful bird, much more elegant than a Canada. Thanks are owed to Glen Davis and Doug Gochfeld for hooking us up with the right field to find it.

And finally, in a fit of luck, we didn't know exactly where the Barnacle Geese were hanging out, but knew they'd be with a big flock of Canadas. By the way, this chase had added drama from the volume of geese wintering in central NJ, and many of these are likely "real" Canada geese, from the Ungava peninsula. We saw a few with orange neck bands that showed a Canadian origin. Rather abruptly, we pulled up to a flock and here were these two silver-backed geese. . .which reminds me, learn the back colors of the rare geese you are after, because too often your target will have its head down and feet hidden, and all there will be to go on is the upperparts. So it was that we pulled up to that field off Route 33. . . and there in the glasses were the backs of two Barnacle Geese.

Chasing. . . fun when it works out.

 [Two of the three lapwings in flight.]

 [All three lapwings.]

[Silver upperparts of the Barnacle Geese.]

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Caracara Origin

 [Crested Caracara flying in yesterday's fog.]

Having visited the Cape May County Park and Zoo today, including its resident caracara, I conclude the best explanation for the current Crested Caracara hanging out by the West Cape May bridge is a pending jailbreak of the zoo's bird by the new arrival ;>) . Although, a friend visiting from the south mentioned caracaras apparently irrupting into Louisiana this fall. . .and the obvious question is, is this the same Caracara that was in West Windsor in September and in Estell Manor just a few days ago. One would think. . .

[Cape May Zoo's sign for Crested Caracara, note in particular the bird's normal range. Click to enlarge.]

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Thoughtful Thursday

[American Coot, Cape May Point State Park.]

"Well, do you ever get the feeling that the story's
too damn real and in the present tense?
Or that everybody's on the stage, and it seems like
you're the only person sitting in the audience?

"Skating away, skating away on the thin ice of the New Day."

-Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Penguins of the North

 [Dovekie off Cape May, NJ at Five Fathom Bank today (Sunday). The smallest of the alcids, or penguins of the north, it is thought by some to be the most abundant bird worldwide, although it is certainly not abundant a few miles off NJ, even this year with the kind of alcid movement we've seen. Click to enlarge all photos.]

Sure, we'll take a boat ride off NJ in January. I guess it was Richard Crossley's idea, he of The Crossley Guide who wanted photos of Dovekies in flight. Richard didn't get his Dovekie shots, although we saw three - he told me he was imagining groups on the water and taking off, kind of like you'd see these birds in The Crossley Guide. And I didn't get the Great Skua, my most wanted bird of a winter ocean trip. But our six hour tour out to Five Fathom Bank and back, only a dozen or so miles offshore, yielded some great stuff. How could it not, with not-terrible seas and the likes of Richard, Michael O'Brien, Jim Dowdell, Sam Galick, and Tom Reed on board? And special thanks are due Bob Lubberman, who brokered our little charter trip with the folks of the Canyon Clipper.

I'm not sure whether the Dovekies or the single Common Murre deserve the starring role on the trip, because we saw something like 90 Razorbills, too.

 [This Common Murre was a Cape May County bird for me. Note the extensive white behind the distinctive dark line running down from the eye, the thin bill, and the bit of streaking you can see on the flanks.]

[Four of the ca. 90 Razorbills we saw on the trip today. Note the thinner bill of the bird second from right, a first year individual. It should be noted that while we saw a lot of Razorbills, many of the looks were of distant flying birds, usually in small flocks of 2-6 individuals. Some may have been within sight of land off Stone Harbor, but only with diligent scanning and keen skills.]

 [Something had raked this Black-legged Kittewake over pretty well - wonder if the injuries were caused by a marauding skua?]

[Curiously, almost no gulls were about offshore to follow our popcorn chum stream, but an occasional Northern Gannet came close.]

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Thoughtful Thursday - Not Fitting In

[Western Tanager, Cape May Court House New Year's Day.]

“Human tragedies:
We all want to be extraordinary
and we all just want to fit in.
Unfortunately, extraordinary people rarely fit in.”
Sebastyne Young

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Dawn to Dusk

 [And the first bird of 2013 was. . . Northern Mockingbird, the neighborhood bird whose tshack narrowly beat out the White-throated Sparrows. That was pre-dawn - the one in this photo came later, at 108 Yale Avenue as we waited for the Townsend's Warbler to appear. Click to enlarge all photos.]

Bird 'til you drop. Well, not quite, but it's been some time since I put in a full day behind the binoculars, and even today doesn't technically count, since we broke for breakfast around 10. By which time challenging birds like Townsend's Warbler (continuing at 108 Yale), Canvasback (third plover pond) and Northern Goshawk (flying over Cape May with a Bald Eagle close by) had "fallen" to the list.

Okay, I'll admit it, birding for a list can be fun. Which is why, after breakfast, we made sure to seek out the Cape May Harbor Western Grebe, and then bolted 10 miles north to find a remarkably cooperative Western Tanager with its companion adult male Baltimore Oriole.

 [Townsend's Warbler, dawn at 108 Yale in Cape May Point, NJ.]

 [The startling color of an adult male Baltimore Oriole in Cape May Court House, NJ, near the junction of Hand Ave. and Dias Creek Road. That this bird is an adult suggests it has wintered here before, as a youngster - for many birds, the first place they successfully winter becomes the place they return to for the duration of their lives. Which makes one wonder about the apparent adult male Western Tanager found nearby - was it here last year, too?]

[Male Western Tanager in Cape May Court House today.]

At three p.m. we got back home and with 91 species on the list, I realized 100 was a completely reasonable target for this New Year's Day, with a trip to Stone Harbor and environs to finish the day. And there the birds cooperated, from the reliable Horned Grebe in Hereford Inlet through, 13 birds later, the 37 Red Knots foraging on the beach at Stone Harbor Point. Happy New Year! Now, will we continue with this Big Year style of birding, or not?

Last Bird, Last Photo of 2012

A Great-horned Owl hooting for me and the dog at dusk at Cox Hall Creek WMA, NJ last night made a fine last bird of 2012. Last photo? It was not the pesky Northern Shrike at the Schellenger Tract of Cape May NWR, which eludes me despite the fact I live a mile from it and spent a couple hours spread out over New Year's Eve looking. Last photo honors go to this Sanderling at Two Mile Beach - nothing wrong with that. I'm wondering now what bird will greet me first from the porch on New Year's Day - perhaps another GHOW, or maybe Clapper Rail bellowing from nearby Green Creek Marsh.

[click to enlarge]