Monday, May 31, 2010

Where have all the Red Knots Gone?

The telephone rang itself off the stand at the Northwood Center on Sunday; what did folks want to know?  "Where have all the Red Knots gone?" I called Dick Veitch, one of the co-ordinators of the New Jersey Red Knot banding project and the answer from Dick was simple - "It's called migration!" he told me in a readily recognisable New Zealand brogue. Yes, Red Knot numbers are well down now, but don't be down at heart, for early data show that Red Knots are doing OK this year. Overall numbers are about on a par with last year (which is better than down, but not as good as up!) but the real good news is that weights of trapped birds showed that they were well fattened before they headed off for their high Arctic breeding grounds and had put on significant weight gains during their relatively short stay with us.

Ruddy Turnstones, Sanderlings and Semipalmated Sandpipers continue to feed up in very good numbers along the bayshore beaches and will be heading off soon, but currently the spectacle of many shorebirds feeding on Horseshoe Crab eggs will continue for at least a few more days. David Mizrahi's team continue to gather data on the population of Semipalmated Sandpipers that pass through the Delaware Bay on their way north, and hopefully will help to offer us an insight into why this species currently appears to be declining in numbers.

I was privileged to be invited along to a shorebird banding and monitoring session along Cape May's Delaware Bayshore today - a great way to spend a busy Memorial Day, when all other beaches are crowded with folks enjoying the glorious sunny weather. The area of closed beach we visited was still alive with busily feeding shorebirds - here Ruddy Turnstones, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Sanderling and just a few Red Knot. [Photo by Mike Crewe]

The main target of today's study work - Semipalmated Sandpiper. Those who were at Dr David Mizrahi's keynote speach at Spring Weekend will have learned much about current research into this species on the Delaware Bay. [Photo by Mike Crewe]

A number of the Semipalmated Sandpipers caught are tagged on the left leg with a small green flag made of very lightweight plastic. These flags are all individually marked with a three letter code and help to make individuals identifiable in the field, so that data can be gathered on timing of migration movements and locations that are favored as feeding and roosting sites. Today, we banded JOE and JOY (among many others) so do please look out for Joe and Joy and let us know if you see them - or any other letter comination. You'll be contributing in no small way to a massive global research into these world travellers. [Photo by Mike Crewe]

It's not until you see a Semipalmated Sandpiper up close and personal that you realise just how tiny these birds are, yet they winter in South America and breed on the high Arctic tundra - no mean feat! [Photo by Mike Crewe]

If you're out on the saltmarsh, don't forget to look out for other wildlife. This Seaside Dragonlet hung out with me for a while... [Photo by Mike Crewe]

...while this Diamondback Turtle made me wonder just who was watching who! [Photo by Mike Crewe]

3 Mississippi Kites + Bear Swamp

Up to 3 Mississippi Kites were seen soaring over the Beanery yesterday. Birders have wondered and hypothesized about nesting by this species in the recent past, or future, or even right now - with MIKI's already nesting to the north, e.g. New Hampshire, it seems only a matter of time for Cape May or elsewhere in NJ.

Yesterday was our first day operating the Bear Swamp MAPS banding station, in Cumberland County outside Dividing Creek. It was slow, but we caught several Worm-eating Warblers and had Ovenbird and Black-and-white Warbler recaptures, more on the latter as we learn more. An Ovenbird wandered about the forest floor almost at our feet as she gathered nesting material and carried it off - that's the next fun thing for woodland birding, finding nests or otherwise confirming nesting by behavior. We also heard several Kentucky Warblers deep in the forest, and the usual Summer Tanagers and dawn Whip-poor-wills could be heard along Route 555. Add Acadian Flycatcher and Yellow-billed Cuckoo to the list of birds one might find in the area (we heard several of each), or in Belleplain State Forest, which is where we're off to now.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

American Oystercatcher Baby

[One of the delights of summer at the shore is watching the progress of local nesters, like this American Oystercatcher adult and chick at the South Cape May Meadows yesterday.]

Friday, May 28, 2010

Sandwich Tern in the Meadows + Sussex Workshop highlights

Richard Crossley had a Sandwich Tern in the South Cape May Meadows/Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge this afternoon.

