When Bob told me about who was coming on the Cape May trip, I couldn’t help but think that the most common species on our list would be “Lovebird”. That is because two of the couples signed up to go were celebrating wedding anniversaries. As such, they planned on driving down separately and joining the rest of the group for only part of the time to bird on Saturday and Sunday. The “rest of the group” consisted of Bob Ringler, Debbie Terry, and I.
I met Bob at his place and we picked up Debbie at a Park and Ride on our way around the Baltimore Beltway. The leftover backup from an earlier accident slowed us down a bit, but before we knew it we were pulling into the Riverside Beach Park in New Jersey. This is always a good first stop on the way to Cape May. There are toilet facilities and frequently some good birds in the park itself and out on the Delaware River.
It was good to stretch our legs. Before long, our species list included European Starling, Fish Crow, Canada Goose, American Goldfinch, Laughing Gull, Mallard, Ring-billed Gull, Brown-headed Cowbird, Double-crested Cormorant, Bald Eagle (two mature birds sitting on some pilings), Herring Gull, Cedar Waxwing, Belted Kingfisher, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Eastern Phoebe, Red-bellied Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, Blue Jay, Carolina Wren, House Finch, Carolina Chickadee, Great Blue Heron, and American Crow. There were quite a few butterfly species to be seen as well. We counted Mourning Cloak, Variegated Fritillary, Monarch, Clouded Sulfur, and Red Admiral.
The best wildlife show, however, was staged by a Cooper’s Hawk and a Gray Squirrel. The hawk seemed determined to get that squirrel. It chased it from tree to tree and from branch to branch. I had never witnessed anything quite like it. When an accipiter occasionally snatches a bird from one of my feeders at home, it all happens in a matter of seconds. The hawk appears. The bird disappears. This was different. The hawk almost appeared to be having fun with the squirrel. Needless to say, the squirrel didn’t get the joke. Both lived to laugh another day though.
Continuing on our way, we spotted a number of Black Vultures and Turkey Vultures. We even saw some Wild Turkeys, although they appeared in a rather unlikely place. We had just passed the sign for the Cape May County Park and Zoo, when Bob told me to stop the car and back up.
Some seven Wild Turkeys were foraging in the woods. Turning into one of the private access roads to the Zoo, I was able to get close enough for some nice photos of the turkeys. Looking up from my camera’s viewfinder, I notice giraffes in the background. They were on the other side of a fence, but you never think of seeing giraffes and turkeys at the same time.
Bob thought it might be best for us to stop at Stone Harbor Point next. On the way there, we saw a Great Egret. There were few cars in the parking lot. Grabbing our scopes, we walked through the dunes in the direction of the beach. The first birds we spotted were Great Blackbacked Gulls. These were joined by some Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Herring Gulls. There were also lots of Sanderlings in the air and on the beach. We estimated there were between 200 and 300. As we were counting them, a large V of Double-Crested Cormorants flew by low over the water. Some Caspian Terns also passed overhead. Bob heard them calling before we saw them.
In the Great Channel itself, there was a large raft of Brant. We counted at least 500. I am particularly partial to Brant. They always look like they are neatly dressed and on their way to some formal affair. These birds didn’t go anywhere though.
The largest numbers of shorebirds appeared to be concentrated at the end of Stone Harbor Point. That meant we had farther to walk, but it was worth it. Setting up our scopes in the soft sand, we saw American Oystercatchers, Black-bellied Plovers, Dunlin, Western Sandpipers, Long-billed Dowitchers, and Ruddy Turnstones. It was the Red Knots that got us most excited, particularly when we noticed that three of them were banded.
One knot had what looked like a lime green post-it note on its right leg along with a metal band. Another had the metal band on its right leg, but the post-it note on its left. The third bird had a red band on its right leg and an orange one on its left. At that distance, we couldn’t read any of the bands. (Later, however, Bob would email the information to the U.S. Bird Banding Lab. The one Red Knot with the color bands had been banded in 2001. That meant it was at least 13 years of age. Amazing!)
