Cape May Natural History Hotline - 2/17/2003
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 Monday, February 17 (and will next be updated in early March). 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 still big news around Cape May right now. Colder than normal temperatures and snow cover of unusually long duration has dominated the region since early January. The President's Day weekend has brought more than a foot of new snow - one television station is reporting 17 inches in Cape May. Most freshwater ponds and marshes have been frozen for over a month now. Drinking water is at a premium for birds and other wildlife; if you've got a heated pond or bird bath, you're no doubt seeing lots of visitors. Bird feeding stations are also drawing hordes of birds right now.

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. A few rarer sea birds show up now and then; one such bird is a COMMON EIDER that has been lingering at the Avalon Seawatch site (7th and the seawall) for several weeks now. 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; two were seen off Cape may on Feb. 14th. There have been more COMMON MERGANSERS around Cape May this winter than is typical. Amazingly, an off-course LONG-BILLED CURLEW, first found in late September, continues to reside in the salt marshes behind North Wildwood. Scan the marshes (a scope is usually necessary) from the west end of 14th, 17th, 19th, and 26th Streets at lower tides for your best chance to see this rarity.

An influx of northern GULLS may also occur. Any time you find a large group of gulls, search for ICELAND GULL, GLAUCOUS GULL, THAYER'S GULL, LITTLE GULL, BLACK-HEADED GULL, and possibly something even more exotic. On Feb. 13 both LITTLE GULL and BLACK-HEADED GULL were seen at the Cape May ferry terminal. On the 14th at least three LITTLE GULLS were seen - two at the Concrete Ship (Sunset Beach) and one at the 2nd Ave. jetty at the western edge of the Cape May waterfront. It won't be long before the first LAUGHING GULL returns to Cape May from the southeastern U.S. The honorary Cape May "LAGU Award" is bestowed upon the first person to spot at LAUGHING GULL in late winter. This usually occurs in early March. Several CMBO weekly walks visit coastal areas where rare gulls may be found, including:

1. BIRDING CAPE MAY POINT - Saturdays through March 29, 8 to 10 a.m. Meet at the raised picnic pavilion in Cape May Point State Park.

2. WINTER EVENINGS AT THE MEADOWS - Saturdays through March 29, 4:30 p.m. to dusk. Meet at The Nature Conservancy parking area along Sunset Blvd., halfway between Cape May and Cape May Point.

3. STONE HARBOR POINT BIRD WALK - Alternate Mondays, Feb. 24, March 10, March 24, 8 to 10 a.m. Meet at the Stone Harbor Point parking area at the south end of 2nd Ave. in Stone Harbor.

4. TWO MILE BEACH BIRD WALK - Alternate Mondays, March 3, 17, 31, 8 to 10 a.m. Meet at the last parking area on the left in the Two Mile Beach Unit of the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge. Take Ocean Drive from Cape May toward the Wildwoods. After crossing the first toll bridge (50 cents), make the first right onto Loran Drive into the Refuge. This turn is immediately south of the beginning of the developed are of Wildwood Crest (Diamond Beach).

All CMBO weekly walks cost $6 for members of CMBO and/or the parent organization, the New Jersey Audubon Society, and $10 for nonmembers. There is no advanced registration, just head to the meeting area described. Dress for the weather and bring binoculars. NOTE THAT ALL CMBO ACTIVITIES ARE CANCELLED WHEN WINTER WEATHER CAUSES UNSAFE TRAVEL CONDITIONS. If in doubt, stay home and come out the following week. BE SAFE!

Birds that typically feed on the ground are obviously having trouble 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 - sparrows, finches, juncos -- 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 our roads since the cold snap began.

As soon as the weather moderates a little bit, AMERICAN WOODCOCKS will begin courting at sunrise and sunset every day. The Saturday weekly walk titled, "WINTER EVENINGS AT THE MEADOWS" often witnesses a Woodcock courtship display. Details of this walk are listed above. On Sunday, March 16, from 5 to 7 p.m., CMBO presents SKY DANCE OF THE WOODCOCK, a special pre-registration program describing and (hopefully) observing Woodcock biology and courtship. Cost is $8 for members, $15 others. To register contact the CMBO Center for Research and Education, (609) 861-0700.

Dabbling ducks, GREAT BLUE HERONS, VIRGINIA RAILS, and other birds associated with inland waters are concentrated wherever open water is still found. A few Virginia Rails have been seen on sunny, sheltered roadsides and trail sides, the same areas where woodcocks are being seen. It's a great time of year to watch for sea-loving birds, such as COMMON GOLDENEYE, BUFFLEHEAD, RED-THROATED LOON, and HORNED GREBE. There were big ice flows in Delaware Bay during January, but for the most part the salt water of the Bay and the Atlantic Ocean remain open through Cape May's chilliest winter days. NORTHERN GANNETS are common offshore some winters, but this year they have been scarce. March should bring a major northward movement of these big seabirds. A great vantage point for seabirds is often the Cape May - Lewes Ferry. On Wednesday, March 19, CMBO sponsors a 4-hour program titled, "BIRDING FROM THE FERRY." Nicknamed the "Poor man's pelagic," this trip combines shore viewing with a round trip on the ferry. Cost is $15 for members, $25 for nonmembers, plus the $10 ferry round-trip ticket. Advanced registration is required; call (609) 861-0700.

