Cape May Natural History Hotline - 1/24/2003
You have reached the Cape May Natural History & Events Hotline, a service of New Jersey Audubon Society's Cape May Bird Observatory. This update was made on Friday, January 24 (and will next be updated around February 7). For bird news call the Cape May Birding Hotline at 609-898-2473. NJ Audubon's three hotlines can be read in full on our web site (http://www.njaudubon.org), by clicking on "Sightings."

Weather is the big news around Cape May right now. Frigid arctic air has dominated the area for more than 2 weeks. Most freshwater ponds and marshes are frozen solid, and even the Delaware Bay has huge ice sheets and ice flows. Drinking water is at a premium for birds and other wildlife; if youve got a heated pond or bird bath, youre no doubt seeing lots of visitors. Bird feeding stations are also drawing hordes of birds right now.

Sunny road edges, such as the north side of Sunset Blvd., offer many birds a sheltered, snow-free refuge. Dark pavement heats up during sunny days, and some of this heat radiates onto the roadside. AMERICAN WOODCOCKS are gathering in these areas; they typically feed by probing into the cover of the forest floor. This humus layer is frozen solid in most Cape May woods. Seed eating songbirds are also being seen frequently on roadsides. Please slow down when driving in areas where these birds are concentrated; many birds have been hit by cars on Sunset and other Cape May roads since the cold snap began.

Water birds are now concentrated in areas of open water. LOONS, SCOTERS, and other sea ducks seem quite unperturbed by the 34 degree ocean water, with numbers are being seen all along the coast. If the cold snap continues in the eastern U.S., and the Great Lakes freeze, we may see an influx of RED-NECKED GREBES in our coastal waters.

An influx of northern GULLS may also occur. Any time you find a large group of gulls, search for ICELAND GULL, GLAUCOUS GULL, THAYERS GULL, LITTLE GULL, BLACK-HEADED GULL, and possibly something even more exotic. This winters weather makes the timing seem ideal for CMBOs first ever 2-day bullet workshop on GULLS, set for February 1 and 2. The leaders are Michael OBrien and Vince Elia, and several spots are still open. Cost is $120 for members, $155 for nonmembers. Call the CMBO Center for Research and Education for information or to register: (609) 861-0700. The complete listing of 2003 CMBO workshops should be arriving in members mailboxes any day now.

Dabbling ducks, GREAT BLUE HERONS, VIRGINIA RAILS, and other birds associated with inland waters are concentrated wherever open water is still found. Some Virginia Rails have been seen on sunny, sheltered roadsides and trail sides, the same areas where woodcocks are being seen.

ALCIDS are still being seen frequently along the New Jersey coast this month. Most sightings have been of RAZORBILLS or, for distant birds, Large Alcid sp., but DOVEKIE has also been positively identified. Bundle up warmly and head out to the coast for some productive sea-watching!

Despite the cold weather and early sunsets, the Winter Solstice is behind us, the days are growing longer, and signs of spring are slowly showing up. The buds are already swelling on many species of trees, including maples, willows, and elms. A few plaintive calls from the little tree frogs called SPRING PEEPERS were heard around Cape May on Januarys warmer evenings (yes, there were a few warm days early in the month). BALD EAGLES are actively courting and will be laying eggs soon. Preliminary results from the South Jersey Eagle Survey, conducted Jan. 11 12, show between 105 and 110 Bald Eagles and 5 Golden Eagles in the coastal regions of southern New Jersey. Search for eagles and other birds of prey on Sunday, February 2, with CMBO naturalist Mark Garland and a cadre of able Associate Naturalists. This field trip, Winter Raptors of the Delaware Bayshore, runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Advanced registration is required; call (609) 861-0700 x11.

Many GREAT HORNED OWLS are incubating their eggs already. Pairs may often be heard calling back to one another at dusk, again at dawn, and at intervals through the night. They dont build a nest of their own, rather they use an old stick nest that a hawk or crow built in a previous year. One or more Great Horned Owls typically nest on Osprey platforms out in the salt marshes. Hundreds of Great Horned Owls live along New Jersey's upland edge of the Delaware Bayshore and one or several might be seen at any number of sites: Woodcock Lane, Goshen Landing, Jakes Landing, Hansey Creek, Turkey Point.

Other owls that you might find at this season are SHORT-EARED OWLS, which hunt the marshes at twilight, and NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWLS, which hide in dense tangles of evergreen branches or deciduous vine clusters.

