Thursday, August 30, 2012

REEG - NO, Brig Update

What the heck is that title about?  Some of you may know EXACTLY what the title means while most of you might be asking yourself if my keyboard is working properly.  My keyboard is working just fine. The world of birding has definitely evolved since the advent of the Internet. Birders can join email lists and check websites for information about who is seeing what, where. There are websites that allow us to log in our  sightings and get reports - and Smart Phones have taken the bird community to the next level too. Text messages and "tweets" give us instant access to information about birds being seen. Because this communication is done on a tiny phone keypad and because it usually costs money to send the alerts, birders have taken to using shorthand and codes to describe what they are seeing and where. 

Text messages and Tweets were going around last weekend about a Reddish Egret, which is a rare bird being seen at Forsythe National Wildlife Management Area Brigantine Unit.  The rare bird is abbreviated as a REEG and the place is simply called "Brig" by birders.  You can see how difficult it would be to use a phone keypad to type "Reddish Egret being seen at Forsythe National Wildlife Management Area Brigantine Unit" rather than "REEG - Brig" .  The new etiquette for this type of communication is for birders who chase this bird to continue to provide updates such as "REEG - YES" or "REEG moved to new location" or, in my case, "REEG - NO" meaning that the Reddish Egret hasn't been seen.  This keeps everyone informed. 

So, REEG - NO for me on Tuesday when I swung by Brig on my way to a client appointment.  But FOTE (Forster's Tern) and BCNH (Black-crowned Night Heron) - YES, along with others.  Here are a few photos:

Its kind of cool to see both immature and adult birds together.  This immature Black-crowned Night Heron will turn into the stunning adult next spring.  Here is the immature bird coming in for a landing on the bank of the impoundment:

Immature Black-crowned Night Heron

Here is the adult BCNH on the adjacent bank.  Check out that blood red eye!  These birds are called "Night Herons" because they are usually resting during the day and active in the evening/night.  These 2 birds must have had their times mixed up.

 Adult Black-crowned Night Heron

Forster's Terns are our most abundant terns along the Jersey coast in summer.  They have a full black cap during spring and summer, then molt to show black just around the eye in fall and winter.  You can see that this bird has already lost his black cap.  He flew overhead with this fish in his mouth calling for his youngster.  The young bird got a pretty good meal.

 Forster's Tern

Late August is also the time when blackbirds and swallows start to amass for migration.  Here is a shot of hundreds of Starlings erupting from a tree. 


I hope to have more for you after the Labor Day weekend.  I don't think we will be affected by Hurricane Isaac until late Monday so we may even get out on the boat!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Tyler State Park

I have lived near Tyler Park nearly all my life, it's all of 10 minutes away, but have never really birded there. There's never any ebird reports from there, and Linda and I always wondered why. Well, I am determined to bird there and report from there, number 1, because it is only 10 minutes away, and 2 because dogs are allowed anywhere in the park, unlike Peace Valley, where they are limited to the paved paths only.

So, with Everette and Tara in tow, I went Sunday am to see what I could find. Got there around 7am, was treated to Canada warbler, black and white, redstart, magnolia, red eyed vireo, white eyed vireo, and baltimore oriole, to name a few. We found a really pretty trail that is open to the tree line. Woodfield trail i think it was. Anyway, really good vegetation for warbling. Lots of viney things hanging off the trees. Also walked on some horse trails thru the woods and had a lot of wood thrush and a veery. Overall very pleased. So now we know. Tyler does have birds.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Tracking Down Early Migrants

I spent 3 mornings at Higbee Beach this past weekend hoping for migrating warblers.  The good news is that we did get to see some "eye candy".  The bad news is that I didn't get any good photos due to the low light conditions, so bear with me here.

Blue-winged warblers must like to migrate in August, because I saw one each day this weekend.  They are handsome birds and can be found at Lake Nockamixon in spring and summer where they nest.

