Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Cape May: 4th time lucky for the Goldie

My final 2 days at Cape May were quieter than the stunning movement on the Thursday, perhaps I was spoilt. Higbees held a smaller variety of reverse migrants, the Dickcissel continued at the Hawkwatch platform where the drake Eurasian Wigeon lingered on Bunker Pond, where a noticeable build up of dabbling ducks was occurring. American Bitterns migrated over the Point at dusk and the local Great Horned Owls became vocal. Additions to the trip list included a juv. White-crowned Sparrow with the Hawkwatch Spuggy flock on the final day and the best to last, just 15 minutes before I left on that day (Saturday 17 October 2015). It was a graceful immature Golden Eagle flying over Bunker Pond having been seen a few moments earlier by a local birder over Cape May town. The 4th seen migrating at Cape May during my trip, but proved to be 4th time lucky for me for this breathtaking species.

Trip report to come in the following weeks - nearly 150 species (not chasing after everything) but connected with 3 lifers (Bell'sVireo, Western Kingbird and Rusty Blackbird) and a 2nd (Swainson's Hawk). This birding magnet offers one of the best birding experiences in the world. It's not just due to the birds, but to the cracking birding community it holds.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Cape May: Getting better and better

Wed 14 Oct 2015.

Started by twitching the Western Kingbird at Cox Hall Creek WMA, the former Ponderlodge Golf Course near Villas a few miles north of Cape May on the Delaware Bayshore. The visitor from out west had been seen late the previous afternoon and had roosted overnight. It showed well by the car park overlooking the lake. (BOC photo below) A lifer and much hoped for bird for this trip. Spent the rest of the day on Cape Island connecting again with the Bell's Vireo at Higbees, the to be expected Yellow-rumped Warblers pluse the briefest of views of a Tennessee Warbler. Chilled out at the Hawkwatch and took in the Point gardens where a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was glued to a Siberian Elm on the Point which held a Pine Warbler amongst the busy 'Butter-butts'. Eastern Phoebes patrolled a nearby fence line. During the day took time out to look for butterflies in the vicinity of the Triangle Park on Lighthouse Avenue, connecting with a scarcity in the form of a Sleepy Orange plus Variegated Fritillary and the irruptive Ocola Skippers amongst the commoner species. Back to birding and a visit to the Meadows at dusk yielded a variety of ducks- American Wigeon  flock (10) with its lone drake Eurasian Wigeon friend, both the east coast Teal, Pintail, Shoveler, Mallard, Gadwall and American Black Duck. A Common Nighthawk flew over as the light fell.

Thu 15 Oct 2015.

Wow, where do I begin? The start is normally best... Left the motel shortly before 07:00 and on driving to a coffee stop birds were on the move flying in front of the car and hopping from tree to tree. The overnight and continuing NW winds sparked a movement. Only on arriving at Higbees could I begin to take it in. Birds were everywhere and birders were congregating by the platform on the edge of the first field, where the Bell's Vireo favoured. It duly showed well but briefly during the couple of hours I was glued to this spot but it was overshadowed by the reverse migration that was taking place. Wave upon wave of Yellow-rumped Warblers filtered northwards through the trees and bushes along the field edge. Lots of Ruby-crowned Kinglets on the move as well as Palm Warblers. Only saw a single Golden-crowned Kinglet. Sparrows were in, dominated by Swamp but Song and White-throated Sparrows were noticeable and connected with several Dark-eyed Juncos in the mêlée. A variety of other Warblers including Tennessee, Nashville, Black-throated Green, Blackpoll, a late Black-and-white, and Common Yellowthroats were at ground level. Up above Eastern Phoebes were regular in the tree tops. Cedar Waxwings and Red-winged Blackbirds flew by and squadrons of Northern Flickers were joined by a lone immature Red-headed Woodpecker. American Robins noted migrating and pair of Rusty Blackbirds alighted in the tree tops before being spooked by one of the many Sharp-shinned Hawks looking for breakfast. The Rusty Blackbirds- a lifer! Singles of both Blue-headed and White-eyed Vireos made it 3 Vireo species for me, but I could not get on a Red-eyed Vireo.

