Thursday, October 31, 2013

Cape May - it's all about the people too...

We all know that Cape May is all about the birds; the awesome spectacles of migration that we get through here spring and fall are certainly what bring people here in the first place. But part of what keeps people coming back to Cape May is, well, the people. The friendships that start between birders at Cape May can last a lifetime and there surely can be no better place to enjoy great birding and great cameraderie than the Cape May Point Hawkwatch Platform at the state park.

This last couple of days has certainly seen a dramatic fall off in numbers of visitors, as the season 'officially' ends after Autumn Weekend - or does it? Visitors certainly drift away, but there's still plenty of good birding to be had and there's still a great hardcore of locals, as well as visiting birders who stay to enjoy what nature decides to offer us through November.

So what of the people who are still here at Cape May? Well, here's just a few of them....

Don't believe that the birding ends when the birders go home. Late October sees the Avalon Seawatch only just warming up and numbers of ducks are likely to increase as we head into November. Tuesday saw an ever-growing clan of birders gathering at the intersection of 1st Avenue and 7th Street to watch a spectacular movement of birds, including over 50,000 scoter [photo by Mike Crewe].

In contrast to the seawatch, the hawkwatch starts to wind down around now and the CMBO Hawk Counter can cut a lonely figure at times - though it's always nice to be out to enjoy another glowing Cape May sunrise [photo by Mike Crewe].

I guess a whole season at the hawkwatch can turn people a bit peculiar! The wonderful Emilys did us proud as Interpretive Naturalists throughout September and October, but turned into a murder of crows for Halloween!!! [Photo by Mike Crewe]

And, well, I guess a whole season as Hawk Counter can do strange things to a person too... [photo by Mike Crewe]

The Autumn Weekend gave some of us a great opportunity to engage with some of the very youngest birders in Cape May - the generation that holds the future of our environment in their hands. I was delighted to have young Sophia Nemeth draw a portrait of me during one of my Higbee Beach walks so, since I never seem to post pictures of myself - here's my portrait. Happy Halloween!!
In case you think it's all over.... OK, not a spectacular shot, but we did get better looks through the scopes!! With a lot of squinting and much imagination, you might just be able to make out a Ross's Goose in the middle of this line of 11 Snow Geese which flew up the Delaware Bay today (hint: it's the little one in the middle!). Though it might seem odd, November is our best month for rarities at Cape May, so there's still plenty of good birding to be had - watch this space... [photo by Mike Crewe]

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Another Awesome Autumn

Judging by the happy faces that are still hanging out around the point, New Jersey Audubon and Cape May Bird Observatory put together another fantastic Autumn Weekend this year. The new Convention Hall over on the beach is proving to be an excellent venue for a great range of vendors and suppliers to engage with birders and anyone else in town - but for many, it was the coming together of ideal weather conditions that really made sure that the party went off in the best way possible. A perfect run of light north-westerlies brought us plenty of birds on Friday, and Higbee Beach and Cape May Point swarmed with Yellow-rumped Warblers, kinglets and an amazing array of sparrows. With clear skies encouraging some of these to move on, attention switched to the skies as a raptor show took off that proved to be better than we could have hoped for. Not only did a nice run of fine adult Cooper's and Sharp-shinned Hawks come our way, but Red-shouldered Hawks decided it was time to get moving too - and many of them were brightly-colored adults also. Peregrines and Merlins raked across the dunes, Northern Harriers - sometimes three or four at a time - hunted over the cattails and there can be barely a soul who didn't manage to latch onto at least one of the multiple Golden Eagles that drifted right overhead!

The Avalon Seawatch provided much to enjoy - and will continue to do so for many weeks yet; several days recently have seen counts of scoters exceeding 20,000 birds, while the first Harlequin Ducks of the season showed up on Monday (just too late for the weekend list!).

Cape May's Autumn Weekend always brings many birders to the point, giving plenty of opportunity to catch up on gossip, share a beer or two and tell tall tales. Once the visitors have drifted away though, it always seems to take a few days to get back into the old routine and the Rea Farm seemed a very quiet place as just a tiny handful of us gathered to try and get views of a very elusive Sedge Wren today. Good birding will continue at Cape May right into winter so we look forward to seeing you here again soon!

 It's always a fun part of the weekend to put together a list of all the species seen around the area over the three days of our walks, workshops and boat trips. So here is the official list of species reported to us during Friday-Sunday:

Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Wood Duck
Eurasian Wigeon
American Wigeon
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Lesser Scaup
Surf Scoter
White-winged Scoter
Black Scoter
Long-tailed Duck
Hooded Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Northern Gannet
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Cormorant
American Bittern
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Tricolored Heron
Cattle Egret
Black-crowned Night Heron
Glossy Ibis
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Swainson's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Golden Eagle
Virginia Rail
American Coot
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
American Oystercatcher
Greater Yellowlegs
Western Willet
Lesser Yellowlegs
Marbled Godwit
Ruddy Turnstone
Red Knot
Least Sandpiper
White-rumped Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper
Purple Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Long-billed Dowitcher
Wilson's Snipe
American Woodcock
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Caspian Tern
Forster's Tern
Royal Tern
Black Skimmer
Parasitic Jaeger
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel
Eastern Phoebe
White-eyed Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Fish Crow
Tree Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Barn Swallow
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
House Wren
Winter Wren
Marsh Wren
Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
American Pipit
Cedar Waxwing
Lapland Longspur
Black-and-white Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Cape May Warbler
Northern Parula
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Palm Warbler
Pine Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Yellow-breasted Chat
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Clay-colored Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Seaside Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Scarlet Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Blue Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Rusty Blackbird
Common Grackle
Boat-tailed Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
Purple Finch
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Total = 169 species

Friday, October 25, 2013

Swainson's Hawk stops by...

