Birding The Meadows

I started writing this entry last night, and completely fell asleep while typing it--completely slumped over on the couch. Thank goodness I didn't drool on the keyboard.

Ack! I birded this place Sunday, how is it now Thursday that I'm finally blogging it? Ah well, at least I'm getting to it now. When we watched the weather over the weekend and learned that Sunday would be the first sunny day of the festival, we all were planning our morning birding strategies. Clay Taylor recommended going to The Meadows for just loads of birds flying over, so that was where I went.

We found a good sampling of ducks in the above pond. Here we have a mallard, a blue-winged teal, and a gadwall. It's fun to note the size difference of all three of these ducks when side by side.

I think gadwalls have one of my favorite ducks calls of all time. You can find it on this WhatBird (you may have to scroll down a bit when you get there). They sound like Muppets--mer mer mer. As we were taking these photos, a steady line of small raptors were zipping just over our heads--and I mean mere feet above our heads. The change in weather had pushed songbirds down south on their migration and they were landing in the meadows to feed, sharp-shinned hawks and merlins were taking advantage of the situation. While I was shooting ducks, I would look over my view finder and I'd see sharpie, sharpie, sharpie, sharpie, MERLIN, sharpie, sharpie, etc. It was pretty darned sweet.

Ducks were well and good, but being in Minnesota, I was more interested in doing some beach digiscoping. Clay decided to try his luck with warblers, so we briefly parted ways. I love photographing on a beach with little to know humans. You hear the crash of the surf, you feel the wind on your face, you smell the salty air and you just can't help but feel like an adventurer. I was also feeling more confident about my shorebird id skills and photography after taking that shorebird workshop this summer.

Alas, a little tougher than I thought! Well, one of the things that separates sanderlings from other shorebirds that can look similar like the semi-palmated sandpipers is that they constantly run back and forth with the waves. Which makes them hard to photograph--and just plain hard to find in the scope as the waves and birds move.

Fortunately for me, some much slower shorebirds moved in! Not only that, they have a pretty distinctive bill shape, making them dunlins--whoot! I decided that I would just try to follow shorebirds and take as many photos as possible to have a reference of sanderlings in my photo library.

When I downloaded the photos later in the day, I discovered that some of them were banded! I didn't notice it while out on the beach, but fortunately I was haphazardly shooting and got the evidence. I thought I was photographing sanderlings and honestly, from this angle we can't see the front for positive id, but it's a pretty good bet.

And that wasn't the only one! I found a second banded shorebird! This does look like a sanderling, but it's interesting to note that both birds have similar banding patterns to the banded semi-palmated sandpipers we found this summer during the shorebird workshop. I know the green flag on the bird in the above photo means it was banded in the US, but not sure about the other one. I'll turn these photos into the Bird Banding Lab and when I find out more info, I'll post an update in the blog. Well, as I was just enjoying the day and a set of willets just landed, a peregrine flew into view and chased all the shorebirds away. It dawned on me what a beautiful and unusual site this is for me. To see the large dark falcon fly right on the beach--I usually see them around skyscrapers. Since the shorebirds got the heck out of Dodge, I decided to try my hand at the gray hair inducing task of photographing fall warblers.

I never thought I would say this, but it was like shooting fish in a barrel! It was mostly yellow-rumped warblers, but it was just a matter of picking a perch, keeping your scope aimed there and waiting a few minutes for a warbler to land. This yellow rumped perched here for a full three minutes!

Heck, I even managed to get a shot of it nabbing insects when it flew. That is what is part of the magic of Cape May during migration. Oh sure, you may be able to see many of the bird species there, but it's the sheer number and magnitude that consistently shows up during migration. On year, over a million robins flew over in an hour. While I was photographing this warbler, several hundred turkey vultures were moving through.

I even managed to photograph a second species of warbler--this lovely palm warbler popped up. Only in Cape May, folks, can a novice digiscoper manage to get some decent warbler shots.

The Meadows is run by the Nature Conservancy and you do need to pay a small fee (well worth it) to enter. I will say this, about Cape May--it attracts some old school birders...dare I say crotchety birders. One man was very angry about paying for entering The Meadows, "This place is ruined, I shouldn't have to pay." Which I think is utterly ridiculous. Natural space for birds is at a premium, it takes money to maintain it and people should pay to make sure it stays. Of course, this guy also grunted at the birdJam software, "In my day, we just went outside to learn the bird calls." He would have finished his speech, but he had to run after some teenagers to shout, "Get those darn smoochers offa meh property."

Mental note to old schoolers talking to whipper snappers: Starting a sentence with the phrase, "In my day..." automatically induces eye rolling on the part of the listener.

Speaking of old school, another conversation that I had at Cape May about iPods:

Old School Birder: In my day we did this thing called listening to the radio to get our music.

Birdchick: Yeah, but sometimes the Sinatra or opera isn't on the radio.

Old School Birder: My dear, public radio has opera every Sunday, so there you go.

Birdchick: But what if you're jonesing' for La Traviata on a Thursday night, the iPod's there for ya'.

Old School Birder backs away in apparent confusion that a whipper snapper would know the title of a Verdi opera or the possibility of being able to listen to any kind of music at any time of day...or at the use of the word "jonesing".

I wonder what I'm going to be crotchety about when I grow up? What will be the technology that I think is too much or just think it too complicated to use? I seriously ponder this. "In my day, we held the digital camera to the spotting scope to get photos...we didn't have the camera built into the scope."

And for the record: "old school" and "crotchety" have more to do with a state of mind than with age. I know birders older than I am who act younger than me (I like to think I act like a 15 year old, and there are a couple who qualify as 13 year olds--you know who you are) and some birders younger than me that could qualify for crotchety.