Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Monarchs Happened....

Monarch butterflies are well known as one of the world's great migratory insects and Cape May always sees a lot of Monarchs passing through each autumn, but this autumn we experienced something very special. Weather conditions set just right for an awesome gathering of Monarchs at Cape May Point this year, with a period of gentle northerly and north-westerly winds first ensuring that butterflies were on the move and heading for southern New Jersey. But then things changed; the weather turned against the migrants; a stornger westerly element in the wind would have meant that any Monarchs trying to cross the Delaware Bay would risk being blown out to sea, so it was time to hang out until conditions changed. And hang out they did; Monarchs drifted slowly west along the southern tip of Cape May Point then turned in to the well-treed properties behind the dunes. And here they waited, spending the day feeding on the flowers in the State Park and in private gardens around the point. What came next was truly amazing as Monarchs gathered to roost for the night, then headed out the next day. Here's a summery of the weekend of September 18th and 19th in pictures.

We knew they were coming; we all knew they were coming, but we could have no idea just how many Monarchs would be at Cape May Point by Saturday evening. It all started with a wonderful flight of Monarchs, all drifting south to the point, then west along the dunes.

By Saturday lunchtime, reports of 'roosts' were reaching the Hawkwatch Platform. In fact, these were insects gathering at rich food sources which, at this time of the year, often means Common Ivy - a plant which bears flowers in autumn and fruit in late winter.

As the sun started to lower in the western sky, there was the opportunity for some fun with backlit individuals...

...then backlit groups.

But soon it was clear that a major roost was developing in Stites Avenue - a location favored in previous years. The roost typically began on evergreen Red Cedars and American Holly, but soon spread to this Black Cherry as space ran out...

...then to this ornamental privet...

...and eventually even to the bare branches of a stand of White Poplars.

06:30 Sunday morning saw people gathering in Stites Avenue again and even as the first light cut across the point, butterflies were getting restless and were itching to get going.

By 07:00 the sun was hitting the tree tops and wings were beginning to vibrate as flight muscles were warmed.

Ever more and more butterflies worked their way into the sun to get warm and ready for flight.

The start of the big lift was not far away as the vanguard tested the air currents.

The moment before lift off, with most of the Monarchs now fanning their wings. Wondering what the tree is by the way? Well, with such a heavenly sight it can surely only be one thing - yes, it really is Ailanthus altissima, the Tree of Heaven.

With the roosts now up in the air, the dune crossover was the place to be, as butterflies tested the air currents and waited for the right moment. I call this picture simply "Look Mark, a Monarch!"

Traditional passtimes continued on the beach, but what a morning to be there!

After some pretty amazing point counts, when Tom Johnson did a quick 360 degree estimate of 5200 butterflies passing Higbee Dike and Monarchs were passing along the beach at Coral Avenue at a steady 700 per minute, the main event suddenly happened right before our very eyes. At around 08:00 the wind shifted a little, from roughly Northwest to Northeast. I felt the change on the back of my neck and at the very same moment Monarchs just happened. That sums it up for me - Monarchs happened! An uncountable mass of black and orange simply left New Jersey and headed out across Delaware Bay. How many? We'll never know, but figure on 100,000 butterflies from our one viewpoint - then add on all the ones around the corner! Later that day, we heard that Cape Henlopen naturalists - over on the other side of the bay in Delaware - reckoned on half a million Monarchs passing them that day....

That's it. Just time to add that the comments uttered at the time were all part of the occasion; Michael O'Brien: "No rarity is better than a migration event". Vince Elia: "I'm so speechless, I can't stop talking!". And I know that Vince was speechless because I heard him telling everyone!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

August Potpourri

Some odds and ends of photos and wildlife moments drifted by during August without making it into my diary, so here's a potpourri of photos, just for the sake of it!

This year has been a very poor year for Painted Ladies and this individual, which I found taking salts out on the sands at Two-mile Beach, was only the third I had seen all year. Some years there are big invasions if this species from the south but 2010 will go donw as a quiet year for them, at least at Cape May. Notice the four, blue-centred eyespots on the underside of the hindwing.

