Sunday, September 28, 2014

Week in review: 20 – 26 September, 2014

CMBO is pleased to provide weekly summaries of the Cape's birding highlights. Coverage is limited to sightings in Cape May County. Readers should keep in mind that some reports may not be confirmed. The vast majority of information utilized in these reports comes from eBird data and "Keekeekerr" text alerts. Observers are encouraged to send reports and photos to compiler Tom Reed (coturnicops at gmail dot com).

Location Abbreviations/Explanations: ASW (Avalon Seawatch); CMP (town of Cape May Point); CMPSP (Cape May Pt. State Park); Higbee Dike (dredge spoils at northwest corner of Cape Island, site of CMBO's Morning Flight count); SCMM (South Cape May Meadows).


       Waterfowl migration continued to become more obvious in recent days. Numbers of Northern Shovelers, American Wigeon, and Northern Pintail increased at CMPSP and SCMM (m. ob.), and 49 Northern Pintail migrated past ASW on 22 Sep (TR). The first southbound Brant passed ASW on 22 Sep (TR) and 25 Sep (SH). The season's first Red-throated Loon shot past ASW 23 Sep (TR). Brown Pelicans were seen from ASW on multiple days (SH, TR), though the period's max of 8 was notched at CMP 20 Sep (LM). A pair of Cattle Egrets took up residence at West Cape May 25–26 Sep (m. ob.), and small numbers of Yellow-crowned Night-Herons lingered in Atlantic Coast marshes, e.g. 6 at Jarvis Sound 20 Sep (WC). Peak daily totals for various migrant raptors at CMPSP included 554 American Kestrels on 22 Sep, 284 Sharp-shinned Hawks on 23 Sep, 116 Osprey, 129 Cooper's Hawks, 68 Merlins, and 32 Peregrine Falcons on 26 Sep (MR).

       Multiple Virginia Rails were found at CMP/CMPSP during stormy conditions 25 Sep (m. ob.), and at least 1 Sora occupied SCMM on multiple days (m. ob.). Notable shorebirds included single American Golden-Plovers at ASW 22 Sep (TR) and South Seaville 25 Sep (CS), multiple Marbled Godwits in the Stone Harbor area on several days (m. ob.), and Baird's Sandpipers at Cape May NWR 20 Sep (MB), SCMM 24 Sep (MG), and the Higbee Dike 26 Sep (TR). A juv. Long-tailed Jaeger was an exciting find at ASW 25 Sep (SH), one of only a handful of records at that site. Parasitic Jaeger was seen from CMP on a daily basis (m. ob.), and 4 migrated south past ASW 22 Sep (TR). A Little Gull was traveling with a flock of Forster's Terns offshore CMP 22 Sep (SH), the second recorded this season. The season's first Bonaparte's Gulls were a bit early when they passed ASW 24 Sep (SH). The WHISKERED TERN was last seen at CMP 20 Sep (m. ob.), and Black Tern was last reported the same day (MG).

       At least 1 Eurasian Collared-Dove continued at CMP this week (m. ob.). Red-headed Woodpeckers have been quite scarce this fall; at least 2 were found at HB 26 Sep (m. ob.). The Higbee Dike played host to a flight of 451 Northern Flickers 23 Sep (GD, m. ob.). A Black-capped Chickadee, possibly the same individual seen earlier in 2014, was detected at CMPSP 22 Sep (MO'B, m. ob). Songbird diversity remained high through the period-- recent sightings of uncommon migrants included Warbling Vireo at the Higbee Dike 26 Sep (TR), Philadelphia Vireo at HB 26 Sep (m. ob.), and Connecticut Warbler at HB/Higbee Dike on multiple dates (m. ob.). Clay-colored Sparrows were noted at CMPSP 25 Sep (m. ob.) and at Del Haven 26 Sep (HT). The season's first Rusty Blackbird arrived at CMPSP 24 Sep (TR, m. ob.). Small numbers of Purple Finches were reported throughout the county (m. ob.), and Cape Island's first Pine Siskin of the season flew over HB 26 Sep (MC, m. ob.).


