Thursday, July 27, 2017

Field Notes from National Moth Week: The secret life of the Ailanthus webworm moth

Last night we rigged and ran the insect light for the first time at Cape May Bird Observatory's Northwood Center. What we found throughout the night was nothing short of fascinating, but I'm going to focus on one species that caught my attention almost immediately after turning on the light. First, though, I need to back up a few years, to October of 2004.

My wife and I had just moved to Somerset, New Jersey, to begin my PhD research at Rutgers University (she would decide to begin hers the following year). We had just become caretakers of Rutgers's Hutcheson Memorial Forest, a 560 acre research forest with a 64 acre old growth oak-hickory forest fragment. We were provided with a two bedroom house at reduced rent in exchange for caretaker duties including trail maintenance and providing guided tours of the property. It was a sweet deal, and a highlight of my graduate career for sure. I recall a large Ailanthus altissima, Tree of Heaven (Inga, my wife, would commonly refer to it as the Tree of Hell), on the main path through the old gowth section, which struck me because of its immense size. "That tree has been there since we began studying forest succession, at least back into the 50s and likely before" I remember being told by one of the retired professors who frequented the site. This noxious species, superficially similar to Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) but easily separated by the presence of leaf glands at the bases of its leaflets, was present throughout the site wherever disturbance had left an opening, ranging in age from this old vanguard to young seedlings no more than a year old.

Within the same year I can also recall seeing what I mistook for Eastern Tent Caterpillars on a young Ailanthus. A mass of squirming caterpillars in a web fortress mounted between a skinny trunk and a lateral branch of a sapling only few feet tall. There it was; something that would eat Ailanthus! But why? where did it come from? this was a tropical species from on earth could this be a host plant for a caterpillar in North America? I admit, I never pursued the question; just pondered it one day, and let it slip into the mental file drawer full of interesting questions that may or may not ever get answered. Until today.

Last night, at roughly 10:30pm, I checked the bug sheet at Northwood to find an assortment of little micro-moths, some beetles, a spider with a freshly caught dragonfly, some interesting wasps, a few larger moths, and this peculiar thing...

Atteva aurea (Ailanthus webworm moth)

...which turns out to be Atteva aurea, commonly referred to as the Ailanthus webworm moth. This is what those caterpillars I had seen over a decade ago metamorphose into; wow! It was gorgeous!! So with the name attached to the beast my mind raced back through my file of interesting-but-yet-to-be-pursued-questions, leading me to do some research on this little bugger. A 2009 paper titled A review of the New World Atteva Walker moths (Yponomeutidae, Attevinae) shed some light on the situation which I will share here (but you can read the entire article here if you'd like). Before I do, I just want to take a moment to note how exciting a time it is to be a naturalist. So many resources are now at our fingertips, and with a little training we can access more information than every before, almost instantaneously. Identifying this bug was done using the iNaturalist app for the iPhone (there are also Desktop and Android versions), literally snapping a photo, uploading it, and checking it against computer-generated suggestions. The app immediately identified the species correctly! Finding the primary literature was done by simply searching the scientific name in Of course, if you are interested in learning more about this and all bugs, come out to the Northwood Center on Saturday night from 8:30pm - 10:00pm when we'll be running the insect light for the public to commemorate National Moth Week. More info can be found on our Facebook page:

Now, here's the answer from the 2009 paper, to my burning question from October 2004:

The presence of aurea in the eastern United States and Canada and its association with Ailanthus altissima (Mill.) (Simaroubaceae) is an interesting subject to be investigated. This plant is an ornamental introduced from Asia and now considered one of the most serious weeds in the United States. It was first planted near the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, in 1784 (W. Thomas, pers. comm.) and from there it spread over the entire country. Once it reached southern Texas, where presumably aurea was already present, the moth started to move north. By 1856 it had reached Georgia, as indicated by the material described by Fitch (1856: 486). Riley (1869: 151) found it common in Missouri, feeding on ailanthus. These records indicate that this showy and common moth was absent in the region before the introduction of ailanthus, and the approximately 70-year gap between the introduction of the host, to the first record of the moth by Fitch, is the time it took the plant to move south and the moth to move north. 
Apart from the hosp-plant records mentioned above, the larvae have been reared on the following Simaroubaceae: Castela peninsularis, C. polyandra and C. emory in the United States (Powell et al. 1973: 177), Simarouba amara in Costa Rica (Janzen, pers. com.) and S. glauca in México (by the present author).

