Friday, September 30, 2016

Northeast With a Chance of Peregrines

[Peregrine Falcon making a Cooper's Hawk's life difficult, from the Cape May, NJ hawk watch, September 2013.]

From the National Weather Service, 8:00 a.m. Friday, September 30 2016:

A frontal boundary will remain stationary to our south today
through Saturday with high pressure to our north, and an area of
low pressure to our west. The high pressure will begin to break
down Saturday night into Sunday. The low to our west will then
lift through the Great Lakes region and into the northeast over
the weekend, before weakening on Monday. This will pull the
frontal boundary across our area Sunday. High pressure builds to
our north for Tuesday into Thursday with a northeast flow across
the area.

High pressure + northeast + early October = Peregrine Falcons in Cape May, occasionally > 100 or even >200 a day. Just saying.

And watch next Monday and Tuesday for landbirds.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Thoughtful Thursday: Black and White

[Black-and-white Warbler in morning flight, Cape May, NJ September 28, 2016.]

“Mortals. Everything is so black and white to you.” 

- Macon, in Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Elvis Has Left the Building. Where Did He Go?

 [Above, male Black-throated Blue Warbler. Below, a female. Male BTBW is kind to fall birders, appearing just like they do in spring. Females, spring and fall, look very different - but it can be said that fall warblers, or female warblers, look like spring males, only less so. . . perhaps a stretch, but note the white wing patch in the same place on both. Cape May, NJ, Sep 25, 2016, click to enlarge all photos.]

The accursed east winds STILL blow - I confess, I stole the word "accursed" from Pirates of the Carribean, but it is apt here. Nonetheless, it is late September, and birds fly south. Between September 25 and 26, I observed a couple thousand migrating warblers of about 23 species, and a similar number of woodpeckers (mainly flickers) migrating in Cape May, NJ. This ain't bragging, it's the truth, and just what you get if you find a good day and a good spot. In the first hour after sunrise. . . more on that below.

It's a good thing, from a conservation perspective, to know where large numbers of migrant birds pass through. But here's a bigger question for my friends in Cape May and elsewhere: after we see them in morning flight, where do they go? Where do they feed and rest? We have very much yet to learn about these questions. It's very cool to be on the dike at Higbee Beach WMA, or the first field there, or at Coral Avenue, or along Delaware Bay, but what are the lands and habitats they need to rest up? I've begun a very rudimentary pilot investigation of this question, which ain't easy, in part because it pulls the keen birder in us away from places we know migrants are concentrating for the best watching and highest species totals.

 [A Black-throated Green Warbler pauses for just a few seconds in the dune forest along Delaware Bay early in the morning, before continuing north. . .and maybe west? to find good stopover habitat.]

 [Rose-breasted Grosbeaks don't breed in Cape May, so it is always a treat to catch a migrant.]

[Magnolia Warbler, what a field mark of a tail patttern!]

Yesterday morning I found myself at Higbee Beach WMA, NJ with Boone, intent on working him in the pond south of the fourth field (NJDFW wisely allows dog training at WMA's after September 1, wisely in part because hunters foot the bill for many WMA acquisitions). A few birders remained, and all enjoyed chatting with me and the dog.

It was 2 hours after sunrise, and the warblers were pretty much gone. Elvis had left the building. Where did he go?

[It's hard to capture a morning flight event in Cape May, NJ or anywhere else in words, pictures, or videos, here's iPhone 5 video from Sunday, best viewed full size with audio on.]

Sunday, September 25, 2016


Among close to 700 warblers that migrated in re-directed flight north along Delaware Bay, Cape May, NJ in the first hour after sunrise this morning were hundreds of Northern Parulas. Not much biomass, but a lot of bravery.

Next up: flicker-palooza.. . as in 600+ on the same track.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

One of These is Not Like the Other

Above, a very typical scene in Cape May, NJ. The eagles "wait on" (a falconer's term) way up high until an Osprey comes in off the bay or ocean with a fish, in this case a bunker. Very professional thieves.

In other news, the accursed east winds still blow. If any big September thing (i.e. warbler flight) is going to happen, it could happen next Wednesday with the passage of a dawdling, shifting, elusive, weak scumbag of a front.

Sense frustration?

However, I will tell you this: if you like kettles of Broad-winged Hawks (and who doesn't), don't come to Cape May. Pick a northern NJ, PA, or NY lookout and go there, possibly Tuesday (my plan, Scott's Mountain) and Wednesday (not my plan, because, well, Cape May.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Wordless Wednesday: Nature Red. . .

[Juvenile Cooper's Hawk with Red-winged Blackbird, Del Haven, NJ, September 7, 2016. Click to enlarge.]

Monday, September 12, 2016

Another September Morning In Cape May

[In fall, most Black-throated Green Warblers don't show all this black on the throat, so a better mark to look for is that bright yellow face. Along the Delaware Bayshore in morning flight today, with a couple hundred other warblers.]

