Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The First Couple of Weeks - Birds A Go-Go!!

I have to say right from the start, that my intention is to give a diary of events of a typical year enjoying wildlife and the spectacle of migration at Cape May. The problem is, I moved here right at the start of the main migration period, which means that I am right in the thick of it before having a chance to set the scene. With this in mind, coupled with the fact that several weeks have already whizzed by before I had a chance to set a blog up, I'm going to just cover the highlights for now and hopefully give an insight into this great place before I start a full year, beginning on January 1st. So here's a quick(ish!) resume of life so far, just to whet your appetite.

After a few days in late August sorting out the house and other necessary chores, things in the USA came down to earth with a bump as I started work on September 1st. So now I was going to be in for some tough days; the days when you are at work all day, but you keep meeting people who come in to the store and tell you about all the birds that are about!!! Being on holiday at Cape May is one thing, working here is quite another!!

I am currently working full-time in Cape May Bird Observatory's Northwood Center, where we sell all things birdy and we function as an Information Centre for visiting birders. We also run a comprehensive programme of bird and wildlife walks according to the season. From the first picture posted here, you should be able to see that I have been Anglicising the Northwood Center with an appropriately British jar of Marmite, kindly presented to me as a birthday present by our good friends Paul and Rose from Norfolk, UK - great to see you guys here!!!

In September, the birding day starts at around 06:30. So for us, being twenty minutes away at present and allowing time for breakfast, means getting up at 05:30! At this time of year, there is only one place to be at first light - Higbee Beach (more properly Higbee's Beach but it somehow doesn't roll off the tongue so well!). I'll cover the whys and wherefores of birding Cape May another time, but Higbee's is the place to be right now. Higbee's is where nocturnal migrants, looking for a place to drop in, come flying by in their search for suitable habitat.

My first real good Higbee Beach day came on September 9th, which I thought was going to be quiet as the forecast wasn't great, but I figured that it's September and this is Cape May - even on a quiet day Cape May holds more birds than most places on a good day!! The walk from the parking lot through the wood to Higbee Dike in the early morning light was excellent, with at least five Northern Waterthrushes feeding right out in the open on the road, four Canada Warblers which all showed well (a life bird for me just the week before!) and a fabulous Worm-eating Warbler. The Morning Flight on the dike was good - though for a newcomer on the US birding scene like me, the spectacle of dozens (or, on a good day, hundreds) of North American Wood-warblers whizzing by and all going 'chip' or 'tick' is somewhat daunting - the more so when you're stood next to Cameron Cox and Michael O'Brien who are identifying pretty much everything that shoots by! More on the dike experience later, but this morning things were great with good flight views of Tennessee and Black-throated Blue Warblers and a big run of Northern Parulas, American Redstarts and snazzy Black-and-white Warblers. The dredging impoundment that we were standing on the edge of also held a nice Baird's Sandpiper among the usual Semipalmated Sandpipers and Lesser Yellowlegs. After a good session on the dike, I took a quick look around the fields at Higbee's before heading off to work and was pleased to find a Blue-winged Warbler and a Yellow-throated Vireo - both wonderfully colourful birds.

My next great Cape May experience came just two days later on September 11th - luckily a day off! I was at home sorting boxes of books out, after a very stormy, rainy night that had left several broken branches scattered across the flooded lawn from one of the Red Maples and had blown over a couple of small willows by the pond. The day was dry, though very humid and birds that had presumably been disorientated by the weather started appearing all around the house. By the end of the day I had enjoyed great views of 12 species of wood-warbler in the garden: American Redstart, Northern Parula, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Blue-winged Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush, Pine Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler and Magnolia Warbler. What a day!!! Pictures taken that day in our garden follow (Don't forget that you can click on each picture to see it in better detail).

There are just two Pitch Pines in our garden, but we still managed to attract a nice male Pine Warbler.

Four Northern Parulas fed in a single small bush at one point - this one is doing that strange, neck-stretchy thing that they do!

A mint humbug in our pine - the wonderful Black-and-white Warbler

The very name, Magnolia Warbler, conjures up an image of a bird that just has to be seen. OK, these warblers aren't as stunning as they are in spring - but they're still pretty darned good!

In addition, a Philadelphia Vireo put in an appearance amongst a good run of Red-eyed Vireos.

The great birds continued over the next few days and I settled into a routine of Higbee's before work and an hour at the Hawkwatch Platform for lunch - the latter location was good for mid-day Common Nighthawks catching flying ants with the Laughing Gulls for several days! The hawkwatch was really starting to buzz now and it was great to be able to sit and watch the spectacle of raptor migration from a comfortable seat whislt yarning with good friends. American Kestrels and Merlins were starting to appear in good numbers by now and Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks were worrying the heck out of the other birds in the area. Cape May at peak raptor migration is not a good place to be a songbird!

After all the songbird activity, it was also nice to get something a little bigger - a Sandhill Crane in fact, that rather oddly decided that a 'flock' of plastic decoy geese would make good company and spent a couple of days hanging out with them!

I almost missed the Sandhill Crane when I first went looking for it. Amongst the plastic Canada Geese was certainly a great place to hide!

But patience was finally rewarded....

...before he went back to sleep with his plastic pals. He seemed to prefer the company of this headless one - maybe he just thought it was asleep!!

Finally in this post, it's worth mentioning the fabulous Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that have been gracing our yard since we put a couple of feeders up. We've had up to seven battling for a spot at the feeders and a couple of them are getting pretty tame now as they get used to us taking breakfast (or an evening beer!) on the deck in the sun.

Juvenile Ruby-throated Hummingbird laying claim to the feeder on our deck.

Now that's what I call an obliging bird!