Monday, March 12, 2012

A Usual Weekend - with New Birds

 [My first Laughing Gull of 2012, Delaware Bay shore not far from the Cape May Ferry Terminal on Sunday.]

Laughing Gulls are headline birds but once a year - when they arrive and some someone receives the traditional LAGU award for being the first to spot one. Thing is, who spotted the first one this year? eBird's arrivals list says it was  Darlene Elmer, who I don't know, who saw one from the hawkwatch platform in Cape May on March 9. My first was March 11, Sunday, but since I don't patrol the bay every day (every night, yes, almost, but days one must work. . . ) I wouldn't expect it to be the first. And, I hear someone had one last weekend, i.e. March 4, but that one wasn't eBirded and so history will never know. . .

Let me revise my first statement. Laughing Gulls are a dominant force in the coastal ecosystem, with activities ranging from chomping tern eggs and chicks from nesting colonies to redistributing nutrients through their many thousands of bodies and who knows how many millions of droppings, to stealing potato chips from the carelessly unzipped daypacks of beach goers. I love visiting their nesting colonies, and do so every year by kayak, many times.

My friends at eBird didn't pay me to say this, but if anyone reading this blog isn't recording their sightings on eBird, well, you're missing out on a lot of fun AND your contributions to our understanding of bird distribution and migration patterns might as well be written in the sand below the high tide line. Particularly as climate change re-writes when birds go where. We would know, at least, when the first LAGU of 2012 really appeared.

End of sermon. This was a usual weekend for me, which is to say a fair bit of it was spent wandering the land looking for and watching birds. Saturday was damned windy, and I got all the way to Avalon before I took a picture, though the Red-throated Loons at the Nummy Island toll bridge continue to feast on whatever it is they're after and American Oystercatchers remained evident, wind or no.

[One of 7 Semipalmated Plovers on the jetty at 8th Street in Avalon on Saturday, eyeing the sky nervously for predators.]

Here's another question to ask of the Cape May coastal wetlands ecological system: were the 7 Semipalmated Plovers on the 8th Street jetty at Avalon on Saturday birds that have been around all winter, or were they new arrivals? I think they were new, because although SEPL's have been reported in onesies and twosies here and there (not by me), 7 together suggests something more.

 [Dunlin, Avalon jetty on Sunday.]

Dunlin, on the other hand, being the most common winter sandpiper, or at least mudpiper (Sanderling might give them a run on abundance in winter, but the SAND's are on the beaches), are still winterers until proven otherwise.

On Sunday, I walked Higbee Beach all the way to Daveys Lake and back, going out via the fields and ill-defined trails and back along the bay. Higbee was very active in the early morning, with Field Sparrows singing, all three mimic thrushes very much in evidence, flickers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and of course, zillions of American Robins. But it was peaceful to walk the trails there, reminisce about fall, and encounter not a single birder to share the delightful morning with.

Out next to Daveys Lake I bumped into an Orange-crowned Warbler, a bird normally difficult to find at any season but which, this past fall/winter, I've seen nearly a dozen of.

[Orange-crowned Warbler near Daveys Lake at Higbee Beach WMA on Sunday.]

Birders seldom walk the actual beach at Higbee Beach WMA, though folks new to the area sometimes expect the birding to be beach and ocean, thanks to the name,when in fact it is mainly field and forest. The last couple visits, I've taken the extra steps (a few hundred of them) to go to the Bay, and walk back along the beach. On Sunday I watched a returning ferry towing over 50 Northern Gannets - their annual concentration in Delaware Bay is beginning. Many scoters flew out beyond identifiable distance, though some of both Black and Surf were closer. You can count on Red-throated Loons pretty much everywhere there's saltwater in Cape May at this time of year, and they were in the bay as well.

[Northern Gannets following the Cape May - Lewes Ferry in to port at Cape May on Sunday .]

A warm (for March) Sunday afternoon was perfect for bicycling Belleplain State Forest, which expedition had me reminiscing about last spring's 9 consecutive weeks of visiting there. Will I do it again? Maybe. A wonderful place it is, even in March. I averaged about a Mourning Cloak butterfly per mile on this ride, plus Hermit Thrush, Eastern Phoebe, and all the winter birds.

[Mourning Cloak at Cox Hall Creek WMA on Sunday late afternoon. Mourning Cloaks overwinter as adults, one of only a few butterflies to do so. This one looked like it had a rough winter - note all the wear on the trailing edge of the wing.]

[Surprise! I looked out at my feeders on Sunday and found this spot of yellow - a male Dickcissel not seen all winter. Dickcissels, curiously for a bird of meadows and prairies, love to hang out with House Sparrows when they appear as vagrants in the east. Another curiosity to ponder: why are Dickcissels and meadowlarks patterned similarly below? I'm hoping this guy - it is a male, with the black bib and all that yellow - will stick around for a while.]


  1. Don, lovely photos. Your curiosity about Dickcissels and Meadowlarks is one I've wondered about but never really researched. The Yellow-throated Longclaw of Africa shares a similar pattern too.

  2. That's right, I forgot about the longclaw. I googled "meadowlark dickcissel longclaw" (bet that hasn't been done too often" and got an excerpt from a book by John Eastman which suggests what I think, that the markings are "disruptive coloration" i.e. disrupting the bird's outline and therefore making it less visible.