Friday, April 16, 2010

And so begins April...

April, ahhh, spring is really here at last!

April 1st
I made it successfully through April Fool's Day without any major gaffs - though there were a few attempts at catching us out at the Bird Observatory! A team of insiders (OK, I was part of it too!) led an onslaught on the Cape May Bird Observatory website, with some pretty outrageous claims of just-about-feasible birds!! Just to be on the safe side though, Don dutifully made sure that no one was really duped into travelling down here for nothing! An e-mail also did the rounds advising people to stay indoors for the morning as the Mosquito Commission were going to be doing aerial spraying - that actually got a few people!

It was a sunny and warm day, which produced a nice variety of things to enjoy; an Eastern Comma butterfly appeared at work and a Merlin came to hunt from our Chinese Elm again. Some casual observing actually did our yard list a world of good today as we had Great Egret, Double-crested Cormorant and Osprey flying over during the day. On the way to work, a quick check of the Delaware Bay at Sunset Beach revealed a water surface as flat as glass and a nice opportunity for a more accurate count of the divers there. In all I totted up 69 Red-throated Divers loafing on the water.

House Birds: Great Egret, Double-crested Cormorant, Osprey

April 2nd
With Easter looming, I began a three-day weekend today, so Megan and I had decided to use the time to go and visit her parents in Pennsylvania. The day started very well with a flock of about 30 Glossy Ibis flying north over the Cape May canal, while the need to stop off briefly at the old house we rented for a while up in Cape May Court House, provided us with a smart male Wood Duck on the garden pond there (Oh how I miss that pond!!!).

Megan's parents live in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, though in Pennsylvania these 'mountain's are rather more like the Cotswolds or the Chilterns than anything resembling the Alps! The scenery is rolling and wooded with many dairy farms and fruit orchards - very different to the coastal plain of Cape May. So, seeing as this is a Cape May blog, I won't dwell too much here, but we did have a brief encounter with a Pileated Woodpecker, a smart male Black-and-white Warbler and some nice walks in the Caledonia State Park. We also picked up a couple of bikes which should help to get us fitter this summer - watch this space!!

House Bird: Glossy Ibis

Here's just a small handful of some of the pictures that I took in Pennsylvania:

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) is widespread and common in acid woodland in the eastern USA. It looks like it should be related to the red-berried members of the heath family, but it is in fact a member of the Bedstraw family.

Just for comparison, here is a red-berried member of the heath family, Checkerberry (Gaultheria procumbens).

The leafless branches of Northern Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) were studded with delicate yellow flowers.

A classic wind-pollinated flower, the catkin-like flowers of Sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina). This fragrant subshrub is actually a member of the sweetgale family.

Unfortunately, we didn't manage to find any Spotted Salamanders, but what appeared to be evidence of their presence came from numerous egg masses laid in the water.

We visited a local nursery to buy some plants for the garden and found plenty of American Toads making their loud, Mole Cricket-like trilling, in an irrigation pond.

The intricate patterning on the scales of an Eastern White Pine cone offers an opportunity to be arty!

April 6th
A nice day for butterflies today, with an increase to six Summer Azures at work and four Question-marks taking sap at a leaky hole in our Chinese Elm. I still don't understand why Chinese Elms always seem to leak so much! Ospreys are starting to hang out more regularly in front of the store now and a White-eyed Vireo popped up in an American Holly outside my office window.

The taxonomy of the 'Azure' butterflies in North America is very much in a state of flux, with what used to be known as Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon) now split into several species. In addition, there seems to be controversy over the existence or otherwise of a spring form of Summer Azure (C. neglecta). Some authors don't believe it exists so don't include it in their books, and give the flight period for the species as being later in the year. The photograph above shows an individual from a population of butterflies in the bird observatory garden (all of which look like this) and which looks exactly like Summer Azure - as opposed to the Atlantic Holly Azures (C. idella) which are simultaneously flying at Belleplain State Forest and which look different. So given that I've photographed a Summer Azure in the spring - I believe that they exist!!!

In the evening, Megan and I walked the Migratory Bird Refuge and went out onto the South Beach, where we soon found several Piping Plovers - actually the first time I have seen them south of the canal. We spent an hour or so with them and watched one particular pair as the male made several nest scrapes and the female checked them out. Forster's Terns were courtship chasing and Northern Gannets swirled offshore. Other highlights included two Blue-winged Teal, 30+ Green-winged Teal, a female Northern Harrier and a Peregrine.

Piping Plovers are back at the beaches in Cape May County. This endangered species is specially protected here, which means that wildlife get about 1% of the total beach area in Cape May County and Humans get the rest!!

As the sun starts to set, a singing Red-winged Blackbird offers a nice photo opportunity

Year Birds: White-eyed Vireo, Piping Plover

April 7th
My Wednesday morning walk set a new species record (well, it is only the third week!!) of 57 species, as well as adding a new mammal - Common Bottle-nosed Dolphin. A few migrants were notable, including a Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Pine Warbler and Hermit Thrush. A real highlight today was the discovery of a Great Horned Owl nest - complete with mother and two youngsters!! These are big birds, but it's amazing how readily they go undetected when breeding. A Belted Kingfisher shot over the garden calling when I got home from work.

I thought I'd take a last quick shot of the male Eurasian Wigeon which is still hanging on at Lighthouse Pond, having spent the winter there. Little was I to know that he would be gone by the next Wednesday walk.

House bird: Belted Kingfisher

Denali needed to make a new appearance in the blog, so here he is helping to plant a Katsura Tree in our garden, that Megan's parents bought for us in Pennsylvania.