So there is is! The larvae can use other species in the same family as Ailanthus, and the spread of the moth is directly related to the spread of Ailanthus across the US and Canada...very cool!

You can view more of the little critters from our foray last night on our iNaturalist project page here:

Friday, July 21, 2017

Come Celebrate NATIONAL MOTH WEEK With Us! July 29: 8:30-10:00 PM

We will be hosting a special event at the Northwood Center in Cape May Point on July 29th, in celebration of National Moth Week - July 22-30, 2017. This is your chance to experience and learn about some of these beautiful and underappreciated creatures. We will have a sheet and buglight set up behind the center to see what we can find. The program will take place 8:30 - 10:00 PM, as sunset will be around 8:15. The Northwood Center is located at 701 East Lake Rd., Cape May Point. Hope you'll join us!!!

Friday, June 30, 2017

HERE BE DRAGONS with Glen Davis - July 8

Dragonflies and Damselflies are a common part of our local wildlife, yet they can be confusing at first glance. With a mixture of indoor theory and outdoor practice, come and learn how to identify many of the 100 or so species that occur in Cape May County. We'll visit a variety of habitats around Cape May County that will allow us to see a good cross-section of species, from the tiny sprites to the mighty darners. Join Glen Davis on this in-depth School of Birding Workshop and learn to appreciate the incredible beauty and variety of the dragonflies all around us! Saturday, July 8: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM. Cost: $90 members, $120 non-members.

Register now at CMBO School of Birding

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


Wednesdays, 2:00-4:00
June 14, 21, 28

Join us for anther fun afternoon and learn the basics of birdwatching from an enthusiastic expert. You’ll discover how to get the most out of your field guide and optics, and learn where to go to find birds and how to identify them using all the hints and clues birds are offering you. It’s a class for absolute beginners, backyard birders who want to expand their horizon, and birders whose skills have grown a bit rusty. Meet at the Northwood Center in Cape May Point. Numbers limited so please call 609.400.3864 in advance to reserve a place, then pay on the day.
Family-friendly (recommended for age 12 and up).
Fees:$15 members, $25 nonmembers (includes a $10 certificate towards membership)

Saturday, June 10, 2017

CAPE MAY'S WILD SIDE Trolley Tour - Wednesdays 8:30-10:30

Wednesday was the inaugural Cape May's Wild Side trolley tour and we had a great time. We passed through the best birding places around Cape May, from Higbee Beach to the South Cape May Meadows, including exiting stops at the Hawkwatch Platform in Cape May Point State Park and the Northwood Center - and even enjoyed a Cedar Waxwing nest from the platform. Join our Associate Naturalist next week (or throughout the summer season) for another chance to learn about the phenomenon of migration and the millions of birds and Monarchs that pass through Cape May, little known facts about lands that have been preserved and natural history of the area, and why Cape May is known as the Raptor Capital of North America! This tour, a partnership with the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC), will run every Wednesday until October 11 - 8:30-10:30 AM.

$20 adults, $15 children (ages 3-12). Tickets may be purchased at the Washington Street Mall Information Booth at Ocean St. or at the Physick Estate.

For more information, call (609) 884-5404 or visit

Thursday, June 8, 2017


Summertime is when Butterflies and Dragonflies are at their peak, showing flashes of brilliant colors and shapes! Southern New Jersey is fortunate to host a wide variety of each, and is a great area to learn to identify the many species. Meet Brian Johnson for this Special Field Trip at CMBO’s Center for Research and Education on Rt. 47, mile marker 15.8 in Goshen. We will travel from there to locations to be determined, including some lesser-known habitats looking mostly for Butterflies. We will also spending some time enjoying Dragonflies and Damselflies. 9:00 - 12:00 PM. $15 member, $20 non-members.

Register now at CMBO Programs

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Summer Kestrel Express - June, July, and August programs

The Summer Kestrel Express is online here. Printed copies will be available soon!

