Saturday, March 15, 2014

Villas 3/15--Willet

Duck-like Cloud
Photos: Shari Zirlin
A rather desultory day of birding still yielded some decent finds. It's always good to start with low expectations, then exceed them. We originally planned to tour the Pinelands Brewery in Tuckerton and get in some birding down there, but they apparently ran out of beer and were closed today, which left us at loose ends.

A couple of first cycle Black-headed Gulls have been reported the last few days down at Villas on the Delaware Bay shore in Cape May County, but low tide, the best time to find them, wasn't until mid-afternoon, so we decided to drive down to Cape May Point and then make our way back north. We confined our birding to the state park. There were, as expected, lots of waterfowl spread out on the ponds (though not as many species as I saw yesterday at Assunpink). Two of them were notable. On the east part of Lighthouse Pond, while scanning through the numerous wigeons, pintails, and gadwalls, I came up with a beauty of a Eurasian Wigeon. My first reaction, seeing the bright red head was, naturally, Redhead, but then I saw the gray body and white streak on its head and corrected myself. In any other part of the state, this bird is considered a rarity. In Cape May, it's just another nice bird.

We walked the trails in the park. The first of the very few passerines we saw was this Hermit Thrush. These birds will become scarce in a few weeks. They're always shy and very few spend the warm months here.

At the Plover Ponds at the end of the walk we found more ducks, geese, and swans, including a solo Tundra Swan. Shari found it. I dismissed all the big white birds as mutes. Shari was a little more careful. I thought this would be a rarity in Cape May, but again, just another good bird.

During lunch we got a text from our friend Mike that he'd seen the birds along with some Forster's Terns, so we headed 10 miles up the bay shore. When we got there the tide was going out. There were gulls around, very far away and no one there had seen the Black-headed Gulls. A couple of Bald Eagles were flying back and forth, then landing to sit on the beach and that kept the birds astir. Sometimes eagles are not welcome. While scanning the beach we found many Dunlin, a couple each of Black-bellied Plover and Sanderlings, and our first Willets of the year. Shari was hoping they were oystercatchers. I think because the winter Willets here are "western" and bigger than our summer migrants that the size fooled her.

All the gulls remained of the common variety. I really had no expectation of finding the rare gulls. They're the kind of gulls that look so much like more common species, that, like Western Sandpipers, unless I'm right on top of them, I'm not going to confident in my i.d.

We finished off the day with a trip around Brig. Low tide so more mud than water there. We didn't find anything to get excited about until almost the end of the drive at the exit ponds, where I spotted a Red-necked Grebe very close to the road, swimming next to the reeds. A big grebe, with its neck starting to turn red and a dagger-like yellow bill. This is a rarity at Brig. Wish I had realized it, I would have take a picture, it was close enough to get good ones.  It has been an invasion year for RNGR because, I'm told, the Great Lakes, where they usually winter, were frozen over and thus they were forced east to find open water.

For the day we had 45 species. Not bad for a day with low expectations.
Snow Goose    200
Brant    100
Canada Goose    87
Mute Swan    14
Tundra Swan    6
Gadwall    45
Eurasian Wigeon    1
American Wigeon    60
American Black Duck    705
Mallard    32
Northern Shoveler    57
Northern Pintail    254
Green-winged Teal    110
Ring-necked Duck    1
Lesser Scaup    5
Bufflehead    13
Red-breasted Merganser    10
Ruddy Duck    1
Red-necked Grebe    1
Double-crested Cormorant    1
Great Blue Heron    4
Black Vulture    5
Turkey Vulture    6
Northern Harrier    1
Bald Eagle    2
American Coot    1
Black-bellied Plover    2
Willet    5
Sanderling    2
Dunlin    200
Ring-billed Gull    50
Herring Gull    150
Great Black-backed Gull    5
Peregrine Falcon    1
American Crow    3
Carolina Chickadee    2
Tufted Titmouse    1
Carolina Wren    2
Hermit Thrush    1
Gray Catbird    1
Yellow-rumped Warbler    2
Song Sparrow    1
Northern Cardinal    1
Red-winged Blackbird    12
Common Grackle    3

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