Thursday, November 29, 2012

Another memorable hawkwatch draws to a close

Tomorrow will be a good day to pay a visit to the Hawkwatch Platform, since it marks the final day of this year's count. It has been another great year, with a fine mix of dull days and up days; days of "so where are they all?" and days of "How am I supposed to count all of these!!". A huge vote of thanks goes out to Tom Reed, this year's stalwart counter on the platform, and to Vince Elia and Pete Dunne who stood in on Tom's days off - as well as Alyssia Church who covered for Tom during those regular strolls to the other side of the parking lot!

It probably won't be a big raptor day tomorrow, but tomorrow will be about the people, not the birds - and who knows, maybe one of those goshawks will put in an appearance.

This remarkably white and blotchy-looking Bald Eagle cruised quietly over the Hawkwatch Platform early afternoon today and headed out over the bay, ensuring it got itself on the tally list [photo by Mike Crewe].

A really good mix of ducks can currently be seen around the Cape May Point ponds at the moment. Glen Davis found this female Canvasback (left) with the Ruddy Duck flock on the easternmost Plover Pond, between the state park and The Meadows today [photo by Mike Crewe].

Both White-winged and Red Crossbills continued to pass overhead at Cape May Point in small groups this morning and one or two Common Redpolls were noted, the largest flock being of 11 birds which Tom Reed reported from the Hawkwatch. A female Common Merganser flew round the point early this morning, a Black-and-white Warbler was a surprise find at the Hawkwatch Platform and Tom Magarian reported a Razorbill at the Avalon Seawatch, which plopped down somewhere near the 8th Street jetty.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Pelicans and other things...

Tom Reed picked a bad day to swap hawk-counting with Pete Dunne at the Hawkwatch Platform today, as first a White Ibis, then later a flock of 10 American White Pelicans visited the point. The ibis was reported by Scott Whittle who was up on the dune crossover at Coral Avenue, then seen by Glen Davis as it headed seemingly in the direction of the state park with a Great Egret. Despite further searching, it was not re-found later. It is presumed - for now at least - that this is the bird that has been up at Reeds Beach Road recently. The party of 10 pelicans follows on from a report of nine at Brigantine on November 25th and five near there the next day. Today's group appeared from the east, heading toward the point but a little offshore, and made slow enough progress for me to get there and see them before they gradually made their way out over the bay. We actually lost them from view behind St Mary's so we were not sure whether they continued to Delaware or turned back up the bay - keep an eye out!

Elsewhere, the Avalon Seawatch continues to enjoy some good spells with a late Black Skimmer on 26th, a fabulous count of 10,541 Red-throated Loons on 26th and a group of four birds seen distantly today that were probably murres - worth looking for tomorrow.

Nine of the 10 American White Pelicans that cruised past Cape May Point today - the other one was dragging his heels behind them! November appears to be becoming the time to see this species at Cape May, although they tend not to hang around [photo by Mike Crewe].

Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk is an enigmatic bird. At one and the same time, it manages to be both the most over-recorded and most under-recorded of raptors - over-recorded, because there is a strong desire to see this awesome bird, which sometimes clouds judgement of distant or brief views; under-recorded, because this mighty bird has a remarkable knack for staying hidden. It's a bird of the thick, dark, boreal forests and seldom strays into the open, except for a brief spell of display flights early in the breeding season.

But juvenile Northern Goshawks know none of this and, occasionally, a youngster on its first winter wanderings will throw away the rule book. This has certainly been the case this fall at Cape May Point with two different young Northern Goshawks putting on some quite dramatic shows, as illustrated in the pictures that follow. Most dramatic, have been a growing number of casual reports of dead Cooper's Hawks found around the state park. The culprit was suspected, and finally caught on camera - a young goshawk. It may at first seem strange for a bird that would normally be happy feeding on ducks, squirrels, starlings and the like, to bother with the extra potential danger of hunting other raptors, but this is very typical of Northern Goshawks. In many parts of the world, this species is a significant predator of other raptors, even including birds as big as Honey Buzzards in Europe, making it a truly amazing bird to see.