 Blue-winged Warbler which is identified by the eyeliner

Black and White warblers are one of my favorite warblers even though they aren't colorful.

 Black and White Warbler

Blackburnian warblers have bright orange throats in summer. You can see that this guy has already started to molt into winter plumage but you can still identify it by the 2 bright wing bars and yellow eyebrow.  This bird entertained us by catching and devouring a moth while about a dozen birders watched.

Blackburnian Warbler eating a moth

This is one of the best photos I have of an Ovenbird.  This bird popped up out of the bushes after I scared away a Cooper's Hawk that was hoping to have this bird for a meal. I guess this guy was thanking me by posing.


I also got photos of some non-warblers like this Black-billed Cuckoo.  We usually see Yellow-billed Cuckoos.  Black-bills are not seen as often on migration so this is a pretty good find.

 Black-billed Cuckoo

Speaking of cuckoos, Diane grabbed the camera and snuck a photo of me in a typical birding pose.  You can just imagine the bubble coming out of my head - "what kind of bird is that?"

Speaking of "what kind of bird is that?"  I am still not sure what kind of bird that this one is.  I called it Blue Grosbeak but frankly, it could be a bunting or some kind of blackbird for all I know.  Just when I thought I was getting good at this - BAM, I'm stumped.

Mystery Bird

This is what makes me look like that photo!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Late August in Cape May

It's that time of year again - early migration in Cape May. Late August is the time of year that we get to see the return of our shorebird friends as I told you about last week.  It's also the time of year that warblers start to head south for the winter.  And, it's the time of year that relatives start to panic about the end of the summer and visit us at the shore before it's too late. That's what happened this week with Deb, Jay, Meaghan and Brendan.  The kids start back to college and school next week, so they took the opportunity to spend a few days in the Villas. 

Brendan and I got the chance to go birding before dinner on Monday and were rewarded with quite a good list and also met some nice people along the way.   We met a guy who lives in Cameron County PA and volunteers at the Elk visitor center - yes, there are Elk in Pennsylvania; and an older lady who recently lost her eyesight in one eye, so she was happy to talk to us about her bird feeder and other birding adventures of her youth; and a family who had 5 sons all under the age of 10 who were dressed alike for the cheesy beach photo.  The boys were really excited to look through my binoculars at the Mute Swans and ducks.  Each one of the exclaimed that they could see the swan!

In August, we also get interesting terns like these Black Terns which usually spend their time on freshwater lakes up in Nebraska and Alberta and places like that.  Each year, a few show up in Cape May for some reason.  This year, there have been reports of up to 31 Black Terns flying around the Concrete Ship and the Lighthouse. 

Brendan and I were fortunate enough to watch these 2 flying around Bunker Pond in front of the Lighthouse on Monday night. These terns are really small and unmistakable to identify by the overall dark color.

 Black Tern close-up.  Not a great photo, but it shows the black and gray markings.

Black Tern spitting something out of his mouth.

The Black Terns were a bonus find, but the real show was put on by the Black Skimmers!  We heard them before we could see them on the pond - "yipping" like dogs. Honestly, it sounds like a pond full of puppies with them yipping away at each other. The old lady with the reduced vision was enjoying the barks for sure.

Black Skimmer with reflection

This is why they call them "Skimmers"

 This guy snapped up a stick and then let it go

My best photo this season

Monday, August 13, 2012

Farmstock 5 or 6

Last weekend was Mark's annual Farmstock weekend at Dove Harbour Farm. This is my 3rd one and they are always a great time. Check out posts from past years

View of the cabin and barn from the lower field

This year as in the past, he volunteered me to lead the "Bird Walk" which is really a nature walk where we hopefully see some birds.

