Monday, September 24, 2012

Yellow-throated Warbler

Hi there! Just a quick post today.  Nothing much happened this weekend except that we got very close looks at a Yellow-throated warbler at Cape May Point State Park on Sunday.  We were so close to the bird that is almost hit my camera lens as it flew past us.  We also had an opportunity to point it out to other birders, some of whom had never seen one before. 

Yellow-throated warblers are pretty common breeders in the woods north for Cape May, but very rare in Cape May Point.  They are also rarely seen in fall. We didn't know that, so we didn't make a big deal about the sighting until we were in the parking lot and were accosted by our birder friends Chris and Gerry about the exact location of the bird.  Gerry will have better photos than this (click here to see his gallery), but here are mine:

 Yellow-throated warbler - you can see where it gets the name

 Another shot of that yellow throat

Here is our friend ready to make a meal of an ant

The Yellow-throated warbler was hanging around with a few Pine warblers:

 Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler

Both of these species like pine trees, but I have rarely seen them this close before. They are usually way at the top of the trees, but not yesterday.  It might have been due to the strong wind that blew all day.

Monday, September 17, 2012

85 Miles Out At Sea

Barbara and I went on another pelagic birding trip this weekend.  It was a pretty grueling experience that started on Saturday with us trying to find rare birds in NJ - like the Crested Caracara that was seen just outside of Trenton and the Elegant Tern at Sandy Hook (no, we didn't see either) on our way to Long Island NY; then boarding the boat at midnight (yes, midnight); sleeping on the floor of the upper deck of the StarStream VIII (yes, the floor); birdwatching all day (yes, birdwatching in the deep ocean), and returning at 4:30 on Sunday afternoon; and driving back to Philly.  It was worth the trip.

Captain Lou's StarStream VIII

First, a little geography lesson:  Pelagic is what they call birds and animals that spend most of their lives out at sea in deep water.  85 miles off the coast of New Jersey is definitely far enough offshore to be considered "pelagic". Check out the map below - we left from the "X" on Long Island at 12:30 AM and arrived at the "X" in the dark blue area at 6:00 AM which was approximately an 85 mile trip. The light blue area is the Continental Shelf and has relatively shallow water. The dark blue section shows the deep water that makes up the pelagic part of the ocean. The dark line that runs from NYC out to the dark blue area at the X is the Hudson Canyon which is where the Hudson River used to flow when the light blue section was above sea level. In order to find pelagic birds, you must go to the edge of the shelf where the water currents produce good food supply.  So, that's where we went.

Hudson River Canyon - USGS map

The trip was pretty pleasant with relatively calm winds and seas. Trying to sleep on the floor of a boat is NOT comfortable and we therefore got to look out at the stars under a pitch black sky alot during the night. We woke to a beautiful sunrise and shadows of birds flying past the boat.  Surprisingly, there were 7 or 8 fishing boats near us which made me feel just a little better about being that far offshore.

Now, for a pop science quiz. Question 1: Would you expect to find whales in the deep blue sea?  If you answered "Yes", you are correct because we saw whales!  Humpback whales, to be exact.  Here is a series showing one of the many amazing breaches. This whale got some air.

 Humpback whale breaching

  Humpback whale breaching

  Humpback whale breaching

Splash Down

Question 2: would you expect to see Dolphins in the deep water?  The answer again is "Yes".  So far, you are going for the gold star.

Common Dolphin, Cory's Shearwater, and Great Shearwater

Trick Question 1 - what is the best part of the photo above?  If you answered "Cory's Shearwater" you are a nerd and may even pass this test.  The only reason that I snapped that photo is because the gray bird just above the dolphin is one of the 3 "life birds" that I got on this trip. The dolphin just happened to jump as I was snapping the photo!  I couldn't have planned it better.  Here is an up close shot of the Cory's Shearwater sitting with a Greater Shearwater.  Notice that the Cory's is a little larger, has a gray head and neck, and yellow bill.

 Cory's Shearwater (left), Greater Shearwater (right)

 Cory's Shearwater - life bird and a pretty good photo

Question 3 of our science test:  Would you expect to see Shearwaters and Storm Petrals in the deep ocean?  "Of course" or "Yes" are both correct answers.

