Sunday, October 31, 2010

Impressions of a major flight

[All pictures are copyright by Tony Leukering; click on individual images to see larger versions.]

Below, I attempt a presentation of my photographic impressions of the major two-day landbird extravaganza at Cape May, 29-30 October 2010. Though I've seen larger overall numbers there -- I was fortunate to be visiting for the million-plus American Robin-and-everything-else flight in November 1999 -- I've never before seen so many birds of such a variety of species on the ground. Literally.

As I sift through my memories of what has to rank as among the best two days of birding that I have ever experienced, I find myself returning again and again to four species; four species that, for me, defined this event. While I have, perhaps, seen more individuals in a single day at Cape May for some of these four, the sheer bulk of these four species present EVERYWHERE I went was unprecedented. One of these four is, in my estimation, the iconic species of the flight.

First off, American Robin was NOT one of the four. The morning flight of the species on Friday (the 29th) was certainly enjoyable, but paled (and that's too pale a descriptor) in comparison to the November 1999 flight of the species.

While this was the largest hit of Swamp Sparrows that I've seen, I have previously seen something in the neighborhood of similar (fall 1991 when I was banding landbirds at Hidden Valley before it opened to the public and I and my assistant -- along with a horde of volunteers -- banded 160 Swamp Sparrows and I don't-remember-how-many-other birds in one day). Besides, I managed to get nearly zero good pictures of the species during this event, so cannot exactly wax photographically poetic with no pictures. This one was not the icon.

The number of Myrtle Warblers was astounding, though I have seen Cape Island crawling with such before (late October 1989, I think; my first fall on the Hawkwatch). This one was not the icon.

While the species was not the icon, this was, far and away, the largest hit of Eastern Phoebes that I have seen or, even, contemplated. I've never seen so many Eastern Phoebes in such small chunks of habitat getting along with each other, as they're normally quite firm about defending their personal space.

The icon? Well, I'll let that bubble for a bit as I present my promised photographic impressions of the flight.

[Early Saturday morning at the hawk-trapping station at the Meadows, the blind and the soft light made for some enjoyable, but tricky, photography.]

[This picture presents my one good attempt to indicate the incredibleness of this flight -- there are at least 81 Myrtle Warblers in the picture, most of which are foraging on fallen berries from the front juniper. (Picture taken by the pavilion next to the Hawkwatch on Friday evening.)]

[The puddle in the parking lot at Higbees Beach SWA on Saturday evening provided some great, low-light drinking/bathing photo ops for Kevin Karlson and me. This Myrtle Warbler is just one of the birds photographed there that made this essay.]

[The junipers around Cape May had been carrying good loads of fruit prior to the arrival of the umpty-gajillion birds. This picture presents one of the reasons that our wintering frugivores may find a difficult time of it this year.]

[Though most of the species presented in this essay are at least somewhat retiring, all of them were forced to spend considerable portions of the day out in the open and in close proximity not only to each other, but to the hordes of those crazy bird-watchers. This Myrtle Warbler was, perhaps, a bit more typical.]

[This one was not, being perched on the bench on the upper deck of the Hawkwatch platform Friday afternoon and mingling with some 12-15 hawkwatchers.]

[Most of the hawk trappers kept their mist nets closed during this event, in order to not have to spend their days extracting songbirds, rather than raptors. These furled mist nets provided additional perch sites for a variety of species, including 2-3 Eastern Phoebes at the Meadows trapping station.

[Two more examples of the usefulness of trapping blinds for uses other than hawk-trapping -- the birds are close and mostly unaware of one's presence!]

[Ah, the icon. While I have seen a lot of Hermit Thrushes in my life, the numbers that I heard and/or saw in the past two days may come close to equalling my previous lifetime's total! How many were on Cape Island may be a matter for discussion among the regulars for years to come, but it was certainly in the thousands, perhaps in the tens of thousands. Simply spectacular!]

[Virginia Creeper, with its lovely red fall foliage provides great counterpoint in fall bird photographs. The Hermit Thrushes may not have appreciated the visual impact that the plant's leaves make, but they certainly appreciated the plant's abundant purple fruits! As with the juniper-berry crop, the loss of the lion's share of the Virginia Creeper crop (among virtually all the other fruit-providing plants on Cape Island) may mean for lean times for wintering frugivores (e.g., American Robins and the three mimids: Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, and Brown Thrasher). Which brings up a somwhat-tangential thought: In such a huge flight of mid- to late-fall landbird migrants -- which typically is comprised of a lot of species of berry-eaters -- I neither saw nor heard a Cedar Waxwing. Odd.]

[Now, it's high time that I got to sleep, so that I can get up before the sun yet again to go out and ogle those wonderful biological constructs called birds.]

Saturday, October 30, 2010

It Was Again: Many Birds, Including Rarities

Not as many, not as frantic as Friday, but many, many birds in Cape May again today. Highlights today include Henslow's Sparrow in the Tower Field at Higbee (not sure who found, i.d.'d by Michael O'Brien); Ash-throated Flycatcher, last seen in the 3rd field at Higbee in the late afternoon (found by Roger and Kathy Horn); a Yellow Rail found by Cameron Cox in the TNC Cape Island Preserve, not relocated and not likely to be; multiple Golden Eagles, various places; a high Northern Goshawk over the Beanery, picked by Vince Elia during our rather amazing Beanery field trip for the Cape May Autumn Weekend; roughly 10 Vesper Sparrows at the Beanery; Lincoln's and White-crowned Sparrows, various many places; and continued amazing high volume of sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Hermit Thrushes. Over the course of the next few days we'll put the pieces together and try to depict this flight, seemingly the best so far of this millenium. In the meantime, here are a couple images to set the stage.

