Sunday, January 25, 2015

Battle of the Predators

"This kind of stuff only happens in Africa," I told Beth, my daughter Rebecca, and her partner Leo when it was all over. But we weren't in Africa.

We, together with a group of lucky friends and fellow birders, had just witnessed something truly remarkable at the end of Mott's Creek Road in Atlantic County, NJ.  This site overlooks the Mott's/Mullica wilderness of Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge (it's officially known as the Brigantine Wilderness, which also includes Holgate and Little Beach Island).

Shortly after we got to Mott's Creek, at about 4:15 p.m., a dark morph Rough-legged Hawk flew past at close range and perched for a time nearby.  The bird was missing a large patch of flight feathers in its left wing, marking it as a bird that has been seen there in recent days by other birders.  Meanwhile, a Short-eared Owl hunted over the marsh with a few Northern Harriers, a typical scene at Mott's Creek.  The marsh here is pristine, un-ditched, and apparently rich in meadow voles and other prey, and is arguably the best place in coastal NJ to see these species.

The dark Rough-leg flew off, and we were enjoying the other birds when a flock of American Black Ducks flushed - and an adult Peregrine Falcon rocketed across the marsh, HIT ONE IN THE AIR AND BROUGHT IT THE MARSH.  This was startling, even for an awesome predator that used to be known as the "Duck Hawk." American Black Ducks are big birds, weighing 41 ounces to the Peregrine's 25 ounces (these are average weights as published in the Sibley guide), so this successful act of predation was a feat. But after a brief struggle on the marsh, the deed was done and the Peregrine began feeding. . .until the dark Rough-legged Hawk reappeared, pumping over to the Peregrine and stooping on it, DRIVING IT OFF ITS PREY.  The Peregrine responded by making repeated acrobatic strafing flights at the hawk, shrieking in outrage.  Several times the hawk tipped over on its back, thrusting its talons upward at the diving falcon. 

Crazy, but wait, there's more.  An adult Bald Eagle appeared, and for a time the Peregrine diverted its attention to the eagle before the falcon took a nearby perch to sulk.  Then a harrier glided over the rough-leg, which was now feeding on the duck, and the harrier thought about taking a stab at the hawk, thought better of it, and simply landed on the marsh nearby.  Next an adult Great Black-backed Gull checked out the hawk, made the same decision, and perched on the marsh opposite the harrier.  The harrier and the gull reminded me of hyenas waiting near a lion kill on the Serengeti.

At this point most of the other birders had gone, and it was nearing dark, but there was one more act to the play.  A light morph Rough-legged Hawk flew in low over the marsh, stooped briefly on the dark one, then it too thought better of it and flew onward.  The marsh quieted down, even the Short-eared owls went to bed, and we departed.

[Unfortunately, I have no photos of this amazing evening, since my camera is back to Nikon AGAIN (and you may be seeing one p.o.'d blog here in the near future if they don't fix it right this time), though the truth is the events were too far off and it was a little dark for good photos - but not for great views with scope and binoculars.]

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Cape May Christmas Bird Count Results