At times, Northern Goshawk can be mistaken for Cooper's Hawk, especially during brief or distant views. Though sizes of the two don't quite overlap, variation in size within both species makes judging the size of a lone bird tricky. Here the Cooper's is to the left, Northern Goshawk on the right. Note the latter's longer wing with narrower 'hand' and the thicker-set base to the tail [photo by Tom Reed].

The view we all long for! Just a couple of times in a lifetime we might get a view like this - a juvenile Northern Goshawk powering right past the Hawkwatch Platform. Here note especially the narrow pale lines bordering the dark bands on the tail, the full, deep-chested look and the relatively clean, white supercilium over the eye [photo by Tom Reed].

Very few of us get to see a Northern Goshawk make a kill (I'm still waiting!) and it really is something quite dramatic. Here the goshawk approaches a panicking Cooper's Hawk from behind [photo by Sam Galick].

The point of impact happened over Bunker Pond, right in front of the Hawkwatch Platform... [photo by Sam Galick].

... and resulted in a sight seldom seen, though well-known to occur - a Northern Goshawk takes a Cooper's Hawk [photo by San Galick].

When the hunter becomes the hunted, the world seems turned on its head. But nature is red in tooth and claw and it truly is the survival of the fittest out there [photo by Sam Galick].

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Fall into Winter

The last 10 days or so has seen a gradual slide from the birding excesses of fall to the more serene nature of winter. But that is not to say that it has not been worth going out. Though winter may be cold at Cape May, it still offers some fabulous birding opportunities and anyone to the north and west of us would delight in just how relatively balmy it actually is!

Bird highlights certainly continue on a daily basis here, with reports of Cave Swallow flocks and 'kipping' flocks of Red Crossbills still coming in - look for the former over The Meadows or state park ponds, the latter in Japanese Black Pines around the dune cross-overs. Winter finches continue to be on the news with the odd report of Common Redpolls here and there, though no significant numbers (yet) and most birds have been passing quickly by - though Tom Reed had both this species and Yellow-headed Blackbird at his feeder on Reeds Beach Road this past week! (By the way, don't mention the latter to him if you visit the Hawkwatch - sore point!). Reeds Beach Road also featured a juvenile White Ibis from 19th to 22nd. Late warblers have continued to be a feature this November, with Orange-crowned Warbler at the Hawkwatch on 16th, Wilson's Warbler at The Beanery on 17th, Blackpoll Warbler at Harvard Avenue on 19th and a Yellow-breasted Chat at Higbee Beach on 24th, though the first and last of these typically occur late here, sometimes even overwintering.

The streets of Cape May Point continue to produce some interesting birding now, especially with crossbills still to be found there, as well as a continuing high number of Red-breasted Nuthatches. In addition, Chris Vogel reported a Clay-colored Sparrow at West Lake Drive on 20th and Lake Lily holds a nice selection of birds currently, including several Buffleheads, Ring-necked and Ruddy Ducks, the continuing Cackling Goose and, on 24th, a Greater White-fronted Goose. The state park had a small flock of Evening Grosbeaks briefly on 20th, reported by Pete Dunne, while Tom Reed reported a Brown Pelican over there on 21st, as well as a peculiar raptor the same day that showed suggestions of being a hybrid Red-tailed x Swainson's Hawk, based on structure and plumage characteristics.

Further north, the Avalon Seawatch has been a little quiet of late but will no doubt really pick up soon. Recent reports include Razorbill and Pacific Loon on 20th and a Harlequin Duck on 24th. Other interesting waterfowl of late include two male Common Eiders at the concrete ship on 23rd and eight Tundra Swans flying west at Cove Pool on 24th. Recent reports from the backbays have been few, but Clay Sutton reported a count of 270 American Oystercatchers at Hereford Inlet on 19th, while Bob Lubberman of The Osprey found a Whimbrel still hanging out on Jarvis Sound on 23rd. One or two reports of Ring-necked Pheasants have come from the fields around the Cape May/Atlantic County border recently, which presumably all relate to birds that have just been released into Tuckahoe WMA in the past couple of weeks.

Finally from today (24th), Nick Kontonicolas reported an Ash-throated Flycatcher from Higbee Beach today. The bird was seen by a number of people before disappearing late morning, but we can hope for more yet...

Clay-colored Sparrow at West Lake Drive, November 20th. This essentially Western species is now expected in small numbers each year, especially in fall. Look for a slender bird like a Chipping Sparrow but paler and with no dark line from bill to eye [photo by Mike Crewe].

