Sunday, September 28, 2014

Week in review: 20 – 26 September, 2014

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. The vast majority of information utilized in these reports comes from eBird data and "Keekeekerr" text alerts. Observers are encouraged to send reports and photos to compiler Tom Reed (coturnicops at gmail dot com).

Location Abbreviations/Explanations: ASW (Avalon Seawatch); CMP (town of Cape May Point); CMPSP (Cape May Pt. State Park); Higbee Dike (dredge spoils at northwest corner of Cape Island, site of CMBO's Morning Flight count); SCMM (South Cape May Meadows).


       Waterfowl migration continued to become more obvious in recent days. Numbers of Northern Shovelers, American Wigeon, and Northern Pintail increased at CMPSP and SCMM (m. ob.), and 49 Northern Pintail migrated past ASW on 22 Sep (TR). The first southbound Brant passed ASW on 22 Sep (TR) and 25 Sep (SH). The season's first Red-throated Loon shot past ASW 23 Sep (TR). Brown Pelicans were seen from ASW on multiple days (SH, TR), though the period's max of 8 was notched at CMP 20 Sep (LM). A pair of Cattle Egrets took up residence at West Cape May 25–26 Sep (m. ob.), and small numbers of Yellow-crowned Night-Herons lingered in Atlantic Coast marshes, e.g. 6 at Jarvis Sound 20 Sep (WC). Peak daily totals for various migrant raptors at CMPSP included 554 American Kestrels on 22 Sep, 284 Sharp-shinned Hawks on 23 Sep, 116 Osprey, 129 Cooper's Hawks, 68 Merlins, and 32 Peregrine Falcons on 26 Sep (MR).

       Multiple Virginia Rails were found at CMP/CMPSP during stormy conditions 25 Sep (m. ob.), and at least 1 Sora occupied SCMM on multiple days (m. ob.). Notable shorebirds included single American Golden-Plovers at ASW 22 Sep (TR) and South Seaville 25 Sep (CS), multiple Marbled Godwits in the Stone Harbor area on several days (m. ob.), and Baird's Sandpipers at Cape May NWR 20 Sep (MB), SCMM 24 Sep (MG), and the Higbee Dike 26 Sep (TR). A juv. Long-tailed Jaeger was an exciting find at ASW 25 Sep (SH), one of only a handful of records at that site. Parasitic Jaeger was seen from CMP on a daily basis (m. ob.), and 4 migrated south past ASW 22 Sep (TR). A Little Gull was traveling with a flock of Forster's Terns offshore CMP 22 Sep (SH), the second recorded this season. The season's first Bonaparte's Gulls were a bit early when they passed ASW 24 Sep (SH). The WHISKERED TERN was last seen at CMP 20 Sep (m. ob.), and Black Tern was last reported the same day (MG).

       At least 1 Eurasian Collared-Dove continued at CMP this week (m. ob.). Red-headed Woodpeckers have been quite scarce this fall; at least 2 were found at HB 26 Sep (m. ob.). The Higbee Dike played host to a flight of 451 Northern Flickers 23 Sep (GD, m. ob.). A Black-capped Chickadee, possibly the same individual seen earlier in 2014, was detected at CMPSP 22 Sep (MO'B, m. ob). Songbird diversity remained high through the period-- recent sightings of uncommon migrants included Warbling Vireo at the Higbee Dike 26 Sep (TR), Philadelphia Vireo at HB 26 Sep (m. ob.), and Connecticut Warbler at HB/Higbee Dike on multiple dates (m. ob.). Clay-colored Sparrows were noted at CMPSP 25 Sep (m. ob.) and at Del Haven 26 Sep (HT). The season's first Rusty Blackbird arrived at CMPSP 24 Sep (TR, m. ob.). Small numbers of Purple Finches were reported throughout the county (m. ob.), and Cape Island's first Pine Siskin of the season flew over HB 26 Sep (MC, m. ob.).


Margaret Barbuty (MB), Warren Cairo (WC), Mike Crewe (MC), Glen Davis (GD), Mark Garland (MG), Skye Haas (SH), Larry Meade (LM), Michael O'Brien (MO'B), Mary Raikes (MR), Tom Reed (TR), Clay Sutton (CS), Harvey Tomlinson (HT).


*eBird. 2012. eBird: An online database of bird distribution and abundance [web application]. eBird, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Accessed 27 Sep 2014. Available:
*Fogg, B. 2013. Keekeekerr: Recent Text Alerts. Accessed 27 Sep 2014. Available:

Saturday, September 27, 2014


Sit down, take a deep breath. Read the blog title again, rub your eyes, take a walk around the garden and look again. It's not going to change. The impossible happened at Cape May today, but it happened in the worst possible way.