For direct comparison with the Painted Lady above, this is an American Lady. Note that the eyespots on the underside of the hindwing are bigger, but there are only two of them. This female was egg-laying on one of the species favourite larval food plants - Sweet Everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium). Indeed, she was so engrossed in her duties that I was able to move the plant around to get better light while she stayed onboard!

A Hackberry tree at Higbee's Beach has a wound in the trunk that has been leaking sap for some time now. Several butterfly species have been feeding on this sap, including this Tawny Emperor, a high-flying species which until now I had not photographed. The rich orange colour distinguishes it from the Hackberry Emperor that I featured earlier in the year.

While on the subject of butterflies, this Common Sootywing visited our new butterfly garden on August 27th and was a new species for our garden list. I have heard that these seem to be very scarce this year so it was nice to spot this one in our own garden.

I put this picture in as an example of how you always need to keep your eye in when looking for wildlife experiences. Megan and I were cycling along Sunset Boulevard one evening when I spotted this strangely hairy willow leaf as we whizzed by. Going back to check, I found it wasn't all that it might seem!

Here's what I found on the back side of the leaf - the larva of the White-marked Tussock, an unremarkable moth but a very smart caterpillar!

On August 19th, the recent rains after a prolonged hot, dry spell had a predictable effect on the local ant colonies - the emergence of thousands of winged ants, scattering to the four winds to spread their kind across the face of the earth. With the ants came birds to eat them and this gathering of hungry Laughing Gulls was an amazing sight over Bayshore Road.

Other insects during the month included this giant of a wasp - a Great Golden Digger Wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus) which had set up a home in our front lawn. This species digs a hole in the ground, then furnishes side chambers with crickets and grasshoppers. The prey items are captured and stung, the stung paralysing but not killing them; each paralised insect is placed in a side chamber and becomes food for the wasps young. This female was always aware of my presence when I was photographing her and she often stopped what she was doing to turn and watch me; but she never showed any sign of aggression towards me.

Nor for the squeamish this one!! Greenhouse Camel Crickets are abundant insects in basements and outhouses in New Jersey - and the Northwood Centre is no exception!! Numbers of these insects explode late summer and it can be kind of creepy having to pass a wall full of them to get to the stock room!!

Another high summer speciality is the Fence Lizard which can be found rather sparingly along the dunes and other hot, sandy places around Cape May. This species is relatively easy to creep up to and with care can be watched at close range as it hunts small insects.

One of the great things about having visitors to stay is that you get round to doing some of the touristy things that go on close to home; those things that normally you just wouldn't get round to. So, after a year of living at Cape May, we finally got round to going up the famous lighthouse at Cape May Point. The view from the top was amazing as the local area is so flat and you can see for miles. I took a complete 360 degree panorama from the top, but here's a couple of shots of the State Park to whet your appetite - first up, a view of Lighthouse Pond....

....and here, the famous Hawkwatch Platform (foreground), Bunker Pond just beyond and, off in the distance, Cove Bay and 2nd Avenue Jetty.

Yes, there were birds in Cape May in August, with a trickle of early migrants noted on most dates. This Yellow-billed Cucko was a nice find for me in a Black Walnut tree near Higbee's Dike.

A light passage of small parties of Glossy Ibises added a different perspective to birding in the UK! This youngster was feeding quite happily in the main channel at Cape May State Park and wasn't too bothered by me taking photos.

Much maligned and often used inappropriately for boring lawns, grasses are actually fabulous plants and exhibit great diversity in colour and form. When viewed in close-up, the flowers of Indian-grass are really quite complex and fascinating. A wonderful field of this native tall-grass prairie species can be seen at The Beanery.

Indian-grass against the light with the flower heads standing out like silver beacons.

Low light at sunset and a fine stand of Satmarsh Cockspur-grass at the Migratory Bird Refuge makes an ideal combination for working on arty colour and form pictures.