Highlights of today's Appalachian Birdsong Workshop in Sussex County, NJ included a very aggressive Eastern Screech-owl, great looks at Barred Owl; best looks ever at Cerulean Warbler males and females, and a bunch of other species; a remarkable drumming Ruffed Grouse at Kuser Bog in High Point, which drummed 4 times between 1 and 3 p.m.; vocalizing Pied-billed Grebes, Common Moorhens and close to 100 other species. Complete lists are up on Field Trip reports.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Delaware Bay Shorebird Counts & Chicks at the Meadows

The following aerial survey data are courtesy Larissa Smith of Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ, and Bill Pitts of the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife, Endangered and Nongame Species Program. Remember, most Delaware Bay Beaches are closed to foot traffic, but the well known sites like Reed's Beach, Cook's Beach, Kimble's Beach, and Norbury's Landing still offer excellent viewing.

Red Knot totals:
5-14 — 3,788 (1,338 NJ & 2,450 DE)
5-19 — 8,090 (6,540 NJ & 1,550 DE)
5-25 — 14,475 (8,945 NJ & 5,530 DE)

New Jersey continues to be hot between Highs Beach to Bidwell Creek and from Egg Island to Beadon's Cove. Delaware is more dispersed and less predictable. First flight saw good numbers at Pickering and Mispillion, the second flight had a few hundred at Pickering, Mispillion and Fowler Beach, and the last flight had about 1,000 between Kitts Hummock to Bennetts Pier, a little under 3,000 at Mispillion, and over 1,000 between Fowler Beach and Primehook.

Ruddy Turnstone totals:
5-14 — 7.530 (3,325 NJ & 4,205 DE)
5-19 — 14,939 (6,718 NJ & 8,221 DE)
5-25 — 13,974 (6,618 NJ & 7,356 DE)

Turnstones are generally more dispersed on both coasts. In NJ large numbers were counted at East Point, Money Island, and Bay Point roosting on piers on 5-14 & 5-19, but they were more widely scattered on 5-25 due to us flying so long after high tide. In DE, around Port Mahon and Mispillion have seen good numbers on all flights. Otherwise, turnstones number in tens or hundreds down much on the DE coastline. Interestingly, almost 1,000 were counted at Fraland Beach on the last flight.

Mark Garland tells me his elderhostel program enjoyed American Oystercatcher chicks at the meadows, as well as the Piping Plover chicks that have been present for several days.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

People and Nature Together - Sussex County's Motto

. . .and it's a good motto for this northernmost NJ county. CMBO's volunteer naturalists make an annual expedition to Sussex to wallow in the rich natural heritage here (some of the spoils pictured below). We also offer an annual Birding by Ear Workshop here every late May. Yet another way to see for yourself is to check out the Sussex County Birding Festival May 5-6.

[Cerulean Warbler belts out a song, High Point State Park today, one of 10+ we encountered. Click to enlarge photos.]

[One of the last NJ Golden-winged Warblers, paired with a Blue-winged/Golden-winged hybrid in the Delaware Water Gap NRA, pre-sunrise today.]

[Yellow-throated Vireo, High Point today.]


[An easier chance, same bird as the above - Grasshopper Sparrow, Wantage Grasslands today. Check out New Jersey Audubon's magazine, current issue, for directions.]

Mississippi Kites make another appearance on the Cape.

Various observers reported first one, then two, Mississippi Kites over the Beanery this morning. Anyone for a rendtion of Toni Basil's song (you know, "Micky, Mickey, he's so fine...")?

Also, a male Curlew Sandpiper was seen by multiple observers/parties at the main impoundment at Heislerville this morning, first found there today by Josh Nemeth; there have been no reports, so far, of the blonde male Ruff present there recently.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Birds in the Fog

[On the heels of two Sooty Shearwaters, nearly over the breakers, this Roseate Tern flew out of the fog at Stone Harbor Point yesterday afternoon, to the delight of participants in CMBO's Peak of the Red Knots field trip. It lingered a few minutes on the beach, then continued north. Click to enlarge photos.]

Bird lists from yesterday's Peak of the Red Knots field trip are up on Field Trip Reports. I estimated twice the number of shorebirds at the traditional Delaware Bay viewing sites yesterday versus last Thursday. And, with the comming full moon on Friday, there should be a large horseshoe crab spawn and attending birds. Reed's Beach, Cook's Beach (for those with high-clearance vehicles), Kimble's Beach and Norbury's Landing should be awesome for the weekend. The crabs spawn on the high tide (I usually use the tide for Bidwell's Creek entrance as a reference), mainly at night but also during the day at peak times. The birds forage anytime they can but especially on a falling tide.

[Most Sanderlings are in breeding plumage now. This one was at Stone Harbor yesterday.]

