Friday, September 12, 2014

Whiskered Tern in Cape May

"Don, hurry, rare bird!" Louise Zemaitis was calling me from the hawkwatch platform at Cape May Point State Park. Rare indeed - Louise and Alec Humann had detected the third state record of Whiskered Tern!  Images of the bird are below, more to follow.

 [Above, Whiskered Tern on the left with Black Tern on right.]

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Walk Around the Meadows

[With almost more than a mouthful, this Caspian Tern captured a sunfish so large it had to fly to a safe place to perch on the ground, and struggled with it for over five minutes before downing it. South Cape May Meadows, NJ August 23, 2014. Click to enlarge photos.]

East winds Saturday night and morning made for not much in the migration department, but there were plenty of shorebirds and other things to look and wonder at in the South Cape May Meadows Saturday morning.  A Tricolored Heron was a highlighted, as were hunting terns and a mix of sandpipers including a few Pectorals and Solitaries.

[This American Oystercatcher is an adult because, among other reasons, it is molting its wing feathers in late summer.  Youngsters have new flight feathers that last until the following year.]

[American Copper, South Cape Meadows on Saturday.]

[This is the hind end of a rose mallow bee covered in pollen, which it is bringing to its nesting hole in the path at the South Cape May Meadows for its larvae to feed on when it hatches.  Each hole is occupied by a single bee, though the holes are often found in clusters. The link given is worth a read, they have a fascinating life history.]

[This jewelweed flower photo was supposed to have a hummingbird nectaring on it, but the hummer didn't cooperate.]

Sunday, August 3, 2014

White Ibis in Cape May

 [This juvenile White Ibis at the South Cape Meadows, Cape May, NJ was a delightful evening surprise today.]

[The juvenile White Ibis was flighty, and eventually took off headed east.]

What Happened to the Freiday Bird Blog?

"What happened to the Freiday Bird Blog?"  Enough people have asked me that question since I took most of June and all of July off from posting to the blog that I'm finally inspired, on this rainy Sunday morning without much else to do, to put pen to paper again, so to speak.
I was about to say something like I haven't been getting out much, haven't been getting many good photos, haven't seen anything outstanding to write about since June until just yesterday, August 2, when an American Avocet flew by me, Mark Garland, my wife Beth, son Tim and his companion Allison as we birded at Cape May Point State Park in a light drizzle.  The avocet was high and headed south and no decent photo was possible, but it looped around the point and may still be in the area. Perhaps the pools at the Higbee Beach WMA dike would be a good place to check for it?
Anyhow, I was about to write something like I haven't seen or done much worth writing about, but when I finally downloaded the last month + of photos off the camera I find that not to be true.  I'll let the photos tell the story below. Let's just say the blog took a little summer vacation, maybe because I've been busy with work and life, maybe because I've had a bit of the summer blues which now that southbound migration has begun and we can look forward to new birds every day, well hopefully those blues will move on.
To begin the "summer vacation" story, in late June I had time for an amble around Cape May Point State Park, which at that time had mainly the usual locals, bird wise, plus, much less usual for June, singing Yellow-throated Warbler and Northern Parula.
 [Blue Grosbeak at Cape May Point State Park, June 28, 2014.  Several males sang there that day, more than are usually there, it seemed to me.]

[Least Tern, Cape May Point State Park, June 28, 2014.  Some Least Terns have already headed south (as I write on August 3), they pull out early. I haven't heard how their nesting colony on the South Cape May beach faired this year.  I do know several pairs of American Oystercatchers successfully raised young, but that Piping Plovers have had an abysmal year in Cape May County with, if I've heard correctly, just one nesting pair.]

[Little Wood Satyr, Cape May Point State Park, June 28, 2014.]

In mid-July, Beth and I took our annual camping trip up in north Jersey at High Point State Park with Michael O'Brien and Louise Zemaitis.  This is one of my favorite places on earth. Despite the July time frame, when many birds are too busy feeding young to sing much, we had 57 bird species just from our campsite! 

 [Black Bears are often a bonus in High Point.  This cub was one of three with a sow there during our July camping expedition.]

 [Moonrise over the Kittatinny Ridge in High Point State Park, as seen from our campsite.]

[Lovely, fresh Mourning Cloak at the Kuser Natural area, High Point State Park in mid-July.  This animal may survive to and through the winter, emerging next spring - Mourning Cloaks are one of a few butterflies that overwinter as adults.]

Later in July, Beth and I had occasion to travel to the Tampa, Florida area, mainly to see family, but we did get a little birding in:

 [White Ibis are yard birds around Tampa.]

