Sunday, January 27, 2013

Places and Habitats Untried of Late

 [Male Horned Lark at Cape May County Airport, NJ, January 26, 2013. Click to enlarge all photos.]

If you want to see new birds, seek out new places and new habitats. Seems obvious, and Cape May County Airport's barren fields seemed a likely place to find Horned Larks. Hadn't been there this year, the airport is reliable for them, and a little snow makes open-country birds easier to track down. The theory worked on Saturday morning, with four larks right near the airport diner (you do have to peer through a chain-link fence to see.) I was hoping for American Pipits, too, but it took until today in a close-cut field along Route 47 to find them.

Believe it or not, there are some birds you either have to leave Cape May County to see, or at least it's a whole lot easier to see them farther north or west. Among those are Common Merganser and Common Goldeneye - we can get them in Cape May, but they're expected and often easy along the Delaware River, so on Saturday afternoon we went up to Riverwinds to gaze over the river, and find our year Common Mergs and goldeneye, and Canvasbacks and eagles and a few other this's and that's, scaup and so on. Very nice bonuses were the American Tree Sparrows foraging near a patch of brush and Phragmites, just their sort of habitat. I love Tree Sparrows - their calls, their brown tones, and the fact they breed waaay up north - check the range map in the field guide. A Tree Sparrow in NJ has come a long way, from the James Bay area or farther.

[American Tree Sparrow at Riverwinds, near National Park, NJ January 26. A tough bird in Cape May County, much easier a few dozen miles north.]

Then this morning I thought, why not try hitting the salt marsh edge hard for "salt sparrows?" I.e., Saltmarsh Sparrow, Seaside Sparrow, and Nelson's Sparrow. It's a full moon, high tide, and frozen, maybe they'll be up near the edge. And they were, all three, along the causeway on Nummy Island. But they were NOT easy - skulky, running through the wrackline, giving tantalizing views. Mostly. But two out of three cooperated long enough for photos, the Nelson's Sparrow being the one I just couldn't get the camera on in time.

 [Saltmarsh Sparrow, Nummy Island, NJ January 27 2013. Notice how the face is the brightest part of the bird, and the streaks are well defined, two field marks to tell it from Nelson's Sparrow. Not so much shy as skulky, this one paused in its feeding only 8 feet from me.]

[A piece anyway of a bright Seaside Sparrow, Nummy Island, NJ, January 27, 2013. Between the cold, the wind, and their very nature, the salt sparrows were tricky today.]

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