Cook’s Beach Birds

The highest density of birds we saw at one place during the  Cape May Spring (birding) Festival was at Cook’s Beach. They are drawn to the beach by the horseshoe crab eggs – rich food to fatten them up before they continue north on their migration.  I took lots of pictures and was challenged to select the ones I would include in this post. I took a sequence when something startled the birds and they took off – swirled around and landed again. The beach seemed very full even when there were a lot of birds in the air.

In some places the gulls seemed to dominate and there were a lot of horseshoe crabs still around. The Laughing Gulls (black head) and larger Herring Gulls are easy to distinguish.

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Sometimes it was a large group of just Laughing Gulls.

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I got my best picture of a cormorant of the festival at the beach. The birds were on the pilings – not the beach – and seemed to be observing the ruckus on the beach. The out-of- focus birds in the foreground are Ruddy Turnstones. The gull is probably a second year Herring Gull.

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This picture includes Forster’s Terns (the black and white birds) and Ruddy Turnstones on the pilings – preening. The Ruddy Turnstones look rounded…probably are already fattening up.

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There is a back of Ruddy Turnstone on the beach in this picture….and the bird facing the camera is a Red Knot. Both birds are a little larger than the other shorebirds.

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The crowd of birds in the picture below are all Red Knots.  The birds with reddish color are in breeding plumage. The others are non-breeding. Note that two seem to be making eye contact.

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I liked this lineup of Herring Gulls, with the mature bird in front and sitting…the immatures standing behind.

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How many birds can you recognize in the picture below:

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The easy ones are laughing gull, red knot, and ruddy turnstone. There are some smaller shorebirds in the mix as well.

I couldn’t resist one botanical picture as we headed back to the car – a rose growing where vegetation meets the beach.

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Back Bay Birding Boat Trip

Our afternoon session on the second day at the Cape May Spring (birding) Festival, was a pontoon boat trip around Cape May’s back bay (Cape May Harbor and tidal wetlands along the Intracoastal Waterway). I saw more birds than I could photograph…but the boat was steady enough for photography as well. Can you identify the birds in this picture?

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They are easy enough: American Oystercatcher, Black-bellied Plover (2 of them), and a Laughing Gull. I didn’t identify the one facing the water.

There were lots of Laughing Gulls and they were close enough for portraits.

There were a few Brant (geese) that hadn’t left yet. From far away they look a little like a Canada Goose but smaller; taking a closer look…the markings are quite different.

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I took a picture of the Great and Snowy Egrets to provide a comparison of the two birds in the same photo: size, bill color, etc.

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There was an island where there were a lot of nesting Laughing Gulls and Forster’s Terns.

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The terns (different stages of development) were feeding on the mud flat.

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A Least Tern seemed to enjoy the bobbing of a barrel.

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By far the ‘star’ of the nesting birds were the Osprey.  They seemed to be nesting on everything sticking out of the water that could hold a nest!

The Peregrine Falcons were also using a man-made structure for their nesting site: a bridge. The bird was protecting her young as our boat went underneath the bridge. The female was with the chicks. The male was having lunch on the next bridge support over.

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Being on a boat provides a different perspective….and we would not have seen the falcon any other way. Even though many of the birds seemed to be watching our progress…they were not disturbed by the boat as they are by large groups of people moving about on land.

Heislerville Wildlife Management Area

Our next field trip of the Cape May Spring (birding) Festival was at the Heislerville Wildlife Management Area a the end of Matt’s Landing Road. There are ponds on each side of the road as it gets close to Haase’s Marina. There were shorebirds on the mudflats – like these that (I think) are all Semipalmated Sandpipers. It was a challenge to get birds in small enough groups where the individual birds could be distinguished.

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Some are easier to identify than others like this Semipalmated Plover.

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On an island in one the ponds: a Double-crested Cormorant rookery! It is one of the few in the mid-Atlantic region. Most of the cormorants migrate further north for the summer and to breed.

There were the usual Red-wing Blackbirds and Crows around too. We heard both Fish Crows and American Crows…not sure which one this was.

Heislerville was the first place I began to realize the numbers of birds that migrate through Cape May in the spring and fall….I couldn’t resist a picture of birds in flight…with a lot still on the mud flat!

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There was a group of Black Skimmers on another island almost out of camera range with a Forster’s tern on a log in front.

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Overall – the area was rich in bird sightings - and a good contrast to the state forest earlier in the morning.

Cape May Point State Park – Part 2

Continuing the posts about Cape May Point State Park

There were Forster’s Terns on lined up on a railing of an observation platform that was roped off to human traffic.

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I zoomed in to get a bird portrait

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And then back to get the whole platform as the birds flew around – a little ‘musical chairs’ on the platform railing.

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There was a Great Egret and a gull (maybe a ring-billed) mixed in with the terns. The other birds give some size comparison for the Forster’s. There was a breeze that ruffled the feathers of some of the birds…giving them a scruffy look even though they were preening almost constantly.

Overall – the short walk through part of the wetlands filled the time before we headed back to the hotel and the kickoff for the festival….primed to get underway early the next morning with field trips.

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge

Our third day at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival did not start out well: our bus has a mechanical problem and our departure was delayed by about 3 hours. Fortunately, the replan included a lengthening of the trip by three hours and provisions (picnic lunch). On the plus side – we avoided some rain showers that moved through while we were waiting; on the negative side – we could have slept later (getting up at 4 AM is common at birding festivals!).  Our destination was the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. We didn’t seen any ocelots that the refuge is trying to protect…but we did see plenty of birds. The days was very cloudy and misty – not good for photographing. I picked a few that were good enjoy enough for identification.

There were snow geese coming and going. I liked this line because of the different morphs visible.

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There was a Little Blue Heron fishing in the shallows

And a Great Blue Heron standing on one leg surveying the shore.

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A group of Forster’s terns, with the black feathers around and back from their eyes) were grouped along the shore (looks like the birds behind them were snoozing).

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The Forster’s tern is in the middle of this image. The largest bird is a Caspian Tern and the one in front is a Royal Tern. The Royal Terns I’d seen in Maryland always looked like they were wearing a black cap but that is only during the breeding season…not this time of year in South Texas.

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A brown pelican flew above – following the shoreline.

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White Ibis wandered through the other shore birds.

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The Crested Caracara were new to me. Since the ones I saw on the field trip were a little far away – I took a picture of a captive bird as the Expo.

I took a close up of a prickly pear tuna (fruit)…note the spines.

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Side by side – a Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs.

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We were all on the bus when a male Northern Harrier swooped down into the field beside the road and hovered over prey. I did pretty well taking this series through the bus window since there was no time to do anything better.

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There is a platform where aplomado falcons are nesting. This is an exciting recovery story since this bird was gone from the area for years and has only recently been reintroduced and is breeding again in south Texas. I took a picture of the captive falcon at the Expo just as I had the Crested Caracara.

We stopped at the visitor’s center and walked around the cards there. Red-winged blackbirds are all over North America!

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The white winged doves are summer birds in south Texas according to allaboutbirds but there were still a lot of them around in mid-November; I wonder if they are really year round in the Rio Grande Valley.

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 It was a longer day that we’d anticipated but better than we thought might happen in the hour or so after we initially learned of the bus problem. In the end we decided that the Laguna Atascosa trip was well worth it.