Sunday, October 4, 2015

Sooty Terns lead us into a week of anticipation...

Oh the trials and tribulations of a weather forecaster! The past few days have seen us here at Cape May scurrying around to batten down the hatches in preparation for a full-on hurricane assault as Joquin stepped up to a Category 4 off the Bahamas. Birding became increasingly difficult as winds battered the area and had the audacity to remove 20 feet from the top of our big elm tree – the end of a piece of history as the famous branch that held a Crested Caracara two years ago is no more! Extensive flooding of the barrier islands due to ultra-high tides saw our shiny new Avalon Seawatch blind needing to make a tactical withdrawal, but this was allowed for in the clever design which makes the whole unit readily portable.

Having prepared for Joaquin’s arrival, he promptly decided to head out to sea and the threat quickly dissipated. However, it has been a very breezy weekend here at the point and has meant that birders were faced with the usual conundrum – birding in bad weather is decidedly unpleasant, but it produces some extremely interesting birding...

The storm conditions that we have just endured create pluses and minuses for the birdwatcher. Firstly on the downside, small songbirds such as warblers become extremely difficult to find and the exciting spectacle of a fall of colorful birds at Higbee Beach just isn’t going to happen while we have raging onshore winds. On the upside, shorebirds and waterbirds take on a snow globe effect as all the predictable behavior gets shaken up by the weather. The past few days, Don Freiday has done us a great service in travelling around to a number of likely hotspots for ‘shaken up’ birds and texted some interesting counts. As high tides flood traditional roost sites, birds have to move elsewhere and local birders know that, on very high tides, Cape May Airport is the place to go. The wet grass during a storm serves shorebirds well as a temporary roost site and the usual selection of backbay species have recently been joined by Long-billed Dowitchers, White-rumped and Pectoral Sandpipers and American Golden Plovers at this site.

Small parties of White-rumped Sandpipers were also passing Sunset Beach on Saturday morning, a site where it is always a special experience to witness Peregrine Falcons harrying storm-blown songbirds and enjoying the stormy winds like it was a walk in the park. But the real downside of Joquin heading so far out to sea is that the hoped-for tropical seabirds remained where they should be and we didn’t get the splendor of enjoying pelagic rarities without leaving the comfort of terra firma. The only exception to this came from the Avalon Seawatch where two Sooty Terns breezed down the shoreline on the late afternoon of October 2nd, to be followed by two more the following morning. Birds like that are always frustrating as you have to be there or you miss them, there’s very little point in hoping to chase them down. Today has started well, with straggling parties of Great Blue Herons, Great and Snowy Egrets and Black-crowned Night Herons descending on the point throughout the morning and ‘classic’ October birds like Golden-crowned Kinglet and Brown Creeper calling from the cedars. Cape May Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and the continuing river of Tree Swallows all added to the experience this morning, as well as reports of Hudsoniam Godwit, Seaside and Clay-colored Sparrows, Western Kingbird and Yellow-headed Blackbird.

Well, that’s what has been, what about what will be? Predictions are, inevitably it seems, doomed to failure but it doesn’t stop us trying – because we mean well and we want everyone to enjoy the pulse-racing experience that is Cape May at its best. Forecasts show a continued lessening of the winds and a gradual turn to northwesterlies as the influence of Hurricane Joaquin fades. This can surely only mean one thing – birds! There looks like a slight interruption on Friday might interfere with things temporarily but, that apart, the coming week looks like a scarily good conveyor belt of north-westerlies orginiating high up in the Canadian Arctic and, while it is unlikely that we will have wall to wall birding all week, it must surely bring us a wealth of goodies at some point. So our advice to you – come and be here, just in case because, you know, even if it’s not ‘the big one’ there will be birds in Cape May this coming week and the spectacle of migration promises to throw up some memorable moments!

Fall is here – come birding!!!

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