Monday, November 29, 2010

October part 2

Well, yes, another blog post and I've fallen behind again! Thanksgiving crept up on me and I didn't get October finished before I was heading off south for a few days. Still, that means there will be a post about something other than Cape May shortly, but for now here's the rest of October (much abridged of course to get it all in!).

October 13th
After a few days hanging out with friends and doing a few other things, it was back to the birding today with the Wednesday morning walk producing the first American Coot of the autumn and two male Ring-necked Ducks on Lighthouse Pond. Sharp-shinned Hawks were moving in good numbers, along with a handful of Broad-winged Hawks, while Yellow-rumped Warblers seemed to be everywhere and numbers of Swamp and Song Sparrows, Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets and Brown Creepers were up.

On the way home, a magnificent juvenile Peregrine of the big and impressive tundra breeding race was on a powerline pole on Sunset Boulevard. I spent some minutes getting as close as I dared with the camera, only to find that it was perfectly happy to sit and stare at me while I stood immediately beneath it!

A prey's-eye view of a mighty tundra Peregrine - what a fabulous bird!

This bird even let me walk around the back for some more shots!

October 17th
A very wintery feel to the birds at Higbee's Beach this morning with Yellow-rumped Warblers dominating. A good number of Dark-eyed Juncos also moved through and at least five Purple Finches were down in the trees (the first of what was to be an amazing autumn for this species)

Year bird: Purple Finch

October 18th
I decided to head up onto Higbee Dike today rather than tramping the fields - and it proved to be a good move! The highlight of a great morning flight was a Northern Shrike - a real rarity here at Cape May and the first for quite some years. It flew right by us, landed on the reeds on the north side of the impoundment, then eventually headed off northward, over the canal. This morning I also notched up my first Cape May Pine Siskins - though little were we to know at the time that it was to be a bumper season for them. Red-breasted Nuthatches were passing us by at a rate of knots and the day ended with a record count for Cape May of 220 - as well as a record count of 23 White-breasted Nuthatches. A single Rusty Blackbird was my first of the season and Purple Finches continued to build up in numbers with the first one noted at the feeders at work today.

A visit to the Hawkwatch Platform lunch time proved a good move as I was there when a Golden Eagle was found, a Bald Eagle which had just been trapped by the hawk banders was brought along for release and a Clay-coloured Sparrow decided to hang around long enough for me to get a picture. A late Nashville Warbler was also present, lurking down in the weedy edge to the marsh.

Year birds: Pine Siskin, Northern Shrike, Golden Eagle, Clay-coloured Sparrow

Almost dejavu!! Almost exactly a year since the Golden Eagle was trapped at Cape May, I find myself looking at another eagle in the hand - this time a juvenile Bald Eagle... 
Arthur discovers that Bald Eagles can be as much of a handful as Golden Eagles!

Jordan prepares the Baldie for take-off...

Just time for a close-up before the bird is released.

October 19th
A quiet day, but a pair of Purple Finches in one of our Silk Trees saw another species added to the garden list.

House bird: Purple Finch

October 20th
This week's walk saw a continuation of the swarm of Yellow-rumped Warblers at the state park and an impressive movement of Buff-bellied Pipits though, as usual, they all flew straight through. Several Northern Harriers, including two full adult males, passed us by and an amazing flock of some 40 Pine Siskins was feeding on Giant Sunflower heads with American Goldfinches. Three Purple Finches were now visiting the feeders at work.

October 22nd
On and on, this autumn just doesn't seem to want to end! The autumn migration of songbirds at Cape May this year has been truly amazing nd doesn't look set to stop yet. The best thing of all for me is that nearly all of the big falls have happened on a Friday which is one of my regular days off! Can't complain about that!

For this morning, my diary says: Higbee's was fact so many birds were moving through that it was down right dangerous at times! Chipping Sparrows seemed to predominate today (apparent from the expected Yellow-rumped Warblers and American Robins) and there was good numbers of White-throated, Swamp, Song and Field Sparrows too, as well as my first Lincoln's Sparrow of the season. A big raptor floght took place today over home, which included five Bald Eagles during the relatively short time that I was looking, while Tree swallows seemed to be massing all over Cape Island. Our afternoon saw us at The Beanery, where we enjoyed a Western Kingbird that Pat Sutton had found; here too we found plenty of sparrows, including at least three Vesper Sparrows and I flushed a Lapland Longspur from the old Pumpkin patch. Weird sight of the day was of a flock of 15 Surf Scoter which hurtled high overhead, heading south and which may well have passed over our house!

Always nice before breakfast! A juvenile Bald Eagle gets escorted off the patch by American Crows. This bird flew right over my head as I was cycling back home from Higbee's Beach.