Loads of Yellow-rumped Warblers at Cape May Point State Park and the Cedars by the Hawkwatch platform held singles of Pine, Bay-breasted, Blackpoll and Black-throated Green. However, despite not being present for yet another Golden Eagle, the highlight of the day for me was the first of the season light morph juv. Swainson's Hawk that made 3 passes of the hawkwatchers, often joining a kettle of Turkey Vultures. The elegant wing shape of this rare wanderer from out west (grainy BOC record photo below) was evident as were the characteristic underparts/wings in the field. Of note were two adult Bald Eagles talon grappling in mid air, a spectacle drawing gasps from the onlookers. Connected with most of the other raptors on the move, but a lot were miles high in the blue sky that made locating lone birds tricky. Nearby loads of Arctic Skuas (ca. 50) were chasing Gulls/Terns in the rips off the Point late afternoon. This number being very noteworthy for Cape May.

Dusk at the Meadows saw 6 American Bitters heading west (3 groups of 2) joined by a couple of Green Herons. First time I've heard the grunting call of migrating American Bitterns.

What a day, enjoyed by many! I heard that 10,000 birds were tallied at the morning flight.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Cape May: Off the 'island' and back again (x2)

Mon 12 Oct 2015. As is standard started off at Higbees first thing. I gave it one hour and there were the ubiquitous Yellow-rumped Warblers, but several other warblers were showing, namely singles of Black-throated Green and Nashville, plus 2 or 3 Blackpolls. A pair of Eastern Bluebirds flew over giving their quiet call and several Sparrows were present, mainly around the central track - Song, White-throated, Swamp and Field varieties. Around noon and the wind switched to a southerly direction so I ventured off the 'island' taking in the Atlantic marshes up to Avalon. Firstly Nummy's Island then Scotch Bonnet followed by the Wetlands Institute all within the vicinity of the town of Stone Harbour, with a detour to the beach at the beginning of Stone Harbour Point en route. Low tide meant not seeing many waders, American Oystercatcher and Grey Plover easily seen at Nummy's and a flock of 20+ Sanderling at Stone Harbour held singles of Western Sandpiper, Dunlin and Semipalmated Plover. Little Blue Herons present throughout the back bay marshes at most stops, and the Wetlands Institute yielded 2 Tricoloured Herons and a Golden-crowned Kinglet in the car park. Approaching Avalon the Night Heron rookery held a couple of Black-crowneds. Nearby I spent about a couple of hours seawatching at the Avalon seawatch, well worth a visit when in Cape May. Saw both Surf and Black Scoters, not big numbers at this stage of the season say a dozen or so of each, but one mixed flock of about 20 birds held perhaps surprisingly a drake American Wigeon and 2 Green-winged Teal. Forster's and Royal Terns lingered offshore and American Herring Gulls gave good photo opportunities. Then off to one of my favourite places, Jake's Landing Road on the Delaware Bay marshes for the final hour of daylight. At least 6 Northern Harriers patrolled the marshes, min. 4 juvs, 1 ad female and 1 ad male 'grey ghost'. A Peregrine flew by and rested on one of the many snags as a Merlin flew inland. As dusk approached 2 or 3 imm. Bald Eagles made their way along the skyline to their respective roosts. American Black Duck noted and loads of Great White Egrets present. A flock of 100 strong Night Herons landed on the marsh across the channel. All I could make out were Black-crowneds. Hidden birds at this location were calling Clapper Rails (elusive and quieter than in Spring), Marsh Wrens and a lone distant Seaside Sparrow. A Savannah Sparrow in the car park was noted but not unusual for this locality.