Shortly after 10:45am at the Swarovski-sponsored Hawkwatch Platform in Cape May Point State Park, a black shape appeared overhead. When I first saw it, it was already pretty much overhead, perhaps slightly to the north over Lighthouse Pond. The shape was familiar, and yet unfamiliar. It sort of looked like a Turkey Vulture, but something wasn't quite right. A closer look with binoculars was startling - the bird had extensive white areas across all the flight feathers and - even more worryingly - a white base to the tail. I called out for people to get on this bird, then realized that several already were; most especially, Vince Elia and Steve Bauer, stalwarts of the hawkwatch - and hawk counter Mary Raikes I think got on it around the same time. I think Vince and Steve were ahead of me, but I hadn't heard a call yet. It seems nobody wanted to shout the impossible - and yet it was becoming increasingly unavoidable...

Everyone will have their own story to tell, subtle differences to the chain of events, but the call eventually went out "Get on this bird, it looks like a Zone-tailed Hawk!!" For those who were there, the moment was memorable - 100+ people on the platform, including a Pete Dunne, CMBO raptor workshop and a great bunch of naturalist docents from Cobbs Creek, Philadelphia, a magical moment for so many - and yet, as I hinted above - it happened in the worst possible way... The 2009 Ivory Gull did it right, so did this year's Whiskered Tern. They hung around, developed more or less predictable routines and allowed many, many people to enjoy their presence. Sadly, today's Zone-tailed Hawk chose to do a couple of wide circuits over the state park, then headed out over the beach near Coral Avenue. Around 20 minutes later, a cheer could be heard in Delaware as the bird arrived over Cape Henlopen. Knowing that some of one's friends missed such a rare bird really takes the edge off the moment - good times are for sharing with all.

So, why all the fanfare? Well, Zone-tailed Hawk is a completely crazy bird to turn up at Cape May, and yet it was predicted just recently by Tom Reed. This species' range largely stretches from northern South America to northern Mexico, with the northernmost part of its range stretching up into Arizona, New Mexico and south-west Texas. Though northern populations are migratory, there is not a big track record for vagrancy for this species, but a few birds have wandered, with accepted records east of the Mississippi coming from Louisiana in 1984, Florida in 2000 and - believe it or not - Nova Scotia in 1977. Wind forward to 2014, and things really get exciting!

Fast forward to 2014, and we find that a Zone-tailed Hawk was seen and photographed on April 25th at Martha's Vineyard, Massachussetts - a place with a well-established track record for turning up remarkable rarities. An extraordinary find for the two happy observers and the start of an amazing summer for this species. On June 1st, Rick Whitman and Richard Stern located a Zone-tailed Hawk on Brier Island, Nova Scotia and this was followed by a sighting back in Massachussetts on July 8th, this time on the mainland near Halifax. For Cape May birders this was getting exciting, for it looked like the bird was starting to head back south. All we needed was the right winds and the right concentration of eyes.

For those that were there, the moment was glorious, for others, well, why do these things have to be so untimely....

Zone-tailed Hawk over Cape May Point State Park, September 27th, 2014 [pictures (C) copyright Mike Hannisian].

Zone-tailed Hawk over Cape May Point, off Coral Avenue, September 27th, 2014 [picture (C) copyright Michael O'Brien].

Based purely on plumage, a Zone-tailed Hawk can appear diagnostic, but other species can be confused with it, and black morphs (color forms) of other species of Buteo hawk need to be ruled out. Key to identifying the Cape May bird on plumage was the need to see fine, close, black barring on the whitish flight feathers and narrow black bars in the white base to the tail feathers. Both can be seen in the pictures above. However, more diagnostic than plumage markings is the uncanny resemblance to a Turkey Vulture at some angles, though this was not caught in these shots. In its usual range, the Zone-tailed Hawk hunts by flying with the wings in a slight dihedral, a shallow V shape - with the same rocking motion that Turkey Vultures display. They also often seem to 'hide' themselves within groups of roaming Turkey Vultures and it is believed that this is a type of cryptic behavior which allows them to spring a surprise on potential prey. The white marks in the plumage and the heavier, fully-feathered head serve to tell this species apart from Turkey Vulture quite readily with a little practice. Note that the tail pattern makes this an adult bird and, since all the other extralimital, north-east sightings were also adults, it seems very likely that all sightings involve the same individual bird.

What a day, what a place - come and enjoy the Cape May Magic!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Who's Watching Who?

I suppose if we spend time watching them, it's only fair that they spend time watching us - the view from my office window this evening... the Northwood Center has it all, maybe this guy just wanted to be a part of it! [Photo by Mike Crewe]

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Variety is the spice of life!

Variety is the spice of life, they say, and Cape May certainly proves the rule at times. This week has seen quite a change in fortunes for both birds and birders here but, no matter what the weather, it's always worth being out there!

The week started with some fine sunny weather, giving way to some breezy conditions, associated with a front that brought north-west winds and a hoped-for rush of birds. While Higbee Beach has certainly stuck to its reputation for providing us with an early morning rush of night migrants, the best activity for avid birdwatchers has most consistently been around CMBO's Northwood Center where, for some reason as yet not fully understood, birds seem to gravitate during the course of the day. Visitors and locals alike are enjoying great close-up views of a great range of warblers - including a handful of Cape May Warblers, which always seem to prefer either the red cedars or the Siberian Elms; good locations for them are either at the front of the Northwood Center, or just around the corner on the other half of East Lake Drive, where a group of three Siberian Elms hang out over the road.