Juvenile White Ibis at Reeds Beach Road, November 21st. The small pond on the north side of Reeds Beach Road has a good track record for attracting interesting waterbirds and is worth checking regularly [photo by Will Kerling].

Adult Greater White-fronted Goose, Lighthouse Pond, Cape May Point State Park, November 24th. The long, bright orange bill shows this bird to be from the Greenland breeding population which winters in Ireland and Western Scotland [photo by Mike Crewe].

The same Greater White-front - note here the extensive black markings on the belly, typical of adults of the form flavirostris. It is possible that all records of single birds in recent years may relate to the same bird which has returned to a favored wintering area that it may originally have found by accident [photo by Mike Crewe].

Heading into winter - Purple Sandpipers are on our jetties right now and should be here all winter. Note on this bird the subtle purple sheen on the back feathers that gives the bird its English name. Don't forget that this species will be one of the stars of our Barnegat trip on December 1st, along with those magnificent Harlequin Ducks and much more... [photo by Mike Crewe].

The status of this species in Cape May is peculiar, but shows a constant pattern year on year. They appear in huge numbers, scattered throughout the whole county, on the third Thursday in November every year, then disappear as suddenly as they arrived! I trust you all had a great Thanksgiving! [Photo by the only person here daft enough to bother...]

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Some recent photos

Photographs of interesting birds, or photos of birds doing interesting things, are always a welcome addition to our blog, especially those taken in our South Jersey region. Here's one or two to highlight the diversity of birds still to be found here as we start to wind down the fall migration period (though it ain't over yet!).

As the season's migrant Bald Eagles begin to disappear into the distance, we can start to assess how many we are going to have wintering with us. Most, if not all, of our local breeding pairs will stay in territory throughout the winter and some will have to put up with an influx of winterers from further north, driven out by harsher weather conditions than ours. This pair of Bald Eagles are currently staking their claim to a nesting platform in the backbays near Linwood, just over the border in Atlantic County (photo by E J Nistico).

Whilst carving up Canada Goose into two separate species was easy to do on paper, field birders are sometimes left scratching their heads over the identity of apparently intermediate birds. However, this Cackling Goose (the small one in the middle) has been hanging around Cape May Point for a while now and offers no real confusion. Cackling Geese that are likely to turn up at Cape May are of the so-called Richardson's form (subspecies hutchinsii) which are a little larger and paler-breasted than the smaller Alaskan forms and probably overlap in size with Canada Geese of the form parvipes - which could just as easily reach our region [photo by Karl Lukens].

Keeping an eye on the backyard feeders so often pays dividends and this Red-headed Woodpecker has been visiting a yard in Salem County recently. Seen here with a Red-bellied Woodpecker, don't get confused when I tell you the red-head is the one on the right!! Juvenile Red-headed Woodpeckers have gray heads in their first year and are best told by the large white wing patch which is easily seen in flight [photo by Jeff White].

I must admit, I haven't yet had time myself to get over to the Avalon Seawatch since Hurricane Sandy came through, but I hear that the profile of the jetty at the mouth of the inlet there has changed and it will be interesting to see what effect it has on food availability for wintering birds. At present though, the birds seem to be enjoying the changes, as witnessed by this photo which shows just some of the thousands of Dunlin currently using Avalon beachfront [photo by Beth Polvino].

Intrepid as ever in pursuit of things with four wings, Will Kerling was out immediately after Hurricane Sandy and was pleased to find life was carrying on - just! This incredibly storm-beaten Orange Sulphur was still struggling on in its pursuit of food, but certainly seems to have taken a remarkable battering. Since Sandy passed, butterflies have been hard to come by, but small numbers of Red Admirals and even a few Monarchs continue to head southward and a few Question-marks continue to delay hibernation for as long as possible [photo by Will Kerling].

Monday, November 19, 2012

Crossbills, cave swallows and more...

The fabulous year for crossbills and Cave Swallows continues, with many more reports over the last few days from Cape May Point and surrounding areas. In the past few days, Red Crossbills seem to have taken over from White-winged Crossbills in number, but the two species continue to show well and are most reliably being seen from the stands of Japanese Black Pine along the dunes, anywhere from Cape May Point State Park to Alexander Avenue. A little further afield came an interesting report of a male White-winged Crossbill which boarded the Cape May-Lewes Ferry on November 17th and was enjoyed by a number of birdwatchers using the ferry at the time.

