Friday, November 29, 2013


[Hawkcounter Tom Reed on a lonely vigil at the Cape May, NJ hawkwatch this morning.]

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. 

[Juvenile Golden Eagle over Cape May Point this morning.]

[This Eastern Phoebe, lingering at Cape May Point, lent diversity to a passerine flight dominated by robins, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Yellow-rumped Warblers.  It's time to start thinking in terms of the coming Christmas Bird Count, as in, will this phoebe make it until then?]

[An addition to the collection of "Lighthouse Shots" for Cape May, a male Eastern Bluebird pauses and poses in front of the Cape May lighthouse this morning.]

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

Tundra Swan: Too Cool Not to Share!

[Tundra Swan at Cape May, NJ a couple years ago.]

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.
Greg Prelich
Manchester Township"

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!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


 [Is that what I think it is?  Snowy Owl in the rain on the east dike, Edwin B. Forsythe NWR, NJ, lunchtime today.]

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.

[Peregrine Falcon, Snowy Owl and American Black Duck.  The real question here is what is that duck thinking right now. . .]

Almost Wordless Wednesday: Bluebird

[Eastern Bluebird, West Portal NJ this week. "The bird with the sky on its back and the earth on its breast." Thoreau, Burroughs, or a combination thereof said that, one of my favorite turns of phrase on the natural world.]

Saturday, November 23, 2013

This Yellow-rump, and That One

 [The brown warbler - Yellow-rumped Warbler at Cape May NWR, NJ today.]

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.

Friday, November 15, 2013

It's Your Basic Duck, but. . .

[American Black Duck at Forsythe NWR, NJ on Thursday. Click to enlarge photos.]

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.

[This preening bird shows a trace of the purple-blue speculum, that by not being edged with white shows this bird to be a likely purebred American Black Duck, untainted by Mallard blood.]

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thoughtful Thursday: Injured

“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

The 15 Minute Redtail, and Other Notes

[This is not the Red-tailed Hawk of which I write in this post - that one was too far for a photo - , but you can still note one of the field marks - where the wing tips fall relative to the tail tip. If this were one of the accipiters, the wing tips would not be nearly as close to the tip of the tail. Forsythe NWR, NJ, Nov 8 2013. Click to enlarge photos. This is a juvenile, hence absence of red tail.]

"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.

[Number 306 on my NJ "Little Big Year," these Snow Buntings decided whether or not I would see them, not me. I was just in the right place: the beach at South Cape May Meadows, this morning.]

[If I ever encounter a jacket colored like the back of a female Ring-necked Pheasant, I'm going to buy it. The pattern disappears against almost all backgrounds. This one, almost certainly stocked for hunting, was off Buckshutem Road near Mauricetown, NJ on Saturday.]

[If you like to celebrate common birds as I do, then today was a day to celebrate Song Sparrows, since there were many around. Know this common sparrow, so you can tell it from others. Cape Island Preserve today.]

Sunday, November 3, 2013


[One of at least ten Golden Eagles that crossed Cape May, NJ airspace today, this one is unique in that the white wing markings are quite asymmetrical, making it easy to recognize as an individual. Uniquely marked birds make it possible to know that we are not seeing the same individuals over and over again, and looking for unique markings makes you a better observer. Ask not, what does a Golden Eagle look like, but rather, what does THIS Golden Eagle look like. Other things to note on this and all Goldens include the smallish head compared to Bald Eagles, and buteo-like wing shape.]

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.

 [You know it's going to be a special day when you see this: sparrows at first light thronging along the roadsides, flushed by passing cars but quickly filling in behind them.]

 [Hungry birds are tame birds, allowing close approach as they feed, as this Swamp Sparrow (above)  and Dark-eyed Junco (below) did. Common birds or not, these are two of my favorite photos and memories of the day, birds that clearly migrated all night on the goldwind and wanted to feed, nearby humans or not. It's important not to pressure birds in these conditions by getting too close.]

 [Winter Wren in classic Winter Wren habitat, a fallen tangle of vines. Richly dark brown colors, dark barring on the flanks, defined eyebrow, stubby tail identify it. And it's tiny, and was saying chimp-chimp in a November thicket.]

 [Among the many, many things I admire about Yellow-rumped Warblers are their adaptable feeding behaviors, which start at ground level and go all the way to the tip of the canopy, wherever the food is easiest to get. In today's cold wind, most of the yellow-rumpeds fed low.]

 [This male Eurasian Wigeon on Lighthouse Pond  was vocalizing regularly this weekend, a single drawn out, descending whistle quite different from the American Wigeon's three syllable call. Curious, at least to me, was the fact that the "female" Eurasian Wigeon on Bunker Pond was making a similar call. Could it be a young male instead, or do female EUWI's do that?]

 [Joining the many, many things flying over today - robins, blackbirds, pipits, yellow-rumpeds - were a good number of Eastern Bluebirds. Learn the churlee flight call, and note the white stripe on the open wing from below, formed by the pale bases to the flight feathers. This can be a good field mark on high flying bluebirds, once you learn to look for it.]

Friday, November 1, 2013

Fri-D: Too Much Tail

At first light one day this week I was skulking about the Beanery looking for - and not finding - the Sedge Wren that had been reported there, when I spied this bird perched atop a weed, with the usual myriad of Savannah Sparrows around it. I couldn't see the face, but this bird was different, slightly bigger than the Savannahs, and look at the tail - it's long for a sparrow's, certainly longer than a Savannah Sparrow's tail, and is that white on the edge? It is, and it is a Vesper Sparrow.

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. . .

[Reward for looking at the ocean. . . breeding plumage Brown Pelican, Avalon Seawatch, NJ on Wednesday.]