Sunday, July 28, 2019

Learning the Ropes Along the Bayshore

Last week, the Bayshore had zero shorebirds. Zero. This week, hundreds of shorebirds were back from their arctic breeding bonanza. Connie and I spent some time on the beach watching the newly arrived birds feeding on the remaining horseshoe crab eggs and other stuff. There were mostly Semi-palmated Sandpipers and some Sanderlings too. Connie doesn't spend as much time studying birds as I do so we spent time today learning the difference between the species and differentiating between young birds and adults.

Our first lesson was to learn how to identify Sanderling. Sanderling are slightly larger than Semi-palmated Sandpipers. They also have more orange around the neck and only have 3 toes. We didn't focus on the toe thing since that requires a closer examination. At this time of year, Sanderling are molting from their bright brown/red breeding plumage to gray winter plumage. They will spend their time along our Bayshore making that change. This bird has just about begun the transformation. You can see a few gray feathers coming in on her back.

Sanderling - YN=
The fact that Sanderling are molting can make the identification either harder or easier. Harder because you can't look for the same pattern on each bird. Easier because you can assume that if the bird looks different, it is probably a Sanderling. On the other hand, the Semi-palmated Sandpipers are not molting which means that they all look the same. Whether they are well behaved like this little guy . . .

Semi-palmated Sandpiper
 . . . or bickering like these two. Their feathers are all uniformly brown and boring. 

Beach Brawl
The only way to really understand the birds that you are observing is to actually observe them. Spend time watching their behavior and noticing subtle plumage traits like molt. Only then will you truly learn about the bird. 

Speaking of learning, our observation skills also alerted us to watch the Least Terns. Least Terns are an endangered species that nests on sandy beaches by the ocean. Cape May has protected areas for them and it has been very successful over the years. At this time of year, the babies are old enough to learn how to fend for themselves. They test their skills along the Bayshore since the water is calmer. Connie and I heard this guy calling to Mom while he tried his luck.

He would fly along the shallow water . . .

Juvenile Least Tern
. . . and hover like this. He dove a few times but came up empty. 

Juvenile Least Tern hovering
He called to Mom a lot as if saying "Look Mom. Look Mom". Mom watched from the sandbar.

Least Tern - Adult
I assume that she knew he would be successful and wasn't worried since she didn't budge to help. 

Look at the plumage difference between Junior and Mom. Mom has a bright yellow bill, black cap and white forehead that make her look like she's wearing a mask. Junior has a black bill and not much of a cap at all. He'll get their next year but for now, he needs to use all of his energy learning to fend for himself before heading south for the winter. Once again, we might mistake these 2 birds for separate species if we didn't take the time to learn that they were on the beach as a family. 

Saturday, July 13, 2019

More Mountain Tales

We returned to the camp for our annual July 4th family trip. This year, Connie and I spent the whole week which gave me plenty of time for more nature hikes and photography. The first photograph isn't "nature" exactly but it is pretty interesting. To most, it just looks like a dirty window but look at the pattern of the dirt - bear paws!
Bear Print
Outside of the cabin, we found another "home" situation going on. Connie and I watched these dedicated Yellow-bellied Sapsucker parents as they flew back and forth the their nest hole with food for their screaming babies. Here is Mom. She would bring the food and then go into the hole and bring out the baby poop to remove it from the nest. 

Mom- Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Here is Dad. He is truly a good provider. His beak was overloaded with bugs each time he returned to the nest. Typical male, he didn't do any dirty diaper duty. 

Dad - Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
We spent an hour just watching the daily routine. Pretty remarkable. We also took a good hike up at the top of Nelson Run Road and stumbled on a male Mourning Warbler as he was carrying out his fatherly duties. Here he is with a beak full of bugs. 

Mourning Warbler
Mourning Warblers are secretive birds that spend their time in bushes so getting a photo isn't easy. He never revealed the location of his nest and babies. We left him alone after a few minutes so that he could deliver the goods. 

We expect birds to be singing in spring. The woods are loud with song in May and early June but we don't expect to hear birds singing in July. These 2 didn't get that memo. This male Towhee was singing away. He was either done with his first brood and looking to start a second family or maybe he missed out on a mate in May and is hoping for a late start. Either way, he was dedicated to the song. 

Eastern Towhee
This Chestnut-sided Warbler was also singing. At closer look, I noticed that he isn't quite in his adult breeding plumage. He doesn't have the "chestnut side" that gives this species it's name and the rest of the feathers are also dull. Maybe "he" is really a "she" who likes to sing? Maybe he is a young male still in that awkward pre-adult phase? Regardless of the situation, the song filled the trail. 

Chestnut-sided Warbler
Our neighbors, Linda and Frank mentioned that they have seen Flying Squirrels at their camp lately. The squirrels come out just before dusk. Come out from where? Apparently, the squirrels live in the rafters of the attic and come in and out through a tiny hole above the porch. We sat on the deck and watched for the critters to come out.

Flying Squirrel
How cute right? He would sit on the rafter for a few minutes and then run up to the roof and fly to a nearby tree. The whole motion takes a few seconds. Unfortunately, they are so fast and the light is so dim that capturing a photo is nearly impossible.  

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Potter County 2019

Wow. Where did June go? I'll tell you where - to house projects, that's where. After 20 years in our house, we broke down and decided to do some renovations and upgrades. After weeks of disruption by contractors and painters, we headed up to Potter County with our friends Jill and Becky for the summer solstice weekend. The plan was for Becky to teach us how to fly fish but the weather made that impossible. It rained for 3 weeks straight prior to our arrival making the streams unfishable. We hiked instead and I got to show them some birds. Cedar Waxwings are easy birds to show to non-birders. They are beautiful and often pose like this one did.

Cedar Waxwing
Really pretty birds are great to show non-birders. Unfortunately, many of the pretty birds are often difficult to see. Blackburnian Warblers are usually bouncing around at the tops of trees which puts them in that "difficult-to-see" category. Not this guy. This guy was flitting around in a walnut tree at eye level right in our yard making it easy for Jill to see. She was impressed.

Blackburnian Warbler
I snuck away to do some early morning photography down by the stream while the others lounged at the camp. There is a place where I can stand on the road at the tree top level which makes it easy to photograph yellow warblers and willow flycatchers. On this day, the stream was running high and fast. I heard a quack and saw a mother Common Merganser swimming against the current followed by 3 tiny ducklings. Wait til you see how cute this is:

Look how fast #3 swam to catch up! And then it got cuter. I snuck upstream to get an angle for some photographs. Mom didn't know that I was there until I moved. Then, she sounded the alarm call and the ducklings hustled close and jumped onto her back for safety.

Common Mergansers
I don't know where #3 was. Only 2 jumped on her back. I left them alone to continue their upbringing. 

We did see a fish this weekend when we went to the Austin Dam. This is a Sucker Fish that was swimming around a clear pool of water below the dam ruins. 

Colorful birds aren't the only attraction on our hikes. Jill spotted this Red Eft along the logging road. 

Red Eft
All-in-all it was a great weekend despite not being able to fish. The good news for me and Connie is that we were headed back to Potter for a whole week over July 4th holiday. More about that soon.