Links to photos
This past week-end (Oct 3 to 5), eight of us from Cayuga Bird Club visited Cape May. We left Ithaca around 2.00 PM and arrived at Cape May around 8.30 PM. After a dinner and next days planning went to bed early.
Unfortunately, the fridge in the motel room made such a high pitched hissing sound that I could not sleep most of the night, but the same noise next night was not at all that bothersome.
We left the motel around 6.15 am after listening to few night flight calls that were probably coming down. After a coffee stop we arrived at Higbee Beach just as the day was breaking. We headed towards warbler platform on the west. We climbed up the dyke and stationed ourselves next to the official counter. Initial few minutes it was quiet, but we could see hundreds of birds in the east in the air, though most of them were starlings. Soon we started hearing chips and zips and a tiny bird would come into view, they would fly over head or directly into phragmites and then slowly head towards the bay. There were two bare trees that were near us happened to be one of their stop over places. Very mild chip and a small bird meant Northern Parula. Emphatic chip and bold dashes meant Yellow-rumped Warblers. Palm Warbler was in between the two in emphasis. Black-throated Blue warbler had its on distinct chip. So we watched them as they landed in the bare trees and take off after a few seconds. We observed several female Black-throated blues and a fewer males. I heard a DIckcissel flyover and as I was about to announce it, the official counter also announced it. So I felt a bit happy of my id skills. We also watched a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak circle over our head. In the near by bushes several Carolina Wrens were creating a racket. There were a fair number of Sharp-shinned Hawks circling or heading south. A couple of Merlins and several Peregrines were also observed from this spot. Ospreys were constantly around, many with fish in their talons. After spending about 2.5 hours on the dyke we decided to try woods.
Woods turned out to be rather quiet except for a Winter Wren call (which I did not know, but Andre Desrochers idied the call) and a few already seen warblers; we did not see anything more. Then we headed to Hawk Watch, with a stop at the Cape May Observatory on the way. As we were getting out of the observatory we saw a big kettle of Sharpies in the sky, with a Peregrine among them. So we headed to Hawk Watch. It seems just a few minutes before our arrival a Mississippi Kite had passed overhead. Initially sky was clear and very blue, so it was difficult to point a bird, though there were lots of very high flying birds. Soon the white clouds started arriving from the south and spread around. That helped in locating birds. We had many Peregrines pass by. Some would fly low and others very high and even at that height they gave hard to time to other species of birds by often chasing them. Occasional Merlins passed by. A couple of Northern Harriers were also seen. By late noon we started feeling hungry and we decided to stop for lunch. As we were about to disperse, some one yelled out that a SWALLOW-TAILED KITE has been located over “Meadows” , which was about a mile north and was heading south. So changed the plans and waited for the approach of the Swallow-tailed kite. Everyone was scanning the sky with great intensity. I heard someone shout “here it is” from the east corner. So I quickly searched the sky and found it immediately. Many people from my corner got to see it. We watched its antics of flight and couple of times it tried to chase a nearby Sharpie. It came almost close to us and then headed back to “Meadows”. I passed on my binoculars to a few of the visitors who had no binoculars. They watched it and awed at its beauty. I hope they get hooked to birding! After this nice show we went down to eat lunch. While we were having lunch it showed up again and did the same, headed north again.
After lunch we spent some more time on the Hawk watch platform. Bob Fogg pointed out the Swallowtail Kite to me, but this time it was seriously headed to Delaware, though some spectators wanted to it to stay behind in New Jersey, others wanted their friends to record them on the other side of the Delaware Bay!
Then we headed to the “Meadows”. We took a walk around the trail. At the sea, a small bay was formed and there were hundreds of gulls and few ducks were hanging out. We saw Great Black-backed, Herring, Laughing and Ring-billed Gulls and also Don picked a Ruddy Duck at the back of the crowd of other water fowls. While watching first a small group of Skimmers skimmed over the bay and landed on the sand bar. We also saw some Royal and Forster’s Terns. There was a young Royal Tern, his bill was still pale orangish yellow and he was facing away from the wind and in the wind his crest blew out creating a funny look to him, while he was begging. He made a cute little picture as his crest was blowing forward in the south east wind. In the creek, we saw some other water fowls like widgeons, Blue-winged and Green winged teals, Great Blue heron and other egrets. I met Steve Colins on the way back to parking lot, he showed me pictures of Blue-faced Meadowhawk he had photographed around the Hawk Watch ponds. I did see some Bluets, I think probably Atlantic or Familiar Bluets and a Rambur’s Forktail. We also saw several Buckeyes, highly tattered Black Swallowtails, American and Painted Ladies, a smaller Fritillary, probably an Aphrodite and many Monarchs. We also saw a caterpillar of Spicebush Swallowtail which was almost ready to pupate. He had big false eyes and these had catch lights in their eyes! I remember seeing one caterpillar in the Sapsucker Woods, who was hiding in a rolled spice bush leaf with only his false eyes visible out of the leaf roll and next to him was a Wilson’s warbler and the size of Wilson’s eyes were as big a false eyes of caterpillar!