Year birds: Western Kingbird, Lapland Longspur, Lincoln's Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow

October 23rd
Another good day for birds around home as a Northern Goshawk powered its way south less than 100 yards to the west of our garden and Megan pulled the biggie out of the hat by spotting a Golden Eagle heading towards us!! We watched it pass right overhead and continue northward over the canal - awesome! Later, I counted 23 White-throated and two White-crowned Sparrows at our feeding station, with Song, Field and Swamp Sparrows also in the yard.

Year bird: Northern Goshawk

October 24th
Early morning saw masses of American Robins pouring through the garden, along with Chipping Sparrows and a few Purple Finches; a Pine Siskin called overhead but I didn't clap my eyes on it. Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers fed in good numbers in our meadow and five White-crowned Sparrows were at the feeders. In the evening, a Wilson's Warbler was a late addition to our garden list. A real highlight for me this evening came when we were on our way home from friends and a Coyote crossed the road less than a half mile from our house - the first I have ever seen (at last!!).

October 25th
I had just got to The Beanery and inadvertently flushed a male Northern Harrier at lunch time, when I got word of an American Golden Plover. Heaidng over to the South Beach, I soon found the bird, with a party of 12 Grey Plovers and a single Dunlin. The plovers were a little skittish but I did manage some reasonable pictures of the 'goldie'.

Year bird: American Golden Plover

Juvenile American Golden Plovers can be rather grey in colour, making them tough to spot amongst flocks of Grey Plovers. Note that this bird is clearly smaller than the Grey Plovers behind (Black-bellied Plovers in the USA) and note the smaller bill and more obvious white supercilium behind the eye.

A couple more shots of the American Goldie. I thought I'd missed this one for the year as they are regular but not common here and usually pass through much earlier in September or early October.

October 28th
Today my diary says: It's been a lot slower for birds for a couple of days - little was I to know what was about to happen!! My evening began with a Cave Swallow at the state park before we headed over to a friend's house for our final big get-together of the autumn season. It was not long before very obvious 'migratory restlessness' was overcoming large numbers of American Robins shortly before the sun set, but even this was not enough to warn us of what was to come. However, having Scott shove his iphone in my face and say "Look at that, have you ever seen it right across the bay before?!" was enough to warn us all! Scott was checking the local dopler radar courtesy of the internet and the signs were ominous. The broad front of migrating birds was stretched out right across the waters of Delaware Bay.... Now go to my 'Ultimate Migration' post to see what hit us!!

Year bird: Cave Swallow

Taken from the comfort of my office chair! This female Red-bellied Woodpecker has been systematically emptying the bird feeders and stuffing sunflower seeds into any nook and cranny she can find in the building - it's costing us a fortune!!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Migration Mayhem Continues...

If September had been good for migration this year, then October was spectacular. End to end, it produced an amazing number of great birding days as the weather continued ideal for falls of migrants, day after day after day, until we began to think that there really couldn't be any more birds left in Canada! So, as with the last post, here's a very much abridged diary of October highlights - but with more pictures this time!

October 2nd
After a brief respite from birds while we had wet and windy weather, a cold front swept through Cape May overnight and yet again the birds arrived in force. There was nothing particularly noteworthy at Higbee's Beach this morning, but common birds were everywhere and included my first-of-season Grey-cheeked Thrush, White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow and Northern Wren. The bulk of birds today consisted of both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, Indigo Buntings, Northern Flickers and Blue Jays. Highlights for me were two Yellow-billed Cuckoos, several Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and two Blackburnian Warblers. A magic day continued at work in the evening with the now expected warbler show in the trees along East Lake Drive, which today included three Blackburnian and a Bay-breasted Warbler and oodles of regular stuff.

House bird: Golden-crowned Kinglet

October 3rd
A walk around the garden before work revealed four species of woodpecker out there, including our first Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (the others being Northern Flicker and Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers). Other nice yard birds included Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Brown Thrasher, Swamp Sparrow and Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers. Michael O'Brien's timing was (almost) perfect this morning as I walked into work at 9AM and immediately got a message saying that an American White Pelican had landed in the bay, just off Coral Avenue - two minutes from work! A quick bit of back-pedalling and I was soon looking at what is a very scarce bird at Cape May - and even rarer south of the canal. The bird drifted on the tide and gave great scope views, before work beckoned; Michael reported a second bird that flew in and joined the first shortly after I left.

Year bird: American White Pelican
House bird: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

October 5th
A pre-work walk at the Migratory Bird Refuge turned out to be a good move as migrants were a-hopping! A good passage of American Kestrels was taking place, at least five Sora Rails called from the marsh and swamp and Savannah Sparrows were plentiful. Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets were heading south in small groups and five Wilson's Snipe and a Long-billed Dowitcher were in the pools.

