Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Same Old Cape May!

There's a little bit of doom and gloom floating around the local birding community this Fall because the weather is just plain 'wrong'! We all know that NW fronts bring cooler air and birds, but these pesky, persistent southerlies just keep breezing up the eastern seaboard; and the birds? Well they just keep going! Of course, we should be happy for the birds. If we're honest, many migration spectacles actually involve birds being shoe-horned into bottlenecks and appearing before us in large numbers - great for birders but not really that ideal for birds, who would much rather make an uneventful, humdrum flight southward with just the occasional short stop-over to refuel.

But hey, this is Cape May; what's with the doom and gloom? I guess we get just a little spoilt here with our regular fall-outs in most years and this year they have certainly been lacking. But Cape May any day can produce good birding - especially in the Fall, when birds are moving whatever the weather. Last night I had occasion to find myself standing out in the street in the middle of town with Michael O'Brien (we're funny like that here!) and the dark skies above were full of all those 'chips', 'squeeks' and 'tsips' that can be heard at Higbee Dike of a morning. Michael just kept pulling them out of the bag: Green Heron (I knew that one!!), Bobolink (and that one!), Gray-cheeked and Swainson's Thrushes, Veery, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Grasshopper Sparrow (now I'm a wreck!), Northern Parula, Blackpoll Warbler... and so it went on. Light southerlies, perfect migration conditions, ¡Buen Viaje Pocitos! Incidentally, if you want to share this amazing experience (and many others too), you may just squeek in on the last couple of places on Michael's Advanced Birding By Ear workshop - click here for some details, or call Chris Tonkinson on 609-861-0700 for an update on availability.

This morning seemed a little quiet after last night's fly-by, but foggy conditions probably accounted for that. The Wilson's Plover was reported continuing at Stone Harbor Point - though at times very hard work at this large site - six Marbled Godwits continue to be seen there and a very obliging Upland Sandpiper spent much of today so far feeding in the first field at Higbee's Beach. Please remember to respect the crop here if you visit. Meanwhile, the whole point seems to be alive with falcons!! Peregrines, Merlins and American Kestrels are having a ball right now and can be seen anywhere from Higbee's and The Beanery to Sunset Boulevard and - of course - the Hawkwatch Platform at the state park. Coming back from my house after a lunchtime visit to Higbee's, I actually counted 12 American Kestrels, four Merlins and a Peregrine along a three mile stretch of road! Meanwhile, Mike Fritz reported a fly-by Violet-green Swallow at Stone Harbor Point, Sora Rails are cropping up in The Meadows and a Red-headed Woodpecker appears to be lurking at Cox Hall Creek WMA.

Cape May quiet? Noooo!!

Upland Sandpiper at Higbee's Beach today [photo by Mike Crewe]. These birds can be surprisingly tame on migration; somewhat famously, a vagrant one in the UK a few years back actually took a worm from a birder - who was lying on the ground and holding the worm in his mouth (not recommended!).

Just as a little aside; you may wonder what happens to butterflies that survive a hurricane - well here's a good example! Will Kerling took this photo a few days ago of a seriously battered Common Buckeye. If you want to know what it should look like, compare the picture below with this!

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