Much work has been done on Red Crossbill populations in recent years - both in Europe and North America - and the situation remains complex and thought-provoking. It seems that there are a number of discreet populations of this species which can pretty reliably be identified by constant differences in their contact calls. With this in mind, Cape May birders are attempting to get recordings of vocalizations so that we may get an idea of which population 'our' birds belong to and, from that, perhaps an idea of where they have come from. So far, it is looking as though the present irruption involves so-called 'type 3' birds performing an extraordinary feat - they are arriving here from the pacific North-west!! Though the complexities of crossbill taxonomy may not be everyone's favorite thing (a breakfast bagel at the Sunset Grille sounds much better to me!), the fact that we are able to identify these different populations does mean that we can learn a lot more about these remarkable birds. We're all looking forward to seeing how this develops, and the amazing information database that is building up in eBird certainly offers an excellent resource for following what is happening with these birds.

Male Red Crossbill at Cape May Point State Park. So-called 'type 3' or Western Hemlock Crossbill has a small bill compared with some other types of the same species and this is an adaptation to feeding on the small cones of hemlock trees. This makes it interesting seeing them coping with the relatively heavy cones and seeds of local pine trees [photo by Mike Crewe].

As has become expected during November in recent years, we are currently in the midst of a Cave Swallow invasion and this year is proving to be another impressive one, similar to what we experienced in 2010. Counts of up to 100 birds are coming in on a more or less daily basis, from sites along the tip of the peninsula such as the state park, the meadows, around Cape May Point itself and over Cape May City. A couple of days ago, Tom Reed and I enjoyed listening to the bubbly twitterings of these birds as they fed right over the Hawkwatch Platform. If you look at a distribution map of this species, you will see that it is 'supposed' to occur only in the extreme south-west of North America, but regular incursions of these birds at this time of year suggests that a new strategy has been adopted by this species. Most likely, birds push north at the end of the breeding season - perhaps up the Mississippi flyway - then drift eastward to the coast before returning south and west to their breeding areas. Such strategies allow birds to utilize reliable food sources that might otherwise not be available to them, at a time when feeding opportunities might be sparse 'back home'. Whatever is happening, it is certainly a good time to enjoy these chubby little birds.

Cave Swallow at Cape May Point State Park. Note the deep red forehead which distinguishes the species from Cliff Swallow (the extent of this red rules out Mexican Cliff Swallows too) and the relatively pale, buffy throat which rules out Caribbean Cave Swallows [photo by Mike Crewe].

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Cape May Birding Hotline -- November 15th, 2012

Hotline: Cape May Birding Hotline
To Report: call: (609) 884-2736 or email: coturnicops AT gmail DOT com
Coverage: Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic Counties, NJ
Compiler: Tom Reed


The northern finch invasion continued to steal the spotlight this week. RED CROSSBILL, WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL and EVENING GROSBEAK can still be seen on a daily basis from Cape May Point, with the vast majority being fly-overs. The first two COMMON REDPOLLS of the season were noted from the Cape May Hawk Watch on 11/15. 

Perhaps the rarest two birds of the week were a WHITE-WINGED DOVE* that was seen in the area of Yale and Whilldin Avenues in Cape May Point on 11/10 and 11/11, and a BLACK-HEADED GULL that flew past the Cape May Hawk Watch on 11/8.

November is prime time for CAVE SWALLOWS, and at least 15 were seen from the Cape May Hawk Watch on 11/14, with seven still present on 11/15. At least four BARN SWALLOWS and a single NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW continued to linger at Cape May Point through 11/15.

No "big" western rarities have yet been found in the wake of a strong cold front that passed on 11/13, but a number of interesting passerines were still tallied during the previous week. Two WESTERN KINGBIRDS were seen flying past Cape May Point on 11/9. Lingering warblers included a NASHVILLE WARBLER at Cape May Point State Park on 11/12, CAPE MAY and TENNESSEE WARBLERS in Cape May Point on 11/10, and multiple OVENBIRDS around Cape May Point on 11/10.

