Thursday, January 3, 2013

Winter Visitors Flock to South Jersey

Western Grebe - FWS
It is that time of year when the Jersey shore gets a lot of visitors flying in for a stay. they don't use Newark or Atlantic City airports. They fly in on their own because winter in South Jersey is when dozens of species of bird not native to this area take vacations from their northern homes.

While people in NJ may be complaining about snow and cold weather, these avian tourists find the shores and estuaries of the Delaware Bay coast very appealing. The Downe and Commercial townships, as well as Maurice River and Lawrence along the bay and river shores are considered prime area for birding. There are also a number of wildlife management areas (WMAs) and other protected open spaces that offer good viewing.

“The Delaware bay shore is one of the best wintering strongholds in North America,” Pete Dunne, director of the NJ Audubon Society’s Cape May Bird Observatory, told The South Jersey Times. “This is what is called an eruption year. Food stocks are scarce up north and so the birds come south."

Already, sightings of the winter finch, Townsend’s warbler and the rare western grebe have been made. There are also birds of prey including owls, hawks, falcons and eagles despite Hurricane Sandy drowning many of the mice, rats and weasels that are the prey of raptors in these marshes.

This year, the Audubon Society’s annual Cape May Christmas count documented 168 distinct species.

Northern Saw-Whet Owl  -  FWS
 Dunne reported ten distinct great horned owl calls one morning at Turkey Point in Downe Township.

And the saw-whet owls are present in large numbers. As many as 80 have been captured and banded in a given area in a single night.

The saw-whet owl is very passive and are present in areas of open marshland along the coast should have its share of prowling raptors.

For those interested in learning more about birds and bird watching, Dunne and the NJ Audubon will be hosting Break into Birding, an informational session for new birders on February 16 and 17. Information on all activities and programs offered by the Cape May Bird Observatory can be found online at www.BirdCapeMay.org
Images: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Public Domain)

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