Check out our new programs this summer (click the link above for details):

Cape May's Wildside Trolley Tour - Wednesdays starting June 7

reTURN the Favor - Horseshoe Crab rescue walks - June 9 & 16

Butterflies and Dragonflies: The Jewels of Summer - June 13, July 11 & August 15

The World of Butterflies - workshop with Pat Sutton - August 22

Friday, May 26, 2017

BIRDS AND BREWS CRUISE on The Skimmer - Saturday Nights starting May 27

Saturdays: 4:30-7 PM

Join us on a 2 ½ hour Birding Cruise aboard the 40 foot Eco-tour boat The Skimmer - a partnership between Skimmer Tours and the Cape May Bird Observatory. While you enjoy your craft beer of choice (BYO Brew), we will explore the Cape May Coastal Wetlands Wildlife Management Area in the back bays of Cape May and Wildwood, which is one of the most amazing natural areas in New Jersey. You’ll see dozens of nesting ospreys, a number of heron and egret species, a variety of terns, gulls, and a large variety of migrating shorebirds. The elusive Clapper Rail is also a regularly seen species from our boat.

A portion of the trip is dedicated to bird and wildlife research so, if you like, you’ll assist our Naturalist/Research Associate in identification and data collection at an area of interest in the marsh.
As mentioned, this is a BYOB event. We offer a variety of non-alcoholic drinks for sale on the boat and will provide light snacks (pretzels and/or nuts). Although we highly recommend you partake in a craft beer from one of a number of local breweries, feel free to enjoy your brew of choice or a glass of wine. No hard liquor please.

New Jersey Audubon and CMBO members receive a $3 discount

Cost: $28 members, $31 non-members

You can register at: Birds & Brews Cruise

For more information, contact Skimmer Tours at 609-884-3100 or

Red-breasted Merganser - © Sam Galick

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

APPALACHIAN BIRDING BY EAR with Glen Davis, May 26 & 27

With forests, hemlock glens, marshes, streams, and bogs, there is no better place than High Point State Park and Stokes State Forest in northern New Jersey to hear a diversity of bird songs in a concentrated area, from Cerulean and Blackburnian Warblers to Ruffed Grouse and Barred Owls. Plan to begin early for dawn chorus and lunch in the field, ending by early afternoon each day. This workshop is entirely in the field and, yes, we will look at birds like Cerulean and Chestnut-sided Warblers, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and over 100 others there to be heard or seen. Join Glen Davis on this exciting Cape May School of Birding Workshop.

Register now at Cape May School of Birding

Saturday, May 13, 2017

CMBO Century Run Team Report - World Series of Birding 2017 by Todd Klein


The CMBO Century Run Team - © Clay Taylor

The World Series of Birding is an annual competition and fund-raiser for nature and environmental organizations in which teams try to see or hear as many bird species as possible inside a 24 hour period (midnight to midnight) and inside the state of New Jersey. It’s held on a Saturday in the first half of May, May 6th this year. It was begun in 1984 by Pete Dunne and others, and the first year there were thirteen teams. This year there were 71 teams and hundreds of participants. Since its inception, the event has raised more than ten million dollars for the organizations involved. Our team, the Cape May Bird Observatory Century Run began in 1987, I believe. My first year was 1988, and though I’ve missed a few years, I’ve participated about 25 times. The event is a mixture of exciting (when you find good things), frustrating (when you don’t), a cool nature adventure, an exhausting experience, and usually lots of fun. Every year a core group of fans and supporters help me contribute to the cause of the Cape May Bird Observatory’s mission of conservation, education and preservation, and I’m glad they were there for me again this year. I could always use additional pledges and support - more about that at the end of the article.

Our 2017 team had 15 members. I can’t identify all of them by name, but I will point out this year’s team leader, Brett Ewald, center, in the black jacket. Brett is the new CMBO program director and an expert birder. The two people to the right of him in black and magenta, respectively, are Kathy and Roger Horn, the team planners, along with Patti Domm. Patti works on logistics and with sponsors. Roger and Kathy plan the route, do most of the scouting, and keep everyone on point. To the right of Roger, second from the right, is Karl Lukens, a long-time CMBO Associate Naturalist and co-leader. At far right is Clay Taylor of Swarovski Optik, a team sponsor and the one with all the newest high-tech toys and gear. He’s been kind enough to give me some of his photos for this article, which will greatly improve it. That’s me on the far left.