Many thanks are due to Louise Zemaitis, compiler of the Cape May, NJ Christmas Bird Count, for providing the following results.  Notable records are boldfaced below.  Louise writes:
"We recorded a total of 160 species, plus 2 recognizable forms, 8 count week species, and 91 participants!
"Unusual species seen include: Ross’s Goose (2), Cackling Goose (3), Eurasian Wigeon (5), Northern Bobwhite (1), Osprey (1), Western Kingbird (1), Blue-headed Vireo (1), Pine Warbler (1), and Vesper Sparrow (3).
"A Magnolia Warbler, found in West Cape May, was a first for the count! The Cape May Point Black-capped Chickadee, initially discovered last January, became the first modern CBC record. A White-winged Dove, which has been playing hard to get, was added to the count week only list. The cumulative total for the Cape May CBC is now 272 (+- a few unreviewable records).
"Notable high numbers include: Double-crested Cormorant (512), Cooper’s Hawk (45), Red-shouldered Hawk (30), Lesser Black-backed Gull (10), Red-bellied Woodpecker (182), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (38), Hairy Woodpecker (30), Hermit Thrush (259), Brown Thrasher (72), Dark-eyed Junco (1413), Northern Cardinal (728), Purple Finch (81), and American Goldfinch (2067).
"Additional count week species were Harlequin Duck, Brown Pelican, King Rail (1st modern winter record), Pomarine Jaeger, Bonaparte’s Gull (1st count day miss EVER), Laughing Gull, and Eurasian Collared-Dove.
"A little Cape May CBC history.
Starting in 1927, there have been 88 Christmas Bird Counts conducted in the Rio Grande count circle, as we know it today. An additional 6 counts were done in Cape May Point only: 1903 (William L. Baily) and 1922, 1923, 1924, and 1926 (Julian K. Potter); most of these observations have been recorded by National Audubon. The Rio Grande Cape May CBC was founded and compiled by Julian K. Potter through 1935, followed by J. Fletcher Street (1936-1942), Dale Coman (1943-1951), Ernest Choate (1952-1972), and Keith Seager (1973-1993).
"This count is dedicated to the memory of Alan Brady, who participated in counts since 1953 and always shared the joy of birding in his beloved Cape May. He will be missed.
"The next Cape May CBC will be held on December 20, 2015."
Cape May Christmas Bird Count
December 14, 2014
Snow Goose (blue) 12
Snow Goose (white) 1192
Ross’s Goose 2
Brant 7561
Cackling Goose 3
Canada Goose 2438
Mute Swan 28
Tundra Swan 3
Wood Duck 14
Gadwall 428
Eurasian Wigeon 5
American Wigeon 376
American Black Duck 2031
Mallard 1376
Am. Blk Duck x Mall 13
Northern Shoveler 59
Northern Pintail 126
Green-winged Teal 298
Canvasback 1
Redhead 5
Ring-necked Duck 53
Greater Scaup 65
Lesser Scaup 27
scaup sp. 254
Common Eider 20
Harlequin Duck cw
Surf Scoter 4245
White-winged Scoter 28
Black Scoter 5693
scoter sp. 11244
Long-tailed Duck 329
Bufflehead 1628
Common Goldeneye 17
Hooded Merganser 711
Red-brsted Merganser 234
Ruddy Duck 503
duck sp. 15
Northern Bobwhite 1
Wild Turkey 77
Red-throated Loon 716
Common Loon 106
Pied-billed Grebe 19
Horned Grebe 110
Northern Gannet 12 -low
Double-crested Cormorant 512
Great Cormorant 14
Brown Pelican cw
American Bittern 5
Great Blue Heron 115
Great Egret 59
Little Blue Heron 2
Tricolored Heron 1
Blk-crowned Night-Heron 17
Black Vulture 137
Turkey Vulture 187
Osprey 1
Northern Harrier 79
Sharp-shinned Hawk 32
Cooper's Hawk 45
Northern Goshawk 1
Bald Eagle 34
Red-shouldered Hawk 30
Red-tailed Hawk 77
Clapper Rail 20
King Rail cw**
Virginia Rail 12
American Coot 115
American Oystercatcher 101
Black-bellied Plover 317
Semipalmated Plover 5
Killdeer 40
Greater Yellowlegs 58
Ruddy Turnstone 73
Red Knot 258
Sanderling 760
Dunlin 7100
Purple Sandpiper 30
Western Sandpiper 19
Wilson's Snipe 1
American Woodcock 41
Pomarine Jaeger cw
Razorbill 1
Black-legged Kittiwake 1
Bonaparte's Gull cw+
Laughing Gull cw
Ring-billed Gull 1124
Herring Gull 3686
Lesser Black-backed Gull 10
Great Black-backed Gull 422
Forster’s Tern 13
Rock Pigeon 824
Eurasian Collared-Dove cw
White-winged Dove cw*
Mourning Dove 1277
Eastern Screech-Owl 19
Great Horned Owl 31
Barred Owl 4
Long-eared Owl 3
Short-eared Owl 3
N. Saw-whet Owl 2 1
Belted Kingfisher 27
Red-bellied Woodpecker 182
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 38
Downy Woodpecker 175
Hairy Woodpecker 30
Northern Flicker 193
American Kestrel 11
Merlin 9
Peregrine Falcon 12
Eastern Phoebe 4
Western Kingbird 1
Blue-headed Vireo 1
Blue Jay 751
American Crow 343
Fish Crow 94
crow sp. 16
Horned Lark 2
Tree Swallow 158
Carolina Chickadee 501
Black-capped Chickadee 1**
Tufted Titmouse 294
Red-breasted Nuthatch 42
White-breasted Nuthatch 126
Brown Creeper 22 House Wren 1
Winter Wren 37
Marsh Wren 13
Carolina Wren 396
Golden-crowned Kinglet 55
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 45
Eastern Bluebird 262
Hermit Thrush 259
American Robin 5404
Gray Catbird 62
Brown Thrasher 72
Northern Mockingbird 245
European Starling 7480
American Pipit 95
Cedar Waxwing 653
Snow Bunting 1
Orange-crowned Warbler 3
Common Yellowthroat 2
Magnolia Warbler 1*
Palm Warbler 6
Pine Warbler 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 1761
Eastern Towhee 129
American Tree Sparrow 4
Chipping Sparrow 42
Field Sparrow 107
Vesper Sparrow 3
Savannah Sparrow 111
"Ipswich" Sav Sparrow 15
Nelson's Sparrow 1
Saltmarsh Sparrow 7
Seaside Sparrow 7
Fox Sparrow 254
Song Sparrow 642
Swamp Sparrow 134
White-throated Sparrow 2544
White-crowned Sparrow 13
Dark-eyed Junco 1413
Red-winged Blackbird 4789
Northern Cardinal 728
Eastern Meadowlark 58
Rusty Blackbird 75
Common Grackle 7312
Boat-tailed Grackle 958
Brown-headed Cowbird 2597
blackbird sp. 50
Baltimore Oriole 4
House Finch 704
Purple Finch 81
Pine Siskin 14
American Goldfinch 2067
House Sparrow 1388
additional forms 2
count week only 8
*New to count
**1st modern record
+1st miss to count

