Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Butterflies in Cape May

Not only were birds plentiful this weekend in Cape May, but the butterflies were out in force too. One of the specialties at Belleplain State Forest and parts of Cape May are the Elfins: Brown Elfin, Pine Elfin, and Henry's Elfin. This Henry's Elfin below was photographed at Higbee Beach. Sorry for the poor quality. This thing is the size of a nickel! We did not see any of the other elfins unfortunately.

Belleplain was overloaded with Juvenal's Duskywings. The Duskywings, like the Skippers, are akin to the gulls and shorebirds of the butterfly world. They are all, more or less, some shade of gray with a miscellaneous pattern of some other shade of gray. They're made a bit easier if you know which ones are flying at what times of the year. This time of year, Juvenal's are the only ones with a small vertical line of white spots at the leading edge of the forewing. Note that this species is named for the Roman poet, Juvenal. The name is no indication of the age of the butterfly, although several people asked this understandable question!

We had several other species of butterfly including American Lady (below), Orange and Clouded Sulphur, and Mourning Cloak. While eating lunch at the Forsythe Refuge, I found a Falcate Orangetip doing its best Cabbage White impression. It was too quick to photograph, but it was a first for NJ for me.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Belleplain State Forest Birding

August-like temperatures made for an interesting late-April weekend birding around Cape May county. On Saturday, we primarily birded Belleplain State Forest about 40 minutes northwest of Cape May. This time of year is fantastic for breeding and migrant warblers and their “friends” at Belleplain. It’s also a nice spot for butterflies (more on that in a future post). The day started out with cool temperatures but peaked in the low 80s by mid-afternoon.

Our group met up at the Headquarters and birded along the roads all morning. Our first spot yielded the song of a Yellow-throated Warbler. The song was likened to water cascading down steps by our trip leader and I think that’s a terrific mnemonic. My promise of even a bad shot of the Yellow-throated Warbler did not work out as this bird was pretty well hidden in the treetops. I got some brief views of that glowing throat though!

We were greeted by other terrific birds. Ovenbirds called “TEACHER-TEACHER” from the woods, but never showed themselves. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers bounced around with several building nests of lichen, moss, and leaves. A blotchy Indigo Bunting perched near an empty feeder. Black-and-White Warblers sang “weeza-weeza” in the treetops and a White-eyed Vireo sang “Pick-up-the-beer-check” as my friend likes to say.

We visited a new spot to me that consisted of farm fields and “scrub-shrub” habitat. Here we found some species that love this habitat – lots of singing Prairie Warblers and a few Orchard Orioles. For some reason, I find it hard to pick up the song of the Orchard Oriole. I hear it fine. It just doesn't stick in my brain like other birds.

A final stop before lunch was a sandy road leading to a swamp. Our target here was the “Golden Swamp Warbler” – AKA the Prothonotary Warbler. We met some other birders there who had a brief glimpse of the Prothonotary. So we waited… and waited… and finally a distant “SWEET-SWEET-SWEET” call rang out. It stayed ever so out of reach until the bird flew literally at our group and then did a fast u-turn and landed on a tree only 10 feet away. Stunning! I rattled off a few bad pics. See below.

We finished the day at Jake’s Landing, a favorite writing topic for Pete Dunne. On the marshes there, we saw a young Bald Eagle, tons of Willets, and had a brief glimpse of a Clapper Rail. The sun was beating down hard and I wasunfortunately sunburned. A nice late afternoon nap was in store!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I'm still alive!

Hey readers... I'm still alive. We're FINALLY checking out of the hotel today or tomorrow - over one month after checking in! The work on our house took WAY longer than expected due to some poor painting and re-work. Now, it's a battle with the insurance company and our condo association which is worse than staying in a hotel. In other news, Beth and I will be relaxing and birding in Cape May this weekend! Yeah! I hope to get a horrible photo of a Yellow-throated Warbler to share with everyone.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Cornell's New "All About Birds" Site

Cornell launched their fantastically redesigned All About Birds site today. Learn about all the new features through Cornell's Round Robin Blog.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Western Tanager in NJ

I guess this NJ Birds editor job is paying off! I got a note today from someone at NJ Audubon asking me to check out a report of a Western Tanager at a feeder in nearby Plainfield. I gave the homeowner a call and found out that it was someone I actually knew. I had birded her yard during the Raritan Estuary Xmas Count twice. Her yard was a hotspot for a wintering Brown Thrasher for several years.

