Sunday, August 30, 2015

Getting Ready for Fall

It's not even September yet but us birders are already in fall migration mode. I told you about the shorebirds that are starting to show up after their brief month of breeding in the arctic. Now, the warblers and other songbirds are starting to show up too. Believe me, it's not like everyone is out birding. There are only a few of us out there (which is nice) but we are being rewarded for our efforts.

Last weekend was pretty slow but Harvey and I found a plethora of Sundews by the lake at Higbee. I was told that this is the southern-most spot in the US to find these carnivorous plants. The "dew" is actually a sticky substance that traps insects. The plant absorbs nutrients from the dying bug. This one has a dead bug on one of it's sticky leaves (2 o'clock).

Barbara and I went to Higbee on Sat and met up with Harvey and George. Vireos were the bird of the day - most Red-eyed with a few other types mixed in. This one posed behind some white flowers for me.

Red-eyed Vireo
This White-eyed Vireo bounced around in the bushes too.

White-eyed Vireo
Yellow warblers have a beautifully subtle tone this time of year.  Not that bright "hey, mate with me" yellow like in spring.

Yellow warbler
Today, I had the whole Higbee field to myself. Of course, that was because all of the other birders are smarter than me and knew that the winds weren't good for migration. They all went somewhere else or slept in. I wasn't alone by any means. I was accompanied by about a bizillion of my closest mosquito friends. At  one point, I literally ran back to the parking lot to try to escape the little blood-suckers.

They weren't everywhere. Just in the fields. Peanut and I kept to the wide sand paths for the rest of the morning and had some good luck.  Here is a male Redstart knocking the dust off of a moth before eating it for breakfast. Check out the dust flying.

Redstart with moth
 I kind of feel bad for the moth. That poor thing was really beaten to death.

Redstart with moth
Peanut and I walked the beach and the roads. We found this beautiful Northern Waterthrush along the road in a muddy ditch. I love the soft yellow tones on this bird.

Northern Waterthrush
Waterthrushes are tail-bobbers.  I caught this one mid-bob as it was walking down the mud pile.

Northern Waterthrush
All in all, a nice few days catching early migrants. The smarter birders were all chasing after fun shorebirds but I didn't have it me today. I'll get them next time. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Thar She Blows!

I went out on another pelagic birding trip yesterday with SeeLife Paulagics in hopes of seeing some offshore birds. We left Wildwood Crest aboard the Atlantic Star at 10 PM Sunday night and made it 100 miles offshore to the edge of the continental shelf by 4 AM. The seas were calm, the sky was bright blue and the temperature was perfect.

We were greeted by Leach's, Band-rumped and Wilson's Stormpetrels in the early morning. These are little birds that can smell fish guts and shark liver oil from miles away (that's what we use as chum). Here is Band-rumped in flight.

Band-rumped Stormpetrel
Here is the Band-rumped picking at the chum.

Band-rumped Stormpetrel
This is Wilson's. I know, it looks exactly like the Band-rumped. The only way that I can tell the two apart is by the way the Wilson's feet drag out behind the tail when they fly. This is because their legs are a little bit longer than the Band-rumped. Who ever figured that out?

Wilson's Stormpetrel
Here is the Wilson's with a tasty morsel of shark liver. He actually looks happy. Yuck.

Wilson's Stormpetrel with chum
We were all hoping for another type of Stormpetrel called White-faced but we didn't see one all day. We did have a few unexpected sightings but not the avian type. These were the cretaceous type. The trip leaders saw a whale blow in the distance so we headed over to get closer. Even at a distance, the leaders knew what type of whale it was. They could tell by the blow. Notice that the spray isn't going straight up but it is shooting out to the left (away from the camera). That indicates Sperm Whale. Point of interest - Right Whales are named "Right" because they blow to the right.

Sperm Whale blow
Sperm Whales eat giant squid that they find at the bottom of the sea. We were in 6000 feet of water. This fellow took a deep breath and headed down just as we approached. You can tell that they are going deep when you see the giant fluke rise up into the air like this.

One Sperm Whale sighting is amazing but as we turned our attention to the other side of the boat, we saw 6 more whales blowing to the left. Wow. We were actually in the midst of a pod of females and calves! I tried video where you can see 2 whales diving.

I know, I know - "whoooaaa". I wanted to provide commentary but when they dove, all I could say is whoooaaaa.

Whales weren't the only mammal surprise. We also encountered 2 pods of dolphins that are rare for the area. These are called Pantropic Spotted Dolphins and are usually found much farther south than Jersey. Boy did they put on a show. No video, but I got some pretty good photos. They really like to jump out of the water.