[One of two immature male Common Eiders at Stone Harbor yesterday, all the way at the tip of the point. The other one flew past, proving at least it isn't stuck here. At least one immature male Common Eider has summered in the Cape May back bays the past two years, an unusual occurence. Since immatures obviously, well, grow up and develop adult plumage, these are obviously different birds from those of the past years.]

[Clapper Rails were vocal, active and easy to spot on Nummy Island yesterday afternoon, on a wind-blown early high tide.]

I'm again off to Sussex County for our annual volunteer leader's trip (maybe we'll get that grouse this year!), and then to lead a Birding by Ear Workshop (which is full, but we offer it at the end of May every year.) Another great way to enjoy this part of the state is the annual Sussex County Birding Festival, this year on June 5-6. See below for photos and accounts of what the region offered during this year's World Series of Birding.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sooty Shearwaters, Roseate Tern, Ruff, Curlew Sandpiper, Mississippi Kite, Common Eider

Quite a list of headliners today . . . the Roseate Tern (an unbanded adult) flew out of the fog at Stone Harbor Point this mid-afternoon just after the two Sooty Shearwaters disappeared into it, during CMBO's Peak of the Red Knots field trip; the Ruff, a blond-headed apparent male according to Glen Davis's report, was at the second impoundment at Heislerville, sticking through 7:15 p.m. + according to Tom Reed. The MIKI seen there sailed off to the NW, also according to Tom Reed's report. The Curlew Sandpiper was the female, first impoundment at Heislerville. One immature male Common Eider flew out of the fog at Stone Harbor Point, and another loafed on land at the tip of S.H.P. this evening. Shorebirds, including Red Knots, at least doubled since Thursday at the more popular Delaware Bayshore viewing sites, with Reed's Beach featuring hundreds of Red Knots and an unusual, crab-egg-eating, breeding-plumaged Purple Sandpiper, noted by several observers, a first, behavior wise, for veteran observer Vince Elia, and me, too. Clapper Rails were ridiculously easy to see on Nummy Island this afternoon for the CMBO field trip. Dave Lord had a calling Northern Bobwhite at Goshen Landing this morning, arguably the scarcest (or at least most notable) of all the above. Photos of some, plus more details and reflections to come tomorrow morning.

Meadows Walk & All Points North

Despite misty, murky conditions we had a good turn out for the TNC Migratory Bird Refuge (The Meadows) walk this morning. The now resident Marsh Wren sang but typically kept well hidden, but other birds put on a better show, especially American Oystercatchers and Piping Plovers on the beach - the latter giving us a full-on broken wing display as it succeeded in drawing a Fish Crow away from its nest. Semipalmated Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plovers were the most numerous shorebirds, along with a handful of Willets, Least Sandpipers and a single Spotted Sandpiper. Ospreys ferried fish overhead and we took time to learn the finer points of Forster's and Common Tern identification.

The weather stayed rather dreary down at the point for most of the day, but news from further north included Don Freiday's reports of Sooty Shearwater, Roseate Tern and Common Eider at Stone Harbor Point, while Tom Reed reported Curlew Sandpiper, Ruff and Mississippi Kite from Heislerville this afternoon. The rest of us were stuck indoors!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Spring Weekend Report; Waxwings, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Lessback

[This Cedar Waxwing, at the Beanery today, had just one secondary with a faint waxy tip (not visible here). Waxwings are named for the waxy substance exuded from the secondary feather shafts; this bird, almost lacking "wax," is a second year bird, not an older adult, aged by the lack of "wax" and the tapered, not truncate, tail feathers. More interesting, check out the orange tips on two of the tail feathers. The orange tail tip color, occasional in waxwings apparently only since the 1960's, is thought to relate to red pigments present in berries of non-native plant species, particularly honeysuckles. If a young waxwing is fed or otherwise consumes enough of these berries while the tail feathers are growing, the tail tips will be orange, not yellow. Click to enlarge photos.]

The bird list from CMBO's Spring Weekend is posted under field trip reports, and features 177 species so far, not including the Curlew Sandpipers at Heislerville and 2 Black Rails discovered by kayak late at night at Turkey Point at a location out of earshot of the road. Yesterday's terrific set of migrants and rarities (=kites) comprise the bulk of the list - 28 warbler species were found. This morning it was clear yesterday's migrants had cleared out, with few or none replacing them. A Black Tern was detected by Tony Leukering from the ferry today, and two different plumaged Curlew Sandpipers have been seen at Heislerville, one most recently this afternoon by Doug Gochfeld. The Piping Plover chicks at the South Cape May Meadows have drawn many oohs and aahs over the weekend.

Neither the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher nor the Black-necked Stilts were found today, second day in a row, and are presumed gone.

[This Yellow-billed Cuckoo at the Beanery challenged us to get a good view of it today; eventually everyone did, most through the scope.]

[Karl Lukens photographed this Lesser Black-backed Gull (left) at the meadows today. Lessbacks have been less common this year than the past two.]

Friday, May 21, 2010

Images from Higbee

[Some of the warblers were elusive at Higbee today, but we couldn't get away from Indigo Buntings - and didn't want to. This one gave a song clinic in the first field. Click to enlarge photos.]

[The Yellow-breasted Chats were quiet, and we missed them on the first morning walk for the CMBO spring weekend. On the second, this one popped into view when it chased a Common Yellowthroat off its perch at the north end of the tower field, and a minute later we watched a female carrying nesting material.]

Highlights of a great day so far

A quick update on a super first day of the annual Cape May Spring Weekend. Both Mississippi and Swallow-tailed Kites have been seen from the Beanery, State Park and Meadows today. Mourning Warblers were at the beanery wet woods and heard at Higbee near Catbird Corner, south of the tower fields. A good general warbler flight featured multiple Magnolias, Canadas, Northern Waterthrush, 2 Kentuckys - all at Higbee - and a female Yellow-breasted Chat was building a nest in the first tower field. A Black-billed Cuckoo perched briefly in the Higbee parking lot. Bay-breasted Warblers were reported in spruces several places on Cape Island. No news is not good news when it comes to the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher or Black-necked Stilts, but Tom Reed reports a male Curlew Sandpiper at Heislerville.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Red Knots, Higbee Migrants, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Iceland Gull

[Red Knots and Sanderlings flying past Kimble's Beach during CMBO's Peak of the Red Knots field trip today. Alas, the peak is nothing like the old days, though we saw perhaps 1,000 knots today, with the other major horseshoe-crab-egg-eating DelBay shorebirds (Ruddy Turnstone, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Dunlin and Sanderling) represented as well. Click to enlarge.]

I understand from Amanda Dey and Larry Niles that the most recent aerial survey of Delaware Bay recorded about 9,000 Red Knots. It may not have peaked yet (I hope not!), but even if that number doubles it is still a far cry from the 85,000+ days of the 1980's. Most shorebird researchers I talk to do speak of hope, however, thanks to the hard-earned moratorium on Horseshoe Crab harvest in NJ, and the hoped for (though still years away) recovery of that species, and the shorebirds that depend on it.

Apparently there was a quite good passerine flight at Higbee today, with Vince Elia reporting a calling Bicknell's Thrush. David La Puma's microphone recorded Bicknell's plus Gray-cheeked, Swainson's, and Veery over his house along the bayshore last night around 11 p.m., and I heard a similar selection in the middle of the night in Del Haven. Dave also reported that Higbee, bird density wise, had as good a flight as there has been this spring.

The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher continues, most recently reported at the second plover pond at Cape May Point State Park around 5:15 p.m. In the gossip column department, that report comes from Doug Gochfeld, last fall's swing counter, who is in town for a few days, as is Ari Waldstein, interpretive naturalist from last fall, who I bumped into working with the shorebird team on Reed's Beach Road while I scouted for the CMBO field trip early this morning. The field trip had perhaps 1,000 Red Knots in stops from Norbury's Landing to Reed's Beach, and later enjoyed White-rumped Sandpiper amidst thousands of birds at Heislerville - but no Curlew Sandpiper.

NJA's shorebird research team had an Iceland Gull up at Fortescue, Cumberland County, which reminds me, Mike Hannisian photographed an Iceland Gull at the ferry terminal about a week ago.
I "tailed" this Eastern Kingsnake yesterday for a photo opp. at CMBO-CRE in Goshen, just as a school bus full of kids pulled in - their faces were the best part of my day!]

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

And another chase car view of CMBO/Zeiss

Amy Hooper and Catherine Hamilton add their views (=tweets) from the chase car of the CMBO-Zeiss team here.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Knots, Waxwings, and (for better or worse), the Whole Dirt on the CMBO/Zeiss Team

[Cedar Waxwings are on the move, these are some of over 100 I had at Cape May NWR along the bayshore this morning.]

Update: the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher continued at the South Cape May Meadows, east path near the dogleg, through this morning per Karl Lukens.

Red Knots are scarce on the bayshore so far this spring, though several hundred have been roosting at Reed's Beach on the sod banks at high tide and dribs and drabs have been at other sites.

Finally, Steve Ingraham of Zeiss has posted the complete account of the Zeiss/CMBO team's World Series of Birding, from the perspective of our chase car, including many photos and a little video. What a day. . .view it here.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Team CMBO - Zeiss: The North

[Pileated Woodpeckers, WSB scout week, east of High Point. Can't get these in Cape May. Click to enlarge photos.]

It's tempting to call this blog "Night of the Cuckoos" (for more than one reason!) - Pete Dunne, Michael O'Brien, Tom Reed, Will Russell and I sifted an easy 50 Black-billed Cuckoos from the night sky during our Sussex County hilltop listening on May 15's World Series of Birding, along with a few Yellow-billed Cuckoos and a strong flight of other night migrants - Chestnut-sided Warblers, redstarts, a couple Canadas, Grasshopper Sparrows, a White-crowned Sparrow, Swainson's Thrushes, few White-throated Sparrows, a few other species, even a night-migrating Ring-billed Gull. When I asked the Cornell Sapsuckers about their experience with the night flight, their faces lit up about the cuckoos, too. A good nocturnal migration is magical indeed.

The CMBO - Zeiss Team's morning run was good but not great - we left the north with about 138 species, but missed some key birds. Like: the American Kestrel that wouldn't come out of its box in time. The Winter Wren that would not sing but ate 15 minutes. The Ruffed Grouse whose actual drumming log I found the Thursday before, but wasn't there drumming on Saturday.

Highs usually balance the lows on a big day. Ours included the adult Northern Goshawk over the Delaware River at Dingman's bridge (though we missed kingfisher there and for the day); the Alder Flycatcher pipping along Old Mine Road and the fact we completely swept the flycatchers, well, except Scissor-tailed - but we did find Olive-sided and 2 Yellow-bellieds; the Hooded Merganers that required wading to see - but Will knew where we had to wade; and an 11th hour, last chance Purple Finch close to Millbrook Village after we left our many other spots finchless.

Any WSB veteran will tell you that more magical than competition day is the scouting, which for me is the chance to spend a week in Sussex County, NJ in May. Will Russell (founder and president of WINGS) and I scoured the northern landscape for birds to add to our total, and reveled in the landscape that will host CMBO's Appalachian Birdsong Immersion workshop next week (still one space left).

[Louisiana Waterthrushes, like this one along the Flatbrook in Stokes State Forest, are common along northern NJ's trout streams.]

[No WSB is complete without a few Black Bear sightings, this uncropped shot was taken from the bed of my pick-up along Old Mine Road.]

[Wild lupine, Stokes Forest.]

[Painted Trillium, High Point. Honest guys, I was looking for birds too, I really was!]

[Canada Mayflower carpets hemlock glens and spruce groves.]

Black-necked Stilts, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

[The Black-necked Stilts, clearly a pair, photo'd by Karl Lukens in the South Cape May Meadows. They have been seen there today. Look for these birds at Cove Pool as well. Nesting by this species is not inconceivable here, or somewhere in southern NJ - it was a common breeder through the 1800's, and there have been a very few modern nesting attempts in NJ.]

[A/the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher has been hanging around Cape May. This shot is by Jesse Amesbury, at Cape May Point State Park Sunday. The bird was seen in the same area Monday, and today was found at the South Cape May Meadows.]

We've gotten second and third hand reports of Sooty Shearwater and Arctic Tern seen from Cape May today, details as they emerge. Northwood Center had singing Magnolia, Canada, and Blackpoll Warblers and Northern Waterthrush today.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Mourning Warbler, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Black-necked Stilts

[This singing Magnolia Warbler in the dark cedars along the Red Trail at Cape May Point State Park was no small consolation for missing Tom Reed's Mourning Warbler, lunchtime today. Click to enlarge photos.]

Tom Reed found a singing male Mourning Warbler at Cape May Point State Park late morning today, last seen 11ish near the fork between the red and yellow trails. While looking for the Mourning at lunch, I ran into a Magnolia Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, and a couple who told me they had seen a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher on the dunes/beach near the Bunker this morning, possibly the same one the Nine Inch Rails team saw on Saturday's World Series of Birding (WSB). Results from the event are now posted, thanks to the hard work and late night of CMBO's Sheila Lego, Marleen Murgitroyde and the hard working team of mostly volunteers, who we call the Red-eyed Vireos.

I don't think the Bar-tailed Godwit originally found by Mike Fritz at Brigantine last week was detected on WSB, and unfortunately don't have a current status report on it. Mississippi Kites were detected both Saturday and Sunday in Cape May.

Dave Lord breathlessly caught up with me while we were leading the CMBO morning meadows walk today, having just seen two distant flyby Black-necked Stilts which later wound up along the east path (not for the walk, however) and later still at Cove Pool. Other Meadows highlights included a singing and well-seen Canada Warbler in the dune bayberrys along the inner south path, as well as Blackpoll and Magnolia Warblers, a handsome drake Blue-winged Teal, and a solitary male Gadwall that somehow gave me the impression that his mate was on a nest nearby. A first spring male Summer Tanager flew past. Full results from the meadows and other recent trips are up on field trip reports.

Finally, as Mike Crewe posted below, we are indeed still here despite the recent 4-day hiatus in digital vital signs sent via this blog. The hiatus was largely thanks to WSB activities, which for me include a week off scouting in Sussex county, largely sans computer and internet (try it, you'll like it! And, more to come on CMBO's Zeiss Team efforts.) But since on many days over 1,000 different visitors read this blog (you are one of ~12,000 unique visitors per month and ~90,000 total last year, from all 50 states and most of the world's countries), please know that we want you in the loop on bird and nature happenings in Cape May, and try to keep you there, whether you live here, are planning a visit, or wish you were.

Update On Stilts

Tony Leukering reports that the two Black-necked Stilts have moved from the nature Conservancy Meadows to Cove Pool. This pool is situated at (and accessed from) the end of Mt Vernon Avenue at the extreme east end of the meadows. Parking is limited, so you may have to park in a nearby street and walk in if other cars are already there. Good luck!

Yes, We Are Still Here!!!

In case you hadn't realised, we just ran the 27th World Series of Birding. Yes, 27 years this worthy event has been running, and raising money for conservation, research and education programs. As you can imagine, organising and running such an event is pretty labor-intensive, but we're back now and settling back into our routine of keeping you informed on birds and birding around Cape May!

So to keep you ticking over, here's some pictures that Karl Lukens sent me over the last couple of days - thanks Karl for finding the time!

This Roseate Tern on the stone jetty off Coral Avenue at Cape May Point was originally found by Michael O'Brien, but didn't stay long enough to make it onto World Series lists. Note the all black bill, rosy tint (just!) to the chest and very long tail streamers.

Orchard Oriole in Black Cherry. These smart, mahogany-coloured icterids are pretty easy to see along New England Road at the moment, and especially at Hidden Valley.

Now is a good time to scope the backbay marshes of Cape May for singing Seaside Sparrows. Try Nummy's Island or the saltmarshes along Ocean Drive between Cape May and Wildwood.

Black-necked Stilts

Dave Lord had two Black-necked Stilts fly by at distance during the South Cape May Meadows walk this morning, and I understand they are along the east path now.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Scouts Find The Birds

The whole of Cape May County (and beyond for all I know!!) is alive with clandestine groups of birders, scouring every piece of ground for those elusive extra species that make or break a World Series of Birding count. Some of the highlights for today's search parties included two Wilson's Phalaropes and a White-rumped Sandpiper at the West Cape May Canal Impoundments (though not seen by later visitors), a Dickcissel with the Bobolink flock at the south end of the Hidden Valley fields, a male Harlequin Duck at the Avalon Seawatch and a Yellow-breasted Chat on territory in the Cape May Point State Park. A Gray-cheeked Thrush was seen on the yellow trail in the state park this morning too.

A single adult Mississippi Kite continues to hang out on the island, today seen over the Rea Farm from Stephens Street. On the down side, the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were not at the Northwood Center feeders today, though a surprise find there was a family of just-fledged House Finches.

Yellow-breasted Chat in full song - if you can call it that! - at Cape May Point State Park this morning [photo by Karl Lukens]

Breeding-plumaged Bobolinks are currently gracing the second field at Hidden Valley [photo by Karl Lukens]

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

From Now On, It's All About The Weather...

Everybody's scouting... Looks like the local Canada Geese are planning on a World Series of Birding team this year. I caught this guy scouting from a great vantage point at The Beanery - probably hoping that the Mississippi Kite is still around! [Photo by Mike Crewe].

Countdown to World Series, three more days to go and already it's all about the weather. David LaPuma has posted a forecast for the next few days, through to the weekend so I suggest taking a good look at David's website (Click Here). Looks like we need to keep fingers and everything else crossed. Rain, associated with a front, should be passing through our area over the next couple of days, with south-east winds predominating and not boding well for an arrival of birds. However, I checked out The Weather Channel website and it looks as though we could have a south-westerly air flow for Saturday - which would be fabulous, but it depends when exactly it gets started (Friday night would be good!).

The Weather Channel's web map for Saturday looks promising, with winds from the south-west. Go to for up-to-date information.

A heavy storm is a-brewing to the west! Hopefully the worst of the thundery weather will stay inland of Cape May and allow the scouting parties to get out in the field [photo by Mike Crewe].

Monday, May 10, 2010

Monday's walks produce the birds

Dave Lord and Karl Lukens just sent in bird lists for our two Monday excursions this morning (full species lists can be seen on our Field Trip Reports page). Here are their highlights:

Karl Lukens reports from the Meadows Walk:

CMBO Morning Walk at the Meadows with Pete Dunne and the Gang was cold and very windy but still gave us some nice birding. lots of ibis and shorebirds, including one White-rumped Sandpiper, flying about and landing. Fun to watch a Bald Eagle "sparring" with an Osprey. A group of Bonaparte's Gulls close to shore was interesting. Other notable birds were a Blue Grosbeak fly-by, a Great Crested Flycatcher and a Bank Swallow.

Dave Lord reports: Monday morning's Back Bay Birding by Boat tour was fabulous, as any birding day in May should be. Many large flocks of Whimbrel flew by, many of which called, and Short-billed Dowitchers passed by overhead. Black-bellied Plovers were numerous and beautiful, and a fly-by Cliff Swallow was seen briefly. The biggest thriller of all would have to be the ruckus started when a Red-tailed Hawk flew through the Sunset Lake rookery. The Black-crowned Night Herons, Snowy Egrets and Great Egrets scattered like mad, flying about the area for over an hour. An adult Yellow-Crowned Night Heron got a delayed message and flew out later.

American Oystercatcher on the beach during this morning's Meadows Walk [Photo by Karl Lukens].

Glossy Ibis at the Meadows (Aka TNC's Migratory Bird Refuge) this morning [Photo by Karl Lukens].

Kite, Godwit And A Little Flurry Of Activity

With birders starting to home in on Cape May, ready for this coming weekend's World Series of Birding, there's plenty of eyes out there, scouting and reporting birds. The wind has dropped a little today and my first glance out of the office window as I sat down to check emails revealed a Common Yellowthroat and Blue-headed Vireo, so there does seem to have been a few new arrivals overnight. Lily Lake, right out front of the CMBO Northwood Center currently has a good number of Bank, Barn and Cliff Swallows feeding low over the water and at least one of yesterday's two newly-arrived Ruddy Ducks is still present.

Other reports that have come our way today: at least one Mississippi Kite continues on the island, seen mid-morning over The Beanery; the Marbled Godwit continues at Thorofare Island (off the old Two-Mile Landing restaurant along Ocean Drive just south of Wildwood) and single Cattle Egrets are still scattered here and there - though mobile.

Keep on looking, it's all out there somewhere!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Windy, that's all, just windy...

So far today, all we have to report is that it's very windy. I gave Sunset Beach and Cape May Point a look first thing and didn't get any sign of anything out of the ordinary - a steady trickle of Double-crested Cormorants low over the waves and some hardy Forster's and Least Terns feeding close inshore. At Cape May Point State Park, most of the local colony of Purple Martins were hunkered down on the leeward side of the museum roof and some were even resting on the ground in the middle of the parking lot in an attempt to get out of the wind.

The little pond near the junction of Shunpike Road and Stimpsons Lane had a scattering of Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, two Least Sandpipers and at least five Solitary Sandpipers on it this morning, and a Cattle Egret has paid a visit I hear. No news either way on the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher might be bad news this late in the morning as I know that people have been going to look for it. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks currently are visiting the feeder at the CMBO Northwood Center - and while on the subject of feeders, take a look at the picture below that Karl Lukens just sent me - what are we going to do with these guys?!!

Raccoon-proof bird feeders being demonstrated by an expert on the subject!

Catch-up: Scissor-tailed, MIKI, jaeger, Black Tern

Yesterday's sightings featured:

The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, staying all day yesterday at Hidden Valley, I believe last seen in the third = westermost field. If anyone gets a photo clearly showing the wing, flight or perched, please send it along, we'd like to try to age and sex the bird.

An adult Mississippi Kite, seen over various spots on Cape Island.

At least one Parasitic Jaeger, dark morph, seen from Sunset Beach and Cape May Point.

A Black Tern and lots of shorebirds and terns generally at the South Cape May Meadows yesterday evening, reported by Richard Crossley. There wes obvious shorebird movement at Cape May Point State Park yesterday afternoon, too, with passing flocks of Leasts, Semipalmated Plovers, Dunlin, etc.