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Year Ends, and Begins

[Adult Black-headed Gull just south of the mouth of Cox Hall Creek on Delaware Bay, NJ, New Year's Day. Interestingly, what first drew my attention to this bird was the fact that it was a small gull fraternizing with Herring Gulls. . . Bonaparte's Gulls don't do that. Click to enlarge photos.]

Where to begin, where to end. . . it's been a long, long while since I've shared in this space, and much has happened, especially since that long while encompassed an entire Cape May fall.  Much has happened, but much more will happen in the days and years ahead, I hope most of it very fine for you, and for me.

Me, I woke at the crack of 9 a.m. after a night of revelry with dear friends to the sound of Blue Jays calling outside the bedroom window, bird number one for 2015.  A good one, too, bright and cheery and smart and alert and mischievous, all things we might aspire to be. By 10 I was out the door, and working my way south along Delaware Bay, where the Black-headed Gull pictured above greeted me, as did the Redhead below.

[This Redhead was one of 5 I saw today.  This one was at "Lake Champlain," a detention pond on Champlain Street in the Villas, NJ, found there by Roger and Kathy Horn. The second, also found by Kathy and Roger, was on the big pond at Cox Hall Creek WMA, and the final three were at the South Cape May Meadows. Redhead is generally a scarce duck in the northeast, since most winter along the Gulf of Mexico.]

I wandered peacefully and relatively purposelessly from my home community in Del Haven down to Cape May Point, accumulating 69 species for the year list in the process and trying to figure out exactly what my goals would be, birding and otherwise for 2015.  I still haven't sorted that one out; in the birding realm, my ideas ranged from doing a big year just for Cox Hall Creek WMA, where I find myself on average 2-3 times a week (mainly with the dogs), and which has a diverse enough habitat selection to have hosted 234 species all time (according to eBird), to doing a "birds without optics" big year, scoring just those species seen naked-eye or heard.  Dunno. As to the goals in the otherwise department, there's a real big "dunno;" save the world?  figure out the meaning of life?  help someone in need?  take a good picture?

In that last department, today my camera crapped out literally as I photographed the Black-headed Gull, refusing to focus at all. Back to Nikon it goes.  Now it's time to resist the temptation to buy a whole new rig.  What the hell, you only live once, right?

Anyhow, Happy New Year, it's good to be back to the blog, and here's to 2015.

[One of my favorite birds from 2014, this gray morph Eastern Screech-owl came in aggressively to my whistled imitations during the December 20 Walnut Valley, NJ Christmas Bird Count, which I've done annually since 1991, mostly with my now grown-up kids.  They were thrilled; so was I.]