We headed to Stone Harbor after a gas station stop. We arrived to the Ocean Drive. We stopped just before the first bridge. We were entertained by a Boat-tailed Grackle. He seemed to have been in good mood and just enjoyed trying variety of phrases. To add to his music, a Northern Mockingbird spent sometime singing duets with him. On the east side of the bridge there was a large island formed due to low tide and was filled with hundreds of shore birds. We started picking up different shore birds. I found some Red Knots, Andre was pointing out Dunlin, dowitchers, there were lots of plovers and the group was trying to separate out knots and plovers. I saw the Godwit (previously reported), we identified it as Hudsonian Godwit as he lifted his wings showing his blacktail tip and other markings. I spied a small tern fluttering over deeper water like a butterfly, with dark pointy black bill, black legs and an eyeline and not so very deeply forked tail. Quickly looked up the book and identified it as non breeding Least Tern. Bobbie Monroe got a chance to look at it. Just then something spooked the birds and most of the birds vacated the exposed flat and flew to the other side of the bridge. So some of us went to the other side and some scanned the remaining birds at the flat. We found some Sanderlings, Caspian Tern etc. As watching from the bridge was not very convenient to watch birds from, we headed south along the road as we wanted turn around and face the mudflats with sun behind us. We again passed Steve who was watching birds on the other side of the road. But there was no place to turn around easily and Stuart did not want to turn the van in the middle of the road. So we headed for a suitable place to turn around. Andre suggested he would scan the flats for birds while we were turning around. So we dropped him off and headed further, there we met a probably a Norwegian sounding birder. He said that he has been watching a pair of sparrows and he thought that they were seaside sparrows. So we stopped and looked around and there were two very co-operative Sharp-tailed Saltmarsh Sparrows. We had some good looks at them. Andre had been very keen on seeing them but he was a mile away down on the road. So I suggested we go and fetch him, but by then Stuart had already left to get him. Both Andre and Steve came back and had good looks at the birds. Steve also mentioned that he had seen Seaside Sparrows on the other side of the road. So we headed to check that out. But missed out on them, but further down we did get to see a Ruddy Turnstone and another species of bird which seem to have slipped off my memory. No, now I remember (after 10 minutes), Don found a large rail run across the path on the marsh and told us about it. Andre walked by the path and flushed it again and he could id it as a Clapper Rail, we could see it as a flushed bird. We were scanning the afternoon’s mudflat where we had relocated godwit again. As I was watching it, I saw something run behind like crazy; kind of jumping up and down and back and forth was a rail. I called it a Virginia rail simply because that is what is a default rail here. But actually we could not say what it was from the distance we were watching but it was a strange behavior we have ever watched of a rail.
By then it was getting late and we were feeling hungry. So we decided to call it a day. We had a good meal at a family Italian restaurant. After doing a bird list for the day we called it a day.
What a different day next was compared the earlier day. Higbee Beach had a very few birds, but we did get a couple of Brown Thrashers for the trip tick. Then we stopped at the Hidden Valley, a few warblers and noisy bunch of Northern Mockingbirds and nothing much. Hawk Watch was very slow. So we took a walk around the pond and along blue trail. I was keen on looking for some donates. The group had split up. Some of us saw/heard Scarlet Tanager, Red Breasted Nuthatch and our group managed to find a CAPE MAY WARBLER (HY bird) in CAPE MAY. On the way back I also managed to find a Blue-faced Meadowhawk and take some blurry pictures of him!
Then we headed to Stone Harbor. Mine was the lead car, so I reached the earlier day’s bridge on Ocean Drvie, but there was no mudflat but only the previous day’s Boat-tailed Grackle still singing merrily. By then I got a call from Ann saying that they are watching some shore birds and we should go back. We retraced our path. This was a grassy marshy patch in front of the Wetland Institute. There were many shore birds, but by the time we got there something spooked them and they became skittish. But often they would land and take off. Most of the crowd was made up of Greater Yellowlegs, and about 25% Large-billed Dowitchers, at least a couple of molting Short-billed Dowitchers, Dunlins, Black-crowned Night Herons (8 or 9 birds), Black-bellied Plovers and the Hudsonian Godwit etc. were mixed in.
We spent some time at Avalon Beach, we could not find the sea-watch spot, but from one of the dead-end roads we could see a few birds on the rocks, mainly Sanderlings in various plumages and a few Ruddy Turnstones. Main sea was calm with practically no birds on the water.
By then it was time to call time off for lunch in a nearby park. After lunch we headed straight home.
Some of the other interesting encounters were 1. Spotting of Bob Fogg (or rather Bob Fogg spotting me) at Higbee Beach, many Cayuga birders might remember seeing him in various birding alleys, but his plumage has changed now; 2. Jim Piwalcki on Hawk watch Platform; 3. Steve Colins (odonate enthusiast when not bird watching) at various places; 4. Bill Purcell at Higbee Beach; and finally 5th encounter was a car with I TICK plate from Ontario, Canada. We first observed it on 81 near Clarks Summit on the way to Cape May on Friday heading towards south. We saw the same car on 81 near 17/81 junction near Binghamton on the way back to Ithaca heading north on Sunday! What will be the probability of seeing it again? 1 in 10000? We are not sure if I tick was a birder or studies ticks and mites. At least owner seemed to be a female ticker.
Overall it was a great trip with good company!