[Juncoes and sparrows littered the paths at Higbee (here, pre-dawn), as well as the yards and streets of Cape May Point on Friday.  And Saturday, too. Click to enlarge photos.]

[Over 50 Hermit Thrushes were in the vicinity of the Higbee Parking lot alone, walking under our tripods and cars, feeding on Virginia Creeper and other berries on the lot margins. That's Roger Horn's boot in the background.]

 [Both Friday and Saturday, many birds were in the streets before first light, and sadly many were killed by passing cars.  This Hermit Thrush was not.  Coral Avenue on Saturday, about 5:30 a.m.]

 [Dense flocks of sparrows, including Song Sparrows, riddled the Beanery and Higbee Beach today.]

[An absolutely stunning bird, this Henslow's Sparrow was found in the tower field at Higbee today.]

Friday, October 29, 2010

What it Was. . .and Will Be Again

Several hundred thousand birds, is what.  10's and 10's of thousands of Yellow-rumped WablersDark-eyed Juncos, other sparrows. The roads and lawns were littered with these birds, they rose in waves like thick smoke over the fields first thing this morning at Higbee Beach. Meanwhile tens of thousands of American Robins, and Red-winged Blackbirds flew overhead. Hundreds of American Woodcock, hundreds or thousands of Hermit Thrushes, dozens of Pine Siskins, Purple Finches. . . 3rd state record Common Ground-dove at Cape May Point State Park (flew, not seen since). 2 Golden Eagles. A LeConte's Sparrow found dead on the road. 40 Cave Swallows. Lincoln's, Vesper, White-crowned Sparrows in front of the hawk watch.  A tantalizing bluebird sp.  The counters have reports up on View from the Field already, and early on I tried to keep up with tweets , but it got too crazy.  We'll try to sum up with more details and photos soon, but how do you photograph a fallout, or make the picture with words?

And, the thing is, it is happening again tonight, flight calls like crazy and the radar is lit up.  Wind are to be northwest all night and through tomorrow morning, so who knows what the passerines will be like, other than good to awesome, and the hawks will fly at least for the first part of the day.  I can't say it will be as epic as today, but I can't say it won't be, either.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

What's It Going to Be

"What's it going to be?" That's what Richard Crossley asked me on the Cape May Point State Park Hawk Watch Platform this morning, where a good accipiter flight was underway as the winds began to shift, to out of the west

"Good, it's going to be good.  How's that?"

"It's not bloody good enough, is what it is."  Richard doesn't mince his words.

"How about 100,000 robins?"

"That's a bit better."

Although the hawk flight slowed down quite a bit in the afternoon today, consider that the calm before the bird storm. If someone were designing the perfect weather pattern for NJA's Cape May Autumn Weekend, this is what they would have done.  I mean this, what's happening right now, and what's going to happen the next two days. Frontal passage + northwest winds through Saturday morning. Hawks, sparrows, finches, pipits, late warblers, and yes, robins. Great songbirding Friday and Saturday, great raptor watching Friday for sure, probably Saturday, at least in the morning. Stay tuned.

[GOT THISTLE? I picked this 20 perch thistle feeder anticipating the big finch flight, but wasn't exactly expecting results this fast - the day after I hung it every perch was occupied by American Goldfinches and Pine Siskins. CMBO-CRE in Goshen has a great selection of feeders, including this one, as well as seed. Photo taken in Del Haven yesterday.]

Cape May Birding Hotline 10-28-2010

Hotline: Cape May Birding Hotline
To Report: call (609) 884-2736, or email
Coverage: Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic Counties , NJ
Compiler: David Lord, Cape May Bird Observatory
URL: ;

This is the Cape May Birding Hotline, a service of New Jersey Audubon Society's Cape May Bird Observatory. This week's message was prepared on Thursday, October 28, 2010. Highlights this week include sightings of CAVE SWALLOW, WESTERN KINGBIRD, LAPLAND LONSPUR, HUDSONIAN GODWIT, BANK SWALLOW, ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, COMMON REDPOLLS, SANDHILL CRANE, AMERICAN-GOLDEN PLOVER, RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD

CAVE SWALLOWS have been noted throughout the week, and all reports have been from the Hawkwatch Platform: A record early bird was first seen on Friday, October 22nd, 2010; two were reported on Saturday, October 23rd, 2010; and one was seen with a BANK SWALLOW on Thursday, October 28th, 2010.

A LAPLAND LONGSPUR was noted in the back, pumpkin field of the Beanery (Rea Farm) on Friday, October 22nd, 2010, as was a WESTERN KINGBIRD.

A flyby HUDSONIAN GODWIT was observed from the Hawkwatch Platform on Friday, October 22nd, 2010.

Reports of ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS have been coming in from around the county: a first of season at Cape Island Creek Preserve on Friday, October 22nd, 2010, and two birds seen on Sunday, October 24th, 2010: one at the Villas WMA and one at a private residence in Cape May Court House

Two COMMON REDPOLLS were noted at the Villas WMA on Saturday, October 24th, 2010.

A SANDHILL CRANE has been noted off and on, feeding with a raft of wild turkeys, on private farmland on route 676 in Cumberland County near Dividing Creek. It was last reported on Saturday, October 23rd, 2010.

A RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD was seen at a Cape May Point feeder on Thursday, October 28th, 2010.

-For up-to-the-minute Cape May sightings information, photos and downloadable birding maps and checklist of Cape May, visit . Follow rarity sightings, many spring arrivals, and spectacles on -



******CMBO FALL HOURS are as follows: Northwood Center on East Lake Drive in Cape May Point is open daily, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Center for Research and Education on Rt. 47 in Goshen is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9:30am to 4:30pm; closed Sundays and Mondays. ******

The Cape May Birding Hotline is a service of the New Jersey Audubon Society's Cape May Bird Observatory and details sightings from Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic Counties. Updates are made weekly. Please report sightings of rare or unusual birds to CMBO at 609-884-2736. Sponsorship for this hotline comes from the support of CMBO members and business members, and should you not be a member, we cordially invite you to join. Individual membership is $39 per year; $49 for families. You can call either center to become a member or visit. Become a member in person and you'll receive a FREE gift (in addition to member discounts in the stores).

Good Luck and Good Birding!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

More Accipiter Tomfoolery, Weird Night Flight, a Few Reports, and a Quote from the Book of David

[Check out how straight the leading edge of the wing is on this Coo. . .oops, Sharp-shinned Hawk. Photos can fool you, but this bird really did adopt a straight-winged posture for a few seconds over the hawk watch platform on Sunday. That's the key - a few seconds. Keep mouth closed and eyes open. Pretty much the only time a Sharpie will give you this look is when winds are very light and there's no thermal to catch, exactly the conditions on Sunday afternoon. This one seemed to be trying to avoid flapping at all costs. It's still got a doinky sharpie head, squared tail, etc. Click to enlarge photos.]

Last night after dark I was out training the pup in the yard and realized there was a sparrow and Yellow-rumped Warbler flight underway - seeps in the night, long breathy White-throated Sparrow seeps, short descending Savannah Sparrow seeps, etc. I texted a few fellow night-listeners and while Tom Johnson said it was quiet over in Cape May City, Michael O'Brien had a similar call volume to mine in West Cape May, about 15/minute. The interesting part of this is the wind and weather were wrong, basically southeast winds, and yet birds were moving.  Birds fly south in the fall, and sometimes the desire is so strong they do it even under adverse conditions, confounding our efforts to predict the next big day.

A few birds of interest were found yesterday - Steve had a male Harlequin Duck go by the Avalon Seawatch with scoters. Sean Fitzgerald (seawatcher of yore) is back in town, and had a couple American Golden-plovers at Cape May County Airport.  I heard about a Sandhill Crane up in Cumberland County, feeding with a flock of Wild Turkeys in a field along County Road 676 near Dividing Creek. I neglected to report Tony Geiger's Hudsonian Godwit on Monday, at North Brigantine Beach.

My latest nighttime project, other than listening to flight calls and puppy training, is reading the "big" Sibley field guide end to end.  David's book is sparse on text, but every now and then you hit a really pithy gem, like this one from page 109, on raptors: "Often an observation that a bird is acting 'weird' provides the first clue of a different species, but these impressions should always be backed up by other characteristics." 

A typically understated truth. It's amazing how often you can ask someone how they knew it was a such-and-such, and all they can say is it was  "weird," or "different," or "felt like a such-and-such." The i.d. might be right, but there's no way to know.

[Here's a sharpie looking like a sharpie: Small head, wings jutting forward at the wrist such that the head seems even smaller and, if this bird was completely wing-on, the head would disappear in the valley between the wrists. At the hawk watch on Sunday. There are still a few places on our last workshop of fall, Cape May With Everything On It (hit the link and scroll down), led by Louise Zemaitis and Michael O'Brien next Monday -Wednesday, November 1-3. No better place, time or leaders for practice on accipiters, and everything else.]

Monday, October 25, 2010

Updates, Looking Ahead to Another KICKING Weekend, and a Blog of Sparrows

 [Savannah Sparrow at the Beanery yesterday, one of eight kazillion there. Short tail, clean markings, yellowish supraloral. Click to enlarge.]

First, the weekend: the stars and weather are aligning. Check out the frontal passage forecast for Thursday if you don't believe me. With south winds until then limiting migration, and northwest for Friday, Friday night and Saturday, if I were you I'd get on the phone right now, 609.861.0700 and see if you can still get in on CMBO's 64th annual Cape May Fall Weekend , this Friday through Sunday October 29-31.

A lot happened yesterday, but I'll be darned if I can remember it all. . . Luckily, we have View From the Field to fall back on, and, ah yes, there was a spectacular scoter movement of over 43,000 birds at the Seawatch, and a decent hawk flight early that collapsed at noon when the wind died. An American Bittern has been flirting with hawk watch observers, and Bob and Mary Ellen Claussen had a Clapper Rail on Lighthouse Pond east on Saturday, unusual for the site, since it's freshwater.

Perhaps yesterday's avian high water mark was, can you believe it, the House Finch flight - anyone who was paying attention noticed them, and Tom Reed, Sam Galick and others were more than paying attention. Per Tom Reed: "Regarding today's [Sunday's] finch flight- it's probably safe to say that there were at least 3000-3500+ House Finches moving through Cape May today, as Sam and I only started counting once we realized there were a lot of them, and there were still flocks moving through after we stopped counting at 10:15, continuing into the early afternoon. Tom had about 1500 from the Dike; not sure how many of his were the same as ours, as most of ours were coming in from the E or NE, and most of Tom's were also southbound."