This week, the Avalon Seawatch started and we welcome Skye Haas to our seasonal team. The seawatch begins September 22nd every year and continues to December 22nd, so do be sure to include it in your rounds if you are here for a few days. This summer has seen repeated viewings of Humpback Whales off the Cape May coast, seemingly due to larger than usual numbers of young Atlantic Menhaden feeding here, and Humpback sightings continued from the Seawatch early this week.

As wet and windy weather lashes my office window today, I'll leave you with a few recent photos to highlight Cape May's wonderful diversity...

Now is the time to enjoy the annual spectacle of Tree Swallows at Cape May. Flocks numbering several thousand birds can be found regularly at this time of year as the birds gather to feed in great swarms on bayberry fruits. Favored locations include Avalon (above), Two-mile Beach and South Cape May [photo by Carrie Bell].

Tree Swallows lined up on roadside wires look impressive, but the flock comes to life when the birds periodically swirl around overhead [photo by Carrie Bell].

Wild Turkeys continue to be a feature of Cape May and this bird was enjoying the comfort of a car on Seagrove Avenue recently! Flocks of up to 30 birds have been reported recently from New England Road, while several birds are now regularly being seen around Cape May Point [Photo by Pat King]

Since it's a rainy day today, there's been much interest in our Monarchs that are hanging out (literally!) and having a quick metamorphose at the Northwood Center. It was wonderful to share the experience of watching this Monarch emerge from its chrysalis with some visiting kids - nature through the eyes of youngsters is truly inspiring and magical [photo by Mike Crewe].

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Fun at the Hawkwatch

[A crimson sunrise at Cape May Point State Park. Photo by Tom Reed.]

It has been another fabulous week at the Hawkwatch.  We have been seeing large numbers of Osprey, Sharp-shinned Hawks, and American Kestrels.  September 18th was the highest count of the season so far, with a total of 1,235 migrating raptors.

[A beautiful Bald Eagle soaring above the Hawkatch. Photo by Tom Reed.]

A variety of ducks have started to show up on Bunker Pond, keeping visitors interested at times when the hawk flight isn't the best.  There have been many other non-raptor species making appearances as well.   We have seen a total of 157 species of birds from the platform so far this fall.

[An abundance of Northern Flickers were observed from the platform this week.  Photo by
Tom Reed.
[A Belted Kingfisher flew noisily around Bunker Pond.  Photo by Tom Reed.]

Cape May Raptor Banding Project has started their hawk banding demonstrations.  This weekend, visitors were able to see a Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, and American Kestrel in the hands of the banders. Monarch tagging demonstrations have also begun.  The Monarch Monitoring Project crew does an incredible job at educating and sharing their work with the public. Monarch tagging demonstrations take place at the State Park on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 2pm. Hawk banding demonstrations are at the State Park on Saturdays and Sundays at 10am, and at the Meadows on Saturdays at 11:30am.

[A stunning Monarch, newly tagged by the Monarch Monitoring Project.  Photo by
Emily Wilmoth.

The Seawatch officially starts tomorrow!  Be sure to get up to Avalon this season to witness large flocks of water birds migrating along the coast.  Just like the Hawkwatch, it is an amazing opportunity to admire birds, and appreciate the incredible journeys that they make.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Week in review: 13 – 19 September, 2014

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. The vast majority of information utilized in these reports comes from eBird data and "Keekeekerr" text alerts. Observers are encouraged to send reports and photos to compiler Tom Reed (coturnicops at gmail dot com).

Location Abbreviations/Explanations: CMP (town of Cape May Point); CMPSP (Cape May Pt. State Park); Higbee Dike (dredge spoils at northwest corner of Cape Island, site of CMBO's Morning Flight count); SCMM (South Cape May Meadows); SHPt (Stone Harbor Point).

