Monday, January 2, 2012

Sunrise Promises, Hope Delivers. . .and Learning Shorebird Calls Helps

 [New Year's Day sunrise at Turkey Point, Cumberland County, NJ. There may be a better CBC territory on Earth, but I doubt it.]

 Stillness plus birds. You have to love that combination. New Year's morning, so perfectly still, it felt like you could cover the entire 15 mile diameter Cumberland County, NJ Christmas Bird Count circle from a single location with a tuned ear and a quiet body, let alone our area between Dividing Creek and the Delaware Bay. My first hour's quiet half mile walk, alone down Turkey Point Road, yielded 40 species, with Hermit Thrushes singing and Brown Thrashers chuffing at daybreak, Marsh Wrens tcheking (Sedge Wrens, of which there were none, say tchup) . . .one of the best mornings of my life. We found some pretty fancy birds later, but the morning was the best. My list for our Turkey Point territory is at the end of this blog.

 [Hermit Thrushes , including this one, were SINGING Sunday morning, winter or not, the best song of all birds anywhere.]

[In case you doubt pishing works, this hedge on Maple Ave., near Dividing Creek, filled with Northern Cardinals and White-throated Sparrows withing one minute after some screech-owl whistles and Tufted Titmouse alarm imitations: schpusssh, shcpusssh, SCHPUSSH, SPUSSSH! We lured 15 male cardinals into a single tree!]
[At least 8 Brown Thrashers called at my dawn site in Cumberland Sunday, which leads me to wonder, what is different about Gray Catbirds, of which I had only one (this one) all day? Both are winter half-hardies, yet thrasher was much more evident at Turkey Point.]
 [I've often wondered, with the abundant gulls concentrated on NJ's Delaware Bay Shore, why aren't there more of the northern, "white-winged" species? This Glaucous Gull, near the Maple Avenue Impoundments at Turkey Point, was an exception on Sunday.]

On learning shorebird calls: experienced birders often stress the need for a scope when birding shorebird sites, which is a real need and focuses attention on how visual shorebirding is. Yet rare shorebirds can often be detected by sound, which is why the series of seven whistles (as in, the 'seven-whistler' of market-gunning days) stopped our party in our tracks, not believing we'd heard a Whimbrel on New Year's Day in Cumberland, NJ, a species that should be no closer than the far southern U.S., and normally farther south than that. I stood frozen, waiting to hear it again. Beth, seeing me stopped, asked "What was that?" Pete said, "Sounded like a Whimbrel!" I said, "It sure as hell did!" But a heard-only record of this kind wouldn't do - luckily we spotted it, flying with Greater Yellowlegs.

 [It was indeed a Whimbrel, top right. That call froze me one January 20 years ago - on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where even there it is rare in winter. This will probably be the "rarest" bird I see in 2011 - there are a scarce handful of winter Whimbrel records in NJ.]

 ['Peek' calls drew our attention to this flock of Long-billed Dowitchers, the more common of the two dowitchers in winter.]

 [Black "wing pits" + 'peer-a-wee' call = Black-bellied Plover, another of our wintering shorebirds. Turkey Point, on Sunday.]

 [Dunlin are our most abundant winter shorebird,  calling 'jeeerv' as they pass. This group foraged over a cut and flooded salt hay farm in Cumberland.]

 [Greater Yellowlegs taking deep wingbeats against a strong wind Sunday afternoon.]

 [Sign of a warm winter: Snowy Egret on January 1!]

 [Legs of a Great Egret on Sunday, one of 27 (!) we found in our territory in this mild (until now) winter. I reported the band code to the USFW Bird Banding Lab, and will report if I learn where this bird was from.]

[Fish that passed through a River Otter, leaving only scales - Turkey Point on Sunday. Lot's of water = lots of fish and other fauna, whether otters or birds. A big part of the equation explaining the great birding in southern NJ.]

Turkey Point, Cumberland, US-NJ
Jan 1, 2012 6:45 AM - 3:15 PM
Protocol: Traveling
6.0 mile(s)
Comments:     Cumberland CBC; first hour alone then with Pete, the Robs Jr. and Sr., Linda, Beth. Beautiful, still morning, clear and 27 degrees. Wind picked up in p.m.,high in the 50's. All water open. Salt hay farm had been cut and was flooded, great shorebird habitat. These numbers are just what I saw, not for whole party.

78 species

Snow Goose  10000
Canada Goose  250
Mute Swan  25
Tundra Swan  6
Gadwall  40
American Black Duck  250
Mallard  75
Northern Pintail  40
Green-winged Teal  30
Bufflehead  80
Common Goldeneye  4
Hooded Merganser  60
Common Merganser  2
Ruddy Duck  2
Great Blue Heron  25
Great Egret  27     actual count. one color banded with blue-gree DX on left leg, USFWS metal band on right leg.
Snowy Egret  1     photo
Turkey Vulture  10
Bald Eagle  15
Northern Harrier  16
Sharp-shinned Hawk  2
Cooper's Hawk  3
Red-shouldered Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  12
Merlin  2
Peregrine Falcon  2
Clapper Rail  6
Virginia Rail  1
Black-bellied Plover  25
Greater Yellowlegs  50
Whimbrel  1     heard first, saw well, distant photograph, flying with GRYE
Western Sandpiper  5
Least Sandpiper  2
Dunlin  3000
Long-billed Dowitcher  25     Heard and photographed a flock of 10 in flight, later i.d.'d 20+ foraging near Beaver Dam
Ring-billed Gull  20
Herring Gull  350
Glaucous Gull  1     first cycle, photographed
Great Black-backed Gull  20
Mourning Dove  10
Eastern Screech-Owl  2
Great Horned Owl  4
Belted Kingfisher  6
Red-bellied Woodpecker  5
Downy Woodpecker  6
Hairy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  15
Blue Jay  10
American Crow  10
Carolina Chickadee  15
Tufted Titmouse  8
Carolina Wren  15
Winter Wren  5
Marsh Wren  6
Golden-crowned Kinglet  2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  3
Eastern Bluebird  10
Hermit Thrush  39     careful count for day using clicker
American Robin  1000
Gray Catbird  1
Northern Mockingbird  3
Brown Thrasher  15     8 were calling at dawn at jct. of maple and turkey point road
European Starling  10
Yellow-rumped Warbler  150
Eastern Towhee  12
Field Sparrow  1
Savannah Sparrow  7
Fox Sparrow  8
Song Sparrow  15
Swamp Sparrow  6
White-throated Sparrow  250
Dark-eyed Junco  5
Northern Cardinal  30
Red-winged Blackbird  150
Rusty Blackbird  10
Common Grackle  10
Boat-tailed Grackle  15
American Goldfinch  10

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