Right on cue for New Jersey Audubon's Autumn Weekend, something special stopped by to wish us well - a Swainson's Hawk, which put on a spectacular display for the assembled masses for two days before setting its sights on Delaware and heading out across the bay. Swainson's Hawks are common raptors west of the Mississippi, from where they should head south on a long, long migration that takes them right down into southern South America. However, the westerly airflows that often predominate at this time of year can push one or two birds over to the east coast and this species is almost annual at Cape May; indeed, some years there may be several.

A dark morph bird that passed our way a few days ago didn't hang out too long at Cape May Point, but this weekend's bird was much more obliging, as it visited the Hawkwatch Platform area several times on Friday, then excelled itself today by spinning around on a thermal over The Beanery with both a Bald and a Golden Eagle!

The Bird Show looks set to continue tomorrow, with ideal migration conditions forecast for overnight. If you're in town, I suggest being out early tomorrow morning to enjoy the show - then hurry along to Cape May Convention Hall on Beach Avenue to enjoy all the indoor events, vendors and fun that can be found there.

Dull gray skies and the fact that it was late in the day didn't help me to achieve mind-blowing shots of such a fabulous bird as this Swainson's Hawk, but you get the idea! [Photos by Mike Crewe]
Swainson's Hawks are very elegant Buteos - long-winged, long-tailed and with a narrow 'hand'. Light morph juveniles like this one tend to have a warm, rusty wash to the underparts [photo by Mike Crewe].

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Cape May has birds - though one of our warblers is missing...

Now that we are in the final countdown for the awesome Cape May Autumn Weekend, it's great to be able to report that the weather forecast still looks pretty darned good for the coming few days; it's also great to be able to report that Cape May has birds. The radar for much of last night was showing a spectacular nocturnal movement of birds down the eastern seaboard of the USA; and with the movement continuing at dawn, it was clearly going to be a great day to be out in the field. I had time to squeeze in a quick run around the fields at Higbee Beach first thing, where Megan and I ran into some happy birders enjoying what seemed like a blizzard of Yellow-rumped Warblers, raining down from above and forging their way through the bushes and hedgelines. Around the fields, bundles of streaky brown sparrows scuttled for cover as we walked slowly along, giving us plenty of opportunity to get frustrated! Among the mass of Field, Swamp and White-throated Sparrows, we did chance across one Lincoln's Sparrow - never a common migrant here, as well as a super-blue male Indigo Bunting.

Late morning today was dominated by some fabulous raptor movements, in particular kettles of Turkey Vultures that have been bringing a number of Bald Eagles and at least one Golden Eagle to the point. A light morph Swainson's Hawk was also reported from Cape Island Preserve, a small property owned by The Nature Conservancy that can be accessed from the East end of Wilson Street, off Broadway in West Cape May. Being a light-plumaged bird, this is clearly not the Swainson's Hawk that was here last week, so chalk up another one for the point. The backbays are warming up in good time for our boat trips that will be taking place as part of the weekend festivities; up at the Wetlands Institute, up to eight Marbled Godwits have been roosting at high tide with Western Willets and Greater Yellowlegs, while a party of four Purple Sandpipers turned up at the Avalon Seawatch today - reminding us that the seawatch is well worth a visit right now, with over 20,000 scoter logged there on both of the last two days.

Just to show that it is not all laid out quite so easily for you, an elusive hummingbird has been lurking along Coral Avenue at Cape May Point for two days now and still not revealed its full identity. The mass of orange in its plumage shows it to be a Selasphorus hummingbird (sorry for the technical jargon!) which essentially means that it is either a Rufous or an Allen's - but we need super good views of the tail feathers to work out which one... Who's up to the challenge?!

So, why do I say one of our warblers is missing? Well, there can be no better indication of the sheer tenacity of migrant birds than when one survives being blown off course across an entire ocean. News that a Cape May Warbler has just been seen at the very northern tip of the British Isles, in the Shetland Islands, just shows what incredible survivors these birds are. We may have lost a warbler, but we are currently gaining birds from all points north - here comes the weekend!!!

Appearing in a yard near you - Hermit Thrushes arrive late in Cape May and many stay for most of the winter. Look for these birds in the darker, shady recesses of your yard and expect to see them where there are plenty of berries to be eaten [photo by Mike Crewe].

Appearing over the lighthouse right now! Iconic Cape May - a lighthouse, a bright blue sky with North-west wind - and a kettle of raptors on the move [photo by Mike Crewe].

Appearing in the skies right overhead - though Turkey Vultures are common birds around here for most of the year, southerly movements of birds do occur at Cape May and can be pretty impressive at times. If you come across such groups of large, dark raptors, check through them carefully for something different... [photo by Mike Crewe].

Appearing in a vulture kettle near you? There's something special about the appearance of a Golden Eagle over Cape May Point that certainly gets the pulse racing and gets birders out on the street. This bird was a very special one here as it was a new 'yard bird' for Bill and Edie Schuhl. Bill and Edie do staggering amounts of volunteering for CMBO, as well as for other organizations, and have been leaders in establishing prime wildlife habitat at the point. So it was with much pride that I was able to show them this bird and repay them in gold for some of their time - thanks guys! [Photo by Mike Crewe]

And finally, its been an interesting fall so far for Painted Lady butterflies; despite a very quiet year for this species here at Cape May, we are only just now seeing an interesting influx of these insects, which are most likely heading south to kick start another generation down in the Gulf of Mexico and get the ball rolling for next year. Painted Ladies have no overwintering survival strategy and the species survives by retreating south for the winter, from where future generations will eventually recolonize the north next year [photo by Mike Crewe].