Early Morning at Cox Hall Creek - © Todd Klein
Our day began at 5 AM at the Cape May Meadows near the southern tip of New Jersey. The top WSB teams go from midnight to midnight and cover the entire state, but you can also cover a single county, as we do with Cape May County. Our group has a little more relaxed schedule, and generally birds from 5 AM to about 9 or 9:30 PM. Last year our total of species identified by sight or sound was 134. The day before the area was swamped with heavy rain, so we didn’t know what to expect on Word Series day, Saturday, but we knew there wouldn’t be many new migrating birds coming to the area overnight, so our goal was to find all the ones already here that we could. After hearing a few birds calling at the Meadows, including American Woodcock, we drove to the Cape May County Airport. There, still in darkness, we gathered the calls of Chuck-Will’s-Widow and Horned Lark with a few others. Then we drove to Cox Hall Creek Wildlife Management Area, where we walked and listened to the dawn chorus of songbirds in growing light, identifying birds like Osprey, Black-throated Blue Warbler and Tree Swallow. We left there at 6:15 AM with a tally of 38 species. The rain held off, it was cool and cloudy and somewhat windy, but pretty good birding.

Laughing Gulls at Reeds Beach - © Todd Klein

Seawatching at Norbury's Landing - © Todd Klein
We stopped at Norbury’s Landing and Reed’s Beach, above, where we added many more species like Double-Crested and Great Cormorant, Common Tern and House Sparrow. Every species counts, even the common ones! In the first few hours of our Big Birding Day, it’s easy to pile on the species heard or seen, and fun to see the totals grow quickly. We left Reed’s Beach with 68 species at 7:30 AM, then stopped at CMBO’s Goshen center for bathrooms and a few more birds like Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Next we headed north and west up the Delaware Bayshore (note our bus in the background). We had two drivers, one for each half of our day. This was the best WSB vehicle we’ve had in a long time.

Jake's Landing - © Todd Klein

The next stop was Jake’s Landing, also on the bayshore, where we were delighted to see the sun! It came and went over the next few hours, and as the air was cool, in the low to mid 60s, it was welcome. The wind also continued all day, but did not interfere with our birding until much later.

Seaside Sparrow - © Clay Taylor
At Jake’s we added species like Northern Harrier, Marsh Wren, Seaside Sparrow (above) and Nelson’s Sparrow, one I rarely see. We left Jake’s Landing at 9 AM with 83 species.

Listening for Songbirds in Belleplain - © Todd Klein
Then we went a short distance inland to Belleplain State Forest, not far from where I live, and one of my favorite places. Last year I did extensive scouting here. This year I did some, but not as much as I would have liked, as we were away on vacation for a week not long before. Belleplain is a great place for nesting songbirds that aren’t found in other areas of our county.

Scarlet Tanager - © Clay Taylor
Summer Tanager - © Clay Taylor
At one stop I’d scouted, near a Boy Scout Camp, we found a first year male Scarlet Tanager not yet in full breeding plumage, above. He was a mix of red and yellow instead of all red (except for black wings). A Summer Tanager came in to chase him away. We saw and heard lots more great birds including Eastern Meadowlark, Acadian Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Warbler and many more. We left Belleplain at 11 AM with 104 species. At that point in the day, with so much of our goal accomplished and many hours remaining, it seems like it will be no problem to set a new team record, but we know from experience that the first 100 species are the easy part. Now it would get much harder.

Higbee Beach WMA - © Todd Klein

We headed back to Cape May and the Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area next, where the wind-sheltered, sunny fields got pretty warm. We were in the midday lull, a time when birds get quiet and often nap, not good for our numbers.

Prairie Warbler - © Clay Taylor

We did enjoy a few more cool birds like this Prairie Warbler, but we’d already counted that one in Belleplain. After walking around for over an hour with only a few new species to add to our tally, it was time for our own midday break.

We ate our packed lunches at the picnic pavilion in the Cape May Point State Park, used the bathrooms, and rested up a bit before going out at it again. We don’t stop to buy food or drink usually, so you have to bring it all with you. I pack a large cooler filled with food and drink that gets me through the day. Afterwards we spent a short amount of time looking for new species there, but the leaders kept getting alerts about good things being seen at the Cape May Meadows. That’s a new aspect of birding these days: cell phones, texting, social media and birding informational sites like eBird are changing the way things are done. For the World Series of Birding, there are some things that aren’t allowed, but there’s also a message service between all the leaders to give tips on what’s being seen where. Karl Lukens’ phone was giving out his Black Rail call ringtone all day with those messages. Sometimes they were very helpful, more often we were far away from the sightings and not going there anyway.