 [Gray Kingbird at Weedon Island Preserve, FL.  It was good to get this bird back in the file of search images, since they show up, albeit with extreme rarity, in Cape May occasionally.]

[Limpkin at Lettuce Lake Park in Tampa, FL, where they are common.  We don't get these in Cape May, at least not yet.]

Finally, on July 25 we joined the Cape May Bird Observatory Friday evening walk at the Cape May Meadows to see old friends, both human and bird.  The highlight for me was a Bobolink flying over, a sure sign of more southbound birds to come.

[Black Skimmer at the South Cape May Meadows, NJ July 25, 2014.]

So there you have it, that's where the Freiday Bird Blog has been while on summer vacation.  I'm hoping to write more regularly - and more importantly, to get out and bird and enjoy life more regularly again now, so stay tuned.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Summer Is

[Piping Plover at twilight, Stone Harbor Point tonight.]

Summer is here, it seems, and while Song Sparrows sing in the dunes in the company of House Finches,  only a few Sanderlings linger on the beaches, the rest now well off to the Arctic.  I spent the evening watching a Piping Plover being a plover, while I was being me, and the sun set behind us both. 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Greetings from Michigan

[Why go to Michigan?  Here's the number one answer from a birder's perspective, a singing male Kirtland's Warbler near Grayling in the central Lower Peninsula. Click to enlarge photos.]

It's a trip every serious birder must do, the trip to Michigan to see the Kirtland's Warbler in its Jack Pine breeding habitat.  There are, of course, many more birds to see in Michigan than the Kirtland's, but that's the foundation of the trip.  We chose to join one of the Michigan Audubon sponsored Kirtland's Warbler tours, and were not disappointed, as we were put in excellent habitat and eventually got crushing looks at this rare and localized songbird. The day before, we'd found a couple singing male Kirtland's by searching roadsides, but were unable to lay eyes on one. I'm running out of North American breeding birds left to find as "lifers," so this was a nice "tick" for me.

We started our trip by flying to Detroit, renting a car and working our way north.  We stopped at well known migrant trap Tawas Point on the western shore of Lake Huron, where, while there was no fallout to speak of, we did find a few migrant warblers. You could really sense how great this site must be on a fallout, with relatively low habitat at the point making viewing pretty spectacular for the birds we did find.

 [Wilson's Warbler, Tawas Point, MI May 29.]

 [Singing male Northern Parula, Tawas Point MI May 29.]

[American Redstarts are VERY common in Michigan, including this one at Tawas Point May 29.]

After Tawas Point and the Kirtland's tour, we built in a couple days to explore Whitefish Point and other spots in the Upper Peninsula, from our home base in Mackinaw City near the junction of Lakes Michigan and Huron.  Whitefish Point yielded a spectacular Blue Jay migration and a good hawk flight on the last day of the count there, today, May 31.

 [A small portion of a migrating Blue Jay flock at Whitefish Point, MI May 31.  Faced with an open water crossing, which jays do not like whether headed south in Cape May or headed north on the shores of Lake Superior, flocks of jays circle back and regroup.]

 [Whitefish Point Bird Observatory conducts a spring hawkwatch where today for the first time I saw both Broad-winged Hawks, above, and 2 Rough-legged Hawks, below, on the same day.]

[Whitefish also conducts spring and fall waterbird counts.  This Common Loon passed over today.]

[Another spot we hit was Wilderness State Park on the shore of Lake Michigan, where this Barred Owl responded readily to hooting at midday.]

I shouldn't go any further without giving a special shout-out to friend and professional birder/ornithologist Tony Leukering, who has been doing bird surveys in MI and agreed to meet us and bird with us this week.  Tony's showed us some remarkable country and birds, too.  We've got one day left, and have high hopes for that pearl of great price, Connecticut Warbler, somewhere in the U.P. I should also mention, for those who might make this trip someday, that there are plenty of mosquitoes and blackflies in Michigan in late May, so come prepared!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Little Bit of Higbee, and Horseshoe Crabs on the Bay

 [The star, or starlet, of the pools atop the Higbee Beach dike Monday morning: Wilson's Phalarope.]

I went to Higbee Beach WMA, NJ Memorial Day morning with visions of Mourning Warbler and other late migrants in my head, but alas, migrants were few indeed.  I had three birds I believe were likely migrants, those being a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, a Willow/Alder Flycatcher and an American Redstart. A previously reported Wilson's Phalarope still lingered at the dike, and there was other action at Higbee, too:

[First Year male Orchard Oriole singing away at Higbee Beach WMA, where they breed.]
[These two Northern Cardinals were intent on battle in the Higbee parking lot, though I didn't see actual contact.  A good thing - having been bit by cardinals while banding, I can say that they probably avoid bill to bill conflict at all costs, because the cost of a bite would be high.]

