Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Natives are Restless

There are those of us who get the pleasure of calling Cape May home year-round. We are within range when the rarities show up, we have first person stories from mega-flight days, and we all have a favorite schedule of spots to visit when the town is dripping with migrants. Right now however, the native are restless. We are nearly four weeks into September, and we have yet to have a classic cold front. The last decent cold front that brought with it a couple days of awesome birding was around August 26th. The mega Morning Flight day on September 14th was thanks to a somewhat bizarre cold front that stalled out for a couple days. It’s believed the birds bottled up behind the front and the dam broke loose once it finally cleared. Since then, we have been left with strong Northeast winds, the exact opposite of what we need for epic fall migration at the point. The forecast doesn’t look promising and the utter lack of birds around town has left me wondering, do we take Cape May for granted?

All week I have been interacting with people from all over the country, all over the world for that matter, who are visiting Cape May in hopes to experience the incredible fall migration spectacle we are known for. There is nothing more frustrating or disheartening than telling people who have traveled hours, sometimes days, that we don’t have has many migrants in town as they were hoping for. Being the eternal optimist I am though, I never leave them without a plan for seeing some good birds. Cause let’s be honest, even a bad day of birding in Cape May is still great! It’s ‘dry’ spells such as these that allow us to slow down and take time to truly appreciate some of the frequently overlooked aspects of Cape May birding.

Thank god for Falcons. No matter the weather, wind direction, or time of day, you can almost always count on some falcons putting on a show for the Hawkwatch at Cape May Point State Park. Whether it’s an American Kestrel getting picked on by a Sharp-shinned Hawk, a long-winged Peregrine with its eyes on Delaware, or an ornery Merlin chasing after a couple Tree Swallows, seeing a falcon or two is a safe bet. Speaking of Tree Swallows, there are tens of thousands of Swallows in town right now. From the salt marshes to the beachfronts, swarms of them can be seen, like a cloud of smoke, lifting from the vegetation. A massive staging occurs every fall in Cape May, where they rest and feed on the plethora of Bayberries, before making their way to the wintering grounds in the extreme southeastern US and south of the boarder into Central America.

An adult Peregrine Falcon zipping past the CMBO Hawkwatch platform. Our coastal migration sites affords visitors fantastic looks at low-flying birds. Naturalists love falcons since they can be seen in almost any weather conditions. In fact, eastern winds can be great for pushing off-shore falcon migrants inward where we can enjoy (and count) them. [Photo by Tom Reed.] 

Seabirds aren't the only birds that can be enjoyed from our new Seawatching shack in Avalon. These Tree Swallows rested in the sand and dunes as the sun rose over the ocean. Tens of thousands swallows can be seen around Cape May right now. Make sure to visit the new Avalon Seawatching shack located on the beachfront between 8th and 9th streets. [Video by Skye Haas.]

A juvenile Tree Swallow decided to take a rest from the strong winds right on the platform. Visitors were delighted to get such an up-close and personal look at this little guy. He happily posed for a couple minutes before taking off and joining the rest of the flock. For those of you having trouble spotting him, he is on the railing to the left of the gentleman in the yellow shirt. [Photo by Margeaux Maerz.]

A few rarities have been hanging around as well. A couple of Western Kingbirds have taken a liking to a roadside off of Reed’s beach on the bayshore. They have proved to be pretty reliable and easy to spot, and thus a good bird to go look for when the island is quiet. And then there’s Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, previously known as Brigantine. Brig is always good and only about a 45-minute commute from Cape May. A variety of shorebirds, including a vagrant Curlew Sandpiper, have been spotted there. Just bundle up and bring a scope if you’re planning to visit.

A Western Kingbird takes a moment to rest atop a snag off of Reed's Beach Road on the Bayshore. It's a treat when we get scarce migrants like this, and an even greater treat when they hang out for lots of people to enjoy. [Photo by Sam Galick.]

Indeed, the birds are around, you just have to work a little harder for them. As we obsessively watch the weather and long for a change in the winds, we take advantage of the time we have to study what is in town. We can’t wait for the next big push of migrants and I, for one, will appreciate every bird I see. It’s been a humbling couple weeks and a stark reminder that we shouldn’t take our beloved Cape May for granted.

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