Friday, October 22, 2010

The Cape May Effect

Here's a post I originally put up on the Cape May Bird Observatory site, but I thought I'd put it up here too - with a few words changed to account for it being some weeks back now!

One Saturday night back in September I did a bad thing, a very bad thing; I forgot an evening engagement with friends, good friends. How and why did this happen? Well quite simply, I was in heaven. Heaven is a strange place; it can be anywhere, any place, any time; but you know when you are there. And for all of us, heaven is a different place - but it definitely exists, because I was there, that Saturday evening. On that evening, just for a short while of less than an hour, heaven was on Cape May's South Beach. It involved being barefoot on warm sand, having a camera in-hand and having shorebirds so close that you could hear their tiny feet pattering on dry sand as they trotted by (have you ever heard that sound?). When you are in heaven, everything else goes on hold because time stands still. No-one else was there in my heaven, just me, just the focus of my attention, but if you missed it, if you had to be back for dinner on time, here's what you missed.

A juvenile Semipalmated Plover, so young that it doesn't know to keep its distance from me, but instinctively knowing that a tide-washed strandline is the place to be to find juicy sandflies. Adult Semipalmated Plovers are wonderful with their bold black and white head pattern; but juveniles are more subtle, in shades of coffee-brown and with delicate pale fringes to the back feathers.

The real object of my desire that night was a party of six Buff-breasted Sandpipers. These are birds of the high Arctic tundra which make a staggering migration southward, to winter on the grasslands of northern Argentina.

They are with us at Cape May so fleetingly, yet they are such a special bird that they touch our lives with their presence.
Perhaps the most amazing thing of all about such long distance migrants, is that this group of six birds were all youngsters; first-timers, heading for Argentina with no parental guidance at all. Something to sit and contemplate for a moment....

So why do Buffies pick Cape May as a stop-over on their long journey? For the same reason that we all do; it's heaven on earth for everyone who comes here - at some point, at some moment in time.
And my friends? I saw them today - they forgave me - though they won't let me forget it for a while!!

Cape May on a warm, sunny, September evening - would you want to be anywhere else?