A LAPLAND LONGSPUR flew past the Cape May Hawk Watch on 11/9, and 11 SNOW BUNTINGS were seen from the same location on 11/11. A notable 410 AMERICAN PIPITS were on the move over Cape May Point on 11/14.

Highlights from the Avalon Seawatch this week included a RAZORBILL and a RED-NECKED GREBE, both on 11/11. 

Raptor flights have become much lighter, but NORTHERN GOSHAWKS are still being seen on a near-daily basis around Cape Island. A GOLDEN EAGLE quickly passed by the Cape May Hawk Watch on 11/14. 

Late CATTLE EGRETS were discovered at Old Robbins Trail (2), Bohm's Sod Farm and the Cape May Airport on 11/12.

Finally, Cape May Point's resident EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVES* continued to show regularly in the area of Lincoln, Whilldin and Harvard Avenues, though one fell prey to a Cooper's Hawk last weekend. 

  * - denotes a Review List species in New Jersey, as designated by the New Jersey Bird Records Committee (NJBRC). Observers are strongly encouraged to submit documentation of such species to the Committee. Details should be sent to:

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, November 14, 2012

Good birds still hang on

The days may be getting shorter, but Cape May continues to enjoy some great birding - though a bit of rainy weather slowed things for a while yesterday. Although the deluge of birds that poured through Cape May Point a short while ago has slowed to a trickle, there is nevertheless still a trickle. Just this morning, our final Wednesday morning walk of the season began with close-up views of a male Red Crossbill which called overhead then decided to plonk itself down in a pine tree right next to the parking lot and provide some great photo opportunities as well as awesome scope views! Such unplanned moments always stand out as highlights on any walk here. In addition to the crossbill, a large American Pipit movement was taking place, with Tom Reed having counted 325 from the Hawkwatch Platform before 11AM. Red-shouldered Hawks - including some colorful adults - still ply the skies over the point and a Golden Eagle put in an appearance today. Eastern Bluebirds are becoming very noticeable in the area right now - these are traditionally late migrants here - and American Goldfinches are slowly replacing Pine Siskins and Purple Finches at the feeders.

Male Red Crossbill at Cape May Point State Park today. Compare the two photos and look how the bird has opened up the tip of the cone in the bottom picture, compared with how it appeared in the top photograph, taken earlier [photos by Mike Crewe].

Cave Swallows are being seen regularly at several locations - most notably at the Hawkwatch and Avalon Seawatch locations. The latter location has also been producing some nice birds offshore with Red-necked Grebe and Razorbill both reported from there on 11th. The report of an Ovenbird at the Northwood Center was followed by sightings of other Ovenbirds at Hidden Valley and Cape May Point, and James Cremer reported a Rose-breasted Grosbeak at his feeder in Cape May on 14th. A Nashville Warbler was noted at the state park on 12th.

If you are planning to head to Avalon for some seawatching over the coming days, it is worth noting that some good birds seem to be lurking just out there near the horizon somewhere. Tom Johnson sent me this picture of three Dovekies, seen off our coast on Monday and in need of just a little bit of a blow to push them closer to us... [photo by Tom Johnson].

On 12th, Tom Reed and I decided that it really was high time that Cape May had another Northern Lapwing. We scoured as many areas of suitable habitat as we could think of, across the length and breadth of the county but, try as we might though, we couldn't turn one up. It was a fun opportunity to visit some out of the way places though, and we were surprised to turn up four Cattle Egrets - three in Eldora and one near the entrance to Cape May Airport. We also got lucky with flight views of an American Bittern from the causeway near Ocean City.

Cattle Egret gives a horse some food-finding tips at Eldora on 12th. Once a common summer visitor to the area, Cattle Egret numbers declined here from the 1980s onward, but recently have shown another upward trend. Even so, November records remain rare, and a total of four birds at three different locations on Monday was unexpected [photo by Mike Crewe].

Cape May Airport is a regular location for Horned Larks where a small resident population can usually be found by scanning carefully through the fence from near the Flight Deck restaurant. One or two can usually be found, but on 12th, some 35 birds were visible in a sometimes quite noisy feeding flock [photo by Mike Crewe].