After work, one of our regular frisbee sessions was interrupted periodically as we counted Great Blue Herons rising out of the marsh and heading out over the bay. By the time dusk had fallen, we had counted 292 Great Blues heading out over the bay, including a single flock of 30 which made a fine sight as they circled way out over the water. In addition, four Brown Pelicans and many Double-crested Cormorants headed southward too. Last knockings at home, against a wonderful orange sunset, saw an American Woodcock whizz over the garden and a Black-crowned Night Heron rose from its daytime roost in the woods beyond our garden, called a few times, then almost got taken by a mighty female Peregrine that raked right across the sky - what an end to the day!

It's not all birds! This male Dot-lined White was found soon after emergence from its chrysalis at the state park before our frisbee game.

October 6th
Today started early for me as I was woken up at 6AM by the local Coyote pack howling outside - what a start to the day!! Two pairs of Great Horned Owls were calling at each other too. Several American Kestrels and two Northern Harriers passed over the garden. My Wednesday walk highlighted with two Lesser Black-backed Gulls on the beach and three Broad-winged Hawks overhead.

A lunchtime walk at the state park turned up a mating pair of Chinese Praying Mantises for me. This non-native species is the largest mantis found in Cape May and so far the only species I have seen here. Note how much larger the female is and note that colour is not any use in identifying species here - though many people here think that it is.

October 8th
Action stations! Another northwest front brought a mass of birds our way, with the Morning Flight counter totting up some 36,000 birds heading north in the first couple of hours of daylight! When I got up this morning, I immediately noticed big numbers of American Robins moving through the area (in all directions it seemed!) so I thought I ought really stay around the house and see what tunrs up - and what a great move it proved to be! In actual fact, I had things that I needed to do, so I only spent a chunk of the morning and a half hour or so in the evening looking for birds, but remarkably I chalked up 74 species, over, in or around our garden. From an amazing early morning movement that saw 14 species of warbler in the garden, through an excellent mid-morning raptor movement that included three Bald Eagles and at least 26 Broad-winged Hawks going over, to a sunset moment that added American Woodcock and two Common Nighthawks drifting over, it had been an amazing day - and all rounded off with a great meal at the Mad Batter's with Ralph and Brenda Todd who had been over here from the UK to enjoy the highlights of a Cape May autumn.

So here's the full list for the garden for today:

Canada Goose  - 31
Double-crested Cormorant  - 3
Turkey Vulture  - 12
American Black Vulture  - 8
American Kestrel  - 6
Merlin  - 1
Peregrine  - 3
Osprey  - 4
Bald Eagle  - 3
Northern Harrier  - 5
Sharp-shinned Hawk  - 35
Cooper's Hawk  - 12
Red-shouldered Hawk  - 2
Broad-winged Hawk  - 26
Red-tailed Hawk  - 7
Killdeer  - 2
American Woodcock  - 1
Laughing Gull  - 2
American Herring Gull  - 1
American Mourning Dove  - 55
Common Nighthawk  - 2
Belted Kingfisher  - 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker  - 2
Yelow-bellied Sapsucker  - 4
Downy Woodpecker   - 1
Northern Flicker  - 5
Eastern Phoebe  - 1
Eastern Wood Pewee  - 1
Red-eyed Vireo  - 1
Blue Jay  - 60
American Crow  - 10
Fish Crow  - 3
Cedar Waxwing  - 4
Carolina Chickadee  - 4
Tree swallow  - 200
Golden-crowned Kinglet  - 12
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  - 15
Carolina Wren  - 2
Northern House Wren  - 1
Red-breasted Nuthatch  - 3
White-breasted Nuthatch  - 1
Grey Catbird  - 1
Northern Mockingbird  - 4
Brown Thrasher  - 3
European Starling  - 20
Eastern Bluebird  - 1
American Robin  - 450
House Sparrow  - 15
American Goldfinch  - 2
House Finch  - 1
Tennessee Warbler  - 1
Nashville Warbler  - 1
Northern Parula  - 6
Blackpoll Warbler  - 1
Magnolia Warbler  - 4
Black-throated Blue Warbler  - 4
Yellow-rumped Warbler  - 50
Black-throated Green Warbler  - 1
Palm Warbler  - 6
Black-and-white Warbler  - 5
American Redstart  - 10
Ovenbird  - 1
Northern Waterthrush  - 4
CommonYellowthroat  - 4
Red-winged Blackbird  - 100
Common Grackle  - 2
Bobolink  - 6
Song Sparrow  - 3
Swamp Sparrow  - 1
White-crowned Sparrow  - 1
Field Sparrow  - 1
Eastern Towhee  - 1
Dickcissel  - 1
Northern Cardinal  - 6

House birds: Eastern Phoebe, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Dickcissel, White-breasted Nuthatch,, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Eastern Bluebird, Eastern Wood Pewee, Broad-winged Hawk, Nashville Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Common Nighthawk

Considering that our management policy for our meadow so far has been one of 'hands-off' to see what develops, we have been pleasantly surprised with how it is developing. In October it looked pretty spectacular when all the Frost Aster came into flower. It's been nice that so many neighbours have stopped by to say how good it's looking too - including one of the local township commissioners!