Walking back to the car, we added Forster’s Tern and Royal Tern to our list. There was also a Ring-billed Gull. A Song Sparrow kept us guessing for a while as it appeared and disappeared in some grasses along the path. Only when it finally stood still for a moment were we able to get a good enough look to make a positive identification. As we were packing up the scopes, Bob thought he may have heard a House Wren in some short conifers nearby. It turned out to be a Red-breasted Nuthatch.
After crossing Stone Harbor Bridge, we stopped along the side of the road on what is known as Nummy Island. This was supposed to be a good place to see Tricolored Herons and it definitely lived up to its reputation. There were six of this species out in the marshes. Other waders included Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Great Egret, and Little Blue Heron. A male Northern Cardinal flew across the road between some hedges.
Finally in Cape May proper, we drove down Beach Avenue towards our motel. A large flock of Black Skimmers was flying above the beach on the other side of the dunes. We parked the car and went back to find them, but they had already moved on. Bob and I had an efficiency at the Buckingham. Debbie was also staying at the same motel so we all had dinner together.
Cape May, New Jersey 10/18/14
This morning, we went out on the porch to hear the dawn chorus. Mostly what we heard were the air conditioners running in the other rooms. It didn’t seem all that warm.
Our first stop of the day was at Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area. This is where birders gather at this time of year in hope of witnessing a large fallout of migrants. Birds coming south along the cape encounter the water of the Delaware Bay and cannot decide what to do. Many of them double back and land for a while to think it over while grabbing a bite to eat. It seemed relatively quiet today. The weather conditions evidently weren’t right. (A northwest wind makes for the best results.)
We did see or hear a number of birds however. Species included Gray Catbird, Blue Jay, Northern Cardinal, Carolina Wren, Double-crested Cormorant, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Great Egret, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Great Blackbacked Gull, Bald Eagle, Red-winged Blackbird, Merlin, Osprey, Mourning Dove, Herring Gull, Northern Flicker, Cedar Waxwing, Eastern Phoebe, Palm Warbler, Killdeer, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Brown Thrasher, Carolina Chickadee, Downy Woodpecker, Swainson’s Thrush, Rock Pigeon, Herring Gull, Tufted Titmouse, Cooper’s Hawk, Caspian Tern, Laughing Gull, and Spotted Sandpiper.
We were also able to meet up with the other members of our party here. I counted nine of us altogether. In addition to Bob, Debbie and myself, there was Tammy and Marc Schwaab, Laurel and Jim Hummel, and surprise visitors Elliot and Nancy Kirschbaum, formerly of the Baltimore Chapter, who now live in West Virginia.
Climbing back into the vehicles again, we drove to Hidden Valley. (Not all that difficult to find really.) This slightly overgrown field can often be good for sparrows. We had Swamp Sparrow and Song Sparrow here, but nothing else very exotic from the Emberizid family. We did see other birds though. Our list included Northern Mockingbird, Blue Jay, Common Yellowthroat, Mourning Dove, Cooper’s Hawk, Eastern Towhee, Palm Warbler, Brown Thrasher, Northern Cardinal, Carolina Wren, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Gray Catbird, Blue-headed Vireo, and Indigo Bunting. There were quite a few of the later species. Porcelain Berry Vine was everywhere. Chinese sumac also grew here. Butterfly species included Monarch and Painted Lady.
Sunset Beach was next. There were quite a few Double-Crested Cormorants sitting on what was left of the concrete ship. (That’s right. This experimental craft actually floated at one time.) On the beach itself were Great Black-backed Gulls and Laughing Gulls. Out in the water, Bob spotted some Surf Scoters. As we stood there, an occasional Sharp-shinned Hawk flew over. There was even a Merlin and some Tree Swallows.
The Northwood Center was full of birders, however, there weren’t many birds around. Some Mute Swans floated in the water (Lake Lily) across the street. I bought my wife a T shirt and we set off for the Hawk Watch at Cape May Point State Park.
We needed to elbow our way up to the railing of the Hawk Watch platform so we could get a good look at the birds floating on Bunker Pond. These included Pied-billed Grebe, Coot, American Wigeon, Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Lesser Scaup, Green-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Green Heron, and Belted Kingfisher. The whole time we were scanning the pond, we had to also keep an eye out overhead. Here there was Broadwing Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Merlin, and numerous Tree Swallows. A Northern Cardinal and some Yellow-rumped Warblers called from the vegetation alongside the platform.
