Monday, May 30, 2016

The High Point of Spring

[Ovenbird with nesting material, High Point State Park, NJ, May 21, 2016. Click to enlarge all photos.]

Due to a variety of reasons, this blog is a week late, but there is still time for you. June in High Point State Park, NJ is almost as amazing as May, with a richness of breeding birds and other wildlife, from bears to chipmunks to porcupines to snakes, that is hard to match.

I spent most of last weekend in NJ's high country (> 1800 feet, not exactly the the Rockies, but if you go, you'll feel the high). Other than a day's sojourn helping my daughter photograph a horse show (after birds, horses and riders are pretty easy to photograph), I pretty much wallowed around in birds. As in: female Cerulean Warbler walking over my Teva-clad feet while collecting nesting material; Pileated Woodpecker fighting Broad-winged Hawk and winning handily; all of NJ's Empidonax flycatchers on territory, and more.

Like: learning what Boone will do when he sees a bear - that being roar and attack, but happily, respond when I call him back. It was more fun seeing him mess with chipmunks for the first time, since we have few in Cape May County and they are awesomely abundant in High Point. Like: hills and old moss-covered rocks and blooming wild azaleas and unfolding cinnamon and interrupted ferns. Canada mayflowers and starflowers carpeting the ground. A full moon rising over the Wantage grasslands.

[If you want to work out how to separate the similar songs of Chestnut-sided, Yellow, and Magnolia warblers and American Redstarts, High Point is the place to practice.]

[High Point is not true boreal forest, but it has boreal remnants from the last ice age, e.g. a few black spruce bogs, which hold northern nesters like this male Purple Finch.]

[Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers spread into High Point as nesters in the 1990's, and are now the most abundant nesting woodpecker there. These two females were in a serious territorial dispute.]

[Black-billed Cuckoo doing what cuckoos do: sit quietly, turning their heads slowly from side to side as they scan for prey - caterpillars. There were 6+ Black-billed Cuckoos at High Point's Deckertown Marsh last weekend, an excellent count for this rarer of the two species.]

[One morning I found myself at an apparent three-way territorial boundary of Louisiana Waterthrushes, and was serenaded from all sides.]

[Birders should track down ever singing Blue-winged or Golden-winged warbler; you never know what you'll find. This Lawrence's Warbler - type hybrid was at Deckertown Marsh.]

[There aren't many Bank Swallow colonies left in NJ, so I was pleased that this one west of High Point is still quite active.]

[Knowing I'm a biologist, the proprietor of my motel called me out to check out this Milk Snake.]

[Eastern Chipmunks have always been common in High Point, but this seems to be a banner year. Good news for nesting raptors.]

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Thoughtful Thursday: The Siren's Song

[Veery singing, High Point State Park, NJ May 22, 2016.]

"No siren did ever so charm the ear of the listener as the listening ear has charmed the soul of the siren." 
- Henry Taylor

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Wordless Wednesday: Bobolink

[Bobolink, Wantage, Sussex County, NJ May 22, 2016.]

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Thoughtful Thursday: The Cliff

[Cliff Swallow, South Cape May Meadows, NJ, May 17, 2016. Click to enlarge. Face pattern on Cliff can be variable enough to create confusion with the rare vagrant Cave Swallows - Richard Crossley and I were discussing this the other day. Pay attention to rump color, paler on Cliff.]

Regret is the worst human emotion. If you took another road, you might have fallen off a cliff. I'm content. 
- William Shatner

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Wordless Wednesday: Swift

[Chimney Swift, South Cape May Meadows, NJ, May 17, 2016.  Click to enlarge. Felt like photographing a major league fastball, from the hitter's perspective.]

Saturday, May 14, 2016

50 Shades of Green and 1 of Black

[The view from Sunrise Mountain Road, Stokes State Forest, Sussex County, NJ, May 11, 2016 at sunrise. 50 shades of green, the wonder of spring on Kittatinny Mountain. The High Point monument at upper right. Click to enlarge.]

Everybody knows I love Cape May, but from early May through early June there is place that eclipses the Cape May birding mecca. That place is Sussex County, NJ, and I feel blessed to have spent a few days in this place recently, visiting my daughter, spending time with a dear friend, and just absorbing the best spring has to offer. Some time ago I wrote that every May is precious, because none of us know how many more Mays we will have. Get out in it, now.