Orange-crowned Warbler was a nice find on the Villas WMA walk yesterday, and Cynthia Allen noted another from her yard - now's the time to look for this species along field edges with rank, weedy growth next to brush or woods.

Today [Monday] has been pretty busy, e.g. Northern Goshawk at the hawkwatch and also an American Golden-plover mixed in with a flock of Black-bellieds as flybys there. The South Cape May Meadows Green-winged Teal flock has grown to well over 200 birds. Other meadows walk highlights included 2 Lesser Black-backed Gulls on the beach (photo at field trip reports), several Eastern Meadowlarks, and nice looks at scoters and Northern Gannets offshore.

So yesterday I worked, really worked, the Beanery fields for sparrows, which leads me to philosphize about what that means.  Sparrows are a pain, or a challenge, depending on your point of view.  First, you have to dig for them, working the thickets or fields as they flush up in front of you, drop out of sight, and only rarely give you the kind of look you'd like. There's no substitute for patience, stealth, occasional pishing, more stealth, a flamethrower (kidding. . .) For example, yesterday I'm fairly certain I saw a dozen different Vesper Sparrows, but do you think I could get a clean photo of one? No.

[Part one of the sparrow challenge - they're elusive.  Here we have a Dickcissel (okay, it's not a sparrow, I know) top right, and the short-tailed streaky thing top left is a Savannah Sparrow.  I'll leave the bottom one to you, you've likely seen dozens or hundreds of them.  Despite the fact that even drab female Dickcissels are fairly distinctive, and have an obvious, easy to learn call (bzzzt, like flicking an electric razor on and off), I saw this one exactly once, for about 10 seconds, then it disappeared into the maze of weeds and other sparrows at the Beanery and I never found it again. Click to enlarge photos.]

 [Part Two of the sparrow challenge - they look alike. Song Sparrow in the foreground and Savannah Sparrow in the background. compare the nature of the dark and, especially, light streaks on the head. Beanery yesterday. Click to enlarge photos.]

 The other thing about sparrows is, once you've dug one out, how do you identify it?  By way of illustration, the other day on the hawk watch I was talking with someone who mentioned a series of photos posted online with the caption, "Possible Grasshopper Sparrow?" The bird apparently was an "obvious" Grasshopper sparrow, but to normal people (i.e. non birders or new birders), there's no such thing. Sparrows require a refined way of looking at things. Taking Song and Savannah Sparrows as examples. They have much in common - small birds; streaked with brown above and below; that similar striping pattern on the head shared by many sparrows in a general way. If you played "which one of these is not like the other" with a Savannah Sparrow, a Song Sparrow, and a Golden Eagle, anyone would figure out the eagle was different, but I wonder how many non-birders would realize the sparrows were different, too? [Maybe someday they'll start putting questions like this on the SAT's and GRE's and birders will finally get their chance to rise to the top.]

And yet: Song Sparrows have long tails; Savannahs have short tails. The pale head stripes on Song Sparrows are gray; on Savannahs they are white, off white, or yellowish, but not gray. Song Sparrows have thick, coarse streaking;  Savannahs have fine, crisp streaking. Song Sparrows pump their long tails when they fly off, and fly off low, often into cover; Savannahs fly off in a rapid but erratic, somewhat jerky flight and often land on top of bushes or even trees. Song Sparrows have rounded heads and fairly stout gray bills; Savannahs often show a crest or peaked head and have small, mostly pale bills. Their calls differ. They are not even in the same taxonomic genus.

[And then there's this nonsense: variation by season and age.  I lifted this photo from Tom Johnson's post on View from the Field. It's a Clay-colored Sparrow, except Clay-coloreds aren't supposed to have obvious thick streaking . . .except when they are juveniles, or have retained some of their juv. plumage, as this one has. Then there are the rusty-capped sparrows, losing their rusty cap in the fall, and the immature White-crowned Sparrows without white crown stripes. . . makes you want to sign up for our Sparrow Workshop next year. Details aren't available yet, but mark your calendars for October 15-16.]

He's Back!

Cooter is back. If you don't know who Cooter is, Cooter is a Great Black-backed Gull who spends the winter with us here at Cape May Point and he's a gull who has developed a particularly nasty habit. He eats coots for breakfast! Well, pretty much any time of day really, but early morning raids do seem to be his stock in trade. OK, we don't know whether Cooter is a he or a she really, but somehow he seems too brutal to be a lady...

The first sign that Cooter is around is usually when you notice all the ducks panicking on Lighthouse or Bunker Pond in Cape May Point State Park. Here, Cooter drops in on the only American Coot that had ventured into the middle of the pond. The disappearing coot is responsible for the splash on the right as it dives for cover.

Cooter waited patiently an inordinate amount of time, but the coot inevitably had to come up for air. I think that coots are pretty much doomed here as the ponds are very shallow and full of copious amounts of water weed. Thus coots have no escape; they're not agile enough in flight to escape and they can't escape under water because the water weed impedes their movement too much.

In classic defensive pose, American Coots roll over to use their feet - with sharp, raking claws - to fight with each other. However, I think this tactic just doesn't work against something as big as a Great Black-backed Gull....

....because the gull has a much longer reach and can now get to the coot's exposed under belly. 
The coot is mortally wounded with nowhere to go....