Margaret Barbuty (MB), Warren Cairo (WC), Mike Crewe (MC), Glen Davis (GD), Mark Garland (MG), Skye Haas (SH), Larry Meade (LM), Michael O'Brien (MO'B), Mary Raikes (MR), Tom Reed (TR), Clay Sutton (CS), Harvey Tomlinson (HT).


*eBird. 2012. eBird: An online database of bird distribution and abundance [web application]. eBird, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Accessed 27 Sep 2014. Available:
*Fogg, B. 2013. Keekeekerr: Recent Text Alerts. Accessed 27 Sep 2014. Available:

Saturday, September 27, 2014


Sit down, take a deep breath. Read the blog title again, rub your eyes, take a walk around the garden and look again. It's not going to change. The impossible happened at Cape May today, but it happened in the worst possible way.

Shortly after 10:45am at the Swarovski-sponsored Hawkwatch Platform in Cape May Point State Park, a black shape appeared overhead. When I first saw it, it was already pretty much overhead, perhaps slightly to the north over Lighthouse Pond. The shape was familiar, and yet unfamiliar. It sort of looked like a Turkey Vulture, but something wasn't quite right. A closer look with binoculars was startling - the bird had extensive white areas across all the flight feathers and - even more worryingly - a white base to the tail. I called out for people to get on this bird, then realized that several already were; most especially, Vince Elia and Steve Bauer, stalwarts of the hawkwatch - and hawk counter Mary Raikes I think got on it around the same time. I think Vince and Steve were ahead of me, but I hadn't heard a call yet. It seems nobody wanted to shout the impossible - and yet it was becoming increasingly unavoidable...

Everyone will have their own story to tell, subtle differences to the chain of events, but the call eventually went out "Get on this bird, it looks like a Zone-tailed Hawk!!" For those who were there, the moment was memorable - 100+ people on the platform, including a Pete Dunne, CMBO raptor workshop and a great bunch of naturalist docents from Cobbs Creek, Philadelphia, a magical moment for so many - and yet, as I hinted above - it happened in the worst possible way... The 2009 Ivory Gull did it right, so did this year's Whiskered Tern. They hung around, developed more or less predictable routines and allowed many, many people to enjoy their presence. Sadly, today's Zone-tailed Hawk chose to do a couple of wide circuits over the state park, then headed out over the beach near Coral Avenue. Around 20 minutes later, a cheer could be heard in Delaware as the bird arrived over Cape Henlopen. Knowing that some of one's friends missed such a rare bird really takes the edge off the moment - good times are for sharing with all.

So, why all the fanfare? Well, Zone-tailed Hawk is a completely crazy bird to turn up at Cape May, and yet it was predicted just recently by Tom Reed. This species' range largely stretches from northern South America to northern Mexico, with the northernmost part of its range stretching up into Arizona, New Mexico and south-west Texas. Though northern populations are migratory, there is not a big track record for vagrancy for this species, but a few birds have wandered, with accepted records east of the Mississippi coming from Louisiana in 1984, Florida in 2000 and - believe it or not - Nova Scotia in 1977. Wind forward to 2014, and things really get exciting!

Fast forward to 2014, and we find that a Zone-tailed Hawk was seen and photographed on April 25th at Martha's Vineyard, Massachussetts - a place with a well-established track record for turning up remarkable rarities. An extraordinary find for the two happy observers and the start of an amazing summer for this species. On June 1st, Rick Whitman and Richard Stern located a Zone-tailed Hawk on Brier Island, Nova Scotia and this was followed by a sighting back in Massachussetts on July 8th, this time on the mainland near Halifax. For Cape May birders this was getting exciting, for it looked like the bird was starting to head back south. All we needed was the right winds and the right concentration of eyes.

For those that were there, the moment was glorious, for others, well, why do these things have to be so untimely....

Zone-tailed Hawk over Cape May Point State Park, September 27th, 2014 [pictures (C) copyright Mike Hannisian].

