Sunday, 24 June 2012

WeBS Counts and a Liver Bird

Just when you think nothing much is going to happen, it's been quite a busy weekend.  Thanks to a combination of being the Theo Walcott of WeBS counts (super-sub!) for a few different sites, and a Little Swift.

Tad Bay in Blithfield was to be counted on the Saturday morning anyway.  This produced 17 Common Terns and a drake Shoveler.  It was also pleasing to see a few young Coots and Great Crested Grebes, but not so good to see the water levels so high.  It's going to take a good dry spell for some shoreline to appear.

Meanwhile, the pager reports had the Little Swift at New Brighton coming and going all the time, it came across as if it wouldn't be easy, and quite off-putting.  So the Uttoxeter Quarry WeBS count was done.  This revealed 9 Common Terns, a Ringed Plover, 10 Oystercatcher, 2 Shelduck and a Kingfisher amongst it's highlights. 

During this time Little Swift news had gone very quiet.  So some lunch, filled the car up with petrol and went home not having a clue what to do.  But after a short time the thought was "I can either stay at home all day, or I can go and if it's a dip, so be it".

There was a hugh sigh of relief when the pager mentioned the bird still being present while driving up the M6 through Cheshire.  It's a 90-minute drive to New Brighton, right at the top-end of the Wirral.  Finding a group of birders with absolutely nobody looking, oh no what have I done. 

But after about 20 minutes, thankfully the Little Swift was seen again flying over the mouth of the Mersey, hurrah!  By the way, when I say the mouth of the Mersey, I do mean the river and not Jimmy Tarbuck or Stan Boardman.  A few times the bird flew right over everyone's heads, double hurrah!

During my time at New Brighton, in addition to the Little Swift, other birds seen included Common Swifts and House Martins, a Peregrine, 2 Shelduck, a Dunlin and your usual Herring and Black-headed Gulls.  Also from here, an excellent photo opportunity of the city of Liverpool from across the Mersey:

With one of the Liver birds in the distance,on the Liver building of course.  Also in dock at the time was the Arcadia cruise liner.

With the Little Swift in the back of the net it was back to WeBSing this morning, like a duck counting machine!  This time it was Dimmingsdale (not a lot), Brookleys Lake (a bit more, a female Mandarin and a pair of Mute Swans with eight cygnets) and the JCB lakes in Rocester (even more, apart from the untickable stuff, a flock of 131 Greylags).

Sunday, 17 June 2012

One Shrike and I'm out!

Yesterday morning, through all the cold sweats and palpitations, I got my credit card out and spent some money!  I am the proud owner of a nice, new, shiny laptop, and this is my first blog entry using it.  It goes like stink!  Much quicker than my old one, which after five years of use, was gradually running like a dog with one leg.

So whilst spending time copying files and installing software onto it, news was filtering through of a female Red-backed Shrike in the Silverdale Country Park/Black Bank area.  A very pleasant interruption, lets have a look.

Only my second visit here, after looking at the juvenile Iceland Gull last christmas.  The bird was always rather distant along the fence wire, with digiscoping not that easy in an increasingly wet and windy afternoon.  It's also the second Staffs Red-backed Shrike pour moi, following the bird at Berry Hill in October 2006.

Onto Uttoxeter Quarry this morning.  Despite yesterday's Shrike, things are definitely quietening down for the summer now.  There were a few Common Terns around, a flock of 475 Lesser Black-backed Gulls (told you it was quiet!), and a selection of warblers which included a Lesser Whitethroat, 5 Common Whitethroats and 2 Reed Warblers.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Jersey Birds, Part 3

Right, this should finish the last few days of this trip.

There were still a few guided excursions available, one of which on the 30th May was at the Cape May point state park.  Parts of which felt a bit dudey, and after spending quite a bit of time there already, was there any need to do this?  Most of the time it felt like I could've done this on my own, especially when pointing the guides to a pair of Caspian Terns on the beach.  Breeding Caspian Terns in New Jersey are quite scarce, so it was pleasing to see these two getting rather amorous, although you're not quite there son!

There was also a Brown Pelican out at sea, and the first White-rumped Sandpiper of the trip on one of the lagoons.  It was also interesting to see the man who checks the Purple Martins in action, winding the nest boxes back up!

In all five nest box colonies 420 eggs had been laid, with 10 hatched.  Sounds like an excellent start for them this year.  Where the guided walk came into it's own was for bird song.  There was one particular song pointed out which was of a Northern Parula, but away from the footpath.  When the walk finished it had started raining quite heavily.  Which was good because it finally broke the heat, but I left my coat back at the motel.