....and Cooter deals the fatal blow. It's not a nice thing to watch a poor little coot be dispatched in this way, but it is, of course, the way of the world as the web of life goes on all around us. [All photos by Mike Crewe]

I notcie from the CMBO blog dashboard that Don has a blog in the making, so I won't pre-empt anything he may be reporting shortly. Suffice to say that, Cape May continues to bristle with great birds and a dampening down of light rain this afternoon has set the Spring Peepers off outside my office window!

The latest new arrival here was this juvenile American Golden Plover on the South Beach lunchtime, behind The Nature Conservancy's Migratory Bird Refuge. [Photo by Mike Crewe]

The same American Golden Plover beside Black-bellied Plovers. Note the golden plover's more heavily marked breast making the white throat more obvious and the dark cap making the whitish supercilium stand out more. Note also the birds smaller bill and overall smaller, more rotund shape. [Photo by Mike Crewe] 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Lots o' birds!

[This female Redhead was on Lighthouse Pond yesterday evening associating with a female Ring-necked Duck. In direct comparison, it was much larger and much plainer. Many inland birders are surprised to discover that, though not at all uncommon in the interior of the East, Redhead is fairly rare on the immediate coast. Photo by Tony Leukering. Click to view a larger version.]

With Don out of town for the day, I thought that I'd catch everyone up on the goings-on in Cape May the past two days. A couple things not mentioned in yesterday's blogs, Hawkwatch visitors were treated to single American Bittern and Sora flying over and landing in the marsh right in front of the platform. Unfortunately, the Sora's flight was very brief and most visitors' attentions were focused on the upper deck rather than out front at the time. Louise Zemaitis saw what may have been the same Sora make a short flight in front of the platform this morning; as yet, the American Bittern has not made an encore appearance.

Megan and Mike Crewe scored both Northern Goshawk and Golden Eagle on their West Cape May yard list today, with the former bird heading south and the latter north; Melissa Roach found and ID'ed the Golden from the Hawkwatch independently. The shorebird flight continues, albeit at very low density, past the Hawkwatch, with small flocks of Pectoral Sandpipers each of the past two days, and a small flock of Greater Yellowlegs and lots of Killdeer yesterday.

The Cave Swallow found yesterday by Tom Johnson and that was seen going past the Hawkwatch a couple times was record early by nearly a week; visiting Danes reported two fly-bys early this AM. Though not on the quality level as Cave Swallow, there was a slug of Northern Rough-wingeds at the Hawkwatch this afternoon. All locations on and off the island today reported "lots o' birds," with the stars of the show being, as yesterday, Myrtle Warblers, sparrows, and finches. Yesterday's Hawkwatch Vesper Sparrow continued this morning, as did the three immature White-crowned Sparrows there. They were joined by a fourth bird this AM, but a female Sharp-shinned Hawk took off with what might have been one of the White-crowneds late this morning. But the find of the day, today, was the two Common Redpolls at Villas W.M.A. found by Josh Nemeth, perhaps a harbinger of many more to come. Since the prognosticators-that-be correctly predicted the flights this fall of Red-breasted Nuthatch, Purple Finch, and Pine Siskin that we've been enjoying for a while also predicted a Common Redpoll flight....

WEKI, Sparrows, Woodcock

[Western Kingbird at the Beanery, found and phtographed by Pat Sutton yesterday in the "back" field, turn right when you exit the wet woods and head back towards the little pond and dump site. Click to enlarge.]

Word on the street, literally, this early morning, from Tom Johnson: "Lots of Woodcock Sunset Beach, roads littered with sparrows."

Last night at the meadows was pretty cool, check out the list and Karl's unusual Cattle Egret photo on Field Trip Reports.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Golden, Rough-legged, Western Kingbird, Lapspur. . .

[Day's end: Field Sparrow rests while Yellow-rumped Warbler feeds on Poison Ivy Berries, dune trail at Cape May Point State Park this evening. Click to enlarge.]

WHAT A DAY! Highlights:

Dawn: fallout of sparrows, kinglets, a few warblers, and a great early hawk flight around Cape May. See our field trip report from Higbee Beach WMA for an example of what was around. Besides the sparrows and normal late-season warblers, I heard about onesies and twosies of Black-throated Green, Tennessee, and Nashville Warblers.

11:27 a.m. Juvenile Golden Eagle at hawk watch.

12:27 p.m. Orange-crowned Warbler at Cape Island Preserve (Doug Gochfeld)

12:45 & 12:52 p.m. Back-to-back Golden Eagles at Hidden Valley, with at least one nearly simultaneously reported at the hawk watch.  I was at Hidden Valley, which also featured hundreds of sparrows and American Goldfinches.  Among the sparrows were 4 Vespers and multiple White-crowneds.

1:45 p.m. Light morph Rough-legged Hawk at Cape Island Preserve (Doug again). Around this time we were watching a great hawk flight at the platform, though the Rough-legged never showed. A cooperative perched Vesper Sparrow from the platform was some consolation, as was another flyby Cave Swallow and a couple flocks of scoters, one of Black, the other Surf, flying overland over South Cape May.

1:56 p.m. Western Kingbird found by Pat Sutton at the Beanery, in the "back field," reached by going through the wet woods on the main path and turning right towards the sheltered corner.

3:30 p.m. Lapland Longspur at the Beanery, in the back field Pumpkin Patch - Doug again.