Among other teams at the Meadows - © Todd Klein

As new cloud banks rolled in, we walked the trails at the Cape May Meadows, where we’d begun our day hours earlier, and found lots of new things for our list, some of them rare.

Stilt Sandpiper - © Clay Taylor
This Stilt Sandpiper, is a shorebird we don’t see often in Cape May. There were also Common Gallinule, Red-throated Loon, White-rumped Sandpiper and others. We lingered about two hours at this location, and considered it time well spent.

Singing Prothonotary Warbler - © Clay Taylor
One more stop a nearby nature area called The Beanery gave us great looks at Prothonotary Warbler, but nothing else new. At 4 PM we left the Cape May area again with 123 species on our list, headed for the Atlantic Coast.

Scanning Nummy Island - © Todd Klein
Our next stop was Nummy Island, between Stone Harbor and North Wildwood, where we added a few more species. It was beginning to rain a little now, but not enough to dampen our spirits. Birds don’t mind a little rain. A Red-winged Blackbird was singing loudly as we added birds like Whimbrel, Black-bellied Plover and Tricolored Heron to our list.

Dunlin - © Todd Klein
Some of the shorebirds here, like these Dunlin, we’d already seen on the Delaware Bayshore, but had better and closer looks at them on Nummy Island.

Stone Harbor - © Todd Klein
At nearby Stone Harbor Point, we walked down the trail to find a rare Piping Plover, the same spot as last year. A faint rainbow appeared in the clouds over the ocean.

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron - © Todd Klein
A drive north along the coast to Avalon allowed us to add Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron, always elusive, but easy to find if you know the right hiding place. We also stopped at The Wetlands Institute, where we added Peregrine Falcon. As we left the Atlantic Shore at about 6:30 PM, we tallied our species and found we’d reached 137, three more than last year’s total! We celebrated in an exhausted sort of way, and headed back to the northwest part of Cape May County for a last few hours of searching.
Listening for a Waterthrush - © Todd Klein
The rain let up, but it was still cloudy and now getting more windy as we returned to Belleplain State Forest, and the bridge on Sunset Road. We spent another hour here, but added only one more species, Louisiana Waterthrush. The birds were quiet, and we missed a few we’d been hoping for, like Whip-poor-will.
Nearing the End: Jake's Landing - © Todd Klein
We made one last stop at Jake’s Landing and stood out in the cold wind listening for owls and such, as our bus waited patiently, but to no avail. After some minutes of that, we called it a day and headed back to Cape May at about 9 PM to get our cars from the Meadows, and for some of us, to go to the World Series of Birding Finish Line at the State Park. As the leaders went through our official tally sheet (now in digital form) to be turned in at the finish line, we found one species, Yellow Warbler, that was heard by leader Roger Horn, but no one else, so that one was removed. It left us with a total of 137 species, still quite good for our team, above our average of 130, and three more than last year’s total of 134, in worse weather conditions. We all felt we’d done well, and it had been a satisfying day.

On Sunday, a brunch was held for those participants who wanted to attend. I never do that, as I’d rather be home working on this report and whatever else I need to do. After the awards are given at the brunch, the official results of the World Series of Birding are posted on their WEBSITE.

Thanks to my supporters and my own donation, I’ll be able to contribute pledges of several hundred dollars to the Cape May Bird Observatory for our team. It will take time for all the pledges and donations to be turned in and counted, but you can follow that on the main website page, and if you’re interested in our own team’s fundraising efforts, you can follow those HERE.
Hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our birding adventures. No doubt I’ll be doing this again next year, and will blog about it then.

Captain's Note - Thanks to Todd for taking the time to write this summary of a wonderful day, the team members that make it happen, Clay Taylor and Swarovski Optik for gear, equipment and camaraderie, and all the support, both financial and logistical, that make this such a great event for Conservation!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Spring Shorebirds and Southern Breeders with Pete Dunne and Tom Reed, May 16 & 17

Heislerville’s celebrated shorebird concentration (not to mention the whole Delaware Bay) coupled with Belleplain State Forest (and nearby Cumberland County hotspots) – all resulting in a lot of great birds, all close together! Red Knots, Dunlin, maybe a Curlew Sandpiper, plus woodland birds like Yellow-throated and Prothonotary Warblers, Summer Tanagers, and more on this Cape May School of  Birding Workshop!! Even a Little Egret has been seen recently at Heislerville!

