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Thursday, July 1, 2010

May 22, 2010 Cloudy with a sprinkling of rain Cape May Point State Park, Cape May NJ

A view from the lighthouse

A view from the lighthouse

A male Purple Martin

A Mute Swan with young

As we pulled into the parking lot of the Cape May Point State Park, I was instantly enthralled by the flitting shadows known as Purple Martins. Both fast and agile, Martins have caught the eye of humanity for a millennium. Martins used to live in trees and cliff cavities, but we Homo sapiens changed that by setting up martin houses. It was successful and pretty soon everyone was setting up houses-finally this structure is the preferred nesting habit for all Purple Martins. An excerpt from the National Geographic Society Song and Garden Birds of North America claims that Purple Martins have been nesting in nest boxes since the time of the Native Americans. They were useful for protecting their chickens and crops by driving crows and hawks away. This is what it says

In colonial days Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians used to attract
martins to their village by hanging up hollowed out gourds and
Calabashes for the birds to nest in. They welcomed these birds
because the martins fearlessly drove hawks and crows away
from their crops and chickens. The custom spread to southern plantations,
and before long people everywhere were erecting all kinds of
Martin houses in their backyards. The birds are not fussy.
They'll accept structures with accommodations for one pair or
two hundred. One company makes a 90-room martin hotel
trimmed in green and white with ventilated attic and adjustable
height. Many towns are proud of their martins and put up boxes
for them in their parks or even in their business areas.
Martins have been nesting in boxes in Greencastle, Pennsylvania
since 1840 except for one mysterious gap of 15 years after
The Civil War, when they did not return.

But most of our walk was not made up of martin watching, though they were with us for most of the time. Cape May Point State Park is one of the premier hawk watching spots on the East coast - but seeing that the hawk migration was not yet underway, there was not much point in keeping your eyes to the sky when birding marshes, ponds and beaches. There were tons of Red-Winged Blackbirds about and many robins foraging on the marsh. We found a Great-Crested Flycatcher or two along with an Orchard Oriole, which was spotted by one of the birding groups from the Cape May Bird Observatory. We saw a few warblers that I can't think of right now, though I think it was Magnolia and Common Yellowthroat. A man and a woman pointed out a few goldfinches feeding on the thistles close to the path.

A majestic pair of Mute Swans lumbered off of their nest with a group of cygnets in tow. They were beautiful in the water but on land they were clumsy and slow. We saw a Great and probably a Snowy Egret on the pond next to the parking lot, and a Great Blue on the pond with the Mute Swans. Further down the path we came across some Mallards and a Gadwall. One of the Mallards looked suspiciously similar to a duck I had seen a couple of years ago in a pond in MA, but that one was a domestic duck and this one was undoubtedly wild - but both were white with a light brown wash over most of the head.

There were many Semipalmated Sandpipers about, along with many other small shorebirds such as Piping Plover, for which the ponds were constructed for (these were the other two plover ponds, the first was at The Meadows). We could see both a Belted and an Unbelted Piping Plover. We turned the last corner and were back in the parking lot. Luckily our grandmother insisted that we climb the light house which towered above us - we had some amazing views from the top.

We were going to stop at the famous Cape May Bird Observatory before we went back to the hotel. The Cape May Bird Observatory had the most birder friendly store that I have been to. They had: hundreds of books, stacks of clothes with birds on them, a case full of binoculars, and a bunch of scopes for you try out through the windows. They also had a view of a pond across the road, a few bird feeders and a tiny pond (my grandparents got me a nice shirt with a Cape May Warbler on it).

The night before we had gone to see Pete Dunne, one of the most famous birders in the US, talk about the art of pishing. Using what he told us I pished in a beautiful female Black-Throated Blue Warbler! Dunne is a very funny man and it was hilarious listening to the audience practicing pishing in unison. He showed us a variety of calls including a Screech Owl whinney, the classic "Shhhhp -shhhhhp - shhhhhp", and the kissing call of the oven bird. He uses kiss one when all the birds have lost interest and it brings them back because the birds just want to see what he is pishing about now. The pishing attracts the birds and the owl call gives them something to pish at. After their daily feeding frenzy is complete they don't have much to do and so irritating the owls passes the time.

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