Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Anniversary trip to the coast

This past weekend was a memorable one in many ways. First, Kat and I celebrated our fifth anniversary on February 1, so we took a trip to Rehoboth Beach to stay at a B&B to celebrate. I knew it would be cold, but we still had a great time. It’s colder here in State College than it was out there (today in State College, it was 7 degrees, with a below-zero wind chill), and we both love the beach so much that we enjoyed it regardless of the weather.

It’s hard to believe we’ve been together for five years--that’s the longest relationship I’ve ever had. In fact, it’s almost as long as my longest job stint, six years, teaching composition and literature to college freshmen and sophomores. That’s the longest I’ve ever done one thing, at least voluntarily. So Kat and I are still going strong and looking forward to the next five years.

At Rehoboth, I took some photos of ring-billed gulls, my first lifer of the trip! To the best of my rather novice shorebird identification skills, that was the only type of gull we saw. I forgot my field guides, dangit, so I was at a disadvantage until I took the opportunity to pick up a copy of Bill Thompson III’s Identify Yourself, which is a great read and a very helpful book. He noted that most of the gulls you’ll see on the beach are ring-bills, which was definitely the case for us.

Note the difference in the coloring on their heads--judging from the info on aging ring-bills in Bill of the Birds’ book, I’m guessing the one in the foreground is a third- or fourth-year, and the one in the back--well, I’m not sure. He’s completely white. Perhaps a female adult?

A fine specimen, in mid-strut. A fourth-year/adult?

The second memorable thing was that we took the Cape May-Lewes Ferry and went to Cape May--my first official birding trip! The temperature was probably in the teens out there, with a stiff breeze blowing the whole time. It was also my first time on a ferry, and it was fun. It was a very cold one-hour ride.

The ferry’s wake, looking back at Lewes, Delaware:

A little lighthouse near Lewes:

I was so tempted to pick this little phone up and yell, “Iceberg, right ahead!” like the guy in Titanic. It’s such an antique-looking device that I had to take a photo of it.

Humor in the loo.

Kat said her stall was similarly “edited.”

A bufflehead--my second lifer of the trip! These guys were all around the ferry.

Here, I think I’m seeing a red-breasted merganser. This was the best photo I got, taken while the ferry was still docked at Lewes, a protected little cove. Help?

We got to Cape May, had a rather lackluster lunch at a local eatery, then stopped at a little shop called The Bird House of Cape May. They had all kinds of birding supplies and gifts, and Kat surprised me with a Pajaro birding bag! It has seven pockets for binocs, camera, field guides, water bottle, etc.--it attaches around my waist like a big fanny-pack. I really feel like a birding bad-ass now, and I know I’ll never forget my guides again. It’s awesome.

We then went to the lighthouse and walked the nature trail at the birding center. They even had a bird blind set up at one of the ponds.

Here I am with my bad-ass bird bag; you can see the blind in the background. No comments on the chubby cheeks, please.

Did I mention it was cold?

“There are dead things--dead faces--in the water!”
"Don't follow the lights!"

I was really expecting to see some yellow-rumped warblers, especially since I know they’re very common at Cape May, but I imagine they were hunkered down out of the weather. Still, I did see a few birds on the many ponds they had out there; I’ll start with the birds I am certain of, thanks to Kat’s great note-taking; Identify Yourself; my photos; and my Stokes and Peterson’s field guides, consulted once I got home:
belted kingfisher (just as noisy out there as the one on our marsh!)
great egret (lifer)
mute swan (lifer)
American coot (lifer)
Canada goose

One of the shallower ponds was iced over, and these two mute swans were making their way through the ice, with one (the male, maybe?) clearing a path and the other (a female?) following along, impressed with her friend’s icebreaking capabilities.
You wouldn’t believe the effort this swan had to put into breaking through the ice, yet he must’ve enjoyed it or felt the need to do it or something, because they had already hewed a path through the neighboring pond before moving on to this one. Look at this crazy scene:

To the shore, finally. I wouldn’t doubt if they went on to the next pond after this. Crazy swans.

There were A LOT of ducks and other birds out there--it was hard to see them all in the darkening afternoon:

Now to the birds I’m not sure of. Admittedly, there could’ve been every single kind of duck and goose out there, but there were so many, and it was so cold and the light so poor that I was only able to isolate and note (and sometimes photograph) only a few. I’ll start with the ones I got photos of, (and apologize for the poor quality); then I’ll move on to the ones I just took notes about.

There is some kind of heron back there, right in the center of the grass line, all brown, camouflaged among the reeds. Perhaps a female great blue?

What the heck is this? There are slanted vertical stripes on his back, a white patch on his face, and a red breast. He’s not a red-breasted merganser; they look different. What is this?

As for the ones I didn’t get photos of, there were the following:
1. some sort of scaup--no idea whether it was lesser or greater, as I had no size comparison. Either way, a lifer, but not really--my ID is not complete, and I didn’t get a photo to refer back to.

2. some sort of mallard-sized and -shaped duck with white and rufous feathering. I thought it might be a female mallard because she was following a male, but I’ve never seen a wild duck that color.

3. a duck? with a black/dark back, reddish breast/underside, and a black rump. Again, no photo, but I can’t find anything that looks like him in any of my field guides.

We finally got through the salt marsh and onto the shore, and what a desolate shore it was! I'll leave you with these photos and post the rest tomorrow.


LauraHinNJ said...

Happy Anniversary to you and Kat! I couldn't think of a nicer place to celebrate it than with a visit to Cape May.

Not the greatest time of year for birds, but it sounds like a nice time. I love the Bird House of Cape May store - did you happen to get by the bird observatory on Lily Lake?

I wonder if that brownish blob is a bittern? They like to hang there in the meadows.

dguzman said...

Well, I thought "bittern" at first, but this guy was awfully big, and he (she?) wasn't doing that beak-pointing-into-the-air thing that they do. ??

LauraHinNJ said...

Forgot to say that the duck in your last pic is a Hooded Merganser.

Susan Gets Native said...

Happy anniversary! Ahh...birding on your anniversary. That sounds perfect.

I wondered about the bittern, too. Go back and get a better picture, huh?
And I think that other one is a common merganser. Was his head turned a weird way when you took that picture? It's almost like his markings are backwards, unless I am looking at it wrong.
I am planning a trip to Cape May this year, to meet the lovely Laura and see all this great birding that I keep hearing about. At least we are going in the fall, so we won't freeze our buns off.

Susan Gets Native said...

Whoops..I meant a hooded merganser.

dguzman said...

Hooded merganser--cool! I'll add that one to my life list! Thanks, ladies! I don't know if his head was turned funny or what; I got that photo through my binocs, and it was way too dark to get anything good that way.

I wish I could go back and get a better picture of that bitterny-herony blob! Maybe in the spring.