Tuesday, August 27, 2013

More Shorebirds

I had a really great experience the other night after work. Harvey found a Wilson's Phalarope at Higbee dike dredge spoils and told me about it. He said that he had never been that close to one before. He was right. Patty and I went to the dike to photograph the bird and got really close - even with Roxy at our side.  Here are some photos of this amazing bird. It's a shorebird that also swims! Highly unusual.

Wilson's Phalarope

Wilson's Phalarope - raising a ruckus!
 The Wilson's Phalarope is on the left. Check out those beefy legs. They need them to swim in open ocean. The bird on the right is a Lesser Yellowlegs.
Wilson's Phalarope, Lesser Yellowlegs, peep
Check out how close we got to the bird. That's Patty in the foreground and the phalarope in the water.

Patty and the phalarope
I hope for more migration this weekend.  Happy Labor Day!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

At Sea - $215, 26 Hours, 7 Species - and Only 1 Counts

Everyone wants to know how my "pelagic" trip was.  Remember, pelagic means that you go out to sea on a fishing boat to see birds that live out there. We went out of Lewes Delaware on a 95 foot boat named Thelma V. We left the dock at 10 PM on Friday night (after working a full day and driving to Delaware) and headed out about 100 miles to the edge of the continental shelf.  The seas were rougher than I expected. Sleeping was almost impossible. I tried to sleep on the top deck but got blown around and splashed by wave crashing over the boat. Then I tried to sleep inside on a bench but the cabin smelled like chemicals and old fisherman's boots.  The toilet didn't flush so that smelled bad too.  The mates cut up "chum" all night which also smelled.  People threw up.Thankfully, not me or Barbara.

They got us up at the crack of dawn - not that we were sleeping, mind you. They started chumming to create a "slick" which the birds can apparently smell from miles away.  We saw birds flying around.  The lighting was terrible. All we could really see was little black dots moving around over the waves - the big, big waves.

The leaders started yelling out bird names - "Wilson's Storm Petrals!" "Leach's Storm Petral at 9 o'clock!"  "Band-rumped Storm Petral flying across the bow, headed to the slick". Mind you, all of these birds look pretty much the same when you see them on a sunny day. You can imagine the difficulty of picking out the subtle difference in leg length, shape of wings, etc when the birds are flying around at 30 MPH ducking behind 4 foot swells while looking through binoculars on a rocking boat.  Sound like fun?  NOT!

We saw a total of 7 species of birds for the entire day. Some people saw 8 species including Manx Shearwater but I was laying down in the cabin trying to nap when that bird flew past.  We got back to the dock 1 1/2 hours late. Oh, and did I mention that only 1 of the 7 species counts for the stupid contest?  Yup. All of the other birds were seen in Maryland waters which is outside of the contest zone.  CRAP!

OK, enough bitching.  I did get 3 "life birds" out of the deal. Not bad since we only saw 7 species. Here are a few photos. Notice how gray all of the photos are. Notice the white caps . . . Just sayin' 

The first is Black-capped Petrel which is a huge life bird for me.  I actually got a decent shot of it where you can see the black cap. Of course, you can't see one of the wings which is hidden behind the big, big wave.
Black-capped Petrel
This is Cory's Shearwater which is not a life bird but still one of my favorites. We saw alot of these during the trip. I already saw one for the stupid contest, so I couldn't add it to the list this time. 

Cory's Shearwater
Here is a terrible photo of Leach's Storm Petrel (front) and Wilson's Storm Petral (back). I'm putting on the blog so that you get a better understanding of how difficult it was to pick out the different species.

Leach's (front) and Wilson's Storm Petrels
 Here is a pretty good photo of Wilson's Storm Petrel. These are the most common storm petrels. We can see them from the beach sometimes.  I have posted photos of these birds before. They are the ones that pedal on the surface of the water with their feet.

Wilson's Storm Petrel
 The only other creature that I saw on the trip was this Oceanic Sunfish which is also called Mola Mola. It looks like a shark fin, but it is a really big fish that has long fins. The can weigh up to 2200 pounds!

Oceanic Sunfish (Mola Mola)
I hate to say it, but I'm signed up for another trip in September.  Yes, I am certifiably crazy but I have to go on all of the trips in order to win the stupid contest. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

"Famous" Dave

I meet alot of people while birding. Some of them are Famous (with a capital F) like Pete Dunne the famous author and birder.  Some of them are locally famous because they report alot of birds on text and email alert systems. And some of them are "famous" by way of making a name for themselves on the Internet. I met one of the Internet famous birders this weekend - David LaPuma aka woodcreeper.com. He was up on the dike at Higbee on Sunday morning.  Dave has been on my radar ever since I realized that radar could be used to track bird migration movements. In fact, it was Dave's website www.woodcreeper.com where I learned all about it. He used to be a local Jersey birder who was doing research into using radar to track bird movements but he moved to Wisconsin (of all places) and works for Leica optics. The radar is now being presented through Cornell Lab at Birdcast so Dave doesn't have to do it by himself anymore.

