Thursday, December 29, 2011

At The Beach after a Windy Winter Storm

I suspect most people are familiar with the concept of a pleasant walk on the beach on a lovely sunshiny day. If you ask me, though, the most memorable beach explorations happen as a storm approaches, or after a windy winter today. For two days here, one rainy and one sunny, the wind has been incredibly strong, blowing the patio furniture around and probably too strong for kite flying. Do you know about the Beaufort Scale? I would estimate the past two days as Force 7 or 8, based on the blowing sea foam and resistance when walking into the wind business.

Interesting stuff washes up after a storm. Some stuff you would expect to see like shells, stones, driftwood (above), crab carcasses, and piles of reeds. I saw all this stuff today, and was amazed at the large piles of reeds--as if some reed farmer harvested it and left it in piles at the high-tide mark. (See one of these piles below, with a softball bonus.) Today we saw plastic building blocks, that softball, a tube of sunscreen, and lots of processed wood.

This morning, while breathing in the delicious sea air, I noticed this HUGE black thing on the beach up ahead. It was a bird of prey, a raptor of some kind, and it took flight as we approached. This flying thing was so big that if Gladys had still been a puppy I'd have scooped her up and hid her inside my jacket. (But Gladys is a canine of gravitas and this was not necessary.) The big black flying thing flew in circles above us, getting smaller, then larger, then smaller again as it disappeared over the neighborhood houses. We kept walking, watching for big bird footprints where the thing had been, and sure enough, right by a big, dead, white bird, there were rather large bird prints. Here they are next to one of my own size 7 sneaker prints. Those are big bird feet. I don't know what the white bird's story was. I'm pretty sure it was not an ordinary gull, and I'm pretty sure the big black raptor intended it to be lunch. It looked like yet another thing washed-up in the storm. (I don't go near dead things, but I did take its picture for the record from two angles, neither of which includes a face.)

There are many things in this life that I can say I'm reasonably good at, but bird watching is not one of them. I try to learn about birds because they are so important to Cape May birders. Remember this summer I wrote this for about the Raptor Watch: While this bird talk didn't help me distinguish one hawk from another without reference tools, it did give me pointers on what to look for, like the fingery feathers at the ends of wings.

The best I can do is take as many photos as possible, blow them up on my computer, and then compare them to drawings or other photographs in my collection. This prevents me from enjoying the experience on-sight as much as I would if I knew what the heck I was looking at, but usually I can come up with a probable ID after the fact. So here s/he is, my new friend, Fingers, waiting for an ID. I think those very fingers are sending me to the Hawk pages of my bird ID books...but what kind of hawk?? Well, my bird ID books are about 100 miles from where I sit, so this is going to have to wait! Any guesses?
Update: After consulting my notes and books, I have to conclude that Gladys and I saw an eagle on the bay this week! It had the wrong head to be a vulture, wrong color to be any kind of hawk seen in NJ, and its size ruled-out those guys anyway. I've boiled it down to an immature Bald Eagle (uncommon in Cape May in winter) or a Golden Eagle (rare in Cape May in winter). That. is. thrilling.

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