Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Field Trip: Tuckerton Seaport

This is the first in an occasional series of posts about NJ's bird history. These "Field Trip" posts will involve actual gadding about in the Garden State, as opposed to merely sticking one's nose in a bird book.

Tuckerton Seaport may not be the greatest vagrant trap in the state, but there's plenty on hand to interest the historically-minded birder. Tuckerton Seaport is a project of the Barnegat Bay Decoy and Baymen's Museum. Recreated buildings such as a lighthouse, boat-builder's shop and hunting lodges (among others), line the waterway. Exhibits inside each building give information on the history of different industries and crafts on the Atlantic bayshore of NJ. There are also docents and crafters demonstrating pursuits such as decoy-carving and boat-building.

The Barnegat Bay area is the home of the sneakbox, a unique craft intended for waterfowling. The boat's shallow draft makes for a stable craft that is at home navigating bayside marshes, even in shallow water. Its low profile (combined with camouflaging techniques, such as tying bunches of marsh grass onto the boat's deck) makes it easier for hunters to sneak up on their quarry. It can be rowed or sailed; it can also take an outboard motor on the stern.

One building of interest is the recreation of the Hester Sedge Gun Club, which is intended to show a typical hunting "shack" from the 1940s. Among other fixtures, it has a "punt" or market gun hanging on the wall. Punts were outlawed with the passage of the National Migratory Bird Act in 1918, but they were the favored weaponry of market gunners before then.

Like it or not, much of the avian history chronicled at Tuckerton Seaport involves hunting. Even decoys, often considered innocuous decorative items, were originally intended to be tools used to hunt birds more effectively. In addition to decoy carvers demonstrating their skills at the Seaport, a collection of decoys is housed in a recreation of the Marshelder Gun Club. One of the decoys on display is this Cinnamon Teal carved by John Updike (not the novelist) of Green Bank. Since Cinnamon Teal is a Review List species in NJ, I found myself pondering a records committee circulation that included a decoy among the documentation. But I digress.

Tuckerton Seaport is open daily to the end of October, then on weekends until 18 December. The spring season starts in May. In addition to its exhibits, the Seaport offers classes in decoy-carving and other crafts.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Sabine's Gull

On this day in 1979, a Sabine's Gull was found on a pelagic trip 24 miles off Cape May by Stuart Keith, Bill Boyle and the proverbial "m.obs."

Gulls have a bad reputation among birders. The complexity of identification issues, particularly in the "large white-headed gull" complex, is enough to drive one to drink. Against this background, the Sabine's Gull is refreshing. It has big white triangles in the wings in all plumages, a mark that should make any birder take notice if he or she is fortunate enough to encounter this gull. It is most commonly found in the fall. Ironically,I saw my lifer Sabine's Gull on this day in 2000; that was a bird that hung around Merrill Creek Reservoir in Warren County 8-15 October 2000.

Massachusetts is the center of Sabine's Gull records in the Northeast; due in large part to over 75 fall records in the state, Sabine's Gull is not a Review List species in Massachusetts. Fall records are regular enough in New York State that they are not subject to review, either. However, New Jersey has only 15 state records in total. Four of the NJ records are of spring birds. The vast majority of NJ Sabine's Gull records come from coastal regions, but the Merrill Creek bird shows that inland records are not impossible.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Awfully Quiet 'Round Here

I apologize for the recent dearth of commentary on this blog. I recently started a new job, and that has claimed a certain measure of my time and energy (i.e., I can't hang around the house all day with my nose in bird books any more). But I think I'm back and besides, November is on its way. You want lots of first NJ state records, November is definitely your month.

A interesting report from the birding lists today is of a briefly-seen Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher in (where else?) Cape May. Now that would be quite a first state record! Massachusetts had one on Martha's Vineyard on 12-13 November 1983, so it is not quite unknown in the Northeast (Veit & Peterson 1993).

The Sanderling in the photo isn't hiding its head due to lack of blogging embarrassment, it's just taking a nap on the beach at the South Cape May Meadows (or it was on 6 September). It shows a combination of worn feathers and brand-new ones, a real illustration of molt in action.

Sunday, October 01, 2006


I've just revamped my links section somewhat. I'll take that as an excuse to expand on some of the links in the "Reference" section.

Birdmail (aka "Siler's page") is probably known to every active birder. It provides a way to keep up with the birding mailing lists in places both near and far. There's even a section for those of us who've gotten distracted by bugs.

Searchable Ornithological Research Archive (SORA) has been an invaluable boon to this blog so far, and I don't expect that to change. Here you can search the back issues of ornithological journals such as the Auk, Wilson Bulletin, Condor, Western Birds and others. This is a terrific online resource because runs of these journals are not always easily found. Making them available online for the use of researchers is one of the things that adds value to the internet. I encourage every reader of this blog to visit SORA and explore the archives. You're sure to find some intriguing information there.

Ornithological Books Online is a collection of links to, well, ornithological books online. This page can lead you to John James Audubon and Alexander Wilson's works (although some of the links may be outdated). A good adjunct to this is the new Google book search, which has started adding some older (i.e., public domain) works in their entirety. Several of Frank M. Chapman's books, such as Handbook of Birds of Eastern North America and Bird-Lore, can be found at Google.

Finally, we have an edited version of Arthur C. Bent's Life Histories of North American Birds. Although some of this information has been superceded by more recent research, these vignettes often provide a vivid look at bird behavior. These accounts also provide a different model of scientific writing than we are accustomed to today; the reports that Bent quotes are almost chatty by modern standards.

I'm sure that the links section will grow in the future, but that's the "Reference" section for the moment.