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

October + Light Rain = Birds

Another drizzly October day befell Cape May today, but it was - perhaps predictably - a great day to be birding in Cape May. Though the skies over the Hawkwatch Platform were pretty bereft of life for much of the day, those visiting the site found plenty to enjoy - including folks attending our Wednesday walk this morning. First light found us in a parking lot filled with birds, with busy parties of Yellow-rumped Warblers and White-throated Sparrows working their way through the vegetation and smaller numbers of Chipping, White-crowned and Field Sparrows mixed in for good measure. The beginnings of a great day for watching Black and Surf Scoters was witnessed at the state park and last I heard, well over 20,000 had been logged at the Avalon Seawatch (and that was at 1PM, so I am certain there will have been more).

Though some heavier spells of rain detered a few watchers, those that persevered during brighter spells found a nice range of goodies; Clay-colored Sparrows were reported from the Hawkwatch and Cox Hall Creek WMA and the day ended with a Rufous/Allen's Hummingbird on Coral Avenue at Cape May Point. Such hummers are always annoying; by the realms of probability, it's likely to be a Rufous, but if you don't get the right look at the tail, you really can't quite be certain. There's been a lot of interest in hummingbirds since the Calliope was posted on the blog, which has been useful as it has turned up a number of late Ruby-throateds, as well as at least two Rufous Hummers.

The sight of gray, rainy skies over Cape May might not get you immediately rushing to get down here, but just take a look at the current weather forecast for the coming weekend - clear skies, NW winds - sounds good for birding, sounds great for CMBO's Autumn Weekend - come and be a part of The Bird Show!!

On a slightly different note, I had a phone call from Will Kerling today, informing me of some great news - just this week, Will had added a Sleepy Orange to the remarkable list of butterfly species that have been recorded at CMBO's Center for Research and Education in Goshen. Since observations started there, this represents the 64th butterly species to be recorded and testament to the great efforts put in by staff and volunteers to provide a great habitat for butterflies and other wildlife.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

From Big Sit to Big Fall.

As mentioned in an earlier post, last Sunday (13th) saw the annual Big Sit! event taking place across North America. Cape May has a proud history in this event and valiant efforts were made once again by Cape May's birders. It's fair to say, however, that this year saw the weather conspiring against Cape May getting a good total and, while watchers were present at the Hawkwatch Platform for some 23 hours on the day, the total of around 118 species is well below the figure hoped for. Of course, 118 species represents a great day in the field for most people, but we get a little spoilt here and, having achieved well into the 140s in the past, this year's count was a tad disappointing.

With the past week continuing to provide mediocre conditions for a Cape May bonanza, it was with great excitement that we headed out into the field this morning - for the weather conditions looked ideal. And ideal they proved to be! Late October looms upon us and the desire to be outside is getting harder and harder to resist. As I sit typing with the window ajar, there's a cacophony of White-throated Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, Eastern Phoebe, Golden-crowned Kinglet and Yellow-rumped Warbler calls going on, tempting me to go and investigate.

A quick scout around the Northwood Center premises this morning, followed by a quick walk to the end of the road and back revealed even more birds this morning. Dominant among the busily feeding masses were White-throated Sparrows and Ruby-crowned Kinglets; the former kicking up the leaf litter, the latter flitting through every cedar along the street. Among them was so much more: Field, Chipping, White-crowned, Swamp and Song Sparrows, Eastern Towhees, Dark-eyed Juncos, Winter and House Wrens, Eastern Phoebes, Hermit Thrushes, Brown Thrashers and Gray Catbirds. Even warblers were well represented with seven species being logged, while several Brown Creepers worked the tree trunks along with Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and Downy Woodpeckers. Unfortunately, the north-west winds that had brought us these birds were soon deflected by south-easterlies, swirling off a weather system that brought us some light drizzle and put paid to a good raptor flight. But, tomorrow looks good too, with north-west winds set to return so, well, you know what to do - see you in Cape May tomorrow, because there will be birds!!

Typically on a day when there is a good number of birds around, little in the way of real rarities was reported. However, I did hear of a Swainson's Hawk which was hanging out beside Ocean Drive, just south of the Grassy Sound toll bridge, south of Nummy's Island. If north-west winds whip up again tomorrow, we could see that bird appearing at Cape May Point...

Black-crowned Night Herons circle Cape May Point as the sun sets on another fun Big Sit! at the Cape May Hawkwatch Platform [photo by Mike Crewe].

As the sun disappears, we are left to watch birds drift pass a rising moon. Here, Great and Snowy Egrets head out over Delaware Bay, part of a wonderul movement of herons and egrets that took place at Cape May Point on October 13th [photo by Mike Crewe].

For the best experiences of Cape May birding, you need to be out before the cars and dog walkers force tired and hungry migrants off the roadsides. Grassy edges with leaf litter were alive with activity early this morning as mixed flocks of sparrows smothered the ground [photo by Mike Crewe]. 

While sparrows did the ground work, Ruby-crowned Kinglets were hyperactive in seemingly every tree at the point today [photo by Mike Crewe].

Just one day later than last year, a Blue-headed Vireo popped up right outside my office window. Others were reported from Cape May Point today [photo by Mke Crewe].

