Tuesday, January 12, 2010

In With The New....

Well the New Year is well and truly on us, though it's been a bit of a slow start for me birdwise, as we have uprooted ourselves again! Having jumped through all the hoops necessary to buy a house, we got a good team of local electricians in and got enough re-wiring done to allow us to move in to our new house. The electricians still have quite a bit to do, but we have the kitchen and the bedroom done so we have somewhere to eat and somewhere to sleep!

On the morning of January 8th we awoke to a couple of inches of fresh snow - not ideal house-moving weather! Notice how Megan gets on with the hard graft while I am charged with the important task of recording it for posterity!

Here we go again! Yep, another month, another house move. This time it's only 10 miles or so, so we're doing it ourselves - at least we got a tailgate!

Looks all too familiar - all those dreaded Pickfords wraps and boxes!

With Denali navigating we were bound to get there in good time.

Another house, another room full of boxes - will it ever end?!

The weather has also played a part in slowing up the start to the birding year; the Cape May Canal remains largely frozen over and temperatures above 32F are as rare as hen's teeth at the moment, due in no small part to the windy weather which is adding a wind chill factor to the ambient temperature.

Cape May Canal and the Route 626 bridge, looking like a piece of the Arctic.

So my birding so far has largely been restricted to lunch time wanderings from work - though at Cape May that still means some great birding! Lily Lake and all the ponds around the State Park remain mostly frozen, though the aerators keep parts of Lily Lake open, as does the very presence of the ducks - their body heat and constant movement is enough to keep small areas ice-free. Vegetation at the Cape May State Park is being cut at present, which is a pity, as it is completely the wrong time of year to be doing this - but both the state park and The Nature Conservancy property at the meadows are consistently badly managed and sadly progressively go down hill as good wildlife sites. The vegetation that is being cut at present should, of course, be cut much later, in March or there abouts. The very area that two days ago I was watching my first Cape May Orange-crowned Warbler feeding in (along with a busy flock of Carolina Chickadees and Carolina Wrens) was cut to the ground the next day. Birds find a mass of food in such habitats, particularly chickadees and warblers, who weedle hibernating insects and invertebrate larvae out of the plant stems. Cutting now denies them this food source at the very time when the weather is harsh and food is hard to find elsewhere; cutting in March denies them of the food from this source at a time when early invertebrate species are starting to emerge, thus providing them with an alternative food source.

Back to birds; American Robins and Yellow-rumped Warblers are plentiful right now and can be found in good number gobbling up ripe juniper berries (dropping from what over here are called 'cedars'!!!) and parties of Fox, Song and White-throated Sparrows are everywhere on roadside verges. Yesterday I heard a Red-breasted Nuthatch calling but couldn't locate it. Five of the six Tundra Swans that have been on Bunker Pond for some time were still there on the 12th and a nice party of Snow Geese flew in for a wash on one of the Plover Ponds. From the direction they came in, I would say that it was the flock that has been feeding regularly along Bayshore Road of late, just opposite the Beanery. Of particular interest on 10th was a flock of 18 American Black Vultures, soaring up above Stevens Street. This is a species which only in recent years has been wintering in the area and continues to slowly push its breeding range northward.

Driving to work along Seagrove Avenue in search of the elusive Cackling Goose one morning, I came across a small group of White-tailed Deer, including this handsome stag.

A Cackling Goose has been wintering with a Canada Goose flock on Cape May Island but I hadn't connected with it - in part because I hadn't really looked for it! The flock has been roosting on Lily Lake and feeding in fields between Sunset Boulevard and Seagrove Avenue and I eventually chanced upon the Cackling Goose on the way to work one morning. The diminutive size of this bird makes it easy to pick out among the Canada Geese. This bird is rather dark-breasted but structurally appears typical of the eastern form, known as Richardson's Cackling Goose.

Up to 10 Snow Geese have been hanging out on a small private pond along Shunpike Road. Among them is this bird, a dark individual of the form often referred to as a 'Blue' Goose. These birds are true Snow Geese, but are just a scarce colour form.

Part of a flock of 40 or so Snow Geese that dropped into the Plover Ponds for a bathe at lunch time on the 12th.

Ducks have always been of interest to me and looking closer can reveal more than may at first be apparent. On the face of it, this looks like a pair of Lesser Scaup, yet the patchiness of the plumage on the closer bird looks odd. It is in fact a first-winter male; it can be surprising how late some ducks moult from juvenile (female-type) plumage into their first adult type plumage and here, even in January, this individual still shows a lot of brown, juvenile feathering, as well as a rather dull bill.