Here is a recap of this year's walk:
  • Weather - spectacular!
  • Time - way too late for a card-carrying member of any bird club but late enough to make it palatable for most of the group.
  • Participants - only the fun people and the cool kids.
  • Trail - down through the woods, through the marshy meadow on the newly blazed path and along the train grade to the Buffalo Lick.  Click here for the map.
As for the birds and nature - well we did pretty well. We started with well, Doves sitting on the wire. Next, we spotted a few Field Sparrows and headed into the woods.  Everyone got hear the Eastern Wood Pewee calling - "pee-wee" by the boy's camp.  Once we got into the field and marsh, the insects were our focus.

 Black Swallowtail Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly
We also saw and heard alot of Goldfinches which made me hungry.  Not because I wanted to eat the Goldfinch, but because they sing "potato chip, potato chip" when they fly. And because it was getting near lunchtime.

Other interesting birds that I was able to get photos of:

 Common yellowthroat skulking in the bushes

 Eastern Kingbird

Juvenile Swamp Sparrow

Check out this wasp.  It's a female Ichneumon (say that 2 times fast). Follow the photo all the way down to the bottom to see her tail.  This wasp is about 6 inches long which is mostly her tail.

 Ichneumon Wasp

From an article titled The Amazing Ichneumon by Connie Hjelmeng-Johnson:

Ichneumon wasps are truly a study in contradictions. They look frightening, but they are harmless to people. They are highly numerous, but seldom seen. They are great allies against insect pests, yet few people know about them. Females penetrate wood with tiny ovipositors, but scientists don't fully understand how. And while they are common in the world of insects, they are certainly "uncommon" to those of us who have observed their amazing behavior first hand.

The female has an extremely long ovipositor capable of piercing through several inches of insect-infested tree trunk to the caterpillars and other larvae within. When the eggs hatch, the ichneumon larvae feed on the body of the host. Eewwwww!

Most of the group got to see a Woodcock on the way back through the woods even though I missed it. I think people had fun and we got to eat potato chips at lunch! 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Guess Who's Back?

The shorebirds are back in the Villas picking worms and other things out of the mud at low tide.  They are southbound already from their arctic nesting sites.  Imagine, they left the Villas on June 1, flew all the way to the arctic, laid eggs, raised babies and are already back in the Villas on August 1.  Quite a feat. 

I managed to photograph some banded birds along the beach over the past few weeks.  And guess who's back?  Stumpy!  He/she made the trip despite only having one foot.  Way to go Stumpy!  Unfortunately, I didn't get a photo of Stumpy this week but I hope to see him/her again before the bird departs for Florida or South America.

Speaking of South America, here is HM2 - a Semipalmated Sandpiper that was banded in Suriname (which used to be Dutch Guiana).  In the first photo from May of this year, he is surrounded by larger Sanderlings.  You can also see that he has a back toe which is a good way to ID this bird as Semipalmated Sandpiper since Sanderlings do not have a back toe.   

HM2 - Semipalmated Sandpiper - May 31, 2012

The second photo is from July 30.  I think it is pretty cool that this little bird travels from Suriname to the Arctic and back each year and uses our little beach in both directions as a rest stop. I mean, these photos are literally from the same beach - at the end of Ohio Ave in the Villas. I am still waiting for the full report from my friend who runs the data project to learn more about this bird's travels.

HM2 - Semipalmated Sandpiper - July 30, 2012

 Did you ever wonder where the name Semipalmated came from?  It is used for both the Sandpiper and Plover.  It indicated that the birds have partial webbing between their front 3 toes.  Here is a photo of 54J showing that characteristic:

54J - Semipalmated Sandpiper - August 4, 2012

That concludes your shorebird lesson for today.  Keep your eyes open for early migrants.  Warblers such as Waterthrushes and Yellow Warblers are starting to get sick of the north and heading south now.  Unfortunately, one less Louisiana Waterthrush will make the trip this year as I found him dead in the yard last week.  Sad.  Of course, I have him in the freezer so that I can drop him off at the Academy of Natural Sciences at the next DVOC bird club meeting.  NERD!