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....