Tue 13 Oct 2015. Higbees again first thing. Southerly winds and warm, migration slow but the Bell's Vireo continued for its 3rd day and showed briefly but well. A quick look at the Hawkwatch, blue skies and all quiet on the raptor front. Back to Stone Harbour for a couple of hours mid pm, and a walk along the Point. Many waders on the sideline and shallow beach pools. Sanderling dominated and were joined by half a dozen Western Sandpipers scattered across a mile or so of beach plus occasional American Oystercatchers. The stunning Piping Plover, precious to this coastline, were present (2) and several Semipalmated Plovers could be found. They were skittish at first as an Arctic Skua took a fancy to the nearby loafing gulls spooking all before heading north over the sea. On the beach pools Grey Plover, Dunlin and Knot were present and a group of a dozen Short-billed Dowitchers bathed briefly before flying to the marshy side of the Point, betraying there identity by calling in flight. Looking on the marshy side more waders shimmered in the heat haze including distant Dowitchers, Grey Plovers and American Oystercatchers. 500 Brent Geese congregated here and both Caspian and Royal Terns were seen with Forster's Terns patrolling the beach. Of the gulls there were a couple of groups of GBB Gulls (20 each) joined in decreasing numbers by comparison of American Herring and Ring-billed Gulls. A couple of adult LBB Gulls could be found as well. Back to the Hawkwatch at Cape May Point and had missed another Golden Eagle. However, it was nice to see a pair of Bald Eagles soaring over the town, plus a Dickcissel feeding with the platform's House Sparrow flock. A juv. Northern Harrier hunted over both Bunker and Lighthouse Ponds, and a Common Nighthawk was flying around well before sunset. A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker frequented a Siberian Elm at the Point which also hosted a single Pine Warbler and the obligatory Yellow-rumped Warblers. As day turned to night a front approached bringing lightning on its leading edge drifting closer and closer to the Point.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Cape May: Weekend birding - The Big Sit (many birds, you will see) and a rare Vireo

The Cape May birding Big Sit took place on Sat 10 Oct 2015 at the Hawkwatch platform of the State Park. The object was for birders to see/hear as many birds possible from a single location in 24 hours. My first Big Sit. A little lazily I arrived in the dark at 05:30, it was cold and windy, and I wasn't sure if I was in the right place. Birders were clad in duvets and blankets to keep out the chilly wind and looking more like giant Yodas. Had I arrived at a Jedi Knight convention? I'm sure one of them said "12 am have been here we have. Approx 25 species have we heard. The force is strong (i.e a favourable NW wind)".

Soon I was able to identify birders on call, and then the birds woke up around dawn. I did a stint up to 08:20 and tried to help where I could claiming Brent Goose, Arctic Skua and Gannet over the sea, but I could not help with identifying many of the flyover warblers on their reverse migration. Much respect to those who could and likewise to those souls who arrived at midnight for the start. It was nice to observe migrating Great Blue Herons and several American Bitterns in the early morning light, and connect with a variety of species as varied as Brent Geese, Eurasian and American Wigeons, Pine Siskin, Eastern Meadowlark and what seemed to be a precession of Dickcissels. Returned after a break at 09:30 continuing until 14:00. The list was building, but I regretted taking the 2nd break returning at 16:20 as a Golden Eagle was seen in that interim, more importantly it was on the list. I stayed until dusk having noted additions to my own list for the day throughout including for example in the final session, Northern Rough-winged and Barn Swallows and Lesser Black-backed Gull plus the 2 commoner Scoters. Also of note-  Yellow-breasted Chat drew attention as did both American Coot and Common Gallinule (Moorhen). As dusk fell Common Nighthawks were in the sky and several American Bitterns flew out into the bay past the lighthouse.

The wind kept with a northerly component throughout encouraging migration and the group's list totalled 149, 1 short of the record. (Presuming details to follow on local websites.). I reckon I observed about 60% of the species noted by the team. It was nice to take part. As Yoda would say, "Enjoyed the day, did I."

Sun 11 Oct 2015- Spent the morning birding with Nick K, captain of the brilliant World Series of birding team - 1000birds. We saw the Common Nighthawk perched up near the car park at Higbees and the rare visitor, Bell's Vireo, on the edge of the first field. Moving on, we didn't find many migrants in checking out the State Park and the trees at CMBO Northwood, but a few raptors were overhead back at the State Park Hawkwatch platform including a 'Grey Ghost' - adult male Northern Harrier that joined a very high kettle of Turkey Vultures. Slow birding the rest of the day, hanging out at the Hawkwatch and checking the Point gardens for warbler activity. Only Yellow-rumped Warblers on show, bucket fulls of them, but noteworthy at CMBO Northwood were a late-ish Blue-headed Vireo foraging in the same tree as a Ruby-crowned Kinglet with a White-throated Sparrow feeding in the leaf litter below.

