Sunday, April 29, 2012

Before the Levee Breaks...

By Luke Musher

As the weather continues to be poor for migration, birding continues to be relatively slow around Cape May county.  The wise bird-master and much revered veterinarian-in-training, Ryan Ford, came into town today to bird with me.  We started the morning off at Higbees Beach, expecting it to be slow, and had an okay morning anyway.  2 Ruby-throated Hummingbird, an American Redstart and an Indigo Bunting were first of years for us.  We also had a few Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Black-and-white Warbler, Great-crested Flycatcher and the ubiquitous Prairie Warblers were other good spring birds.  There were a number of White-throated Sparrows around as well, which, for whatever reason, was fairly surprising to me.
Prairie Warbler, Higbees Beach, Cape May, NJ
Prairie Warbler, Higbees Beach, Cape May, NJ
Indigo Bunting, Higbees Beach, Cape May, NJ
After Higbee we birded around Cape Island, but to be honest not too much of note was around.  We checked everywhere from Sunset Beach to Poverty Beach to Bunker Pond to the Beanery to the Meadows.  The only birds of note were a Prothonotary Warbler at the Beanery, Purple Sandpipers at the Canal jetty at Higbees beach, and the 3 Eurasian Collared-Doves at their usual spot.
Ryan told me that he has had trouble getting photos of Red-winged Blackbirds.  Of course he didn't take his camera out for the meadows so I took this one just to rub it in.
We then drove north through Wildwood, checking the coast guard ponds, Two-mile landing, and back bays, but turning up very little.  We made our way north to Nummy Island where a number of shorebirds were hanging out.  The only highlight here were about ten Whimbrel and a beautiful breeding plumage Red Knot in the few hundred other shorebirds that included Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitchers, and Black-bellied Plovers.  
Red Knot (middle) with other shorebirds, Nummy Island, NJ
Red Knot, Nummy Island, NJ
After that we head to Beaver Swamp to look at ibises - ibi? - with the hopes of pulling out a White-faced.  When we arrived somebody claimed to have seen one, and perhaps he did.  We looked for a LONG time, but most of the birds were far out and the heat distortion made it that much more difficult. Lots of Glossy Ibis, though, so definitely lots of potential.  I'll probably be back.  A Pine Warbler and singing Yellow-rumped Warbler were present in the patch of woods at the end of the trail.

Our last stop of the day was Heislerville.  I was glad to see that the water levels had dropped a little since the last time I was there, though they still seemed high.  Some shorebirds were present, though nothing of note - Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers, Dunlin, and Short-billed Dowitcher.  26 Black Skimmer were roosting on the middle island with the Herring, Ring-billed, Laughing, and Great Black-backed Gulls, and Forster's Terns.  Heading back out along the dirt road, we saw our FOY Orchard Oriole.

Tonight, as I'm now looking at the radar, I'm thinking tomorrow we should get a number of new birds as the flood gates open tonight.  I'm sure Drew Weber at Nemesis Bird will have a post on the night's migration in the AM.  Until then, happy birding folks and check out the radar right now!
Radar Right Now (~9PM) from NOAA website. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Cape May to West Cumberland County Birding

By Luke Musher
American Oystercatcher, Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge, Cape May, NJ
I went birding today with Nick Tolopka, whom I work with on the shorebird banding project for Dr. David Mizrahi at NJ Audubon.  We drove down the bay shore looking for shorebirds, but no Red Knots at either Reeds or Kimbles Beach.  At Reed's Beach there were lots of Sanderling and Dunlin, though, along with, oddly enough, two Snow Geese, one adult and one juvenal, on the jetty.

