Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Memorial Day, Frigatebird & Kites!

I know that many people like to read a daily update on the highlights of Cape May, so I must apologize for the huge gap in postings, brought about by the unfortunate coming together of a very full and hectic (though very enjoyable!) Cape Maygration, Memorial Day weekend and the need to take a few days off. From a 'highlights' perspective, it's actually been something of a quiet period over the last few days, as spring migration winds down and breeding birds gradually lose voice as they begin feeding young in the nest - some resident species starting second broods now too. The really awesome news though, involved a female Magnificent Frigatebird seen high over Cove Bay with a party of vultures! Unfortunately - as is so often the case with such things - the bird was seen at the southernmost tip of the county and was heading south - not much opportunity to chase after it unless you were already in Delaware! I believe that Bill Roache was the finder. As is also so often the way with such things, I received a later email confirming an earlier sighting of what was likely to be the same bird. Elizabeth Tizzie Cregan sent me word of a frigatebird she had seen flying over the Manasquan River up in Monmouth County, just east of the Route 70 bridge on Saturday afternoon.

You can't beat views like this of Mississippi Kite (click to enlarge)! This is a classic second calendar-year bird (a phrase I am sure you will all understand far better than the peculiar "basic I (subadult)" which one book gave me!!). It still has mostly juvenile feathers - barred tail, mottled underwing, dark secondaries - but adult-type gray axillaries and underwing coverts are gradually growing in. [Photo by Arthur Nelson]

For those of us less blessed with good fortune, there were still plenty of other nice birds to be enjoyed, not least the Mississippi Kites, which continue to put on a fabulous show at Cape May Point this year. Maximum counts included seven on Sunday and eight on Monday, with birds doing repeated tours of the point and giving plenty of opportunity to enjoy them. Reeds Beach continued to attract the lion's share of this year's Red Knot and several people reported some of their best views ever of the Horseshoe Crab/shorebird spectacle that is one of the natural world's greatest wildlife shows and takes place annually right here on our doorstep - hopefully for many years to come. Red Knot numbers are worryingly down again this year and research into the reasons for this continues. Belleplain is slowly winding down as leaves get more dense and make it ever-easier for songbirds to remain hidden. However, I made a quick run up there on Saturday morning and Louisiana Waterthrush, Prothonotary Warbler and Blue-winged Warbler were all still singing and Summer Tanagers continue to pop up and sing in excellent numbers (I hear that Don Freiday had eight recently). Other birds in good numbers - at least at places I've been visiting - include Yellow-breasted Chat, Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Great Crested Flycatcher.

With the heady days of summer come the butterflies and dragonflies; Villas WMA yesterday was alive with dragonflies and I saw my first-of-year Painted, Slaty and Spangled Skimmers, as well as lots of Calico Pennants, Carolina Saddlebags and Blue Dashers, a few Common Whitetails and still a few Blue Corporals.

Finally - a Roseate Tern paid an all too brief visit to the South Cape May Meadows on Friday morning, which reminds me that we're entering the time for real oddities to turn up (such as the frigatebird!). Keep an eye out for unusual birds where ever you are in the next couple of weeks and keep an eye on the bay for Wilson's Storm-petrels which are just starting to show up now. The meadows in particular are good at the moment as water levels have dropped massively with the end of the road work in neighboring streets (outflow pipes had been temporarily blocked to stop flooding of the work site) and masses of Semipalmated Sandpipers, up to four White-rumped Sandpipers and small numbers of Least Sandpipers and Short-billed Dowitchers have been present this weekend.

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