Back of the camera photo of the Bell's Vireo.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Cape May: The first 2 and a bit days

Arrived at Cape May late afternoon on Wednesday 07 October 2015. The Point had been spared the flooding caused by a nor'easter and the weather was warm and dry. An early evening visit to CMBO  Northwood produced several Yellow-rumped Warblers, Eastern Phoebe, Red-eyed Vireo and the marshes of nearby Cape May Meadows yielded several American duck species with plenty of Swamp Sparrows and a lone Bobolink in the grassy edges.

Thursday  08 October 2015 dawned to light NW winds, the direction birders at Cape May pray for in autumn. A 2 hour stint at Higbees Dike saw a decent and varied morning flight. Whilst it was dominated by Yellow-rumped Warblers, as is typical for the time of year, I picked out Northern Parula, Blackpoll, the 2 'eastern' Black-throateds and Palm Warblers. Other Warbler species were noted by birders with much more experience. Northern Flickers were on the move as were 2 or 3 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. Small groups of Cedar Waxwings, Red-winged Blackbirds, a 'farting' Dickcissel, single Dark-eyed Junco, a Baltimore Oriole, both Kinglets and a couple of American Pipits added to the variety of the visible migration. Later at the Hawkwatch platform within Cape May Point State Park  Northern Harrier and Merlin offered close views to the masses, and the skies held many Cooper's Hawks with a few Sharp-shinned Hawks as well, all mixed in with the Turkey Vultures. An adult Bald Eagle to the north could well have been a local bird. The pond by the Hawkwatch platform, Bunker Pond, held American Wigeon,  both Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal, Mallard, Shoveler, Pintail and Gadwall. A 'twitch' on the island to the Cape May Meadows mid afternoon to take in the juv-1st w Hudsonian Godwit. It had arrived earlier in the day and then survived a Cooper's Hawk attack. At times other goodies, namely either a Wilson's Snipe, Yellow-crowned Night Heron or a visiting Eurasian Wigeon (that joined a small group of its American cousins) were in the same field of view as the Godwit. An adult Caspian Tern with a begging youngster in tow distracted the onlookers as they gave several close passes allowing for a few flight shots to be taken

Friday 09 October and 10 mph S winds, not good for visible migration. Slim pickings during the day. Higbees was quiet early morning but an excursion to the old Ponderlodge Golf Course at Villas, now known as Cox Hall Creek, produced perched up Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and White-breasted Nuthatch. Back on Cape Island and the Hawkwatch was slow during the hour or so I was there mid pm, but 3 passage Peregrines were nevertheless nice to see. A Ruddy Duck on Bunker Pond added to the trip list. Nearby a Brown Creeper was on show and I managed to pick up single Blackpoll and Pine Warblers amongst the marauding Yellow-rumped Warblers hanging around Cape May Point. The trio of 'Hudwit', YC  N Heron and Eurasian Wigeon continued at the Meadows which also sported an imm. Little Blue Heron trying to pass itself off as a Snowy Egret. A Common Nighthawk was in the air just before dusk here. Lightning to the south west as dusk fell heralded a cold front on its way, which soon encroached and knocked out power on some/all? of Cape Island at around 8.30pm during an electrical storm. Thankfull, power now restored.

It was also nice to catch up with the Cape May birding scene, good to be back. Saturday is the big sit, hope I can help.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Yorkshire Birding mid September

A week back home mid September and the birding was varied and all right. Despite favourable winds the east coast wasn't on fire with rarities and scarcities given the time of year.

Caught up with the Black Stork in East Yorkshire (Yorkshire tick) as it flew into roost on the eve of Sat 12th after drawing a blank for several hours in the afternoon. Whilst waiting for the Stork a Marsh Harrier hunted Sunk Island and the crazy movement of Siskin into Great Britain included 2 flocks over, with 2 or 3 (ad/2nd w) Mediterranean Gulls following the plough amongst several hundred Black-headed Gulls. A trip to Spurn (Kilnsea) the day after produced flight views of the Black Stork en route mid morning and Kilnsea yielded Red-backed Shrike and at least 2 hunting Short-eared Owls in the evening.