Friday, September 17, 2010

August Diary & Snake Encounters

I know, I know, I keep saying I'm going to catch up with blog posts and I'm not - in fact, I think I'm getting further behind! We've just been so busy with people coming to visit and stay with us, so we've been having lots of fun with great friends. Well, with September now more than half over, here's some diary notes from August.

August 1st
We can go back out onto the porch! In deference to our noisy and boisterous Caroline Wrens, we've left them in peace with their brood of youngsters in the hanging basket, but they all fledged and headed out into the rose patch and the great beyond. Good luck guys!

August 2nd
After a number of failed attempts over the past few weeks, I finally chanced upon the 1st-summer male King Eider that has been hanging out on the concrete ship. The Black-bellied Whistling-ducks continue to grace Cape May Point State Park and a Black-crowned Night Heron called as it passed over our house in the twilight. (I think the night heron was a new bird for our yard list but I've lost track a little!)

Typical view of the whistling-ducks! As they settled into their stay and made themselves at home, our three visitors from the deep south took to spending much of the day asleep and thus presumably were mostly feeding at night - a major problem for a photographer!

After much waiting and perseverance, I finally got some worthwhile photos of these smart birds - here seen during a visit from the state park to the Migratory Bird Refuge.

A closer look....

...and a bit of a tiff maybe?!!

Then a little bit of action, with some feeding, a scratch....

....and a nice leg stretch.

August 7th
Autumn lurks right around the corner and the first real push of migrants through Higbee's Beach happened this morning. Yellow Warblers, Indigo Buntings and Cedar Waxwings were very obvious around the field edges, a group of four Green Herons flew over and a look at the birds passing over Higbee Dike gave me such goodies as Prothonotary Warbler, Black Tern, Marbled Godwit, Northern Waterthrush and a Lark Sparrow.

Year Bird: Lark Sparrow

August 11th
The number of birds homing in on the stranded fish as Bunker Pond continues to dry out reached an impressive peak today with 118 Great and 65 Snowy Egrets, two Little Blue and 10 Great Blue Herons. Two Gull-billed Terns were also present, while a Peregrine and three Broad-winged Hawks overhead were an early insight into the raptor migration yet to come.

August 12th
A real change in the weather as we had our first rain for a long, long time. Bunker Pond will probably start to fill up now and the wildlife spectacle will fall away there but today, at least, the egret extravaganza continued. With the rain having died out, butterflies were out en masse feeding at the flowers and dragonflies were looking for a late breakfast. A nice find for me along the state park trails was a single plant of Rattlesnake-master. All the old natural history books wax poetical about the spectacle of Rattlesnake-master, blooming in profusion in the Cape May wetlands; sadly, after the housing developers have got fat from draining and building on the sites, this species now seems to be extremely rare here and this single plant is all I have found so far.

Rattlesnake-master - believe it or not, this is a member of the carrot family and is closely related to Sea Holly which grows on coastal dunes in Europe (including the UK).

August 18th
Rain, rain, go away! It's funny how quickly one can get bored with rain - even when it's the first rain for several months! It rained quite persistently from late yesterday afternoon, through the night and pretty much throughout the day today. Despite the weather, one of my scheduled walks still had a few takers, so we found some cover and managed a little bit of birding before we called it a day. A Black Tern, two Belted Kingfishers and 17 Stilt Sandpipers were our reward for braving the elements and, despite the weather, there was a reasonable movement of passerines first thing with Yellow and Prairie Warblers moving through the low vegetation and Bobolinks passing overhead.

Passerine numbers were good during the afternoon at work with 10+ American Redstarts and at least four Black-and-white and two Yellow Warblers in the trees and at least 10 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at the feeders. In the evening, I got a 'half-tick' when I heard my first Eastern Screech Owl calling outside a friend's house; I say half a tick as I have never yet seen this species and really want to clap eyes on one before I feel I can safely count it.

