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Monday, October 15, 2012

Cape May Fun by Nick Pulcinella

Red-breasted Nuthatch

     We, in the Delaware Valley, are very fortunate to reside near one of North America’s premier migration hotspots – Cape May, NJ.  When the winds are from the northwest or the atmosphere is unsteady with bouts of rain or fog fall migration here can be spectacular. On Thursday, October 11, 2012, I ventured down to hopefully witness some visible migration. A cold front had passed through 48 hrs before and on this day the temperatures were down to the mid-40s and the wind was brisk out of the northwest.

     My first stop was at the Higbee Dike morning flight count where I hoped that my skills at identifying flying songbirds would be highly tested. I was not disappointed. Not only were the birds passing in numbers but the brisk wind had them passing by like bullets. The scene of hundreds of birds zooming by, some individually, others in small groups, some distant at the edge of the bay others so close I ducked a few times thinking I was going to be struck. It was mesmerizing and overwhelming at the same time. The morning flight counter, Cameron Rutt, was doing a superhuman job trying to identify and count these birds in this near impossible situation. He uttered only one word “outrageous.” The flight consisted mainly of Yellow-rumped Warblers with smaller numbers of Palm, Parula, Blackpoll, and Black-throated Blue Warblers, the latter two, whizzing by introducing themselves with their distinctive chip notes.  There were a few Red-eyed Vireos, Northern Flickers and Red-breasted Nuthatches mixed in for added diversity. The never-ending flocks of Pine Siskins, and Purple Finches that seem to be making a sizeable incursion into the mid-Atlantic provided additional excitement.  One aspect of the morning’s flight was the marvelous flight of Sharp-shinned Hawks. There was no point that I can recall that there were not 4-5 Sharpies in the air.  Similar to the songbirds, these hawks were sometimes within inches of us with at least two birds flying within the three-foot space between the counter and me. The Cape May Hawkwatch based at Cape May Point State Park, recorded 1000 Sharp-shinned Hawks in its first hour.

     As I was driving down in the early morning I was excited at the possibility of photographing some of these migrants in flight. Photographing flying songbirds can be a challenge in itself, but in these conditions, it was absurd. All I can say is “thank God for digital cameras.” Many images consisted of blurred birds, only the tail of a bird or no bird at all. Here a few that made it.  

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Purple Finch

Pine Siskins
     Leaving Higbee Dike, I then birded briefly at Higbee Beach. I was lucky to find a skulking Orange-crowned Warbler in some Poke Weed very near the parking lot. The nearby fields had several White-throated Sparrows and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. The sky over the Higbee fields was busy with Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks and Northern Flickers. 

     I drove over to Cape May Point State Park. There was a large number of Turkey Vultures in the air along with more Sharpies. I also saw single Broad-winged and Red-shouldered Hawks pass by.  There are so many areas in Cape May to bird that it can be difficult sometimes to decide where to go next. One of my favorite things is to walk along the streets of the point checking out the various small yards which at times can act like a magnet in attracting birds in very easy to see situations. I parked the car at the state park and then walked the streets down to St. Peters stopping at the various jetties to check the ocean and bay, and then walking around Lily Lake stopping at the CMBO Northwood center to check their feeders and then back to the state park. Here are a few photos from that walk.    Before leaving for home, I spent some time at the Hawkwatch enjoying more accipiters and falcons. 

Peregrine Falcon

    Below are the lists from both the Morning Flight Count and the Hawkwatch for October 11th.

Morning Flight

    Strong northwest winds this morning and a surge of Sharp-shinned Hawks did not deter the warblers.  What started as a fairly diverse warbler flight (14 species) with Blackpoll Warblers (219) predominating, gave way to a great mid-morning passage of Yellow-rumped Warblers (4852). 

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Butterbutt)

     This marks only the fourth time this year that Blackpoll Warblers have crested triple-digits, and the first time since 9/29 - a great flight for this relatively late date.  And like the large warbler flight on 10/9, few woodpeckers and nuthatches were aloft today.  However, the finches more than compensated with the second-largest Pine Siskin (697) flight and largest Purple Finch (78) flight of the year.  Today's Purple Finches outnumbered the sum from the rest of the fall and we've now amassed 2356 Pine Siskins for the year!

     The past seven days have featured a heavy volume of birds over Higbee Beach. In fact, since 10/5, more than 37,000 birds have been registered in morning flight!

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - 4
Northern Flicker - 44
Red-eyed Vireo - 2
Red-breasted Nuthatch - 29
White-breasted Nuthatch - 1
Brown Creeper - 2
kinglet sp. - 2
American Robin - 37
Cedar Waxwing - 53
Tennessee Warbler - 7
Nashville Warbler - 5
Northern Parula - 101
Yellow Warbler - 1
Magnolia Warbler - 2
Cape May Warbler - 1
Black-throated Blue Warbler - 22
Yellow-rumped Warbler - 4852
Black-throated Green Warbler - 2
Palm Warbler - 124
Blackpoll Warbler - 219
Black-and-white Warbler - 1
American Redstart - 5
Northern Waterthrush - 2
warbler sp. - 2426
Chipping Sparrow - 2
Savannah Sparrow - 10
Indigo Bunting - 8
Rusty Blackbird - 2
Purple Finch - 78
Pine Siskin - 697

Total = 8733

Other highlights included a Solitary Sandpiper, a massive flight of Sharp-shinned Hawks (perhaps 1000+), and 3 Northern Rough-winged Swallows.  A personal highlight for me was a Brown Creeper that briefly alighted on Nick Pulcinella's pant leg!

Hawk Flight

Day's Count   

 Black Vulture                  5             
Turkey Vulture                   44            
Osprey                              85           
Bald Eagle                          11            
Northern Harrier                 42           
Sharp-shinned Hawk          2631          
Cooper's Hawk                   155           
Northern Goshawk          0             
Red-shouldered Hawk      2             
Broad-winged Hawk               66           
Red-tailed Hawk                 17            
Rough-legged Hawk                0             
Golden Eagle                     0             
American Kestrel               146          
Merlin                              35           
Peregrine Falcon                 9           

Total:                            3248

Observation start time: 05:45:00
Observation end   time: 16:00:00
Total observation time: 10.33 hours

Official Counter: Tom Reed

Weather: Sunny throughout, with winds shifting from NNW to NW to W through the day. Winds were around 15-20mph to start, but decreased through the day, ending
at <5mph.

Raptor Observations:
A good flight of SSHA, largely during the morning hours.

Non-raptor Observations:
Pine Siskin (400+), Clay-colored Sparrow (1), White-crowned Sparrow (5),
Rusty Blackbird (6), Eastern Meadowlark (6), Solitary Sandpiper (1),
Pectoral Sandpiper (5)

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