Hog Heaven!! As someone who is a big fan of Common Starlings, I was a happy chappie to find these guys on the roof of the Sunset Gift Shop before work one morning - actually part of a flock of about 1000 birds. OK, I know that starlings are a big problem for native bird species in the USA but they are smart birds nevertheless. These smart birds were on the east side of the roof, which meant they were in full sun and out of the chilly westerly wind that was blowing.

Taking a closer look again: for much of the year, male and female Common Starlings can be told apart by the colour at the base of the bill - appropriately enough, it's pink for girls and blue for boys. So note the male on the left here and the female on the right. The bird in the middle still has a dark bill - the colour gradually comes as the bird comes into breeding condition.

Brown-headed Cowbirds have become best buddies with starlings and the two species often flock together outside the breeding season. This male cowbird is singing, which - for some reason - involves inflating the head. I've tried it on the wife but she wasn't impressed!

A local patch of roadside verge has consistently produced some great birding for me so far this year. And the good thing about roadside verges is that you can use the car as a mobile hide and get close to the birds. Grey Catbirds are thin on the ground here in winter, but a few do make it through the cold months.

Same day, same roadside verge! Hermit Thrushes are usually elusive woodland birds, but occasionally one bucks the trend.

Persistent calling by a pair of American Crows right outside my office window on the morning of January 5th just had to be checked out. The noisy neighbours led me straight to this fabulous Great Horned Owl roosting right out the back of the Northwood Center. Great Horned Owls have a long breeding season and consequently start early in the year. This bird was found on four days over the last week and is most likely a male settling into a daytime roost, perhaps indicating that a female is on a nest nearby somewhere.

Another shot of the Great Horned Owl at work, this time taken on January 8th.

Flocks of birds have descended en masse in the past week at Cape May Point State Park to mop up all the ripe juniper berries that have dropped to the ground by now. With few people visiting the park in the current cold weather, photographic opportunities are better than usual; here, American Robins, Northern Cardinals and Fox Sparrows litter the verge on the entrance road.

Adult male American Robin at Cape May Point State Park.

American Robins show a lot of individual variation and some can be hard to age and sex. Even so, this is probably an adult female. The head is not black like a typical male, but the bird is an adult based on the uniform greater wing coverts. (OK, that's far too technical, we'll come back to all that another time!).

Yellow-rumped Warblers are the only American wood-warbler species that winters in any number in New Jersey, the rest all heading south for the sun. Despite being essentially insectivores, Yellow-rumps survive this far north by turning to berries for food. This bird was feeding on bayberry...

...while this one was tucking into juniper berries.

I thought I'd finish this post with this perky little Swamp Sparrow who popped up to say "Hi" in the state park a couple of days ago. Swamp Sparrows are quite common here in the winter, though not often as obliging as this one and can often be down right elusive!

The Year list continues to grow and since the 71 species recorded on January 1st (70 on the CBC count plus Canada Goose which I saw outside my count area), I've added the following:

January 3rd:
Common Eider - four at Sunset Beach
Surf Scoter - two at Sunset Beach
Snow Goose - flock of about 20 flying north over the Northwood Center
American Woodcock - four flushed just before dusk at the Northwood Center

January 4th:
Bonaparte's Gull - three at Sunset Beach
Sanderling - one at Sunset Beach
Brown Thrasher - one at the Northwood Center
Northern Shoveler - three on the Shunpike Road pond
Tundra Swan - six at Bunker Pond
Buff-bellied Pipit - five at Bunker Pond
Mute Swan - two at Bunker Pond
American Coot - Lily Lake
American Wigeon - Lily Lake
Ring-necked Duck - Lily Lake
Gadwall - Lily Lake

January 5th:
Belted Kingfisher - one at the Shunpike Road pond
Great Horned Owl - Northwood Center
Cackling Goose - flying over the Northwood Center
Wilson's Snipe - one with ducks on the ice on Lily Lake

January 10th:
Orange-crowned Warbler - one at Cape May Point State Park
Swamp Sparrow - three or more at Cape May Point State Park
Eurasian Wigeon - two males on Lighthouse Pond
Sandhill Crane - on a pool east of Shunpike Road

January 11th:
Sharp-shinned Hawk - one flashed through the garden at home
Redhead - male on Lily Lake
Red-breasted Nuthatch - one at Cape May Point State Park
Snowy Egret - one in flight over Lighthouse Avenue

January 12th:
Northern Pintail - immature male on Lily Lake

So, What's going to be the big 100?!