So after going back to get my coat and a bit of breakfast, let's get back to the state park.  Unfortunately the White-rumped Sand had moved on, but I managed to find the Northern Parula by the footpath,singing in the rain!

The rain continued for most of the day, but had stopped in time for the next guided excursion of the day, back at saltmarshes of Nummy Island.  The problem was, although the rain had stopped and no wind, the midges were unbelievably vicious.  Plenty of insect repellant was the order of the day!  It was worth sticking it out however, for excellent views of Clapper Rail:

And the fantastic Yellow-crowned Night Heron, yabba-dabba-doo:

A great place for birding, but with both midges and ticks, not much luck with insects at Nummy Island!  The next morning was back at Belleplain State Forest for another guided trip, the last one going for my time here.  As with spring woods here, things start to quieten down in terms of bird song at the end of May.  Well, apart from this Grey Catbird, he wouldn't shut up!

The lack of bird song cost the normally common Hooded Warbler, in fact it was even quieter than at the beginning of the week.  But there still quite a few of lifers on offer.  Including Wood Thrush, Acadian Flycatcher, Eastern Wood Pewee, a family party of Eastern Bluebirds (completing the "Blues Brothers" hat-trick, along with Indigo Bunting and Blue Grosbeak!), Yellow-breasted Chat.  As much as we tried to see a singing Louisiana Waterthrush, there was no way of seeing it in some thick, impenetrable Cedar bog forest.  Some further exploring after the guided trip produced a female Scarlet Tanager and a Black-and-White Warbler "tree-creeping" up a trunk.

During the Belleplain excursion, one of the guides checked the New Jersey bird news on his phone, and said seven Mississippi Kites were seen over the Rea Farm.  That would've been nice to see.  I also knew I hadn't seen Bald Eagle yet, the national bird of course.  There are a few pairs of Bald Eagles around Cape May at this time of year, but far more common in winter. 

So that was the challenge for my last full day, the 1st June, to get a couple of raptors for the trip list.  The day started in neighbouring Cumberland County, at Heislerville.

It was strange that, despite being a similar habitat of saltmarshes and lagoons, different birds were to be seen here during the morning.  Including 2 Bald Eagles, an adult and a 2nd-year bird.  Also a Northern Flicker, Spotted Sandpiper, Ring-billed Gulls and oddly, a male Pheasant!

One of the lagoons at Heislerville contains a tree-filled island, containing a mixed colony of Double-crested Cormorants, Snowy Egrets, Great White Egrets and Night Herons of the Black-crowned flavour.

So that was a good morning spent.  But if there's any chance of Mississippi Kite, then it's got to be back around Cape May point for the afternoon.  An overcast morning turned into a gloriously sunny afternoon.  Which brought out the vultures, allowing good comparisons between Turkey Vulture:

And Black Vulture:

Then spending some at the state park, a smallish raptor with a graceful flight came in, flew around the lighthouse and exited to the north.  It's a Mississippi Kite, yes!!  One more surprise came in the form of a flyover Little Blue Heron!  A fine way to finish off my time at Cape May.

But with most of the day to spend on the 2nd June before heading back to Philadelphia, there was one more place to try.  This was the "Edwin B. Forsythe" refuge, just north of Atlantic City.

Despite being very tempted to make my fortune at the casinos in Atlantic City, I went birding instead.  Once again, its a case of more saltmarshes and lagoons, with an eight-mile driving circuit where you can stop and scan whereever you like. 

Unlike further south in Cape May, Gull-billed Terns are frequent here, with a couple seen.  But apart from that, there wasn't much excitement until the end of the circuit.  That's when an adult Bald Eagle flew across, and I didn't realise that it landed further along from the track, just to stop for a drink.  It allowed for fantastic views from the car!

Not that the local Willets and Oystercatchers were too pleased....

That seemed like a good point to finish the birding for this trip, and headed back to Philly with plenty of time to spare.  I didn't do much research into Philadelphia, otherwise I could've done some sight-seeing.  The little that I know of Philadelphia, it's famous for some soft cheese, a liberty bell that they still haven't fixed the crack in, and those steps that Rocky Balboa ran up (the museum of art).  Thinking about it now, I could've done a Rocky!

