Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Trip Across the Bay

[Bonaparte's Gull behind the ferry at the Cape May-Lewes Ferry Terminal, NJ, Saturday morning, February 22, 2014.]
I've never had a bad trip on the Cape May - Lewes Ferry, and that string of good times continued this weekend as we cruised over to Delaware to spend a night at a B&B in Lewes and hit some birding spots on the other side of the Bay. Bonaparte's Gulls fed actively in the prop wash of the big boat before we set sail, and scoters, Red-throated Loons, and a couple Red-necked Grebes dotted the bay's surface close to both the NJ and DE shores.  The Delaware breakwaters hosted a bunch of Great Cormorants, and one cruised past the ferry for a picture.
Once in Delaware we hit Cape Henlopen State Park, where the featured species, Brown-headed Nuthatch, cooperated as it always has for me at this site.  Other stops included Silver Lake, which is where all the Canvasbacks are, in case you were wondering.  Canvasback used to be an abundant duck on the east coast back in the days of market gunning, through the early 1900's, and the flocks on Silver Lake - several hundred - made me wistful to have seen this species in its former glory.
Besides about 4 Red-necked Grebes seen on the ferry crossing, another 4 were foraging in the Indian River boat basin near the Burton Island Nature Trail, so the incursion of this species has made it to Delaware.  Red-necked Grebes are so common since the Great Lakes and other inland water bodies are largely frozen, which pushed them south in numbers we haven't seen in years.
Anymore, no trip to Delaware is complete without a visit to the Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats in Rehobeth Beach, highly recommended. I'm nursing a 60-minute IPA as I write, my go-to beer whenever it's available, which it is in a lot of places in Cape May, thankfully.
[Immature Great Cormorant cruises past the Cape May-Lewes Ferry. Note the well-defined white belly, thick neck and overall heaviness of the bird, which separate it from Double-crested.]
[Brown-headed Nuthatch at Cape Henlopen State Park, DE, where they are reliable.  Listen for the "squeaky duck" calls.  They respond pretty reliably to a whistled imitation of an Eastern Screech-owl, which is what lured this one in for a photo.]
[Canvasbacks at Silver Lake in Delaware.  The lake is annoyingly private property, but you can look from the road with caution. Worth it for the spectacle of several hundred "cans" together.]

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Chilly but Fruitful Cape May Point State Park Walk + Cape May CBC Results

 [Yellow-rumped Warbler forages for cedar berries on the ground at Cape May Point State Park, NJ today.  Click to enlarge photos.]

The truck's thermometer read a chilly 24 degrees when I arrived at Cape May Point State Park this President's Day morning.  The lot was largely empty of cars, and I expected bird activity to be minimal, but was pleasantly surprised, especially wherever there were Eastern Redcedars bearing fruit.  There, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Cedar Waxwings, Eastern Bluebirds, and even a couple Purple Finches foraged. The warblers seemed very ground-focused today, presumably looking for dropped berries, while the others stayed in the trees.

[Cedar Waxwing lives up to its name: it's in an Eastern Redcedar tree and is showing the red waxy feather tips that give it its name, and also age it as at least in its second life year - at least 1 1/2 years old - waxwings in their first year of life do not show the waxy tips.]

In other news, thanks are due to Louise Zemaitis, who compiles the Cape May Christmas Bird Count and who shared the following summation.  The count was held on December 15, 2013, and shows what a winter diversity of birds Cape May offers.

"We recorded a total of 161 species, plus 2 recognizable forms and 8 count week species.

Winter 2013-2014 will long be remembered for snowstorms and Snowy Owls. It is hard to remember the relatively mild weather in December when we were watching hummingbirds, warblers, and buntings. What may have been most memorable about the CBC was the diversity of species and the many write-ins.

Unusual species seen include: King Eider (3), Sandhill Crane (6), Spotted Sandpiper (1), Glaucous Gull (1), Eurasian Collared-Dove (2), Snowy Owl (5), Ruby-throated Hummingbird (1), Archilochus sp. (1), Rufous Hummingbird (2), Western Kingbird (1 on count day, 2 seen together count week), White-eyed Vireo (1), Sedge Wren (1), Lapland Longspur (2), Lark Sparrow (1), and Indigo Bunting (1).

New to the count were Black-and-White Warbler (count week in 2012) and Blue Grosbeak. The cumulative total for the Cape May CBC stands at 270.

Record high numbers include: Northern Shoveler (184), Northern Pintail (225), Wild Turkey (92), Forster’s Tern (64), Merlin (11), and Cedar Waxwing (754)

Additional count week species seen were Tundra Swan, Eurasian Wigeon, Osprey, Lesser Yellowlegs, Marbled Godwit, Short-billed Dowitcher, Long-eared Owl, and Baltimore Oriole.

