Sunday, September 25, 2011

Wherein a Wilson's Plover Was Only One Highlight

 [Wilson's Plover (left) with Semipalmated Plover at Stone Harbor Point yesterday morning. If you click the pic, it will open in a separate window enlarged quite a bit. The type specimen for Wilson's was collected by, who else, Alexander Wilson, on Cape Island May 13, 1813. There are less than 20 modern records. This is one of those, "you'll know it when you see it" identifications, once you're familiar with the regularly occurring collared plovers.]

I think the "Greater Stone Harbor" area is my favorite leisure birding place. Let me explain. Thanks to the stalled high and multiple lows, Cape May birding hasn't been rocking by fall Cape May standards, so a fall flight spectacle and 90-100 species morning was unlikely yesterday. I just wanted to go out and look at birds. I was talking to Richard Crossley about birding the other night, and he commented he doesn't find rare birds much anymore because he doesn't look for them (believe me, he finds them when he looks). I'm right there with him - we agreed we don't like using scopes, we want the birds to be close to us, and if we can't reach them with a camera we're probably not paying much attention.

In other words, most of the time anymore I'm birding for fun, nothing else, and this is where the Greater Stone Harbor area shines, because there are always birds around, flight conditions or not, and they're often sitting out where you can look at them and even get pretty close, and frankly, there's less birding pressure up there than at Higbee or the state park, and sometimes it's good to be able to fully concentrate on the birds without the social distractions, however wonderful those are, too.

All the above makes for a fine Sunday mornng of birding, and did. The area around the free bridge between Stone Harbor and Nummy Island had its usual rich assortment of shorebirds, among them about 100 Red Knots and half a dozen Marbled Godwits. On a mid-falling tide, my favorite spot is to stand on the bridge looking north (watch for traffic) and that's what we did. Before the tide gets too far out, you can usually do everything from there without a scope.

We ran into a birder from the Netherlands and he joined us checking the Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary, which was expectedly quiet. I wish he had stayed with us longer, though, because we did wind up seeing Black-billed Cuckoo, Yellow-breasted Chat, and a few warblers.

A particularly fun moment was when the Dutch birder pointed out a Gray Catbird, and when my son Tim and I didn't respond he jokingly commented, "You don't look at catbirds," (i.e. because they are so common to us). Then he looked over at us and said "Oh," because Tim was watching one and I was busy clicking away at another feeding on winged sumac berries. That's kind of how I feel about birding anymore, just watching birds do what they do, and I like catbirds.

Of course, I like Wilson's Plovers too, and Tim and I were lucky enough to find one at Stone Harbor Point amongst a selection of a dozen Piping Plovers, and a bunch of other birds. When I sent out the text alert on the Wilson's, Tom Reed texted me to "tie it down" - he needed it for his record-breaking NJ big year - and about that time vehicles and beachcombers descended and the bird flushed. Aaargh! Luckily, birds filtered back in, and Tim made a nice flyby pick on the Wilson's when it returned. Soon others showed up, and we were able to more or less cordon off the area with birders for a little while anyway. There was a Wilson's here a couple weeks ago - this could be the same one, perhaps spending time somewhere else where there is less human pressure.

[One of the dozen Piping Plovers lingering  at Stone Harbor Point, Wilson's Plover behind.]

[This juvenile Black-bellied Plover rounded out the Stone Harbor plover scene.]

Several of us heard an American Golden-plover fly over during a memorial service for the late Tom Parsons yesterday afternoon - expect a few photos from that on Wednesday - and it occurred to me I should go chase down a Killdeer somewhere for a 6-plover day, something you don't get to do much (ever?) in NJ. The hek with it, the young Turks can cover that one if they want.

[Several Western Sandpipers foraged on the beach at Stone Harbor Point. Things to note to tell it from a Semipalmated Sandpiper: 1. It's on the beach, not a mudflat, so it's probably a Western (not completely reliable!). 2. it's well along to winter plumage. 3. The new winter plumage feathers are gray, not brown-gray. 4. There are those wonderful retained rufous-marked Western sandpiper scapulars. 5. A little too much bill for a Semi.]

[An arriving Dunlin at Stone Harbor Point. Dunlin do most of their molting to basic/winter plumage on the breeding grounds (this one is almost finished), which in part explains why they arrive so late here. Hey, try this: look at the back inside cover of O'Brien, Crossley and Karlson's The Shorebird Guide, and try to find the Dunlin - use this photo to compare with the shapes. I was too lazy to use the index or flip through pages, and found I could find the bird just as quickly with the silhouettes. Speaks volumes about how to i.d. shorebirds!]

[A bright juvenile Least Sandpiper checks out a juv Semipalmated Sandpiper on the Stone Harbor jetty.]

[Some of the Marbled Godwits at Stone Harbor, from the free bridge. How many other species? At least three. If you click this photo, it will open in a separate window enlarged quite a bit.]

[Gray Catbird eating native food - winged sumac berries. Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary.]

[Finally, there's more to life than just birds. A few Pipefish were swimming under the free bridge. I believe this is one of the flagtail pipefish species, which are strong swimmers among this group of relatively weak swimming, sea horse relatives.]

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