Sunday, March 4, 2012

Possibility, Probability, and the Cape May Peninsula System

 [Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Batt's Lane, Cape May, NJ, March 3. Easy to say now that we know what it is. . . Quoting Sam Galick's post about the bird, "We request that you park on the side of SHUNPIKE ROAD and walk around the corner to the residence, as there's hardly a shoulder along Batt's Lane. There's an appropriate area in blue on the map [link] in Garr's side yard where you can stand to view the bird. It has defended the large Firebush and Hydrangea there wildly all winter long from other birds. It's perches frequently sunning/preening/calling the whole time. There's a hummingbird feeder behind the Firebush on the side of the house where it feeds." Garr and Ann Marie, the homeowners, have been very gracious.]

We ought headline with the headliner. The Broad-tailed Hummingbird has been better photographed and well-discussed by Mike Crewe, Michael O'Brien, and probably, by now, by about 80 zillion people who have taken 80 quazillion photos of the bird, a first state record. All of which begs the question, how did we let a first state record hummingbird winter-over without determining its correct identity?

It'd be tempting to use 20-20 hindsight and the fact that I never looked for this hummer nor looked at a picture of it until last week to tell how I would have known what it was, but. . .nope. Can't say I'd have called it right, though you can read Mike Crewe's postpartum angst at the link above. It would have taken imagination to call it a Broad-tailed, and willingness to deviate from established norms, probably even before you were sharp enough to deal with the green on the bird's flanks showing even last fall. So here is where probability is a two-edged sword, with the edge facing you sharper than the one you cut with. Rufous Hummingbird is the expected vagrant hummer, so that's what the bird is until proven otherwise. Kudos to Sam Galick et. al. who figured it out from photos. So use probability but consider possibility, or put more simply: birds have wings. Give wings to your imagination, too, but glue them on tight.

 [Western Sandpiper, one of 20+ (!) on the beach at Stone Harbor Point today.]

The radar last night showed a definite migration signature, with birds lifting off after sundown and crossing Delaware Bay. Working that theory, I walked Higbee Beach WMA early, finding an Eastern Phoebe, which may have just crossed the bay, or may be the one that Michael O' Brien had earlier in the week on Steven's Street and/or that Mark Garland and I saw at the Beanery last weekend. Which leads us to the Cape May Peninusula "System:" how much do birds move around? Where, for example is/are the Black-headed Gull (s) on the Delaware Bayshore when you work it from Norbury's Landing to Cape May Point and don't find them? Were the 20+ Western Sandpipers at Stone Harbor Point today birds that had been in "the system" all winter, just concentrated today due to food or other factors we don't understand, or were they new arrivals? How about the scores of Red Knots which have been on the Delaware Bay's mudflats the past couple weeks?

Clearly there was an influx of American Oystercatchers the past couple days. They were everywhere in the back bay system today, e.g. 40+ at Nummy Island. The Western Grebe was more cooperative today than yesterday - part of the translation is the seas layed down a bit - and it was seen closer to shore at Cape May Point.

[Common Loon at Avalon today. Commons have begun their molt into breeding plumage, note the checkered feathers on the back and the black around the face. Red-throated Loons usually don't molt until after they depart for the breeding grounds.] 

I checked in on the Red-throated Loons at the toll bridge to Nummy Island (see post below), and found them still there and even more vocal, making soft screams kind of similar to the call of a Caspian Tern. The RTLO's seem to feed mainly on fishes in winter, but Common Loons feast heavily on crabs - watch long enough and you'll catch one with a crab in its bill, though they have to be careful lest a gull grab it from them when they surface.

[I looked at over a thousand gulls at Avalon today, and at the end of it had to ask, "Can they really all be Herring Gulls, every one?" Answer: yes. At least, today it was.]

[15+ Purple Sandpipers foraged on the rocks at 8th street in Avalon today, taking advantage of low tide to find food normally covered by water.]

[The marshes and sounds "behind" (west of) Avalon are rich at all seasons, rich with shorebirds in summer and waterfowl in winter. This is part of a flock of 1500 Atlantic Brant that rose from Stite's Sound and re-deployed near Townsend's Inlet, possibly put up by Bald Eagles which nest not far away.]

[Wild Turkey has been an elusive species south of the Cape May Canal. It seems to me it only started being reported in about 2007 - have to do some record digging. This flock, 11 total, was along New England Road, on the way to Higbee Beach, this morning.]

1 comment:

  1. Don, we found at least 4 Pine Warblers at Cox Hall Creek WMA Sunday morning. I know you had one there a week earlier, but I have to suspect this number was part of the influx you note.