Register online today at Cape May School of Birding

Saturday, April 22, 2017


It's the time of year when birds are back on breeding territory or making their way further north, and singing along the way!! Want to learn who's doing the singing? Join Michael O'Brien in discovering the songs of warblers, vireos, sparrows, and more on this Cape May School of  Birding Workshop!!

Register online today at Cape May School of Birding

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

RETURN THE FAVOR: Rescue Stranded Horseshoe Crabs

CMBO is once again taking part in the ReTURN The Favor partnership of conservation groups in rescuing stranded Horseshoe Crabs on beaches in Southern New Jersey. We have accepted responsibility for three beaches on the Delaware Bayshore - Cook's Beach, Pierce's Point Beach, and High's Beach - and are inviting you to join us in monitoring and assisting the crabs on these beaches.

The Delaware Bay has long been the home to the largest concentration of spawning horseshoe crabs in the world, but this population has declined by 90% over the last 15 years because of overharvesting and degraded habitat. This trend is not only an issue for the horseshoe crab population itself, but also for migrating shorebird species that depend on the horseshoe crab for survival. In May and June each year horseshoe crabs use the Delaware Bay beaches to lay their eggs. At the same time shorebirds are migrating from South America to Arctic breeding grounds. To complete this journey - up to 9,000 miles long - shorebirds stop over in the Delaware Bay region to refuel on the high-calorie horseshoe crab eggs. As the horseshoe crab population struggles, the shorebirds are unable to fatten on crab eggs to continue to the Arctic. And now many of these shorebird populations - including Red Knots, Ruddy Turnstones, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Dunlins - are also struggling. In fact, the Red Knot was recently listed as 'threatened' under the federal Endangered Species Act. You can help rescue horseshoe crabs in New Jersey through our reTURN the Favor program, keeping horseshoe crabs and shorebirds in the Delaware Bay for many years to come.

The Issue: While coming ashore many of these harmless animals accidentally become overturned by waves, or become trapped in jetties or behind bulkheads. Horseshoe crabs are vulnerable when their soft undersides are exposed to the sun and are easy targets for predators. Thousands of horseshoe crabs die each season due to stranding on beaches.

Please let us know if you are interested in this inspiring venture. By helping us to actively return Horseshoe Crabs to their proper side and assess the numbers on the beaches, you will be help the ecosystem as a whole. It's a great chance to make a difference! More information is available at or by contacting us directly. New volunteers should plan to take part in one of two training sessions being offered: April 20 at the Wetlands Institute (6-8 pm) or April 29 at the Bayshore Center in Bivalve (10 am -12 pm). Our beaches are closed beaches, meaning no access during daylight hours between May 7 - June 7, to accommodate the feeding shorebirds. Monitoring during this period will require late evening/night walks. We will also host two public walks on June 9 (1-3 pm) and June 16 (9-11 am), starting with a short training session at the Center for Research and Education (CRE) along Rt. 47 in Goshen, before proceeding to one of our three beaches. RSVP to the CMBO registrar your intent to volunteer - Hope you'll join us!!

Brett Ewald
Program Director
Cape May Bird Observatory
New Jersey Audubon

Friday, April 7, 2017


Would you like to see a Northern Gannet? How about 8,000 in one day?!! That's what went by the Springwatch site in Cape May today (April 7th), along with 1500+ Red-throated Loons, 2300+ Black Scoters, 1500+ Surf Scoters and so much more!! Join Tom Reed, Cape May's seawatch expert, for this Cape May School of Birding Workshop and a chance to learn how to identify and understand the amazing migration past Cape May Point.

Many birders are aware of the significant autumn waterbird migration visible at the Avalon Seawatch, but far fewer know about the spring spectacle that occurs at the mouth of Delaware Bay. Northern Gannets, scoters, loons, and dozens of other species stage and migrate through the bay during their northward journeys. Tom Reed, CMBO's Migration Count Coordinator, has led efforts to monitor these happenings at Cape May Point in recent years. Join Tom for a morning session of seawatching, a great opportunity for beginners to dip their toes in this challenging but exciting birding activity! We’ll follow with an afternoon session that will reinforce identification tips while also introducing the history and goals of the “Springwatch” monitoring program.