5:55 p.m. female Redhead on Lighthouse Pond (Tony Leukering).

What an amazing Cape May day. . .must sleep now. . .be sure to check View from the Field for count results and also killer Northern Shrike photos. . .

Cave Swallow, Hudwit, Sparrow Fall, Good Flight

The first Cave Swallow of this fall, far as I know, passed the hawk watch this morning, as did a Hudsonian Godwit, both reported by Tom Johnson.

I heard lots of sparrows last night, and Higbee Beach WMA was jumping with them under waves of Yellow-rumped Warblers, blackbirds and robins. I ebirded 1000 Chipping Sparrows for Higbee, and there were numbers of Song, Swamp, White-throated, and Field, and a few White-crowned and Savannah Sparrows.  After the walk I went back out and found Vesper and Clay-colored Sparrow. Lots of kinglets are around. . . more to come on what is unfolding to be a great day.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cape May Birding Hotline 10-21-10

Hotline: Cape May Birding Hotline
To Report: call (609) 884-2736, or email
Coverage: Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic Counties , NJ
Compiler: David Lord, Cape May Bird Observatory
URL: ;

This is the Cape May Birding Hotline, a service of New Jersey Audubon Society's Cape May Bird Observatory. This week's message was prepared on Thursday, October 21, 2010. Highlights this week include sightings of NORTHERN SHRIKE, SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER, POMARINE JAEGER, SANDHILL CRANE, WHIMBREL

A NORTHERN SHRIKE flew past the Morning Flight platform and landed along the Cape May Canal on Monday, October 18th, 2010. It has not been seen since.

A SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER was observed flying north past the Hawkwatch on Monday, October 18th, 2010.

A POMARINE JAEGER flew by the Avalon Seawatch on Wednesday, October 20th, 2010.

A SANDHILL CRANE was observed from the Hawkwatch Platform on Friday, October 15th, 2010, and was relocated on Saturday, October 16th, 2010, but has not been seen since.

A late season WHIMBREL was last reported from Cape May Point State Park on Saturday, October 16th, 2010.

-For up-to-the-minute Cape May sightings information, photos and downloadable birding maps and checklist of Cape May, visit . Follow rarity sightings, many spring arrivals, and spectacles on -



******CMBO FALL HOURS are as follows: Northwood Center on East Lake Drive in Cape May Point is open daily, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Center for Research and Education on Rt. 47 in Goshen is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9:30am to 4:30pm; closed Sundays and Mondays. ******

The Cape May Birding Hotline is a service of the New Jersey Audubon Society's Cape May Bird Observatory and details sightings from Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic Counties. Updates are made weekly. Please report sightings of rare or unusual birds to CMBO at 609-884-2736. Sponsorship for this hotline comes from the support of CMBO members and business members, and should you not be a member, we cordially invite you to join. Individual membership is $39 per year; $49 for families. You can call either center to become a member or visit. Become a member in person and you'll receive a FREE gift (in addition to member discounts in the stores).

Good Luck and Good Birding!

White-tailed Kite Reported at Forsythe NWR

This just in from Scott Barnes, note that the location is NOT the main Forsythe loop drive, i.e. not at "Brig," and also that the report apparently is not confirmed:

"McDuffy Barrow reports a White-tailed Kite in the Forsythe NWR impoundment along Bayshore Drive in Barnegat Township. Note this is NOT the same as Barnegat Light and is on the west side of the bay. Specifically, the bird was sitting on an island with cedar trees and visible from Bayshore Drive opposite the public beach. From the public beach parking lot look west into the impoundment. Any further reports are appreciated."

This would be a second state record. Given the pending weather conditions, if the bird moves south in the next 24 hours it will almost certainly wind up in Cape May, thanks to forecast strong west winds. More info will be posted here as it comes in.

So Much for That

[Tom Johnson quipped, "Fifteen [sic] ways to tell Sharp-shinneds from Cooper's" after we watched this Cooper's Hawk, and several others, pass the hawk watch in last Saturday's high winds with their tails obviously cocked upward when they glided, a character that is supposed indicate Sharp-shinned.  Scroll down to the October 11 post to see "Sixteen Way's to Tell Sharp-shinned Hawks from Cooper's Hawks" (you may need to click the "older posts" button at the bottom of the blog to get there). I'm keeping the cocked tail on there, but will add the caveat that high winds change things. . .Click to enlarge photo.]

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Whales, Jaegers, Notes in the Night, and FRIDAY

Tony Leukering was out on a boat this morning and encountered 2 Humpback Whales off Atlantic City, possibly viewable from shore. Perhaps they'll head down to the Avalon Seawatch, where Doug Gochfeld had an adult Pomarine Jaeger flying south this morning. Whales from shore aren't exactly everyday events, and neither are pom's - Parasitic Jaeger is much the expected from-shore jaeger, and I have seen exactly one whale from shore since I've lived in Cape May, that being a Fin Whale off the meadows in June, I think 2007.

The crepuscular Tom Johnson found a high rate of nocturnal flight notes in Cape May City this early morning, including Yellow-rumped Warblers and House Finches, the latter not often heard at night. I heard a number of Swainson's and Hermit Thrushes in the predawn flying over the Delaware Bayshore north of Cape May, heading north as they often do right before dawn. Thrushes seem to engage in "morning flight" before morning comes.

One of a minor influx of Cattle Egrets lately is the bird currently at the corner of Bayshore Road and Stevens Street in Cape May.