Zone-tailed Hawk over Cape May Point, off Coral Avenue, September 27th, 2014 [picture (C) copyright Michael O'Brien].

Based purely on plumage, a Zone-tailed Hawk can appear diagnostic, but other species can be confused with it, and black morphs (color forms) of other species of Buteo hawk need to be ruled out. Key to identifying the Cape May bird on plumage was the need to see fine, close, black barring on the whitish flight feathers and narrow black bars in the white base to the tail feathers. Both can be seen in the pictures above. However, more diagnostic than plumage markings is the uncanny resemblance to a Turkey Vulture at some angles, though this was not caught in these shots. In its usual range, the Zone-tailed Hawk hunts by flying with the wings in a slight dihedral, a shallow V shape - with the same rocking motion that Turkey Vultures display. They also often seem to 'hide' themselves within groups of roaming Turkey Vultures and it is believed that this is a type of cryptic behavior which allows them to spring a surprise on potential prey. The white marks in the plumage and the heavier, fully-feathered head serve to tell this species apart from Turkey Vulture quite readily with a little practice. Note that the tail pattern makes this an adult bird and, since all the other extralimital, north-east sightings were also adults, it seems very likely that all sightings involve the same individual bird.

What a day, what a place - come and enjoy the Cape May Magic!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Who's Watching Who?

I suppose if we spend time watching them, it's only fair that they spend time watching us - the view from my office window this evening... the Northwood Center has it all, maybe this guy just wanted to be a part of it! [Photo by Mike Crewe]

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Variety is the spice of life!

Variety is the spice of life, they say, and Cape May certainly proves the rule at times. This week has seen quite a change in fortunes for both birds and birders here but, no matter what the weather, it's always worth being out there!

The week started with some fine sunny weather, giving way to some breezy conditions, associated with a front that brought north-west winds and a hoped-for rush of birds. While Higbee Beach has certainly stuck to its reputation for providing us with an early morning rush of night migrants, the best activity for avid birdwatchers has most consistently been around CMBO's Northwood Center where, for some reason as yet not fully understood, birds seem to gravitate during the course of the day. Visitors and locals alike are enjoying great close-up views of a great range of warblers - including a handful of Cape May Warblers, which always seem to prefer either the red cedars or the Siberian Elms; good locations for them are either at the front of the Northwood Center, or just around the corner on the other half of East Lake Drive, where a group of three Siberian Elms hang out over the road.

This week, the Avalon Seawatch started and we welcome Skye Haas to our seasonal team. The seawatch begins September 22nd every year and continues to December 22nd, so do be sure to include it in your rounds if you are here for a few days. This summer has seen repeated viewings of Humpback Whales off the Cape May coast, seemingly due to larger than usual numbers of young Atlantic Menhaden feeding here, and Humpback sightings continued from the Seawatch early this week.

As wet and windy weather lashes my office window today, I'll leave you with a few recent photos to highlight Cape May's wonderful diversity...

Now is the time to enjoy the annual spectacle of Tree Swallows at Cape May. Flocks numbering several thousand birds can be found regularly at this time of year as the birds gather to feed in great swarms on bayberry fruits. Favored locations include Avalon (above), Two-mile Beach and South Cape May [photo by Carrie Bell].

Tree Swallows lined up on roadside wires look impressive, but the flock comes to life when the birds periodically swirl around overhead [photo by Carrie Bell].

Wild Turkeys continue to be a feature of Cape May and this bird was enjoying the comfort of a car on Seagrove Avenue recently! Flocks of up to 30 birds have been reported recently from New England Road, while several birds are now regularly being seen around Cape May Point [Photo by Pat King]

Since it's a rainy day today, there's been much interest in our Monarchs that are hanging out (literally!) and having a quick metamorphose at the Northwood Center. It was wonderful to share the experience of watching this Monarch emerge from its chrysalis with some visiting kids - nature through the eyes of youngsters is truly inspiring and magical [photo by Mike Crewe].

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Fun at the Hawkwatch

[A crimson sunrise at Cape May Point State Park. Photo by Tom Reed.]

It has been another fabulous week at the Hawkwatch.  We have been seeing large numbers of Osprey, Sharp-shinned Hawks, and American Kestrels.  September 18th was the highest count of the season so far, with a total of 1,235 migrating raptors.

[A beautiful Bald Eagle soaring above the Hawkatch. Photo by Tom Reed.]

A variety of ducks have started to show up on Bunker Pond, keeping visitors interested at times when the hawk flight isn't the best.  There have been many other non-raptor species making appearances as well.   We have seen a total of 157 species of birds from the platform so far this fall.

[An abundance of Northern Flickers were observed from the platform this week.  Photo by
Tom Reed.
[A Belted Kingfisher flew noisily around Bunker Pond.  Photo by Tom Reed.]

Cape May Raptor Banding Project has started their hawk banding demonstrations.  This weekend, visitors were able to see a Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, and American Kestrel in the hands of the banders. Monarch tagging demonstrations have also begun.  The Monarch Monitoring Project crew does an incredible job at educating and sharing their work with the public. Monarch tagging demonstrations take place at the State Park on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 2pm. Hawk banding demonstrations are at the State Park on Saturdays and Sundays at 10am, and at the Meadows on Saturdays at 11:30am.

[A stunning Monarch, newly tagged by the Monarch Monitoring Project.  Photo by
Emily Wilmoth.

The Seawatch officially starts tomorrow!  Be sure to get up to Avalon this season to witness large flocks of water birds migrating along the coast.  Just like the Hawkwatch, it is an amazing opportunity to admire birds, and appreciate the incredible journeys that they make.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Week in review: 13 – 19 September, 2014

CMBO is pleased to provide weekly summaries of the Cape's birding highlights. Coverage is limited to sightings in Cape May County. Readers should keep in mind that some reports may not be confirmed. The vast majority of information utilized in these reports comes from eBird data and "Keekeekerr" text alerts. Observers are encouraged to send reports and photos to compiler Tom Reed (coturnicops at gmail dot com).

Location Abbreviations/Explanations: CMP (town of Cape May Point); CMPSP (Cape May Pt. State Park); Higbee Dike (dredge spoils at northwest corner of Cape Island, site of CMBO's Morning Flight count); SCMM (South Cape May Meadows); SHPt (Stone Harbor Point).

       Dabbling ducks continued to enjoy a more obvious presence at Cape Island. At least 50 Blue-winged Teal have been noted between CMP and SCMM during recent days, along with scattered parties of Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, and American Wigeon (m. ob.). The season's first Pied-billed Grebe arrived at CMPSP 19 Sep (m. ob.). A pelagic trip to the Wilmington Canyon crossed paths with multiple Cory's Shearwaters (including one "Scopoli's"), Manx Shearwater, Great Shearwater, and Red-necked Phalarope 13 Sep (m. ob.). Exceptional from shore during autumn, a Sooty Shearwater entertained many observers at CMP 14–16 Sep (JM, m. ob.). Great Cormorant reports saw a slight uptick this week-- news of singles came in from the Higbee Dike, CMP, and Cold Spring Inlet (m. ob.). Flight calls of migrating Least Bitterns were detected over West Cape May 14 Sep (MO'B) and over Cape May City 19 Sep (TR). Recent Cattle Egret reports have been few-- 1 flew over SCMM 13 Sep (BH). Small numbers of Yellow-crowned Night-Herons can still be found at some sites, including 6 in the Jarvis Sound area 15 Sep (BL, VE et al.). A good hawk flight 18 Sep brought 221 Osprey, 563 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 118 Cooper's Hawks, and 193 American Kestrels past CMPSP (TR). A Red-shouldered Hawk was seen from CMPSP 14 Sep (MR).
       A Common Gallinule entertained many observers at CMPSP 13 Sep, and at least 2 Soras were noted at SCMM some days (m. ob.). Notable shorebird sightings entailed a Wilson's Phalarope (NBl, NBo) and a Marbled Godwit (m. ob.) over CMPSP 13 Sep, a Baird's Sandpiper over CMPSP 14 Sep (TR, KK), and 2 Long-billed Dowitchers along Ocean Drive near Wildwood Crest 13 Sep (JM). An exploration of SHPt turned up 200 American Oystercatchers, 5 Piping Plovers, a Whimbrel, 30 Red Knots, and a notable total of 27 Lesser Black-backed Gulls 13 Sep (NBl, NBo, GH, PR). Lingering terns included 2 Black Terns and at least 1 Least Tern at CMP through 19 Sep (m. ob.), and a Gull-billed Tern at CMPSP/SCMM on multiple days (m. ob.). North America's 3rd WHISKERED TERN remained at CMP through 19 Sep, delighting a few thousand birders thus far (m. ob.). At least 1 Eurasian Collared-Dove continued to be seen sporadically at CMP/CMPSP through 19 Sep (m. ob.). A migrating Barn Owl was heard calling over West Cape May during the evening of 14 Sep (DLP). Red-headed Woodpeckers have been in short supply; 1 was viewed from CMPSP 19 Sep (MO'B). For the first time this fall, there were multiple reports of Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Gray-cheeked Thrush (m. ob.), and 144 Northern Flickers were counted at the Higbee Dike 19 Sep (TR). A massive songbird flight at the Higbee Dike 15 Sep produced over 4,000 warblers, including 137 Northern Waterthrushes, 277 Black-and-white Warblers, 22 Tennessee Warblers, 2 Connecticut Warblers, 2331 American Redstarts, and 391 Northern Parulas (GD et al.). An additional 2 Connecticut Warblers and a pair of late Summer Tanagers flew past the Higbee Dike 19 Sep (TR). Clay-colored Sparrows were detected at Cape May City 16 Sep (MO'B) and at SHPt 13 Sep (JM). A Lark Sparrow, the season's third, was discovered at Del Haven 17 Sep (BB). The season's first Pine Siskin visited a backyard at Goshen 16–17 Sep (PS, CS).


Nicholas Block (NBl), Nick Bonomo (NBo), Bob Brown (BB), Glen Davis (GD), Vince Elia (VE), Greg Hanisek (GH), Brian Henderson (BH), Kevin Karlson (KK), David La Puma (DLP), Bob Lubberman (BL), Jay McGowan (JM), Michael O'Brien (MO'B), Mary Raikes (MR), Tom Reed (TR), Phil Rusch (PR), Clay Sutton (CS), Pat Sutton (PS).


*eBird. 2012. eBird: An online database of bird distribution and abundance [web application]. eBird, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Accessed 20 Sep 2014. Available:
*Fogg, B. 2013. Keekeekerr: Recent Text Alerts. Accessed 20 Sep 2014. Available:

Monday, September 15, 2014

Hawkwatch Update

[Merlins have been offering great looks from the Hawkwatch platform lately.
Photo by Tom Reed

Hi everybody! It’s Emily, your George Myers Field Naturalist this season.  I am excited to start posting updates on how things are going up at the Hawkwatch platform and around Cape May.

The Hawkwatch was quite eventful this past week.  We had some great migration days that brought large numbers of Osprey, accipiters, falcons, and more. On Sunday, Mary counted an all-time single day record of Bald Eagles. That is 50 Bald Eagles in one day!  While Mary had her eyes on the sky, most of us had our eyes on the Whiskered Tern that was flying around Bunker Pond.  A combination of the great hawk flight and the Whiskered Tern brought nearly 1000 visitors up to the platform on Sunday.  The excitement is likely to continue this week.  The forecast looks promising for several days of good hawk flights-- and hopefully the Whiskered Tern will hang around a little longer so that even more folks can get a look at such an amazing bird! Some more photos of the tern, and its admirers, can be found below. 

Lastly, the Avalon Seawatch starts one week from today, on September 22.  Be sure to get out there and meet this year’s counter, Skye Haas!

[Whiskered Tern on the beach. Photo by Tom Reed.]

[A full platform of birders observing the Whiskered Tern. Photo by Tom Reed.]