Monday, February 20, 2012

A Walk In the Park

 [Orange-crowned Warbler, Cape May Point State Park, NJ on Saturday. One of at least 2.]

It was "a call of a different color," sharp, high, different - very different from Yellow-rumped Warbler, Song Sparrow, cardinal, or any of the front-line winter chip possibilities. And thus began a most unique problem on Saturday morning -  I couldn't get away from Orange-crowned Warblers! The first one was along the boardwalk at Cape May Point State Park near the junction of the red and blue trails, and it followed me to where the boardwalk ends , chipping all the way, where a second Orange-crowned appeared and fed off ahead of me while the first headed back the direction I came from. I saw what presumably was the second OCWA multiple times as I sifted the cedars for what I swore was a Pine Warbler chip, in vain. Towards the morning's end, when I wandered back to Lighthouse Pond to look for the Glossy Ibis Michael O'Brien had found (also in vain), I found another, or one of the same, Orange-crowned, chipping again near the boardwalk to the bird blind.

I actually remember the very first Orange-crowned Warbler I ever heard chip. It was in Texas, about 1991, winter, along some no-name back road, and on hearing the chip and finding the bird, I remember thinking, "I could do that again," meaning recognize OCWA's chip. You could, too, especially now that you can pop out your phone and play it as a refresher.

 [Another bird with a unique chip - female Common Yellowthroat where the boardwalk ends at Cape May Point State Park on Saturday. "Chejk," or something like that, a little variable, always "thick."]

It could hardly have been a better morning for birding. Clear, bright, and so still you could hear forever. I was really dialed in listening for the "priderit" of Western Tanager, in fact that's why I chose the state park, since a WETA has been reported there a couple times this winter. No luck, but it was fun even to listen to the Carolina Wrens run through their repertoire of songs, trills, gurgles, and sounds that have no name.

Here's another thing I noticed on Saturday. Part of me wants to say "duh" about this, but even in winter, birds are markedly more active in the first two hours after sunrise than they are later. It was really worth getting up before dawn to be in the field at sunup. 

[Precious fruit - Northern Mockingbird feeding on Winged Sumac berries. Sumac gets important late in the season, when most other fruit has been consumed. This mocker defended its bush from Hermit Thrush and Song Sparrows, among others.]

[I'm glad one of the brown-backed thrushes stays with us in winter - Hermit Thrush, Cape May Point State Park Saturday.  Why do I like them? What's not to like - sweet song, sweet call, sweet manners, just a genteel bird.]

[Another favorite, though not genteel - Brown Thrasher digging for its breakfast.]

[With the clear and calm, thermals formed early on Saturday and kettles of Black and Turkey Vultures were joined by Red-shouldered Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Bald Eagle, and Cooper's Hawk. This 'shoulder shot through the woods first thing in the morning.]

[Killdeer in the grassy field at the state park entrance. ]

[In the "I'd rather be lucky than good" department, I opted not to join Vince Elia for the walk all the way up to the meadows, where Michael had the Snow Bunting flock earlier in the morning. But I did wander as far as the dunes, and while I stood there the buntings chose that particular moment to fly right over my head. . . ]

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