Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Birding in the back bays

As fall migration begins to make its mark (a nice movement of shorebirds at Cape May Point this morning) it's time to plan some time in the field at Cape May. But, with the tourists taking all the usual parking spots by our favorite dune crossovers, and queues of traffic at every intersection, it takes a little careful planning to make sure that you get the best out of your day. July is certainly a steamy month here, but there's one sure way of escaping both the crowds and the heat - head out onto the water. In light of the seabird photos that I posted recently, you might think I mean a costly trip way, way offshore - but no, all  you need to do is to head down to the Miss Chis Marina and hire yourself a kayak for a couple of hours. The backwater creeks around Cape May are great place to get away from it all - even the Greenheads seem to stay close to shore and can be avoided if you stick to the main channels. With shorebirds now starting to appear on the intertidal mudflats, Clapper Rails trotting around with fluffy youngsters and Ospreys now feeding chubby youngsters, there's a lot to be seen out there. Experience has shown that birds seem less frightened of us if we are in boats and a quiet, careful approach and give not only great views, but great photo opportunities. Here's a few pictures to get you pulling on the waterproofs and heading for the marina...

Here's a good mystery photo for you - believe it or not, it's a young Osprey, but without the grace that it will sport as an adult! Teams of Osprey banders are out visiting nests in the marshes right now and, by all accounts, it sounds like it's been a good breeding season for this species this year. Much has been learned about Osprey migrations through banding and, especially, through satellite tagging birds. Check out the individual birds on this website and be amazed at their wanderings! [Photo by Jeff White]

Clapper Rails are abundant in Cape May's backbay marshes, but can be a nightmare to see. Drifting quietly in a kayak is the ideal way to get up close and personal with them [photo by Beth Polvino].

American Oystercatchers can readily be seen around Cape May County, either nesting on the few fragments of protected beach, or feeding in the muddy back bays at low tide. Close up views from a boat can not only provide great photographic opportunities, but will also help you to help conservation by recording numbers on banded birds [photo by Beth Polvino].
Don't forget that there is more than just birds out there. Diamondback Terrapins are the only terrapin we have that habitually lives in saltwater and will almost certainly be the species that you will see in the back bays [photo by Beth Polvino].

If you are not in the mood for a boat trip, there's plenty of other birding opportunities. The Nature Conservancy's South Cape May Meadows, off Sunset Boulevard continues to atract migratory shorebirds and other wetland species. Two American Avocets dropped in there briefly on Tuesday, while Virginia Rails continue to be reported on occasion (at least one pair bred there this year). Short-billed Dowitchers, Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, Least Sandpipers and Glossy Ibises continue to fly through and a scattering of Black-crowned Night Herons, Spotted Sandpipers and others can be found on the pools there. The South Cape May Beach is attracting a variety of terns, with Royal, Sandwich, Black and Roseate all appearing recently among the Least, Forster's and Common Tern flocks there.

See you out there!