Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Brewing Kettle!

I was down at the beach on November 4th in the morning, sunny with 
strong winds out of the Northeast. 

I saw the kettle brewing. 

It was spectacular with over 50 birds, mostly Turkey Vultures, circling in a thermal 
over the dunes of the Point. 

Perhaps, they were gathering in preparation for migration.

It lasted for over 20 minutes, dynamically changing in shape and size with a variety of bird species. It grabbed the attention of many raptors in the area, who joined in, including several juvenile Red-tailed hawks with their dark shoulder bars, and Northern Harriers.

At the end of the gathering, the Turkey Vultures left, leaving only the hawks, soaring and circling right over my head on Ocean Avenue.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Bittern that wasn't!

On the elevated nature paths on the yellow trail, left of the hawk observation deck at Cape May Point State Park, I spotted an American Bittern, so I thought, ruffled and quiet. It was located down left of the bridge in the canal that proceeds on to Lighthouse Pond East and looked a bit pensive. 

After getting some shots, I changed lenses, and aimed high to catch a juvenile Northern Harrier soaring by, with its dark head and "cinnamon-orange" body (Hawks in Flight by Dunne, Sibley, Sutton, p. 182). In each shot, it looks like its eyes are closed? 

I then trained my lens back to the Bittern and so glad I did. 
It had sprung to life and was hunting and then . . 

was attacking something in the water! 

After dunking it many times, I could make out that it was a hapless frog.

It then gulped it down and here, a leg is the last bit to be seen.

I hurried home and downloaded these pictures. I checked my Sibley Guide to Birds to be certain of my ID that I felt confident about and I found that actually this was not an American Bittern at all!! 

The coloration is similar, but no bold stripes or long neck!

I flipped a few pages over and there it was. 

It was a Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron. 

Sibley's helpful progression was invaluable for the identification - the orange eye, the sharp yellowish bill, the large white spots on the wings, etc. 

I was astonished of how much this bird changes from a juvenile to an adult. 

Cape May Honey Farm Store

As a beekeeper myself, I always enjoy talking to other beekeepers, sharing information, and buying their products.

Here in Cape May, there is a wonderful store, Cape May Honey Farm, that opened earlier this year, which carries an amazing variety of honeys to purchase, beautiful candles, pottery, honey related gifts and products and more.

Andy runs the store and is very pleasant and helpful They are located on Sunset Boulevard on the right as you head to the beach and look for their sign:

Be sure to visit their wonderful site:

Their facebook page is a great way to follow them and find out about new gifts and offerings, as well.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Birding Books to Love

Over the weekend, my husband and I visited the Cape May Point Bird Observatory and had the honor and pleasure of meeting Pete Dunne, who was meeting with this year's new interns and preparing for the fall's migration season.  For over 37 years, Pete has led and shaped the course of CMBO and has written numerous excellent books on birding and such, including:

I have been struggling in identifying gulls, terns and other shore birds and also was wanting of more detailed information. We were searching the Center's large book collection for just the right book and Pete came over to welcome us and help us out. 

He recommended these two outstanding birding books:

This book provides several amazing colored pictures for each bird in various stages of maturation in its habitat and identifies birds using size, structure and color patterns. It also provides the detailed information I was looking for regarding migration and behavior and more.

The second book is The Sibley Guide to Birds and it is fantastic. 

I like how this book is organized, as it provides for each bird, a juvenile, an adult non-breeding and then an adult breeding colored drawing, including dates of when to expect this plumage coloration. 

It also includes descriptions, marking highlights, sizing, maps, call information, and has an excellent summary sheet for each Family.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Gathering

On a recent visit in early August to the Point on an overcast, rainy, cool day, there were several groups of mixed shore birds congregating together, including Laughing Gulls, Royal Terns, Common Terns and other gulls. There were 4 different groups spread out along the shore ranging in size 
from 25 to 50 birds. 

The Royal Tern, like this one here, has a bright orange beak, a forked tail and a white head crowned with a black crest and black legs and feet.

Common Terns, such as this one, have a reddish and black tipped bill and black capped heads and bright orange legs and feet. They have started their migration southward, traveling as far as Peru and Argentina. 