We then drove down to Cape May where we stopped at the point and the Meadows.  Still lot's of swallows around the area, mostly Barns, but all expected species were present.  We couldn't seem to find any Piping Plovers on the beach (but they're certainly there), but had great views of several American Oystercatchers.  Not much of note around Cape Island, and the wind was strong and cold so we decided to head north.
American Oystercatcher, Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge, Cape May, NJ
We drove up to Stone Harbor passing through Wildwood and Nummy Island.  In Wildwood a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron flew over the car, and then we stopped by a spot where they've been nesting for a few years.  Nummy Island was relatively quiet, as was Stone Harbor.  We weren't there long, but the only shorebirds we could find at Stone Harbor were Sanderling, Dunlin, and Semipalmated Sandpipers.
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Wildwood Crest, NJ
Mixed Shorebirds, Stone Harbor, NJ
To top the morning off we followed up a KeeKeeKerr alert for an American Golden-Plover (thanks to Brian Johnson for posting) on Shep Davis Road in Cumberland county.  I needed it for the year, and Nick for life, so we head over to try our luck.  We drove down the few miles of road, checking every inch of farmland (at least trying to), but had no luck.  We got literally to the end of the road and noticed a Killdeer flying around and calling above a large grassy field on the edge of a recently harvested asparagus field.  We scanned the grassy area hard and eventually turned up two large plovers very far away.  I got out to scope and walked a little closer.  As I walked out though, I flushed about 5 or so Black-bellied Plovers that we had somehow missed when scanning.  I had at least one American Golden-Plover in the fields, and possibly two.  I have distant, crappy photos of the second bird, that I am fairly sure is another one, but I'm not positive that it is.  If anyone wants to see the photos and give an opinion, email me (
Black-bellied Plovers, Shep Davis Rd., Cumberland Co., NJ
American Golden-Plover, Shep Davis Rd., Cumberland Co., NJ
 On our way back we stopped briefly at Turkey Point,  but the tide was high so we didn't stay long.
Willet, Turkey Point, Dividing Creek, NJ 
Sure, Herring Gulls are a "Trash Bird," but you have to admit that they can look pretty stunning from time to time.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Gone Fishin'

By Luke Musher
One of many Osprey in Cape May today, and one of at least 6 seen from the platform at Bunker Pond.  Note that this bird is banded.
In my opinion, one of the coolest and most interesting things to watch in nature is predation events.  In birds, flight makes predatory behavior that much more fascinating to experience as they move through the air nimbly and dynamically in pursuit of prey.  While standing at the hawk watch platform in Cape May today, hoping to see a Swallow-tailed Kite (no luck there) I watched no less than 6 Osprey at once around the island, a few of which came very close to the platform to dive for fish.  One bird caught one.  This is the dive:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Photo Quiz

Taken in the Pacific Ocean off of Fort Bragg, CA in August
Identify this bird by Sunday, April 29.  The solution along with the winner's names will be posted thereafter.  Email us at with your answers.

Team BoomCha

Arizona in Early March

By Cory Ritter

Although it would possibly seem as though Luke and I went to Madera Canyon together, that is not the case. This is the second part of my trip from California to Michigan in early March. Last I left you, I was on my way to Bill Williams NWR near Lake Havasu, Arizona. I was short on time for my trip to Michigan, and the part that suffered the most was my time in Arizona. I knew there were two main stops I wanted to make. First, to try my luck at the Nutting's Flycatcher that had been seen for quite some time at Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge, and second, to try to find as many lifers as possible at Madera Canyon--just south of Tuscon. The problem was that I had only budgeted one day for Arizona (far too little, I know). And with these two locations being six hours apart, I didn't have much time to waste.

I arrived at Planet Ranch Road, where the Nutting's Flycatcher had been reported, to find a couple groups of birders already looking for the bird. One group told me that they had been hearing it call from the roadside, so I joined the group in searching. We waited around for a while, often hearing but not seeing our target bird. Meanwhile, there was a busy Canyon Wren tending to its nest across the road. Although I had heard a Canyon Wren in Colorado the previous summer, this was my first visual! Additionally, I was treated to a Blue-gray GnatcatcherPhainopepla, and my lifer Gila Woodpecker while waiting around! Not a bad consolation prize if I am not to see this Nutting's Flycatcher, I thought to myself. But with a little persistence, the Nutting's Flycatcher finally showed itself. It flew out and perched in a relatively distant tree. I was able to get an adequate view of the bird in my scope before it flew off once again. Although distance wouldn't have allowed for any good photographs of the Nutting's Flycatcher, an untimely lens error kept me from getting any photos at this location. Reluctantly, I moved on to my next destination of Madera Canyon.

