Tuesday, 30 September 2014

All quiet on the western (weather) front

The weather has been in the east now for the last week and it has gone very quiet. As with most, if not all migration sites, when the conditions are right they offer some of the best birding you can imagine.  When the conditions are not right it can be very tough going.

Today was one of those days.

Started off at Higbee Wood but it was a real struggle to find any warblers. The few that were around were very mobile and I only managed to get onto an American redstart and a probable blackpoll warbler so i gave up after an hour.
Dropped in to see if Patti was banding but I think the early rain had put her off so it was on to Lily Lake.

Things were slow but there did seem to be more cardinals about and there was a nice movement of blue jays. They are only resident in small numbers so a flock of 79 over were definitely migrants.
There really didn't seem to be any birds until we came across a feeding flock in some cedars. The majority of the flock was at least 20 yellow rumped warblers but there was also 4 'tooting' red breasted nuthatch,  ruby crowned kinglet, several chickadee, yellow warbler and 2 Cape May warblers, one of which was a very smart male. The flock was very mobile and almost as soon as we had found them they were gone!
All nice stuff but its nothing like last week.


Monday, 29 September 2014

All at sea

Hit the tourist trail a bit today and decided to go on a dolphin/whale watching trip this afternoon.  We decided to go on the longer 3hr trip in the hope of getting a seabird to two and maybe a migrating humpback whale that pass through the area.

In the end it turned out to be a nice trip but wasn't very productive.  As we passed out through the harbour there was a nice roost of American oystercatcher on the breakwater and a 1st summer male black scoter in the harbour mouth.
The first part of the trip was along the front of Cape May looking for bottle-nosed dolphins. This was very successful with several groups seen including at least one small youngster. We had decent views through bins but photography was tricky.

We then turned and steamed out into deeper waters up to 3 miles offshore in the hope of whales. Despite the boat using fish finding equipment to locate whales we couldn't find any this time. Bird interest was also limited with only 2 black scoter and 2 Arctic skua seen.

A quick walk around the block at the end of the day proved fruitful with solitary sandpiper added to the trip list (163)

Pic 1 the best I could do with the dolphins on my phone!
Pic 2-6 Cape May from the water

Out and about

Today we headed north of the Cape May canal for about an hour to a large wetland site called Brigantine. The main part of the site is an 8 mile wildlife drive around some coastal lagoons and saltmarsh. The site is best know for its large numbers of wintering snow geese and ducks but it was still pretty good today.

To find clapper rail I was told to check the saltmarsh creeks at low tide and you will find one. Well, the first creek checked and there was a juv rail feeding along the edge :-)
The other target for the day was to try and add some more sparrows to the list. Unlike at home, there are more than two species and they all seem to be a nightmare to ID in my eyes. I thought I did pretty well getting savannah, swamp, chipping and seaside especially as the all look the same!!

The main part of the drive is around 700 acres of tidal lagoons and reedbeds. Jammed in on a flying American bittern on the way out but it was the sheer numbers of egrets, herons, cormorants and terns that were amazing. As the tide came up, water floods into the lagoons bringing in fish. The egrets (100 great at least) were feeding around the edges while the cormorants were feeding in tight groups with forsters terns diving amongst them. It was difficult to estimate but there was easily 500 double crested cormorants on the site.

Duck numbers were not great yet but we had over 200 black duck, 150 pintail, 70 teal, 6 lesser scaup and a single hooded merganser. On the freshwater pools on the edge of the site we had 15 wood ducks including several gaudy drakes.

11 new species were added to the trip list from the site taking it on to 162.

Pic 1-7 views over Brigantine lagoons and saltmarsh including the skyline of Atlantic City in the distance
Pic 8 roosting Caspian and Forsters terns
Pic 9-10 greater yellowlegs
Pic 11 record shot of a brown thrasher
Pic 12 juv sora

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Quiet day

After a week of full on birding, today seemed to be a bit of a slow one.
We started at Higbee Wood and although there was a reasonable warbler flight, nothing was stopping. They would land in the trees briefly before flying off high. We did manage to add two new species for the trip in the form of red headed woodpecker and yellow bellied sapsucker.
By 8am things were quiet so we headed off to do some banding.