       Dabbling ducks continued to enjoy a more obvious presence at Cape Island. At least 50 Blue-winged Teal have been noted between CMP and SCMM during recent days, along with scattered parties of Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, and American Wigeon (m. ob.). The season's first Pied-billed Grebe arrived at CMPSP 19 Sep (m. ob.). A pelagic trip to the Wilmington Canyon crossed paths with multiple Cory's Shearwaters (including one "Scopoli's"), Manx Shearwater, Great Shearwater, and Red-necked Phalarope 13 Sep (m. ob.). Exceptional from shore during autumn, a Sooty Shearwater entertained many observers at CMP 14–16 Sep (JM, m. ob.). Great Cormorant reports saw a slight uptick this week-- news of singles came in from the Higbee Dike, CMP, and Cold Spring Inlet (m. ob.). Flight calls of migrating Least Bitterns were detected over West Cape May 14 Sep (MO'B) and over Cape May City 19 Sep (TR). Recent Cattle Egret reports have been few-- 1 flew over SCMM 13 Sep (BH). Small numbers of Yellow-crowned Night-Herons can still be found at some sites, including 6 in the Jarvis Sound area 15 Sep (BL, VE et al.). A good hawk flight 18 Sep brought 221 Osprey, 563 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 118 Cooper's Hawks, and 193 American Kestrels past CMPSP (TR). A Red-shouldered Hawk was seen from CMPSP 14 Sep (MR).
       A Common Gallinule entertained many observers at CMPSP 13 Sep, and at least 2 Soras were noted at SCMM some days (m. ob.). Notable shorebird sightings entailed a Wilson's Phalarope (NBl, NBo) and a Marbled Godwit (m. ob.) over CMPSP 13 Sep, a Baird's Sandpiper over CMPSP 14 Sep (TR, KK), and 2 Long-billed Dowitchers along Ocean Drive near Wildwood Crest 13 Sep (JM). An exploration of SHPt turned up 200 American Oystercatchers, 5 Piping Plovers, a Whimbrel, 30 Red Knots, and a notable total of 27 Lesser Black-backed Gulls 13 Sep (NBl, NBo, GH, PR). Lingering terns included 2 Black Terns and at least 1 Least Tern at CMP through 19 Sep (m. ob.), and a Gull-billed Tern at CMPSP/SCMM on multiple days (m. ob.). North America's 3rd WHISKERED TERN remained at CMP through 19 Sep, delighting a few thousand birders thus far (m. ob.). At least 1 Eurasian Collared-Dove continued to be seen sporadically at CMP/CMPSP through 19 Sep (m. ob.). A migrating Barn Owl was heard calling over West Cape May during the evening of 14 Sep (DLP). Red-headed Woodpeckers have been in short supply; 1 was viewed from CMPSP 19 Sep (MO'B). For the first time this fall, there were multiple reports of Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Gray-cheeked Thrush (m. ob.), and 144 Northern Flickers were counted at the Higbee Dike 19 Sep (TR). A massive songbird flight at the Higbee Dike 15 Sep produced over 4,000 warblers, including 137 Northern Waterthrushes, 277 Black-and-white Warblers, 22 Tennessee Warblers, 2 Connecticut Warblers, 2331 American Redstarts, and 391 Northern Parulas (GD et al.). An additional 2 Connecticut Warblers and a pair of late Summer Tanagers flew past the Higbee Dike 19 Sep (TR). Clay-colored Sparrows were detected at Cape May City 16 Sep (MO'B) and at SHPt 13 Sep (JM). A Lark Sparrow, the season's third, was discovered at Del Haven 17 Sep (BB). The season's first Pine Siskin visited a backyard at Goshen 16–17 Sep (PS, CS).


Nicholas Block (NBl), Nick Bonomo (NBo), Bob Brown (BB), Glen Davis (GD), Vince Elia (VE), Greg Hanisek (GH), Brian Henderson (BH), Kevin Karlson (KK), David La Puma (DLP), Bob Lubberman (BL), Jay McGowan (JM), Michael O'Brien (MO'B), Mary Raikes (MR), Tom Reed (TR), Phil Rusch (PR), Clay Sutton (CS), Pat Sutton (PS).


*eBird. 2012. eBird: An online database of bird distribution and abundance [web application]. eBird, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Accessed 20 Sep 2014. Available:
*Fogg, B. 2013. Keekeekerr: Recent Text Alerts. Accessed 20 Sep 2014. Available:

Monday, September 15, 2014

Hawkwatch Update

[Merlins have been offering great looks from the Hawkwatch platform lately.
Photo by Tom Reed

Hi everybody! It’s Emily, your George Myers Field Naturalist this season.  I am excited to start posting updates on how things are going up at the Hawkwatch platform and around Cape May.

The Hawkwatch was quite eventful this past week.  We had some great migration days that brought large numbers of Osprey, accipiters, falcons, and more. On Sunday, Mary counted an all-time single day record of Bald Eagles. That is 50 Bald Eagles in one day!  While Mary had her eyes on the sky, most of us had our eyes on the Whiskered Tern that was flying around Bunker Pond.  A combination of the great hawk flight and the Whiskered Tern brought nearly 1000 visitors up to the platform on Sunday.  The excitement is likely to continue this week.  The forecast looks promising for several days of good hawk flights-- and hopefully the Whiskered Tern will hang around a little longer so that even more folks can get a look at such an amazing bird! Some more photos of the tern, and its admirers, can be found below. 

Lastly, the Avalon Seawatch starts one week from today, on September 22.  Be sure to get out there and meet this year’s counter, Skye Haas!

[Whiskered Tern on the beach. Photo by Tom Reed.]

[A full platform of birders observing the Whiskered Tern. Photo by Tom Reed.]

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Whiskered Tern continues

Cape May has seen a continuous parade of visitors to the Hawkwatch Platform this weekend, at times almost a who's who of American birding, as people from ever further away made the pilgrimage to see the Whiskered Tern. Our illustrious visitor has put on a fabulous show for all comers this weekend and was still in residence last thing on Sunday. It set up a fairly regular routine of feeding over Bunker Pond, followed by rests on the state park beach with the other terns assembled there. Interestingly, it and the temporarily resident Black Tern, seem to have been sticking together a lot and their feeding sessions often coincided. On one or two occasions, the Whiskered Tern has also taken rests on the wooden railing on the south side of Bunker Pond.

