Sunday, September 16, 2007

Where and how do you bird Cape May on a fall flight day?


Sunrise to ~ 10:00 a.m: Higbee Beach for passerines. Consider a mid-morning shift to the Beanery or Hidden Valley.

10:30-noon: Cape May Point State Park Hawk Watch.

Lunch: optional.

Afternoon: Stone Harbor Point and Nummy Island (or stay at the state park and bird the ponds and the rips, as well as the hawk watch).

That's pretty much what we did for the third day of the CMBO Fall Migration workshop, and since we totalled roughly 110 species today while making absolutely no effort to specifically run up a big species list, I reckon it's a pretty good plan.

It used to be I'd have worked the TNC Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge, a.k.a. the Meadows, into the mandatory hit list of locations, but the meadows are still recovering from restoration work and seem not to be attracting and holding birds the way we would all like. Give it a year for the vegetation and invertebrate fauna to build back up, and I'm guessing the meadows will be better than ever. However, if the passerine flight seems iffy, or if you're going to bird until dusk, definitely consider the meadows for your morning or late afternoon/evening plans.

This whole discussion sends one ruminating on what makes a good day of birding. My view on that subject is to pursue quality views of quality species, hopefully with some interesting behaviors thrown in, plus an overall abundance of birds and some understanding of what they are doing and why. All that trumps some dumb big daylist total.

Let's start with Higbee. There is a certain tension at Higbee in the morning during a potential flight day. Part of it comes from the simple question, can I find a parking spot? At 7:00 a.m. today there were easily 100 cars there, and the first field was ringed with birders, reminding me of photos of British twitchers surrounding some American rarity in the Scillies.

Speaking of Brits, there was a group of perhaps 12 birders all armed with scopes at Higbee who I didn't have the opportunity to speak to, but my group asked me about them. Why do they all have scopes at Higbee (where, generally, the birds don't sit for such equipment)? I answered that the gentlemen were probably European, they were probably very serious, and probably knew more about the birds they were here to see than I did. And that I was being a kind of lazy leader today, and should have had my scope along in case we needed it .

Another tension at Higbee comes from the question, "Should I be here now, or over in the corner of the second field, or up on the dike, or maybe we should have stayed in the parking lot where the two Cape May Warblers perched first thing?" You always feel like you're never in the right place, especially when the morning flight is still going on and you're resigned to trying to convince the group that flyover warblers still provide good views, saying things like "See, that female Black-and-white really looks white-headed, doesn't it?" All the while you yourself are salivating for something, anything, even just a redstart, to perch somewhere where you can clearly see it.

I don't know the answer for how best to cover Higbee, and I do know the answer changes day to day and whether or not you get it right is mainly luck, but I think the best plan is enjoy where you are, cover the key areas slowly and thoroughly, and recognize that no person or party is seeing everything. After our great views of Cape May's namesake warbler in the lot today, we struggled until almost 9:00 a.m. before we hit a feeding pocket, and begin to hit the quality views again: male and female Blackburnian, a Bay-breasted still with some bay, a Wilson's, both Black-throated's, Northern Parula's and others. Luckily, raptors (albeit mostly sharp-shinneds) were constant.

Some of us saw bird's that others, mainly due to unlucky positioning, did not: the Philadelphia Vireo, "Traill's" Flycatcher, and others. It's part of the game. But the quality views ruled.

Today's hawk flight was very different than yesterday's, a normal happening the second day after the front. Falcon's ruled yesterday, accipiters and buteos today - a nice change of pace.

Stone Harbor in the afternoon was marvelous - 8 Marbled Godwits, 50 Western Willets, and a host of other shorebirds. Try the south base of the free bridge as the tide falls and the mudflats and mussel beds are exposed, and roosting birds return to feeding areas.

About the interesting behaviors: two adult Bald Eagles dueling at the hawk watch, oystercatchers predictably returning to the mussel beds, Tree Swallows balling up at the passing of a Northern Harrier, and perhaps funnest of all, a non-avian sighting: a roosting Red Bat at Stone Harbor point, which, we all agreed, was colored exactly like some of the dead leaves in the Bayberry it chose for the day.

Our lists from Higbee and Stone Harbor are below, Jessie Barry's hawk flight numbers and Sam Galick's morning flight totals will be up on "View from the Field" soon.

Location: Higbee Beach
Observation date: 9/16/07
Notes: CMBO's fall migration workshop, day 3. front passed yesterday, winds northeast at dawn. Morning flight early, scattered groups of warbers et al later in the morning
Number of species: 72
Double-crested Cormorant 1
Great Egret 1
Osprey 5
Bald Eagle 2
Northern Harrier 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk 10
Cooper's Hawk 2
American Kestrel 5
Merlin 1
Semipalmated Plover 1
Lesser Yellowlegs 5
Laughing Gull 10
Forster's Tern 5
Rock Pigeon 10
Mourning Dove 5
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 2
Belted Kingfisher 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Downy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 20
Willow Flycatcher 1
Great Crested Flycatcher 1
White-eyed Vireo 1
Yellow-throated Vireo 1
Philadelphia Vireo 1
Red-eyed Vireo 5
Blue Jay 1
American Crow 5
Tree Swallow 5
Barn Swallow 5
Carolina Chickadee 5
Tufted Titmouse 2
Red-breasted Nuthatch 10
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
Carolina Wren 5
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 2
Veery 1
Gray Catbird 1
Northern Mockingbird 1
Brown Thrasher 1
European Starling 10
Cedar Waxwing 40
Tennessee Warbler 1
Northern Parula 5
Yellow Warbler 5
Magnolia Warbler 2
Cape May Warbler 10
Black-throated Blue Warbler 5
Black-throated Green Warbler 5
Blackburnian Warbler 2
Prairie Warbler 1
Palm Warbler 5
Bay-breasted Warbler 1
Blackpoll Warbler 5
Black-and-white Warbler 10
American Redstart 20
Northern Waterthrush 5
Common Yellowthroat 5
Wilson's Warbler 1
Canada Warbler 1
Scarlet Tanager 1
Field Sparrow 1
Northern Cardinal 5
Blue Grosbeak 1
Bobolink 25
Red-winged Blackbird 20
Common Grackle 5
Brown-headed Cowbird 5
Baltimore Oriole 5
Purple Finch 1
House Finch 5
American Goldfinch 10
This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(

Location: Nummy Island
Observation date: 9/16/07
Notes: CMBO's fall migration workshop, from 2nd ave and the base of the free bridge, falling tide 2 hr past high.
Number of species: 42
Double-crested Cormorant 150
Great Egret 5
Snowy Egret 10
Little Blue Heron 2
Tricolored Heron 2
Turkey Vulture 5
Osprey 10
Northern Harrier 5
Black-bellied Plover 25
Semipalmated Plover 5
American Oystercatcher 20
Greater Yellowlegs 10
Lesser Yellowlegs 20
Willet 50 all western
Marbled Godwit 8
Ruddy Turnstone 10
Red Knot 20
Sanderling 25
Semipalmated Sandpiper 25
Stilt Sandpiper 5
Short-billed Dowitcher 10
Laughing Gull 25
Herring Gull 10
Great Black-backed Gull 25
Caspian Tern 2
Royal Tern 25
Common Tern 25
Forster's Tern 5
Black Skimmer 50
Rock Pigeon 10
Mourning Dove 10
Belted Kingfisher 1
Northern Flicker 5
Tree Swallow 1000
Barn Swallow 5
Northern Mockingbird 5
European Starling 10
Yellow Warbler 1
Palm Warbler 5
Song Sparrow 1
Boat-tailed Grackle 1
House Sparrow 5
This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(

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