And if you are in town this weekend, don't forget the old regulars - our male Eurasian Wigeon continues to commute between the state park and TNC's South Cape May Meadows, with the latter mostly being favored of late [photo by Mike Crewe].

Monday, October 14, 2013

Calliope Hummingbird

It's official - Michael O'Brien doesn't play fair!! What would we all give to have Michael's sharpness of ear and keenness of eye? And also his ability seemingly to never sleep and always be working the local patch. Michael was driving (yes, he even finds rare birds when he's driving!) along Lighthouse Avenue and paused just for a second to check for butterflies at the small triangle garden on the corner of Lighthouse and Coral - when he heard a Calliope Hummingbird calling. That's right, not seen, heard calling!

This gem of the Western US spent time feeding at the wonderful clumps of Pineapple Sage that grow along the edge of the triangle garden, just behind the Cape May Point boat that adorns this corner of Lighthouse Avenue. Between feeding sessions, it perched high in Persimmons and oaks on either side of Lighthouse and Coral Avenues. If you are looking for this bird tomorrow, be sure to park wisely and be mindful of traffic coming into the north end of Coral Avenue from Lighthouse Avenue.

This individual is only the seventh Calliope Hummingbird to be found in New Jersey and the fifth for Cape May County, with all records to date occurring in October or November. Compared with Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Calliope is even smaller, being just 3.25 inches long (compared with 3.75 inches for Ruby-throated), but at least some of this difference in size is due to Calliope's relatively shorter tail and bill. It is amazing to imagine a bird, weighing in at just one tenth of an ounce, heading all this way from breeding grounds in western North America - Calliopes breed from southern British Columbia, south to eastern California and Utah and breed no closer to New Jersey than Western Wyoming; they are essentially a bird from West of the Rockies. Their migration takes them south to the Pacific slope of southern Mexico for the winter.

Two pictures (above) of today's Calliope Hummingbird at Cape May Point, with one picture (below) of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird for comparison. Identification of the smaller hummingbirds can be very difficult in the field but, comparing the two species here, note the Calliope's relatively finer bill and shorter tail. Note also that Ruby-throated has a solidly black loral area between the eye and bill, while Calliope has a small but diagnostic white stripe above the gape line at the base of the bill [photos by Mike Crewe].

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Week in review: 5 – 11 October, 2013

CMBO is pleased to provide weekly summaries of the Cape's birding highlights. Coverage is limited to sightings in Cape May County. Readers should keep in mind that some reports may not be confirmed. Information and photos that may be of use for weekly summaries should be emailed to compiler Tom Reed (coturnicops at gmail dot com). 

The period began with an increasing southerly flow, ahead of a strong cold front that cleared Cape May during the evening hours 7 Oct. Cooler temperatures and NE winds followed behind the front, with a coastal storm affecting the area 9-11 Oct. Migration was generally unremarkable throughout, though a good hawk flight occurred 5 Oct and decent numbers of songbirds and wading birds were present during the coastal storm. Birders reported 219 species to eBird during the period. Notable birds included Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Goshawk, American Avocet, Baird's Sandpiper, Black Tern, and Clay-colored Sparrow.

The male Eurasian Wigeon continued at CMPSP throughout, with sightings during recent days at Bunker Pond (m. ob.). Small flights of dabbling ducks and scoters occurred at ASW most days (CB, TM). The week's best Double-crested Cormorant flight entailed 6,448 individuals tabulated at ASW 8 Oct (CB).  Twelve Brown Pelicans were noted at ASW 5 Oct (CB). Noticeable movements of wading birds occurred during the coastal storm 9-11 Oct, with dozens of Black-crowned Night-Herons and Great Blue Herons at Cape May Point, along with two Tricolored Herons at CMPSP 10 Oct (TR). The week's only 1000+ hawk flight occurred 5 Oct, and featured an early Northern Goshawk, a season-high 173 Peregrine Falcons, 120 Ospreys, and 196 Cooper's Hawks (TR). Another 127 Peregrines were tallied at CMHW 7 Oct (TM).

Sora reports came from CMPSP and SCMM this week (v. ob.). Lingering Piping Plovers were noted at the north end of Avalon 8 Oct (fide MO'B) and at Stone Harbor Point 6 Oct (JC). At least one American Golden-Plover was viewed at SCMM through 9 Oct (m. ob.). The American Avocet at CMPSP was last seen 5 Oct (TR, LZ, et al.), and at least three Marbled Godwits were in the area of the Wetlands Institute most of the period (v. ob.). One or more Baird's Sandpipers and multiple White-rumped Sandpipers were viewed at SCMM and CMPSP 10-11 Oct (MeC, TR et al.). Recent rainfall eliminated much of the shorebird habitat at both locations. A Long-billed Dowitcher was seen at SCMM 11 Oct (MO'B). A late Black Tern was noted in the "rips" off Cape May Point 6 Oct (RC). At least 53 Parasitic Jaegers were viewed during an impressive southbound movement out of Delaware Bay 7 Oct (MO'B, SG et al.).

