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 cmboregistrar@njaudubon.org

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 cmboregistrar@njaudubon.org

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!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Coming Up: Bayshore Birding at its Best, Sunday November 6th - register now

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Join Janet Crawford and other CMBO Naturalists on a wonderful exploration of the very best birding sites in Cumberland County. The final route will depend on the latest bird news, but our
search for an array of ducks, raptors, and much more could include any or all of the following hotspots: East Point for migrant raptors and other birds; the “Bluffs” on the Maurice River; the Natural Lands Trust’s Peek Preserve and other little-known spots in Cumberland County. Meets at the Mauricetown WaWa on Rt. 47.

Call 609-400-3864 today to register, or email the Program Registrar at cmboregistrar@njaudubon.org with your name, address and phone number. She'll call back to complete your registration.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Coming Up: Cape May with Everything On It with Louise Zemaitis, Oct.24-26

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If you are going to be in town for our Fall Festival, why not extend your stay and join Louise Zemaitis for a three-day birding adventure. Long-range forecasts are promising for a cold front bringing on a Cape May classic, possibly even a fallout!

Call 609-400-3864 today to register, or email the Program Registrar at cmboregistrar@njaudubon.org with your name, address and phone number.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Connecticut Warbler Window

I got my lifer Connecticut Warbler from the Morning Flight Songbird Count back in the fall of 2011. Yes, I saw it flying high overhead the "Higbee Dike", or more accurately, someone called it out and I got on a large bodied, yellow-bellied, gray/brown-headed warbler flying overhead and away. As you can imagine, it left me wanting a better view. Connecticut Warbler had been my nemesis bird for many years, but I consistently justified it each year by saying "yeah, but they're hard hard to see, they're skulkers, they're notoriously shy (except when they're not) and they come through Cape May during a small window of time each fall". The reality, of course, is that Connecticut Warblers are actually quite common during their migration window, and the habitat on Cape Island is quite good for them such that with some understanding of where and how to look, and an eye on the date, you don't have to wait a lifetime to see this highly prized wood warbler, and you don't have to see it as a fleeting glimpse from atop the Higbee Dike (although that too is a thrill of its own!).

When to look

We at New Jersey Audubon's Cape May Bird Observatory, with the help of a dedicated volunteer, have recently completed development of a research database for all of our migration count data (the Cape May Hawkwatch, Avalon Seawatch and Morning Flight Songbird Count...the Monarch Monitoring Project is next!). This will allow us to analyze and to collaborate on analyses of our datasets to better understand bird populations and inform our conservation priorities. As I was preparing for a talk to deliver in Sweden in early September, I ran analyses on several species of concern for which we have data in our database. I also considered the fact that birders from Europe are interested in seeing our North American Wood Warblers, and Connecticut is at the top of many lists due to their secretive nature. When I crunched the numbers on CONW (the 4-letter alpha code that bird banders use for Connecticut Warbler) I was impressed with how well the data described the small window of time where CONW peak in Cape May.

While the bulk of CONW pass through Cape May during the latter two weeks of September and the first week of October, the top three high count dates occurred on September 13, 17, and 21 in three separate years. The top three years for CONW were 2009, 2010, and 2011, over which two different counters counted (so not the effect of a single hotshot counter). So if you were looking to maximize your chances of seeing a Connecticut Warbler during fall migration, a good bet would be to aim for  the latter half of September, especially during the 13th - 21st timeframe.

Looking at this year, we didn't see CONW numbers start to materialize until this past week with a few earlier records on the 8th and 12th of September, while most came in after the 21st. So far this year eight individuals have been tallied from the Morning Flight Songbird Count with a daily maximum of two. While it's not shaping up to be a record CONW year, there have been several cooperative birds around Cape Island posing long enough for folks to get a look, and even some photos.

Connecticut Warbler by Colorado birder Robert Raker during CMBO's Higbee Walk on 9/23
(photo by the author of the back of Raker's camera)

Where to look

On Cape Island Connecticut Warbler like ragweed (Ambrosia sp.) and the fields at the Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area are full of it! These little skulkers also like a variety of field plants in the aster family, so diverse fields including ragweed and things like goldenrod (Solidago sp.) are places where you can strike CONW gold during peak migration. Of course these birds are skulkers, preferring to walk away from you rather than fly, so patience is key. These birds are actively migrating, so like other actively migrating warblers they are seeking out food and shelter during the day. Early mornings after a night of northerly winds at Higbee can be productive as birds tend to be settling in after a nocturnal flight. They're hungry, and searching for where they will spend their day, and therefore tend to be more visible. As you walk the fields, look for birds flushing short distances from you.

Sources of confusion

Common Yellowthroat is also common throughout the Higbee fields, but with a little scrutiny can be quickly discounted. CONW is larger overall, larger bill, chunkier-bodied and rounder-bellied, with complete yellow underparts, and has a distinctive full eye-ring with a light brown (but contrasting) hood in young birds, and gray hood in adults. Young and adult female Common Yellowthroat in contrast have yellow primarily in the under tail coverts and throat, with a white belly and dingy olive chest, and a broken eye-ring.

Nashville Warbler is less common but definitely present and also noticeably smaller and more "flitty" than Connecticut Warbler. They do have a complete eye-ring and gray head, but show a yellow throat and breast (not a hood as in CONW) and show extensive white around the legs and belly contrasting with yellow undertail coverts and throat. Nashville Warbler also commonly feed at the tops of Goldenrod and other seed-bearing field plants with apparent disregard for birders, something very atypical of CONW.

Good luck on your search!

Now that you're equipped with the skills you need, I hope you head out and find some Connecticut Warblers! If you find yourself in Cape May, please stop by the Northwood Center and we can fill you in on what's been seen most recently, including any known sightings of Connecticut Warbler, and of course we'd love to hear your stories if you've been successful, either in person or in the comments of this post.

For full details on what's going on in Cape May, download our quarterly program guide, the Kestrel Express, here. 

Connecticut Warbler migrating over the Higbee Dike. © Tom Johnson