Well, as Michael O'Brien joked with me this morning, we're past the solstice, so it's fall. He has a point, though the Laughing Gulls with their downy chicks out on the marshes would disagree, as would the Pine Warblers feeding recently fledged young at Cox Hall Creek WMA in Villas, NJ. That's the mark of summer in the North American bird world for me - birds making and caring for babies. Most Pine Warblers will remain on their breeding grounds though August at least, and yet we saw one flying west along the dunes at Cape May Point this morning. What was that bird doing? And certainly there are plenty of other species for which the "normal" southbound migration period includes the tail end of June, especially certain shorebirds. So it's fall and summer both.
If you haven't already heard, there was an epic movement of shearwaters out of Delaware Bay this morning, which is why a bunch of us were crowded onto one of the dune crossovers in Cape May Point, watching. Tom Reed came up with the following extraordinary numbers: 182 Great Shearwaters, 19 Cory's Shearwaters, 2 Manx Shearwaters, 1 Sooty Shearwater. Steady east winds and a rising tide overnight contributed to putting these birds into the bay, or that's what we think. Speaking of seasons, for these shearwaters (except Manx) it is their winter, since they breed in the southern hemisphere during our winter. Manx is the exception, breeding as it does on islands with rocky cliffs in the northern hemisphere during our summer. I believe the only breeding site for Manx in North America is in Newfoundland.
I missed the first part of the shearwater thing because I was birding Cox Hall Creek WMA as I have most early mornings, with my dog, since January. I've come to think of this as my Cox Hall Creek "project" - a semi-serious effort to learn exactly what birds use the area when, and how. It's also been a bit of a birding game. Some readers will remember that last winter I threatened to do a big year just on Cox Hall Creek. Well, I'm sort of doing it. In the course of the "project," I've submitted 92 complete checklists to eBird for Cox Hall Creek since January 1, 2015, and recorded 155 bird species there so far this year. Normally on each visit I take about an hour to walk the approximately 2 mile outer loop of trails, and I'll confess to mainly birding by ear since a) that's what I do in landbird habitat and b) I'm also keeping an eye on the dog, and sorting through life's mysteries in my mind.
June is a time of year in Cape May County when you might think you could do your bird checklist before you go out the door, if you know the area well. Breeders are there, migrants are not, so it's breeders plus a few stray overhead wanderers like egrets and gulls, or so you would think. Yesterday I had a Great Blue Heron at Cox Hall Creek. It was an adult (told by the well-marked head pattern) on the big pond. Great Blues don't breed anywhere particularly nearby, so what was that bird doing?
Here's another mystery. Since May, there has been one Eastern Wood-pewee at Cox Hall Creek, almost always singing near the parking lot at the end of Shawmount Road, although it sometimes ranges a bit farther. I'm guessing by its persistent singing and ranging that it is an unpaired male. But this morning there were three Eastern Wood-pewee's singing at the WMA. What's up with that? Unpaired floater males from farther afield? Migrants? - and if so, which way are they going?
And another mystery: Last fall three Northern Bobwhite appeared at Cox Hall Creek, origin uncertain. After November, they went missing. Yet on May 20 a bobwhite called there, and after missing the species on something like the next 15 visits, on June 25 I saw what was either a female or juvenile - it didn't fly well - and heard a male give the full bob-white call. What's up with these birds, and did they in fact breed there?
Looking further back, in early winter I was detecting Hairy Woodpecker regularly at Cox Hall Creek. Then the species went missing from early February until mid April. Hairy is generally considered to be non-migratory, and February would be an unusual time to head south, but I wonder, did the Hairy Woodpeckers facultatively migrate somewhere more hospitable during the harsh winter and return? Did the wintering birds die and new ones replace them, "migrating" in in April?
It's been fun, birding one place so regularly. A great way to explore bird occurrence at Cox Hall Creek is to check its hotspot report on eBird. This, by the way, is a great way to explore any birding hotspot, anywhere.
For the record, here's my year list for Cox Hall Creek WMA to date:
American Black Duck
Great Blue Heron
Great Black-backed Gull
Great Horned Owl
Great Crested Flycatcher
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Cape May Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler