Sunday, November 3, 2013


[One of at least ten Golden Eagles that crossed Cape May, NJ airspace today, this one is unique in that the white wing markings are quite asymmetrical, making it easy to recognize as an individual. Uniquely marked birds make it possible to know that we are not seeing the same individuals over and over again, and looking for unique markings makes you a better observer. Ask not, what does a Golden Eagle look like, but rather, what does THIS Golden Eagle look like. Other things to note on this and all Goldens include the smallish head compared to Bald Eagles, and buteo-like wing shape.]

Although you, the reader, may not realize it, one of the things I try to avoid in this blog is writing "I went here and saw this" posts otherwise devoid of useful or interesting commentary.  Today was one of those days where it would be easy to fall into the "I went here and saw this" trap, since Cape May was bristling with birds of many stripes (for me, 88 species by noon without trying) and high numbers. This all thanks to the post-cold-front-building-in-high-pressure-system-northwest-winds-November-skies-migration-conditions. Tens of thousands of robins and blackbirds, thousands of yellow-rumpeds, many others.

Just as the Eskimos have many words for snow, depending on the kind of snow, we birders ought to have a more refined lexicon for weather. Today's weather word? Perhaps "goldwind," for all of the above conditions plus the steady 15-20 mph northwest wind and, of course, the eagles. It'd be nice if the National Weather Service picked up on this.

 [You know it's going to be a special day when you see this: sparrows at first light thronging along the roadsides, flushed by passing cars but quickly filling in behind them.]

 [Hungry birds are tame birds, allowing close approach as they feed, as this Swamp Sparrow (above)  and Dark-eyed Junco (below) did. Common birds or not, these are two of my favorite photos and memories of the day, birds that clearly migrated all night on the goldwind and wanted to feed, nearby humans or not. It's important not to pressure birds in these conditions by getting too close.]

 [Winter Wren in classic Winter Wren habitat, a fallen tangle of vines. Richly dark brown colors, dark barring on the flanks, defined eyebrow, stubby tail identify it. And it's tiny, and was saying chimp-chimp in a November thicket.]

 [Among the many, many things I admire about Yellow-rumped Warblers are their adaptable feeding behaviors, which start at ground level and go all the way to the tip of the canopy, wherever the food is easiest to get. In today's cold wind, most of the yellow-rumpeds fed low.]

 [This male Eurasian Wigeon on Lighthouse Pond  was vocalizing regularly this weekend, a single drawn out, descending whistle quite different from the American Wigeon's three syllable call. Curious, at least to me, was the fact that the "female" Eurasian Wigeon on Bunker Pond was making a similar call. Could it be a young male instead, or do female EUWI's do that?]

 [Joining the many, many things flying over today - robins, blackbirds, pipits, yellow-rumpeds - were a good number of Eastern Bluebirds. Learn the churlee flight call, and note the white stripe on the open wing from below, formed by the pale bases to the flight feathers. This can be a good field mark on high flying bluebirds, once you learn to look for it.]

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