I also heard of a Lark Sparrow at the nursing home/Cattle Egret spot along the parkway, don't have the exact directions at present, we'll post them when we do.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Scissor-tail continues

Early news from Hidden Valley is that the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher continues to be seen in the third field from the parking lot. Hidden Valley is a sector of Higbee's Beach Wildlife Management Area along New England Road, about a half mile east of the Higbee's Beach parking lot. Please be careful if management work for wildlife is taking place during your visit.

The only other news so far today is of two Parasitic Jaegers chasing terns off St Peter's at Cape May Point, reported by Vince Elia.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher along New England Road on Friday evening [photo by Mike Crewe].

Friday, May 7, 2010


[Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Hidden Valley tonight. Click to enlarge photos.]

What are you going to do when the news of a good bird comes in, especially a real "looker?" Mike Crewe was repairing his ceiling, Vince Elia was cooking dinner, Tony Leukering had just finished his, I was staring at a list in the supermarket. . .then news of a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher came across the phone, via Sandra Keller (I'm not sure who originally found the bird, we think it was a friend of Sandy's). We all dropped what we were doing, and ran.

The bird was originally in the first field at the Hidden Valley section of Higbee Beach WMA, foraging in the newly plowed field where NJDFW is doing management - for birds, as a matter of fact. A Common Grackle and Red-winged Blackbirds chased the Scissor-tailed across New England Road briefly, but soon it flew back to the plowed field and, when last I saw it, seemed to settle into a black cherry in the hedge at the west side of the first field at Hidden Valley.

[Birders collected this evening for the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Check, or follow, for instant news of rare birds or bird spectacles in the Cape May area.]

On the way back from the flycatcher, I checked Norbury's Landing and found a 3rd cycle Lesser Black-backed Gull, a few Bonaparte's Gulls, and about 1100 Laughing Gulls, collected to feed on an apparent recent spawn by Horseshoe Crabs, more good news. We expect a big spawn with the new moon high tides next week.

Clay-colored Sparrow, Mississippi Kite; off to the North

[Clay-colored Sparrow, second field at Higbee Beach WMA today. Click to enlarge photos.]

Hot off the press: Michael O'Brien reports a Mississippi Kite headed south over Rio Grande. Funny, I told the Higbee group this morning that it felt like a Mississippi Kite day, not such a difficult prediction: May + Cape May + clear skies + light northwest winds = kite.

We had a big group on the CMBO Higbee walk, big enough that near the end of the walk, Dave La Puma sent a text message to me at the front of the group to let me know they had a Clay-colored Sparrow in back! Dave was helping out as a leader, along with several others - we always have plenty of leaders to make big groups work when they happen on these no-preregistration-required walks. Those of us at the front of the group flipped around immediately, of course. I believe Ray Duffy spotted the Clay-colored first, almost certainly the same bird that Vincent Nichnadowicz found at Higbee on Wednesday - thanks Ray and Vincent! Clay-colored is super-rare in spring, and although it has wintered a couple times in southern NJ, this bird is a clear migrant. The species has been expanding its breeding range, e.g. in New York State. Interestingly there have been a couple Clay-coloreds found singing, as if on territory, in northern NJ in the past decade. I'm still picking Merlin as NJ's next breeder, but wouldn't rule out the sparrow.

Other Higbee highlights included several Yellow-breasted Chats, with one performing admirably at the north end of the "tower field," i.e. to the left as you enter the fields and the edge closest to New England Road. We heard, but did not see, a Blue Grosbeak, but multiple Indigo Buntings made up for that. Migrants included several flyby Baltimore Orioles, a soaring Broad-winged Hawk (one of the local Bald Eagles flew past while we were watching it), a few Blackpolls, a singing Warbling Vireo, etc. - the full list is up on Field Trip Reports, along with reports from several other recent field trips.

A Wilson's Phalarope was at Heislerville Wednesday, and I hear one appeared, remarkably, inland in north Jersey at the Celery Farm.

[One of what eventually became 8 (according to Sam Galick) Cattle Egrets at the Shunpike Road pond on Cape Island this morning. This one was by itself at 7:00 a.m.]

Speaking of north Jersey, after tomorrow that's where I'm off to. Of course one misses Cape May, but the pic below displays one (rather, 3) of many reasons to love all NJ, not just Cape May. It was taken in High Point State Park, while Michael O'Brien and I took a break from our preliminary dry run of the Zeiss Team's World Series of Birding route yesterday morning.

[Black Bear sow with 2 of her 3 one-year-old cubs, High Point State Park, NJ yesterday.]