Memorial Day evening we had signed on to do a horseshoe crab survey at Reed's Beach, and a big spawn was underway as the tide crested and then fell.

[Over two dozen horseshoe crabs fit in our meter-square quadrat at some sampling points Monday night - heartening news for crabs and crab-egg-eating shorebirds.]

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Belleplain Tanagers and Thoughts on Gifts and Life Looks

 [Adult male Summer Tanager in Belleplain State Forest, NJ along Tom Field Road today. A gift. . .]

Every now and then a bird gives you a gift, revealing itself to you in perfect light at close range.  You never know when it's going to happen, which is one reason to keep going in the field day after day and year after year.  Some people use the phrase "life look" to mean what I'm talking about here.  It's not that it's a life bird, but rather that it's the best look you've ever had at this species. The look of a lifetime.

Today was my life look day for Summer Tanager, though I have to clarify by saying I've seen plenty of these at close range on the Texas coast and elsewhere.  But today in Belleplain State Forest we saw males, and females, and males and females interacting together, and a really groovy looking red and yellow-green first year male.  They seemed to be coming out to show themselves to us, too, working the roadsides or landing in trees right above our heads.  Like, for example, the bird pictured above, which we'd been hearing and glimpsing but not really seeing well when it decided to alight in bare branches directly overhead.  I could only say, "Summer Tanager, right there," but that was enough for my companions Tim and Allison to find it.

[One groovy looking bird: a first spring male Summer Tanager in Belleplain this morning, decked out in first year yellow green and second year red. Click to enlarge photos.]

Only the Summer Tanagers were life looks today, but we had other gifts, like two rival male Louisiana Waterthrushes countersinging on opposite sides of the road, or a male Hooded Warbler that sat up for a good if quick view, or a Worm-eating Warbler feeding on dead leaf clusters as they so often do.  You can't make birds do this stuff, you can only hope they do.

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Touch of Color at Higbee

[Male Black-throated Green Warbler at Higbee Beach WMA, NJ this morning.  Click to enlarge photos.]

Ah, May.  When Vince Elia's text message about an "excellent fallout at Higbee Beach" came through this morning, I was already on my way out the door.  And Higbee was excellent, all right:  I personally found 20 warbler species, and missed some species that others had.  A Kentucky Warbler popped up right in front of Vince and I, but my best bird was one I only heard:  A Bicknell's Thrush, which sang and gave a flight call near the parking lot.  Multiple Black-throated Green, Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, and Canada Warblers were some of the other highlights.

[Magnolia Warbler, Higbee this morning.]

[Looking up at a Chestnut-sided Warbler.]

[Indigo Buntings were in multiples at Higbee, singing and chasing each other around.]

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Along the Roads of Belleplain

 [Ovenbird along Pine Swamp Road in Belleplain State Forest, NJ today.]

My favorite birding companion has a knee injury that confines us to roadside birding for the time being, but the roadside birding was mighty good in Belleplain State Forest today.  Ovenbirds, arriving in droves in recent days, postured and even battled for territory right in front of us, often strutting up and down the roadway edges, singing from perches low and high, and otherwise clearly advertising their presence to rivals.  Visions of Ovenbird as a peaceful bird were shattered as we watched several engage in bill to feather combat, struggling with each other on the ground and then launching into short pursuits into nearby cover.  It was quite the show. Once more I am reminded of the fact that the fun in birding really starts after you've identified the bird and then spend time watching it.

A Hooded Warbler also did a rare thing and cooperated by landing on the road in front of us, also flying back and forth across several times and landing on exposed perches.  I swear with my right hand on the Sibley guide that we don't use recordings in heavily birded Belleplain, and were just lucky to be in the right spot at the right time.

Other sightings included a Broad-winged Hawk overhead near the famous Belleplain "triangle" near Sunset Bridge, a singing Louisiana Waterthrush and Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Eastern Wood-pewee in, etc.  A good morning.
[You gotta like it when Hooded Warblers cooperate, like this one near the triangle in Belleplain.]

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Three Weeks

 [Green Heron flies over Cape May Point, NJ this morning, an arriving bird seen from one of the dune crossovers. Click to enlarge photos.]