Oh deary me no, that's far too energetic!  But the jumping up and down was similar when seeing the Mississippi Kite.  Instead, the trusty Toyota Yaris was handed back at the airport, checked my luggage in, through security, and successfully find a bar!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Jersey Birds, Part 2

Whilst on the Rea Farm walk, one of the guides gave a quick plug to one of the boat trips on offer on Sundays and Mondays.  Aboard The Osprey, exploring the saltmarshes and creeks.  With increases in both  temperature, and the number of people and cars piling into Cape May for the Memorial Day holiday, Sunday 27th seemed like a good opportunity to do this.

Before that however, there was some time to explore the woods around Higbee Beach.  One particular bird got my head scratching.  A search through the Sibley field guide revealed it to be a Blue-grey Gnatcatcher.  Later on, another Gnatcatcher was seen feeding a Cowbird chick, proof that Brown-headed Cowbird is an equivalent of Cuckoo over here.  Other new birds included a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Blue Grosbeak, a pair of House Finch, White-eyed Vireo and a Wild Turkey.

Heading back to Cape May City for the three hour cruise on The Osprey.  Nesting Ospreys were easily seen heading out of Cape May harbour.  In fact, nest platforms are dotted all over the saltmarshes, all of them occupied by nesting Ospreys.  Proof that Osprey nest platforms do work.

The saltmarshes here contain the world's largest Laughing Gull colonies, plus good numbers of Forster's and Common Terns, American Oystercatchers, Willets and Grey Plovers (or Black-bellied Plover over there).  The saltmarshes are also the habitat where you can find American Black Duck.

Plenty of herons and egrets on show of course, including Snowy and Great White Egrets, along with Great Blue, Tricoloured, Green and Black-crowned Night Herons.  Other saltmarsh specialities seen were two Clapper Rails briefly in flight, and Boat-tailed Grackle.

The afternoon was spent covering more saltmarsh, in an area known as Nummy's Island.  A road passes straight through the island and is easy enough to get out of the car and scan.  Again, the same waders and herons were present here, along with a single American Golden Plover and Song Sparrow. 

However, this was also the site of my first "insect problem" of the trip.  Whilst walking along the grass verge and happily driving along, I found a load of ticks walking up my trousers!  Eeeuuughhh!!!  Must've brushed past an infestation of them.  Not particularly wanting to risk getting Lyme Disease, a change of clothes back at the motel seemed like a wise move.

Not that I felt them but I actually had four ticks on me, the first time it's ever happened whereever I've gone in the world.  One of my leg, one on the back of my shoulder and two on my stomach.  A section on Clay and Pat Sutton's book on birding in Cape May gives a reassuring section on dealing with ticks.  They can be just pulled off, and Lyme Disease isn't a risk unless the tick has been sucking your blood for at least 48 hours.  So that was good, off they went, insect repellent loosened them no end.  Two weeks on at the time of writing, I've felt ok since.

The 28th (Memorial Day) and 29th were the two days of the trip that were really too hot and humid for me.  Pretty slow going for birding most of the time.  Both mornings were started as early as possible at the Belleplain State Forest.

Later in the week there was to be a guided excursion here.  But an explore around the field office on Memorial day morning produced 2 Ovenbirds, a family party of Eastern Towhees, Chipping Sparrow, Eastern Phoebe, Pine Warbler, Cedar Waxwings and all sorts of songs and calls I didn't recognise.  That's where the guided walks are a big help.

The Cape May Point state park has a few shelters around the main car park.  Birding in the late afternoon here, escaping the heat, produced a Cooper's Hawk, Yellow Warbler and Grey Catbird.

Starting the 29th at Belleplain again, and following directions in the Clay and Pat Sutton book, was quite productive.  Highlights this time included a Broad-tailed Hawk carrying a small lizard in it's bill, male Summer Tanager, two Worm-eating Warblers, a Black-billed Cuckoo, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Brown Thrasher and a pair of Turkeys.

As this was to be the last really hot day, the other plan to carry on birding while keeping cool was to have a ride on the Cape May - Lewes ferry for the afternoon, and see what could be seen from the ferry to the state of Delaware and back.

On the whole the ferry ride was pretty quiet, but there was a nice cooling breeze!  The main bird activity was in Lewes harbour where there were 4 Brown Pelicans and a drake Surf Scoter, so not an entire waste of time.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Jersey Birds, Part 1

For those unaware of Cape May, I suppose it's like an American equivalent of Spurn.  A peninsula of land with the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and Delaware Bay to the west.  Birding started on the 25th May with a pair of House Wrens using a nest box just outside the motel room window. 

Following this the day was spent at the end of Cape May point, calling in at the main birding information centre, the Northwood centre.  Here you can pick up a copy of the "Kestrel Express", a leaflet detailing all the guided excursions, and a map of all the birding sites in Cape May county.