Butterflies have made the best of our garden already this year, including this White-M Hairstreak that I found on October 10th.

Yep, another day, another Cape May lighthouse-sunset shot!

Alternatively, another day, another Sunset Beach sunset shot!! Both these pictures were taken on the same day - I particularly liked the Double-crested Cormorants enjoying the view from the concrete ship.

OK - this is getting long-winded again - so I'll break October here and finish it off in the next post in a couple of days.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ancient History!

Well, I did try and keep up with a diary this year but you know what? There was just too much going on! It really was such a spectacular autumn this year that I was either out in the field or at work - no time for getting much down in writing. So in a vain attempt to catch up here - some six weeks late! - are my diary highlights for September. I'll get on with October pretty sharpish too then maybe, if the wind and rain that's currently thrashing against the window carries on, just maybe I'll be up to date for five minutes!

September 1st
September saw a continuation of the great autumn migration that had started in August. This morning, Bobolinks were pouring out over the bay, with several hundred noted; a scattering of Palm and Yellow Warblers were along the dunes; a single Marbled Godwit flew over and three Buff-breasted Sandpipers were on the South Beach. A small warbler flock in the state park included Blackburnian, Black-throated Green and Blackpoll Warblers and Northern Parula.

In the evening, the trees at work held Scarlet Tanager, 6+ Red-eyed Vireos, Cape May, Black-and-white and Prairie Warblers, Northern Parula, American Redstart and Blue-grey Gnatcatcher.

September 2nd
Nice morning at Higbee's Beach with good numbers of Northern Waterthrushes and Red-eyed Vireos, both species showing well too. Also three Philadelphia Vireos - the first time I have seen multiples of this species in a morning here - Chestnut-sided Warblers, several Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, two Veeries and a sudden increase in Northern Parulas with at least 10 seen. Add on Least Flycatcher and Blue-winged Warbler and it was a good pre-work walk! Two Baltimore Orioles were in the garden in the evening as I went out to look offshore at the threat of Hurricane Earl which was getting a few people in an early panic. My reward was a windy beach with a Lesser Black-backed Gull on it...

September 3rd
Today was the day that never was; hurricane Earl had threatened big problems for us but stayed well offshore and today was just a typical dull day - a damp squib and not even that damp! A few seabirds rode out the wind on the beaches and I finally added Sandwich Tern to my Cape May list.

Year list - Sandwich Tern

September 4th
A top birding day! The cold front and associated northwesterlies that had kept Earl offshore instead brought us lots of birds. I started at Sunset Beach in case any seabirds had been blown into the bay but little was moving, though a Buff-breasted Sandpiper flew right down the beach past me. At Coral Avenue, the male King Eider that had been summering just around the corner was swimming by and flocks of Bobolinks and Eastern Kingbirds were much in evidence. Over at Higbee's Dike, I arrived too late for the bulk of a good morning flight, but did pick out a secind Buff-breasted Sandpiper for the day as well as a fly-by Olive-sided Flycatcher. Flycatchers abounded in the fields and I worked through some of the more obliging birds, tallying eight Least, two Yellow-bellied and four Alder Flycatchers - the latter two both new Cape May birds for me. Warblers included two Cape Mays and a nice Canada. In the afternoon, I rounded off a day of end to end birding at the Migratory Bird Refuge with two Baird's and at least eight Pectoral Sandpipers, a Wilson's Phalarope and a Wilson's Snipe. Best of all though was the time spent photographing six Buff-breasted Sandpipers on the beach (I've already spoiled you all with pictures of these!).

Year list - Olive-sided Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Alder Flycatcher

September 5th
Pretty much a continuation of yesterday at Higbee's this morning with plenty of flycatchers and warblers again, the latter including Ovenbird and Worm-eating Warbler. A perched Common Nighthawk was drawing an appreciative crowd in the first field.

