One of these days, I just know we are going to fall flat on our smug faces, but not this year. For once again, the weather did its bit, geography played its part, Pete Dunne said there would be birds - there were birds...
Cape May in fall really is a phenomenal place; I know we've said it before but, so long as the birds keep coming, you can't blame us for crowing a little (pun intended!). The 2014 Cape May Autumn Weekend is over, the dust is just about settling (once the emails have been dealt with!) and we can reflect on what has been an amazing event. First and foremost, we at Cape May Bird Observatory should like to thank those of you who came, for without you, there would be no event. We should also like to thank the donors, vendors and other supporters, without whom their also would be no event. And we should also like to thank the incredible army of volunteers that help CMBO and New Jersey Audubon for, without them, there might be an event, but it wouldn't be a success.
All of the above can be arranged, and was, mostly by the amazing organizational skills of Rene Buccinna - for much of the time, the rest of us just did as we were told. But what could not be arranged was the birds, so here I want to celebrate at least some of them - for 205 species of them not only showed up, but disported themselves before our delighted audiences and I don't have space to celebrate them all here. I should also like to thank the generosity of those who came to the event, then took time to forward photos for inclusion on this blog - thank you one and all.
Any great day in the field at Cape May begins at dawn [photo by Lambert Orkis]
Early morning brings great birds, and high on everybody's list of things to do was a walk at The Meadows, where up to three Short-eared Owls could be found over the weekend. These two put on a great display for one of our walk groups [photo by John Patterson].
Early morning light plus close fly-by equals great Short-eared Owl shots! [Photo by Karl Lukens]
And it's worth another shot - for the identification officianados, note the way the dark on the primaries bunches towards the wing tips - Long-eared Owls have more regularly-spaced dark bands [photo by John Patterson].
Of the three seasonal watches that CMBO co-ordinates, the Morning Flight is perhaps the hardest to appreciate, since identifying tiny blips by call as they fly overhead is not everybody's thing. But just enjoying the spectacle can often be exciting in its own right. Watching tiny waifs such as this Ruby-crowned Kinglet tumble by in a blustery head wind is a very special way to converse with nature [photo by Doug Gochfeld]
Sharp-shinned Hawks were a major feature of the Autumn Weekend, with sometimes up to 20 in the air at once, all giving some serious grief to the Northern Flickers, Blue Jays and assorted smaller fayre that make up a smorgasbord for these feisty hunters (or should that be smorgasbird? - You had to be there on Friday night) [photo by Doug Gochfeld].
Every bird had a story to tell this weekend - Thursday the 23rd saw a spectacular movement of over 600 Killdeer pass the Hawkwatch Platform and smaller numbers continued over the weekend, bringing with them an assortment of other shorebirds [photo by Lambert Orkis].
Iceland Gulls pass Cape May from time to time, but never seem to hang around. Though they may be regular in small numbers, most occur in late winter or spring, so a late October bird is something to cherish on your list [photo by Alex Lamoreaux]
Another view of the Iceland Gull as it drifted past the Hawkwatch Platform on Saturday. Note the all dark bill and subtle dark markings on the flight feathers and tail [photo by Doug Gochfeld].
Some birds are prone to soaring, others are not. But sometimes, some birds just don't read the books! A Yellow-billed Cuckoo, gaining height over the state park parking lot in late October and heading out over the lighthouse is something that will almost certainly be a once in a lifetime thing, for those of us who were there to witness it [photo by Doug Gochfeld].
And talking of the lighthouse; Cape May birders get great pleasure in photographing their birds with the Cape May lighthouse in shot - so it is only fitting to offer up a Bald Eagle being very obliging over the weekend [photo by Doug Gochfeld].
Here's looking at you kid! Merlins certainly have attitude, and if you can get away with one simply looking at you and not swooping down to part your hair as it races over the Hawkwatch Platform, then you are doing well! [Photo by Doug Gochfeld]
Ducks were high on everyone's list of things to be appreciative of this weekend, as an amazing array of species was waiting to be studied over the weekend. This great flight shot shows what great opportunities came the way of photographers this weekend, as a party of American Wigeon passes the Hawkwatch [photo by Doug Gochfeld].
With so many walks going on at once, there will always be the one that got away - but sometimes, lady luck can be on your side. This American White Pelican made a grand pass over Cape May Point on Saturday and was well received by those who were in the right place at the right time [photo by Doug Gochfeld].
And then there are the falcons... American Kestrels - like this female at the state park - have put on a spectacular show this autumn. Passage often peaks in late September, but there were plenty still passing through over Autumn Weekend [photo by Lambert Orkis].
Cape May's dizzy mix of fall warblers peaks in late September, but even late October offers birds to enjoy and 17 species of warbler were reported over the weekend period. Yellow-rumped Warblers dominated of course, but good numbers of Palm Warbler also passed through - such as this bright yellow, eastern bird [photo by Lambert Orkis].
Late October is the time to start thinking about what the winter might bring, and first indications usually come with the unpredictable arrival of boreal finches. This autumn we are already seeing the start of another big Pine Siskin movement, as increasing numbers head over Higbee Beach or around Cape May Point [photo by Lambert Orkis].
Along with the Pine Siskins, we are seeing notably large numbers of Purple Finches passing through. Pretty much anywhere around Cape May in the early morning, you can hear the hollow knocks of these birds as they head south. Alternatively, you can take a walk and look for them along field edges, like this raspberry-colored male at Higbee Beach this weekend [photo by Lambert Orkis].
Whatever the year, kinglets seem always to pass our way, and a run of north-westerlies like we savored this weekend can bring high numbers of them. Golden-crowned Kinglets seem prone to over-shooting and finding these tiny bundles of feathers struggling toward land or hopping along the rock jetties on the barrier islands is not uncommon. That such areas have been stripped bare of habitat is certainly something we should be concerned about as life can be on a knife edge when you weigh just 5 grammes [photo by Doug Gochfeld].
The pace of life in the back bays steps up a notch during October too and a boat trip over Autumn Weekend is a great way to see more than just the familiar land birds. This American Bittern put in a show during one of our weekend trips, giving those on board some great photo opportunities [photo by Lambert Orkis].
As winter lurks around the corner, waterbirds return to Cape May in good number. Brant are flocking to the sounds now and this group of six Horned Grebes was a great bonus for those on weekend boat trips aboard The Osprey [photo by Lambert Orkis].
Everybody will have their stories to tell, their highlights, the 'big one' that got on their list, or maybe the 'one that got away'. Under both headings, I suspect that this Fork-tailed Flycatcher will find itself highly placed. The first in Cape May since a brief fly-by in 2010, this enigmatic bird was around for at least two days, yet was only glimpsed four times - this photo was taken on Sunday morning, when the bird obligingly cruised over the heads of an Autumn Weekend group at The Meadows [photo by Alex Lamoreaux].
A fine memento for the photographer - since this shot was taken as he calmly took tea on the patio at his home in West Cape May on Saturday afternoon - but a slap in the face for those that missed it (sorry folks!), this fine shot of our elusive Fork-tailed Flycatcher will at least ensure that it makes the record books [photo by Jake Cuomo].
And so to bed. As the sun sets on another spectacular Cape May Autumn Weekend, it's time to start looking forward to the next one, and time to ponder on how best to protect a place that can produce 205 species of birds over a single weekend in late October. Weather and geography will conspire to bring birds to Cape May, they don't come by choice. It must therefore be beholden upon us to ensure that sufficient good habitat is available to support these birds as they seek food and shelter, until conditions determine that is is time to carry on their way... [photo by Lambert Orkis].