Spring in Cape May: A Relaxed & Easy Tour May 11—16, 2014

Posted by Louise Zemaitis


Louise Zemaitis

Louise Zemaitis is an artist and naturalist living in Cape May, New Jersey where she is a popular field trip leader teaching birding workshops as an Associate Naturalist wi...

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“Magical” is perhaps the word which best describes VENT’s 2014 Cape May Relaxed & Easy tour. The group enjoyed great birding and nice weather interspersed with a series of very special moments.

After a pleasant drive from Pennsylvania, and our first Wawa stop, we arrived at Heislerville Wildlife Management Area at just the right time: high tide. Spring high tides on the Delaware Bay press migrant shorebirds to higher ground where they rest and feed. We marveled at hundreds of shorebirds as they periodically flew in a swirling mass and resettled near our viewing area at the impoundment. Dr. David Mizrahi, New Jersey Audubon’s Research Director, graciously took the time to show us some Dunlin and Semipalmated Sandpipers that he and his interns were studying. Their work is critical in the plight to save these long-distance migrants.

Shorebirds, Cape May

Shorebirds, Cape May— Photo: Michael O’Brien

Our morning with shorebirds was rounded out with a stop on the bay at Cook’s Beach. The spectacle had begun! We were treated to our first views of Red Knots, Ruddy Turnstones, and Sanderling feasting on Horseshoe Crab eggs exposed by the outgoing tide. After lunch we explored Cape May Point.

We began the next morning at Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area, which is known throughout the birding world for migrant songbirds. It did not disappoint. Scarlet Tanagers and Red-eyed Vireos swayed in the treetops as warblers, including Chestnut-sided and Northern Parula, foraged for insects and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo gobbled down tent caterpillars. All this before we had even left the parking area! Exploring the nearby fields, we found male Blackburnian and Magnolia warblers, and scoped a singing Yellow-breasted Chat and Indigo Bunting. The next parking area brought us even more surprises: 4 Mississippi Kites at Cape May Point State Park. We proceeded to see the kites a couple more times from our seawatching and hawkwatching spots before lunch.

Yellow-throated Warbler

Yellow-throated Warbler— Photo: Michael O’Brien

It’s always a treat being on the water in Cape May in the afternoon, especially when cruising the back bays with Captain Bob on The Osprey. From the comfort of the boat, we studied Common Loons of various ages, flocks of shorebirds, a rare (and late) Red-necked Grebe, and had fun with bow-riding dolphins.

Spring birding in Cape May County would not be complete without a trip to Belleplain State Forest to see its breeding songbirds. On our third morning in the field the group enjoyed exceptional views of several facets of breeding behavior: a territorial female Eastern Bluebird attacking the van’s side-view mirrors, an enamored pair of Summer Tanagers oblivious to our presence, nest-building pairs of Acadian Flycatchers and Eastern Phoebes, and a lovely Wood Thrush “feathering its nest.” Nearby, at Jake’s Landing, we visited local marshland breeders. The bathing Clapper Rails were a lot of fun. But it was the River Otter, being eyed up by a Snowy Egret while eating a fish, that really stole the show.

Perhaps the most magical moments during the tour were experienced on our last morning during a walk at Cape May Point State Park. There were excellent views everywhere we went, from the Willow Flycatcher in the dune to the Blackpoll Warblers in the cedars near the Hawkwatch, to the Yellow-throated and Magnolia warblers hover-gleaning insects in the pine grove, to the Blue Grosbeaks and Eastern Kingbirds flitting in the field. It was like fireworks!

For a parting view of the Bayshore on our last day, we visited the beach at Norbury’s Landing. The tide was out and there were still a couple of Horseshoe Crabs on the beach. Louise showed a male and female to the group while talking about their ancient life history against a backdrop of shorebirds and gulls. We can only hope that the magic of the crabs and the shorebirds continues for many years to come.