September 6th
Even work days produce the good sometimes; just six feet from my office window is a little Sassafras tree and today, just that one little tree attracted two Veeries, several Red-eyed Vireos, two Great Crested Flycatchers and a female Black-throated Blue Warbler - oh well, if I must go to work, at least I can make the best of it!!

September 8th
The state park walk before work provided two Brown Pelicans offshore, two Sandwich Terns on the beach and a few Palm Warblers now building up in the dunes. There had been a notable increase in Blue-winged Teal, a breeding plumaged Wood Duck was new and eight Northern Shoveler had arrived. Today was also the first time that I finally saw the fourth Black-bellied Whistling-duck that had turned up from who knows where (and I wonder where they are now!). What was to become an amazing run of warblers in the trees at work over much of the autumn really began in earnest today with 2 Black-throated Blue 6 Yellow, 1 Chestnut-sided, 2 Cape May and 1 Blackpoll Warblers and three Northern Parulas present. Also the vanguard of what was to become an impressive Red-breasted Nuthatch movement.

September 10th
Warblers dominated the scene today, both at Higbee's Beach early morning and at work in the evening. As well as good numbers of those already mentioned, Tennessee Warblers were showing well at both locations and two Nashville Warblers were seen at Higbee's.

In the afternoon, a sandcastle session at Stone Harbor was deemed to be a good idea for all the family. And so it was, but it also got us some nice views of a few Red Knot, Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers, American Oystercatchers, Semipalmated Plovers and Sanderling.

Year list - Nashville Warbler, Western Sandpiper

September 11th
Another great Higbee's Beach morning after the third consecutive day of perfect, migrant-bringing northwesterlies. There was so many birds around this morning that it took us some 20 minutes just to get into the first field from the car park, as parties of Common Yellowthroats and Palm Warblers worked through the knee high vegetation on either side of the track. A nice adult Canada Warbler was our reward for working through them methodically.

In the evening, Cape May Warbler and Alder Flycatcher were both new birds for our garden list and two Green Herons flew south.

House list - Alder Flycatcher, Cape May Warbler

September 12th
There were so many birds around today that even my lunch time stroll from work saw me not knowing which way to point the camera lens! I sat on the boardwalk trail at the state park and had up to 10 Prairie Warblers feeding in the weeds right in front of me, some coming to within six feet! A careful walk 'off piste' turned up a couple of Veeries and an Ovenbird lurking away from the noisy tourists. In the evening, it took me an inordinate length of time to tear myself away from the bird flocks at work - and the crowds gathering to enjoy them. Highlights among the masses for me were a smart Blackburnian Warbler and a fly-over Solitary Sandpiper.

September 13th
With my good mate Richard over from the UK with his family, there was no excuse not to be out every morning during this amazing birding bonanza. Today we did our usual pre-9AM walk at Higbee's Beach and, though the winds were 'wrong' for a fall today, we nevertheless had some good birds, including Black-billed Cuckoo, Warbling and Philadelphia Vireos and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. Ovenbird and Swainson's Thrush were highlights later at the state park and my diary makes the first mention of a notable increase in Monarch numbers today - we were not to know at the time just what was to come!

Year list - Warbling Vireo

September 14th
Richard and I checked the Migratory Bird Refuge before I needed to head off for work. A quick circuit gave us three Pectoral Sandpipers, one Long-billed Dowitcher, one Solitary Sandpiper and an amazing Sora Rail which trotted out into the full sun right beside us - of course, as I was heading for work, where do you think my camera was? Yes, tucked up snug and warm in its case....

Year list - Sora

September 15th
A superb pre-work state park walk this morning that gave us a total of 88 species - a new high for my Wednesday morning walks. Some 50+ Palm Warblers were in the dunes, along with a very lost male Black-throated Blue Warbler (that ought really to have been in an oak tree somewhere else!), while American Kestrels, Merlins, Ospreys and Sharp-shinned Hawks seemed all to be almost constantly in sight. Duck number slowly continue to increase and a nice range of shorebirds on the pools included two White-rumped, one Pectoral and four Stilt Sandpipers and a lone Long-billed Dowitcher among the more expected Short-billeds. But the highlight of the morning staggered us and was totally unexpected....

Melissa Roach, our Hawkwatch counter this year, called in a Wood Stork - a species that really should have been in the Florida Everglades!!! We were only about 300 yards from the Hawkwatch Platform but couldn't see the bird; worse still, it was next reported as visible from the Migratory Bird Refuge - the other side of us; we were stuck in the middle and couldn't see the bird. Next we hear, it's moving off over the water - waahh!! Well, we put that one down to experience, but then, about 10 minutes later, the news comes over again - Wood Stork now circling over the lighthouse - with a Bald Eagle!! I spun round; right there, there's the lighthouse. It's only 200 yards away from us, maybe less. Why can't we see the bird! We can, there it is. A Wood Stork right overhead - and no camera!!!!