Pantropic Spotted Dolphins
They also like to play in the wake of the boat.

Jumping the wake!
They got so close to the boat that you could see the spots that give them their name. You can also see that they are pink too.

Pink and spotty
This one got so close that you can see his exhale bubble trail underwater.

And then immediately inhale when the blow hole broke the surface of the water.

The dolphin and whale show would have made the trip for me. We could have gone back to the dock at this point which we kind of started to do. After all, it takes 6 hours to get out here and 6 hours to get back to Wildwood.  On our way back, we found some more good birds like Cory's Shearwater. We probably saw 20 or so. This guy flew by pretty close.

Cory's Shearwater
Here is another Cory's (right, back) sitting with a Great Shearwater (left, front).

Greater and Cory's Shearwaters
This Audubon's Shearwater also put on a show close to the boat.

Audubon's Shearwater
Once again, I realize that they all look alike at first. Here is a bird that stood out from the others. This is Pomarine Jaeger in mid molt which makes him look more like a vulture. Ugly.

Pomarine Jaeger
Another bird that is still weird to see 60 miles offshore is this Red-necked Phalarope. These are shorbirds that make their living at sea. It is still hard to believe even though we see them regularly.

Red-necked Phalarope
What made this sighting even more odd is that this bird was eating a moth. How does a moth get 60 miles offshore only to be eaten by a shorebird?

Yummy, salty moth
The day was really great. Made it back to Rydal by 7 PM sun kissed, salty and pooped!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A Refreshing Morning at Cape May Point

The day couldn't have been better. When Harvey picked me up at 6 AM, we could already tell that it was going to be an uncharacteristically gorgeous day for August. Cool temps and bright sunshine were already apparent. We also knew that we would have a fun day because we were going to meet our friend Marc at the lighthouse. Marc is one of those guys who makes the best of every day and makes the people that he is with feel the same way. He has limited time to bird these days due to other commitments but wanted to spend a few hours around Cape May Point for shorebirds and terns.

We arrived to find Marc on the Hawkwatch platform scanning for terns, ducks and waders in Bunker Pond. After hugs and kisses, we headed to the beach to scan for terns but were surprised to find swallows swarming the beach and sitting on the sand and on the beach fence. Harvey and Marc found 2 Bank Swallows in the midst of the hundred or so Barn Swallows.

Assorted Swallows - Cape May beach
We headed down the path behind the dunes to see if we could find other interesting birds. There are several ponds along this path which are referred to as "Plover Ponds". Shorebirds are often seen here and we were not disappointed. For those of you who find shorebirds boring, I invite you to go here for close up views of these birds. Here, you can see the beauty of the plumage, and the behavior that can help you identify the species and even the age of the birds that often look the same at long distances.

For instance, this Least Sandpiper often looks like a little dirty brown bird but here, I got so close that you can see the yellow legs and streaking on the throat. Least sandpipers are tiny, so they are often found at the water's edge or in the mud rather than in the water.

Least Sandpiper
 And here, you can see the Lesser Yellowlegs in typical foraging pose. They poke at the water's surface for bugs and other critters, often chasing them around.

Lesser Yellowlegs
This Short-billed Dowitcher ( I know, the bill isn't that short ) is a juvenile wearing his/her first adult feathers. You can tell because the feathers are perfect - they aren't worn out, dull, or frayed. Dowitchers are often called "sewing machines" because they are constantly poking that bill under water feeling around for food. It really does look like a sewing machine. I caught this bird in mid stitch.
Shortbilled Dowitcher
A highlight of any shorebird trip is seeing a Stilt Sandpiper. This bird has a droopy bill and beautiful barred breast which can be seen in this photo. They use the same poking motion as the Dowitcher but can get into deeper water since they have longer legs. In fact, they often dunk their entire head underwater searching for food.

Stilt Sandpiper
Another bird on our target list was this White-rumped Sandpiper. These birds are difficult to identify until they fly and reveal their white rump (hence the name). This bird was on the other side of the pond so the photo isn't as good as the others. Marc noticed the bird and started to notice the long wings, slender build and lighter color of the bird. These field marks can also be used to separate this species from more common Semi-palmated Sandpipers and other "peeps". The bird eventually flew along the bank to reveal the white rump.

White-rumped Sandpiper
If they day ended here, it would have been extraordinary but it didn't end. We kept walking the trail which turns away from the ponds and heads back to the lighthouse. The trail takes you through woods and marshes where we found a variety of other birds including an elusive Sora. Marc spotted it as we were scanning through the herons and egrets in the marsh. Its the little brown and gray bird behind the Egret in this photo.

