Friday, November 29, 2013
Tomorrow is the last day of the Cape May, NJ hawkwatch. We, the few regulars still present to lend Tom Reed some company, were joking on the platform that yep, migration stops tomorrow. Which of course it doesn't - southbound hawk flights trickle into December and even January, along with late-season landbird movements. Nary a day goes by without some bird going somewhere, but all good things must come to an end, and so tomorrow ends the official hawkwatch.
It was going out with a bang this morning, with highlights like a juvenile Golden Eagle being chased by two Bald Eagles, at least one Rough-legged Hawk, three Sandhill Cranes flying around, Purple Finches and American Pipits flying overhead, and ducks including a male Eurasian Wigeon packed into a small opening in Lighthouse Pond's ice.
The cranes will make NJ bird #308 for 2013 for me. I initially thought the Rough-legged was a year bird, too, but then remembered back to what seems like forever ago, January 27, 2013 when a Rough-legged blessed me with its presence at Ragged Island near the mouth of the Cohansey River while I was participating in the annual winter marsh raptor survey. Reaching back that far in my memory makes me think maybe a year-in-retrospective blog post is in order. We'll see.
Posted by Don Freiday at 1:32 PM
Thursday, November 28, 2013
[Tom and hen Wild Turkeys, a year ago in Dias Creek, NJ.]
"When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself."- Tecumseh
The following was posted to the jerseybirds listserve this morning by Greg Prelich:
"A few weeks ago Bill Elrick noticed that a Tundra Swan in Whitesbog had a neck collar but he was unable to clearly identify the banding information from his photos. Last weekend I was able to obtain a photo showing that the neck collar had band number T207. I reported the information to the Bird
Banding Laboratory, and today received information on this bird. It was banded about as far away from here as you can get in the continental US, 20 miles NE of Nuiqust on the far north slope of Alaska (70.39306, -150.24361). It is a female bird, hatched in 2005 or earlier, and was banded in July of 2006. It is very cool knowing that she thought enough of NJ to travel that distance. Welcome to Whitesbog NJ, T207.
Not only is the distance this bird travelled to reach Whitesbog, which is in NJ, remarkable, but think about this: the bird probably has been wintering in at least the same general area each year, which means she has flown the 3500 or so miles each way since at least 2005!
Posted by Don Freiday at 8:32 AM
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
The only place I've ever gone out expressly looking for Snowy Owl and found one is Barrow, Alaska, until today. I mean, other than looking for a known Snowy that someone else found. But today I decided specifically at lunchtime to go around the dikes at Forsythe NWR to look for a Snowy Owl, given that it seems to be a big year for them, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but a heavily-marked Snowy Owl sitting on the east dike, being admired by another observer from a respectful distance. The bird was pushed forward to a signpost by a passing car which stopped abruptly once they realized what they were looking at. Eventually it flew to a post that was occupied by a Peregrine Falcon, neatly displaced it, and was rewarded by repeated strafing flights by the highly annoyed falcon.
Posted by Don Freiday at 6:38 PM
Saturday, November 23, 2013
Various elements of life, some good and some less good, have interrupted my birding and this blog over the past days, so I was pleased to take a simple walk on the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge's Woodcock Lane trail late this afternoon, to listen to a courting pair of Great-horned Owls there, and to encounter other basic birds of the Delaware Bayshore. Like Yellow-rumped Warblers, which seem well set for their Thanksgiving feast with abundant Eastern Redcedar berries on many trees in most places I've paid attention.
As I watched the yellow-rumps and listened to their checks and seeps as they fed and flew from tree to tree, I was reminded that though I have seen many of this species, I'd never seen this one or that one. Each yellow-rump looks a little different, for example the one above is browner with less yellow than the bluer individual with nice bright yellow chest patches below. And each Yellow-rumped Warbler has its own story. You could write a book about the yellow-rump, not the species, but the one hover-gleaning the cedar berry right in front of you.
I relish the notion that the individuals before me could have come from far-flung places. This evening, as the wind of the present very cold high pressure system whistled around the house, I opened the Sibley guide and pondered the plates and the maps, which (in this guide) display the separate ranges of the western "Audubon's" Yellow-rumped Warbler and our "Myrtle," the latter of which spreads all across Canada and up into Alaska during the breeding season. No wonder they are so abundant, with a breeding range like that. I'd go ahead and memorize this page, by the way - as Sibley says, yellow-rumped is our most visible warbler. Know it well.
