Seawatch - Wednesday & Thursday, December 6-7, 2017

It seems like Seawatch is finally starting to slow down with only 3,000 bird counted on Wednesday and 1,200 on Thursday. Wednesday's highlights included a late (and far) Parasitic Jaeger, a single Snow Bunting, and 2 Great Cormorants foraging along the jetty. Thursday was much quieter but there was some pretty sweet Peregrine Falcon drama in the afternoon as two birds battled it out right over the jetty (presumably over a prey item that I didn't see). It looks like the weather is about to turn and actually feel like winter (cold, wind, and snow??) but we'll see what goodies may come our way at Avalon.

Wednesday's totals:

Thursday's totals:

Photo time!

It's pretty fun having TWO Great Cormorants hanging out with you all day.
These Peregrines seem happy enough...
I spoke too soon! They DO NOT like each other!
They eventually departed ways with all feathers intact.

Seawatch - Friday-Tuesday, December 1-5, 2017

While the season is clearly winding down at this point, this past week had a series of slow but steady days, dominated, as expected, by Red-throated Loons and Northern Gannets with a smattering of scoters.  The weekend had a small peak, hitting around 6000 birds Saturday and 5000 birds Sunday, while the rest of the week was around 2000 birds each day.  Another 20 Common Eiders headed south this week, continuing a nice near-daily showing of this species.  Long-tailed Ducks and Red-breasted Mergansers continue to come by in small numbers; we're still due for a more sizeable push of these species.   

One fun sighting on Friday was a male American Kestrel that picked a small mammal off the jetty, then landed with it on the snow fencing to the south of the shack and preceded to pick it apart.  A notable push of 240 Laughing Gulls occurred on Sunday, the biggest movement in well over a month.  Despite strong south winds, Tuesday was the slowest day of the week, only highlighted by a Razorbill early in the morning. 

In non-bird news, a Humpback Whale that was first seen on Wednesday continued through the weekend, relatively close in the inlet.  A very late Monarch butterfly also headed south past the Seawatch on Monday.     

Check out the totals below, and click the day to see the full breakdown:

Friday: 2435
Saturday: 6348
Sunday: 4870
Monday: 2232
Tuesday: 2229

Seawatch - Wednesday & Thursday, November 29-30, 2017

The Avalon Seawatch closed out the month of November with incredibly pleasant, albeit unusually warm, weather and plenty of birds. Wednesday saw just under 10,000 birds but it was the mammals that stood out that day. There were still at least 6 Bottlenose Dolphins hunting just beyond the jetty as well as quite the cooperative Humpback Whale that made appearances throughout the day! The whale was seen again on Thursday but not nearly as much. 

Thursday morning saw a BIG push of Red-throated Loons that became a slow and steady movement for the rest of the day (a total of 7,089), and we also had a season high-day for Northern Gannets (3,201). And although it was the end of November, we still had a great day of diversity including American Wigeon, Common Eider, Horned Grebe, Green-winged Teal, and a super late BROWN PELICAN

In other exciting news, we officially broke the all-time season high count for Black Scoter on Thursday with a new record of 257,398!! The previous season high was 256,633 and with three full weeks left of the season, seems like we will only add to that new record. Check out the totals below, and make sure to check out the Seawatch in the upcoming weeks.

A big flock of White-winged Scoters during the big Red-throated Loon push Thursday morning.
There are plenty of Common Eiders making their way this far south this year.
American Wigeon trailing behind a small flock of Common Eider.
Scoters right on the tail of this late Brown Pelican.
White-winged Scoters flying high.

Hawkwatch - Thursday, November 30, 2017

Today marks the last day of the 2017 Cape May Hawkwatch. It's been an exciting fall with many raptors and and incredible diversity of birds overall. We started the season out with a Mississippi Kite and wrapped up the season with four Rough-legged Hawks and a Swainson's Hawk (all quite rare for the hawkwatch).

As the season progressed beyond the first week of the count, we could see the flow of raptors change as waves of adult birds followed the earlier waves of juvenile birds. Each raptor species peaks in different timeframes. Most recently we've been experiencing waves of the larger late-season birds like Red-shouldered Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Bald Eagles, and more! Migration is all about a chain reaction of food availability. When the prey items on the lower portion of the foodchain become scarce or migrate south, the predator items follow. The timing of each raptor species coincides with their food. The American Kestrels follow dragonflies and the smaller birds. Sharp-shinned Hawks' numbers are at their most impressive count when warblers are migrating through in diverse and densely-formed flocks. Every day at the Cape May Hawkwatch is a treat, and every day is different than the day before.

We've had some stellar days of raptor migration this fall, including an exceptionally noteworthy flight of American Kestrels (largest season total since 2003, largest day count since 1999)! A total of 1,936 American Kestrels were tallied at the Cape May Hawkwatch on September 28th of this fall. To see a severely declining raptor zip through with such intensity gave us all goosebumps. I teared up a little while counting them. Sheer migration magic of such a beautiful species, and once again, a species of concern. The flight was fast-paced as they raced south with the strong north winds. Their populations are plummeting throughout much of the country, and they are just one of the indicator species that connects our actions in the environment with their survival as a species.

How can we help the American Kestrels and other animals in the environment? A big yet simple step is to plant native plants around our homes. Make your neighbors aware of how special it is to see dragonflies and butterflies in their yards (not to mention an increase in birds), and how native plants require little care once planted. These personal stopover sites provide homes to migrating songbirds and insects, as well as the wildlife that lives there year round. It's a big world out there, and year after year natural areas are becoming more infringed with populated areas. Providing a home to birds in your yard makes a bigger difference than you may realize. We're all in this game of survival, together. It was fantastic to watch SO. MANY. BIRDS. with you from the Cape May Hawkwatch this fall. Please be good stewards of the land, and enjoy the birds!

Good birding,

Little shuffle between a Cooper's Hawk (below) and Northern Harrier (above) shortly after sunrise.

Eurasian Wigeon (left) and American Wigeon (right)

Great Black-backed Gull

Two Double-crested Cormorants and a Great Cormorant (right) flying by.

Wrapping up the season. Here's today's count totals. Click the image to see a larger view.

Hawkwatch - Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Light west winds and full sun on a warm November day moved raptors through to the north of the hawkwatch. A late-season American Kestrel migrated by in the early morning hours. We're up to three Eurasian Wigeon that mingle with the more common American Wigeon.  One Gray Ghost (adult male Northern Harrier) put on a stellar show for us as it patrolled the back edge of Bunker Pond. It's an exciting time of fall when the game of migration is not about numbers (although we can still get good flights currently), but more often the diversity and the likelihood of aberrant birds showing up. There's a nice cold breeze expected tonight, and it will be interesting to see if that brings some birds through the upcoming morning hours.

Tomorrow marks the last day of the 2017 Cape May Hawkcount. Stop on by and see what raptors are flying. It will be fun to see you there!

Adult male Northern Harrier, also known as a Gray Ghost.

Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk flying over. Note stout wings showing the bowed trailing edge, slender and squared-off tail, and petite head. This small accipiter species flutters through the air.

Drake Eurasian Wigeon with several American Wigeon.

Today's totals. Click the image to see a larger view!