I arrived at Madera Canyon without much time to spare. I had some intel on some good spots, but it was a combination of too early in the season and too late in the day to find the birds I was hoping for--most notably, Painted Redstart. However, I was able to get some good looks at lifers Mexican Jay, Bridled Titmouse, Verdin, and Arizona Woodpecker in addition to Acorn Woodpecker, Lesser Goldfinch, Chipping Sparrow, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Northern Cardinal.
Acorn Woodpecker, Madera Canyon, AZ
Bridled Titmouse, Madera Canyon, AZ
Lesser Goldfinch, Madera Canyon, AZ
I was losing daylight quickly, and wanted to make the most of it. So, I birded along the road as I left Madera Canyon. I was hoping for Cactus Wren and/or Greater Roadrunner, but was unable to find either. I was, however, lucky enough to find my year Black-throated Sparrow, and Green-tailed Towhee among the succulents on the roadside.

So, while I was unable to spend as much time in Arizona as I would have liked and I missed out on some target species at Madera Canyon, I did pick up the Nutting's Flycatcher among some other awesome life birds. The way I look at it is that I'm leaving some lifers for my next trip to Arizona.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Birding Southeast Arizona

By Luke Musher

As I mentioned yesterday, I spend a day birding in the Madeira Canyon and Patagonia last week.  Though short, it was a successful trip, and I got lots of good year birds and even a few lifers.  My friend Will and I camped the night before at the Bog Springs Campground in Madeira Canyon, but I didn't spend very much time owling, so the only owl I got was Whiskered Screech-Owl, a lifer for me.  The next morning I started hiking before 6am freezing my butt off, but getting great bird.  Black-throated Gray Warblers, Scott's Oriole, Bridled Titmouse, Hutton's Vireo, and Bewick's Wren among others were all singing and I eventually got great looks at all of these (except HUVI).  I walked to the Santa Rita Lodge and watched the feeders for a while seeing 5 species of hummingbirds including Broad-billed, Broad-tailed, Anna's, Black-chinned, and after much waiting a gorgeous male Magnificent Hummingbird (appeared very briefly so no photos).  Also at the feeders were several dozen Chipping Sparrows, 8 or so Lazuli Bunting, several Black-headed Grosbeaks, Mexican Jays, a beautiful male Scott's Oriole.  

I then walked up to the amphitheater, picking up Hepatic Tanager and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher along the way.  Finally I began hiking down the mountain stopping again briefly at the lodge, and the Madeira Picnic area, and then worked my way down the trail to the Proctor Road Parking Area.
Blue-gray Gnatchatcher, Madeira Canyon, AZ
Lot's of great birds along this stretch of trail.  Highlights for me included Arizona Woodpecker, Rufous Hummingbird, Dusky-capped, Ash-throated and Western (Cordilleran/Pacific-slope) Flycatchers, Cassin's Kingbird, Cassin's Vireo, Verdin, Lucy's, Wilson's, Black-throated Gray, and Townsend's Warblers, and Canyon Towhee.

Black-headed Grosbeak (w/ Lazuli Buntings in background), Santa Rita Lodge, AZ
Lazuli Bunting, Madeira Canyon, AZ
Mexican Jay, Madeira Canyon, AZ
Scott's Oriole, Santa Rita Lodge, Madeira Canyon, AZ
Canyon Towhee, Madeira Canyon, AZ
From there, Will met me with the car and we drove to Patagonia.  We stopped very briefly at the Florida Wash and had boatloads of Bell's Vireos singing. In Patagonia we met up with Frenchie (whom we worked with at PRBO) who is now working on a project looking at heavy metal build up in populations of Song Sparrows in the Patagonia area.  French and her boss, Michael Lester, took us around the area looking for various things from hummingbirds to cormorants. We got great birds despite missing others such as Black-capped Gnatcatcher, Rufous-backed Robin, and Neotropic Cormorant.  Our time was limited though so the birds we did get were still great.  Some highlights/new day birds included, Zone-tailed and Gray Hawks, Violet-crowned Hummingbird, Costa's Hummingbird, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Gila Woodpecker, Bullock's and Hooded Orioles, Lark Bunting, Western Grebe, several species of waterfowl, Gray and Vermillion Flycatchers, Plumbeous Vireo, Painted Redstart, Green-tailed and Abert's Towhees, and Pyrruloxia.
Violet-crowned Hummingbird, Paton's Yard, Patagonia, AZ
Zone-tailed hawk, Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, Patagonia, AZ