At least two Eurasian Collared-Doves continued at Cape May Point throughout (m. ob.). A Red-headed Woodpecker was viewed from the Higbee Dike 6 Oct (SG). Northern Rough-winged Swallows continued to be seen daily at CMPSP (m. ob.), and two Cliff Swallows were at SCMM 11 Oct (MiC). Five Bicknell's Thrush flight calls were recorded over Cape May City on the evening of 8 Oct (MO'B). Songbird flights at the Higbee Dike continued to be fairly light. Highlights from the dike this week included 1,054 Yellow-rumped Warblers, 108 Northern Parulas, and 461 Blackpoll Warblers 8 Oct, and single Dickcissels Oct 5 and 6 (SG). A Dickcissel appeared at CMHW 10-11 Oct (m. ob.). Two Clay-colored Sparrows and a Nelson's Sparrow were noted at SCMM 11 Oct (MO'B). Additional Clay-colored Sparrow reports came from Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary 10 Oct (MeC et al.) and St. Mary's at Cape May Point 8 Oct (MP).

Observers/contributors: Calvin Brennan, Megan Crewe (MeC), Mike Crewe (MiC), Jacob Cuomo, Richard Crossley, Vince Elia, Sam Galick, Tom Magarian, Michael O'Brien, Mike Pasquarello, Tom Reed, Louise Zemaitis.

Location Abbreviations: ASW (Avalon Seawatch), CMHW (Cape May Hawk Watch), CMPSP (Cape May Pt. State Park), Higbee Dike (raised dredge spoil berm at n. end of Higbee Beach WMA), SCMM (South Cape May Meadows) 

Things to do on a rainy day - Part 2

Well, after suggesting a whole range of ideas for things to do indoors on a rainy day, luckily a lot of people ignored me and went outside! I say luckily, because Cape May has been over-flowing with birds this week and all it takes is a few extra layers of clothes and some hot coffee and the rewards are there to be enjoyed. The presence of so many birds may seem non-intuitive since it is reasonable to think that birds won't be migrating during such blustery conditions. However, when we get a north-easterly like we have just experienced (and are still experiencing as I write!) it is not unusual to find birds caught up in the weather pattern and finding themselves unceremonially dumped at Cape May Point. Some interesing nocturnal heron flights have been taking place this week and, this morning, at least 30 Black-crowned Night Herons were roosting in trees at Lake Lily, while a Least Bittern was reported from the South Cape May Meadows - the first of this rapidly declining species that I have heard of south of the canal this year. To witness the spectacle of heron and egret flight, I would suggest trying one of the Cape May Point dune crossovers at either dawn or dusk and just keep an eye on the sky.

Yesterday saw something of a 'Patagonia Picnic Table Effect' at The Meadows. It's a long story but essentially, a rare bird was once found at some picnic tables near Patagonia, Arizona; in the following days, birders travelling there to look for this bird, progressively found other rarities at the same site. There were no rarities as such found at the Meadows, but a nice run of birds was turned up by those seeking earlier finds. Michael O'Brien set the ball rolling with reports of a Long-billed Dowitcher, two Clay-colored Sparrows and a Nelson's Sparrow along the East Trail. Those heading out for these turned up Greater Scaup, 20+ Pectoral Sandpipers, single Baird's and White-rumped Sandpipers, two Wilson's Snipe and two Cliff Swallows - a pretty good list of birds! The hawkwatch has been quiet, as one might expect, but with a lot less rain so far today, American Kestrels, Merlins and Peregrines have been readily viewable. The Eurasian Wigeon remains on Bunker Pond and the House Sparrow flock in front of the Hawkwatch Platform currently holds Eastern Towhee, White-crowned Sparrow and a very obliging Dickcissel. Yesterday, Cox Hall Creek WMA was full of birds, including Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Baltimore Oriole.

Almost expected at this time of year, the Northwood Center is holding good numbers of warblers and other songbird migrants. I heard of a late Cape May Warbler today, while Nashville, Black-throated Blue and Black-throated Green Warblers are all still present among the parties of Blackpoll and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets and more. Both Winter and House Wrens have been at Northwood this week and a small influx of Brown Creepers took place mid-week.

The backbays have been interesting recently, at least in part due to the weather keeping water in the channels and providing some very high tides. It's been a good time to see Seaside Sparrows and both species of night heron out on the marshes, while a couple of late Whimbrels were reported today. What little habitat remains on the barrier islands is also worth checking - such as the small bird reserves at Stone Harbor, Avalon and Ocean City.

Heron migration is always spectacular to watch when these large birds are moving in good numbers. Here, part of a large flock of Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons heads out over Delaware Bay against a moody sky [photo by Mike Crewe].
Sparrow flocks are worth studying during October and early November as a wide range of species will be passing through. This smart White-crowned Sparrow spent today feeding right in front of the Hawkwatch Platform [photo by Mike Crewe].

This Dickcissel also spent the day at the Hawkwatch. The similarity of feather colors and markings between Dickcissels and House Sparrows - shown here - is really remarkable, given that the two species are not that closely related to each other [photo by Mike Crewe].

Despite the great birding to be had outside, work schedules dictated that I had much to do indoors today. Thankfully though, my old faithful window came up trumps and offered me this superb Black-throated Green Warbler - life can be tough sometimes! [Photo by Mike Crewe]

As an added incentive to be outside tomorrow, you can make your mark by paying a visit to the Hawkwatch Platform, for Sunday, October 13th will be the day that Cape May birders put in their effort for The Big Sit! This competition is an annual event run for fun, sponsored by Swarovski Optik and hosted by Birdwatcher's Digest. Cape May has a fine track record in this competition so come and check out how the list is going through the course of the day and, if you don't think you can contribute a bird to the list, how about some cookies or coffee?!!! See you at the platform....