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. Soon the first OSPREY and EASTERN PHOEBE will return. A few plaintive calls from the little tree frogs called SPRING PEEPERS were heard around Cape May on this winter's very few warmer evenings, but full-fledge peeper choruses are due to erupt around Cape May's freshwater wetlands sometime in March. BALD EAGLES have continued to actively court throughout winter's chill; many will lay eggs and begin to incubate in late February. 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. CMBO's "Winter Raptors of the Delaware Bayshore program, Feb. 2, tallied 27 BALD EAGLES and one GOLDEN EAGLES.

It's time to think about signing up for one or more MAURICE RIVER BALD EAGLE CRUISES, since all 7 trips sold out last year. This year we've added an eighth trip. These 2 1/2 hour trips are scheduled to depart at the following dates and times:

A. Saturday, March 22, 10 a.m.
B. Saturday, March 22, 1 p.m.
C. Sunday, March 23, 10 a.m.
D. Saturday, March 29, 10 a.m.
E Sunday, March 30, 10 a.m.
F. Saturday, April 5, 10 a.m.
G. Saturday, April 5, 1 p.m.
H. Sunday, April 6, 10 a.m.

These trips are all on The Skimmer, a stable 40-foot catamaran whose enclosed viewing deck has removable windows. Cost is $35 for members, $45 for others. Call (609) 861-0700 for more information or to register. The trip begins and ends near Millville, in Cumberland County.

Many GREAT HORNED OWLS are incubating their eggs already, and many chicks will be hatching before month's end. Pairs may often be heard calling back to one another at dusk, again at dawn, and at intervals through the night. They don't 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. One such nest has been found in the marsh off Moran's Marina, at 14th and Ocean Drive in Avalon. 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. These are also great places to see SHORT-EARED OWLS, which hunt the marshes at twilight. CMBO offers two weekly winter walks to raptor-rich areas along the Delaware Bayshore:

1. NIGHTFALL AT JAKES LANDING - Friday evenings through March 28, 4:30 p.m. to dusk. Meet at the end of Jakes Landing Road, which leads south from Rt. 47 just west of Dennisville. SHORT-EARED OWLS are being seen almost every week on this walk.

2. SUNDAY MORNING AT TURKEY POINT - Sunday mornings through March 30, 8 to 10 a.m. Meet at the end of Turkey Point Road, which leads south from Rt. 553 just west of Dividing Creek, in Cumberland County.

CMBO members who have followed through on our backyard habitat workshops are reaping the benefits during this cold and snowy winter. 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 a workshop in late March. "Create a Backyard Wildlife Habitat Introductory Workshop" is led by Pat Sutton and offered on Saturday, March 29 (1-3:30 p.m.). Call 609-861-0700, x11 to sign up!

If you are new to birding, CMBO would love to help you learn how to make your birding field trips more enjoyable and rewarding. A 2-hour weekly program titled, "BIRDING FOR FIRST TIMERS" begins on March 6 and runs every Thursday in March from 1 to 3 p.m. Meet at the CMBO Northwood Center in Cape May Point. No advanced registration, just stop by. For a more serious introduction to birding, try the 6-hour "BIRDING 101" course, offered next on Saturday, March 15. Advanced registration is required for this program, whose cost is $20 for members, $30 for others. Call (609) 861-0700 to register. If you need good binoculars or wish to get a spotting scope, both CMBO Centers offer an excellent variety at competitive prices throughout the year. One weekend per year, however, we are able to accumulate an incredible selection of closeout models, demos, factory-refurbished, new and used optics and extraordinary discounts. The year the CMBO OPTICS SALE is set for March 22 & 23. Come early for the best selection. The sale is held at the CMBO Center for Research and Education in Goshen, phone (609) 861-0700. Hours are 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but a line usually develops well before 9:00 on Saturday morning. The best deals are strictly first-come, first-served.

CMBO's Winter 2003 (January - March) KESTREL EXPRESS program schedule should have reached members' mailboxes last month. The Spring Kestrel Express will be mailed in early March. 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 new WORKSHOP BROCHURE has also been sent, featuring 3 Classic Workshops and 10 Bullet Workshops in calendar year 2003.

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.

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 Northwood Center is currently closed on Tuesdays due to staffing shortages. 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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