Year list - Wood Stork

September 18th
A topsy turvy day as birding is supposed to be best first thing, but today it started slowly and gradually got better and better. The winds were in the right quarter to bring birds to Higbee's Beach but, for some reason, it just didn't happen, though we did get a Bay-breasted Warbler and two Philadelphia Vireos. Raptors built up nicely during the day though, with a nice party of 10 Broad-winged Hawks, one Red-shouldered Hawk, plenty of Sharp-shinned Hawks and Ospreys, at least five Northern Harriers and a couple of Bald Eagles.

Today's big story I have already covered - the start of the big Monarch event. Richard, Sam and Tom were here to see the start of it but the awesome exodus was to happen the next day, after they had headed for home. Other highlights late in the day for me were three Striped Saddlebags (a southern species with only a handful of records from New Jersey) and the first Least Bittern I've seen at Cape May for a number of years.

Year list - Least Bittern

September 19th
The big Monarch day - as you may recall!! I on't go over it again - but it was pretty special. Today's other highlight for me was a Hudsonian Godwit on Bunker Pond, an uncommon bird at the point.

September 20th
A busy work day today - all those birds means lots of visiting birders and lots to do! Still, worth adding in here my first-of-season Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Yellow-rumped Warbler today - both signs that we are getting well into the autumn period now and summer is fast becoming just a memory.

September 21st
A real day of 'Octoberyness' today, which started with a Brown Creeper at home first thing. Migrants were thin on the ground at Higbee's this morning, but variety was good with a fly-over Dickcissel (thank heavens for that farting flight call!), two first-of-season Eastern Phoebes, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Megan's patience with me finally paid off as she found her third Connecticut Warbler of the year and I finally latched on to this one! Connecticut Warblers are famous for simply disappearing shortly after the first person claps eyes on them and they're usually not the sort of bird to bother chasing after - you have to be there at the time!

Year list - Connecticut Warbler
House list - Brown Creeper, Red-breasted Nuthatch

September 26th
Today saw the start of the 'Magic Tree' attraction at work, as a superb array of warblers and other insectivorous birds flocked to one of the elms to pick off the mass of woolly aphids on the trunk. Most of these I covered in an earlier post; it really was a spell-binding time.

So there's September, just to keep the diary going. Most of the picture highlights have already been posted, so I'll move on to October and include some more photos there. What I really need is a lie down to recover from it all!!

Just so there's a picture to look at! Here's a cute little Common Yellowthroat that I just couldn't fit into any of the earlier September posts. Although it's not the greatest picture of a yellowthroat, I like the way it sums up autumn migration here at Cape May. Here's a tiny bird, miles from were it was borne, miles from where it's headed and just looking so small in a big world, fighting against the weather that brought it to Cape May. But to make it really poignant for this year - there's a Monarch in the background, just waiting for its turn in the limelight too....

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Ultimate Migration!

It’s hard to know what to call this weekend; how to give a title to a blog about one of the most awesome weekend’s birding ever at Cape May. Yes, there have been bigger morning flights here – much bigger – over the years. But usually the birds just keep on moving. This time, the weather and timing of the bird movements meant that the birds dropped right in on Cape May Point and stayed here.

It started on Thursday evening, after the last of our autumn get-togethers, with a series of texts from the local insomniacs, alerting us all to a large volume of birds calling overhead as they passed over Cape May beach front in the dark. It seems that the movement continued all night and we were all up before it was light on Friday morning. I went out into the back garden as the first pale streaks of dawn crept across the eastern sky and at first it was quiet – annoyingly quiet given all the messages coming from the beach front! But that quickly changed and before long I had notched up 50 American Woodcocks passing over our house and dropping into the woods just to the north of us. With them came a scattering of passerines, most of which appeared to be Hermit Thrushes judging from their overall size and shape. This was exciting, but the word on the streets was that ‘on the streets’ was where we needed to be, so Megan and I drove into town to see what was happening: what we found was truly awesome. Thousands upon thousands of birds were carpeting Cape May, from Bayshore Road, all the way through West Cape May and right through the City of Cape May. We were driving at 15mph, at times much less, as clouds of birds swept through the area. Driving down Jackson Street, we stopped by the crossing with the pedestrian precinct and it was as though people were throwing buckets of dead leaves along the street, that were being swept along in the winds that funneled between the buildings; but the dead leaves were birds, scattering in their hundreds as a pedestrian walked through.

