...I narrowly missed hitting a Barn Owl at 65mph. The thing flew out in the dark, I jerked the wheel, and no exaggeration - it turned about 2-3 feet from my windshield. That would have SUCKED. Of course I have no photo, so I'm going to cheat and add one here from a previous birding excursion. :)
I was with my good friend Tom, who since starting second shift, I rarely got out with anymore. We were headed to magical Cape May in search of as many birds as we could find... with hopefully a few lifers for Tom.
The morning started off gloriously. I've never seen so many birds in my entire life. We stood in one place at Higbee and watched thousands of birds come through in 100's of flocks. American Robins, Dark-eyed Junco's, American Goldfinch's, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and the most exciting - Cedar Waxwings, in which we easily saw 1000. Multiple sparrow species littered the fields and one step forward would cause a dozen to flush from the vegetation.
After spending some time there, the sun was starting to give us good light and we moved on. Along the roadside, multiple Turkey and Black Vultures were munching on a dead deer. We watched them as they swooped in close, impatiently waiting for us to leave them to their meal.
We moved on to Cape May Point State Park to see if we could find any raptors at the hawkwatch, as well as see what was floating in the multiple ponds. The light was already strong by this point, burning off the morning chill. Both Bunker and Lighthouse Pond were loaded with multiple species of ducks. The viewing was great, but the photo conditions were a little harsh. That said, I'll add a few just because...
The raptors were also swirling above. We watched multiple vultures, Sharp-shinned, Cooper's, Red-tailed, and Red-shouldered Hawks above. They were all pretty high and I'm not going to embarrass myself with the photos. Hopefully soon, I can get some good pictures for my blogging-efforts.
We then decided to check out the Avalon Seawatch. This was a bit disappointing as nothing was close, but this is a GREAT destination. Our timing was just off. That said, we could get very distant views of dozens of Northern Gannets, which was a lifer for Tom! I managed one shot of a flock of sandpipers as they flew by. Upon closer inspection, they were all Sanderlings with one Dunlin mixed in.
A few Royal Terns flew by in the wrong direction for any decent photos, so here's a past photo of two in case you are not an avid birder.
We decided to call it quits on the birding for the day. I checked in with the boss and found out I was awarded the entire rest of the day. Being the addicts we are, we did a little mapping and decided that if we took the long trip to the Delmarva Peninsula, we would have about an hour to search for some mole salamanders. Tom had never seen a Marbled Salamander on eggs, and you don't have to twist my arm, so off we went!
Upon arriving, we went right to work on the edges of vernals. Marbleds will lay eggs underneath debris and leaf litter on the edge of vernal pools (seasonal). Once the Autumn rains fill the vernal and flood the nest chamber, the female will abandon the nest. The eggs, now submerged in water, will hatch shortly after. It's really quite astounding and a miracle of nature! We found one male Marbled all by his lonesome, and multiple females on eggs. SUCCESS! I apologize for the photo. I don't remove females on eggs, and try to minimize disturbance.
Below is a past photo showing some eggs pretty far in development. In the bottom left, you can see a marbled larva's head and eye. This also happens to be one of my favorite photos of all time. :)
I knew there was a chance, but wasn't getting my hopes up. It was still early in the season. But it was good salamander weather. I was perfectly happy with the marbleds. Yet, the herp-Gods shined their light down on us that day. Tom had the most killer salamander flip I've seen in my days. Five marbleds on eggs, and one absolutely stunner of a Tiger Salamander! Excuse me for littering you with photos...
The salamanders moved a bit as we looked at them. We placed them back in spots where no harm would come to them as we replaced their cover, but not before a photo session with the tiger. For the record as I think its good practice, we also stuffed some wet leaves and soil into all the cracks at the edge of the debris. This is in hopes that the moisture will be sealed in for our amphibian friends. I'd hate to have a negative impact on these beautiful creatures.
I'll end it here with a few photos of the tiger. It was an amazing day and just kept getting better. We didn't need the amphibs. The birding was more than enough. But hey - this just makes up for the slow days. You can never guess when that great day will happen, which is why I encourage you to...
...step into the outdoors.
P.S. If you've made it this far, I ask you to please check out my kickstarter campaign. I am selling herp and bird calendars for my fourth year now and am also offering prints. All this will get to you by the holidays. Hundreds of people have supported me in the past on calendars for both themselves and as gifts. Portions of the proceeds go the Pinelands Preservation Alliance (great organization protecting NJ's Pine Barrens) and MACHAC, who works on the PA herp atlas and will go directly toward bog turtle habitat restoration. Please click on the button below. Thank you!