Monday, May 16, 2011

How the South went (Play by Play).

We traditionally consider the "South" part of our route everything below I-80. This is the play by play of what we found and where. I don't have the timing sheet from Bert yet, so maybe he can chime in with some times for reference. This is the summary while it's still fresh in my (very tired) head:

Our first stop was Harmony road to get our "drive by" Snow Goose, which we did after an initial scare when we couldn't locate him among all the Canada Geese. It turns out he was right next to the road, duh. This was the second year in a row that our scouted Snow Goose at Brig. was eaten or disappeared right before the WSB, but thankfully this year the guys up North found a backup. We also found some Horned Larks in a nearby field as well as Orchard Oriole and from there it was a straight run all the way South to Millville with just a single stop for gas (and toilets) along the way. We arrived at Rainbow Lake where I had a drake Greater Scaup on Thursday, but things were not off to a great start for my part of the route as he was a no show and the rain started to fall harder and steady now. The Southern Breeding land birds were not gonna be fun in this rain! We got to the first stop and our luck immediately changed when Zach heard a calling Bobwhite. We quickly nailed our Blue Grosbeak and Carolina Chickadee, then off to spot #2 where we got our Prothonotory, but no luck with the Kentucky or Summer Tanager. Spot #3 came through with Summer Tanager and White-eyed Vireo and off to spot #4 where we got our Kentucky for a complete set in less than 1/2 hour and by using only half my stops! Luck was now on our side. We made a quick stop to try for our missing kingfisher at a nest hole I had found, but it wasn't home (we ended up missing Kingfisher).

With the predicted wind and high tides, it was nice to now be able to fully concentrate on shorebirds, seabirds, and waterfowl. We rolled into Heislerville at dead low tide as expected. I knew there was going to be low numbers of shorebirds due to the tide, but I was surprised to only see a handful of birds. We did get Black Skimmer, Ruddy Duck, Red Knot, Red-breasted Merganser, and a host of common shorebirds. There was a Cooper's Hawk hunting the impoundment though and everything was scared off including the flock of both species of Yellowlegs I was expecting to get. This was going to be a great source of stress for me as we couldn't seem to buy one the rest of the day! We skipped Bivalve (and the Yellowlegs that were propably there) since we had the Bobwhite and I wanted to bank the time for later. Our next stop was Tamerlane Campground for the Red-headed Woodpecker. Bert had found the nest hole, but some campers were having a barbeque right under the tree! The birds were no where to be found and we searched the immediate area without success. We were on our way out when by some miracle we found one, but we wasted over 1/2 hour of our precious time. We next went to try for Cattle Egret, but yet again we came up empty on this species and this was our only spot. We then headed straight South into Cape May where our next stop was a raptor scan at Steven's street to try for Kites or Sharp-shinned Hawks which we still needed. No luck, but the farmer was plowing the field in front of us and lo and behold there was a Cattle Egret behind the tractor! How lucky can you get?

We then went to Alexander Ave. to do our first of two Sea Watches. We missed Purple Sandpiper, but more than made up for that with Surf and Black Scoter, Gannet, Parasitic Jaeger, Common Tern, and even a Red-throated Loon! We went to do our second sea watch closer to the tern flock in the Rips, and managed to pick up Royal Tern and nothing else. Next up was the South Cape May Meadows where we were dreading having to walk both the east and West paths. On the way out we spotted 3 ducks in flight which turned out to be 2 males and a female Gadwall and while we were watching them a 4th duck joined them and it was a Blue-winged Teal! That was one of my worrisome species. We got to the end and had a Piping Plover on the nest and we hoofed it back to the car after failing to find the Glaucous Gull that had been hanging on the beach. Next up was more beach walking at Poverty Beach where we quickly found our target Great Cormorant and off we went to Ocean Drive where we squeeked up a Saltmarsh Sparrow in record time. We quickly checked unsuccessfully (again) for Kingfisher along the Coast Guard ponds and then we stopped at Sunset lake in Wildwood Crest for our only chance at Bufflehead. A thorough scan of the lake produced nothing, but while scanning along the far side I found our birds sitting under the docks there. They were tough to spot even when we knew they were there, but it was another bird on the list and off we went. Bert had us stop next to the bowling alley in downtown Wildwood where some yellow-crowned night Herons were nesting in tall pine trees right in the worst part of town. We managed to not get mugged and headed to Nummy Island next where we scored a Peregrine and a Tri-colored Heron, but no Little Blue Heron. We checked for Purple Sandpiper at 113th street, but the all the rock jetties were under water on this extremely high tide. I figured any purple Sandpipers would be on the only rocks available and that was in front of the Avalon Seawatch. We made that our next stop and sure enough there were purple Sandpipers there. tick! Believe it or not, it was almost 6pm and we still needed Ring-billed Gull! My next stop was Townsend's Inlet to look for Lesser-black Backed Gull and hopefully a stupid Ring-billed would be there. The Gulls were further away than usual, but we quickly found both species as well as Little Blue Herons flying in to a nearby roost we knew about. Our last stop before heading to Brigantine to end our day was 44th street in Sea Isle City were we found the Common Eider Flock and even got some thumbs up from the happy hour crowd at the Princeton Tiki Bar after they asked if we got the birds as we headed back to the car. I suspect we weren't the first team to go by there.

We shot straight to Brigantine to spend our last hour of daylight hopefully filling in some of our missed species. We got there around 7pm and quickly got our Gull-billed tern and Caspian Tern. The tide outside the impoundments was so high there was nothing but water out there. This was an advantage for us because all the birds were forced to the inside. We finally found a Greater Yellowlegs, but still needed a Lesser (always tough in mid May) and also found a female Greater Scaup floating outside the dikes. On the back side we found a pair of Green-winged teal way out in the pool, but failed to come up with the Horned Grebe that was seen the day before. We got to the last section of marsh and looked for White-rumpled Sandpiper where I had 5 the day before but struck out. We did find our Lesser Yellowlegs though in the last section of marsh in the last bit of daylight, whew... We went to the exit road and waited for Chucks and Whips to call. Usually the Whips are a bit harder, but for some reason we only had whips calling (including one just feet away) so we moved down the road where we could hear and got our Chucks. We didn't know it at the time, but this was to be our last species for the day at #221. We headed to the Marmora Wawa for much needed coffee and gas and then went all the way to Turkey Point to try for Black Rail. At this point the wind was howling and we had flooding out at Turkey Point. We hid behind the car so we could hear over the wind and waited for the Black Rail to call. We all knew it was futile, but we had to try anyway. Things got a little better when I pulled 4 cold beers I had stashed for just such a situation. The beers didn't last long and the rain started again and we decided to call it a night and head to the finish line and see how we did. It's a LONG ride to the finish after such a long day, but I made it without incident and we completed the list on the way. We were all very happy with our day and I think we did as well as could be expected in a pretty tough year. We all had such fun birding together, it was too bad it had to end. We were ready for some well earned sleep though.

Michael Fritz

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