Saturday, November 14, 2015

A Freaky Friday the 13th

Franklin’s Gulls are in town! Thanks to strong storm systems working their way east across the country, Cape May (and the East Coast in general) has experienced the greatest influx of Franklin’s Gulls it’s ever known. These birds aren’t exactly annual visitors, though we do get a couple every 2 to 3 years, typically as rare vagrants. The previous NJ record of Franklin's Gulls was another storm-driven invasion from November 14-15, 1998 of 50+ birds between Avalon and Cape May. A group of 3 individuals were reported in 2005, but all other records are of single birds. However, after reviewing information complied from eBird reports, photos, and personal accounts, it’s estimated that Cape May County saw roughly 350 Franklin’s Gulls yesterday.

eBird reports of Franklin's Gulls from November 2014. A single individual was spotted at the Avalon Seawatch and another individual hung out for about 10 days at a Waste Water Treatment reservoir in Maryland, but the rest of the east coast is barren.

eBird reports of Franklin Gulls from November 2015. As you can see the entire Northeast and East Coast has been invaded by vagrants pushed east by recent storms.

Birders here in Cape May had been watching the weather and the numerous reports of Franklin’s Gulls west of us all week, salivating at the idea of a good invasion. It started Friday morning with flocks of anywhere from 4 to 15 just off shore at Coral Avenue. Then reports started coming in from the Hawkwatch, Sunset Beach, and the Avalon Seawatch: we were indeed being invaded! Later in the afternoon, Megan Crewe found a flock of 62 sitting on the ocean off of Cape May City. That flock lifted up and was spotted by observers kettling over the Grand Hotel, over The Nature Conservancy’s South Cape May Meadows, and eventually out towards the Delaware Bay. A couple Franklin’s Gulls have even been cooperative enough to hang out at the Cape May-Lewes Ferry Terminal, close enough for great photographs. It was a race all over town for birders to get Franklin’s Gull on their yard lists, office lists, county lists, and even life lists.
A group of Franklin's Gulls taking off from the water where they were resting just off-shore in Cape May City. [Photo by Tom Johnson.]

The same flock of Franklin's Gulls visible from the beach access in Cape May City. It was counted to be about 62 individuals--more than has ever been documented in New Jersey at one time! [Photo by Tom Johnson.] 

Franklin's Gull flying past the Cape May-Lewes Ferry Terminal in Cape May. This individual hung out all afternoon which allowed for fantastic opportunities to observe and photograph this rare vagrant. [Photo by Tom Johnson.]

A Laughing Gull (left) sits on the water alongside a Franklin's Gull (right). Note the smaller size, smaller bill, and dark helmeted look with pale nape on the Franklin's Gull. [Photo by Mike Crewe.]

Today, the Franklin Gull show has died down considerably, with a few still being spotted here and there (including the Ferry terminal). Saturday’s excitement belongs to Cave Swallows, with over 400 counted from Coral Avenue as of 1:00pm today. We have two sub-species of these beautiful little birds in North America: populations throughout Texas and one down at the very southern tip of Florida. Nowadays, we regularly get an influx of Cave Swallows along the East Coast and the southern Great Lakes that expand their ranges northward at the end of the breeding season to exploit food resources. This year however, like the Franklin’s Gulls, we have experienced unprecedented numbers. Yes, November is the time for rarities and invasions. Come on down and see for yourself!

A Cave Swallow feeds on insects over Bunker Pond in front of the Hawkwatch platform at the Cape May Point State Park. [Photo by Mike Crewe.]

Another shot of a Cave Swallow from Bunker Pond at the Cape May Point State Park. Note the pale rump and collar, dark throat, and short, blunt tail. [Photo by Mike Crewe.]

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