The Cape May point state park is a good starting point for birding.  You can tell you're onto a good start when you park up next to a colony of Purple Martins!  Five of these colony nest boxes were full of them.

Some of the common species were around the car park and trails, including Northern Mockingbird, Northern Cardinal, American Robin, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Mourning Dove, Brown-headed Cowbird (factoid, Cowbird is a parasitic nester!), Eastern Kingbird, Chimney Swift, Common Yellowthroat, Carolina Wren, Cedar Waxwing, American Goldfinch, Carolina Chickadee and a pair of Orchard Orioles.

The state park also contains plenty of lagoons, which attracted Great White and Snowy Egrets, Glossy Ibis, waders such as Short-billed Dowitcher and a old wooden jetty that forms a roosting spot for Forster's Terns.

Then there's the beach.  Large parts of which were cordened off to people for the colonies of Least Terns:

And a couple of territories of the endangered Piping Plover.

Adjacent to the state park is the Cape May migratory bird refuge, also known as "The Meadows".

An excellent selection of birds were in and around the lagoons here.  Waders included more Short-billed Dowitchers, Greater Yellowlegs, American Oystercatcher, Willet, Killdeer, Semipalmated Plover and Sandpipers.  More Forster's and Least Terns, but also a Black Tern and a Royal Tern, here with a Black Skimmer.  The only Bonaparte's Gull of the trip was also seen here.

One of the main reasons for travelling to Cape May was to catch up with the American warblers.  One of the best in looks and name, in my opinion, is the Prothonotary Warbler.  The best place to try and catch up with Prothonotary is the Rea Farm (aka The Beanery), which is only accessible on guided walks.

Rea is the name of the family that run the working farm, they don't farm Reas (the large, flightless bird of South America) which was what I thought!  It also used to be a Lima bean farm, hence Beanery.

Good numbers of Indigo Buntings were here on the 26th May, but seeing Prothonotary Warbler didn't sound too hopeful, indeed one was singing deep into a thick damp area of willows.  Other new birds here were Great Crested Flycatchers, a very snazzy male Baltimore Oriole, Tufted Titmouse, a pair of Downy Woodpeckers and a female American Redstart.

Towards the end of the walk the leaders reached a willow-fringed pond which yielded a few Black-crowned Night Herons and a Wood Duck.  Then, as the Wood Duck left a small and very yellow bird flew across and landed on a branch in full view.  It's a male Prothonotary Warbler, and needed no hesitation to have a look through one of the guide's scope!

Following that success, and the only chance I would get to walk round the Rea Farm, the rest of the day was spent exploring the beaches on the Delaware Bay side.  Large numbers of waders gather here, en route to the arctic, to feed on the eggs of Horseshoe Crabs.  There were literally thousands, upon thousands, of Semipalmated Sandpipers.

Plenty of Knot, Turnstone and Sanderling also present.  Plus lots of Laughing Gulls also taking advantage of the Horseshoe Crab eggs in a feeding frenzy.  This picture doesn't really describe the atmosphere and sound of all the Laughing Gulls calling, it's like the audience of a Peter Kay gig!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Jersey Birds, a Prologue

A bit tired and could do with a good night's sleep, but I'm back from Cape May in New Jersey:

It was all a bit of a last minute decision to go there, with all the arrangements done at the end of April. But I always remembered one of Bill Oddie's programmes from there, years ago, and thought "I'd quite like to go there one day". The more I researched into it, the more it looked like a complete doddle to do, and that proved to be the case.

Cape May has a fantastic set up for birding. Plenty of wildlife refuges with viewing platforms, guided excursions with local experts and boat trips. The idea for accommodation came from reading "The Biggest Twitch" by Alan Davies and Ruth Miller, who stayed at the Hyland Motor Inn at Cape May Court House town when they visited. Prices at this motel weren't too bad when compared with places to stay in Cape May City itself.

There's a daily U.S. Airways flight from Manchester to Philadelphia. Once you're through the spanish inquisition of U.S. immigration (Photo, Fingerprints, Why are you here? How long have you been birdwatching? What equipment do you have? Where are you staying? How much money do you have?), it's a two hour drive from Philly and you're there. Immigration was rather daunting and I did have to bite my lip, wanting to tell them where to go, but once you're through that it's a worthwhile trip.

So with checking into the Hyland Motor Inn in the evening of the 24th May, all set to go birding the next day. Just got to find unpack my notes (as well as my washing!), and I'll eventually detail what was seen.