I’m not sure how The Meadows preserve got its name. There always seems to be more water than anything on this Nature Conservancy property. The large impoundment ponds attract a variety of waterfowl. We saw Mute Swan, Coot, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Canada Goose, Northern Pintail, American Black Duck, American Wigeon, Eurasian Wigeon, and Blue-winged Teal, along with Great Blue Heron, Long-billed Dowitcher, Lesser Yellowlegs, and Stilt Sandpiper.
Hawks flew over constantly. These included Broadwing, Red-shouldered, Sharp-shinned, Cooper’s, Red-tailed, Northern Harrier, and American Kestrel. A kettle of Turkey Vultures
also attracted our attention.
At one point we all stopped to watch a Piedbilled Grebe as it fed on some underwater grasses. While tracking the bird through her scope, Debbie commented “You’re sure a slimy looking critter.” Unfortunately, a man was passing by at that moment. He gave us a look. Maybe he thought she was referring to him.
Before leaving the area, we also added some land birds to our list. These included White-breasted Nuthatch, Western Palm Warbler, and Common Yellowthroat.
It was quite a distance to the Avalon Seawatch. There wasn’t a whole lot of movement along the coast, however, we were able to spot Royal Tern, Caspian Tern, Double-crested Cormorant, Sanderling, Dunlin, Black-bellied Plover, Red Knot, Ruddy Turnstone, Forster’s Tern, Merlin, Surf Scoter, Black Scoter, and a large flock of Great Egrets.
We all parted company here. Bob, Debbie, and I went back to the Buckingham to freshen up for dinner. We ate at the “5 de Mayo” in Cape May.
Cape May, New Jersey 10/19/14
We were out the next day by 7:00am. Bob heard some Yellow-rumped Warblers at the motel. All I heard was the wind. It was a bit on the chilly side too.
Our first stop of the day was the pavilion at the end of Beach Avenue. Setting up our scopes out of the wind here we saw Laughing Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls, Double-crested Cormorants, Black Skimmers, and a Lesser Black-backed Gull. It soon became obvious, however, that this was going to be a special day. Birds were pouring in of the water and landing in the vegetation surrounding the pavilion. Savannah Sparrows, Swamp Sparrows, and Yellow-rumped Warblers appeared and disappeared faster than we could count them.
Rushing to Higbee Beach, we positioned ourselves on the platform again. If yesterday had been dull, today was nothing but. A continual fallout of birds landed in the trees around us. These were mostly Yellow-Rumped Warblers, but their numbers were staggering. The official count for Higbee Beach that morning was 15,782! I’m certain that we did not see all of these birds, but it sure seemed like it. Other small passerines included Palm Warbler, Golden- crowned Kinglet, Eastern Phoebe, Chipping Sparrow, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, American Robin, Savannah Sparrow, and Carolina Wren.
Hawks passed through continually. Most of these were Sharp-shinned Hawks, but we also counted Merlins, Northern Harriers, Cooper’s Hawks, American Kestrel, and Peregrine Falcons. Other birds included Osprey, Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, Northern Flicker, and Killdeer. The wind was blowing pretty hard when we walked back to the parking lot. There was a Spot-O-Pot laying on its side, however, I’m not sure what (or who) was responsible for that.
Here, Bob, Debbie, and I parted company with the other members of the group. We drove back to our motel to check out. Elliot and Nancy had suggested we check out the marsh at the Wetlands Institute before leaving the area. We did and were rewarded with some fine scope views of Western Willet, Pectoral Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, Greater Yellowlegs, Dunlin, and Long-billed Dowitcher.
From there, it was off to Heislerville Wildlife Management Area. We had a nice flock of Common Grackles on our way. At the wildlife management area itself, our list included Pine Siskin, Eastern Phoebe, Swamp Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Sharp-shinned hawk, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Harrier, White-throated Sparrow, Ruddy Duck, Forster’s Tern, Great Blue Heron, Double-crested Cormorant, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Savannah Sparrow, Turkey Vulture, Great Egret, Laughing Gull, American Kestrel, Black Duck, Dunlin, Great Black-backed Gull, and Palm Warbler.
After this last stop, we drove back home.