August 20th
Well it looks like the Higbee's season is really under way now as typical August species flooded through the fields this morning: Bobolinks, Blue-grey Gnatcatchers, American Redstarts and Black-and-white Warblers led the charge, with Chestnut-sided and Blue-winged Warblers as bonus finds. Perhaps the weirdest sight this morning was of an Eastern Kingbird chasing a Chimney Swift low across the field right in fornt of us and coming well down below treetop height. Eastern Kingbirds are often boisterous like this, but it amazed us that it was managing to keep up with a rather panic-stricken swift! A single Wild Turkey was lurking at a regular spot not far from our house too.

August 21st
A slightly quieter Higbee Dike today, but a good passage of Barn Swallows was taking place, with a few Purple Martins mixed in. An early Red-breasted Nuthatch hinted at a good year for that species and I notched up my first Black-throated Blue Warblers of the autumn. At least 20 Blue-grey Gnatcatchers whizzed past the dike while I was there too. Five Wild Turkeys were a nice find early morning, so it looks like there is still one family hanging around south of the canal.

August 23rd
I took an evening stroll this evening, simply because it was one of those evenings when it was warm, calm and you just wanted to be out, enjoying the world. It was so nice that it actually got dark before I got home, but one of the highlights of the walk came after dark, when I discovered that Comb Jellies were washing up along the tideline. The water was absolutely full of these nocturnal feeders, that come to the surface after dark to feed, when they are safer from predators. What was so amazing about them is that Comb Jellies emit pulses of bioluminescence like flashes of blue-white lightening and could be provoked into doing this by giving them a gentle prod. I went for a swim and was soon surrounded by flashing lights - awesome!

August 26th
After a few busy work days, I got down to Higbee's Beach again this morning, starting the day off well with a Northern Bobwhite which was running along the road in front of me for a while before it whipped up and flew off over a hedge. Higbee's had many American Redstarts moving today and I got subliminal glimpses of Blackburnian and Worm-eating Warbler at the dike. In the fields, Red-eyed Vireos and Blue-grey Gnatcatchers were plentiful and the first mini-fall of 'Empids' took place. 'Empids' or Empidonax flycatchers are a nightmare group. It's a genus of several species of small, brown or olive flycatchers which all look, well, identical to be honest; but with patience and luck, good views can help to sort most of them out. Today, a couple of Least Flycatchers came my way, plus at least three others which were either Willow or Alder Flycatchers, but I never really got a good enough look at them.

August 30th
I didn't manage an early start at Higbee's Beach this morning (I've never been good at those very early starts which is a bit of a drag for a birder!!) but enough text messages came through to make me shoot down quickly before work. I did get a look at a Baird's Sandpiper that was lurking on the canal impoundment and a good rush of warblers included both Magnolia and Cape May Warblers and Northern Waterthrushes.

In the afternoon, a general southerly drift of birds produced a nice gathering of warblers and other songbirds at work and at least three Yellow Warblers, lots of American Redstarts, two Blackburnian Warblers, two Northern Parulas, Eastern Wood Pewee and an Eastern Kingbird were present. A Yellow Warbler flew into one of the store windows but recovered OK and flew off seemingly having survived the ordeal.

A Yellow Warbler, probably with a headache. This little chap survived an all too close encounter with a window and eventually flew off seemingly OK.

In the heat of late afternoon, the bird baths at the Northwood Center can draw a crowd; today it was standing room only as four American Redstarts and a Northern Parula piled in to cool off - here, one of each turn themselves into soggy fluffballs!

In the evening, we went over to the Migratory Bird Refuge, where four Buff-breasted Sandpipers were feeding on the beach and a Long-billed Dowitcher was in the main pond. Only a single Least Tern remained, the bulk having headed south already, but five juvenile Black Skimmers was encouraging as this species seems to be having a hard time locally. At the end of the walk, we chanced across a smart Merlin which was catching dragonflies by sailing out from the top of a large elm tree.

Year birds: Baird's Sandpiper, Cape May Warbler, Buff-breasted Sandpiper

August 31st
Another example of that great line - what a difference a day makes. Megan and I gave Higbee's fields a good going over and got a great list of warblers for our efforts which included large numbers of American Redstarts and Northern Waterthrushes and included a cracking male Black-throated Blue Warbler and two Tennessee Warblers. We heard at least eight Veeries calling from thick cover but didn't see any, notched up three Great Crested Flycatchers and a Northern Flicker and enjoyed a flock of some 200 Eastern Kingbirds which always gathers here this time of year to feed on Sassafras fruits. In the last field we checked, a flock of Bobolinks was feeding in the planted Sorghum which was now producing copious seed; after a few minutes we heard a distinctive farting noise and there was a young Dickcissel, sitting up in the crop.

Young Dickcissel at Higbee's Beach - now a scarce but annual migrant through Cape May. We use four-letter codes as a quick way to text sightings of good birds at Cape May. The codes are made up of the first four letters of the species name - I got some stick when I texted this one out!!

My office window has certainly been the place to be this week - though of course I am far too busy to be looking out of it (just in case the boss is looking in!!!). Today's bundle of goodies included Philadelphia and Red-eyed Vireos, two Common Yellowthroats, two Baltimore Orioles and several American Redstarts and Black-and-white Warblers.

Year birds: Veery, Philadelphia Vireo

Snakes On Everything (with apologies to Little Feat!)
Cape May has two black snake species, which can be notoriously difficult to tell apart. I've read through the available field guides and remained confused as to how best to tell Black Racer from Black Rat Snake, save for the fact that rat snakes have keeled scales and racers don't. That is to say, a rat snake's scales have a crease for want of a better word, down the center so that the scale is keeled like an upturned boat. Here's some close-ups of the two species to show this point, though note that the keel can be extremely hard to see in the field under typical viewing conditions (even more so if you are running away!).

Close up of Black Rat Snake scales, Bayshore Road, Cape May. Note the keel or line which runs down each scale and mostly dies out before reaching the tip of the scale. In this picture, the front of the snake is to the right.

Black Racer scales, The Beanery, Cape May. Note the lack of a keel. The scales also seem to be slightly narrower in profile which might be a useful ID feature, though it would need the observer to be very familiar with both species. In this picture the front of the snake is to the left.

Typically, the books say that Black Rat Snakes have much more extensive white on the belly which comes well up onto the throat and even onto the sides of the mouth. Black Racers have some white but it tends to be less extensive. This seems OK but I hate comparative 'tendencies' like this as you may need to have both species present before you can make a 'more than/less than' judegement call.

Looking at photos of the two species, I can see that there appears to be a clear difference in head shape between them which seems to hold at all ages. This head shape difference is not mentioned in any of the books that I have read but I think it is worthy of testing. Though the head may be difficult to see properly if the snake has been disturbed and is moving away, practice and familiarity should make it possible to tell the two apart more easily than by using the scale keels alone. Give it a go, and let's see if it works! It's perhaps worth adding that, in my experience, Black Rat Snakes are overwhelmingly the more common of the two species around Cape May, being found in pretty much any habitat and commonly found around houses and backyards. To date I have only seen two Black Racers, one at The Beanery and one at Higbee's Beach WMA, so it may be that they prefer open fields and woodland edge.

Head of adult Black Racer at The Beanery. Notice that the line of the brow starts to angle down towards the tip of the nose just in front of the eye (where you can see yours truly reflected!). This gives the snake a rather snub-nosed look.

Head of adult Black Rat Snake, CMBO Northwood Center, Cape May Point. In contrast to the racers, the rat snake's nose seems to be in line with its eye and the brow line continues in a straight line, only dipping down right at the end, beyond the nostrils. Incidentally, note the extensive white coloration, extending well up past the mouth to the bottom of the eye and around the nostril on this individual.

Juvenile Black Rat Snake, Bayshore Road, Cape May. Notice that the brow line runs straight out to the nose without bending down until past the nostrils, at the very tip of the nose, just like in the adult above. Note also that rat snakes tend to have paler irides than racers, but this may not always be so obvious as here.

This head shape difference does seem to be a useful feature and should be useable to identify photos, where the snake is often not close enough for the scales to be checked accurately for keels.

BIG PS: Neither of these species is poisonous!! However, Black Rat Snakes will not hesitate to attack if they feel cornered - as I found out a few years ago at the State Park!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Summer Sun and Shorebirds on the Move

Yes, the second half of July was marked by two things – day after day of weather in the high eighties Fahrenheit and the arrival of shorebirds, heading south from Arctic breeding grounds. For me it was a good period too for botanising and for just generally being outside – though the heat did get pretty oppressive at times. So, on with the diary for the second half of July.

July 18th
A red letter day for Cape May as Kathy Horn, local birder and one of our volunteers, found three Black-bellied Whistling-ducks on Bunker Pond – only the third record ever for New Jersey and the second for Cape May. Needless to say there was a mad rush to get there before they disappeared – little was I to know at the time that they would still be present in September!! While I was there, a single Stilt Sandpiper flew over with a Lesser Yellowlegs.

Year Bird: Stilt Sandpiper

Black-bellied Whistling-ducks on Lighthouse Pond, Cape May Point State Park. If accepted as genuine wild birds, this will constitute only the third accepted record for New Jersey of a species normally found no closer than Texas. Acceptance seems pretty much guaranteed however, as there as been quite an influx of these birds into the eastern seaboard of the USA this year. When they first arrived, they were pretty wary and spent most of their time keeping themselves at a distance from people. Here's a typical view of them in the background, up-ending and showing their black bellies and white buts.

As time passed, they became gradually more confiding, until one day I chance upon them close to the small hide overlooking Lighthouse Pond. Though they were against the light and their full colours could not be appreciated, they still made a fine sight.

A little bit of action here, and a look at the white stripe that runs the length of the wing.

The whistling-ducks seemed eventually to settle into a routine of sleeping for much of the day and - presumably - feeding at night. However, on this occasion, I did catch some bathing activity.

After bathing, the birds emerged from the water for a bit of a preen and a sort out of the feathers. Note the long legs, typical of whistling-ducks, which are actually more closely related to swans than to other ducks.

I spent ages waiting for all three ducks to look up at one and the same time from their busy preening session, but this was the best I managed - there's always one isn't there!

July 19th
I checked Bunker Pond before work and found the three whistling-ducks still present. The low water levels on the pond continue to attract a great range of birds this year and this morning I found three Pectoral Sandpipers, one White-rumped Sandpiper, two Semipalmated Sandpipers and a nice group of feeding Short-billed Dowitchers. In addition, a count of 11 Great Blue Herons certainly showed that they are on the move now as this species doesn’t breed in Cape May County. Another quick look at Bunker Pond after work added a nice, chubby, Long-billed Dowitcher to the list.

Long-billed Dowitcher kipping on Bunker Pond. This species is regular in very small numbers at Cape May, where Short-billed Dowitchers far outnumber them and pass through in large flocks. This Long-bill spent much of its time feeding with a group of Short-billed Dowitchers but I just didn't get a photo opportunity until it was resting - then the Shorties all moved away!

Adult Least Sandpiper at Bunker Pond - note the olive-green legs which set it apart from all the other small 'peeps' which have black legs (though beware of mud!).

A close-up of the above Least Sandpiper. This time of the year, a juvenile shorebird would have feathers all of the same age and thus all showing a similar pattern and amount of abrasion. In this adult, you can see many old feathers that it wore throughout spring and early summer as its breeding plumage. The feathers are marked in brown, buff and black, helping the bird to blend in on the mosaic of colours found on the Arctic tundra where it breeds. New, non-breeding feathers are coming through now though, scattered amongst the old feathers and easily spotted with their squared off ends, not yet worn down to a point. The new feathers are plainer, grey-brown and ideal camouflage for when they are spending the winter on open muddy areas.

Moulting adult Semipalmated Sandpiper. The different-aged feathers give the bird a rather ragged look, unlike the neat rows of same-aged feathers that juveniles wear.

Adult Lesser Yellowlegs. Again, note the mix of grey and black feathers on the upperparts. As if long-distance shorebird migration was not already miracle enough to contemplate, add in the fact that adults depart first, leaving the youngsters to head thousands of miles south to traditional wintering grounds all on their own - with no map!!

Good feeding opportunities can be few and far between, especially at the Migratory Bird Refuge where the habitat is struggling to survive the on-going over-use of chemical weed control. Here a White-rumped Sandpiper (right) faces off against a subservient Semipalmated Sandpiper (need I add that they are both adults?!).

Recently I’ve had to take great care watering the hanging baskets on the porch as a pair of Carolina Wrens decided that one of them looked like an ideal place for a nest! The first egg hatched today though, so it looks like the parents are going to be pretty busy over the next couple of weeks!

Year Bird: Long-billed Dowitcher

July 21st
Herons are certainly on the move now, with 25 Snowy Egrets and 23 Great Blue Herons on Bunker Pond, as well as a juvenile Little Blue Heron and an adult Green Heron. Songbird migrants were on the move this morning with at least 12 Yellow Warblers a Blue-grey Gnatcatcher and five Ruby-throated Hummingbirds passing overhead first thing. Another sign of autumn was the arrival of the first parties of Sanderlings on South Beach.

Little Yellow nectaring at Camphorweed flower. For butterfly fanatics, one of the great finds of the year was the discovery that Little Yellows had returned to the point after an absence of six years or so. This species is mostly a southern breeder and is right on the edge of its range here. The larvae feed on Partridge-pea and it's probably no coincidence that the food plant is just getting going at Cape May Point State Park again after much of it was lost as a result of the habitat destruction caused by the Army Corps of Engineers when they re-profiled the beach.

July 22nd
A quick look at Sunset Beach early evening revealed a huge influx of Spot-winged Gliders with several hundred of them moving north in the time I was there. Although a few probably breed locally, large numbers of these insects push north from the southeastern states at this time of year and these were probably benefiting from south-west winds blowing them our way. I put up a picture of one of today’s Spot-winged Gliders on the ‘Here by Dragons’ post in August.

Not that we need an excuse for a get together over a great meal, a bunch of us decided that we would go out to celebrate the six-month anniversary of last November’s Ivory Gull – so a crab meal at Sharkey’s over at the Bree-zee Lee was the obvious place to go and we ate a few crabs and sunk a few beers in honour of our illustrious visitor!

July 24th
A day spent doing work on the house, but we did take time out to go and see one of two Upland Sandpipers that turned up at the State Park. These are uncommon migrants here as the eastern population has almost entirely died out due to loss of grassland habitat that they need for breeding.

Eyes still closed and having a well-earned nap, three of the five Carolina Wren chicks can just be seen here.

July 26th
Bunker Pond gets a mention again, as the egret count increased to 58 Great Egrets along with a scattering of Little Blue and Great Blue Herons and Snowy Egrets. After a flash storm late yesterday, large numbers of Swamp Darners were noticed with at least 30 hunting in the lee of our big Chinese Elm. Today, the whole of Cape May Point seemed to be awash with Swamp and Green Darners and a few Wandering Gliders.

As heron and egret numbers built up, someone commented that Bunker Pond looked like the African Rift Valley!

Great Egret numbers built up quickly as the hot, dry summer left thousands of fish stranded in the rapidly-shrinking Bunker Pond.

A closer look revealed that many of the fish being caught were Green Sunfish. Sadly, a lot were too big for the egrets to take on and, having been speared and left for dead, they were then abandoned. Still, nature doesn't like waste and there was plenty of Laughing Gulls and Terrapins on hand to take on the scraps.

With ever-growing mouths to feed back at the nest, Ospreys were quick to spot the feeding opportunities on offer at Bunker Pond and some days five or six could be seen hunting there.