Monday, January 3, 2011

Rounding Off the Year

So, another milestone achieved as we completed our first full calendar year at Cape May. It was a pretty amazing year, with all that snow last winter, then the very wet spring, followed by an above-average heat wave in summer. Such unpredictable and wildly changing conditions have all been forecast by those who know what they're talking about as being typical of accelerated climate change - as helped on by Man's continued abuse of the planet. But hey, those people who never studied meteorology and say it's all bunkum must surely be right, yes?!!

Any way, time to empty out my pending folder of pictures from December and to stride boldly into 2011, so here's my final diary round-up for 2010 and the final counts for the year and house list.

December 2nd
Not traditionally a month in which one hopes to find a rare bird, December opened with a blast for me as I found a White-winged Dove at the feeders right outside my office window!! Though White-winged Doves have turned up as vagrants a number of times around Cape May now, this is still a star find as their normal range brings them no closer to us than Texas! Unfortunately, the bird only stayed for about four minutes, long enough for my work colleague, Gail, to see it, but not even long enough for me to finish sending out a text message about it! Luckily, it turned up again a week later, then for a few more days after that, but mostly its visits were fairly brief and a lot of people unfortunately didn't get to see it.

Year bird: White-winged Dove

My first shot at the White-winged Dove, perched a-top our feeder at work - not a bad break from wading through emails!

December 2nd is a pretty late date for this first-winter Black Skimmer to still be hanging out on a Cape May beach! These birds largely head south for warmer climes in the winter.

A lunchtime check of the beach for gulls turned up surprisingly few birds, but these Turkey Vultures out on the sands made me think just how different birding can be in the USA compared with the UK!

December 8th
A real cold turn to the weather and many of the lakes froze over locally, causing a shift around in the ducks and bringing good numbers of them to Lake Lily, in front of our information centre. Gadwall, American Wigeon, Hooded Mergansers and Ring-necked Ducks were all out on the lake this morning, keeping on the areas kept ice-free by the aerator bubble systems. Richard Crossley texted to say that four Sandhill Cranes had just flown south over his house, so it was just a matter of time before, wait for it, any minute now, yep, there they go, heading back north right over my office window! Winter birds were present at the feeders at work in good numbers today, with Fox Sparrows peaking at 14, at least five Purple Finches and a nice Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

A lunchtime walk at the state park turned up some busy feeding parties of American Robins and Hermit Thrushes, single Grey Catbird and Brown Thrasher and a couple of Cedar Waxwings. A very late Pine Warbler was a pleasant surprise, but, conversely, the single Yellow-rumped Warbler present only served to highlight that species almost complete absence of late, when it would be usual for them to be wintering around here. My lunchtime highlight, though, came in the discovery of a roosting Long-eared Owl not far away, which kept its cool and remained on its perch for me to get some nice photos.

Fox Sparrows are plentiful around Cape May in the winter and remain one of my favourite birds here. They're bigger and chunkier than the other sparrow species and are fun to watch as they employ their two-footed scratching technique.

Finding an owl at a daytime roost is always a highlight and this Long-eared Owl brightened up my lunchtime walk no end. These North American birds are much greyer above than UK birds and have heavier blotching underneath.

December 9
One bird certainly notable by its absence this winter is American Tree Sparrow. Though they are generally scarce in southern New Jersey these days (though once they were far more common), one usually expects to see a few, but one under the feeder at work today was my first this winter at Cape May - and it was gone the next day.

December 12
It's perhaps ironic that, on the very morning that I was staring at our feeder at home, wondering why we spent so much money feeding little but a mass of introduced House Sparrows, a Dickcissel goes and turns up! Generally a scarce but regular migrant through Cape May, winter records are rare, so we were pleased to have a special visitor. It remained with us into the New Year and delighted a good number of people that stopped by to see it.

A brief glance could easily pass this bird off as a female House Sparrow, but the pointed tail, narrow flank streaks and suggestion of streaking in the crown are all suspicious....

....and it turns out to be a Dickcissel at our feeder - albeit a very unimpressive one!

During December, it wasn't just us Humans who were keeping an eye on the local feeders; this smart adult male Sharp-shinned Hawk was particularly attracted to some tasty-looking birds at our work feeders....

....while this young Red-tailed Hawk spent many an hour right outside my office window, keeping a very close eye on the local Grey Squirrels (and me at times!).

The return of the White-winged Dove allowed me to get slightly better shots of it, though the weather had been dreary and overcast throughout most of its stay, making photography tricky.

December 16
Christmas Count Week started today, and saw three inches of snow falling. The White-winged Dove had become a little more predictable over the last few days, then promptly disappeared and didn't make it onto the count list, despite much searching! Our Dickcissel was more obliging though and even got onto the actual count day list.

Just for the record, the Christmas Bird Count at Cape May this year totalled 153 species of birds - not bad for the middle of winter at this latitude. In addition, Cape May County finished the year with a grand total of 330 species recorded within the boundaries of the county and the all-time number of species stands at 422.

We rounded off the year with a visit to the UK and a week spent with my relatives. The snowy weather in the UK was just like Cape May so there was no reprive for us, but at least it meant we didn't miss out on a few snowball fights! Daily Red Kites over the house and a flock of 54 Bohemian Waxwings in the local supermarket car park were nice highlights, as well as all that cosy Christmas stuff with the family!!

As for my own lists for the year; well, my Cape May County list finished on 291 species. As always, I missed a few due to other commitments (like work!) but I was pretty pleased with that total. I had quietly wondered whether it would be possible to see 300 species in the county during the course of a year and I think that it wouldn't be too difficult. There was a number of species that I could have made more of an effort to see without too much trouble and which would have taken me to the magic number. This coming year, I'll maybe give it a rest and have another go at it another time - or maybe I'll just enjoy finding my own birds!!

And the yard list? Well that stands at 145 species since we moved in last January - not a bad start!