[Indigo Bunting looking over his holdings, photographed from the same spot as the one above,]

[Ironically, the very first bird I detected on Sunrise Mountain Road was a Cape May Warbler, namesake of my home county.]

God, there are a lot of birds in Sussex County in spring. I loafed my way through a morning, and eBird tells me I encountered 91 species. The volume of song is intense, courtship and nest building is everywhere.

[This Ovenbird was so intent on gathering nesting material for her nest along Sunrise Mountain Road that she literally walked over my foot. Couldn't get that shot, camera doesn't focus that close. . . ]

[Red Trillium, magenta variety, Sunrise Mountain Road.]

[Chestnut-sided Warbler, Stokes State Forest. A few more shades of green . . .]

[Blue-winged-ish warbler, Stokes. The size of the wing patch suggests a long ago backcross with Golden-winged Warbler.]

[Black. This dude came off the Kittatinny to get between me and my truck, 20 yards away, along the Old Mine Road. It was an interesting conversation: "Dude, I'm having such a nice few days off and now I have to fight a bear with a pair of Zeiss binoculars?" It ended well for both of us. Go in peace.]

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, meaning Cape May, migration has been excellent. Duh, it's May.

[NOT expected in May: Snow Bunting, Cape May Point State Park.]

[This guy tied into a fish to big for his britches. Bald Eagle,  Heislerville, Cumberland County, NJ, last weekend.]

[Cerulean Warbler is so rare in Cape May County that it is not on the basic eBird Cape May checklist. Nonetheless, two were singing along Frank's Road in Belleplain State Forest last weekend. Got this photo, and several other birders were able to track them down, which I am glad for - helps with the "street cred."]

[With all the recent rain, the impoundments at Heislerville were full, which forced shorebirds to roost on the dikes at high tide, here mainly Semipalmated Sandpipers.]

[Least Sandpiper doing its best to keep its feet dry in the flooded impoundmdents, Heislerville, NJ.]

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Swainson's Warbler: It's Better to be Lucky than Good

[Audio, albeit faint, of Swainson's Warbler at Higbee Beach WMA, Cape May NJ, today, May 4, 2016. In the video I say the bird was at the north end of field one, but in fact it was at the south end in the wet woods there . . .I guess I was kind of excited.]

Mike Pasquerello stepped out of the south end of field one at Higbee Beach covered in mosquitoes. I said, "Dude, you've got mosquitoes." He said, "Yeah, I think I kicked them up when I walked out there, I didn't have any until then."

I said jokingly, "I'm out of here," and jogged away down the path with Boone trotting happily ahead. . .

And then my feet froze, and I literally almost fell while the rest of me caught up to what I had just heard.

"Mike, Swainson's Warbler just sang down there!" I hissed. He looked at me like I was joking, but apparently my body language said otherwise and he dialed in too.

It went again. And again. I started laughing, because Swainson's Warbler is a pearl of great price anywhere. . . but in Cape May? Less than ten records for sure.

We fist-bumped, I grabbed my camera and took the audio/video above, and went off to work. I was only at Higbee to check the bird feeders I keep filled there, and only decided to take a turn around field one because Boone was being annoying. . . better to  be lucky than good.

Cape May has taken migration hits the last three days, well over 20 warbler species all three days, which by the way in the old days of my youth was not happening the first few days of May. The world warms, the birds respond, for better or worse we will have to wait and see.

 [Above, male Prothonotary Warbler at Sunset Bridge, Bellplain State Forest, Cape May County NJ on Monday, May 2. Below, his female. They appear to have selected a nest hole 20 yards upstream of the bridge, in a cavity about 25 feet directly above the water. Please don't bother these birds with recordings, there is no need. Click to enlarge photos.]

So, get thee to the woods. Cox Hall Creek WMA was smoking Tuesday, with what I have to call a true fallout including 24 warbler species, with many of many, and a single Golden-winged warbler. Today there is Veery and two call-noting Acadian Flycatchers in the CMBO Northwood Center block.

[One of the 20+ Rose-breasted Grosbeaks coming to my feeders in Del Haven, NJ yesterday. They're still there today, and some are hitting CMBO Northwood's feeders now. Enjoy them while they last; they do not breed in Cape May.]