Skua Inspiration

As I psych myself up for yet another pelagic season in the north Atlantic, I review this month’s “nearby” skua sightings. On Valentine’s Day 1991, be still my heart: it appears a record from shore at Manasquan inlet NJ (among others that year) was accepted to genus level. Other encouraging records:

  • Feb 6 2016: pelagic out of Cape May
  • Feb 19 1995: This was a day trip that left from Cape May and encountered a great skua at 19 fathom seamount off DE I’m curious about what appears to be a very early departure time. I wonder if we could swing or would consider that for our current trips, and of course what difference it makes?
  • Feb 26 1995: This was another day trip that appears to have gone out of MD, but for what it’s worth (if anything) we sometimes eek into MD waters
  • various records before my time at the MD pelagic general hot spot: the most enticing details here are the number of birds recorded on trips in the 70’s!
    • Valentine’s Day 1982
    • Feb 1 1976
    • Feb 9 1975
    • Feb 7 1975
    • Feb 2 1975
    • Feb 1 1975: a total of *9* birds are reported 67-111 km E of Ocean City
    • Feb 3 1974

So yet again, I budget for a ticket and get my seasickness medication in order to plan for more days at sea…

Best Birds of 2023

This year, my “big birding vacation” was that I signed up for a dream trip in the form of Kansas lek treks! On 4/14 I visited a lesser prairie-chicken lek and got to start the morning with some dancing chickens. The afternoon would see a possible tough miss of unpreparedness, where flying by the seat of my pants, I didn’t learn the thick-billed longspur song. I may have heard one birding my way to Garden City, but I console myself with that it stopped singing and I was never able to find the unknown bird. The next day was pretty magical though: I made it into mountain time to see a scaled quail perched up on a fence post in the early light. It was truly lucky because perhaps in part due to the awful weather, it was the only one I saw, and never reappeared once it flushed. I also am pretty sure I heard a Cassin’s sparrow, but it never sang again, and everything was hunkered down as the windy cold rain set in.

Migration would kick off with me getting to hear a Cerulean warbler for the first time in years! We’d also get some “backyard” excitement with a very red curlew sandpiper right at the meadows mid-May! The most fun part of this bird was doing a true from work chase, where a coworker got it as a lifer and we all got to bond over a rarity convergence.

I then would get to see a great birder friend that now lives a country away twice this year in NJ! She would have to put up with me being sick the first visit, and the 2nd came at a very busy time…but, we carved out some quality time to hang and look at birds nonetheless!

My next lucky 24 hours would come on an incredible pelagic weekend! I was able to race up to Brig to see a bar-tailed godwit on 6/18 before turning right around to finish packing ahead of boarding the boat that night. The next day, on our way back near Elephant’s Trunk(!) an obliging South Polar skua made a slow pass right in front of the boat. My lifer was once again celebrated with the friends I’ve made over these many boat trips, including the crew of the Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center (can’t say enough good about these trips, and excited to take my next venture early in the new year…get signed up!).

On 7/2 the recurrence of a little egret at Bombay Hook would bring some excitement to the summer doldrums. I made a round trip go of it, driving around to get there early and then taking the ferry back. The latter half of the year, I was thankful to be asked to guide for the Cape May fall festival! I got to guide and bird with old friends, and meet some new ones! As always, a chaotic and wonderful weekend greeted us with the unexpected and plenty of enthusiasm from all involved.

The onset of winter birding would be heralded by a black guillemot irruption, and on 11/5 I got to see this much-wanted lifer. It left me with the mark of the beast on my eBird lifer tally (ha! …an incomplete life list though, as there are many Costa Rican birds from my 1st trip that aren’t recorded there). So, I was itching to put an new bird in the books…and what a bird that would be! The really wacky lifer of the year for many of us would be the red-flanked bluetail that I finally got to see on 12/22.

On 12/17 I was honored to take on section 3SE of the Cape May CBC, and got to spend the day birding with and among some of my best friends of south Jersey!

Yes, Nauti spirits was in our section, and this was completely necessary for access to their grounds…photo credit: Kelly Ball

Incredibly 2023 still had some bang left in it as I closed out the year in FL. I waded through the inaccurately named “dry bones trail” of the Cape Coral rotary park to hear my nemesis mangrove cuckoo on 12/29! The water was too deep for me to get through the connector with the boots I had (knee-high wellies would have done the trick). But, just on the other side on the mangrove alcove trail, some lucky birders got great looks the following day! (I never would catch a glimpse, but, next year goals…) I also always enjoy getting to see the Florida subspecies of red-shouldered hawk. Also in the realm of neat color morphs that show up in FL, I got to see the “great white heron!” My final lifer of year was a true New Year’s Eve last min bird: American flamingos still hanging out, presumably, from the hurricane displacement on a sand bar. My mom, a family friend and I went on a the afternoon dolphin & wildlife cruise which left at 1:30 PM to see them, which overall was just a great way to spend the last day of 2023.

Happy new years…and as usual…what will 2024 bring us?!

Pelagic Overnight

We are just getting back from an incredible night and day at sea! From land, temps bottomed out at 57F and got up to a high of 79F. We started the morning at ~90 mi offshore off Wilmington canyon and worked our way back in from there. Here’s what I wore to stay comfortable…

  • parka (yes really! made for a great blanket early in the day)
  • UPF pullover hoodie
  • visor
  • Costa del Mar sunglasses
  • tee shirt
  • cotton leggings
  • flipflops

I wish I would have brought my hooded puff layer. I didn’t use my trucker hat, bucket hat or buff, but always good to have them on board, in addition to wind stopper gloves.