Register online today at: Cape May School of Birding

Northern Gannet at the Springwatch

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Join the CMBO CENTURY RUN World Series of Birding Team!!!

It's that time again  - the 34th annual World Series of Birding! Soon, teams from all over the world will be scouring the marshes, forests, and meadows of New Jersey to count birds - and raising money for New Jersey Audubon's conservation efforts!

At CMBO, we're once again hosting a team with open registration. This is your chance to join in the fun and camaraderie of a birding event, along with team captain Brett Ewald, CMBO Associate Naturalists, and Swarovski Optik’s Clay Taylor. We'll have a full and rewarding day of birding around Cape May County. We will start around 5:00am, with a later start for those who are not early birds. We generally bird until around 10:00pm, with a few breaks in between.

The CMBO Century Run team is a level II team, so there is no registration fee required.  However, by joining our team, you commit to raise $1 per bird species counted. Last year, our team tallied 134 species, and this year our goal is 140!.

Thanks to your generous hard work and donations last year, our team raised over $7000. Help us to reach this year's goal of $7500, through a contribution or joining us in the field. We can make a difference together!!!!!

For more information, to make a donation, or to register for the CMBO Century Run team, go to our team page at

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Bald Eagle Cruises on the Maurice River start this weekend!

Click picture to enlarge
It's a beautiful weekend for a river cruise! The Osprey is back in Millville for the annual weekend Bald Eagle Cruises on the Maurice River. Today's cruise is sold out, but you can buy tickets for tomorrow and the next two weekends here -

Friday, March 31, 2017

INTRODUCTION TO BIRD PHOTOGRAPHY with Scott Whittle - April 7 & 8

Whether you’re looking to accelerate your identification skills, or show the world how you see the birds around you, the camera is a perfect tool. In this two-day workshop, professional photographer Scott Whittle will help you work with the equipment you have to achieve your photographic goals. The course will include an overview of gear and how to use it, shooting sessions in the field, and how to develop a digital workflow that gets you the best possible image. Participants are encouraged to bring their laptops for post-photo capture learning.

Register online today at: CMBO School of Birding

Saturday, March 25, 2017

FIELD SKETCHING FOR BEGINNERS with Michael O'Brien, Saturday, April 1

This School of Birding Workshop will help take your appreciation of birds and birdwatching to the next level!

There is no better way to learn the details of a bird’s structure and plumage than to draw it, and many expert birders, like Michael and Louise, are also artists. Learn tips and tricks for quickly sketching birds in the field when there may not be time for painstaking observation. Drawing birds brings advantages to non-artists, too, simply from the need to look at a bird critically in order to draw it; it’s also a great way to document unusual species. No artistic talent or training needed. This workshop has been very popular - sign up early! Preregistration required.

Register online today at: CMBO School of Birding

Friday, March 24, 2017

Loons and Shorebirds Cruise on The Osprey, Saturday March 25

Click picture to enlarge
The weekend forecast is for warmer weather (at last!), and Saturday afternoon should be a great time for a boat trip! The Poor Man's Pelagic trip has sold out, but there is still room aboard The Osprey for a back bay cruise. Call 609-898-3500 to reserve your spot or purchase your tickets online at

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Sea Ducks, Blue Mussels, and Jetties

Article and photos by Michael Kilpatrick

It is easy to take for granted things right underfoot. Recently, while enjoying a visit to a local jetty, it became apparent that one hundred years ago I would have been drifting with water over my head in the tide. Jetties are relatively modern structures, but many of us visit these rock piles not realizing their impact. Irrespective of the pros and cons of coastal engineering, jetties provide unique opportunities for birders. Though we may love them or hate them, certain birds unequivocally love them. Blue mussels and sea ducks meet on these rock piles and produce world class opportunities for birders and photographers.

Black and Surf Scoters feeding in rough seas over submerged
rock structure at Avalon.

Long-tailed Ducks cruising along Barnegat Inlet Jetty
Just how old are our local jetties? A review of historic aerial maps and Corps of Engineer records note that the first jetties appeared around 1911 with the inception of the Cold Springs Inlet (Cape May Harbor) jetties. Structures were added to the Cape May area, Barnegat, Shark River and Manasquan between 1920 and 1940. The structures in Hereford Inlet and Townsend’s Inlet are more modern, dating to the mid and late 1960’s. These structures created a new habitat dynamic and jetties became home to numbers of fish, crustaceans, mollusks, invertebrates and vegetative growth, all food sources for birds. Also, part of the dynamic is an accessible platform for people beyond the surf line, with deep water and currents favorable for sea duck viewing. One unintended benefit of jetties is that they provide a steady food source for sea ducks – Blue Mussels.

