Friday, January 20, 2017

Wintering Hawks, Eagles & Owls with Pete Dunne

Gray Ghost Hunting

January 14 & 15, 2017
Pete Dunne and Brett Ewald
Our first School of Birding workshop of the year was very rewarding, as a nice mix of raptors and other birds were studied and appreciated. A fun group of 15 participants made the workshop even more enjoyable, totaling 57 species (summary below).
The morning of the first day was spent surveying several bayshore locations, searching the extensive marshes for winter visitors and those that are already starting courtship for the upcoming breeding season. Stops included Thompson’s Beach, East Point Lighthouse, and Jake’s Landing. We were treated to the various ages and plumages of Northern Harrier, including an actively hunting adult male – Gray Ghost – a beautiful example of a species adapted for that habitat. Bald Eagles were very prominent, with numbers of adults and a few immatures seen. One presumably local pair was constantly escorted out of one area by a diligent pair of resident Red-tailed Hawks. At least five Short-eared Owls were patrolling the distant marshes, resulting in several inter-species interactions, as well as passes made at Northern Harriers and Bald Eagles. A lounging Peregrine Falcon on one of the platforms took it all in stride. Vultures, mostly Turkey, were always rocking back and forth over the surrounding landscape. The flashing past of a Sharp-shinned Hawk helped to conclude the morning’s sightings.

Mott's Creek
Some showers in the afternoon gave us a chance to get acquainted and go over the morning’s checklist at the Observatory’s Center for Research and Education. A presentation on the wintering raptors of New Jersey allowed for a comprehensive review of identification features and discussion on behavior, seasonality, and habitat.

The second day found us exploring coastal areas, this time on the Atlantic Ocean side. Our first stop was the famous Brigantine section of the Edwin Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, where dikes though the tidal marshes allow for an immersion within the habitat. Renowned as a waterfowl stopover location, we were surrounded by many geese, ducks, and swans, with an occasional Great Blue Heron thrown in. The vocal flocks of Snow Geese were especially notable. Of course, where there is a prey base, there will be raptors. Bald Eagles were constantly perusing the area, often putting up flocks of birds as they passed. Northern Harriers also seemed to be coursing everywhere on the refuge. At least two Peregrine Falcons were present – one adult loafing on a post. A Northern Harrier made quite a show of expressing its displeasure at having the Peregrine around.

Bald Eagle on Nest

The environs of Mott’s Creek proved a relaxing environment to observe raptors in the afternoon, with Northern Harriers once again providing almost constant motion. The highlight here was our only Rough-legged Hawk of the workshop – a northern breeder that is only present in very small numbers in New Jersey. A Common loon drifting by and a Belted Kingfisher also caught our attention while scanning for raptors. All in all, a perfect setting and ending to another fantastic workshop.

For more information about upcoming School of Birding Workshops, Special Field Trips, or Weekly Walks, click here – CMBO Programs

Snow Goose – 750+
Brant – 100+
Canada Goose – 100+
Mute Swan – 4
Tundra Swan – 2
Gadwall – 25+
Gray Ghost
American Black Duck – 100+

Mallard – 50+
Northern Pintail – 50+
Greater Scaup – 10+
Long-tailed Duck – 3
Bufflehead – 25+
Common Goldeneye – 6
Hooded Merganser – 10+
Red-breasted Merganser – 10+
Ruddy Duck – 6
Common Loon – 1
Pied-billed Grebe – 1
Great Blue Heron – 10+

Black Vulture – 6
Turkey Vulture – 50+
Northern Harrier – 25
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 1
Bald Eagle – 15
Red-tailed Hawk – 7
Owl Watching at Jake's Landing
Rough-legged Hawk – 1
Black-bellied Plover -3
Dunlin – 10+
Ring-billed Gull – 10+
Herring Gull – 100+
Great Black-backed Gull – 3
Rock Pigeon – 10+
Mourning Dove – 10+
Short-eared Owl – 5
Belted Kingfisher – 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker – 1
Northern Flicker – 2
Peregrine Falcon – 3
Blue Jay – 3
American Crow – 10+
Carolina Chickadee – 3
Tufted Titmouse – 1
Eastern Bluebird – 2
American Robin – 250+
Northern Mockingbird – 1
European Starling – 50+
Fox Sparrow – 1
White-throated Sparrow – 3
Savannah Sparrow – 2
Song Sparrow – 2
Eastern Towhee – 1
Northern Cardinal – 3
Red-winged Blackbird – 10+
Eastern Meadowlark – 1
Common Grackle – 25+
Boat-tailed Grackle – 25+
American Goldfinch - 3

Thursday, January 5, 2017

It's a New Year, and a great time to come birding in Cape May!

Now that the New Year is underway, it's time to sign-up with CMBO for winter birding workshops and field trips!
Coming up next week, Pete Dunne's Wintering Hawks, Eagles, and Owls two-day workshop and a new field trip, Coastal Birding at Two Mile. 
To register, call our Program Registrar at (609) 400-3864 or email her at

Friday, December 16, 2016

Coming Up: Kick Off Your Year List, January 1st with CMBO!

It's not too early to start planning for the New Year! Join Program Director, Brett Ewald and CMBO Naturalists on January 1st and get started on your 2017 bird list! We start in Cape May Point and go where the birds are. Recent years have produced over 70 species, including many seasonal highlights and rarities. We’ll break for an hour or so at midday for lunch and to warm up. Preregistration required. Cost:  $25 members, $35 nonmembers

CMBO will be closed for the holidays from December 24 to January 1, so make sure you register by December 23! Call our Program Registrar at (609) 400-3864 or email her at

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Coming Up: Harlequin Romance on Saturday, December 10th

Register now for this Saturday's trip to Barnegat Light where Harlequin Ducks and Purple Sandpipers have arrived! Our annual trip has regularly provided us with exceptional views of Harlequin Ducks, as well as an array of other winter birds, including Snow Bunting, Iceland Gull, Black-legged Kittiwake, King Eider and more. Join Brett Ewald, Program Director and CMBO Naturalists by contacting our Program Registrar at (609) 400-3864 or by email to

Monday, November 28, 2016

Winter is Here - Come Birding With Us!!

Ruddy Turnstone
© Brett M. Ewald

As the fall migration winds down and your attention switches to the opportunities that winter birding presents, CMBO is here to help. Our Winter edition of the Kestrel Express is out – highlighting all of our weekly walks, special field trips, and Cape May School of Birding workshops -
Please note a new monthly walk at Hidden Valley – this is a free walk sponsored by the NJDEP Division of Fish & Wildlife. The first walk is schedule for Sunday, December 11th at 4 p.m. - meet at the small clamshell parking lot on the south side of New England Rd., 0.3 miles west of the intersection with Bayshore Road. Hope you’ll join us!!

A full spectrum of in-depth and informative Workshops and Birding Breaks are already planned for 2017– Cape May School of Birding. Sign up today to reserve your spot, or gift one to a friend! Check back often for the latest additions to this extensive line-up, as several more are in the works.

Of course, for those focused on the quickly approaching holiday season, stop in at the Northwood Center in Cape May Point for all sorts of gifts, perfect for the nature lover in your life – binoculars, scopes, shirts, jewelry, caps, field guides and other natural history books, notecards, feeders, coffee, and more!!!!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Coming Up: Brigantine & Mott's Creek field trip, November 26th - register now!

Click picture to enlarge
Making plans for Thanksgiving weekend? Join Janet Crawford and CMBO Naturalists at Edwin B. Forsythe NWR for a great afternoon of birding.

Ducks are massing, Northern Harriers and, perhaps, Short-eared Owls will be hunting. Eagles and Rough-legged Hawks are also possible. At this time, much of the refuge is closed for construction, so after birding the refuge, we will travel to other, lesser known but wonderful sites such as Scotts Landing and Amasa Landing. Then the group will head to nearby Mott’s Creek for raptor watching and perhaps the best chance for viewing hunting Rough-legged Hawks and Short-eared Owls. A refuge pass ($4; can be purchased that day), Golden Age Pass, or federal duck stamp will be required for each vehicle to enter the NWR.

For registration or further information, please contact our Program Registrar at (609) 400-3864 or by email to

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Reflecting on the 'Elusive' Dickcissel

© Brett M. Ewald

Many Eastern birders think of Dickcissel as a bird of the Midwest, and for good reason; their breeding range encompasses much of the United States west of the Appalachians and east of the Rockies. For that reason, recording one along the Atlantic Coast is always exciting. The problem is getting a decent look at one!

In New Jersey, Dickcissels are most likely to be encountered in the fall, when they are considered a scarce migrant. As with many species, however, Cape May exceeds the norm. With an average count of about 50/fall, you would think your chances of getting a good look at one, with an acceptable amount of effort, would be high. You would most likely be wrong. Most of these records are flyovers, detected because of their distinctive ‘raspberry’ call, with a fleeting glance the only visual reward.

A perusal of reports from Cape May during fall 2016 turns up the expected pattern of sightings. The earliest was in late August, the peak was in the first part of October, and the latest was in early November. Although a total count is hard to determine, due to the possibility of repeat encounters, it is over 50, with at least 6 recorded on 4 October. The majority of these sightings were flyovers, with only a couple seen perched or allowing for a photo. I personally heard at least 8, but only caught a glimpse of 3, as they winged their way past.

So where or how do you get a good look?  That will require some effort and luck. While the rate of detection is highest at well-known birding sites, such as the hawkwatch platform at Cape May Point State Park, the Morning Flight count at the Higbee dike, or the Coral Ave. dune crossover, they may not be your best bet. Dickcissels are a bird of the grasses and weeds, such as those in the front portion of the Nature Conservancy’s South Cape May Meadows, the fields of the Higbee Beach WMA (including Hidden Valley), or at almost any point along the dunes west of Cape May and surrounding Cape May Point. Patience and a lot of scanning will go a long way to achieving your goal; if not, you can always enjoy the myriad of other birds around you, after all, it is Cape May!