Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Sandy Hook

I went with Joshua David Stein on Audubon sponsored trip to Sandy Hook, NJ to watch for shore birds and harbor seals. I was pretty excited to see what kind of crowd was going, and though I was definitely right in suspecting some real weirdos, I didn't realize how OLD the average age would be. Old people love bird watching. The guide, Joe, was a real character, a rather blustering middle aged guy whose didactic assault of information was pretty agressive.

As one can imagine, Josh proved to be the least popular member of the excursion. He kept asking obnoxiously mocking questions and loudly yelling wrong answers when the guide asked questions. Despite his unpopularity with the seniors, I am very pleased at how enthusiastic Josh is to undertake the various natural history adventures I have invited him to. He is becoming a real ally in these investigations.

This was my first time birding with a real guide, and I was totally impressed by how quickly he could identify a bird, even in flight or in a far distance. One of the most impressive identifications was of the Fish Crow.

Fish Crows:

The Fish Crow is slightly smaller than the American Crow, and it is very difficult to tell them apart from appearance alone. However, the Fish Crow has a slightly different call. Whereas the American Crow calls "ka-KAW" with the "KAW" going up, the Fish Crow's calls is more like "awh AWH". Fish Crows are generally only found near the coastline of New England to Texas.

Our guide explained that technically, the Fish Crow has 11 wingbeats per minute, while the American Crow has 10. Joe said he knew a guy who claimed to be able to differentiate the species by wingbeat counting, though Joe scoffed that this was practically impossible and didn't believe the guy.

The Cornell Ornithology website has a page about Fish and American Crow differenatiation that is helpful:

Fish Crows

The trip was a success, and a total of 25 birds were sighted. I was particularly excited to see some of the sea ducks that were just passing through for a few weeks each years, such as the long-tailed ducks and surf scoters.

Long tailed duck:

Surf Scoter:

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