It was getting light now and it was easy to see that the birds were orientating themselves and heading for patches of cover and for green lawns. Masses of Chipping Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos and American Robins were swarming over the lawns as we headed back through town and continued on towards Cape May Point. Our progress was very slow! Every inch of the way there seemed to be birds, all looking for somewhere safe to get out of the way of the birds of prey that were waking to a smorgasbord of breakfast items! Right in the centre of Cape May Point, among the streets and houses, we came across a male Northern Harrier on the Pavilion Circle, eating an unfortunate sparrow – but it was soon robbed by a passing Turkey Vulture. Initially I was surprised by how few birds had been killed on the roads (I had only picked up one Hermit Thrush and a Virginia Rail) but then we ran across Tony Leukering who had a bagful of sad corpses – Tony had come further than us on the main roads where no doubt cars were driving faster. Also, now that it was getting light, we could see American Crows picking off the victims before we got to them. (By the way, we're not that gruesome; the ones picked up in good condition are sent up to the natural history museum in Philadelphia for their study skin collection.)

Tough to pick out in the dull light of dawn, but all those brown blobs are sparrows (mostly White-throated Sparrows here) and roadside verges were littered with birds like this everywhere we went.

On the Pavilion Circle, this young male Northern Harrier was quick to make the best of the easy pickings. Harriers will often hunt at very first light and at dusk, when their prey is most vulnerable.

 Our next stop was the dune cross-over at Coral Avenue and here, the spectacle of masses of moving birds rivaled the Monarch movement we had seen a month earlier. Swarms of Red-winged Blackbirds, Tree Swallows and House Finches dominated the movement, while Yellow-rumped Warblers were almost queuing up to find a perch. Parties of Buff-bellied Pipits hugged the beach front and at least 50 went by in the relatively short time that we were there.

Coral Avenue shortly after sunrise - memories of the Monarch migration as waves of Red-winged Blackbirds sweep along the dunes.

More and more Red-winged Blackbirds sweep over the pines before lifting higher to take on Delaware Bay and continue south.

It was all too much for words, but now reality kicked in, as work beckoned! Great stories poured in to the Northwood Center about the spectacle that continued all day as the birds had settled in the area to feed. How many birds were there? Well I guess we will never know for sure, but those who toured Cape May Point and got a feel for what was going on overall, were talking of A MILLION BIRDS…

My next opportunity to enjoy this fantastic flight of birds came on Saturday morning as another monster movement took place. Instead of the expected exodus of birds, the continuing cold front and associated north-west winds just continued the bird fest! Megan had headed off on a trip, so I was left to check out what was happening Saturday morning on my own. I decided this time to see what our own plot of land had to offer and it seemed as though this time, the centre of Cape Island was getting as many birds as the coast line. There were too many birds, tucked into too many thick clumps of grass and bushes to be exact with numbers, but my estimates of birds in our garden excluding the ‘locals’ were:

Eastern Phoebe 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 35
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
Brown Thrasher 1
Hermit Thrush 20
Black-throated Blue Warbler 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 100
Palm Warbler 10
Song Sparrow 20
Swamp Sparrow 35
White-throated Sparrow 400
Dark-eyed Junco 50
Chipping Sparrow 10
Field Sparrow 2
Clay-coloured Sparrow 1
Eastern Towhee 1

Ruby-crowned Kinglet. These little gems have been flocking all over the point lately and are amazingly confiding, often feeding within three feet of people.

Palm Warblers are relatively late migrants, though most have already passed through now. Even so, at least 10 were in our yard on the Saturday morning.

With all these goodies around, there just had to be something new for our garden and it came in the shape of a Clay-coloured Sparrow. I didn't get a photo of our one, but here's one that I photographed at the Hawkwatch just a few days earlier.

Chipping Sparrows abounded in their thousands on the Friday morning, less so on Saturday. This one was at Higbee's Beach and I put it in here for comparison with the Clay-coloured Sparrow as they are closely related species and very similar in appearance. A key feature seen easily here is the dark loral stripe of Chipping Sparrow, which runs from the eye to the bill base.

Quite a haul! In contrast to Friday, White-throated Sparrows and Hermit Thrushes seemed to dominate Saturday's fall; both had been present the day before but not so obviously dominant. Work beckoned again and news of ‘tidal waves’ of sparrows at Higbee’s Beach drifted through. Other goodies were found; a Henslow’s Sparrow (the first for 22 years here), Common Ground Dove (only the third state record), Western Kingbird and Yellow Rail; and the birds of prey swarmed overhead.

Hermit Thrushes are usually solitary feeders that like to keep themselves to themselves and spend most of their time feeding in cover. Morning Flight counter Tom Johnson recorded at least 100 Hermit Thrushes on the short stretch of dirt road down to Higbee's Dike on Saturday morning.