Sora and Egret
We saw many more common birds along the trail. For some reason, they were more photogenic today. I swear Marc's charma has something to do with it. Take for instance, these 2 blue birds. They are both common birds in the area but I have never been so close or had the opportunity to get photographs like this before. The first bird is Blue Grosbeak. He sat there singing his little heart out while the 3 of us walked up the trail.

Blue Grosbeak
Here is Indigo Bunting eating seeds of dune grass along the beach. I have never seen a bunting along the beach but there he was picking at seeds while we stood a few feet away snapping photos. This bird is still getting his adult feathers. You can see some brown/gray feathers dotting the blue. The sunlight was so nice that it almost made this bird sparkle.

Indigo Bunting
Finally, as we were nearing the end of our trip, Harvey noticed this beautiful pink flower along the boardwalk. A bee landed while I was taking a photograph.

My new camera lens allows me to get pretty close to the flowers and bugs. Harvey is envious.

We had a great day and ended up with 82 species of birds - all before 11 AM. Marc headed north to meet family in Ocean City. Harvey and I headed back home to do chores.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

More About Banded Birds

Shortly after hitting"Post" for the last story, I headed out to the Villas beach to see if I could find more banded shorebirds. I found a few more Sanderlings with the normal light green flags with black digits. 11M and P6Y to be exact. It is neat to find information about the birds by entering the code into website. You can upload photos (which I do) and track the places where the birds have been resighted over time. Both of those birds were recently banded in NJ or DE and didn't have very much history about being resighted.

The bird that really caught my attention yesterday was this Sanderling. Zoom in to see the bands on this bird. It has 5 separate bands on all parts of both legs. Ridiculous! I wonder how this bird gets around with all of that bling.

Banded Sanderling
You know, I'm not much of a FaceBook person. I am not sure why people need to know what I ate for lunch or "Like" a photo of me doing anything at all. That being said, I am on FaceBook because birding things are posted there and sometimes nowhere else. I also like the birding groups such as the DVOC group and the ABA group. I also found a group called "I Heart Shorebirds" (the word heart is actually a heart icon). A few of the members helped me track down info on this bejeweled bird. The bird was banded at Lake Chaplin in Saskatchewan Canada sometime between 2012 and 2014. The scientist in charge was contacted and said that they did not do individual color codes or flag codes as part of that study but would love to have my sighting posted (which I did). Of course, I had to look up Lake Chaplin Saskatchewan. Here is a map. It would take 32 hours to drive there from the Villas NJ - a distance of 2,062 miles. Imagine that this little bird can fly that distance AND he is only part of the way to his winter home!

Let's drive to Saskatchewan!
I think this really drives home the importance of our own Delaware Bay to the survival of these birds. He could have taken a direct route south or gone west, but this little guy knows that our bay has horseshoe crab eggs to eat and those eggs will fuel his journey south better than any other food source. Its like people who move to Florida coming home for Cheesesteaks and TastyKakes! If you support conservation causes like I do, this is a great place to put your money and your effort.

Celebrate Delaware Bay
Read more about the efforts of scientists along the Delaware Bay here
Conserve Wildlife NJ - 2015  report

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Mid-Summer Birding at the Shore

Quick post to remind you that summer is pretty dull for birders however I did manage to get a few new photos of Skimmers which are one of my favorite birds in the world. Here are 4 of them skimming the shallow water at "The Meadows" in Cape May in the early morning.

Black Skimmers at Cape May Meadows
They would occasionally come closer. This one skimmed the same route a few times and gave me a few opportunities to capture a nice photo. This one looks like a mirror image. The tip of the bill is just about touching the water.

Black Skimmer
Cormorants are not unusual at the shore. In fact, there are many of them. This sighting was unusual because this bird flew in and landed right on the beach at the Villas. I have never seen a Cormorant sitting on the beach with people and dogs all around. This guy didn't seem to mind.

Double-crested Cormorant
I was on the Villas beach looking for banded shorebirds. I found a few and also got to point them out to a few people on the beach. Here is Sanderling LM5. Originally banded in Delaware in May, he/she has been seen in Avalon on 7/23 by someone else and in Villas by me twice after that.

Sanderling LM5
This one is interesting. It has a dark green flag with white lettering rather than the typical light green with black lettering. This is Sanderling AEV. Not sure why the color is different but I will try to find out.

Sanderling AEV
Looking forward to getting out in Delaware next week.