Monday, May 04, 2009

The BFF birding trip 2009

Last Thursday, Gretchen and I left for Cape May about 7 p.m. Spirits were high, despite the fact that I’d just phoned the campground and found out that we would have to sleep in the car (“car-camp,” as Gretchen called it) that night because check-in ended at 7 p.m., and we didn't want to lose out on Friday morning birding.

I didn’t think it would be soooo terrible.

I was wrong.

We got there about 1:30 a.m., thanks to a too-long dinner stop in Harrisburg (oh well!). That wasn’t the terrible part. The terrible part was that I discovered it’s impossible for me to sleep in the driver’s seat. Call it conditioning, call it too excited to sleep, call it steering wheel in the thighs, but I got about 2 hours of sleep that night. Gretchen, however, slept like a corpse. In fact, she may or may not have slept through:
--my 3 a.m. bathroom run to find an open convenience store
--my second bathroom run a couple hours later
--my moving of the car a couple of times to minimize light
--the rave party with live band and circus acts
--the rare but severe earthquake that struck the Jersey shore that night
In short, she was OUT while I was wide awake until about 4 a.m.

We awoke at 6 a.m. the next day, across the street from Uncle Bill’s Pancake House. After a little early-morning bathroom break, during which I found out that there was a public restroom not 50 yards from where we were parked (rage!), we had a great breakfast. We then headed to the Second Ave jetty to look around. I’d seen Black Skimmers and several kinds of gulls there the last couple of times I was in Cape May, but this time there wasn’t much: a few Forster’s Terns flying around, some Laughing Gulls, and a lot of first-year Herring Gulls. That pretty much was the tally for the whole weekend, which looked a lot like this--cloudy and cold:
What a start to a very long weekend of endless walking, warbler neck, and rain. We cooked over the campfire all weekend, with the exception of some burgers I grilled. I had pre-cut all the veggies, so food prep was easy and our meals were delicious. So at least we ate well!

Birding was pretty rough the whole weekend; a lot of rain, the cold temps, and perhaps the early date conspired to make birds scarce. No Sanderlings chasing the surf, no flocks of Black Skimmers on the beach, few birds at all on the marshes, and hardly any warblers or songbirds to be found. I hope this weekend is better, for the World Series of Birding. On a good note, Gretchen got to see first-hand how nice other birders are when you meet them in the field; we shared observations and tips with several people along the way, and everyone was very nice.

In all, we birded at CM Point (beach, pond, nature trail); Higbee Beach (where we were almost eaten alive by mosquitoes); Sunset Beach; the Meadows/Nature Conservancy; Second Avenue jetty area; the CM-Lewes Ferry area (on the CM side); and even our campgrounds in Rio Grande, a place which proved to have a few surprises in store for us.

Here’s my list of 48 species:
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Carolina Wren
Northern Cardinal
American Robin
Mute Swan
Canada Goose
Common Grackle
Boat-tailed Grackle (LIFER!)
Great Egret
Red-winged Blackbird
Fish Crow (LIFER!)
Tree Swallow
Purple Martin (LIFER!)
House Sparrow
American Goldfinch
European Starling
Forster’s Tern
Little Blue Heron (LIFER!)
American Oystercatcher (LIFER!)
Swamp Sparrow
Yellow Warbler
Mourning Dove
Laughing Gull
Herring Gull
Double-crested Cormorant
Northern Mockingbird
White-throated Sparrow
Bald Eagle
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Blue-headed Vireo
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Gray Catbird
Piping Plover (LIFER!)
Northern Parula (heard)
Glossy Ibis (LIFER!)
Great Black-backed Gull
Chimney Swift
Worm-eating Warbler
Great Crested Flycatcher
Yellow-crowned Night Heron (LIFER!)
Tufted Titmouse
Blue Jay
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Common Tern (LIFER!)

Only nine lifers—far short of the forty I’d hoped for. But considering the conditions, I think we did all right. The dumb thing is that I realized that I’ve not counted several lifebirds on my giant list (like the Least Flycatcher I saw with Zick at Oil Creek), and so my tally of 186 is WRONG! I just went back this morning and corrected my errors, adding several species I’d apparently lost along the way by moving my big list from one spreadsheet to another (usually by memory—I know—feel free to laugh yourself silly; this time, I went back and checked my posts).

So once I added these eight lifers to the big list, my real and certified! count is 199. 199??!! One away from 200? Sheesh. So the next lifer I see will be the one. If only we’d seen the Black-necked Stilt that was supposed to be wandering around the Meadows, or the Say’s Phoebe that was seen at a couple of spots on Cape May!

This is my first time at the spring migration in Cape May, and I can tell you that it's VERY different from the fall. In the fall, there were just so many birds everywhere, even in the rain and cold. The ponds at the Meadows and at the lighthouse were always full of all kinds of ducks and shorebirds; this past weekend, however, the ponds were relatively bare. I don't know if we were just there too early or what, but we didn't see much in the way of migration.

Baby G in full rain gear.
My big disappointment of the weekend (besides not getting 40 lifers) was not getting to bird at the Beanery. It would’ve cost us $39 each to do so, as they require a CMBO membership and didn’t offer any kind of day pass. I think we might’ve seen more boreal birds there, but who knows? It might’ve been relatively empty, like a lot of the other places around the island. So we didn’t go there, and I’m bummed. I really like that place—so many good birds! We also didn’t drive the hour to Belleplain, preferring to stay in Cape May and enjoy our weekend there.