Wonderful Yellow-rumped Warblers resting and taking the sun at Cape May Point State Park.

Yellow-rumped Warblers simply swarmed around Cape May over the weekend in seemingly uncountable numbers. Here is a part of a flock of 90 of them feeding on fallen juniper berries under just one tree at the state park.

Sunday saw a lessening of birds, but there was still plenty to be enjoyed – and for me a light at the end of the tunnel! This incredible fall out of birds had not come at a good time for me, as this weekend was our annual ‘Autumn Weekend’, a three-day event of programmes, talks and walks, which meant the staff here all had to work through it all – fine if you’re leading a walk but not so good if you’re indoors!! So, 4.30PM Sunday I got out to the fields at Higbee’s at last for a proper look without having to clock watch. Luckily for me, I ran into Jim Danzenbaker and together we worked the near corner of Tower Field and eventually got superb views of the Henslow’s Sparrow which had surely been the one bird that just shouldn’t be missed. Even now, Tower Field rustled! There were so many sparrows feeding there that you could hear them feeding! The rustling of little feathered bodies poking through the grass and nibbling at seeds. And above them all, three Northern Harriers caused havoc as they continued to hunt well into the fading light of evening.

Hermit Thrushes solitary and skulking? Well here's seven taking a drink from a puddle in the car park at Higbee's Beach - another five were at the other end of the puddle to the left!

Henslow's Sparrow was the real prize of the weekend as it is a declining species which is likely to get less regular as the population contracts. This was the first one found at Cape May for 22 years.

So just what figures did the counters come up with for this weekend? Well here’s some statistics to put it all into perspective:

Friday 29th
Seawatch - 21,093 birds, including 116 Wood Ducks, 6,389 Surf Scoters, 1,662 Black Scoters (plus 2,120 Surf/Black Scoters), 115 Red-throated Loons, 76 Common Loons, 9,503 Double-crested Cormorants, 24 Great Blue Herons, 59 Great Egrets, 16 Black-crowned Night Herons, 300 Yellow-rumped Warblers.

Hawkwatch – 1,096 raptors counted, including 8 Bald Eagles, 88 Northern Harriers, 556 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 241 American Kestrels, 41 Merlins, 13 Peregrines

Morning Flight – 145,484 birds counted on the morning flight, plus many other birds in the area, including 16 Eastern Phoebes, 73,570 American Robins, 63,640 Yellow-rumped Warblers, 335 Chipping Sparrows, 400 Song Sparrows, 300 White-throated Sparrows, 3,397 Dark-eyed Juncos, 5,000 Red-winged Blackbirds, 237 Rusty Blackbirds, 533 Pine Siskins and 400 American Goldfinches.

Broad-winged Hawks weren't a major part of this weekend's fall out, but there was still a few around to enjoy. Here's part of a flock of 65 (plus one Turkey Vulture) that passed over the Northwood Center.

And here's a closer look at a Broadie!

Saturday 30th
Seawatch – 12,372birds counted, including 249 Wood Ducks, 4138 Surf Scoters, 1,243 Black Scoters, 194 Red-throated Loons, 517 Northern Gannets, 4,124 Double-crested Cormorants.

Hawkwatch – 919 raptors counted, including 10 Bald Eagles, 105 Northern Harriers, 455 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 115 Red-tailed Hawks.

Morning Flight – 60,000 birds counted (no individual species totals have been made available though).

After note:The dust still hasn’t settled, as the Hawkwatch counters tallied 189 Northern Harriers and an impressive 11 Golden Eagles on Monday – I saw three of the Golden Eagles, including one which flew right past my office window and became the 97th species for my office window list!

Sparrow flocks are always worth scanning for the less common species. This first-winter White-crowned Sparrow was at the state park....

....while this Vesper Sparrow was one of four that we found at The Beanery. Note the white eyering on an otherwise rather plain head, and the white outer tail feathers.

Being in the office didn't take me completely out of the picture; this smart White-breasted Nuthatch was right outside my office window....

....and the bird feeders at work did a good job in pulling in lots of great birds, including a handful of Purple Finches that were heading south.

Female Purple Finches could be confused with House Finches, but note this bird's heavy streaking below and its clearly-marked, white supercilium running back from the eye.

As I write this on Tuesday evening (before going out for a slap-up get-together to say thanks to the wonderful seasonal staff we've had this year!) things are definitely quietening down, but the past two evenings have seen some lovely groups of Eastern Bluebirds gathered along Bayshore Road and lining my route home from work.

And just to rub it in yet again; yes, you get some fabulous sunsets here, especially when a tall sailing ship cruises through your viewfinder on a lightly-rippled Delaware Bay.