The eating of feathers by grebes is well-documented, but not easy to capture on camera. Tiffany Kersten sent me a series of photos of this Pied-billed Grebe eating what appear to be either gull or swan feathers. The full reason for this behavior is not clear, but it is thought that it perhaps aids the passing of fishbones through the bird's digestive tract, or even helps with reducing internal parasites.

Saturday and Monday walks continue through the month, so do come and enjoy November with us - our 'rarity' season, when so many good birds have turned up in the past!!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Three Dove Day

It's not often that you get a three-dove day at Cape May - in fact a four dove day if you count those pigeons that hang out at the bunker in the state park! But today was just such a day, and all three species could be seen from one spot if you positioned yourself right at the intersection of Whilldin and Lincoln Avenues at Cape May Point this morning. A White-winged Dove paraded itself nicely on overhead wires on Whilldin, close to Yale Avenue, while two Eurasian Collared Doves were viewable at the same time just two phone poles down Lincoln Avenue. Actually, it was not a good day for the Eurasian Collared Doves today as one ended up as a meal for an adult Cooper's Hawk this morning. This seems to leave us with a juvenile and a single adult so it will be interesting to see what happens. Bird movements along the dune were quieter this morning than has been the case over the past few days, though a couple of obliging Cave Swallows fed nearby, a Snow Bunting called frequently for a while - though I failed to find it - and there was a good movement of American Pipits. A few White-winged Crossbills were still around with at least one male dropping into the pines between St Mary's and St Peter's and a Pine Warbler added to the ever-growing list of late warblers being found this month. Today's haul also included an Ovenbird at Hidden Valley and a Cape May Warbler in the dunes at the point. A female Evening Grosbeak flying over the White-winged Dove this morning did set us pondering on how often you get a chance to see those two species at the same time!!

The local Mourning Doves at Cape May Point have no doubt seen it all before - birdwatchers only showing an interest in them when other doves show up in town! Note the typically rather long and pointed tail of this individual [photo by Mike Crewe].
Dove number two - the Eurasian Collared Doves at Cape May Point turned up in July 2011 and remain faithful to a block either way from the intersection of Whilldin and Lincoln Avenues. Note here the relatively shorter tail compared with Mourning Dove [photo by Mike Crewe].

Today's White-winged Dove, wide awake after an early morning preen. Note the relatively short tail and the bold white wing flash [photo by Mike Crewe].
Feeders continue to produce surprises at Cape May - this Ovenbird was first spotted by Todd Klein at the Northwood Center feeders yesterday [photo by Mike Crewe].
Must do better! My best shot so far of an Evening Grosbeak at Cape May Point leaves something to be desired, but I put it up here to spur you all on to get a better shot of a Cape May Evening Grosbeak at your own feeders! [Photo by Mike Crewe]
There is always something new to be learnt from birds. The big influx of Purple Finches has set me pondering on how you age and sex non-breeding-plumaged males in this species and I have so far discovered that none of the field guides I have tackles the problem. I feel another blog post coming on... [photo by Mike Crewe].

Friday, November 9, 2012

Yard feeders and more good birds

Good birds continue to arrive in our area, with Tom Reed reporting a Black-headed Gull from the Hawkwatch yesterday. Though records for Cape May of this species span right through from August to April, most records seem typically to be in late winter/early spring and this bird may have been a late 'casualty' of Hurricane Sandy. Of similar interest came a belated report at the Northwood Center yesterday of a Sooty Tern, seen flying north along the beachfront in Cape May on 5th - we await further details but again, it is likely a straggler from the storm. Also belatedly, photos materialized of a Bell's Vireo, seen by visitng birders at Higbee beach on September 13th and 14th. A link between the Black-headed Gull and North Jersey comes in Sam Galick. Sam was in Mercer County on 8th and found a Northern Lapwing - always a spectacular bird to see. He drove down to Cape May to show his pictures to Tom Reed and promptly photographed the gull!! Some guys get all the luck!

Black-headed Gull over the Cape May Hawkwatch - note the extensively dark underwing [photo by Sam Galick].

Three pictures of the Northern Lapwing at Mercer Corporate Park in Allentown, Mercer County yesterday - a dream bird to find in New Jersey! [Photos by Sam Galick].