The 2013 count was the 93rd for Cape May. The next Cape May CBC will be held on December 14, 2014."

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Checking the Marinas

[Two male Bufflehead and three female Common Goldeneye, Breezee Lee Marina in Cape May, NJ today.]

I like ducks.  Call it a flaw - they're big, obvious, slow, and, usually, easy to identify, in part because they are big, obvious and slow.  But they're also beautiful, with fascinating courtship and breeding behaviors (be sure to check out the PBS DUCKumentary, if you haven't already).

So today I went looking for them, in the channels and slips of various Cape May marinas, and in near-ocean ponds like Sunset Lake in Wildwood Crest. Red-breasted Mergansers, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Greater Scaup, Long-tailed Ducks made for a nice reward, and there was even a Eurasian Wigeon with American Wigeon in a salt marsh pond along Ocean Drive. In the non-duck department, both Red-necked and Horned Grebe could be found in Cape May Harbor. But the ducks were the show. Thank goodness, what would winter birding be without them . . .

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Purple Sand

[Purple Sandpiper at Avalon, NJ, Sunday February 9 2014. Click to enlarge.]

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Eagle (and Duck) Festival

 [Coming in for a landing, this Bufflehead was at the Maple Avenue Impoundments in Dividing Creek, NJ during Saturday's Eagle Festival. My camera was not set for a flight shot (I was trying to photograph the goldeneye below at the time this Bufflehead dropped in) so I wound up with some motion blur, which I think actually has a nice effect on this photo.]

Yesterday was the Cumberland County, NJ Eagle Festival, always a fun event. I was there as a participant this year, not as a leader, and it gave me a chance to enjoy again the sight of casually interested or curious observers being blown away by scope views of Bald Eagles, often adults, often at nests.

In talking to Kathy Clark, the NJ Bald Eagle biologist, I learned that eagles are running a little late this year when it comes to egg laying.  Other than a few early layers in January, February is at the top of the bell curve for laying, and currently few pairs of eagles are on eggs.  A product of the cold and snowy winter, I suppose.

It turns out that though we enjoyed views of many eagles and other raptors like harriers and Red-tailed Hawks, I didn't photograph any of them.  All were a bit too far for me and my 300mm lens (with a 1.4 converter).  I've developed quite a collection of images where the bird is small in the frame and have begun being more selective.  There's only so much that cropping can do. So instead I focused on the ducks. It's been a great couple weeks for them, with icy conditions moving them and concentrating them, sometimes where they can be photographed at close range.

[Hen Common Goldeneye at the Maple Ave. Impoundments yesterday.]

Friday, February 7, 2014

Fri-D: Cooper's Hawk Tail Length

This bird is quite round-tailed, and so perhaps there's no need to overanalyze separating it from Sharp-shinned Hawk, but note also how long this Cooper's Hawk's tail appears.  Coops are proportionately longer-tailed than sharpies. Forsythe NWR, NJ, January 30, 2014.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Royalty

[Immature Peregrine Falcon at Forsythe NWR, NJ February 4 2013.]

Saturday, February 1, 2014

A Longspur of a Different Color

 [NOT the Smith's Longspur. . . this Lapland Longspur at Stone Harbor Point, NJ on Saturday was one of at least three that caused some brief false positives on the Smith's.  Note the rufous wing coverts and broad rufous edges to the tertials. Also check out the namesake long spur on the hind toe. Click to enlarge all photos.  ]

A veritable horde of searches were out for the Smith's Longspur at Stone Harbor Point, NJ this morning, me among them.  The Smith's has been lighting up the internet of late. Sadly, I did not see it - yet, anyhow. It would be a state bird, not surprising since it is a third state record. It was reported by others.

But the birding was good at Stone Harbor - there were the three Lapland Longspurs to distract one, and plenty of both "regular" and Ipswich Savannah Sparrows.  At least two American Bitterns flew over the crowd, as did a Common Loon.  And the weather could not have been better for finding a longspur, or not finding one, or finding the "wrong" one.  Although one could argue that the Smith's Longspur is the wrong one, given the location, and the Laplands were right, since they're supposed to be out in dunes during Atlantic Coast winters.  I always used to say I'm more interested in seeing birds where they're supposed to be than finding the odd rarity, which I guess is still true, though it sounds rather like the fox and the grapes at the moment. Ah, well, I've seen Smith's on the tundra in Alaska, which is where they're supposed to be in summer.

 [Lapland Longspur in flight, Stone Harbor today. Note the single white outer tail feather on each side. Smith's has two per side.]

[This Common Loon flew over Stone Harbor Point today.]

[Another winter dune bird:  Snow Bunting, Stone Harbor Point today.]