In other news, I see congrats are due to Tom Reed at the Cape May hawkwatch for breaking the all-time seasonal Golden Eagle with number 39 today - and I bet more still are in the pipeline, perhaps tomorrow with this powerful weather system. And then there are the NJ Snowy Owl reports - 2 at Sandy Hook and one apparently at Barnegat Light today, and both white-winged gulls (Iceland and Glaucous) were found in Cape May today. Feels like winter . . . and check out Bruce McTavish's Newfoundland blog for more Snowy news.
Posted by Don Freiday at 9:50 PM
Friday, November 15, 2013
We in NJ tend to take American Black Ducks for granted - they're here year round, and more than our share of the world population winters in NJ. And they're your basic duck, not especially colorful, a kind of big, plain dabbling duck. I always figured black ducks could use a could PR campaign, and maybe a name change - how about "Flame-legged Duck?" Or at least "Salt Marsh Duck." As you can tell, I'm fond of the birds.
Anyhow, speaking as someone who works at the NWR (Forsythe) with the most black ducks of anyplace, probably, I can tell you they can be hard to photograph well unless you have a really long lens, which I don't, because they are shy birds that usually flush on approach by person or even auto on an auto tour route, or at least they're all swimming away from you as you approach. Thus I am especially proud of these two only slightly cropped images of the basic duck.
Posted by Don Freiday at 6:29 PM
Thursday, November 14, 2013
“The merrel also knew its wing had not healed. 'But I could reach a great height once more before it failed me,' it said. 'And from there I would fold my wings and plummet to the earth as if a hare or a fawn had caught my eye; but it would be myself I stooped toward. It would be a good flight and a good death. And so I eat their dead things cut up on a pole, dreaming of my last flight.' ”
― Robin McKinley, Spindle's End
Monday, November 11, 2013
"How do you know it's a redtail?"
How many times have I been asked that question, I wonder? After 33 years (I just counted) since I identified my first redtail, the real answer is I no longer think about it. I've written before about the difference between identifying birds and recognizing them, and we can pretty much place all Red-tailed Hawks in the recognition pile, which means I don't know how I know it's a redtail, I just do.
Not good enough. So we talked about it. For 15 minutes of a two-hour walk, we spent time, and it was well-spent, on a distant Red-tailed Hawk.
In this case, the bird in question was perched on a pole way out in the marsh of Forsythe NWR, and because of a high wind was leaning forward to almost horizontal, assuming the position of a typical, horizontally-perched Osprey. But this bird lacked the white about the head, and especially was warmer toned (browner as opposed to gray-black) than an Osprey. It was biggish, thought smaller than an Osprey, and that the wing tips nearly reached the tail ruled out any of the accipiters. It was too chunky to be a falcon, which are also long-winged. It was a buteo, and it eventually turned to show the belly band of a redtail. So that's what it was.
Posted by Don Freiday at 11:52 AM
Sunday, November 3, 2013
Although you, the reader, may not realize it, one of the things I try to avoid in this blog is writing "I went here and saw this" posts otherwise devoid of useful or interesting commentary. Today was one of those days where it would be easy to fall into the "I went here and saw this" trap, since Cape May was bristling with birds of many stripes (for me, 88 species by noon without trying) and high numbers. This all thanks to the post-cold-front-building-in-high-pressure-system-northwest-winds-November-skies-migration-conditions. Tens of thousands of robins and blackbirds, thousands of yellow-rumpeds, many others.
Just as the Eskimos have many words for snow, depending on the kind of snow, we birders ought to have a more refined lexicon for weather. Today's weather word? Perhaps "goldwind," for all of the above conditions plus the steady 15-20 mph northwest wind and, of course, the eagles. It'd be nice if the National Weather Service picked up on this.
Posted by Don Freiday at 8:41 PM
Friday, November 1, 2013
One of these days, like maybe right now, I should write a blog on what it's like to look for and not find a sought-after species. Like a Sedge Wren. It's unpleasant, is what - self doubt fills you as you patrol up one side of a field and down the other. And you talk to yourself. Am I even in the right field? It probably left last night. This is why you don't like to chase birds, remember? That chip could have been it. . . .no, it's just a Palm Warbler. . .maybe I should play a tape. . .don't you dare even think like that.
And then you find a different good bird, like a Vesper Sparrow, and you regroup, and all is right with the world, and you decide to end this chasing nonsense and go look at the ocean for a while. . .