Many people have been asking for details of the previous two records of this species for North America - they are as follows:

Cape May, NJ: 12-15 July, 1993 with presumably the same bird in Kent Co., Delaware, 19 July-24 August.

Cape May, NJ: 8-12 August 1998.

Although these two occurrences count as two separate records, due to the five-year gap between them, many people believe they may both involve the same individual. However, it seems almost certain that this year's bird is a different individual, and it is possible, given the appearance of the wing molt and plumage, that the current bird could be a third-calendar year bird.

If you haven't been able to get here for this bird yet but plan coming during the week, we'll do our best to hang on to it for as long as possible for you!

Photo opportunities for the Whiskered Tern have been many and some great portraits have been achieved this weekend. In contrast, here are some shots that tell stories about the behavior of the bird. Here, it's grabbing a Green Darner; dragonflies often make up a significant part of the diet of this species, though they will eat a wide range of insects, as well as small fish, tadpoles and even frogs [photo by Mike Crewe].
The Whiskered Tern often consorts with a juvenile Black Tern and the two can sometimes be seen hunting close enough together to make direct comparisons of structure and plumage features.  Seen on the right here, the Black Tern is clearly darker, a little smaller and narrower winged, and smaller-billed [photo by Mike Crewe].

On occasion today, the Whiskered Tern took to taking short snoozes on the wooden railing on the south side of Bunker Pond. This gave many folks some great photo opportunities (note here the newly-molted, pale gray primary, contrasting with the older, muddy-brown primaries) [photo by Mike Crewe].

Week in review: 6 – 12 September, 2014

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. The vast majority of information utilized in these reports comes from eBird data and "Keekeekerr" text alerts. Observers are encouraged to send reports and photos to compiler Tom Reed (coturnicops at gmail dot com).

Location Abbreviations/Explanations: CMP (town of Cape May Point); CMPSP (Cape May Pt. State Park); HB (Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area); Higbee Dike (dredge spoils at northwest corner of Cape Island, site of CMBO's Morning Flight count); SCMM (South Cape May Meadows).


       Dabbling duck densities and diversity increased during recent days. Totals at Cape Island 12 Sep included 14 Gadwall, 12 Northern Shovelers, 7 Northern Pintail, and 15 Blue-winged Teal (m. ob.). An early Greater Scaup was seen from the Higbee Dike 7 Sep (TR). A Great Cormorant was a bit early at Cold Spring Inlet 12 Sep (VE, BL). A nice total of 14 Brown Pelicans was notched from CMPSP during southerly winds 12 Sep (TR). The season's best hawk flight to date occurred 12 Sep, and included 160 Osprey, 68 Sharp-shinned Hawks, and 41 Bald Eagles at the Cape May Hawk Watch (MR).  At least 1 Marbled Godwit was seen at Jarvis Sound 10 & 12 Sep (VE, BL). A Red-necked Phalarope was reported from Avalon during strong easterly winds 9 Sep (KG). Other shorebird highlights included a Baird's Sandpiper at SCMM 6–7 Sep (m. ob.), a Buff-breasted Sandpiper (m. ob.) and a Wilson's Phalarope (JN, DW) at SCMM 7–8 Sep, and a Long-billed Dowitcher at SCMM 7–9 Sep (m. ob.). An adult Little Gull put in a brief appearance at CMPSP 12 Sep (m. ob.). A WHISKERED TERN made for a shocking find at CMPSP 12 Sep (AH, LZ, m. ob.). This individual represents the 3rd record for North America-- amazingly, all 3 have occurred at Cape May. At least 2 Black Terns were seen at CMPSP through much of the period (m. ob.). 

       A White-winged Dove was found along New England Road 7 Sep (KG), and what was potentially the same individual flew past the Higbee Dike 8 Sep (TR). At least 2 Eurasian Collared-Doves continued at CMP through the week (m. ob.).  The season's first Western Kingbirds were seen 8 Sep, when 2 flew over West Cape May (MO'B). A Kentucky Warbler made for a surprising sight at the Higbee Dike 10 Sep (KG, TR). A strong songbird flight at the Higbee Dike 12 Sep included 273 American Redstarts, 109 Northern Parulas, 66 Palm Warblers, 48 Black-throated Blue Warblers, 2 Bay-breasted Warblers, and a Prothonotary Warbler (GD). Other songbird highlights included 2 Golden-winged Warblers at HB 7 Sep (MO'B, LZ et al.) and a Lark Sparrow at CMPSP 7 Sep (TR). 


Glen Davis (GD), Vince Elia (VE), Kevin Graff (KG), Alec Humann (AH), Bob Lubberman (BL), Josh Nemeth (JN), Michael O'Brien (MO'B), Mary Raikes (MR), Tom Reed (TR), Dustin Welch (DW), Louise Zemaitis (LZ).


