Monday, February 28, 2011

I.D. Tip: Winter Shorebirds

They're Dunlin. Except if they look nearly white and/or are chasing waves on the beach - then they are Sanderlings. Or if they're taller, upright, and plump - then they're Black-bellied Plovers. See, you too can be a winter shorebird expert. . .

[Dunlin with a single Sanderling, near Norbury's Landing, NJ, Sunday February 27 2011. Dunlin like mud, and are brown; Sanderlings like sand, and are nearly white. Amazing how so many birds are the "right" color! Click to enlarge.]

O.k., so maybe it's not quite that simple, but December-February, if I see a flock of shorebirds flying over a mudflat I'll confidently call them Dunlin at any distance. Unless they're whitish and/or over a sandy beach, in which case they are Sanderlings.

[Black-bellied Plovers complicate things, but only a bit. They are another prime winter shorebird candidate, but are obviously bigger than Dunlin, with the upright stance of a plover when walking and brightly patterned in flight (white tail and wing stripe, white underparts with black axillars) . Many of the lower birds in this photo are Black-bellied Plovers, the rest are Dunlin. Norbury's Landing, February 27 2011. Click to enlarge.]

Red Knot, Western Sandpiper, and the odd wintering yellowlegs, Semipalmated Plover or Least Sandpiper complicate the winter shorebird department, as do Purple Sandpipers and Ruddy Turnstones (almost always on rocks); Marbled Godwit; "Western" Willet (very tall, pale, flashy wing pattern); and of late, returning Piping Plovers, the first of which was detected at Two Mile Beach by Tom Reed. I also understand Sam Galick wins the LAGU award for the first of season Laughing Gull he saw at St. Peters yesterday.

[American Oystercatchers are shorebirds (the biggest ones we have) and can be found in small numbers in winter, but hardly complicate things, flying around blowing their whistles like Keystone Cops smoking orange cigars. . . these obey the traffic signal on the free bridge to Nummy Island, February 23, 2011.]

Saturday, February 26, 2011

And Pileated Woodpeckers Drink Tequila?

[Pileated Woodpeckers, High Point State Park, NJ, May 2010. Pileateds don't reach Cape May, sadly.]

Folks have been offering more suggestions for preferred beverages of certain birds. My friend Pam writes, "Pileated Woopeckers drink Tequilla, by the way, and Eastern Bluebirds, only a strong Earl Grey.  They're atop my nest box now (the bluebirds)!" I confess my intimacy with the big woodpecker has lapsed since I moved to Cape May (where there are none), but I'm thinking more along the lines of a stout beer. . .

Paul Baicich adds, " Belted Kingfishers drink Dr. Pepper!"

Friday, February 25, 2011

Pintails Drink Perrier (and Mallards Drink Bud)

[Drake Northern Pintail, "Lake Champlain" in the Villas Thursday, February 25 2011. Click to enlarge.]

It all started at Tuckahoe WMA a couple years ago, one late February when Northern Pintails were staging, as they do at that time of year. Someone had given me a bottle of Perrier (it's certainly not what I drink), and I looked at those handsome pintails and sipped Perrier and thought, "Pintails drink Perrier." Even Richard Crossly might agree, to read his description of the male pintail in his new The Crossley ID Guide: ". . .overall impression is of a bird with a very 'thoughtful' and somewhat dapper look." Couldn't have said it better myself - and I'll have more to say on The Crossley ID Guide in this space in the future.

So Pintails drink Perrier. Mallards favor cheap, working man's beer. American Kestrels drink Sangria, Merlins grain alcohol, Peregrines rocket fuel. Chickadees like Sprite, with Carolina Chickadees favoring the diet kind. It's a fun game to play.

Northern Pintails are early migrating ducks, and stage, sometimes in the 10's of thousands, in southern NJ in late February. This weekend would be a good one to especially check the Mannington Meadows/Oldman's Creek area of Salem County, or Tuckahoe, or Edwin B. Forsythe NWR, for big concentrations. Or you can wander over to Lake Champlain, a neighborhood pond in the Villas, where the lonely wintering female pintail now has plenty of company. . .

[Three drake Northern Pintails courting a single female, Lake Champlain in the Villas, Thursday, February 25 2011. Seeing multiple male ducks pursuing a single female is a common sight because, although the sex ratios are identical at hatching, females experience a substantially higher mortality rate than males. Why? Because females do all the incubating and young tending, and so are more vulnerable to predation. Lake Champlain had about a dozen pintails, plus Hooded Merganser, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, and American Black Duck. Not to mention a first cycle Lesser Black-backed Gull, a topic for a future i.d. tip blog.]

[Making a picture of the wind: 40 mph gusts buffeted this feeding male Northern Pintail. February 14, 2011, Edwin B. Forsythe NWR. Click to enlarge.]

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I.D. Tip: Black-headed Gull

[One of two Black-headed Gulls with Bonaparte's Gulls near the Cape May Ferry Terminal last Sunday. BHGU is slightly paler than BOGU, a sometimes useful feature when the birds are distant and bare parts colors are not evident. Both the bonies and the 2 Black-headed Gulls had earlier been foraging for bits of food stirred up by the ferry props, a good place to look for them. Click to enlarge.]