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Things to do on a rainy day

October is the month that, for me at least, really signifies fall; with autumn colors now tinting the trees and temperatures dropping, certain sounds begin to resonate in my ears; White-throated Sparrows contacting each other with sharp, discordant tseeps, from hedge bottoms; Golden-crowned Kinglets revealing their presence with a penetrating see-see-see and the soft tupp calls of Yellow-rumped Warblers just about everywhere you walk.

Coats, hats and scarves come out of their enforced aestivation, iced tea gives way to hot coffee and, before you know it, we're all gearing up for the main event of the year - CMBO's Autumn Birding Festival. As ever, this wonderful, annual celebration of birding in Cape May has a lot to offer - as demonstrated by the number of people who come back year after year; a chance to meet up with old friends, catch up on all the bird gossip and - of course - some great opportunities for being right on the spot while the pure exuberance of fall migration takes place all around.

But until we get there, we have the rest of October to fill all our birding desires so what to do over the next few days... Well, there's a catch, since Mother Nature has seen fit to mix up a whole swirly mess of clouds, wind and rain, which is bound to put a dint in the spirits of the most optimistic of birders. So, what does one do on a rainy day in Cape May? Here's some ideas...

1. Catch up on your birding notes. There's so much to see here that finding time to keep note of it all can be difficult. So, pick yourself a quiet corner in a favorite restaurant and get those notes up to date - there's a great range of places to go to do this and, though some of Cape May will be shutting down for the winter now, our friends at Bella Vida in West Cape May will be open. And if you really insist on keeping an eye on the birds while you do this, there's no better place than the Sunset Grille on Sunset Beach! Oh, and if you want to keep note-taking, the Northwood Center has waterproof notebooks to keep you happy!

2. Hook yourself up to the internet and get your notes permanently into your personal database. And don't forget, Cornell Lab of Ornithology would love you to share your sightings and have them be part of the ever-growing ground swell of information that is there to be tapped in eBird.

3. Visit the Northwood Center. This should be number one on the list really of course, for the Northwood Center has a multitude of things to keep you occupied while the rain trickles down the glass. How about buying a field guide to that destination that you know you have been promising yourself for next year? Buy a CD of bird calls and add an extra dimension to your birding or simply get your teeth into an infuriating jigsaw puzzle - we have some great ones to choose from. Then again, you could just swing by the Northwood Center and hang out; come and check out a new scope or binocular, catch up on the latest wildlife sightings with fellow enthusiasts or maybe, just maybe, you could be right on the spot when one of the pupating Monarchs spectacularly unfolds itself from its jade chrysalis and becomes a black and orange gem, ready to head south to Mexico.

4. OK, this is for those of you that really, really just can't stop birding. Head up to the Avalon Seawatch. No really!! It may seem like a crazy idea, and you will most certainly need your wet weather gear on, but the sort of weather that is heading our way can produce some wonderful flights of ducks, cormorants and all manner of other birds along the coast. No promises, of course; this is nature after all. But, well, you never know....

Recent Sightings
Just to catch you up with what's been happening this past few days, here's a few things that have come to my attention of late. Water levels at The Meadows are really low right now as the site is being prepared for some winter management, but the wet mud is still drawing in some good shorebirds. Both American Golden Plover and Baird's Sandpiper were reported today, while Pectoral Sandpiper, Tricolored Heron and a good range of other birds have been present recently. The ponds at Cape May Point State Park are similarly short on water (though not for much longer!!) but Bunker Pond has a good range of ducks present, including the male Eurasian Wigeon today.

Off Cape May Point, Parasitic Jaegers continue to harass terns and gulls in the rips and scoters are starting to ferry in and out of the bay. A few Northern Gannets are now present and Brown Pelicans are worth keeping an eye out for. Along the dune lines, American Pipits, American Kestrels and Merlins are passing overhead in good numbers and the dunes are filling up with Palm Warblers and Savannah Sparrows. Though October slowly creeps upon us, there are still a few warblers around; I managed 12 species of warbler on one street at Cape May Point yesterday, with at least two other species a couple of streets away. A Clay-colored Sparrow was also a nice find on Alexander Avenue.

I spent a little time recently out on the barrier islands and was pleased to chance across a nice array of interesting birds. The barrier islands are quietening down as far as tourism is concerned now and any weather-blown stray bird has at least a modicum of opportunity to find what tiny patches of habitat remain there to rest and feed up. Small parties of Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night Herons can be found roosting in trees on less accessible patches of saltmarsh, while my own list of passerine species out there included both Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Brown Thrasher, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Flicker and Eastern Phoebe - all species that should be moving in good numbers now. The Northwood Center provided me with my first Winter Wren of the season today, balls of Cedar Waxwings moved through in blustery winds this morning and there was a very noticeable arrival of Swamp Sparrows today.

Tomorrow is another day - don't get too cold or wet, if you can't face the weather, come and hang out with CMBO!!

Getting great shots of Virginia Rails is never easy and if you achieve it, it often comes at a cost. This bird had spent the last 36 hours or so looking rather forelorn at one of the dune cross-overs at Cape May Point. Meddling with nature is always a difficult judgement call, but in this case, it seemed to me that this bird had a better fighting chance if it was in something of a less public place and in habitat more befitting a rail. The fact that it could be picked up so easily was not encouraging, but it seemed strong and reasonably well fed so we released it along the edge of Lake Lily and wish it well over the coming days [photo by Mike Crewe].

Patsy, Lu Ann, Lousie and Samm - just four of the industrious Cape May Monarch team at the Pavilion Circle a few days ago (yes, sun, shadows and T-shirts!!). CMBO's Monarch Monitoring Project doesn't get anywhere near enough mentions on this blog, so here's an opportunity for you to catch up on this season's Monarch migration story and see how the project (and the Monarchs) are doing. Follow links by clicking here for the Monarch Monitoring Project blog, or clicking here for the project's main data page [photo by Mike Crewe].

