Today I discovered that the Cape May, New Jersey Bird Observatory publishes a continually updated list of rare bird sightings in New Jersey.
Following are this week's Cape May County entries. So far, only the 9-9-10 Black-bellied Whistling Duck sighting has been confirmed by a member of the Observatory staff. We've been down there a couple of times in the past month, but haven't seen any of these beautiful birds.
1. Black-bellied Whistling Duck (several sightings beginning 9-9): This is a whistling duck that breeds from the southernmost United States and tropical Central to south-central South America. In the US, it can be found year-round in parts of southeast Texas and seasonally in southeast Arizona and Lousiana's Gulf Coast. The Black-bellied Whistling Duck is an unusual species among American waterfowl. With its long legs, peculiar appearance and odd habits, it was described by one early American ornithologist as "most un-duck-like".
2. White-winged Dove (several sightings on 9-10): The White-winged Dove is a dove whose native range extends from the southwestern US through Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. It also has been introduced to Florida. The rock singer Stevie Nicks, a native of Arizona, where the bird is most common in the US, mentions the White-winged Dove and its call prominently in her 1981 hit "Edge of Seventeen".
3. Hooded Merganser (one sighting on 9-13): The Hooded Merganser is a small duck and is the only member of the genus Lophodytes. Their breeding habitat is swamps and wooded ponds on the northern half of the US or southern Canada. They prefer to nest in tree cavities near water but will use Wood Duck nesting boxes if available and unoccupied. They form pairs in early winter. A few of these ducks have occurred as vagrants to Europe; however, this attractive species is so common in captivity that most birds seen in the wild in Europe are simply escapees. A species of fossil duck from the Late Pleistocene of Vero Beach, Florida was described as a Querquedula floridana (a genus now included in Anas), but upon re-examination turned out to be a species closely related to the Hooded Merganser.
Hooded Merganser male
Hooded Merganser female
4. Wood Stork (three sightings on 9-15): The Wood Stork is a large Ameican wading bird in the stork family Ciconnidae. It was formerly called a Wood Ibis, though it is not really an ibis. This is a subtropical and tropical species, which breed in much of South America, Central America and the Caribbean. The Wood Stork is the only stork that presently breeds in North America. In the US, there is a small, but endangered population in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, along with a recently discovered rookery in southeastern North Carolina. In the US, the Wood Stork favors cypress trees in marshes, swamps or, less often, among mangroves and nearby habitat.
The birds we have mostly seen, who have been keeping us company on the beaches in Avalon and Stone Harbor recently, are these three: