Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Business as Usual

Cape May was back in business, though not quite back to full speed as yet. The streets are officially now open more or less throughout the area south of Cape May Canal, except for a few odd spots where water is still lying or sand still awaits clearance from the road. If you plan on visiting Cape May (and why wouldn't you?!) just be prepared for the occasional detour, but you should be able to get to most regular birding locations without any problem. All of the Cape island locations indicated on our bird map are open except for Cape May Point State Park. Park Superintendent, Lorraine McCay tells me that the intention is to re-open the park on Friday, once a full inspection and clean up of all the trails has been completed.

Further afield, all major routes through the county are clear but the situation on the barrier islands is likely to be difficult for some time as that area suffered the worst of the damage, particularly flooding. I heard today that Avalon Boulevard is already open to the public though, so it should be possible to now visit the Avalon Seawatch on 7th Avenue by crossing from exit 13 on the parkway.

Local birders have covered many areas for the first time since the storm today and reported plenty of the expected sparrows, Hermit Thrushes and other late fall birds in the area. A couple of hours of seawatching at Sunset Beach this morning produced a couple of storm-petrels which were likely Band-rumped or Leach's but perhaps too distant to call for certain, plus a few more Pomarine Jaegers (glorious in early morning sun!) and a smart juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake. Lesser Black-backed Gulls were at Sunset Beach and 2nd Avenue Jetty, as were Black Skimmers, while a flock of 12 Brown Pelicans circled over the point, moved east along South Cape May Beach, then north over the city. A White-winged Dove was reported from Higbee Beach, a Lark Sparrow was near the state park entrance and a third Eurasian Wigeon (another male) was discovered on Lighthouse Pond - viewable from Lighthouse Avenue. A Red Phalarope spent quite some time on the beach along the bayshore in Del Haven and five White-rumped Sandpipers were reported from there. Don Frieday sent news of a Red-billed Tropicbird that he identified from a photo, sent to him by a bird rehabilitator. At present, we don't know where the bird was picked up but it would be an excellent find in New Jersey.

Good news is, business as usual at our stores and on our walks! CMBO's regular events are back on schedule so, now that we are heading into November, that means our next walk will be at The Beanery on Saturday, November 3rd - we'll see you there!

Today's highlight for me was this juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake which flew out of Delaware Bay early this morning. Kittiwakes are graceful and agile fliers and that dark V across each wing makes it a very attractive bird [photo by Mike Crewe].

What a difference a day makes. If you saw the Lapland Longspur on 2nd Avenue Jetty last weekend, you might not recognize this as the place you saw it! Most of the stone jetty has been buried in tons of sand, all pushed up by the storm surge which actually built up some of Cape May's beaches rather than washing them away [photo by Mike Crewe].

Some streets remain to be cleared - this is the corner between Beach and Wilmington Avenues - the sand was some six feet deep where I was standing [photo by Mike Crewe].

Cape May's utilities people are being super efficient and much of the sand is off the road and awaiting transportation to somewhere more useful [photo by Mike Crewe].

You always wanted to do it - Sandy did it for you! Cape May's beach front parking meters were buried and out of the way, if only for a day! [Photo by Mike Crewe]

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Post Hurricane Sandy

Cape May's mandatory evacuation was announced, people responded. We all held our collective breath and waited. I am sure you have all seen the reports, heard the outcomes. I hoped to put up some maps of the peak of the activity here, but I had no internet service (and it is still only intermitent it would seem) so was unable to follow the exact goings on, or download data. Still, it has been reported as an epic, record-breaking hurricane; a storm which spanned well over 400 miles across and set a new low record for recorded barometric pressure north of North Carolina. Having reached the coast and smashed through the Mid-Atlantic States - the damage done to the barrier islands still remains to be seen - Hurricane Sandy almost immediately became part of a massive low that was already dumping snow on the Appalachians. For Cape May, the one slight saving grace was that the power of the storm meant that it sped up considerably as it neared us, resulting in an earlier than expected landfall (around 6:00PM Monday rather than 2:00AM Tuesday) and a shorter amount of time spent in our airspace. With the eye of the storm passing roughly over Ocean City in the north of Cape May County, we endured nearly five hours of winds over 40MPH, with peaks of over 50MPH between 9:00 and 10:00PM (according to The Weather Channel data) and the rain fell and fell - nearly 6.5 inches was recorded for the region. Flooded basements and lawns were commonplace, but a lot of the rain had soaked away by the following morning.

Many of us were able to assess the damage this morning and with very few exceptions, little or no serious damage was done to property; indeed, many people found that the power had even managed to stay on throughout it all. With winds still whistling and another high tide only just falling back, some of us ventured down to Higbee Beach, then on to Sunset Beach once we were able to get there. Here's a picture story of our day.

My trustworthy, New Jersey Audubon feeder (available at NJA stores folks!) survived a good battering and provided much-needed sustenance to hungry birds, such as this very soggy Purple Finch which is about to land another big blob of water on its back [photo by Mike Crewe].

The canal jetty at Higbee Beach this morning. The rocks were almost completely covered with water and tree roots were strewn along the beach [photo by Mike Crewe].

Hearing that it was possible to get through to Sunset Beach, we arrived there to find the whole area covered in a thick layer of wind-blown sand, tree debris and all manner of other bits and pieces. For the second year running, huge thanks are due to the owners of the Sunset Grille for allowing us to use their deck as a watchpoint [photo by Mike Crewe].

So why Sunset Beach? Well, typically it has been found that birds swept into the coast by a hurricane, start to make their way back to the sea via any larger estuaries and rivers that they can find. Standing watching the bayshore is thus an ideal way to record what is flying out of the Delaware Bay the day after a storm. Typically, such storms bring birds of tropical origin, but this was no typical storm and several people remarked that they had never seen hurricane-driven Brant before! [Photo by Mike Crewe]

Checking every single bird is important on a day like today - note the female Lesser Scaup with the strong white wing bars, in this flock of Back Scoter [photo by Mike Crewe].

Scoter and Brant are to be expected in late October, but this adult Brown Pelican was much more of a surprise [photo by Mike Crewe].

Another typically northern bird caught up in this strange weather pattern, this is one of four Black-legged Kittiwakes that we logged today [photo by Mike Crewe].

With birds flying close to the coast to seek at least some shelter from the worst of the winds, post-storm seawatches can provide some great views of great birds. This Northern Gannet was so close over my head that this uncropped picture shows that I couldn't fit it all into the picture [photo by Mike Crewe].

How to deal with such close birds? Well, Tiffany Kersten felt she had the answer! [photo by Mike Crewe]

A great range of birds flew out of Delaware Bay today, the highlights for us being Band-rumped Storm-petrel and Cory's Shearwater, while others reported Sabine's Gull and Sooty Tern from much further up at Philadelphia. But the whole show was to be dominated by just one species - Pomarine Jaeger. Finding just one of these birds in Cape May is a notable achievement, but our day ended with a total count of 148 jaegers, the vast majority of which were Pomarines (with just a handful of Parasitics - I await Sam Galick's final tally for the day). It really was spectacular to see these birds coming through in groups of up to a dozen birds [photo by Mike Crewe].

But for most of us, the afternoon Pomarine Jaegers that started cutting right along the beach front were truly awesome and provided for some once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunities. The strongly-checkered underwing suggests that this is a second calendar year bird and it shows nicely the white patch on the primary wing coverts which is a good ID feature to tell it from Parasitic Jaeger [photo by Mike Crewe].

Cape May Point was still closed to non-residents today, with barricades at Bayshore Road and Broadway, but these had been removed by nightfall and it seems likely that the area will be open on Wednesday. If you are venturing down to Cape May Point, please be aware of possible access restrictions and take local advice at the time. The Northwood Center had power and was undamaged by the storm when I visited it today, so we do plan to be back to business as usual as soon as possible. Stay safe and have good birding!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pre-hurricane preparations

As winds and rain start to pick up at Cape May on Sunday afternoon, we wish everyone good speed as they make their journeys away from what looks like being a very battered New Jersey coast over the next 48 hours or so. Though there is, of course, no good time to be slammed by a hurricane which looks set to merge with a storm moving in from the north-west to make what I hope is no more than a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it is fair to say that Sandy could hardly have picked a worse time to descend on CMBO. Though our Autumn Weekend participants enjoyed a wonderful two days of birding at Cape May, Sunday was marked as mandatory evacuation day and we had no choice but to call a terribly abrupt end to our Fall season. Though saying a premature farewell to all of our birding friends who were attending our festival was hard, for me it was particularly sad to have to make all too premature plans to see off our fabulous seasonal interpretive naturalists and counters. The comments that I have received from visitors to our seasonal monitoring sites this season have been nothing but glowing and CMBO is proud to have been represented to the public by such a stellar team of dedicated and professional people. Please join me in wishing them all the best in their forthcoming careers and thanking them for doing such a fabulous job. You can read short biographies of this year's team by clicking here.

A final morning's birding for me around Cape May Point revealed a community battening down for a heavy storm, with most people already well out of town. With the streets almost empty, it seemed that every other front yard was busy with bird activity as Chipping and White-throated Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Yellow-rumped Warblers and American Robins stocked up with food, perhaps unaware of what they were about to face over the next couple of days. Pine Siskins are still swarming the area too - I saw some 40 birds at one feeder, while another front yard had around 120 Pine Siskins crowding over a pile of sunflower seed. Sadly, this latter group were attacked twice by a cat, allowed to roam at will by an inconsiderate owner. Maybe one day America's native wildlife will be protected from such unnecessary problems - they have enough natural things to worry about as it is!! Here's a few pictures from pre-Sandy Cape May.

The post I never got around to! Last week, I visited the north end of the county to capture some of the riotous Cape May fall color - such as this Pignut Hickory at Eldora. I guess by the time we return, those leaves will all be in a heap on the ground... [photo by Mike Crewe].

Saturday morning saw perhaps the first of the peculiar outer effects of a hurricane sky. Despite foreboding in the clouds, Tom Reed maintained his vigil at the Hawkwatch [photo by Mike Crewe].

Pine Siskins just keep coming and coming this year. Hopefully the flocks still cleaning out the sunflower feeders at Cape May Point will ride through the rough weather OK and be here to be enjoyed through November [photo by Mike Crewe].

The sign says it all - two years, two hurricanes for Cape May [photo by Mike Crewe].
Watch this space, we will be back soon...

Friday, October 26, 2012

Autumn Weekend & Hurricane Sandy

Well, the Cape May Autumn Weekend is well under way and today has been a fabulous, balmy day with warm sunshine and almost cloudless skies. But sadly this year, the elements conspire against us. As Hurricane Sandy looms ominously over the horizon, we have to follow local safety instructions, and as each hour passes, it looks more and more as if Cape May is going to be slapped clean in the face.

Following local advisories, we regret that we have had to make the decision to cancel all Autumn Weekend events as from first thing Sunday morning, and for the following week until further notice. Our Cape May With Everything On It workshop, scheduled for next Monday and Tuesday is therefore cancelled also, as well as our daily walks program. Please note also that Brigantine NWR has announced that it will be closed from Sunday morning through Tuesday.

On a much brighter note, tomorrow (Saturday) looks set to be another calm and sunny day with the promise of some great Cape May birding. Make the best of it, have fun, but please do keep in touch with local advisories regarding the hurricane. Today, two Eurasian Wigeon, a female and a first-winter male, were discovered on Lighthouse Pond, a Lesser Scaup was on Bunker Pond and a spectacular Double-crested Cormorant and scoter flight took place, with thousands of birds pouring past the Avalon Seawatch and Cape May Point. A male Lapland Longspur was found on 25th and continued all day today on the 2nd Avenue jetty and was today joined by two Purple Sandpipers. Long-billed Dowitcher and three Stilt Sandpipers were at The Meadows and Vesper Sparrows were lurking at The Beanery and Higbee Beach.

Good birding - but be careful out there.

Always a delight to work with, Purple Sandpipers can be very approachable with care and make for some great photo opportunities [photo by Mike Crewe].

A life bird for many of the Autumn Weekend visitors, this Lapland Longspur spent much of its time finding small larvae amongst the algae growing on the rock jetty at the corner of Beach and 2nd Avenues. Note the chestnut-edged greater coverts and the square-cornered, black edging to the ear coverts [photo by Mike Crewe].

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cape May Birding Hotline -- October 25th, 2012

Hotline: Cape May Birding Hotline
To Report: call: (609) 884-2736 or email: coturnicops AT gmail DOT com
Coverage: Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic Counties, NJ
Compiler: Tom Reed


A TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE* was discovered in West Cape May near Pond Creek Lane on 10/25, seen flying toward the western end of Stevens Street. The bird has not been relocated. This represents the 1st Cape May County record of the species.

A PACIFIC LOON* was seen flying south past the Avalon Seawatch on 10/25, while another possible PACIFIC LOON was photographed flying past the same location on 10/23. An immature BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE was notched from the Seawatch on 10/24.

Finches continued to impress this week. A flock of 15 EVENING GROSBEAKS entertained along East Katherine Avenue in Seaville on 10/25, and are hopefully the first of many to be seen this fall/winter. RED CROSSBILLS were noted flying over Cape May Point on 10/21, 10/22 and 10/24. Over 1,000 PINE SISKINS were tallied over the Point on 10/22.

An early CAVE SWALLOW was seen flying over Cape May Point on 10/22. Other notable swallows included 11 BARN SWALLOWS over the Point on 10/25, and 15+ NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWS over the Point throughout much of the week.

It has been a decent season for WESTERN KINGBIRDS, and one was found in the 4th field at Higbee Beach WMA on 10/23. Yet another WESTERN KINGBIRD was seen flying past the dunes in Cape May Point on 10/22. 

It's a good time for sparrows, with upwards of 9 VESPER SPARROWS at the Magnesite Plant on 10/22, and multiples at the Rea Farm/Beanery through much of the week. A LARK SPARROW was seen flying past the South Cape May Meadows on 10/23, while a GRASSHOPPER SPARROW was found at the Schellenger Tract of Cape May NWR on the same day. Two NELSON'S SPARROWS were found at Jake's Landing on 10/20.

A LAPLAND LONGSPUR was found on the 2nd Avenue Jetty in Cape May on 10/25. Another flew past the South Cape May Meadows on 10/23.

A notable flight of 22 WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCHES was logged at the Higbee Dike on 10/21.

A late flock of 5 CATTLE EGRETS took up residence on Bunker Pond (Cape May Pt State Park) on 10/21.

NORTHERN GOSHAWKS were recorded at the Cape May Hawk Watch on 10/22 and 10/23, and one was seen from the Higbee Dike on 10/23.

Finally, Cape May Point's resident EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVES* continued to show regularly in the area of Lincoln, Whildin and Harvard Avenues.

* - denotes a Review List species in New Jersey, as designated by the New Jersey Bird Records Committee (NJBRC). Observers are strongly encouraged to submit documentation of such species to the Committee. Details should be sent to:

The Cape May Birding Hotline is a service of the New Jersey Audubon Society's Cape May Bird Observatory and details sightings from Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic Counties. Updates are made weekly. Please report sightings of rare or unusual birds to CMBO at 609-884-2736. Sponsorship for this hotline comes from the support of CMBO members and business members, and should you not be a member, we cordially invite you to join. Individual membership is $39 per year; $49 for families. You can call either center to become a member or visit. Become a member in person and you'll receive a FREE gift (in addition to member discounts in the stores).

Good Luck and Good Birding!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Bird Show has Started!

Officially, The Bird Show starts this Thursday evening, but The Bird Show really got started this last week and continued over the ensuing days. September may well be a great time to be in Cape May to see a wide range of species - especially all those warblers - but if you want numbers and spectacles, then you really need to be here in late October! After a lifetime of birding, you might think that I would be getting jaded by now - not a bit of it! With over 60,000 birds counted on the combined Morning Flight counts at Higbee Dike for Sunday and Monday, it's still easy to just stare in awe at one of the greatest shows on earth.

Actually, Monday morning I was on one of the dune crossovers at Cape May Point, not at Higbee Beach, and the experience can be quite different. Though it is not really right to over-simplify the complexities of migration - I will!! In one way, there are two types of migrants - those that migrate only at night and those that will continue during daylight. Species that shun daylight movements at Cape May tend to head north at first light, passing Higbee Dike and looking for a suitable place to spend the day north of the canal. These are the birds counted at the Morning Flight. In contrast, birds that will continue southward in daylight and don't pull up in horror at the thought of a Delaware Bay crossing, head on round the point to find a suitable crossing place. These are the birds that you see at the dune crossovers. On Monday morning, I did not stop looking at birds - continually, without a break in their numbers - for well over an hour! Yes, many are common species, but it's the spectacle that is so amazing. Tight balls of Cedar Waxwings and European Starlings, compact lines of Red-winged Blackbirds (with the promise of a Rusty Blackbird tucked in between), spaced out carpets of American Robins riding high above all the others, and ragged, undecided packs of Blue Jays constantly testing the air waves. When the birds are high, you rely much more on your ears than your eyes; Pine Siskins with their twangy wheezes are soon picked out from the parties of 'chiff-iff-iff'ing American Goldfinches, the hollow 'knocking' calls of Purple Finches pick them out from the conversational calls of the many parties of House Finches on the move, while stratospheric Eastern Bluebirds pass unseen but are noted by their shorebird-like calls. From all this, Michael O'Brien pulled out a passing Western Kingbird, which paused long enough for scope views atop a Japanese Black Pine and a single Red Crossbill which shot straight towards Delaware and called - a type 3 of course (check out eBird's crossbill article if that makes no sense to you!!). American Pipits occasionally paused briefly on the beach, both Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches (as well as both kinglet species) worked through the pines; Sharp-shinned Hawks stirred everything up on a regular basis - and still the birds kept coming!

Migration is in full swing folks and Autumn Weekend is just around the corner! Birds are on the move and each day will be different, but you can rest assured there will be plenty to look at in the coming days. Bob Fogg reports some large scoter movements and the first notable Common Loon movement of the fall today off Avalon. Over the past few days, five Cattle Egrets dropped into Bunker Pond for the day on 21st (after a single briefly at the point the day before), 15 Brown Pelicans cruised by the point on 21st and that night, good numbers of Snow Geese were passing over Cape May in the dark. American Robins and Yellow-rumped Warblers dominate each day, the first Cave Swallow of fall showed up on 22nd and Northern Gannets and Parasitic Jaegers are now out in the rips on a regular basis. Michael O'Brien reported both Lark Sparrow and Lapland Longspur on 23rd, flying past The Meadows and there have been mentions of Grasshopper Sparrow and Northern Goshawk over the last few days - both tough birds to catch up with at Cape May. The mini-run of Rufous Hummingbirds seeme to have dried up (without me seeing a single one!!) but Vesper Sparrows continue to haunt the Rea Farm fields and duck numbers are very good on Lighthouse Pond now. The stage is set - come and be a player!

What it has been like this week - waves of Red-winged Blackbirds pouring round Cape May Point, looking for that optimum moment to head out across the bay and continue on their way south [photo by Mike Crewe].

Yep, you really do need eyes in the back of your head at Cape May! Most of the 15 Brown Pelicans that passed Cape May Point on 21st sneak behind an unsuspecting birder [photo by Mike Crewe].