*eBird. 2012. eBird: An online database of bird distribution and abundance [web application]. eBird, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Accessed 14 Sep 2014. Available:
*Fogg, B. 2013. Keekeekerr: Recent Text Alerts. Accessed 14 Sep 2014. Available:

Friday, September 12, 2014

Whiskered Tern!

As if you needed telling, Cape May can produce some amazing birds - often when you are not quite expecting them!

Great excitement gripped the point today when a possible Whiskered Tern was reported, feeding over Bunker Pond, right in front of the Hawkwatch Platform. Why the confusion when the bird was right in front of the platform? Well, Whiskered Tern is an Old World species, of which there are only two previous North American records, so folks here don't get a chance to brush up on Whiskered Tern identification too often. As word got out, the bird headed away toward the beach, but review of early photos (thank you digital photography!) confirmed the identification.

It was decision time - some headed off to scour the Cape May Point beaches, where large numbers of gulls and terns are currently gathered, in between feeding bouts in The Rips; others decided to wait it out on the platform - after all, this is a marsh tern, a species that favors catching insects over freshwater ponds rather than fishing offshore. The waiters won out as the bird returned to Bunker Pond and put on a spectacular display before an ever-growing and ever-appreciative audience - seems like we will soon be needing a bigger Hawkwatch!!

As I write, a little after 2pm on Friday, September 12th, the bird is still present and delighting the crowds. When not feeding over Bunker Pond, it has been seen sitting on the beach at the state park with other gulls and terns.

Oh, and by the way, just to blow our own trumpet (sorry!) all three North American records have been seen in... well, you probably guessed :-)

Whiskered Tern, Cape May Point State Park, September 12th, 2014. Though this bird may superficially resemble a Common Tern, there are a number of differences; most obvious are the extensive, dark gray wash to the underparts and contrasting white cheeks, and the stouter, shorter, blood-red bill. Note also the relatively broader wing with shorter 'hand'. The behavior of the bird, as it hunted for insects over Bunker Pond with a Black Tern, is also different to the typical hover-fishing behavior of a Common Tern. The mix of gray and white feathers on the underparts is typical of a molting adult, note also the contrast between the fresh, light gray mantle feathers and the duller, as yet unmolted, wing coverts [photos by Mike Crewe]

CMBO Director David La Puma texts out the news as an out-of-focus Whiskered Tern crosses his chest - hawk counter Mary Raikes gets on with hawk counting...

Sunday, September 7, 2014

World Shorebirds Day

As a child, I grew up in Oxfordshire, right in the heart of England and almost as far as it is possible to get from the coast in the UK. This meant that I had little chance to get to know shorebirds (or waders as they are called in the UK) and found the various species very difficult to tell apart for many years. But I wasn't entirely starved of these birds; I have fond memories of wandering through grassy water meadows while Common Redshanks stood sentinel on nearby fence posts. Their alarm calls alerted me to the presence of fluffy chicks, hiding somewhere in the grassy tussocks, but I never found them, so good was their camouflage. And although I was starved of a variety of breeding shorebirds, I was still challenged each spring and autumn by migrants passing through - local gravel pits would regularly attract Little Stints, Green, Wood and Common Sandpipers, Common Greenshanks and others, and I remember rushing off to see my first Pectoral Sandpiper that had been attracted to a great, cavernous, wet hole that would eventually be concrete lined and become Oxford's second drinking water reservoir at Farmoor.

Adulthood saw me gradually getting to grips with these interesting birds and, in the early 1990s, I was lucky enough to be among some of the very first tourists ever to visit Sakhalin Island, off the Pacific coast of Siberia, and to see the strange and enigmatic Spoon-billed Sandpiper - three birds, sweeping their paddle-shaped bills through the mud in all their full, breeding-plumaged glory. During that period this bird was much sought-after simply for its uniqueness; nowadays, it is sought for its rarity value. In less than 20 years, Spoon-billed Sandpipers have almost completely disappeared from the globe, their critical migration stop-overs denied them as vital tidal habitats have been permanently flooded for the benefit (benefit?) of mankind. Nowadays, a single thread of hope for this species remains in some captive breeding programs - not an easy thing to achieve with a migratory species.

Saturday, September 6th was World Shorebirds Day - and I'm prepared to bet that it passed an awful lot of people by. To the vast majority of people, shorebirds are not something they tend to be aware of, since the birds don't tend to hang out in urban areas; to those who are aware of them, it may simply be that these waifs of the shoreline are considered a major inconvenience when areas of pristine sandy beach are roped off during the summer months, denying pleasure-seekers of a little fun. Even among birdwatchers, it often takes a special kind of dedication to really get interested in a group of birds that might be considered to largely consist of a mottly selection of 'little brown jobs' that hang out in some rather unsalubrious locations.

All of this is a shame, for shorebirds in general are great indicators of the health of our wetlands and hopefully there is no-one who would disagree that a healthy human population needs healthy wetlands, for we all need water to drink. On a global scale, wetlands are disappearing even faster now than they have ever done before - even with all the protection that we may feel that we are affording them. So there has never been a more urgent time to review and monitor the state of the world's shorebirds. Take a moment to visit the World Shorebirds Day website and, if you were out and about this weekend, consider entering your shorebird sightings into eBird, from where they may be used to help us understand population levels, distributional patterns and much more about these amazing birds.