Yard Tree Candidates

From the list native to the county that would also produce some yummy fruits (for me and the birds) or add conservation value…

  • green ash – can tolerate poorly-drained (back yard)
    • https://entomologytoday.org/2016/03/07/heres-how-to-inspect-your-trees-for-emerald-ash-borer/
    • https://eab.russell.wisc.edu/signs-and-symptoms/
    • questionable native status in the county though: http://capemaywildlife.com/_templates/group_oleaceae.html
  • common serviceberry – well drained (front yard)
  • Canadian serviceberry – ditto
  • sand hickory – front yard
  • common hackberry – not picky (back yard?)
    • native status in the county disputed: http://capemaywildlife.com/_templates/group_elms.html
  • common persimmon – loamy (front yard)
  • American hollyBerryland (backyard)
  • black walnut – sandy loam (front yard)
  • eastern redcedar – well-drained but also wet (either?)
  • mountain laurel – well-drained (front yard)
  • northern spicebush – not picky, average/moist (back yard?)
  • sweetgum – logs for mushrooms if you take yours down?
  • tulip tree – well-drained (front yard)
  • southern crab apple – not picky? well-drained (front yard?)
  • red mulberrywell-drained but moist (either?)
  • American plum – not picky (back yard?)
  • black cherry – well-drained (front yard)

Compassion Fatigue

Yes, I’m writing this the day after Earth Day for a reason. I love that beautiful day we take to soak in nature in my favorite season of rebirth and new growth. However, the flip side of the appreciation that comes with being an ecologist these days seems to come with an inevitable degree of compassion fatigue. I didn’t think I’d get here, but I feel like burying my head in the sand. The bad news is overwhelming, and I can’t stomach it anymore. Maybe though, there’s a positive to this: I can’t take hearing about the things I cannot do anything about (or seemingly at least). I immediately click away from the negative environmental stories that once drew me in like clickbait; it all just brings on a feeling of hopelessness, and furthers a feeling of not being able to act meaningfully on it. I feel like I’m protecting my head, and maybe there’s a good side to focusing on the actionable, which has been an overall priority lately in my life.

LEPC Blind!

We had to depart in the vans at 4 AM to get to the lek with enough time to setup the blinds. The blinds had unzipped openings to look through (i.e. the openings were an exposure to the air temp/wind). The morning temp bottomed out at 58 F so relatively warm all things considered, and early in the morning, there was little wind. The wind picked up over the course of the morning, though. Here’s what I wore and was perfectly comfortable…

  • knit hat
  • thin buff (the one I got from CMWWRC)
  • finger-less/convertible mitten gloves
  • parka
  • light nylon base layer
  • tee shirt
  • cotton leggings
  • Arctic muck boots
  • thermal electric socks

In this instance, I could have gotten by without the heated socks, but if it was any colder they probably would have come in handy. I never did turn them on, so maybe you could swap them out for wool socks. I wanted to be prepared for sitting still for a long time with adjustable heat options, while sitting in a spot where too much wiggling was both impractical and potentially disruptive. So, be prepared for chilly conditions when you are camped out not moving!

Skua Inspo – March

It appears that the last MD pelagic to have a great skua this month was Mar 1 1992 and there were 2 birds seen then! Notes variably place the records at Elephant’s Trunk and near Baltimore canyon, but all records appear to be during a 12 hr trip. Similarly, there were several birds per trip in the 70s. On Mar 15 1996, there’s a record from a Montauk pelagic, and the Mar 4 1995 notes are one of my favorites:

Life bird. Adult; 63 miles out, at north end of Block Canyon. Most-wanted species by most on this trip. We approached a trawler and started chumming. The bird appeared out of nowhere, circled the chum slick, dove on a few gulls, then began picking up its own fish in the slick. From JA’s notes: The Great Skua was found amongst hundreds of GBBGs, lesser numbers of HERGs, and about 15 NOFUs that were loitering around a commercial trawler. After “stealing” the birds from the trawler, we watched the beast for about one half hour and then finally left it.” Much jubilation ensued.

Patricia Lindsay

Winter Pelagic

Today was another great day at sea! Here’s what I wore and what I would add…

  • Eddie Bauer duffel coat (below the knee 650 down parka)
  • Faux fur hat with ear flaps and chin strap
  • Cape May whale watch & research center buff (represent!)
  • Down knee-length vest
  • Heaviest smart wool base layer
  • Outdoor fleece-lined leggings (Avalanche)
  • Comrad socks (the warmest wool compression socks I’ve found yet; feet were warm all day!)
  • Arctic muck boots
  • Weather-proof gloves
  • Hand warmers
  • Costa sunglasses

I was still a tad chilly, so I’ll bring my wool sweater mid layer again next time. Also, my gloves left my hands a little cold, but I’m not sure how much improvement I’ll see there while maintaining dexterity. Might have to switch to an open mitten if I want improvements on both ends…

Hidden Cypress Preserve

My mom and I started the new year off right birding around this preserve! However, the trails were not clearly marked nor mowed. On the map, there are more trails through the property, but they weren’t apparent. So, I probably won’t go back unless there are updates about trail management. Later in the afternoon, I walked all the trails around Freedom park.