Sunday, February 24, 2013

Off to Trinidad!

[Violaceous Trogon. This one was in Belize; should see this and many, many other things in Trinidad and Tobago next week!]

Just a notice to readers - I'll be off honeymooning in Trinidad and Tobago next week, so the Freiday Bird blog might not be updated - or might be, if the internet connections work well. There should certainly be some colorful bird photos on the site when I return in early March!!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Thoughtful Thursday - Song

[Carolina Wren singing its heart out, Cape May Point State Park, NJ last weekend.]

A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.
- Lou Holtz

Monday, February 18, 2013


 [Carolina Chickadee gleans insect eggs from the undersides of leaves, Cape May Point, NJ today.]

I've been thinking a lot about how tough winter must be for birds, and how every day it gets tougher. Consider that each day, birds are consuming food resources that for the most part are NOT being replenished now - new insects are not hatching (except perhaps a few from water bodies), new berries are not growing, new seedheads do not adorn winter plants, and will not until next fall. Every day, then, there is less food than there was yesterday. So from now until spring's resurgence of life, the gleaners must search that much harder each day for the few remaining dormant insects or eggs or spiders or whatever invertebrate food they can find. Robins work the lawns for grubs and worms when they are thawed, and pinch dry sumac berries from the shrubs when all is frozen. Late winter is a tough time of year.

Tough on birders, too. EBird counted up my day list today at 56 species, not bad, but my son Tim and I worked a lot of ground, from Two Mile Beach to Cape May Harbor to a spin around some of the streets of Cape May Point, and finally on the state park trails. And if you're trying to glean NEW species for the year, late winter seems an awfully dry time. I found no new ones today, until at the end of the day an Eastern Phoebe surprised us at Cox Hall Creek WMA, a Cape May County year bird for me. Where this bird came from is a mystery - I have to believe it came from somewhere and hasn't been there all along, given that Cox Hall is birded so regularly and phoebe has not been reported. I doubt it was a northbound migrant, but the northwest winds the past two days make it a candidate for a bird that was trying to winter even farther north that decided to retreat south.

[American Robin spots something to eat on the lawn of Cape May Point State Park.]

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Thoughtful Thursday: Nature, Red

[A poor Northern Pintail hen vs. two Great Black-backed Gulls. The latter should also be known as Larus horribilis. . .]

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation's final law --
Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shrieked against his creed. . ."

--Alfred Lord Tennyson

Monday, February 11, 2013

Great Blue

Curiously, the weekend's highlight was a simple Great Blue Heron standing atop a muskrat mound at the Corbin City section of McNamara, WMA, up in Atlantic County, NJ. We sought Golden Eagles, and found none, but somehow this Great Blue put it all even.

"Here we come to know the Great Blues as gray sentinels of the marsh, standing rigid like so many old pilings or weather worn stakes." So says Witmer Stone in Bird Studies at Old Cape May, one of the first places I go to put a bird in context, to understand it more deeply than my own observations lead me to.

Stone later adds, "The Great Blues are the wariest of our herons and are ever alert and ready to take wing at whatever seems to them the opportune moment. . . they seem to know that safety lies in distance."  In recent weeks Great Blues have allowed closer than usual approach, for reasons one can guess relate to cold and empty bellies. Leave me alone, they seem to say, I've enough to worry about spending the winter hereabouts. . . .

I took no picture of the Great Blue. I don't know why for sure. I've heard said, and maybe even said myself, that no photo contest should be won with a picture of a Great Blue Heron. Too common, too easy. But I've never entered a photo contest, and though I've many images of Great Blues, I'm not sure I've yet captured the sentinel of the marsh. Maybe next time.

[Another kind of blue, this male Eastern Bluebird flew past me at Cape May NWR, NJ on Saturday morning. Blue herons, bluebirds - anyone find themselves longing for Blue Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings yet? Oh May, how far and faint you seem these cold and dreary days.]

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Thoughtful Thursday - Truth and Beauty

"The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives."
- Albert Einstein

Saturday, February 2, 2013

A Chilly Ocean Drive Morning

 [Feet in icewater: Sanderling, today at the Ocean Drive toll bridge, near the Two Mile Beach Unit of Cape May NWR, NJ. Click to enlarge all photos.]

I don't know why I keep thinking I'll find an Iceland Gull in Cape May. I mean, I have before, and others have this very year, but both white-winged gulls (Iceland and Glaucous) seem to be jinxed for me at present. The fish plants along Ocean Drive near the big toll bridge to the Wildwoods are among the gull-iest places I know in Cape May County, but no luck, at least no rare gulls. How many Herring Gulls must one look at first to see one of these northern beauties?

You can believe in jinxes or not, but if there aren't jinxes, how come some birds come easy and others don't come at all? I went through a period, believe it or not, where I couldn't get out of the way of a Saw-whet Owl - happy condition, indeed. Same thing with Curlew Sandpiper. But jinxes just. . . suuck. I love white-winged gulls, too. Someone will find one tomorrow, or probably found one today.

No matter. I like surprises, like the Sanderlings walking on the ice at the Two Mile bridge, or the very funny female Common Eider that apparently had bonded with a little flock of Atlantic Brant there, unexpected away from the ocean.

 [Female Common Eider with Brant, near Two Mile Beach today.]

It was cold. The birds responded it various ways. With the Cape May NWR's Two Mile Beach Unit's ponds mostly frozen, the ducks were concentrated it what open water there was, and a little flock of 15 Pied-billed Grebes concentrated there. 30 American Oystercatchers huddled against the wind at Stone Harbor - 26 degrees is cold for an Oystercatcher.

And for me. I actually broke out the warm gloves, after freezing my fingers trying to take pictures bare handed. One of my favorite winter tricks is to leave my gloves on the dashboard, with the defrost running full blast - wonderful to slip your hands into a warm pair of gloves!.

 [Some of the 15 Pied-billed Grebes at the Two Mile Beach ponds, with a couple Ruddy Ducks for company.]

[This bright Yellow-rumped Warbler made me warm. You can see why their Latin name is Dendroica coronata . . .crowned.]

[Greater Yellowlegs at Nummy Island, one of 8. Yellowlegs have been around, but there were Killdeer about, and more Horned Grebes than usual. Were the latter northbound things? Or things driven south by cold and snow?]

Friday, February 1, 2013

"Fri-D" - Sparrow Quiz Answers

Last week I posted the above picture and asked, which 5 species of sparrows can be found? The answers:

6 White-throated Sparrows (scattered throughout)
5 White-crowned Sparrows (the most obvious is the right most bird)
3 Song Sparrows (all hard to see, the easiest is just right of center, buried in the bush the way sparrows often are)
1 Fox Sparrow (obvious on right side, left of the obvious White-crowned Sparrow)
1 Savannah Sparrow (Flying in from left)

Not easy with the imperfect views - which is a good reminder to study birds from all angles, so even with poor looks you still have a shot at identifying them.

This shot was taken in a brushy field of the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge, NJ, a little over a week ago.