The Cape May Point dunes continue to provide a major flightline for passage migrants and, though this morning saw a definite drop in numbers, there was still much to enjoy. Highlight was the two Western Kingbirds seen at various locations, though neither bird settled. Scott Whittle reported a Snow Bunting on one of the stone jetties at St Mary's and there was a good flight of American Pipits and Eastern Bluebirds taking place. A White-winged Scoter continues to hang out around the jetties off Coral Avenue. A scattering of Snow Bunting reports have been received from coastal locations over the past few days and one or two Cave Swallows continue to move past the Avalon Seawatch

Backyard feeders continue to support good numbers of Pine Siskins and Purple Finches and several local birders are reporting encounters with Evening Grosbeaks, though they don't seem to be hanging around for long. Perhaps most accessible was one at Bill and Eddie Schul's feeder on the corner of Cambridge and Coral at Cape May Point yesterday, though there has so far been no sighting of it there today. Other feeder surprises include a male Yellow-headed Blackbird at CMBO's Goshen Center and an American Tree Sparrow on Seagrove Avenue on 7th and a female Dickcissel in Cape May.

Exciting feeder birds may not be rare, just unexpected - such as this adult male Rose-breasted Grosbeak still in glorious breeding plumage at Karl Lukens' feeder this week [photo by Karl Lukens].

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The very best of days...

It is just possible that Cape May's birding community might get some sleep at some point over the next few days, for there has certainly been very little since Hurricane Sandy bid us farewell and November showed up. Why? Well, simply because the birding has been so amazingly good! No-one has wanted to miss a second in the field - and those who did, whether through tardiness or due to other committments - had to take it on the chin and miss a bird or two.

It is hard to be absolutely clear what has happened this past few days, but it seems to me to be a combination of two things; firstly, a massive crop failure of a number of boreal tree species, resulting in an unprecedented (at least in recent years) southward movement of more northerly bird species (particularly nuthatches and finches). Secondly, this movement was interrupted by weather patterns associated with Hurricane Sandy and a more northerly low which joined forces to create the huge storm that we have all been following in the media. Post Sandy, southward migration through Cape May Point has been spectacular and this is likely due to the back log of birds starting to move again now that the weather has improved - and our local situation has been helped by the NW windflow that has kept birds coming this way.

So what has this meant for Cape May? Well, unlike the fabulous fall of sparrows that took place in late October 2010, early November 2012 has seen birders keeping an eye on the sky, as it has been the onward movement of day migrants that has been so impressive. American Robins, Cedar Waxwings, blackbirds and finches have formed the bulk of activity, while raptors have also come into the picture over the last 48 hours. I managed to extract some data from eBird on some of the more noticeable bird species involved in recent movements, so here's some reported figures for early November (all figures are for counts of southbound birds made at regular watchpoints at the dune-crossovers at the south end of Cape May Point):

Cedar Waxwing - 5,000 on 2nd, 3,000 on 3rd.
American Robin - 44,000 on 2nd, 100,000 on 3rd.
Pine Siskin - 2,940 on 1st, 4,740 on 2nd, 4,000 on 3rd, 600 on 4th.
American Goldfinch - 700 on 1st, 800 on 2nd, 1,200 on 3rd.
Purple Finch - 125 on 1st, 150 on 2nd, 1,000 on 3rd, 200 on 4th.
Red Crossbill - Eight on 2nd, 14 on 3rd.
White-winged Crossbill - Nine on 2nd, 360 on 3rd, 52 on 4th.
Evening Grosbeak - 16 on 3rd.
Red-winged Blackbird - 2,500 on 2nd, 15,000 on 3rd.
Rusty Blackbird - 75 on 3rd.

Note that I have here listed only the species of greatest interest (many other species were involved in smaller numbers) and then only the higher counts; smaller numbers of all species were noted on other dates too. I have included the goldfinch counts for comparison with the siskin numbers as normally one would expect goldfinches to far outnumber siskins here.

Of particular interest here are the White-winged Crossbill numbers which far exceed any numbers ever recorded here before, while Evening Grosbeaks are being reported in small numbers daily around the county are represent the first reports here since 1999.

