Sunday, November 6, 2011

Tactics and Unexpected Results

 [First year Baltimore Oriole near Lily Lake, Cape May Point on Saturday. Orioles are not among the birds normally associated with Eastern Redcedar, but this one gets around the berry's waxy coating by crushing it open. Yellow-rumped Warblers and Tree Swallows famously can digest the wax coating on redcedars (technically junipers) and bayberries.]

On Saturday morning, after quickly concluding there was no big flight underway (due to the absence of robins and other flocks overhead), and after not finding the Western Kingbird lingering along Sunset Boulevard near the bread stand, I decided instead to find me a redcedar in heavy fruit and with bird activity on it.

(By the way, I'm waiting for kingbird searchers to find another rare bird there, and thus create Cape May's answer to the Patagonia Picinc Table Effect - the Cape May Bread Stand Effect).

Driving around Lily Lake I found just the cedar, laden with berries and with ponderous low boughs riddled with yellow-rumpeds, House Finches, Robins, a Blackpoll Warbler. I was thinking about Townsend's Solitaire. There's one in the state right now, apparently, and there've been enough cold fronts and west wind days to push such a western stray here. TOSO's descend from high elevation breeding areas to winter on junipers in the west, and the two I've seen in NJ both were doing something similar, maintaining territories for several weeks in eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) thickets. No TOSO materialized, but the oriole above was a nice consolation.

I drove by the Western Kingbird spot again, and missed it again, and headed on to the South Cape May Meadows to look for more juniper birds. First a hatch year Bald Eagle flushing the many ducks and coots in the meadows distracted me, then some sparrows (I think half the birds on the radar Friday night were migrating Song Sparrows, based on the number of seeps in the meadows on Sunday), and then I chanced to look up and see a high-flying Short-eared Owl. Unexpected. It disappeared heading south over the dune before I could get a good photo, and I resumed sparrowing until it occurred to me that the owl was unlikely to keep going across the bay on such a strong NE wind, so I hustled to the top of the dune and found the owl dog-fighting with gulls, low over the breakers.

[Short-eared Owl coming back to land, South Cape May Meadows on Saturday.]

Eventually the Short-eared made its way back to land, flying pretty much right past me, and went back over the dune to roost somewhere between the meadows and Cape May City.

My theory on the Western Kingbird, supported by Tom Johnson and Sam Galick who had seen the bird before, was that eventually it would return to its favored haunts along Sunset, once it warmed up a bit. So for a third try, I drove by the spot again, and missed it again, but did secure a nice loaf of rosemary-thyme bread, and said hello to other folks who were also waiting around buying bread and missing the bird. I hear its being seen again this morning as I write. . . grrr.

[I love the pattern on Short-eared Owl. The bold solid bars on the wing tip help separate the bird from a flyby Long-eared Owl, as does the pale lower belly - not to mention it's out and about in broad daylight, something I have not been lucky enough to encounter with a LEOW!]

I'm up in my old north Jersey haunts this weekend, doing some hiking and leaf-peeping. Speaking of cedars, we've encountered more Cedar Waxwings so far than I've been seeing in Cape May, perhaps more will move south later in the fall.

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