Friday, December 18, 2015

Location, location, location

As the Cape May Bird Observatory’s Seawatch Migration Count season comes to a close, it’s only natural that we take a moment to reflect on the highlights of past 3 months. Overall this season has been fantastic, if not a little weird. With 70-degree weather in December, late-season big Scoter and Red-throated Loon flights, and rarities like Sooty Terns and a Masked Booby, it’s been anything but boring.

As most of you are probably aware, Cape May Bird Observatory’s Avalon Seawatch moved to a new and improved location, complete with a beautiful little hide to keep counters and visitors sheltered from the elements. Now located directly on the beach between 8th and 9th street in Avalon, counters and visitors alike have an over 200°, unobstructed view from which to enjoy the spectacle of seabird migration.

An aerial map of the Avalon coast is a perfect way to see some of the benefits of the new Avalon Seawatch location--a wider field of view that is closer to the main flight line!

When asked about the new location, local birders have some pretty positive things to say. Michael O’Brien thinks it’s fantastic that you can now get prolonged looks at birds as they make their way past the end of the jetty and around the corner, which is when they are closest to shore. Mark Garland feels the new location, complete with the shack that allows visitors to get out of the elements, gives the count a new sense of professionalism and makes it a better destination for birders to visit while in Cape May. The benefit of being directly on the beach and behind the jetty are instantly obvious to most birders, with shorebirds, gulls, and terns feeding and resting just a stone’s throw from you. In fact, the counters and a few well-timed visitors have been treated to Red Phalaropes and Black-legged Kittiwakes who decided to take a break on the beach in front of the shack.

Visitors and Migration Count Coordinator, Tom Reed, enjoying the shelter at the new Avalon Seawatch location. Just being able to sit and get out of the wind make a huge difference to the counters who are up there from dawn to dusk! [Photo by Mark Garland.]

A Red Phalarope and Sanderlings decided to take a rest on the beach directly in front of the Avalon Seawatch shack between 8th and 9th streets. Having the shelter on the beach allows the counter and visitors to stay in the middle of the action despite lousy weather conditions. [Photo by Tom Reed.]

For the counters, the new location has so many benefits. For the first time in the 5 years he’s been involved with the Avalon Seawatch, Migration Count Coordinator Tom Reed finally feels like he is a part of the count, with birds flying directly in front of him, over him, or even sometimes behind him. At 7th street, the counter had a restricted field of view that was pretty far from the flight line and therefore removed from the action. Primary Seawatch counter, Skye Haas feels the new location results in greater accuracy. He has double the time to precisely count flocks of Scoters or pick out each species in a large mixed duck flock. Skye also noted that thanks to the new shack, on days with less than desirable weather he doesn’t have to battle with the wind shaking his scope tripod or the raindrops blurring his binocular view. Instead, he can devote all of his energy and focus to the count.

A Northern Gannet gives a great example of how close the flight can be at the new Seawatch location. Birds will fly directly over the end of the jetty, allowing visitors photographic opportunities like this one! [Photo by Sam Wilson.]

The new Seawatch location gives observers more time to study the birds heading south. That extra time can be the difference between catching or missing a Great Cormorant in a flock of Double-crested Cormorants, like the one pictured here. [Photo by Tom Reed.]

With any kind of change there inevitably comes doubts and unknowns, but there also comes new opportunities. There is a beautiful relationship blooming between CMBO and the city of Avalon, who has been hugely supportive and excited about the new location. Overall, this experiment has been a very successful one and goes to prove that sometimes you don’t realize something is broke until you fix it! If you haven’t made it to Avalon this season, the count goes til December 22nd so you still have a couple days. I encourage you to visit and experience it for yourself.

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