Thursday, May 27, 2010

Cape May Notes

Last week I was in Cape May for a few days to see the late stages of spring migration and to track down some potential life birds. Even without potential lifers as bait, mid-May is a great time to visit Cape May because of the abundance of northbound migrants and vocal breeding birds. As usual I traveled with my mother and sister, both of whom are also birders.

For several days, Brigantine hosted a Bar-tailed Godwit and a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher had been reported, both of which would have been life birds for me. However, neither were visible from the wildlife drive on the day I was there. So I had to make do with looking at thousands of other shorebirds, and herons, and the handful of breeding Osprey pairs, and the breeding Peregrine pair, and the occasional moth. A few Bank Swallows joined the more common Barn Swallows and Tree Swallows at the Gull Pond.

A Scissor-tailed Flycatcher had also been reported in the South Cape May Meadows, but it was not present there on Thursday night. By the next morning, it had relocated to the second plover pond in Cape May Point State Park. We watched it there as it swooped for insects in all its glory. In addition to the flycatcher, the state park produced a nice crop of warblers, including a Canada Warbler and many Blackpolls.

In the evening we visited Turkey Point in Cumberland County to listen for night birds. When we arrived, Clapper Rails and Virginia Rails were already vocalizing. They were joined by a chorus of Marsh Wrens and Seaside Sparrows. Night Herons were already active; most were Black-crowned, but a Yellow-crowned flew past as well. As the sun set, a Great Horned Owl started hooting somewhere in the distance. Shortly after that, we could hear a Whippoorwill repeating its three-note song. The Whippoorwill was my second life bird of the trip. Even better than the life bird, however, was the experience of standing and listening in a place that is about as dark and quiet as one can find in New Jersey.

A birding by boat trip on The Osprey produced many more shorebirds. (This is a great tour if you are in Cape May during the summer months.) We saw at least a thousand Dunlin, and many Whimbrels, Willets, Ruddy Turnstones, Short-billed Dowitchers, and other species. The tour runs past a heron rookery, which featured a lone Cattle Egret in addition to the expected Snowy and Great Egrets. The boat's captain also spotted an otter near one of the fishing docks. I only got a brief glimpse of its head before the otter disappeared. Terrapins were active near one of the islands.

Reed's Beach, as one might expect, was packed with shorebirds, gulls, and birdwatchers. Red Knots were the prime attractions. I estimated a flock of 500 when we were present, but there may have been more. Several waves of a hundred or more knots and Ruddy Turnstones flew over our heads as we watched the birds from the jetty. An evening visit to Stipson Island Road in western Cape May County produced more of the rails and songbirds we had heard at Turkey Point the night before. As we were leaving, my sister spotted a White-faced Ibis among a small group of Glossy Ibises. This was my third life bird of the trip. Jakes Landing had the same set of birds we had observed at Turkey Point, but without the owl or nightjars.