 Greater Shearwater playing with a feather

Wilson's Storm Petral "pedaling" on the water to grab a snack

Question 4:  Would you likely see a Pomarine Jaeger at sea?  "Yes" is the answer - considering that a photo follows.

Pomarine Jaeger - another life bird for us

Question 5 (multiple choice): which of these birds would you likely see 85 miles out to sea:

 A) Common Yellowthroat Warbler

 B) Northern Flicker Woodpecker

 C) Purple Finch

D) Cedar Waxwing

E) None of the above

F) All of the above

The only correct answer is "F - All of the above".  If you chose anything else, you would be a normal student however, you would flunk this test.  We saw all of these birds flying their little wings off trying to get back to land after being blown off course during their night time migration.  It was pretty amazing.  Only the juvenile Cedar Waxwing was smart enough to land on the top of the boat and catch a ride back to shore with us. All of the other birds plus 10 red bats and half a dozen Monarch butterflies flew past the boat and out of sight.  I hope they made it back to shore.

I'm glad we made it back to shore too.  We stopped at McDonald's on our way home and we both got a little dizzy when we looked down to get our change from the cashier.  I can't stop swaying with the waves! Post a comment and let me know how you did on the quiz.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

More, As Promised

So, here is the rest of the story from last weekend.  We took the dogs to Cox Hall Creek for a quick walk before packing up to go home on Sunday and we were pretty disappointed in the bird activity.  It seems like all of the birds took off on Saturday night and no new birds came down from the north to replace them.  Oh well, at least it was a beautiful day and not too hot for the walk. Remember, this is the park that used to be the golf course, so it is pretty big with lots of walking paths.

Just as we were headed back to the car, we spotted a few birds and stopped to take a look.  One of the birds turned out to be Olive-sided Flycatcher which is pretty uncommon.  I blogged about my "lifer" last year if you want to check it out click HERE.  This bird was perched high on a dead branch as most Flycatchers like to do.  They sit there and then fly out, catch a bug, and fly back to the same perch.  We watched this guy do that a few times.  You can tell from the photo that this is Olive-sided by the "vest".

 Olive-sided Flycatcher

The Flycatcher repositioned himself onto a bigger branch and sat there for awhile.  I have more than a dozen photos that look just like the one below.

 Olive-sided Flycatcher perched

What happened next was pretty amazing - all captured frame by frame while Barbara was yelling. . .

Olive-sided Flycatcher leaving his perch in a hurry

"Kestral!" "Incoming!"  And whoosh, the Kestral (which is a falcon that eats other birds and insects) came zooming in for a meal. Take note to which branch the Flycatcher is on above, then note where the Kestral lands below.  The Flycatcher narrowly escaped - whew!

 American Kestral coming in for a landing

 American Kestral perching

Look at the expression on this falcon. She is obviously not happy that she missed that meal. I'm sure she grabbed a dragonfly down on fairway 9!

American Kestral

Monday, September 10, 2012

Eagle Show and More

The weather this weekend was very unusual for Cape May.  Friday and Saturday brought very strong winds from the south as a result of a tropical storm out in the Atlantic.  This weather pattern made the ocean and bay very dangerous for boating, hence our scheduled overnight pelagic trip was cancelled :-(  That gave us more time to bird on land on Saturday.  It also made a lot of migrating birds stay put until Sunday morning. 

Sunday morning brought rain to the Villas, so we stayed home until about 8 AM and then headed to Higbee beach for migrants.  We were happy about a few things. First, our friends Chris and Gerry are back for another fall season of birding.  They are great fun and much better birders than us, so we tend to learn a lot from them and have fun while doing it.  Second, there were decent birds hanging around area including lots of Bobolinks.  This is a bird that I have had difficulty seeing until recently when I learned that they say "pink, pink, pink" when they fly.  Now, I see them a lot more but they are usually flying overhead and out of sight.  There was a flock of about a hundred birds swirling and landing in the fields on Sunday so I got a few photos.