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Southeast Arizona Hummingbirds

By Luke Musher

Sorry for the long break in posting, everybody, but I've been super busy for the past two weeks driving across the country and getting ready for my next job, and Cory is swamped with his own work.  Neither Cory nor I are in Point Reyes anymore, but we'll be posting about our new jobs soon enough.  As you may know, Cory is at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory counting hawks for the spring.  I will be starting a job banding shorebirds on Delaware Bay for New Jersey Audubon starting Monday.  Until then, I have some great hummingbird photos to share with you from the day I spent birding in southeastern Arizona last week.  I only had a day there, so I only birded Madeira Canyon and Patagonia.  I did fairly well, seeing Broad-billed, Costa's, Anna's, Black-chinned, Violet-crowned, Magnificent, Broad-tailed, and Rufous Hummingbird, though only photographed a few species.  More photos of other birds from SE AZ to come.
Broad-billed Hummingbird, Santa Rita Lodge, Madeira Canyon, AZ
Broad-billed Hummingbird, Santa Rita Lodge, Madeira Canyon, AZ
Broad-billed Hummingbird (female), Santa Rita Lodge, Madeira Canyon, AZ
Violet-crowned Hummingbird, Paton's Yard, Patagonia, AZ
Broad-billed Hummingbird, Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, Patagonia, AZ
Black-chinned Hummingbird, Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, Patagonia, AZ
Black-chinned Hummingbird, Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, Patagonia, AZ

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Birding Southern California: San Diego to Salton Sea

By Luke Musher

I've spent the last week in Southern California visiting friends and doing some birding.  Big thanks to Melissa Graham (new PhD Candidate at Clark University) for showing me around and putting me up at her place.  Early in the week I birded around San Diego and spent Friday and Saturday birding the Salton Sea.  Highlights included Reddish Egret, Little Blue Heron, Snowy Plover, Stilt Sandpiper, 3 Heerman's Gulls at Salton Sea, a total of 6 tern Species, including Gull-billed and Black Skimmer, lots of Burrowing Owls in the Salton Sea, Thick-billed Kingbird, a couple Cactus Wrens in various places, Nashville and Black-throated Gray Warbler, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Bullock's Oriole among other great stuff.  Here are lots of photos from the week.
Cassin's Kingbird, San Diego, CA [Photo © Lukas Musher]
Whimbrel, San Diego, CA [Photo © Lukas Musher]
California Towhee, San Diego, CA [Photo © Lukas Musher]
Rufous-crowned Sparrow, San Diego, CA [Photo © Lukas Musher]
Western Bluebird, San Diego, CA [Photo © Lukas Musher] 
Thick-billed Kingbird, San Diego, CA [Photo © Lukas Musher]
Western Kingbird, Salton Sea, CA [Photo © Lukas Musher]
Great-tailed Grackle, Salton Sea, CA [Photo © Lukas Musher]
White-crowned Sparrows, Salton Sea, CA [Photo © Lukas Musher]
This Barn Owl was roosting in a palm tree.  Salton Sea, CA [Photo © Lukas Musher] 
Common Ground-Dove, Salton Sea, CA [Photo © Lukas Musher]
Black-throated Sparrow, Mountain Springs Rd, west of Ocotillo, CA, [Photo © Lukas Musher]
Gull-billed Tern, Salton Sea, CA [Photo © Lukas Musher]
Gambel's Quail, Salton Sea, CA [Photo © Lukas Musher]
Burrowing Owl, Imperial Valley, CA [Photo © Lukas Musher]
Cattle Egret, Imperial Valley, CA [Photo © Lukas Musher]
Black-throated Gray Warbler, Imperial Valley, CA [Photo © Lukas Musher]
After the week, my year list is at 258, 256 of which are in California.  Five birds seen this week were lifers.  My complete list from SoCal this week is: