Thursday, November 19, 2009

Wet, Wet, Wet!

Well, with this year’s autumn migration period now becoming a memory and winter fast heading our way, I was just reflecting on how it’s been overall and thinking about what the abiding memories are. Whilst it was great for birds, that’s essentially a ‘given’ at Cape May. No, the one significant thing that defines this autumn was the rain. Throughout most of October and November, we’ve had to work our way around some pretty nasty weather at times, not least of which was the severe Nor’easterly that hit us over the 12th to 14th of November (and most especially during - believe it or not - Friday the 13th!). So I’m posting a series of pictures which fall into the ‘nasty weather’ category.

Now, I don’t want to paint a picture of Cape May as a foul destination (though it is a good fowl destination of course - sorry, couldn’t resist!); indeed, Cape May generally has a favourable weather pattern, with hot sunny summers and cold but crisp winters - and of course, as birders, we accept the occasional shower associated with fronts that bring in the birds. But it’s only right to be honest, so here, warts and all, is a little of the sogginess that we put ourselves through in the pursuit of great birding this autumn. All the following pictures except the nuthatch and nighthawk were taken on a quick whizz around the barrier islands at the height of the storm on Friday November 13th.

My first view of the wild conditions as I approached the barrier islands was at the run of fishing houses below the Route 147 bridge, just west of North Wildwood. The rear decks of the houses are still under water and this is at 7am, some two hours after high tide.

Saltmarsh debris shows that the high tide water came right over the road.

My first view of Nummy's Island revealed, well, no island at all!! This picture was taken at the south end of the island, as you come off the toll bridge from North Wildwood (which, incidentally, wasn't charging a toll today!!).

Another view of Nummy's Island from more or less the same spot.

With all the backbay habitat under flood water, little parties of Dunlins walking across the road and braced against the wind were no surprise to find.

I braved the 50mph wind gusts at Stone Harbor and visited the beach - or at least what was left of it! On this beach cross-over, the sand has been whipped up by the wind and piled up against the fence.

The Beach Goldenrod and other sand dune plants look in a sorry state after being caked in sea-soaked, wet sand.

My first view of the beach at Stome Harbor - what's left of it.

This view shows a dredging float washed up on the beach and the result of high tide on the dunes. The paling fence usually serves to prevent people from walking on the dunes, thus protecting them from erosion and restricting people to designated beach cross-over points. In case you're wondering, the sign says "Please do not trespass on dunes or damage sand fencing". A shame no-one told the sea!

Looking back from the beach to the beach cross-over that I came in on. The sea has washed the dune out to leave a four foot vertical drop from the cross-over to the beach.

Moving southward from Nummy's Island, I made it into North Wildwood on Route 147, which had been closed when I turned off to Nummy's Island but was now open. The scene through much of Wildwood was the same, with the backbay (west) side of the barrier island under several inches of water and many streets flooded out.

Not something you see every day - kayakers in the street!! You can just see the centre line of the road in the bottom of the picture. I was actually parked on slightly higher ground and used a long lens to get this shot.

A location that is well-known to birders visiting the area, this is the road to Two Mile Landing off Ocean Drive, between Cape May City and Wildwood Crest. Not much of the road was visible as it was covered in a thick mat of saltmarsh debris. This picture was taken some four or five hours after high tide, yet the water is still pretty high in the marsh. After I took this shot, I intended crossing back into Cape May, but my timing was off; I became the first car to be stopped and turned back when the local police closed the bridge because of loose power lines which were blowing wildly in the wind. So it was all the way back up to North Wildwood to find the next available bridge that would get me off the barrier island. And to think, people are queueing up to own houses out here!!

Stone Harbor Point was certainly a wilderness - and for once not covered in 4x4 vehicles belonging to lazy fishermen. The next few pictures show sections of a flock of at least 500 Red Knot. The race rufa of this species is the race that occurs most commonly on migration in New Jersey, as they pass south from Arctic breeding grounds to wintering grounds in Argentina. This race is officially classified as endangered and has suffered perhaps more than most due to the over exploitation of  Horseshoe Crabs on the American east coast, so it is encouraging to see so many here. In recent years, counts of no more than 150 have been more typical. Note also the American Oystercatchers among them.

Just in case you couldn't tell from the above pictures, here's what a Red Knot actually looks like! This is a first-winter bird which still has a little buff of juvenile plumage on its belly.

Aside from November 13th, there were other wet days that dropped birds in to rest during their southward passage. This Common Nighthawk spent all morning on the top of the fence right beside the visitor parking area at our Northwood Center store. As you can see, he was pretty approachable, relying on his cryptic plumage to make us think he was just a piece of wood.

A close up of the very soggy Common Nighthawk on a very soggy fence top at the CMBO Northwood Center.

Another wet day, another wet bird. This was the first White-breasted Nuthatch that we recorded in our yard, on a day that was otherwise notable for being, well, wet!