Bobolink - more yellow than the other bird

Third, we were treated to a nice Bald Eagle show down at the canal.  We managed to show up at the canal just as the ferry left Cape May for Lewes DE.  Just after the ferry left the dock, 2 adult Bald Eagles soared in and started to pick fish out of the ferry's wake right in front of us.  I had an eye level view from the top of the canal bank.  Di was at the water's edge washing dog poop off of her thumb, so she didn't have as good a view as I had.  And poor Barbara was back at the house getting her binoculars because she realized that she forgot them as we pulled into the parking lot.  Oh well, they will just have to rely on the photos.  Remember to click on the photos to enlarge them.

Bald Eagle soaring into the ferry terminal

You can see the ferry terminal in the next few photos.  This is at the west end of Cape May canal.  There are rock jetties lining both sides.  I am standing on the top of the south jetty taking these photos.  The photos are not particularly clear because it was still pretty cloudy and darker than my camera can handle for action shots but I think you can get the idea of what is happening.

Bald Eagle grabbing a fish from the water

 Bald Eagle with fish in his mouth

 Same Eagle, different fish in his mouth

The eagle took one more pass out of the canal and then turned around and headed home literally 20 yards away from where we were standing.  These photos are not cropped by that much and they are pretty good if I do say so myself.

 Bald Eagle flying up Cape May canal

 Bald Eagle flying up Cape May canal

 Sunday turned out to be a pretty good day for birding.  More to come later.

Friday, September 7, 2012

To Everything . . .


 Black Tern


 Royal Tern

 Gull-billed Tern

There is a season (for molting)

Common Tern (banded)
Tern, Tern,

Forster's Tern (left), Common Tern (right)

Couldn't help myself.  We had a great tern show this evening on the beach at the Cape May lighthouse.  Gull-billed tern is very uncommon on a beach anywhere. Black terns have been around Cape May for awhile but I have not seen them sitting on the beach close-up before today.  Common terns are not common during summer, but they out number the Forster's terns during Sept.

I hope you got the play on words.  By the way, the band that plays that song is called. . . Wait for it  . . .

The Byrds!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Labor Day - For Sure

We really labored for every bird this weekend. I guess that's why they call it "Labor Day".  We got to see a Buff-breasted Sandpiper at Higbee, but frankly, it was laying down on the buff breast, so it just looked like any other sandpiper laying on the mud.  We saw a Hooded warbler up close, but frankly, it didn't have the black hood, so it just looked like any other yellow and olive warbler flitting around the bushes.  We saw a Black Tern at the Concrete ship, but frankly, it was mixed in with about 200 other gulls and terns, so it just looked like another flapping bird.

That's about how it went this weekend. It was hot and humid all weekend, but Isaac left us relatively alone until last night which was good.  We had 3 highlights this weekend. 2 of them came right from our beach.  The first was 2 Pectoral Sandpipers on the beach literally a day after I told Diane that nothing really different comes to the Villas.  Pectoral Sandpipers are different.  They are called "Pectoral" because of the way the dark on the breast ends abruptly just below the "pectorals"  (think boobs).

 Pectoral Sandpiper (front) with Semi-palmated Sandpiper (left, rear)

 2 Pectoral Sandpipers (right) with Semi-palmated Plover (left)

The second highlight was 3 adult Bald Eagles on the beach at the end of our street.  One bird landed on the sand bar and then was chased off the beach by 2 others.  The first photo is of the first eagle coming in for a landing. The second photo are the 2 resident eagles chasing him off. I couldn't get all 3 eagles in the same shot unless you wanted to look at little dots of black against the big sky over Delaware Bay.

 Bald Eagle

 2 Bald Eagles

The third highlight for this weekend also came from the Villas - Cox Hall Creek WMA which I have written about in the past. This is the old golf course that they turned into a park.  This weekend, we got a text message about 2 Lark Sparrows at CHC so we hopped on over to see if we could find them.  Yes, we did.  It was complete dumb luck that we saw AND photographed the Lark Sparrow before it was chased away by the jogging-mom-with-baby-stoller-and-dog!  Just dumb luck that I happened to look on the path and notice the little bird picking at the dried grass clippings.

 Lark Sparrow - with Jogging Mom

Lark Sparrow - same photo with stroller cropped out

We also had fun boating and fishing this weekend for the first time since we got the houses.  Di caught 3 Rock Bass and a 2 foot Shark. Ask her to show you the pictures.