Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Bird Show has Started!

Officially, The Bird Show starts this Thursday evening, but The Bird Show really got started this last week and continued over the ensuing days. September may well be a great time to be in Cape May to see a wide range of species - especially all those warblers - but if you want numbers and spectacles, then you really need to be here in late October! After a lifetime of birding, you might think that I would be getting jaded by now - not a bit of it! With over 60,000 birds counted on the combined Morning Flight counts at Higbee Dike for Sunday and Monday, it's still easy to just stare in awe at one of the greatest shows on earth.

Actually, Monday morning I was on one of the dune crossovers at Cape May Point, not at Higbee Beach, and the experience can be quite different. Though it is not really right to over-simplify the complexities of migration - I will!! In one way, there are two types of migrants - those that migrate only at night and those that will continue during daylight. Species that shun daylight movements at Cape May tend to head north at first light, passing Higbee Dike and looking for a suitable place to spend the day north of the canal. These are the birds counted at the Morning Flight. In contrast, birds that will continue southward in daylight and don't pull up in horror at the thought of a Delaware Bay crossing, head on round the point to find a suitable crossing place. These are the birds that you see at the dune crossovers. On Monday morning, I did not stop looking at birds - continually, without a break in their numbers - for well over an hour! Yes, many are common species, but it's the spectacle that is so amazing. Tight balls of Cedar Waxwings and European Starlings, compact lines of Red-winged Blackbirds (with the promise of a Rusty Blackbird tucked in between), spaced out carpets of American Robins riding high above all the others, and ragged, undecided packs of Blue Jays constantly testing the air waves. When the birds are high, you rely much more on your ears than your eyes; Pine Siskins with their twangy wheezes are soon picked out from the parties of 'chiff-iff-iff'ing American Goldfinches, the hollow 'knocking' calls of Purple Finches pick them out from the conversational calls of the many parties of House Finches on the move, while stratospheric Eastern Bluebirds pass unseen but are noted by their shorebird-like calls. From all this, Michael O'Brien pulled out a passing Western Kingbird, which paused long enough for scope views atop a Japanese Black Pine and a single Red Crossbill which shot straight towards Delaware and called - a type 3 of course (check out eBird's crossbill article if that makes no sense to you!!). American Pipits occasionally paused briefly on the beach, both Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches (as well as both kinglet species) worked through the pines; Sharp-shinned Hawks stirred everything up on a regular basis - and still the birds kept coming!

Migration is in full swing folks and Autumn Weekend is just around the corner! Birds are on the move and each day will be different, but you can rest assured there will be plenty to look at in the coming days. Bob Fogg reports some large scoter movements and the first notable Common Loon movement of the fall today off Avalon. Over the past few days, five Cattle Egrets dropped into Bunker Pond for the day on 21st (after a single briefly at the point the day before), 15 Brown Pelicans cruised by the point on 21st and that night, good numbers of Snow Geese were passing over Cape May in the dark. American Robins and Yellow-rumped Warblers dominate each day, the first Cave Swallow of fall showed up on 22nd and Northern Gannets and Parasitic Jaegers are now out in the rips on a regular basis. Michael O'Brien reported both Lark Sparrow and Lapland Longspur on 23rd, flying past The Meadows and there have been mentions of Grasshopper Sparrow and Northern Goshawk over the last few days - both tough birds to catch up with at Cape May. The mini-run of Rufous Hummingbirds seeme to have dried up (without me seeing a single one!!) but Vesper Sparrows continue to haunt the Rea Farm fields and duck numbers are very good on Lighthouse Pond now. The stage is set - come and be a player!

What it has been like this week - waves of Red-winged Blackbirds pouring round Cape May Point, looking for that optimum moment to head out across the bay and continue on their way south [photo by Mike Crewe].

Yep, you really do need eyes in the back of your head at Cape May! Most of the 15 Brown Pelicans that passed Cape May Point on 21st sneak behind an unsuspecting birder [photo by Mike Crewe].

Western Kingbirds have been frustrating this year so far, with most birds being brief fly-bys. However, this bird was found by Mark Garland at Higbee Beach and stayed long enough to be enjoyed by several people [photo by Gerry Dewaghe].

Sometimes it pays to expect the unexpected! With so many birds around, perhaps finding one that is a little unusual is a little easier, but this leucistic Yellow-rumped Warbler was a really stunning find for Larry Jeanblanc, Julie Karlson and Doug Overacker at Cape May Point State Park on October 16th. Thanks to Scott Barnes for forwarding some great pictures of the bird [photo by Larry Jeanblanc].

Awesome migration? Don't forget the raptors! The Hawkwatch Platform continues to give so many people some lifetime moments as birds such as this immature Bald Eagle put on a star performance for the gathered admirers [photo by Mike Crewe].

Birds and Bugs on the Move - it seems that pretty much everything migrates through Cape May at some point. Michael O'Brien alerted me to an impressive movement of bugs through Cape May Point today and I dropped in to the state park to find these guys - Large Milkweed Bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus) - all over the place. Most notably, good numbers of them were rising straight up from the tops of the cedars and wafting away on the wind. This species cannot survive the winters in the northern half of the US so large numbers head south every fall to hang out in the southern states until better weather sees later generations heading back north in the spring [photo by Mike Crewe].
Also on the move... Some pretty large moths are on the move too right now and this Carolina Sphinx was found resting on a bayberry by Steve Mason from the Academy of Natural Sciences. This is a not too popular species since its mighty green caterpillars regularly munch garden tomato plants with great gusto [photo by Mike Crewe].
Lest we forget - it's been a staggering year for Little Yellows this year, with reports from throughout the State of New Jersey and unprecedented numbers in Cape May County. The good year continues for this species with this individual feeding on Frost Aster at the state park today [photo by Mike Crewe].