Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Few Cape May Birds

This morning my mother and sister and I visited several locations around Cape May to see the lingering winter residents and the first of the spring birds. The state park held a rather diminished set of waterfowl compared to the last time I was there in November. A few small flocks of American Wigeon and handfuls of Green-winged Teal, Gadwall, Ring-necked Ducks, and American Black Ducks were present. Carolina Wrens were singing everywhere in the park. As we reached the far end of Lighthouse Pond, a Merlin zipped past us and landed in a tree. The sight gave me a flashback to the last Merlin I saw in Cape May – a bird that was biting me as I attempted to remove it from a mist net.

The tree nursery portion of the state park had an interesting mix of songbirds. A Pine Warbler landed in the pines from time to time, but mostly it foraged on the ground. A few Eastern Phoebes were around baby trees, as well as a pair of Eastern Bluebirds. On the path through the marshes at the far end of the park, we flushed up a Wilson's Snipe.

Since we were in Cape May Point, we checked out St. Mary's Jetty and St. Peter's Jetty. Beach access in this section is currently closed due to the annual beach replenishment, without which Cape May Point would probably go the way of South Cape May. While the beach is closed, we could still watch birds from the platforms at the dune crossovers. Both jetties had a large number of loafing gulls and a smattering of Purple Sandpipers and Ruddy Turnstones. A large flock of Black Scoters is spread out along beach. I only saw one definite Surf Scoter in the mix. A few Red-throated Loons were close to shore, and a couple dozen Northern Gannets were flying back and forth farther out. A handful of Bonaparte's Gulls flew past; I checked but did not see any definite Black-headed Gulls. At one point a Bald Eagle flew overhead and sent the gulls scurrying.

Our last stop in the early afternoon was at the Beanery. The fields had a surprising numnber of Eastern Phoebes – at least eight by my count. There were also a few dozen Yellow-rumped Warblers and a few flocks of Eastern Bluebirds, whose blue looks especially gorgeous in contrast to the grayish browns of late winter vegetation. Some raptors moving about overhead included two Red-tailed Hawks, a Sharp-shinned Hawk, and a Northern Harrier. I am not sure whether they were locals or spring migrants. The pond had a pair of Blue-winged Teal, a species I always enjoy.

In the evening, having been joined by one of my mother's (non-birding) cousins, we visited Jakes Landing to see the Short-eared Owl show. Sure enough, at least the owls are still present there. Yesterday there were at least two, a male and a female, coursing over the meadows beyond the creek. For the most part they hunted separately, but occasionally they would converge and circle each other. Several harriers were also hunting, including an adult male and an adult female. As the light is fading, male harriers really do look ghostly at a distance. Now and then one of the harriers would get too close to one of the owls, and there would be a short confrontation. A returning Osprey was checking out the nesting platforms, and a Red-tailed Hawk was also present. Non-raptors included two Wilson's Snipes.