As I tweeted yesterday, we finally received the grace and blessings of another cold front yesterday evening, and even though the wind switched to NE in the wee morning hours, warblers and other migrants were abundant this morning. As we piece together the elements that predict a big Cape May, NJ flight, it becomes more and more clear (at least to me) that winds with a west component lasting until past dawn are very key. Didn't happen today, but when I bumped into Richard Crossley this morning at Higbee he told me they had ~ 1000 migrants at the Higbee dike by that point, around 9:15 a.m. By the time my party got to Higbee, the party was pretty much over, but we did find a Yellow-bellied flycatcher along the center path about midway between the two towers.

["The radar's blowing up!" A sardonic response would be that, well, yeah, birds fly south in fall. Will they be at your favorite hotspot tomorrow morning in quantity? Depends on many things.]

Prediction for next good landbird flight: Thursday. Other than that, things look pretty grim for migrants here for the next while. . .

[Merlin spots an American Redstart in morning flight along the Delaware Bay this morning. Trouble. Click to enlarge all photos.]

This past weekend I had the pleasure of helping with the Delaware Nature Society's bioblitz at Middle Run. The birding was excellent Saturday morning, featuring 18 species of warblers, and unlike the birding I do in Cape May, these were in trees, not flying by. . .

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Thoughtful Thursday: Stealing

[Immature Bald Eagle pursues Osprey with fish, Norbury's Landing, NJ, Sep 2, 2016.]

"Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll steal your fish."

[I'm not sure where I first heard this. It was used in reference to intellectual property. . .]

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Wordless Wednesday: It's a Bad Time to be a Bunker

[Osprey with Bunker (menhaden) near Fishing Creek, Cape May NJ, September 7 2016. Click to enlarge.]

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Soooo, About Hermine. . .

[Forecast track of Hermine from the NWS as of 11:00 a.m. Sunday, September 4, 2016.]

Sooooo. . . all of us eager for tropical birds in the wake of Hermine are feeling a little bummed, because she is tracking well offshore. All of us who live at the shore, of course, are happy our property will be unharmed. Hermine tracked across the Gulf, through Florida and along the Carolinas, and there are probably a bunch of neat birds (boobies? frigatebirds? tropical terns?) riding along with her, but will they make it to Cape May, NJ when they try to go home? Doubt it. One set of birds to look for, though, are those shorebirds that migrate to South America over the Atlantic, which could be forced to divert over land by Hermine. Hudsonian Godwit is a great example. If you are a dreamer, there was once this small curlew that took this route. . . but it is presumed extinct. . .

However, check the wind forecast on this graph:

Click to enlarge. Solid northwest winds Tuesday, Tuesday night, and Wednesday, thanks to the high that is keeping Hermine at bay. This bespeaks of warblers Wednesday morning, and perhaps raptors during the day Wednesday. There were a few warblers migrating in Cape May today, by the way, as in a few hundred, thanks to the continued north winds.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch we've got this rogue dark juvenal Parasitic Jaeger that has been flying over land, over the hawk watch, and generally forgetting it is a seabird. Above, it was hunting a stone's throw off the jetty at Alexander Avenue in Cape May Point early yesterday morning, while it was still pretty dark. Not a storm-related bird, as far as we can tell.

Tropical storms sometimes change direction, so Hermine is still worth watching.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Fri-D: Warblers in Flight

 [Birds in flight. It's often what you do in Cape May, NJ. All photos from today; click to enlarge.]

Your first question is, why isn't it an American Redstart? Because, in late August and early September, if it is little and flying north (i.e. in morning flight or redirected flight), it very probably is. This morning I saw ~650 warblers in flight, and 552 were American Redstarts (I used a clicker for them). Later in fall, the question will be, why isn't it a Yellow-rumped Warbler?

The bird above, frozen with wings open by the camera, is a gimme, or should be. A thing about trying to i.d. warblers in flight is that you must know the bird cold when it is perched - so do you know the redstart's tail pattern, it's exact wing pattern, its face, and its range of variability? Other than that, if it is a slim, long-tailed warbler with a dark-tipped tail that is kind of spoon shaped and it jinks around a lot in flight and often chases other birds, and says tsweet a lot, it's a redstart.

[This is one that could stump you even if seen well and perched.]

When watching a good morning flight in early fall, one thing I try to do is find warblers flying by that are not redstarts. Shorter tails, less jinking in flight, different flight call (a lazy zeep on the one above), different color pattern . . . e.g., the bird above, which front to back below is yellow, white, black. Fall female Magnolia Warbler, a tricky one with no streaks below at all.

Above, tiny little thing with a tiny bill, yellow on the chest, obvious wing bars, blue and green above, says tsiw. . . Northern Parula.

Last one. Once I was working with a new morning flight counter with Richard Crossley, and at one point Richard burst out exasperated, "They're all bloody yellow!" What he meant was, in the low angle sun of morning flight, anything can look yellow. However, this one looked most yellow on the face and throat, had something going on with the face pattern (in the split-second look of a warbler in flight, "something going on" is sometimes all you can do), seemed streaked, and had obvious wing bars. Female Blackburnian Warbler.

Today's was a great flight, spiced with orioles and lots of Red-breasted Nuthatches. Keep the binoculars and reflexes sharp - we're currently waiting to see what tropical storm Hermine brings us, and then the next cold front.