It's an OWLY WINTER indeed, as we have found on South Jersey Christmas Bird Counts. Participants on December 22nd's Belleplain CBC had a still night and morning and took advantage of the condition to play Saw-whet Owl tapes. 9 SAW-WHET OWLS responded with "tooting" in 4 different territories from 3 a.m. until 6:45 a.m. (Belleplain State Forest, Woodbine, Peaslee WMA). Lots of Screech & Great Horned Owls and a number of Barred Owls were also heard, and at day-time roosts both a Barn and a Long-eared Owl were found. SHORT-EARED OWLS were thick at Jakes Landing with 3 close to the road (barking and chasing each other and N. Harriers about) and 5 to the north at the far end of the dead trees (which were close to observers way out on the marsh off Sutton Road), also barking, carrying on, and putting on quite a show! 1 Short-eared Owl was also seen at the end of Stipson's Island Road the evening of the 22nd. December 15th's Cape May CBC tallied all the owls, but Snowy and Short-eared Owl (even though Short-ears are around!). 6 LONG-EARED OWLS and 4 BARN OWLS were found at daytime roosts on private property along the Delaware Bayshore upland edge of Cape May County. A SAW-WHET OWL responded to tooting that evening when the wind finally dropped, plus a number of their pellets were found during the day at daytime roost sites. Specific sites for Saw-whets, Barn, and Long-eared Owls are not being shared on this Natural History Hotline in the interest of the owls (the pressure would be too darned great). But by sharing this owl news we hope to make you aware that owls are HERE this winter and in pretty good numbers, and the likelihood of you finding some if you put in the time are very good.

The Corbin City portion of the McNamara WMA (accessed from Griscom Mill Road off Route 50, north of the Tuckahoe River) is another good spot this winter for SHORT-EARED OWLS with 10+ being seen there this winter.

New Jersey's first SNOWY OWLS of the winter were discovered a bit later than usual (normally we see the first ones near Thanksgiving). On December 14 one was enjoyed at Sandy Hook during that area's CBC and another was found December 17 at Riverdale, NJ. A probable Snowy Owl was seen along the Cold Spring Inlet (the mouth of Cape May Harbor) on Jan. 5th. Further north, a SNOWY OWL was reported at the Morristown Memorial Hospital Jan 18. Another Snowy was found at the mouth of Matawan Creek, in the salt marsh on the west shore the same day. Observers might also try nearby Conaskonk Point, where one was found last winter.

A group of LONG-TAILED DUCKS are regulars at 7th Street and the beach at the north end of Avalon (the site of CMBO's Avalon Seawatch: Sept. 22 - Dec. 22) now and busy courting and calling their distinctive, "South Southerly, south southerly." Often you'll find 10 or more males around a single female. The males' heads are held high, their tails stiff, and they chase each other about. It's all very entertaining. Check it out. This scene should be one highlight of the CMBO program, Longtails in Love, which runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, February 15. Advanced registration is required. For more information or to register, call (609) 861-0700 x11

CMBO members who have followed through on our backyard habitat workshops are reaping the benefits during this cold spell. Yards that supply wildlife with food, cover, and drinking water are busy places right now! If you would like to make your yard "wildlife-friendly," CMBO is offering 2 workshops this winter: (1) "Backyard Habitat: Nuts & Bolts Workshop ... with special emphasis on the design process" on Saturday, February 1 (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.) with Karen Williams and (2) "Create a Backyard Wildlife Habitat Introductory Workshop" on Saturday, March 29 (1-3:30 p.m.) with Pat Sutton. Call 609-861-0700, x11 to sign up!

The Cape May Bird Observatory's weekly winter bird walks began mid-January. Every Saturday: "Birding Cape May Point," runs from 8:00-10:00 a.m., meeting in the raised picnic pavilion of the Cape May Point State Park. "Sunday Morning at Turkey Point," is offered every Sunday morning from 8:00-10:00 a.m., meeting at the end of Turkey Point Road in Cumberland County. "Nightfall at Jakes Landing," runs Friday afternoons from 4:30 p.m. to dusk, meeting at the end of Jakes Landing Road. Two programs alternate on Monday mornings this winter. "Stone Harbor Point Bird Walk," is offered 1/27, 2/10, 2/24, 3/10, and 3/24 from 8:00-10:00 a.m., meeting in the parking lot at the south end of 2nd Avenue in Stone Harbor. "Two Mile Beach Bird Walk," runs on the intervening Mondays, 2/3, 2/17, 3/3, 3/17, and 3/31, from 8:00-10:00 a.m., meeting in the last (left) parking area in the Two Mile Beach Unit of the Cape May NWR.

CMBO's Winter 2003 (January - March) Kestrel Express program schedule should have reached members mailboxes earlier this month. If you are not a member and would like to receive a copy with full details about our programs, stop by either CMBO Center, call 609-861-0700, or visit New Jersey Audubon's web site at http://www.njaudubon.org (click on "Calendar," then on "Cape May Bird Observatory").

The Cape May Bird Observatory is a research and education unit of the New Jersey Audubon Society. Our aim is to perpetuate and preserve the ornithological and natural history significance of Cape May. Your membership supports these goals and this Cape May Natural History & Events Hotline (updated every other week in January & February, on Friday or earlier).

Our two centers are CMBO's Center for Research & Education at 600 Route 47 North in Goshen and CMBO's Northwood Center at 701 East Lake Drive in Cape May Point. Both are open DAILY, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., though the Center for Research & Education will be closed on Mondays during January. For more information call 609-861-0700. Thanks for calling and ENJOY THE NATURAL WORLD!

Mark S. Garland
Senior Naturalist
New Jersey Audubon Society
Cape May Bird Observatory
Northwood Center
701 E. Lake Dr.
PO Box 3
Cape May Point, NJ 08212
(609) 884-2736

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