Monday, November 30, 2009


Yes, yes, I know I'm a month late putting this up - but that's just an indication of how busy I've been (at least, that's my excuse any way!). So as birding quietens off with autumn migration beginning to become a fond but ever more distant memory, I'm gradually catching up on all my highlights of the season. As with my last post, however, as well as the birds, I don't want to forget some good times with the other birders in Cape May, so here's a quick picture show of our Halloween party, held at the interns' house on Columbia Avenue.

Now most Brits will know that Halloween is a bigger deal in the USA than it is in the UK. In the USA, Halloween starts several weeks before October 31st, with the appearance of all sorts of pumpkin-based paraphernalia appearing in front yards and gradually working up to a competition to see who can have the most ghoulish front lawns! Skeletons climbing out of coffins, witches on broomsticks and all sorts of ghostly items fill the neighbourhood, all terminating in an excuse to dress up and be silly on October 31st. In the UK, the only part that seems to have been copied from the US is children going round knocking on doors in the hope of free handouts. In the US, this seems to be an organised event and kept at a 'traditional' level; in the UK, it just appears to be a chance to demand something for nothing or to be nasty to someone!!

Anyway, we had a great time - good food, good beer and some really imaginative costumes. Of course, being birders, there was a birdy theme to many of the costumes. So here goes with a run down.

Some people dressed in what ever they had to hand:

Glen Davies - red hair and an accordian? Not that scary, but then, you can't see the Homer Simpson pyjama trousers in this shot!!

Kevin Carlson just happened to have some tramp clothing around apparently!

Chris Hadjuk discovered that a tall hat is not the best thing to wear once the ceiling fans are turned on - on several times we all ducked as it pinged suddenly and at great speed across the room!

Nick Metheny (our seawatch guru) looks reasonably traditional as a pirate - but isn't that a Painted Bunting on his shoulder?!

High marks for effort!! Steve and Doug would look good on the Hawkwatch as the Supermario Brothers!!

The next batch of pictures have a wildlife theme, mostly bird-related, so I'm going to give you a chance to see if you can guess what the person is supposed to be. Answers are posted further down after the set of pictures. Give it a go - though some are so obscure that I don't think any of us guessed them at the time!!

1. Not a bird, but certainly a birdy theme, Arthur got my vote as best of the bunch!! If you recognise Arthur from one of my earlier posts, you may have a clue!

2. One birdy, one not. Actually most of us were rather disturbed at seeing Cameron dressed all in yellow!

As a further clue for Claire, here she is later in the evening - you'll get it now!

3. All in black, Louise has a pretty natty pair of wings!

4. Another non-bird one, look at Dale's colours and markings for a clue (and think back to one of my earlier postings)...

5. Beth and Don look a little monkish - but think about them being on their own...

6. OK, Jessica is small, with a greenish back, white below and a white supercilium (that's the white line above the eye for you non-birders!)....

7. You'd never know it was Laura under there! Look at the markings and the bill....

8. Michael O'Brien gets my award for the cheapest costume!! As an extra clue, that's sandpaper on his arms (which is relevant!)...

9. Mark Garland looks like he's having a fit, but he's just giving us a clue with his display posture!

10. OK, Tony's is pretty tricky - unless you know him and what his favourite bird is!

11. Melissa (yes, there's more to her than the pair of hands at the Hawkwatch!!) and Ari came as a set. Melissa is rotating while Ari is shivering. OK, this isn't a bird, but it's very important to birding at Cape May....

Here's a little more help with Melissa....

....and Ari!

12. And of course, Denali had to get in on the act! Not a bird one, but a traditional US character, here to give us some safety advice!

So, it's time for the answers. How did you do? Don't be surprised if you didn't get any of them as some were pretty obscure and others were deliberately tricky just to catch the rest of us out! Well, here we go:

1. If you remember Arthur from the Golden Eagle pictures I posted, then hawk-banding is a clue. Arthur was the most awesome costume in my book - imagine walking to the party like that!! Arthur came as an Executive Hawk-bander - hence the smart clothes; looks like the bird got the better of him though!

2. Cameron (for some reason best known to himself) came as an Easter chick!! Claire gave us a big clue with her label - if you can read it. She actually came into the store earlier in the day dressed like this before I was aware of the costume thing which was yet to become apparent to me. I thought I did well to treat her as sane until I realised this wasn't a customer!! Claire came as a Monarch chrysalis - and mid-way through the evening she metamorphosed before our very eyes - terribly messy business!

3. Well, being our Monarch lady, Louise just has to be a butterfly. Actually I think she just liked the costume, but Black Swallowtail is near enough for me!

4. Another Monarch chrysalis, approached very differently by Dale. Compare her with my Monarch chrysalis photo from an earlier post (From two wings to four) - I think she did a great job!

5. Now, I guessed a bit on this one and it may just be that Beth and Don just wanted to be robed for Halloween, but my take on it is two hermits - and there are two hermits here in the USA - Hermit Thrush and Hermit Warbler!

6. Jessica - after copious amounts of guessing on our part, revealed herself to be a Tennessee Warbler!

7. OK Laura, black wing tips, grey on the wings, black top to the head and an orange bill - it has to be a Royal Tern!

8. So the sandpaper? No, not a play on 'sandpiper'; sandpaper is rough, and it's on the arms (ie the wings). So Michael has to be a Rough-winged Swallow. It's OK, we groaned too!

9. Mark is all in black except for bright red shoulder patches - an easy one (at last!), Red-winged Blackbird.

10. Well, you really have to know Tony and know your birds to get this subtle one. Tony is brown, has spoons on his tail and a white flash in his wing. What else - he's a Pomarine Skua (you'll have to look it up on Wikipedia!).

11. My prize for the most imaginative and inventive costumes of the night - and I still don't know how they kept all that wiring in place for the whole evening! So, Melissa and Ari come together but in the right order. Birding at Cape May is all about the weather; it's the weather patterns that bring the birds. So, Melissa is a thermal, with the birds of prey all soaring around her. The thermal associated with warm weather gives way to a cold front coming in from the north-west - this is where Ari comes in. Note the sun in front of the cold front, the pointy cold front arrows on her side and the line of raptors moving in behind the front - and looking for a Melissa! These girls are serious about their birding - and their costumes!!

12. OK Denali, you got your moment of glory. Yes, Denali has really pushed the boat out with his costume to become Smokey the Bear!! No naked flames please!

Well that's Halloween covered. Guess I'll have a better idea of what to expect next year!