Newer structure at Townsend's Inlet

Older structure at Stone Harbor beachfront
The Blue Mussel (Mytilus edulis) lives in temperate and polar waters, colonizing both coasts of the North Atlantic and North Pacific, as well as similar areas in the Southern Hemisphere. It favors oceanic and estuarine conditions and colonizes hard substrates. Our Atlantic Coast inlets have excellent flow of nutrients, salinity, and water temperature to support Blue Mussel colonization. Even without jetties, the Blue Mussel can be found attached to eel grass and other softer substrates. But they thrive on rocks and it is on the rock jetties that it plays out to our greatest advantage, where we can walk out past the surf line.

Blue Mussels colonized on local jetty.

Surf Scoter with catch of Blue Mussels.
The Blue Mussel is the most consumed mollusk in the world and consumption extends beyond the plates served in favorite restaurants. Through more than a half century of research and analysis of stomach content, the Blue Mussel has been, and still is, a predominant and important food source for sea ducks. 

Greater Scaup with meal of Blue Mussels.

Surf Scoter with mouthful of Blue Mussels.

For scoters in oceanic environments, the Blue Mussel dominates diet selection, comprising up to 50% of their collective diet. Common Eiders rely on Blue Mussels and no other duck depends to such an extent upon a single food source. Long-tailed Ducks, scaup, and Harlequin Ducks have a much more diverse diet, yet the mussel is still an important winter food source. More simply stated, if sea ducks dined in seafood restaurants, we may not get a seat. The colonization of the Blue Mussel on jetties helps bring these mostly distant feeders to the edge of the shore and often within very close distances.

Common Eiders feeding over submerged jetty
structure at Barnegat

Long-tailed Duck feeding on a Blue Mussel.
The Harlequin Duck’s presence in Barnegat Inlet every year could be attributed to the Blue Mussel colonies on the jetty. Charles Urner conducted weekly counts of ducks on and around Barnegat for twelve years between June of 1923 and June of 1935. These counts are reported by Witmer Stone in Bird Studies at Old Cape May.  During those 12 years, he notes numbers of Brant, American Black Ducks, and diving ducks, but only four sightings of Harlequin Duck. The Barnegat Jetty was constructed between 1934 and 1940. Is it possible that today’s regular appearance of the Harlequin Duck in Barnegat Inlet is due to the Blue Mussel’s presence on the jetty?

Harlequin prying mussels with bill.

Eye to eye with a preening Harlequin Duck.
Jetties, Blue Mussels, and sea ducks have become a winter tradition, but it is worth noting a shorebird species that is part of this tradition. The Purple Sandpiper was rarely recorded in New Jersey until the construction of the Cold Springs Inlet (Cape May Harbor) jetty. Again, referring to Bird Studies at Old Cape May, Stone notes: “Until the winter of 1924-25, there was, so far as I am aware, only two definite records of the Purple Sandpiper on the New Jersey coast…….With the construction of the stone jetty at the mouth of the Cape May Harbor, a few of these birds are to be found, probably every winter, feeding among the rocks…”. This prompts the same question: is it possible today’s regular appearance of the Purple Sandpiper is due to the presence of the jetties and sea walls?

Purple Sandpiper foraging in Blue Mussels
Through winters, summers and migration, our jetties are used by many species, but for the avian enthusiast, winters on our jetties are special and the sea ducks steal the show. This was all summed up for me by a UK visitor met at the Barnegat Inlet Jetty, who repeated several times: “You are so fortunate to have such opportunities here….and the ducks are so close….we never have such opportunities at home and came here to see them….it is amazing!”. For those that brave the cold and visit our local jetties, do not take them for granted, as they represent an opportunity that does not exist for all and was not available to those in the past. And never take for granted what is unde foot….a slip and fall on granite can be very unforgiving!

Black Scoter landing in feeding flock.

Greater Scaup with Blue Mussel in corner of bill.

Note: all photos were taken from jetties and sea walls located from Cape May Inlet to Barnegat Inlet.

Surf Scoter with catch of Blue Mussels.