And just to put it all into perspective for those of you not able to be here right now - this was the view from Stone Harbor, looking towards Wildwood on Monday evening. Doesn't it conjure up thoughts of Saraman and Lord Voldemort heading this way?! [Photo by Mike Crewe]

Sunday, October 6, 2013

So many places, so little time!

If you are down in Cape May for a week, the sheer volume of birds and other wildlife, and the number of locations to visit can almost seem overwhelming. This last few days has certainly been a case in point; wherever you choose to go right now, you are likely to have great wildlife experiences - but you can bet there will be something equally good going on elsewhere. It's a tough decision. With a front heading our way, bringing the possibility of some rain over the next couple of days, there may be time to reflect, catch up and plan a course of action for later in the week. The good news is that north-west winds are forecast for Wednesday and Thursday so it could be a great week ahead.

So where are the hotspots right now? Well you can plan a day like this: start at either Higbee Beach or at one of the dune crossovers around Cape May Point. Both locations are ideal for watching migrant birds early in the morning; at Higbee Beach, birds are mostly night migrants reorienting themselves to find suitable habitat in which they can spend the day. At the point, birds are mostly species that are happy to continue moving during the day. At the former, expect warblers, vireos and flickers; at the latter, expect blackbirds, finches and flickers. As the day warms up, it can be a good move to head for the Hawkwatch Platform at Cape May Point State Park. If raptors are moving, mid morning to early afternoon is usually peak time - though falcons also push through in late afternoon too. Late afternoon can be spent around the Northwood Center for warblers - and a good place to find out what is being seen elsehwere too. Early evening is a good time to visit The Meadows off Sunset Boulevard for a chance of Sora and a good mix of ducks and other waterbirds.

Having crammed all that into your day, you somehow also have to remember not to miss Nummy's Island and Stone Harbor Point for shorebirds (still Piping Plovers and Western Sandpipers at the latter), Cox Hall Creek WMA for warblers, sparrows and much more, a visit to the Avalon Seawatch, a boat trip out on the back bays..... oh yes, and you need to find time to eat and sleep too!!!

One thing is for sure, there's a lot of happy faces around Cape May right now!

Higbee Dike is perhaps something of an acquired taste, as rapidly passing birds that don't stay in view for long are not everyone's favorite thing. But the experience of being there on a good flight is certainly something different and, even if you can't identify everything that whizzes by, it's still a great thing to do at least once. The dike itself is a bit of a monster to take on, but there is a readily accessible wooden platform from which you can get some great moments. This Red-headed Woodpecker was one of my own highlights on the dike a few days ago [photo by Mike Crewe].

Have you had your fill of Peregrines for the year yet? If not, you probably weren't at the Cape May Hawkwatch Platform yesterday. Peregrines put on a fabulous show with this year's counter, Tom Reed, totalling 173 Peregrines past the platform, including this superb adult that got the oohhs and ahhs going! [Photo by Mike Crewe]

The trees around CMBO's Northwood Center at the north end of Lake Lily have become justly famous for producing great birding around this time of year. Much of the activity centers around the Siberian Elms, which harbor huge numbers of aphids on their bark. These insects are moving in to overwinter in the cracks of the deeply fissured bark and the birds have been quick to work out that there is a quick meal to be had. Siberian Elms have been planted at a number of locations around Cape May Point and those along East Lake Drive and Coral Avenue are generally very good also. Indeed, the original 'Magic Tree' is a Siberian Elm, standing in Bill and Edie Schuhl's garden on the corner of Cambridge and Coral and always worth more than a passing glimpse at this time of year. The Scarlet Tanager above chose to peer in through my office window at the Northwood Center a couple of days ago, reminding me that it really was time to get back into the field... [photo by Mike Crewe].

Even at the height of migration, Cape May is not just about the birds. Yesterday, Will Kerling and Dave Amadio chanced across this Checkered White at the Rea Farm and set off a mini twitch. Though this species was once fairly common in the east, it has declined greatly and it has been many years since this species was reported around Cape May. Checkered Whites are abundant further west in the US and its decline in the east may be due to a loss of farmland to development. However, it is also speculated that the species has never been common in the east and its presence here is simply a result of occasional influxes which result in relatively short-lived colonies becoming established [photo by Mike Crewe].

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Week in review: 28 September – 4 October, 2013

CMBO is pleased to provide weekly summaries of the Cape's birding highlights. Coverage is limited to sightings in Cape May County. Readers should keep in mind that some reports may not be confirmed. Information and photos that may be of use for weekly summaries should be emailed to compiler Tom Reed (coturnicops at gmail dot com).

The period featured mild and dry conditions throughout. Moderate easterly winds prevailed through the final days of Sep. A weak trough brought light westerlies to open the month of October, with good hawk and songbird flights recorded 2 October. Near-record warmth accompanied a light southerly flow for the week's end. A total of 213 species were reported to eBird 28 Sep-4 Oct. Notable birds included Eurasian Wigeon, Golden Eagle, American Avocet, and Lapland Longspur.

The male Eurasian Wigeon continued at CMPSP through 4 Oct, with most recent sightings from Lighthouse Pond and Lighthouse Pond East (m. ob.). The season's first Ring-necked Duck was at CMPSP 1 Oct (MW et al.). Easterly winds produced flights of 4,516 and 2,228 Double-crested Cormorants at ASW 28 and 29 Sep (CB). A total of 39 Brown Pelicans was recorded at ASW 29 Sep (CB).

