Sunday, July 28, 2013

Cape May Meadows: On Shorebirds, Molt, and the Lack of a Scope

 [Lesser Yellowlegs, South Cape May Meadows, NJ today. Notice the molt - this adult bird wears new, basic (winter) back feathers and scapulars - the extensive plain gray ones are the new ones. Soon it will be time to watch for newly arrived juvenile yellowlegs, which will be neatly patterned with white spots on a brown background above. Click to enlarge photos.]

I set out around the South Cape May Meadows, NJ this morning without my scope, because I'm lazy, mainly. And I later wished I had brought the scope, because the Nature Conservancy, which owns and operates the meadows, has the easternmost pool drawn down nicely and it was kind of full of shorebirds, mainly ones beyond reasonable identification distance with binoculars alone. I muddled through, detecting for example White-rumped Sandpiper by call from a group of peep flying by. That very high-pitched call of the White-rumped is a very good one to learn, sounds like mice. Or two pebbles being scraped together. Or like a White-rumped Sandpiper. I nearly pushed a dowitcher into the Long-billed hole, but it was a bit too far to be sure. Eventually I settled in to watch the birds closer to the east path, just letting things happen rather than hunting them out. Which is one way to bird, as opposed to target birding or rarity hunting. I don't do much of the latter anymore, hoping that after all these years of looking at birds, at least if a rare bird is close, I will find it without looking for that particular bird.

Carrying a scope always annoys me, because it slows down both binocular use and camera use. You have to put the scope down first, or used the other optics awkwardly while trying to keep the scope from falling from your shoulder. Since I like to try to photograph things in flight, I need all the quickness I can muster.

Now, if someone else carries the scope, that's something different ;>).

[The two semipalmateds, Semipalmated Sandpiper above and Semipalmated Plover below, flybys at the meadows this morning.]

Some of the shorebirds were close, however, including a number of both Yellowlegs, peep, Semipalmated Plovers, dowitchers. It was good shorebirding. And there were a lot of swallows around, too. And a good-sized flock of mainly Forster's Terns roosted on the mud, with some Commons and a few Leasts. And the first juvenile Laughing Gull I've seen away from their nesting colonies in the back bays farther north, a signal of the progressing season. Juvenile shorebirds will begin appearing any day. There was a juvenile Spotted Sandpiper at the meadows, with an adult, but I don't really count that one since Spotteds nest not so far to the north.

 [Tree Swallows come to the coast after nesting and molt there, in the land of abundance (for them) - lots of bugs to fuel the new feather growth. Note the 3 new inner primaries on each wing on this one, and look how worn the other soon-to-be-replaced flight feathers, now almost a year old, have gotten.]

[Compare this juvenile Rough-winged Swallow's general appearance with that of the juvenile Common Tern a few posts down, and for that matter to the ragged, molty adult Tree Swallow above. All feathers in uniformly good condition = juvenile. The buffy edges to the coverts and tertials are good age clues on this bird, too.]

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