To celebrate the variety and vibrancy of some of the world's shorebirds - and to show you that they are not all grotty little non-descript things (although some are!) here's a few special birds from around the world - as well as from Cape May:

Pectoral Sandpipers are attractive shorebirds, but don't especially stand out from the crowd when seen on migration. However, the males really come into their own on their Arctic breeding grounds (as here, in Alaska) when they inflate air sacs in their necks and start making wobbly, booming noises! So always be prepared to be surprised by shorebirds [photo by Mike Crewe].

Perhaps one of the things that shorebirds are best known for are their sometimes quite extraordinary feats of migration. The Bristle-thighed Curlew breeds in Alaska and winters in islands of the central and south Pacific. These birds depart the southern Alaska coast and make non-stop flights of at least 4000km over open ocean. And as if that was not enough, the adults leave first, with the juveniles make their first southward migration unaided [photo by Mike Crewe].

Not all shorebirds are, well, shorebirds. The Peruvian Thick-knee, with its wonderful duck-egg green eye, is found in semi-arid grassland and sub-desert habitats from southern Ecuador to Northern Chile. Species such as these, that live in very dry areas, are very susceptible to sudden changes in habitat and the resultant loss in what little water there may be for them [photo by Mike Crewe].

Shorebirds have populated almost every corner of the globe, with some isolated locations holding some truly unique species. The Diademed Sandpiper-plover is a remarkable bird that breeds at over 12,000feet in the high Andes of South America. Though it has quite a wide distribution, it is nowhere common, usually occurring in isolated pairs in suitable patches of mossy bog, high above the limit of the tree line. Its world population is completely unknown and can only be guessed at [photo by Mike Crewe].

Some of the world's shorebirds give real cause for concern; the Madagascar Plover's entire population can be found in coastal southwestern Madagascar, where there may be fewer than 1000 birds left. Its decline may be due to competition with Kittlitz's and White-fronted Plovers - two species that have relatively recently arrived in the region, most likely as a result of man-made or man-influenced changes to the environment [photo by Mike Crewe].

Who said shorebirds were boring little brown jobs? Some of the world's shorebirds are truly stunning to look at, perhaps none more so than the enigmatic Egyptian Plover - a bird that is neither a plover, nor Egyptian, though it did formerly occur there. Decked out in powder blue, blushing peach and striking black lines, this bird is the Crocodile Bird of Socrates, said to enter the open mouths of the great reptiles and clean their teeth. Sadly, this behavior has not been reliably reported in modern times and seems to be a myth [photo by Mike Crewe].
Closer to home, Cape May hosted this American Golden Plover for several days last week, a species that, like the Bristle-thighed Curlew, performs a great feat of migration. These birds breed in the high Arctic tundra of North America and winter in the grasslands of southern South America; and yet in the past they served as alternate 'fun' for thousands of shooters who turned to these and other grassland shorebirds such as the Eskimo Curlew after the Passenger Pigeon had been wiped out. The birds receive protection now, but numbers continue to decline as habitats on the breeding grounds, migration routes and wintering areas all continue to degrade or disappear [photo by Mike Crewe].

Wetlands in the Cape May area are also degrading, in part due to poor, or even a lack of,  management strategies for conservation. Thankfully this year, the area's birdwatchers - and its birds - have been very grateful for the efforts of The Nature Conservancy who, despite adverse weather at times - have done excellent work in beginning a water control strategy at the South Cape May Meadows, aimed at providing prime shorebird habitat during spring and fall migration periods. Today, the site bustled with vibrant shorebird activity and sightings include Buff-breasted, Baird's, Stilt and Pectoral Sandpipers among at least 15 species of shorebird present. Seen above, Short-billed Dowitcher, Long-billed Dowitcher and Lesser Yellowlegs all enjoy the delights of benthic invertebrates for breakfast [photo by Mike Crewe].

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Week in review: 30 August – 5 September, 2014

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. The vast majority of information utilized in these reports comes from eBird data and "Keekeekerr" text alerts. Observers are encouraged to send reports and photos to compiler Tom Reed (coturnicops at gmail dot com).

Location Abbreviations/Explanations: CMP (town of Cape May Point); CMPSP (Cape May Pt. State Park); HB (Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area); Higbee Dike (dredge spoils at northwest corner of Cape Island, site of CMBO's Morning Flight count); SCMM (South Cape May Meadows); SHPt (Stone Harbor Point).