So anyway, I went to check out the bird and was very confident that the owner was correct in her ID. I arrived at the house and within minutes a gorgeous male Western Tanager landed on the feeder. Huzzah! I got some crappy pictures through the window of her kitchen. The pic above was the best of them. This represents one of only a handful of spring records for Western Tanager in NJ.

Awesome Kea Pics (not mine)

I love the pics and this story about a Kea from Peregrine's Bird Blog. I wish our pet parakeets had this much personality! Keas are notoriously curious of people (probably not a good thing), and I've heard stories of them doing damage to equipment and rental cars with those huge bills.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Scotts Bird Seed Commercial

Wow, I never thought I'd see a commercial for bird seed on TV, but I just did! Scotts' new commercial claims you'll get twice as many Indigo Buntings!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

A chick! - Duke Farms Eagle Cam Update

A chick was seen in the nest on Monday morning and has been seen on and off since then. I only caught it briefly twice, but it was super cute. The adult was feeding it and it was extremely cool. The rest of time, the adult sits on it. I hope a second egg will hatch soon.

Beth loves the way that the adult "wiggles" when it settles into the nest. I hope you're all enjoying it. It's caused some productivity loss at my company for sure. :)

I never thought I'd be into one of these live cams...

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Ready to Hatch! Duke Farms Eagle Cam

I'm sure I'm not the first bird blogger to post this... NJ residents are excited about the Duke Farms Eagle Cam. The eggs are apparantly ready to hatch any moment. I've had the link sent to me by a few non-birders and have seen a bunch of people post about it on Facebook, so it's been great local PR for the birds. Duke Farms is Doris Duke's estate located about 12 miles from me in Hillsborough, NJ. Although the property is private, NJ Audubon runs birding and nature trips there throughout the year. In partnership with Rutgers, Duke Farms has put together a tremendous environmental stewardship program. The habitat, especially the grasslands, are phenomenal. In recent years, they have had breeding Henslow's Sparrow and Dickcissel! These are both very rare breeders in NJ.

A Mighty Wind

Holy crud was it windy yesterday! I led a "Birding for Beginners" walk at Sandy Hook that I was lucky to have 6 brave souls show up for. Now, on a regular day, Sandy Hook is more windy than most places since it's jammed between a bay and the ocean with nothing to really block the wind. But yesterday was different. It was REALLY windy on the mainland and INSANELY windy at Sandy Hook with gusts up around 60 mph by some estimates. Wind + birds + beginners does not a good day make.

Incredibly, it turned out to be not half bad. In the early morning, hundreds of birds were overhead presumably trying to make landfall after being blown to sea. Most were Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, and Brown-headed Cowbirds. Zipping by our group, aided by the wind, it was difficult to get good looks, but it was quite the spectacle. These birds were joined by the star of the day - dozens of American Kestrels were migrating through. Every time I looked up I saw one. Again, it was tough for the group to get on them, but neat to see. The group did get to enjoy several Ospreys, a "Gray Ghost" Harrier, Turkey Vultures, an American Oystercatcher, and some Great Egrets. A few groups of Northern Gannets strayed into the bay and were quite close to shore. It was worth standing with the wind in our faces for a few moments to observe them. I was hoping one would dive, but no luck! We sought some shelter in a wooded area, but the birds didn't cooperate. Only a few robins and crows were around. I did get to spend a lot of time talking about birds and conservation, so that was nice.

Our group also included two kids - 9 and 7. They were enthusiastic and asked lots of questions. They almost got blown away a few times though. All in all it turned out to be an ok day despite the uncooperative weather.

Sorry, no pics today. It was too darn exhausting in the wind to lug around my camera AND my scope.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Fun with Google Book Search

Wow, what rock have I been under? Google Book Search is too cool. The preview mode has a pretty good assortment of bird books including the Peterson Gulls of the Americas, Birder's Conservation Handbook, Birding in the America West, and many others. For many books, the previews are very detailed, but for many it is just one or two pages. Don't be fooled by the links that show a page number in the title. For many that is just the page that the preview starts on.