Yeah, so, it's been three weeks since I last blogged and I hope people are still checking this site now and then.  I didn't die or anything, it just feels that way a little bit when you can't be out doing what you love, meaning birding and naturalizing and even just soaking up the spring sunshine.

It's all about to bust open, too.  We spent the first part of the morning watching birds arrive in Cape May from Delaware, looking south from the dunes as egrets crossed the bay and swallows swept past.  A jaeger or two hunted in the rips, some fancy looking Bonaparte's gulls passed, gannets offshore, &c.  Then we poked around Cape May Point State Park, where a Prairie Warbler sang and the yellow-rumpeds thronged with Palm Warblers and looked especially sharp in their breeding plumage. 

I feel as though I ought to have some conclusive remarks about a three week absence from the field.  A lot changes in three weeks in April.  That's about as conclusive as I've got right now, that and a commitment not to miss three weeks in spring anymore. . .

[Flock of Short-billed Dowitchers fresh from Delaware, Cape May Point today.]

[Fancy Yellow-rumped Warbler in breeding plumage, Cape May Point State Park today.]

Sunday, April 6, 2014


 [Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Cape May Point, NJ, April 6, 2014.  Originally found by Rob and Lisa Fanning a couple weeks ago, this was a rare NJ lifer for me.]

"Well, I finally got the damn sparrow," I told Mike Crewe and Glen Davis, meaning no disrespect to the Eurasian Tree Sparrow that seems to have found its way to Cape May Point under its own power and was discovered there a couple weeks ago by Rob and Lisa Fanning.  Everyone's been seeing it, everyone but me it seems like, but only because I hadn't taken the time to look.  Today I did look, and got lucky.  Very lucky, because I have no patience when it comes to staked out feeder birds, and lo and behold I walked up and the bird was at the feeder for me to see and photograph. Tick. It seems to me this bird will likely be accepted as a "natural" vagrant from the St. Louis population by the NJRBC; see Mike Crewe's excellent discussion of the bird here.

The Pine Warbler photo below was also a bit of luck, in that I set up to photograph it as it fed on a Cape May Point lawn, and lo and behold once again, the bird fed its way toward me, eventually giving me full-frame photo ops.  I'll take it.
[Pine Warbler, Cape May Point, NJ this morning.]

Monday, March 31, 2014

Comfort in the Familiar

[American Robin at the National Conservation Training Center, West Virginia. I've always loved the intricate patterning on American Robins - which most people never notice.  But look at the fine markings on the face and throat.  This is one special bird.]

As alluded to in my previous post, there hasn't been much time for birds, birding or blogging of late, but this afternoon I emerged from the classroom at the National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia determined to see some nature, and was not disappointed. Four species of woodpeckers - Downy, Red-bellied, Pileated and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - foraged right outside my room, and an Eastern Phoebe sang cheerfully from the eves.  A Red-shouldered Hawk called angrily when a Red-tailed Hawk flew overhead. "Only" the American Robins posed for photos, but that was okay.  I love robins.  A passing classmate in the training I'm taking shared the sentiment, and we paused together to watch the robins forage on the roadside lawns for a while. 

I remember talking with a geologist friend once about how we go about orienting ourselves to new or strange places.  For him, it was the rocks, the folds in the earth, and the commonality of processes that made them.  For me, it's always been the birdlife, whether watching egrets and herons in an unfamiliar African wetland or robins and woodpeckers doing what they do at a North American location.  What would we do without robins, woodpeckers, phoebes, hawks. . .

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Here It Is

[Ring-billed Gull, Norbury's Landing, NJ, March 23, 2014. Click to enlarge.]

Here it is, the one bird photo I took this weekend.  I suppose I could challenge you to think of all the reasons this isn't a third year Herring Gull or a Mew Gull, for practice, but I won't.  I think breeding plumage gulls are stunningly beautiful, common or not, which is why this Ring-billed Gull that cooperated so nicely at Norbury's Landing, NJ merited a photo.

Only one photo for a whole weekend seems to indicate a poor weekend, and birding wise it was.  Worse, I'm coming into a serious period of what will be bird-deficit-disorder (BDD) circumstances, involving three weeks worth of training, and a week of regular work, and not  lot of time or place to dally with the birds. I'll try to keep things up here at the Freiday Bird Blog, but it's going to be tough, so I ask your forbearance and encourage you to ride along until things are right again. We might be looking at this gull together for a little while, and not much else, longing for free times with arriving spring migrants to share with each other.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Oystercatchers

[Stone Harbor Point, Sunday March 16, 2014.  Click to enlarge.]