Western Kingbirds have been frustrating this year so far, with most birds being brief fly-bys. However, this bird was found by Mark Garland at Higbee Beach and stayed long enough to be enjoyed by several people [photo by Gerry Dewaghe].

Sometimes it pays to expect the unexpected! With so many birds around, perhaps finding one that is a little unusual is a little easier, but this leucistic Yellow-rumped Warbler was a really stunning find for Larry Jeanblanc, Julie Karlson and Doug Overacker at Cape May Point State Park on October 16th. Thanks to Scott Barnes for forwarding some great pictures of the bird [photo by Larry Jeanblanc].

Awesome migration? Don't forget the raptors! The Hawkwatch Platform continues to give so many people some lifetime moments as birds such as this immature Bald Eagle put on a star performance for the gathered admirers [photo by Mike Crewe].

Birds and Bugs on the Move - it seems that pretty much everything migrates through Cape May at some point. Michael O'Brien alerted me to an impressive movement of bugs through Cape May Point today and I dropped in to the state park to find these guys - Large Milkweed Bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus) - all over the place. Most notably, good numbers of them were rising straight up from the tops of the cedars and wafting away on the wind. This species cannot survive the winters in the northern half of the US so large numbers head south every fall to hang out in the southern states until better weather sees later generations heading back north in the spring [photo by Mike Crewe].
Also on the move... Some pretty large moths are on the move too right now and this Carolina Sphinx was found resting on a bayberry by Steve Mason from the Academy of Natural Sciences. This is a not too popular species since its mighty green caterpillars regularly munch garden tomato plants with great gusto [photo by Mike Crewe].
Lest we forget - it's been a staggering year for Little Yellows this year, with reports from throughout the State of New Jersey and unprecedented numbers in Cape May County. The good year continues for this species with this individual feeding on Frost Aster at the state park today [photo by Mike Crewe].

Friday, October 19, 2012

Cape May Birding Hotline -- October 19th, 2012

Hotline: Cape May Birding Hotline
To Report: call: (609) 884-2736 or email: coturnicops AT gmail DOT com
Coverage: Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic Counties, NJ
Compiler: Tom Reed

This is the Cape May Birding Hotline, a service of New Jersey Audubon's Cape May Bird Observatory. This week's message was prepared on Friday, October 19, 2012. Included this week are sightings of AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN, SWAINSON'S HAWK, AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER, PARASITIC JAEGER, EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE, RED-HEADED WOODPECKER, WESTERN KINGBIRD, RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH, CLAY-COLORED SPARROW, LARK SPARROW, DICKCISSEL, RED CROSSBILL, and PINE SISKIN.

A SWAINSON'S HAWK* was briefly viewed from the Rea Farm/Beanery and Cape May Point on the afternoon of 10/17, and was last reported flying north. There have been no further reports.

An AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN was found at Brig/Forsythe NWR on 10/14 and 10/15. 

A WESTERN KINGBIRD was photographed flying past Hidden Valley on 10/15, and another "yellow-bellied" kingbird was seen flying past Stevens Street in West Cape May on 10/18.

CLAY-COLORED SPARROWS were seen at the Cape May Hawk Watch (10/13) and the Beanery (10/15) this week.  A LARK SPARROW flew past the Cape May Hawk Watch during an impressive songbird movement on 10/17, while a DICKCISSEL flew over the same location on 10/14.

A RED CROSSBILL flew past the Cape May Hawk Watch on 10/12. Remarkable numbers of RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES and PINE SISKINS continued throughout the reporting area this week. 

Two RED-HEADED WOODPECKERS were found at Cox Hall Creek/Villas WMA on 10/14. 

An AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER flew over Cape May Point during the evening of 10/16. 

Multiple PARASITIC JAEGERS in "the rips" off Cape May Point continued to entertain birders this week.

Finally, Cape May Point's resident EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVES continued to show regularly in the area of Lincoln, Whildin and Harvard Avenues.

* - denotes a Review List species in New Jersey, as designated by the New Jersey Bird Records Committee (NJBRC). Observers are strongly encouraged to submit documentation of such species to the Committee. Details should be sent to:

The Cape May Birding Hotline is a service of the New Jersey Audubon Society's Cape May Bird Observatory and details sightings from Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic Counties. Updates are made weekly. Please report sightings of rare or unusual birds to CMBO at 609-884-2736. Sponsorship for this hotline comes from the support of CMBO members and business members, and should you not be a member, we cordially invite you to join. Individual membership is $39 per year; $49 for families. You can call either center to become a member or visit. Become a member in person and you'll receive a FREE gift (in addition to member discounts in the stores).

Good Luck and Good Birding!

Boat Trips and More on Siskins...

Though we are right in the midst of our autumn birding extravaganza, many of us here at the bird observatory are already well into our planning schedule for 2013 and it is during October that I spend most of the time thinking of our schedule for next spring. Having just spent a couple of hours going through these schedules with our local boat captains and some of our keen volunteers, you can expect to see some new ideas popping up next year - including some special kayak trips during the summer months.

Birding out on the open water is always a treat and it was a nice coincidence, having just been down at the dock talking boat trips, to receive some photos from our recent trip out of Somer's Point, courtesy of the Duke o'Fluke. While birding at Cape May, it can be easy to slip into the mistake of remaining entirely focused on Cape May Point, but look at any map of the area and you will soon see a region awash with fabulous back bays to visit. The Duke o'Fluke actually sails out of the very southern tip of Atlantic County and heads into Great Egg Harbor - the large body of backbay water where the Great Egg Harbor River and the Tuckahoe River meet. This is a fabulous area to get into by boat as there is almost no access by road, and you soon get into some wonderful out-of-the way places. Tour participant Bill Snelling sent me an array of great shots from last weekend's boat trip, including the couple I've added here. Look out for more trips up the Great Egg Harbor River next year!

Belted Kingfishers can be pretty jumpy if you try to get close to them on foot, but approaching by boat can be a different experience. Participants aboard the Duke o'Fluke enjoyed getting close enough to this bird to see the extra chest band that makes it a female [photo by Bill Snelling].

Bald Eagles getting commonplace? Surely not!! OK, so we see Bald Eagles an awful lot more now than we used to, but they are still pretty amazing things to watch. Here, a pair cozy up together on a channel marker and give great photo opportunities to our boat trip group [photo by Bill Snelling].

Pine Siskins continue to be in the news right now, as impressive numbers of these understated birds head southward. This is one of a group of northern breeding species which tend to be irruptive rather than regularly migratory, their movements dependent more on food availability than on weather. Right now, Cape May is almost awash with Pine Siskins and our walk groups are enjoying unusually good views of these confiding birds. It seems likely that tree species that regularly provide food for these birds have had a crop failure this year and the birds have no choice but to head south and look for alternative sources. Though the field guides show the wintering range of this species as being throughout the USA, in reality, they are far from guaranteed each year in any one location, so I suggest you make the best of them while they are here. To get a feel for the scale of the movement, take a look at the following maps, which Sam Galick kindly prepared from eBird data (all maps generated from eBird/Cornell Lab of Ornithology) - you can click on the maps to get larger images and see more detail.

Data from eBird showing reported sightings of Pine Siskins for September 2011

Data from eBird showing reported sightings of Pine Siskins for September 2012

Data from eBird showing reported sightings of Pine Siskins for October 2011

Data from eBird showing reported sightings of Pine Siskins for October 2012

Pine Siskins are overall brownish-gray and streaky, but usually have yellowish edges to the wing feathers and have narrowly-pointed bills, ideal for probing deep into flower heads to dig out seeds. Watch for them at backyard feeders or in sunflower patches (native as well as introduced species) and expect to see them associating with American Goldfinches [photos by Mike Crewe].