Tuesday, October 5, 2010

End to End Birding (with a break in the middle!)

Today was a classic example of just how it pays to make that little extra effort when out birding. Having seen off a cold that was threatening to overwhelm me, I was up bright and early this morning (unlike the weather) and decided to skip Higbee's Beach for once and head for the Migratory Bird Refuge. Though it was still struggling to get light, birds were highly active and this really is the best time to be out there and witnessing the magic of a Cape May October morning. Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets were on the move in good numbers, Sora Rails had raucous sessions of chorusing and Swamp and Savannah Sparrows were almost constantly flitting along in front of me. Common Yellowthroats bounced through the low vegetation with little parties of Palm Warblers and a broad front of Yellow-rumped Warblers called overhead. A party of five Bobolinks "link link"ed away from me, five Wilson's Snipe called "scarrppp" as they whisped away and raptors were amazing even at this early hour - eight Ospreys, five American Kestrels, three Northern Harriers, three Cooper's Hawks, two Merlins, two Sharp-shinned Hawks and a Peregrine all came my way and headed off to be counted at the Hawkwatch Platform. Six Wood Ducks, six Northern Pintail, eight Black Ducks and a scattering of American Wigeon added to the 70+ Greene-winged Teals made for a nice duck spectacle. What a great way to start a day!

With a day's work over, I headed to the Hawkwatch Platform, only to find that the next round of migration was getting under way; by the time I left, just short of 300 Great Blue Herons had taken to the skies from cover around Lighthouse Pond, all eventually heading due south over the Delaware Bay - at one point some 30 of them grouped together on a convenient thermal which helped them on their way. American Kestrels and Merlins were constant companions, great chains of Double-crested Cormorants headed south along the Atlantic seashore and a party of four Brown Pelicans accompanied them - we also heard of a group of 10 coming down the bayshore but these headed out across the bay without rounding the point and gave us a miss. After a madcap game of frisbee with the young interns (yes guys, I'm starting to feel old now!), I thought that the birding was over for the day - but Cape May will often deal you an extra ace if you keep your eyes open. Arriving home, a quick scan of the lucid yellow sky soon after 7PM revealed an American Woodcock dropping into our back field to feed - but even that was not the grand finale; that prize went to the wonderful sight of a chunky female Peregrine that took a passing stoop at a Black-crowned Night Heron as it emerged from cover to continue its southward migration. An awesome sight!!!

So, if you want to enjoy some Cape May magic and beat the crowds; try a little dawn or dusk birding and see what you can find - oh, and if you like the pleasure of birding in good company, try one of our Cape May early morning or sunset walks; better still - see you here for the Autumn Weekend!!

End to another day of Cape May magic - frisbee, the lighthouse and a great sunset [photo by Mike Crewe]

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