       CMPSP continued to host an abnormally large congregation of Mute Swans, with a recent high of 38 on Bunker Pond (m. ob.). Dabbling ducks established a more obvious presence at Cape Island-- 26 Blue-winged Teal made for a nice sum at CMP 5 Sep (MO'B), while 13 Northern Shovelers were noted at CMPSP the same day (m. ob.). Several Green-winged Teal put in appearances at CMPSP and SCMM most days (m. ob.), and another was migrating offshore CMP 4 Sep (TR). Wild Turkey has become an expected sight along New England Road; close to three dozen continued to be seen at times, particularly during the morning hours (m. ob.). A fishing trip to ca. 30 miles east of Cape May found 2 Cory's Shearwaters, 3 Great Shearwaters, and 5 Wilson's Storm-Petrels 4 Sep (JC, CH). Over 200 Double-crested Cormorants migrated south past CMP on easterly winds 4 Sep (m. ob.). A Least Bittern was noted in the Tuckahoe marshes, where the species nests, 30 Aug (TB). The first appreciable hawk flight of the season overtook CMP 3 Sep, and included 216 Ospreys, 11 Bald Eagles, 21 Northern Harriers, 138 American Kestrels, and 10 Merlins (TR, SB). 

[Cooper's Hawk at CMPSP, 4 Sep. Photo by Tom Reed.]

       A migrant Clapper Rail made for an odd sight on Bunker Pond, CMPSP 3 Aug (m. ob.). A minimum of 2 Soras could be found at SCMM some days (m. ob.). At least one adult American Golden-Plover entertained observers at SCMM and CMPSP 30 Aug–3 Sep (m. ob.). Early-Sep is likely the best time to seek out Buff-breasted Sandpiper at Cape May. Flyovers were notched at CMP 1 Sep and at the Higbee Dike 3 Sep (GD). Another dropped in at SHPt 3 Sep (EH). The morning of 1 Sep brought a nice movement of shorebirds past Cape Island, including 19 Solitary Sandpipers, 112 Lesser Yellowlegs, and 22 Pectoral Sandpipers tallied at CMPSP (VE, MR, TR). A juvenile Long-tailed Jaeger put in a brief but exciting appearance at CMPSP 1 Sep (TR et al.). The majority of land-based records of this species have occurred in early-Sep. Parasitic Jaeger will become a more regular sight in coming weeks; at least 1 was reported from CMP on several days (m. ob.). Multiple Lesser Black-backed Gulls continued to be found at oceanside beaches such as SCMM and SHPt (m. ob.). Notably late were 2 adult Roseate Terns at CMP 30 Aug (MO'B, m. ob.). Least Tern reports continued through 3 Sep (m. ob.), but the species will soon be gone until next spring. The aforementioned fishing trip also encountered 2 Bridled Terns and a Black Tern offshore Cape May 4 Sep (JC, CH). Additional Black Tern reports included 1 at Jarvis Sound 2 Sep (VE, BL, m. ob.) and another at CMPSP 5 Sep (m. ob.). 

[Long-tailed Jaeger at CMPSP, 1 Sep. Photo by Tom Reed.]

       A White-winged Dove was discovered near Coral Avenue, CMP 2 Sep (MO'B, m. ob.). There have been no reports since-- this potentially represents the 4th individual seen in Cape May County during 2014. Eurasian Collared-Dove continued to put in sporadic appearances at CMP. One flew west over CMPSP 3 Sep, and a pair did the same the next day (TR). A Barn Owl flew west past SCMM at dusk 1 Sep (MO'B), the third recorded this season. Light westerly winds brought a noticeable movement of Common Nighthawks over Cape Island during the evening hours 3 Sep, including 100+ seen over West Cape May during a 5-minute period (MG). An impressive songbird flight was witnessed from CMPSP 4 Sep which included 7500 Bobolinks, 315 Eastern Kingbirds, 200 Northern Waterthrushes, 750 American Redstarts, 80 Yellow Warblers, 40 Black-and-white Warblers, 2 Connecticut Warblers, and a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (TR, SW, VE). A strong songbird flight was also noted at the Higbee Dike the same day, with highlights including a Philadelphia Vireo, 2 Bay-breasted Warblers, and a Dickcissel (GD et al.). A "Lawrence's" Warbler was detected at HB 2 Sep (CBN), and a "Brewster's" Warbler put in an appearance at CMPSP 4 Sep (KL). Small numbers of Red-breasted Nuthatches were recorded most days at the Higbee Dike, HB, and CMP (m. ob.). The fall's first Clay-colored Sparrows were photographed at CMPSP 1 Sep (JA) and at SHPt 2 Sep (KH et al.). 

[Chestnut-sided Warbler at the Higbee Dike, 5 Sep. Photo by Tom Reed.]


Jesse Amesbury (JA), Steve Bauer (SB), Tom Baxter (TB), Jacob Cuomo (JC), Glen Davis (GD), Vince Elia (VE), Mark Garland (MG), Chris Hajduk (CH), Emily Heiser (EH), Kathy Horn (KH), Karl Lukens (KL), Bob Lubberman (BL), Claus Brostrøm Nielsen (CBN), Michael O'Brien (MO'B), Mary Raikes (MR), Tom Reed (TR), Scott Whittle (SW).


*eBird. 2012. eBird: An online database of bird distribution and abundance [web application]. eBird, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Accessed 6 Sep 2014. Available:
*Fogg, B. 2013. Keekeekerr: Recent Text Alerts. Accessed 6 Sep 2014. Available: