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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Birding South New Jersey Labor Day Weekend

              Hurricane Hermine was destructive in the Florida Panhandle and the Carolina coast but fortunately missed most of the New Jersey shore.  There were some high winds and tides but fortunately no rain or flooding.  We were able to tour the beaches after the mass exodus Saturday morning  when the visitors took Governor Christie and Glenn “Hurricane” Schwartz’s advice and went home or never risked coming down in the first place.                                                                                                                       
                In the afternoon there were strong winds when we arrived at Sunset beach on the southernmost tip of New Jersey.   It was tough to steady my camera in the wind but the gusts also slowed the flight of large numbers of Common Terns and at least 30 or more Black Terns just a hundred feet off the beach allowing me to get some decent photos. A few of the Black Terns even landed on the beach alongside the Common Terns but they flew away before I was able to unpack my camera.   

Black Terns

           After being blown around for an hour we decided to head over to the town of Cape May and walk along the Oceanside Promenade.  Not as many birds in the air except for the Laughing Gulls and some Royal Terns but lots of Black Skimmers hunkered down on the Beach. We were exhausted after being out in the wind after 3 hours and headed home for warmth and shelter.                                                                                                     
          The next morning I drove over to the South Cape May Meadows (just a mile north of Sunset Beach) to see if I could locate the Baird’s Sandpiper that had been observed there the week before.  Upon arrival there was a single sandpiper out on the mud flats but it was a considerable distance from the viewing tower and I had not brought my spotting scope.  I took some photos hoping to see more detail to help with the identification but they turned out to be grainy and not useful.  This was almost a repeat of last year when I saw a Baird’s in the same location which had been confirmed by a number of the CMBO members but it was so far away and the views so poor that I did not list as a “lifer”. Anyway I knew I would get back to this fairly reliable spot tomorrow.                                               
Baird's Sandpiper
          The following day which was Monday I visited Highbee’s Beach first and was immediately treated to a field of Bobolinks feeding on Sorghum and Sunflower seeds that had been planted there. 

              Intermixed with the Bobolinks were Red-Winged Blackbirds and a single Blue Grosbeak. 
Blue Grosbeak

         There were a few other birds of interest including Parula, Prairie, Yellow warblers plus Common Yellowthroat and American Redstart and a Red-Breasted Nuthatch.  Anxious to try my luck with the Baird’s I left Highbee’s and returned to the Meadows.  This time there was a flock of Least Sandpipers accompanied by a slightly larger Sandpiper which looked pretty much like the bird I saw yesterday.  In addition to the size it had a buffy head and breast band and a scaly pattern to its back.  I took some better photos since the bird was a lot closer this time and added the Baird’s to my life list!     
Baird's Sandpiper

          Wednesday morning I headed over to Cape May Point State Park since a Red-necked Phalarope was seen in the Bunker Pond next to the hawk watch platform. Sure enough the bird was right in front of the hawk watch stand but unfortunately it was back lit by the early morning sun and was partially hidden by the phragmites in front of it!  While I was trying to figure out a way to position myself for a better view of the bird a Peregrine Falcon appeared and proceeded to harass a Northern Harrier totally ignoring all the other shorebirds including the phalarope. Lucky for all the birds the falcon seemed to lose interest and headed out to the ocean.  After about 30 minutes the phalarope flew to the dune side of the pond and was no longer in front of the sun or behind the tall reeds.  I moved to the dune side of the pond and was a able to get some nice shots of bird before it flew off. 
Red-necked Phalarope

              I then walked around the rest of the pond and was watching a Great Blue Heron eating a snake when a bulky brown bird flew right over my head and landed on another edge of the pond.  It was a bit of a distance but I got a got look at an immature Yellow-crowned Night-Heron.   
Immature Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
             At this point I decided to walk over  to the Meadows which adjoins the State Park.  This time no sign of the Baird’s but I did get some nice looks at some Pectoral Sandpipers, hundreds of Tree Swallows, a Glossy Ibis and a white phase Little Blue Heron. 
Great Blue Heron chowing down on a snake

Flock of Tree Swallows on the move

Glossy Ibis

Pectoral Sandpiper

Pectoral Sandpiper

          So in spite of the gloomy weather forecast for the Labor Day weekend the birding experience was anything but a bust.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Cape May Birding

We birders residing in the Delaware Valley are fortunate to live within the busy Eastern Flyway migration route. We are in easy driving distance to several migration "hotspots" and to me, the "hottest" of them all is Cape May, NJ. All the birds that migrate south through New Jersey end up sooner or later in Cape May and because of this, the quantity and diversity of birds found hear can be mind-blowing.

On Tuesday, October 11, 2016 I went birding at Cape May. A nice cold front had come through two days prior and as a rule the second day after the front is usually the best for migrants. The strong winds have usually subsided and birds are on the move.

I birded only three areas, spending the majority of time on the Higbee Beach Dike and walking around the Northwood Center. I made a quick stop at the Magnesite Plant hoping to find newly arrived sparrows.

Areas Birded - Higbee Dike, Magnesite Plant and Northwood Center.

Higbee Dike is an outstanding spot to watch migration, but it isn't for everyone. On a good flight day, the birding can be fast and furious. I would guess that 98% of the birds seen here are in flight only and of these, maybe 75% can be identified to species. If you are wanting nice, prolonged looks at birds, this is not the place, but, if you want an identification challenge and a chance to capture some unique flight images, then this is the place. This is frenetic birding that should be experienced by everyone at least once. The Cape May - Morning Flight Songbird Count is conducted here each fall August - October.

Some of images from the dike. 

This young Bald Eagle passed by soon after sunrise providing some nice photo ops.

There were a number of American Robins heading south.

This local Belted Kingfisher was busy searching for breakfast. 

October is usually considered the end to the warbler migration with diversity and quantity decreasing through the month, but it is also the peak time for Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers. Both were evident today.  At times, flocks of 20-30 Yellow-rumps would be in view. A few other warbler species were also seen but in much smaller numbers.

These are a few of the Yellow-rumped Warblers that came by.

These are some of the other warblers that were migrating today.

Northern Parulas

Black-throated Blue Warbler 

Black-throated Green Warbler

Cape May Warbler

Palm Warbler

October also ushers in the peak of the Northern Flicker migration and today was no exception.

Northern (Yellow-shafted) Flickers

It appears this fall that we are in the midst of an incursion of Red-breasted Nuthatches and possibly Purple Finches, as sightings of these birds have been increasing weekly. Both species were seen today heading south.

Red-breasted Nuthatches

Purple Finches

Scattered within the flocks of Purple Finches were several House Finches.

House Finches

A species that I was a little surprised to see migrating along the bay was Eastern Meadowlark. The dike was entertained by a few fly-bys.

Eastern Meadowlarks

Of course, all this songbird activity attracts numerous raptors that are also heading south especially accipiters. 

Sharp-shinned Hawk was the most numerous raptor today.

A few other raptors were also cruising by.


Northern Harriers

Birding at the Magnesite Plant produced Chipping, Song, Savannah and Swamp Sparrows along with more Yellow-rumps but not much else.

Birding at the Cape May Bird Observatory's Northwood Center is much more relaxed even when the trees and bushes contain numerous birds. Here, the birds will be feeding on berries or insects, perched for a bit nearby or flitting from one nearby tree to another. 

Here are some images taken at the Northwood Center.

Cape May Warbler

Golden-crowned Kinglets

Red-eyed Vireo

Yellow-rumped Warblers

Here are my eBird Checklists for this outing.

Higbee Dike

Northwood Center

The official Morning Flight Count for this day can be found here