And yes, Friday.  We've had fairly steady migration for several days, but a fairly massive high is supposed to build in behind a passing cold front towards the end of the week, and it seems like Friday will be a really good day to take off from work. . .

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Read All About It. . .

. . .on View From the Field. I've nothing to add, except I wish I had been there! Be sure to read all the way down, through Doug's account of the hawks et. al., Steve's Seawatch report, Tom's nuthatchpalooza, and Jenny's cool post about monarchs, including one in the grips of a Green Darner!

Monday, October 18, 2010


Enough already! (Say those of us confined to the office!) A juvenile Northern Goshawk was recorded at the Cape May Point State Park Hawkwatch a bit before 4 p.m., another first of season.


The season's first Golden Eagle, a juvenile, appeared over Cape May early this afternoon, somewhat humorously reported simultaneously by multiple observers watching from different locations, including the hawkwatch.

Northern Shrike! Scissor-tailed Flycatcher! Sparrows!

Pretty happening morning so far.  A Northern Shrike appeared at the Higbee Dike, where (I understand) it was well photographed. Apparently it flew north across the Cape May Canal and hasn't been reported since. Northern Shrike is a very rare visitor here, and this one is quite early, too.  Tom Johnson coined the morning flight at the dike "nuthatchpalooza," we'll see what that exactly meant on his blog post tonight, I'm sure.

Meanwhile, Doug Gochfeld spied a distant Scissor-tailed Flycatcher from the Cape May Point State Park hawkwatch platform, northbound along the bay.  This bird has not been refound, but watchers at the platform this morning have extracted Clay-colored, Vesper and White-crowned Sparrows from the surrounds. I understand the CMBO sparrow workshop had 5 Vespers at the Beanery yesterday, one of the best places to find this bird. A moderate hawk flight was underway, with Bald Eagle, Cooper's Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk and Red-shouldered Hawk all in view at once in the five minutes I was there!

The South Cape May Meadows/TNC Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge was hopping, too, with Nashville and Prairie Warblers seen on the CMBO walk with zillions of Swamp Sparrows, with a few White-crowneds, Savannahs, and a Lincoln's Sparrow along the main path. A fair number of Purple Finches were flying overhead, and we had Pine Siskins at the start of the walk.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Updates + Sneakin' Around at Dawn

 [A real "Gray Ghost" - Northern Harriers fly early, this male was up well before the sun in a Higbee back field today.  Click to enlarge photos.]
The radar was sure lit up with birds last night, and Higbee Beach WMA, though mosquito-ridden, had plenty of kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and other typical late season migrants. There were a lot of more-ofs - more White-throated Sparrows, Swamp Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncoes than recent days, for example.  A lot of Purple Finches were flying over everywhere I went today - their little tic note is a good one to learn - along with a few Pine Siskins and, in more open areas, quite a few American Pipits. The hawk flight seemed good this morning, but lighter than yesterday. I have not heard any more on yesterday's Sandhill Crane or Whimbrel.

Tom Reed had some interesting stuff from his vantage 15 miles or so up the bay at Reed's Beach, including a morning flight of 3200+ Yellow-rumped Warblers, 1500 American Robins, and close to 200 Sharp-shinned Hawks.  One of the most common questions we get at the hawk watch, and morning flight, is "how do you know you are not counting the same birds twice?"  Flights like the one Tom had this morning give insight on what the birds are doing - they round Cape May, and (for the species that don't like crossing open water) turn north and fly up along the bay. We still undoubtedly do double-count some birds, but not many, and that's not the point anyway - by using the same methods every year, we create an index of bird populations in order to detect downward or upward trends.

With only a couple hours to bird, I started in the pre-dawn darkness, oozing around some little-birded areas hoping for close looks.

 [Immature male Northern Harrier lit by the rising sun this morning.]

 [This Cooper's Hawk made me glad I wasn't the Swamp Sparrow he was scrutinizing -look at the size of those legs and feet!]
A little later I wandered the Red Trail of the State Park, which held a similar mix of species to Higbee plus, of course, its suite of ducks, including the female Eurasian Wigeon on Lighthouse Pond.

[The benefits of creeping about - if you bird like you are hunting, you sometimes get close.  This Winter Wren was right next to the board walk on the red trail of the state park this morning. Note the rich brown upperparts and stubby little tail, and you can see a just bit of the dense barring on the flanks.]

Saturday, October 16, 2010

In-phlight Photography Phrom the Platphorm

One of my very favorite places phrom which to photograph is the Hawkwatch Platphorm at Cape May Point State Park. The reasons are many and varied, but include the commanding view of the sky, the variety of nearby habitats, and the camaraderie of the hawk counter, hawk watchers, and other photography aphicionados. (All right, already, enough with the 'ph' stuff!) The variety of habitats ensures a good variety of birds and the view and the numerous other birders usually present ensures that anything flying by will be seen and, thus, photo ops will be had. One of the other main reasons is that I like photographing stuff in flight.

Today (16 October) was just about a photographer's dream: lots of birds, lots of birds close, and lots of birds close and low. Though a nearly all-blue sky was the backdrop most of the day, unlike most blue-sky days, the birds did not get high and out of or nearly out of sight. That fact was due to the, one might say, 'brisk' breeze blowing all day (20-25 mph, gusts to 40 mph). This kept the raptors 'on the deck' all day. Now we get to why I noted that it was 'just about' a photographer's dream: the wind also made for erratic flight in most of the smaller species, as they responded to flying into the northwest wind and the vagaries of gusts. One might be tracking an individual bird quite nicely only to have it suddenly disappear from the viewfinder, as it rode an updraft, got sucked downward by a downdraft, or knocked to the side by a sudden gust. All in all, though, there are very few days for which I would have traded today.