Although it is much quieter that we are used to, it is great getting to grips with some new species. The first one today was a really nice swamp sparrow. Many of the American sparrows look pretty dull in the fieldguides but in real life and especially in the hand, they are really quite smart.
We had the now common catbirds and yellowthroats then BOOM, a black and white warbler!!!
There aren't really enough words to describe how stunning they are in the hand and I was so happy to be able to handle such a great bird. The next stunner was a blue jay with so many different shades of blue on it.

We have been banding in the garden of Richard Crossley and while we were chatting in between birds he had a text saying there was a zone tailed hawk over the Hawk Watch. I didn't realise the significance of the record but we rushed up to Richards rooftop viewing platform. We couldn't relocate the bird and I realised why Richard was gutted as it turns out to be the 1st record for Cape May!! I wasn't too gutted and it was really good to talk raptor id with Richard with an awesome view.

Ended the day with a walk on the beach and the skimmer/tern roost

Pic 1 tufted titmouse
Pic 2 swamp sparrow
Pic 3-5 black & white warbler
Pic 6-8 blue jay
Pic 9 cardinal
Pic 10 juv mourning dove
Pic 11 female black throated blue warbler
Pic 12 sunset Cape May style

Life's a beach...

After an aborted attempt due to the strong winds and blowing sand of a couple of days ago, we headed back to Stone Harbor for a look at some shorebirds (waders to you and me) with piping plover on the top of the hit list.

We headed off towards the mouth of the river along a spit of sand that is used by waders and skimmers to breed on the summer. Apart from a few roosting gulls (LBB gull added) the beach was very quiet. A little further along it became apparent as to why it was dead. A massive female peregrine sitting on the fenceline with a male sat in the dunes close by! We carried up to the end of the dunes but apart from a group of oystercatcher and 40 roosting caspian terns it was quiet.

As we walked back up the beach I picked up 4 birds roosting high up on the beach. They were a bit too distant to be sure but I hoped the were the piping plovers. Sure enough, as we got closer, they were the plovers we had hoped for. Fantastic views as the roosted.
Futher up the beach there was a big flock of waders roosting on the breakwater but as we approached, the male peregrine appeared, hammered the flock and sent them up the beach and out of sight before I got a look at them.

As we arrived at the breakwater there were still two semipalmated sandpipers showing really well but as I took some photos,  birds started to return. First a big group of sanderling (500) then smaller numbers of western (100) & semipalmated sandpipers (50) and semipalmated plovers (30). The birds were not bothered at all by our presence and ran right past us to preen and roost at the top of the beach. The birds were so close we managed to record two colour ringed western sands and sanderling! Should be interesting to see where they came from.

After about 20mins, the male peg returned and that was the end of our shorebird session!

Pic 1 Stone Harbor beach
Pic 2-3 peregrines
Pic 4 ring billed gull
Pic 5-6 piping plover
Pic 7 monarch butterfly resting on the beach
Pic 8-9 semipalmated sandpiper
Pic 10-11 western sandpiper
Pic 12-14 semipalmated plover
Pic 15 roosting semipalmated and western plovers
Pic 16 sanderling

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Cheeky twitch

After a rather large lunch of corned beef sandwich and fries (it felt like I was in a Man vs Food episode) we had to get out and do some exercise.
We had heard that the overnight storms had brought in some cattle egrets so we went in search. I know driving around the back roads doesn't use much energy but eventually we found the adult and juv feeding in some horse paddocks. No sign of the turkeys though.

Despite the drizzle we had another look for warblers around Lily Lake. Many of the warblers had gone but the weather had put most birders off so we had the place to ourselves. Really nice low down views of yellow rumped, wilsons, magnolia and black throated blue warblers were had along with an adult cedar waxwing feeding two recently fledged young. The most abundant warbler was American redstart with 10 seen including a stunning black and orange adult male.

Pic 1-2 cattle egrets

Lovely gulls

Very wet and windy conditions overnight meant there was no point getting up early. Leisurely breakfast then up to the Point for a seawatch. I was very quiet with only 2 Arctic skua, gannet, 6 black scoter and a blue winged teal recorded.

There was a nice mixed roost of gulls on the beach so it was good to spend some time looking at juv American herring gulls. Still none the wiser though!!

Pic 1 seawatching point
Pic 2 mixed gull flock roosting on beach
Pic 3-8 American herring gulls
Pic 9-11 laughing gulls
Pic 12-13 colour ringed great black backed gull

Going to ask out new banding friend Patti if she can find out the history of the GBB gull next time we see hee