Friday, August 28, 2015

Kingbirds, Orioles, and Redstarts, Oh My!

It’s still amazing to me what a couple days of Northwest winds can do for birding in Cape May. Those of us who dragged ourselves out of bed and hiked up the Higbee dike before dawn were rewarded with the first big push of migrant songbirds. Birds are everywhere. Even now as I sit here at the Northwood Center writing this post, I can glance out the window and see a handful of warblers, vireos, and flycatchers working their way through the treetops. But like all migrations, there is a seasonality to our diversity and a few species have invaded us with impressive force.

A Chimney Swift heads north past the Higbee dike. One of many migrants that made their way to Cape May this week in what was our first big push of songbird migration. [Photo by Sam Wilson.]
Another songbird in flight past the Higbee dike, this Prothonotary Warbler was a special treat Sunday morning, signifying the beginning of a large influx of migrants. [Photo by Sam Wilson.]

It seems pretty much anywhere you look, whether it is the elevated view from atop the dike or walking the fields around Higbee, Eastern Kingbirds are abundant. Their chasing and diving after one another is nicely contrasted with a tendency to pose in the tops of trees. It’s quite the spectacle to behold when they all lift up at once, swirling and swarming in groups of a hundred or more. Our Morning Flight count for Eastern Kingbirds hit a high of 664 individuals on Thursday. With that many birds around, their presence is always apparent.

Another common sight this week, much to the pleasure of our photographer friends, are Baltimore Orioles. These vibrant, freshly molted migrants can be seen throughout Cape May right now and their sweet, whistled calls have been the soundtrack of Higbee mornings. There is nothing quite like watching a male Oriole flying past the dike at eye-level, with the rich blue water of the Delaware Bay as a backdrop, to remind yourself why you love birding so much.

An Eastern Kingbird taking a moment to rest and take in its surroundings before it undoubtedly puts on an aerial display with a couple hundred others. [Photo by Sam Wilson.]

This Baltimore Oriole, one of many seen around Higbee WMA, was one of the migrants moving through Cape May this week. [Photo by Sam Wilson.]

My personal favorite about town right now has to be our American Redstarts. Their striking plumage, seemingly incessant movement, and frequent tail fanning gives them a tenacity that you can’t help but love. Couple that with a foraging technique that looks like they suddenly took a tumble out of the tree and you have a warbler that never fails to entertain! With nearly 600 counted during Thursday’s Morning Flight, you would be hard pressed to go birding around Cape May and not see a few.

American Redstarts, like this one flying past the Higbee dike, are a common sight around Cape May this week. One of the easier warblers to pick out during Morning Flight thanks to their unique tail pattern and strong zig-zagging flight line. [Photo by Sam Galick.]

A couple other species worth noting (that didn’t fit into my catchy title) include Red-eyed Vireos and Black-and-white Warblers. For a relatively small bird, Red-eyed Vireos make a significant amount of commotion as they jump, hover, and sometimes crash through the trees looking for insects and berries. Our eyes can’t help but be drawn to all that movement, so I have found myself studying a disproportionate number Red-eyed Vireos this week. The trees are also crawling with Black-and-white Warblers, literally. This bird was once described to me as a “Zebra creeper” and I think it’s one of the better nicknames I have heard. It’s fascinating to watch them work their way along a branch or trunk as they check every nook and cranny for morsels of food. They are remarkably efficient and I doubt much gets left behind.

Black-and-white Warblers have a curious manner about them. This one outside the Northwood Center made sure he checked out everything, including our Geocache, though I doubt he stopped long enough to sign the log! [Photo by Mike Crewe.]

As August draws to a close, the weather has cooled and the birds are bountiful. Yes, Northwest winds do wonderful things for us in Cape May. Make sure your camera batteries are charged, your binoculars are clean, and keep an eye on the winds. Early mornings are much more enjoyable when you spend them outside, so get up and go birding! Fall is here and it’s downright delightful!

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