Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Cape May Year In Pictures: Part 1

2009 was another superb year for birding in Cape May. In honor of the end of the year, we'll take a look at some of the highlights from January to June; second half highlights will follow tomorrow. We hope that you were able to take part in some of these happenings, but if not, then put Cape May in your schedule for 2010!

Click to enlarge most pictures, and enjoy.

Snowy Owls Dominate Early On
As many as 3 Snowy Owls took up residence in the Stone Harbor Point area during the winter of 2008-2009. This one was photographed by Mike Fritz as it sat atop the newly-constructed viewing platform at the Point. Sightings continued through mid-March.

Crossbill Invasion Reaches Cape May
Shortly after New Year's Day, White-winged Crossbills started to infiltrate the Garden State. A large flight of this species occurred throughout the east this winter, easily the largest irruption in recent memory. By month's end, there were almost daily reports of the species around Cape May. Most were fly-overs, but several set up shop at Villas WMA/Ponderlodge for a few weeks. These two were photographed by Karl Lukens in Cape May Point.

Waterbirds Stage In The Bay
Thousands of scoters called the mouth of the Delaware Bay home during late-February and March. As per usual, numbers of Red-throated Loons, Bonaparte's Gulls and Northern Gannets also spent time here during the early spring. Here's a view of a couple thousand scoters from Cape May Point, courtesy of Bob Fogg.

Springtime Arrives In Cape May
The first warm days in March always produce a plethora of newly-arrived migrants, including this Piping Plover, photographed by Karl Lukens in Cape May Point. The first plovers of 2009 appeared on March 8th. Numbers of Laughing Gulls, Osprey and Oystercatchers were close behind.

April Rarities Take Center Stage
A number of goodies found their way into the area during the fourth month of the year. Some of the highlights: Pileated Woodpecker flying over West Cape May, Swallow-tailed Kites in three different locations, two Yellow Rails at Turkey Point, Black-necked Stilt in the Meadows Plover Pond, and a Say's Phoebe at Cove Pool. The phoebe is pictured above, courtesy of Michael O'Brien.

"Parulean" Warbler Headlines Weak Songbird Migration
For whatever reason, spring warbler migration largely "missed" Cape May this year. However, a fine consolation prize was this apparent Cerulean Warbler x Northern Parula hybrid, found at Head of River by Michael O'Brien and Louise Zemaitis during an early-May CMBO Warbler Workshop. The bird sang a song that was Parula-like in cadence, but Cerulean-like in richness. Photo by Michael O'Brien.

Gone Kiting
The week leading up to the World Series of Birding usually provides some interesting birding, and this year was no exception. Both Mississippi and Swallow-tailed Kites appeared simultaneously over Cape Island on May 5th, and sightings of both species continued through the rest of the week. A Painted Bunting at the Beanery and a Little Gull at the Meadows were also seen the same day. The following week's Monday morning CMBO Meadows Walk found an incredible 3 Swallow-tailed Kites flying together overhead. This Swallow-tail was photo'd over the Beanery parking lot by Tom Reed on May 6th.

Heislerville Becomes Shorebird Central
Anyone who visited the Heislerville impoundments during high tide at the end of May was treated to an incredible spectacle of staging shorebirds, pictured here by Don Freiday. Estimations of 40,000-50,000 birds were common, with Semipalmated Sandpipers and Dunlin dominating the species composition. Add in two Curlew Sandpipers, an American Avocet and a host of other uncommon shorebirds, and the place turned into a birder's paradise. It was also heartening to find decent numbers of Red Knots along the county's bayshore beaches and to hear that this year's Horseshoe Crab spawning season was the best in years. Here's hoping for more of the same in 2010.

Flood Tide = Bad News For Coastal Breeders
Days of east winds combined with the moon cycle to create an extremely high tide that also coincided with CMBO's first ever tally of breeding marsh birds in mid-June, aboard The Osprey. Here's a look at nesting Laughing Gulls in the marshes of Grassy Sound, as freeze-framed by Michael O'Brien. Many gulls and terns lost nests, eggs and chicks during this high tide. 96 Clapper Rails were seen on this trip, a testament to the remarkable conditions.

A June To Remember
Let's face it... you probably don't bird nearly as much in June as you do in May. However, June has always had a reputation of being a month with rarity potential, and in 2009 it was simply sizzling. During the last two weeks of the month, Anhinga, White Ibis, Black Rail, Black-headed Gull and Roseate Tern were all seen in or from the Meadows. Multiple Mississippi Kites, a King Rail and a number of Cory's and Greater Shearwaters also made appearances. You can be sure that the June of 2009 will be talked about in Cape May for a very long time, and don't be surprised to find a few more birders than usual out during the same time next year. Pictured above is the Anhinga; photo by Michael O'Brien.