The moorlands near Barnsley held Buzzards and Kestrels aplenty. An imm/fem Merlin zoomed by at Midhope late afternoon on Sat 19th and a male Peregrine drifting east from the same area on a cold Sun 20th, when 2 or 3 Ravens graced Pike Lowe. On the 'lower' uplands 2 Hobbies hawked Swallows in tandem at Ingbirchworth Reservoir just before lunch on Tue 15th. Lots of hirundines over the Res. on a couple of visits with Sand Martins still being seen. Loafing Lesser Black-backed Gulls moving between the res and nearby fields numbered 265 on Tue 15th and a moulting adult Yellow-legged Gull also present was nice. At least 750 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, along with similar numbers of Black-headed Gulls, roosted with 2 Yellow-legged Gulls at nearby Langsett Reservoir that evening. One of the 'Yellow-legs' looked like the Ingbirchworth bird of earlier in the day.

During the period Old Moor RSPB held the long staying Great White Egret with several Little Egrets, Black-tailed Godwits, Dunlin, Ruff and the seemingly ever present Green Sandpipers also in attendance. Barn Owl hunted one evening with a male Sparrowhawk sneaking by. The returning Lapwings and handful of Golden Plover roosted on Wath Ings and a juv. Garganey flew in from Bolton Ings onto the Willow Pool.

Twitched the juv. Woodchat Shrike at Nosterfield, North Yorkshire on Fri 18th and drove east to Flamborough Head for an afternoon/eve seawatch. The 'northerly' winds produced 3 or 4 Sooty Shearwaters north plus a single Manx Shearwater, a few Arctic Skuas and a noticeable movement of Red-throated Divers south (30 south 15:30 - 18:10). The seawatch was cut short to take in the male Subalpine Warbler (eastern type) viewable from Old Fall. Nice to jam in on this Yorkshire tick.

More photos at 'Latest UK Bird Photos'. Please enjoy.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Rainham 'colour-ringed' Black-tailed Godwits

The sign that autumn birding was on its way came in the form of the passage of waders through the UK over recent weeks. Rainham Marshes RSPB, London held a variety including a long staying Wood Sandpiper during August 2015 with Common and Green Sandpipers sharing Aveley Pools. Dunlin and LR Plover completed the small ones here and Greenshank, Ruff, Redshank and Black-tailed Godwits were bigger ones present. Not forgetting a handful each of Whimbrel and Curlew favouring the Thames shore or Purfleet Scrape.

Main focus on the 50 or so strong flock of Black-tailed Godwits roosting and feeding in the shallow water of Aveley Pools sporting a variety of plumages. A turn over of birds during August with at least 4 colour ringed individuals. It's been fun and a challenge at times to identify their combinations as the strong light, heat haze and distance to the flock proved problematic.

With thanks to the help of JG and JA - UEA, BP - Iceland, HTV and RB - Rainham Marshes RSPB, and apologies for any omissions,  here is a summary of the colour ringed birds with a couple of record shots thrown in. Check out the excellent work carried out by the ringers at https://www.uea.ac.uk/~b026515/index.html

Bird 1 (Red Lime - Green Lime)

Debate about the lower ring colour. Looks like the above combination is favourite. Female ringed in Iceland in May 2010 wintering mainly in Sussex, UK with sightings in Hampshire, Kent, The Wash and the inner and outer Thames Estuary. Seen at Rainham Marshes RSPB in August 2015.

Bird 2 (Yellow Blue - Green Green flag)

Debate on combination as well, likely to be as listed above. Male ringed in November 2012 in Portugal, wintering there in subsequent years. Observed in Dordrecht, The Netherlands in March 2015. Seen at Rainham Marshes RSPB in August 2015.

Bird 3 (Lime Green - 'Dark')

Possibilities being considered. Await further details.

Bird 4 (Red White 8 - Yellow Red)

Adult male ringed in Iceland in July 2010. Wintering on the Swale Estuary, Kent, UK since. Seen at Rainham Marshes RSPB in August 2015 (and still present on 05 September 2015).