Cape May and Bombay Hook Sep 23—29, 2012
Posted by Louise Zemaitis
The weather forecast called for a cold front to reach the New Jersey coast during the first night of our tour—perfect conditions for songbird migration! We began our first day in the field with a quick exit from Philadelphia, reaching Cape May in all of its glory. It was a great day to see, and compare, warblers. By the end of the day we had tallied 14 species including many Black-and-white Warblers, American Redstarts, and Northern Parulas. Particularly superb views were had of Cape May and Black-throated Green warblers in the trees near Lily Lake, and eye level Bay-breasted and Blackburnian warblers at Cape May Point State Park. Warblers were our constant companions throughout the day as we looked to the sky for hawks, the Delaware Bay for gulls and terns, and everywhere else for Monarchs. By afternoon, we found ourselves in a river of Monarchs in Cape May Point. An awesome spectacle of nature!
American Avocets— Photo: Michael O'Brien
Cape May is known for its diversity of habitats. Exploring these habitats is always an adventure. This week was no exception. Our pancake breakfasts (with real maple syrup) were enjoyed within view of the Cape May beachfront and hundreds of Black Skimmers. We visited the saltmarsh from several points of view. A full afternoon was spent on "The Osprey" backbay pontoon cruise where we studied shorebirds, egrets, and terns. A White-winged Scoter in Cape May Harbor was a surprising find during our leisurely cruise. Taking a drive up the Atlantic Coast, we visited a roost of adult and immature night-herons, the Avalon Seawatch, Townsend's Inlet, and Stone Harbor. We watched Northern Gannets pass the seawatch on their long pelagic journey while terns and gulls fed in the surf. One of the best finds of the trip, a Tricolored Heron, was spotted at the inlet while we were admiring a flock of Black Skimmers and American Oystercatchers. On the beach in Stone Harbor, we found a nice flock of shorebirds including a lone Piping Plover. This little beach nester has had a tough time competing with humans in recent years. It is always a pleasure to see one.
The amount of field and forest that has been preserved in Cape May is a source of pride for local birders. Witnessing morning flight, then walking along the hedgerows at Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area is a favorite way to begin the day. Our time at Higbee was spent enjoying numerous Northern Flickers as they winged through the treetops, sprinkled with a nice variety of passerines. Close views of Downy Woodpecker, Prairie Warbler, Indigo Bunting, and many Gray Catbirds were appreciated. One particularly lovely afternoon was spent exploring Cox Hall Creek Wildlife Management Area. The paved paths, overgrown fairways, mature trees, and many ponds of this fallow golf course provide exceptional birding. Carolina Wrens came out of hiding, Cedar Waxwings perched in the open, a family of Blue Grosbeaks worked their way through the field, and turtles basked in the afternoon sun. But it was the flock of Eastern Bluebirds and Chipping Sparrows that captivated us the most. That is until a Cooper's Hawk flew in, only to be trumped later by a magnificent perched adult Bald Eagle.
There is much to be said about the birds of Cape May, but the people who are drawn to them are special as well. Our time in Cape May was enhanced by seabird counter Bob Fogg's description of the Avalon Seawatch at its bank of clickers, hawk bander Joey Mason's wonderful female Sharp-shinned and male Cooper's hawk comparison (in hand!), the members of the Monarch Monitoring Project counting and tagging (yes, I guess that includes me), and most of all, birder extraordinaire, Michael O'Brien, our very special guest.
We began our last day in the field with a pleasant ferry crossing to Delaware. Northern Gannets sailed by at close range, a Great Cormorant sat on the outer jetty in Delaware, and a perched Peregrine Falcon watched as the boat came in to dock. At Cape Henlopen State Park, just a short drive from the ferry, Brown-headed Nuthatches came and went from our scope view of their feeder—exceptionally cute, making their "rubber mouse" vocalizations. The balance of our birding day was spent at the freshwater impoundments and tidal marshes of Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. The tide was perfect for shorebirds! Between Shearness and Raymond Pools we saw hundreds of American Avocets, Black-bellied Plovers, and Greater Yellowlegs. We enjoyed excellent study opportunities of many other shorebirds as well: Hudsonian and Marbled godwits, Semipalmated and Western sandpipers, and Short-billed and Long-billed dowitchers. We also saw a nice variety of waterfowl, including some of the first Snow Geese of the season. There were even a couple of surprises, like the lonely Tundra Swan, late Black-necked Stilt, and "Western" Willets. A couple of Clapper Rails came out to the muddy edge while flocks of avocets flew through the creek bed, so close that we could hear their wings! A beautiful parting shot!