Sunday, June 18, 2017

Cape May 6/18--GREAT SHEARWATER, Fork-tailed Flycatcher

Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Cape May SP
Mike and I made a rarity run today and we did pretty well. Despite some trepidation about the traffic, we drove down to Cape May State Park to see if we could get the Fork-tailed Flycatcher that showed up yesterday. Unlike the two rarities Shari & I saw at Bombay Hook on Friday, this, with its tail about one and a half times longer than its body, is a "Wow" bird, visiting from South America.

The location of the bird wasn't hard to figure out once we saw the line of birders on the ramp to the beach. Naturally, the bird hadn't been seen for about 15 minutes--we really didn't want a long wait because the light traffic we had coming down wasn't going to last all day, especially going back. Meanwhile, birders with scopes were calling out shearwaters in the rips. We hadn't taken our scopes out of the car, so we went back for them, Mike making a detour. I was scanning the ocean, hopelessly, looking for any birds on, in, or over the water, when Mike came back saying that he had seen the Northern Bobwhite that has been resident in the park for a couple of months. I knew the bird was there but he'd forgotten about it. It was a year bird for him, but I'd heard one just on Friday and seen one at Colliers Mills earlier in the year. Still, always a good bird, so I went back down the ramp to find it, behind the line of buildings. Just as I was peering into the maintenance yard, I heard a roar go up and knew I was missing the flycatcher. I ran back. Bird was gone. Mike was chuckling. Now I was 0 for 2. My bad mood lasted only a moment because the flycatcher returned and I got great looks and decent pictures.

Then we turned our attention to the sea. Mike was describing where the shearwaters were, in the flocks of gulls, but no matter how hard I looked, my eyesight was glaucous without the gull. Finally I saw some white specks flying low over the water and realized people were identifying them as species~! Then Mike and another guy were describing the flight of a GREAT SHEARWATER and I had no clue as to where in the vast ocean they were looking when the first miracle of the day occurred--the bird flew right into my scope view and I was able to track it for 20 or 30 seconds. Compared to the specks I was seeing this was at least identifiable as a bird, with dark wings and white band on its rump. Good enough to take as a life bird. Great Shearwaters are not considered rare this time of year but they don't often come in close enough to shore to view. You need to go on a pelagic and Larry don't do pelagics.

Someone mentioned that a Purple Gallinule had been reported in Ocean City, about 30 miles north. At first I thought they were talking about the bird that was in Ocean Grove last month, but no, this was a different place (definitely) with a different bird (possibly). Mike missed last month's bird, so we decided to drive up to Ocean City traffic be damned. But first, let's find that bobwhite.

Northern Bobwhite
It was calling really loudly in the maintenance yard but we couldn't find it. A worker there said it was in a tree and kindly let us into the yard providing we didn't linger. We found the bird, I took a few quick shots and one of them turned out well. The provenance of this bird can be disputed. The coolness of it cannot. The score so far: 2 rarities, 2 year birds, 1 life bird. Not yet 10 o'clock.

Northern Shoveler
I had a vague notion of where the Ocean City Preserve was, having been there once about 8 years ago, but the Google directions, unfortunately took us to the back of the refuge. After some lefts and rights, we eventually found the little boardwalk to the observation tower that I remembered. There were a few birds in the wetlands, but the place wasn't jumping. The most interesting bird we noticed was a very out of season drake Northern Shoveler. Nice to see, but not a bird you'd drive into Ocean City for.

Purple Gallinule (digiscoped)
We'd met one of our birder friends down at the state park, where the flycatcher and bobwhite had been lifers for her and now she came up to the deck, hoping to add a third. There were a lot of reeds, bushes, and high grasses that the gallinule could be hiding in. It wasn't going to be like the Ocean Grove bird, wandering around the street. We three were talking and looking for about 10 minutes when the second miracle of the day occurred--I found the bird. When I'm by myself, obviously, I find birds. But when I'm in a group, I almost never find the target. In fact, if I can get on the bird without tedious directions about angled tree limbs or open patches of darker water, that's an accomplishment. But today, I was scanning and bang--the bird was across the water on a little island. Mike and Lisa both got on the bird immediately with only some rudimentary range-finding from me--"over there" and the score for rarities rose to 3 1/2 (the shoveler doesn't count as a full-blown rarity). This is another great looking bird--unfortunately, my photographs (digiscope and digital) don't do it justice.

Back on to the Parkway, heading north, where the traffic around Atlantic City was in mid-summer form. We did a loop of Brig (our original destination) where we weren't able to locate the Wilson's Phalarope of last week but where we did get the long-staying Black-headed Gull, which has molted into full breeding plumage, making it much more difficult to differentiate from the hundreds of Laughing Gulls--the trick is find the gull with a brownish hood (Black-headed Gull with a brown hood, yeah, that makes sense) that does not come all the way down the nape of its neck. For the day we had around 80 species, but it was quality not quantity that made it fun--especially considering that June is notoriously a "slow" birding month. As I said, we did very well. And beat most of the traffic.

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