Below, I present a sampling of photos that I took from the Hawkwatch Platform today, with captions providing some interesting tidbits about the picture, the bird, the species, or the event. Click on individual pictures to see larger versions.

[One of the first birds to fly by upon my arrival at the platform this morning, this Cattle Egret was one of a fair few present on Cape Island today.]

[This Whimbrel was present along the dune in the State Park for most of the day, usually at the First Plover Pond, but also in the circle with Canada Geese by the parking lot. The bird's left wing has obviously seen better days and, since the various short feathers are broken, not missing, the bird will not replace them until its next molt (assumisng that it lives that long). This could mean that, assuming survival, the poor thing may be attempting to spend the winter locally; that wing will certainly not get it to Argentina or Chile!]

[Yesterday's Sandhill Crane stuck around for the morning, at least, being seen a few times from the platform. I managed to get the coveted 'lighthouse shot' of the bird. If one spends enough time on the platform in the vicinity of the upper-deck photographers, one will eventually hear someone shout out 'Lighthouse!' to alert the photographers that a potential 'lighthouse shot' is in the offing.]

[Many of the raptors were close and low; in this case, directly overhead! (No cropping at all of this picture of a juvenile Broad-winged Hawk!)

[Though this was the only Northern Flicker to fly by close to the platform, on flicker flight days (or, should I say, 'phlicker phlight days') the platform can be a good vantage from which to get in-flight flicker photos. Note that this female has its nictitating membrane (third eyelid) half-closed (or half-open if one's an optimist).]

[One of the few types of birds moving today -- other than raptors -- were Killdeers. Though we didn't see all that many, singles and small parties passed sporadically through the day, totalling some 40 or so. One of the >5000 Tree Swallows present snuck into this picture.

[Gulls was the other group of birds moving today, with a low-density, but steady, all-day flight of numbers of Great Black-backed Gulls and a lesser number of Ring-billed Gulls -- such as this formative-plumaged individual -- headed west and around the point. The time of year was evident in this flight, as we saw very few Laughing Gulls from the platform today, most having departed for points south. This upperside picture -- something that we photographers managed a lot of today -- was due to the gull responding to the gusty winds and having to make quick alterations of its posture and flight direction.]

[Melissa recorded a smattering of Bald Eagles, with this individual being the most interesting, due to its age -- 2.5 years -- and the state of the process of replacement of its juvenal flight feathers. Here, we can see that it still has four juvenal secondaries on each side; they're the longer feathers in the two bunches of two per side. Though Bald Eagle ageing can be tricky, the retention of these juvenal feathers makes ageing this individual easy.]

[Not the commonest sight from the platform, this meadowlark is easily identified as an Eastern by the extensive white in the tail.

[Though ID of these teal might be thought a bit tricky by some, the distinct and thinnish white stripe on the underside of the wing makes these slam-dunk Green-winged Teal, as oppposed to Blue-wingeds with their wider patch of white.]

[Did I mention that many of the raptors were close and low? This adult Peregrine Falcon was certainly a crowd-pleaser!]

[What's a day without a picture of a Turkey Vulture? In my world, the species is one of the most photographed subjects. Why? Well, because I can -- they're big and often fly low and slow -- and because they are some of the more graceful inhabitants of Cape May's airspace. (On the ground, not so much.)]

[This Pine Siskin was one of a few that passed over or by the platform in the morning. The extensive yellow in the wing suggests that it is an adult and/or a male.]

[This female American Kestrel was one of many, many small falcons that made the day's raptor flight one of the most enjoyable ones I've seen in the many years that I've planted myself on the platform.]

[Did I mention that many of the raptors were close and low? Small accipiters were also in abundance this day, with a number of Sharp-shinned Hawks, such as this juvenile, making dashes right over or right in front of the many hawk watchers.]

[Many a juvenile Northern Harrier (and an adult male or two) made a pass or two over the marsh on the north side of Bunker Pond.]

[This adult male Merlin, or Blue Jack, keeping an eye out on the other air traffic in the vicinity, was one of a large number of that age-sex class of the species spotted from the platform today. Indeed, this was another of the facets of the day's flight that made it so enjoyable: the large number and percentage of adult falcons and accipiters.]

[Merlin gets two representatives in this essay's set of pictures because it's just such a..., well, is 'opposite-of-good posterior' a reasonably family-oriented term? This Merlin was one of many passing the platform today that had apparently swallowed golf balls. No, what's inside their crops (food-storage sections of bird alimentary systems) aren't white and dimply, but probably feathered. Which tends to bring up the tongue-partly-in-cheek game on the platform of 'Guess the Lump.' At this time of year, Myrtle Warbler is the most common item on the Merlin menu, mostly because of its sheer abundance. Because a lot of the Merlins passing through hunt the dunes, Palm Warbler (and it's different-tasting varities, Yellow and Western) is another item on that menu. Of additional interest to those with a fascination with molt are the two ages of feathers on the wing linings (blacker new feathers, browner old feathers) and the old outer two primaries compared to all the other primaries being new.