American Bitterns have been seen during recent days at CMPSP and SCMM (m. ob.). Two juvenile Tricolored Herons were at Bunker Pond, CMPSP 3 Oct. Hawk flights of 1,000+ individuals were tallied Oct 2 & 4. Selected daily maxima for the period included 1297 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 172 Cooper's Hawks, and 217 American Kestrels on 2 Oct, and 126 Peregrines on 4 Oct (TR). An early Golden Eagle appeared over West Cape May 4 Oct (MO'B). An American Avocet spent 2-4 Oct at Bunker Pond, CMPSP (m. ob.). The season's first Purple Sandpiper arrived at ASW 1 Oct (CB). An American Golden-Plover flew past ASW 1 Oct (CB), while another was at SCMM 4 Oct (MC et al.). A Whimbrel flew past ASW 2 Oct (CB), and three Long-billed Dowitchers were at Nummy Island 4 Oct (DF).

Parasitic Jaegers were found on land at Cape May Point 28-29 Sep (m. ob.) and at Stone Harbor Point 30 Sep (MC). A Bonaparte's Gull was at Bunker Pond, CMPSP 29 Sep (m. ob.). A minimum of 17 Caspian Terns were at Bunker Pond, CMPSP 3 Oct. At least two Eurasian Collared-Doves continue to frequent the south end of residential Cape May Point. Red-headed Woodpeckers were seen from CMHW 3 and 4 Oct (TR), and a decent movement of Northern Flickers occurred Oct 2, when over 600 were viewed from CMHW (TR).

A single flock of 19 Northern Rough-winged Swallows were viewed from CMHW 3 Oct (TR, SG). An early Lapland Longspur was photographed flying along the SCMM beach 1 Oct (MO'B). A Hooded Warbler was seen at the Higbee Dike 3 Oct (SG). The season's first noticeable Yellow-rumped Warbler flights occurred Oct 2 & 3. A Vesper Sparrow flew over CMHW 3 Oct (TR), and  two Dickcissels flew over there 3 Oct (TR).

Observers/contributors: Calvin Brennan, Megan Crewe, Richard Crossley, Vince Elia, Sam Galick, Kathy Horn, Tom Magarian, Michael O'Brien, Tom Reed, Matt Webster

Location Abbreviations: ASW (Avalon Seawatch), CMHW (Cape May Hawk Watch), CMPSP (Cape May Pt. State Park), Higbee Dike (raised dredge spoil berm at n. end of Higbee Beach WMA), SCMM (South Cape May Meadows)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Switch

As if by clockwork, the birds seemed to know that September is over and October has began. And this morning The Switch took place; it actually caught most of us off guard. The weather forecast certainly didn't look overly promising, with winds in the 'wrong' quarter, but we awoke to the sound of birds this morning - birds chirping and tweeting overhead.

On our regular Wednesday morning walk at the state park, it soon became apparent that The Switch had taken place. Gone were the American Redstarts and other late September birds and in their place was the first major push of Yellow-rumped Warblers. Other early October birds were apparent too: a good number of Indigo Buntings and Savannah Sparrows were around, several Eastern Phoebes and small waves of Northern Flickers and Blue Jays. A number of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were reported today too, and one or two American Pipits were drifting along the dune line. All signs of The Switch; signs that October is upon us and, while it may be a sign that the warblers will be on the wane, it is also an indication of greater numbers of birds, for October has a tendency to send us great wadges of sparrows, raptors, ducks and more.

And of course, this increase in birds is the very reason that our Autumn Weekend will take place at the end of this month - a whole series of walks, talks and other fun events, as well as all the entertainment at the convention center in town. Many birds will pass our way between now and then, but the end of October is almost certain to be a great time to be birding in Cape May - check out details of our autumn weekend by clicking here, and get signed up to be part of the fun!!

The Switch brought us our first notable movement of Yellow-rumped Warblers today, but with them came another classic October switch - the Magic Trees were plugged in and switched on!! Siberian Elms over a certain age have deeply fissured, craggy bark which serves as a wintering location for aphids. Once a few cooler nights kick in, the aphids turn up on the bark of the trees and the warblers have discovered this - like this Tennessee Warbler, photographed in the original - and still best - Magic Tree in Bill and Edie Schuhl's garden at Cape May Point. Stop by the Northwood Center for updates on which elms are currently producing the best birding [photo by Mike Crewe].

The Switch usually also brings a change to the ponds at Cape May Point, with outgoing shorebirds giving way to incoming ducks. The male Eurasian Wigeon seen here having a conversation with a female American Wigeon turned up at the state park just a few days ago and is most likely the same male that has appeared around this time for several years now [photo by Mike Crewe].

Of interest in the area recently has been a peculiar run of jaeger sightings on land. Jaegers making landfall at Cape May are very rare, but this Parasitic Jaeger, photographed at Stone Harbor Point on 1st is the third jaeger (two Parasitics and a Long-tailed) to have appeared on Cape May beaches in the past few weeks and gives certain cause for concern. When standing up, this bird could be seen to be extensively oiled below with a greasy substance and it seems likely that some unpleasant spillage is swilling around offshore somewhere. Most birds like this one die by ingesting the oil when they try to preen it out of their feathers [photo by Megan Crewe].

With promises of some reasonable migration weather to come in the next few days, it's time to get out into the field...