This Royal Tern with its black tipped wings and white capped and black fringed head 
is ready for take off - 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Slipper Shells for Blanche

At the beach, I rarely sit, but rather collect shells, watch wildlife, swim, walk, etc. I  enjoy picking up shells and finding an unusual one or an especially pretty one. 

I don't have any particular favorites, but my dear Friend, Blanche especially likes Lady Slipper shells or also known as the Common Atlantic Slipper, slippersnail or boat shell.

Here's one at the bottom left corner of this photo:

This is the same shell close-up:

Before a recent visit by Blanche, I made a small collection of Lady Slippers for her, that I had found at the Cape May Point beach:

I discovered this beautiful glass box to contain them at the lovely gift store in Stone Harbor called Stephanie's. It is the perfect box to display them and present them as a small gift.

Regarding the Slipper itself, it is a snail like creature and can be a nuisance and impede the growth of oysters by competing for the same food sources or directly attaching itself to the oyster shell. They can be found from Canada to Texas in shallow waters with low surf and also on NW European shores. They are filter eaters, feeding on algae and phytoplankton.

Here are some excellent sites for additional information:


Here is a fun site for shell lovers and she, too, collects Slippers:

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Osprey: Alive and well in NJ

On May 20th, my daughter and I did Birding by Boat on the Osprey from Cape May and saw an amazing array of different bird species. In this entry, I will focus on the many osprey we saw.

As we headed out to the harbor, we passed this nest created with an variety of materials and
located on top of a marker:

At this nesting site, shown below, an osprey has a fish in its talons and below it is either its mate or offspring waiting to be fed. This nesting platform was certainly created and erected by the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ as part of their efforts to help increase the osprey population. For more information, be sure to visit their site:

In 1974, the osprey population had plummeted from normally 500 to only 50 nests due to the effects of DDT. Because of the banning of DDT and then excellent conservation and management efforts of osprey, the number of nests rose to 486 in 2009. Another survey and census will be conducted this year.

As we motored around, we passed many osprey hunting. Unfortunately, it was an overcast day, so the lighting wasn't optimal.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Pondering about "Ghosties"

Over at the beach at the Cape May Point State Park, I continued to watch the Ghost crabs and wondered a number of things:

1. I noticed their tracks going well beyond the tide line and up to the dunes. Why are they wandering so far from their home?

2. Do they ever loose their way and can't find their home again? If not, do they simply build another one?

3. What are the different uses for their claws - I observed them being used: to defend themselves, to pat down the sand they excavated, to dig the hole and to excavate. Do they use them to attract a mate?

4. Why are they defending their hole - do they steal homes from one another?

5. What is inside their home? Do they have different rooms? Do they indeed have different entrances? If so, why?

6. How do the old and young interact? I saw the same sized crabs fighting but not big versus small. Are the smaller ones just younger or are they the females?

7. How long will they stay in the same home during the warmer months?

This site summarizes some interesting facts and provides recent research conducted about Ghost Crabs, if you are interested:

Happy Ghost Crab Watching!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Ghost Crabs and Grackles

It is 80 degrees, hot and humid and the flies are biting today, but nonetheless, it is a beautiful day at the beach. The lifeguard stands and boats are out and umbrellas are up and children are frolicking in the high tide waves.

On the shore indentation, between Stites and Brainard, there is a large colony of Atlantic Ghost Crabs (Ocypode quadrata), numbering well over 200 or more. They are very active at this hour of 10:00 a.m. during high tide and just after the full moon, working on their homes, excavating and nibbling food at the tide's edge.

One very large crab brought out a lot of sand and then packed it down using its claws and running back and forth over its mound.

Their tracks in the sand are interesting to observe and it appears that they move from more than one hole and to surrounding holes. It is reported that they usually have one entrance but my observations find something different.

Although it is reported that the younger crabs build their burrows closer to the water, I found both young and older crabs had burrows equal distances to the water line. (

I'm surprised to see, also, 2 Boat-tailed Grackles working along the shore line, picking up little shells and eating morsels they find and excitedly flying back and forth as the waves come crashing in.