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.

Zooming – May 2019

It’s the end of the month – and time to select some images that I utilized the zoom on my camera to capture. I took over 2,000 images in May and at least half of them used that feature – so I had a lot to choose from.

There are quite a few birds in the slideshow this month. Can you find: red-winged blackbird displaying its colors, oystercatcher on the beach, laughing gull, least tern on a barrel, osprey on their nest, peregrine falcon with chicks, and several crowds of shorebirds. The bird feet are those of a mockingbird.

There is a painted turtle, ghost crab and horseshoe crab in the mix as well.

Enjoy the May slideshow!

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

We visited Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge last weekend…an afternoon and the next morning. The afternoon was very wet so the picture of the visitor center sigh with plants growing through it was taken the next morning in the sunshine.

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The growth around the visitor center was very green…dogwoods were in bloom and pine pollen was everywhere.

The growth around the visitor center was very green…dogwoods were in bloom and pine pollen was everywhere.

On the first day we drove down the main road toward the beach. It was raining and we didn’t try to take any pictures. The wildlife loop is only open to cars after 3 PM and there was a lull in the rain about that time. We started around. I noticed thistles in bloom (attractive to bees),

Heard lots of red-winged blackbirds and managed to photograph one eventually,

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And photographed a glossy ibis almost out of camera range.

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Near the end of the wildlife loop there were a few of the Chincoteague ponies munching on the wet grass….about that time is started raining again and we headed to our hotel for the night.

The next morning was very breezy and almost cold. Our trip to one of the islands in the Chesapeake Bay was cancelled – winds made it unsafe for small boats. So – we bundled up and headed to the beach at Chincoteague. It is a narrower stretch of sand than when we first saw it more than 35 years ago and when we flew kites here with our daughter about 20 years ago. The gulls were not flying. Only the laughing gulls were at the beach and they were on the ground near the parking lot rather than at the water’s edge.

It was a little disappointing to see only people and roiling water at the beach.

As we started back, we saw a few herring gulls in shallow water protected by the dunes.

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The group of birds a little ways from the herring gull was the high point of the morning at Chincoteague: royal terns and black skimmers (and laughing gulls)!

I’ll post later about the egrets and a heron we saw at Chincoteague. Even with the rain and doing most of our photography using the car as a blind, my husband and I both enjoyed the spring birding opportunities at Chincoteague.

Gull Fly-in

The rain was over by mid-day and by midafternoon we headed out to our second activity of our day at the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival: a gull fly-in at Daytona Beach Shores. We met at the Frank Reardon Park and headed down the wooden steps to the beach. There were already a lot of gulls collecting on the wetter part of the beach.

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There were primarily three kinds: Ring-Billed gulls (white head with the black band on their short/slim yellow bills, yellow legs, juveniles are motley brown and gray with a pink bill and legs),

Laughing gulls (head in winter is a blurry gray rather than black as it is in summer, legs are reddish black or black). In the picture below there is a juvenile ring-billed gull behind the laughing gulls. Note that the ring billed gull is larger.

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Herring gulls (white head, yellow eyes, dull pink legs, juveniles are mottled brown). The herring gull is toward the back in the picture below with laughing gulls in the foreground. Note that the Herring Gull is larger than then laughing gulls (and the ring-billed gulls).

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All the birds were preening after spending the day feeding at the landfill. They gather at the beach in large numbers late in the day to rest and clean up before heading out to sea for the night.  There was a peregrine falcon that swooped down from one of the high-rise resorts on the beach periodically – causing the gulls to fly up in a cloud. I got a sequence of shots of one such event.

In the distance – close to the horizon – a parasitic jaeger was making dives and swoops going after gulls in the water. There were also pelicans that flew by. I stayed focused on the gulls as the light began to fade. I got a portrait of a laughing gull in the water.

The sky began to reflect the sunset colors and it was time to call it a day.

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South Padre Island and Bay Cruise – Part 3

The last part of the field trip was a cruise on the bay. The first ‘sight’ was a lighthouse with scaffolding around it as we neared the dock on our bus.

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Then we were off and looking for Peregrine Falcons under the bridge. We spotted several but there was only one that was positioned for pictures.

There were mud flats with Laughing Gulls,

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An Osprey surveying the scene, and

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A Great Blue Heron walking awkwardly in the mud.

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There was an island that provide roosting sites for Great Blue Herons (7 of them in the foreground) and Roseate Spoonbills (8-10 of them in the background).

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This is the best picture I got of the Roseate Spoonbills as we cam around their side of the island.

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Brown Pelicans, Double-crested Cormorants, and laughing gulls were groups on the sandy beach.

What birds to you see in these two pictures? So you see the Green-winged teals (2 males and a female), Black-Necked Stilt (2), Great Egret, Laughing gulls.

As we headed back to the dock, there were Double-Crested cormorants on pilings we were passing

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And a Laughing Gull settled on the highest point of our boat.

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There were so many Brown Pelicans. It’s thrilling that their numbers have recovered from the brink of extinction caused by pesticide pollution!

South Padre Island and Bay Cruise – Part 2

Our second stop was the South Padre Island Convention Center. There are boardwalks on one side of the building for birds (and other wildlife) viewing. My best pictures there were: black-necked stilt,

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An alligator that was still at first but then headed toward the shore…stalking

A Common Gallinule that was making its way close to the shore (fortunately it wandered further upslope…no drama),

We walked to an area where there was a small area of planted vegetation. The small birds there were too hard to photography in the vegetation, but there were quite a few monarchs roosting…a little rest before continuing their migration.

We continued around the convention center buildings. There was a Little Blue Heron on an abutment,

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A pelican almost too far out in the water (I didn’t notice the grebe until I looked at the image on the larger screen of my computer),

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A Great Egret (not the black legs and feet),

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At the front of the convention center, I took some pictures of the facades. These must hold up to coastal storms.

There were mud flats on the other side of the convention center….mostly drying since the tide was out. There were White Pelicans,

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Black Skimmers (in the foreground), and

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A strutting Tricolor Heron.

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As we walked back to the bus, there were some White Ibis walking across the parking lot with us. The underside of the bill was different than I expected!

Closer to the bus were some laughing gulls in the parking lot. One seemed to yawn….a good ‘last’ picture for this segment of the field trip.