It was really nice to meet him and get to bird along side him and other locally famous birders on Sunday morning. It was especially nice because there were no crowds like there will be in Sept/Oct. Just a few of us watching the first big migration flight of the year that had hundreds of Yellow warblers, Redstarts, and other warblers flapping past us.

Here are a few photos from the day. I spent some quality time with this Blue-winged Warbler down behind the dike.
Blue-winged Warbler
 Also spent quality time with this not-so-Spotted Sandpiper. They lose the spotted breast in fall and winter. This bird is ready for winter for sure.  They are easy to ID even when they don't have the spots because they constantly pump their tails up and down.  This bird was picking through a puddle and didn't seem to mind me and Roxy watching it from close range.

Spotted Sandpiper
 This was a mystery bird for me. It flew to the top of the phragmites along the dike and only sat for a few seconds.  It's too big to be a warbler. It's an immature Baltimore Oriole - not orange yet. I had to ask a friend to confirm the ID for me.

Baltimore Oriole

Friday, August 9, 2013

More Terns and Shorebirds

A quick post to let you know that I added another Tern species and Shorebird to the list for the year (and the stupid contest).

Here is the tern - a Sandwich Tern seen at Cape May sitting on the railing with Common Terns.  The Sandwich Tern is the one with the mustard on the tip of the bill which is how we remember the ID.

Sandwich Tern (left) and Common Tern
Here is a pretty good photo of White-rumped Sandpiper where you can actually see the white rump. The rump is usually hidden by the folded wings, so I got lucky that this little guy was chasing other shorebirds away from his plot of goo.

White-rumped Sandpiper
Also wanted to remind you that I have a new link on the blog - look above this post - called "Flickr Photostream". You can use that link any time to see photos that I have posted. Some of them don't make it to the blog.  I also added a link to the shore houses called "Blue House Green House".  Diane is in charge of updating that blog so nudge her a bit if you want to see new photos there.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Mud Birding

Late July and early August might not seem like "Fall" to anyone else except us crazy birders.  We know that Fall Migration starts in July when the shorebirds start heading south after a brief nesting season in the arctic.  They leave their babies to fend for themselves and high-tail it south in July.  By August, the number of shorebirds in NJ and DE starts to build up. Don't get me wrong, they keep coming until late October but the crazy people start looking for them in July.  By early August, a handful of warblers start to make their way south too.  I spent the birding part of my weekend with my birding buddy Harvey looking for these early migrants.

Harvey is an expert birder and also an expert about where to find them at Forsythe.  He knew right where to look for each species. I added 2 birds to the list for the Stupid Contest at Forsythe - Stilt Sandpiper and White-rumped Sandpiper.  We only heard the White-rumps but the Stilts put on a great show as evidenced by this photo. They even have reddish patches on their face which is leftover breeding plumage.  I know that they don't look like much to the average person, but they are pretty cool shorebirds - and a sight for sore eyes to me since I missed them in Spring migration for the Stupid Contest.

Stilt Sandpipers
Another good bird for the day was this Caspian Tern who really put on a show fishing in the channel next to the road.  This is the best photo that I have of one of these birds.  They are giant compared to all other terns and have that terrific red/orange bill that you can see from a mile away.

Caspian Tern
I ended the day on the beach at Cape May sorting through the hundreds of Common Terns hoping for a rare Sandwich Tern. No luck on the Sandwich Tern but Connie and I got to observe the Common Terns up close.  This guy brought a fish back for one of his babies.

Common Tern with fish
Harvey might be the expert at Forsythe, but you-know-who has a few tricks up her sleeve too ya' know.  I suggested that we check out the dike at Higbee for shorebirds.  This is definitely out of the ordinary, so he looked at me like I was crazier than normal.  The dike is really just a big pile of mud that is about 2 stories high next to the Cape May canal.  This is where they dump the goo that they dredge out of the bottom to keep the canal deep enough for the ferries.  Birders climb to the top of the dike to see birds like warblers and sparrows flying by during migration, not shorebirds.  Ah, but what I noticed earlier in the summer was big cranes and bulldozers up there.  That means that the dredge was on!  That means oohey, gooey, mud.  And that, my friends means shorebirds!

Here are some of the birds that took advantage of the muddy mess at the dike - including Northern Watherthrush which is a warbler but likes goo anyway.

Least Sandpiper

Lesser Yellowlegs

Northern Waterthrush

(un)Spotted Sandpiper

Needless to say, I got kudos for dragging Harvey and George up the muddy hill. We will definitely make this a regular stop this "Fall".