Now for some highlights:
1. You wouldn’t believe how we saw the Yellow-crowned Night Heron: a pair of them flew into the trees over our campsite! One of them stayed and watched us all weekend, hanging out in a big pine near us. I did get some decent photos of him, along with some other birds.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron in breeding plumage:

He was so beautiful.

A TV, hangin' at Cape May Point (photo for Lynne):

Young Herring or Great Black-backed(?) Gull and a lifer, an American Oystercatcher, showing us his badonkadonk from the concrete ship at Sunset Beach:
An Osprey--we saw a few of these:
Another lifer, a Piping Plover, photographed from waaaaay outside his protective roped-off area:
More lifers! Purple Martins (and a dumb HOSP) on their front porches near the Education Center at CM Point:
Yet another lifer, a Fish Crow--one of the million who "car"-ed their way through the entire weekend above our campsite:
A Laughing Gull photographed on the CM side of the CM-Lewes Ferry:

A Ruby-crowned Kinglet refused to be photographed:
A Carolina Wren singing his heart out--these were plentiful all weekend:

A Great Black-backed Gull at the Meadows, with some Forster's Terns in the background:

2. Gretchen and I said some crazy things that will stick in our memories for the rest of our lives. Here are a few examples of the birding-related comments, because even out of context, they made us laugh all weekend long:
“Oh holy crap… oh holy crap… oh holy crap!… oh wait. It’s a leaf. I thought it was a molting Summer Tanager. Crap.” (DG)
“If I see one more grackle, I’m going to gouge my eyes out.” (Gretchen)
“Can you please stop yelling ‘bird sex’ so loudly? You’re scaring the birds.” (DG)
On our way back, Gretchen made the same mistake I made last year when I drove back from CM through Philly/Harrisburg: she missed the exit for Harrisburg. (This time, I was sleeping!) We ended up on the turnpike for an extra hour or two, but it all worked out in the end.

3. It seemed like death was all around us all weekend. We found this tiny turtle near the hawkwatch platform at CM Point:
Dead-—we were too late to save him. Springtime can be so hard on the little ones. Any idea what kind of turtle this is? He was mostly black with red little speckles in a pattern on his underside and around the edge of his tiny though perfectly formed shell.

Another day as we walked on the Second Avenue jetty, looking between the huge blocks of rock to see what shells and stones had washed into the crevices, I encountered this:Having watched the waves crashing rather violently on the jetty, I figured it must’ve been easy for this little shark (maybe a nurse shark?) to be swept right onto the jetty and into this crevice by a big wave. He wasn’t alive, but that didn’t make it any easier. I got Gretchen to pull him out:I touched his skin a little bit—because how many people can say they've touched a shark? His body was very rubbery by this point (he was a little ripe), but the skin itself was tough and abrasive. Gretchen threw him back into the water so he could at least rest back in his home.

4. We stopped by this alpaca farm, hoping to be able to love up the cute little guys, but we didn't get any closer than this:
Probably for the best--we might've been tempted to snag one and put him in the car!

All in all, an exciting if soggy weekend. We got back last night about 8 p.m., exhausted, sandy, and happy to be home.

UPDATE--Checking out the Cape May sightings blog, I'm wondering if that was a Lesser Black-backed Gull (he was kinda small, but I had no other black-backs to compare him to). And I'm wondering if among those Laughing Gulls were some Bonaparte's. Only the Lesser BBG would be a lifer, but ???. Pete Dunne led the Meadows walk this morning, and I wanted to go soooo badly--but I had to come back to work!


Dr. Monkey said...

Great shots of that herron. I actually like the beach when it's cool and rainy. I know, I know, I'm weird.

Lynne said...

Great pictures Delia- especially the GORGEOUS TUVU!!! (thanks)
The lifers you got are terrific ones even if not as many as you expected. I don't think I'd have done well sleeping sitting up in a car either. Glad you had fun.
(missed you though...)

NCmountainwoman said...

I love the way you just make the best of every situation! Glad you got several lifers and had some fun besides.

John said...

That's a pretty good list considering the miserable conditions this weekend. Congratulations on all the lifers (including the recovered ones)! Because of Cape May's geography a lot depends on weather conditions; some days are extraordinary and others really slow. I'm not really sure how spring overall compares to fall migration, but I know that a lot fewer raptors pass through.

I don't see a LBB Gull in any of your pictures. Nice photos of the YC Night Heron.

FranIAm said...

Oh - how I wondered about your journey, glad to read of it here, despite your travails!

Rabbits' Guy said...

Car sleeping .. ugh ...

I liked the piping plover ...

and enjoyed the report. It's nice to know others have to deal with lemons now and then too!

dguzman said...

Monkey--I like it too, but not for birding!

Lynne--Knew you'd like it. Missed you guys too!


John--Well, I figure that Pete Dunne's presence might've had something to do with their better list too.... Thanks for checking on the LBB Gull.


Rabbits' Guy--thanks!

Patrick Belardo said...

Looks like you made the best of it. I think your shark might be a Spiny Dogfish.

dguzman said...

Patrick--good eye! I think you're right. I checked out a photo of the spiny dogfish and I think that's what it was. Thanks!

Beth said...

OMG, Delia! The comments about the molting tanager had me giggling out loud. You are too funny. Sorry about the crappy weather, but glad you are close to 200 birds! You go, girl!


Earl Cootie said...

Hey, over twenty-five on your list would be lifers for me! Maybe we could trade lists? (Is that legal?)

Great Night-heron, btw.