While eyes are turned to the skies, we can't fail but notice the impressive raptor migration which has taken place this past couple of days - and continues as I write. Keep an eye for updated figures on our Seasonal Research page. As of now, data is available up to November 4th, showing an impressive movement of 14 Golden Eagles, 233 Red-shouldered Hawks, 428 Red-tailed Hawks, nine Northern Goshawks, 60 Northern Harriers and 919 Sharp-shinned Hawks. The Golden Eagle count ties for highest day count while the Red-shoulder count is a new highest day count (PS - once data for 5th is up, you will see that the Red-shoulder record only lasted a day!).

Also of interest - if you can take any more! - nine species of warbler have so far been noted during November, up to three Eurasian Wigeon have been noted on Lighthouse Pond, a scattering of Cave Swallows continues to be reported and a Swainson's Hawk continues to be reported, currently at the Rea Farm. After all that wordy stuff, here's some pictures from the last few days:

White-winged Crossbills have certainly been one of the star attractions this week. After several days of southward movement, a few finally began to settle briefly in the Japanese Black Pines around Cape May Point, including this superb, raspberry-pink male [photo by Kevin Karlson].

Female and juvenile White-winged Crossbills are less gaudy and easily overlooked amongst green foliage. This individual was lurking in the trees at the point on the 3rd [photo by Tiffany Kersten].

From below, the wingbars of White-winged Crossbills are not noticeable, but note this male's pinkish underparts, relatively small bill (for a crossbill) and dark underwing [photo by Sam Galick].

Cape May birders have waited a long time for this - White-winged Crossbills flocking past Cape May Point! [Photo by Sam Galick]

Along with the crossbills came perhaps even more spectacular birds - Evening Grosbeaks. This group of eight was part of a total of 16 birds logged passing the point on November 3rd [photo by Sam Galick].

Two Evening Grosbeaks show off their distinctive white wing and tail patches and heavy bills [photo by Sam Galick].

While counting the big numbers of commoner species, there is always those little additionals to keep an eye out for. This Eastern Meadowlark came and gave us all a close look on November 2nd [photo by Tiffany Kersten].

While birds stream overhead, you have to keep an eye on the bushes too. This Blue-headed Vireo paused in a Black Cherry right beside us on the 3rd [photo by Sam Galick].

Also passing the group counting migrants on November 3rd, this Franklin's Gull was first reported by Tom Reed as it flew past the Hawkwatch Platform and was subsequently seen from other locations as it headed around the point [top two photos by Sam Galick, bottom by Tiffany Kersten].

A new day record was twice set this week for Red-shouldered Hawk and movements included some fabulous adults, such as this one [photo by Tiffany Kersten].

Always much sought-after on Fall, Swainson's Hawks are pretty much annual at Cape May, given the right weather conditions to drift them across from the west. This bird appeared over Cape May Point on November 4th, was trapped by the hawk-banding team later that day and continues at the Rea Farm today [photo by Mike Crewe].

Though sparrows have not featured so much in our blog posts lately, the fields and hedges south of Cape May Canal are worth searching as there are plenty around. In particular, it has been a good Fall so far for Vesper Sparrows, such as this one which was by the Cape May lighthouse on the 5th. Note the overall pale coloration with lack of warm tones and the well-marked eyering [photo by Mike Crewe].

White-crowned Sparrows are showing up in good numbers at the moment - these were two of six at my feeders on the 5th. The front bird is of interest as it bears a band on its right leg and shows at least some characteristics of the more westerly form, known as Gambel's White-crowned Sparrow, though it may just be an intergrade between the two populations [photo by Mike Crewe].

This bird was on Stevens Street on the 5th and is more obviously a Gambel's White-crowned Sparrow, showing the pale lores without a dark line from eye to bill, and a more yellowish tinge to its bill [photo by Michael O'Brien].

Purple Finches are perhaps the most regular of the northern finches to reach south into Cape May during fall/winter, but a good year such as this usually guarantees us a few more of the pink-tinged adult males - keep an eye out for them at your feeders [photo by Mike Crewe].

Feeder watching has its merits when looking for scarcer birds too - Scarlet Tanager is a common bird at Cape May but November records are always worth reporting, and worth checking for Western Tanager. On this first-winter male, note the contrast between the newly-molted black, inner greater coverts and the grayer, outer ones, which also have small yellowish tips. This bird was feeding on Siberian Crab Apples with American Robins on Harvard Avenue on November 3rd [Photo by Mike Crewe].