Cape May Natural History Hotline - 12/26/2002
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 Thursday, December 26 (and will next be updated on Friday, January 10). 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."

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.

If you want to learn more about owls and other winter goodies, there is still room for the first time in 5 years (7 openings) on CMBO's very popular 4-Day Classic Workshop focused on Owls, Hawks and Eagles, & Waterfowl (Jan. 24-27) with Pat & Clay Sutton and Ward Dasey. Call 609-861-0700, x-11, and leave your name, full address, & phone number to register or to get the workshop brochure!

A late afternoon walk on Christmas Eve (December 24) at Jakes Landing was delightful with sightings of 5 Short-eared Owls (mostly as one looks to the right down the creek and out towards the Delaware Bay), 3 adult Bald Eagles (having fun putting up the 7,000+ Snow Geese -- quite a show!), 2 Rough-legged Hawks, 1 Merlin, and 20+ Red-tailed Hawks sitting as pairs dotting the landscape. On December 22 at Jakes Landing (during the Belleplain CBC) flocks of American Pipits were heard as fly-overs and a Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow was found along the road across the marsh.

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.

You can set your clock right now by GREAT HORNED OWLS. They are tuning up as their nesting season draws near. They are our earliest nesting bird and will be on eggs by late January. Right now they are calling to one another at dusk as they sit near the stick nest that they have chosen and will use next month to lay their eggs in, a nest that they did not build but probably was built by a pair of Red-tailed Hawks last spring. They begin calling about 4:30 p.m. and by 5:00 p.m., just when it gets almost too dark to see, they fly out from the deep woods to a snag on an edge overlooking the saltmarsh or a farm field. 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.

BALD EAGLES (our second earliest nesting bird) were carrying sticks to their nests in mid-December and on December 22 several nests already had both adults sitting at them with the female nestled down inside working on the comfort of the nest (rearranging the sticks and trying it out). They won't lay eggs until early February at the earliest, but are already territorial of their nest sites. The Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Survey is coming up January 11 & 12, 2003. If you should see any nest-building activity (adult Bald Eagles carrying sticks), you may have discovered a new Bald Eagle nest. Their numbers have been growing in recent years. In 2002 there were 22 successful nests, 7 nests that failed, and 5 other pairs on territory -- so 34 pairs in the state of NJ. Call the Endangered & Nongame Species Program if you should see nest activity (609-628-2103: Larissa Smith) and Vince Elia (who is coordinating the Bald Eagle Survey in southern NJ) at CMBO (609-861-0700, x-15.

Some IDEAS for fun WINTER WALKS THIS WEEK this week include of course Jakes Landing (with all the fun sightings shared above), Reeds Beach, and Stone Harbor Point. At Reeds Beach park midway down the road. Take your scope. Walk the road. Scan the pond on your right for Green-winged Teal and night herons. Scan the marsh and salt ponds along the road, both to the north and to the south. A ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK or two are wintering in these marshes to the north. Clouds of SNOW GEESE can be heard and seen to the north. Red-tailed Hawks and sometimes Bald Eagles perch on the tree islands in the marsh. At the creek before the "T," if it is low tide, linger and watch for CLAPPER RAILS. Turn right and continue to walk out the road towards the jetty. Where breaks in the houses permit, scan the Delaware Bay waters for waterfowl. CANVASBACKS (3), GREATER SCAUP (300), LESSER SCAUP (2), SURF SCOTERS, WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS, BLACK SCOTERS (60), BUFFLEHEAD (30), and RUDDY DUCKS (220) were all enjoyed here on December 15. At the road end scan the pilings and the jetty for the GREAT CORMORANT, often perched here. Stone Harbor Point is always a wonderful place for a winter stroll. Again take your telescope. Thousands of shorebirds have been frequenting the area, mostly DUNLIN and WESTERN SANDPIPERS. Also look for SNOW BUNTINGS. In early December (the 8th) a GOSHAWK entertained as it hunted the Waxmyrtle thickets. Maybe it's still around. Thousands of BRANT have filled the back bay waters and will winter here. Their soft gargling "rrot" calls are music to the ears.

A group of 10-20 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.

A WESTERN TANAGER was discovered during the Cape May Christmas Bird Count (December 15) in Erma (just south of Rio Grande). Of significance is that the yard that has attracted and held this very rare visitor from the west is a successful wildlife habitat as result of the property owner attending Cape May Bird Observatory "Backyard Habitat Workshops." Pretty cool, huh! Directions to the site are shared on the Cape May Birding Hotline. 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, x-11 to sign up!

Amazingly, butterflies were seen recently: a CLOUDED SULPHUR on Dec. 22 on Sunset Blvd. at the old Magnesite Plant property and a MONARCH (yowiee!) on Dec. 22 at Higbee Beach in the 3rd field. The temperature was 54 degrees F. The same day a RED BAT was flying around at Higbee Beach at 3:15 p.m. If it's warm enough, overwintering Red Bats will come out of dormancy and hunt, as this individual was doing on December 22. COYOTES continue to be heard near Higbee Beach and the Rea Farm.

The Cape May Bird Observatory's two centers will be closed December 24 through January 1. A number of weekly winter bird walks begin mid-January. January 18 (every Saturday) "Birding Cape May Point," from 8:00-10:00 a.m., meets in the raised picnic pavilion of the Cape May Point State Park. January 19 (every Sunday) "Sunday Morning at Turkey Point," from 8:00-10:00 a.m., meets at the end of Turkey Point Road in Cumberland County. January 24 (every Friday) "Nightfall at Jakes Landing," from 4:30 p.m. to dusk, meets at the end of Jakes Landing Road. January 27 (alternate Mondays: 1/27, 2/10, 2/24, 3/10, 3/24) "Stone Harbor Point Bird Walk," from 8:00-10:00 a.m., meets in the parking lot at the south end of 2nd Avenue in Stone Harbor. February 3 (alternate Mondays: 2/3, 2/17, 3/3, 3/17, 3/31) "Two Mile Beach Bird Walk," from 8:00-10:00 a.m., meets in the last (left) parking area in the Two Mile Beach Unit of the Cape May NWR.

Wishing you a lovely holiday and a Happy & Bird-y New Year!

CMBO's Winter 2003 (January - March) Kestrel Express program schedule is on its way to CMBO members now. If you are not a member and would like to receive a copy with full details about our programs, stop by either CMBO Center (remember: we're closed December 24-January 1), or 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. (except between Christmas and New Years). For more information call 609-861-0700. Thanks for calling and ENJOY THE NATURAL WORLD!

Patricia Sutton, Program Director New Jersey Audubon Society's Cape May Bird Observatory Center for Research & Education 600 Route 47 North, Cape May Court House, NJ 08210 609-861-0700, x-16 (phone) / 609-861-1651 (fax) pat_sutton@njaudubon.org

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