Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Humdrum Days Can Still Be Exciting!

After the mad rush of birds in mid-September, the second half of the month was - by Cape May standards - quiet. That's not to say there wasn't any birds; there was plenty of birds, but things just didn't seem to be hanging around to be enjoyed by the masses. You either got lucky and were on site when things were found, or you missed them as they continued on their way south. The usual routine of early mornings at Higbee Beach fell away after a run of quiet days, but this gave Megan and I the opportunity to do mundane things like sorting out cars, bank accounts etc without having to miss too much. The main problem seemed to be a blocking warm front from the south which just kept any cold fronts from the Great Lakes at bay. Those of us who live here can ride the quiet spells but it's a shame for folks who come for a week or less and just don't get to experience what Cape May is all about - but I guess that's birding.

On one particularly quiet morning, we decided to take a walk at the Migratory Bird Refuge and this proved to be a good move as we enjoyed close views of several Marsh Wrens, Swamp Sparrow and Least Flycatcher in the golden glow of early morning and also found ourselves standing between two Coyote packs which were howling away at each other from deep within the bushes. A wonderful experience to have them calling from just 30 yards away from us - a real sound of the wild and perhaps surprising that they are here in South Cape May as the only way in is via one of the two road bridges (or to swim the canal!) They had also left plenty of tell-tale signs that they were enjoying the now-ripening Persimmon fruits!

Marsh Wren atop the cattails at the Migratory Bird Refuge

Yep, there's Coyotes in the area and they're eating Persimmons!

Persimmon fruits are a common sight around Cape May in Fall -
but don't park your car under them, they'll wreck your paintwork!

Apart from the fact that Higbee's was quiet, another reason for our walk through the refuge was to look for a possible Cinnamon Teal that had been reported from the site. Though well-photographed by several people, the jury is still out on the identification of this bird and it seems likely that, as it would be a first for Cape May county, we really need a more convincing individual to show up - or for this one to hang around and moult into adult plumage (or at least get a red eye!). This species is notoriously difficult to tell apart from Blue-winged Teal in juvenile/first-winter plumage and some individuals may be inseperable in the field at this age. Tough enough when you live in the area where they both occur regularly, but trying to claim a young Cinnamon Teal as far East as Cape May is no easy task if you want to get it past a committee of experts!

A good candidate for Cape May's first Cinnamon Teal (right, with Blue-winged Teal)? Note that the 'cinnamon' colour on this bird is actually iron staining from the water so not relevent in the identification of this bird. A key feature in favour of Cinnamon Teal here is the lack of clear contrast between the dark centres and pale edges to the flank feathers (compare with the left hand bird).

Cinnamon Teal has a longer, more spatulate bill than Blue-winged Teal and the bird here does appear to show this when compared with the left hand bird - but is it enough of a difference or could this bird be just a particularly large-billed Blue-winged? Or maybe a hybrid between the two species?

Here's the only half decent flight shot I got of our bird, though there's
 not really anything to help us in the wing pattern.

Rain continued to take the edge off birding as Cape May caught the remnants of the bad weather that had been saturating the south-east US. Shorebirds were in very short supply as all the regular stop-over pools were flooded out, with no nice muddy edges for them to feed along; however, birds are nothing if not opportunistic and a nice flooded roadside field at the Rea Farm served the local birding community well, attracting Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Spotted, Pectoral, Stilt and Solitary Sandpipers and Lesser Yellowlegs - not a bad haul!

Killdeer photographed from the car at the Rea Farm. Note the neat buffy tips to the upperparts that show us this is a juvenile bird.

Another Killdeer shot. Note the amazingly long tail and tertials of this chunky plover.

Juvenile Stilt Sandpiper at the Rea Farm, photographed from the car window. Always a lovely, graceful species.

Juvenile Stilt Sandpiper at the Rea Farm flood.

Solitary Sandpiper at the Rea Farm flood. This bird was often too close to the car to photograph properly as I was looking down on it!!