Cape May, Fall Migration
Oct. 15 – 17, 2010
by Priscilla Wood
Leaders: James Restivo, Priscilla Wood
Travelers: Maddie Lee, Martin Horowitz, Jim Sherwonit, Mary Hughes, Jan Hamilton, Don Lukaszek, Ray and Joyce Koontz, Don and Chris McGregor, Lee Stuart, Mario Morais, Mike Doyle, Jim Denham
Greetings and Getting There:
James and I met 3 of our travelers at the EcoTravel office before heading off to Westbrook for more pick ups and a prompt departure. Our next stop was in West Haven which was ahead of schedule to pick up one person and then 2 additional folks at the McDonalds on Jerome Ave in the Bronx. The traffic was steady and relatively light for a Friday morning. We did encounter a very sleepy driver who was having much difficulty staying in her lane. We did the right thing and contacted 911 to report her vehicle to police in hopes that they could get her safely off the highway.
We made one quick lunch/restroom/gas break before getting back on the road. The wind did its best to blow the vans around the highway so driving was a tad challenging. The vans or should I say the birders inside them, were in direct competition for who could see the most species on the way down to Cape May. We were not able count them in our total but enjoyed the spotting nonetheless.
Our first birding destination was in Avalon where the New Jersey Audubon Society was conducting a migration Sea Watch. There were a few flocks of Surf and Black Scoter, Northern Gannets, Double-crested Cormorants, Canada Goose, a few Red-throated Loon, Semipalmated Plover, Greater Black-backed gull, Tree Swallows, American Crow, European Starling, Ruddy Turnstones, Forster’s Tern, Royal Tern, Caspian Tern and Sanderlings. The usual Herring and Ring-billed Gull were there as well. The group was treated to the view of a few porpoises swimming along the shore. The wind was very heavy and you could tell the birds were having difficult flying and staying on track.
One of the NJAS staff did a short talk on migration flight patterns and behavior which help to ID flocks based on the shape of their migration pattern. This info was helpful later on in the weekend. He pointed out on the map that the landscape of Avalon has a bit of a notch at the tip which makes this location perfect for migrating birds to fly over and by.
We decided to check in to our motel before heading out to the next birding spot. Travelers unpacked the van and found their rooms. The Capri Motor Lodge was a neat and tidy spot with no frills but provided a fabulous view of the Atlantic Ocean. The group went out for about an hour to Sunset Beach & Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge where the group spotted Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, American Kestrel, Merlin, Ruddy Duck, American Coot, and flocks of Tree Swallows.
After returning to the motel for a quick freshening up the group headed for dinner at the Cape Orient which was a short drive from our motel. Service was slow but the food was good.
Sat. Oct. 16 (Happy Birthday Jan & Mario)
Oh what a windy day!! Despite the weather the entire group boarded the vans and headed for Higbee Beach with a pre-stop at WaWa for a cup of motivation.
The winds at Higbee were very strong and even made standing at the dredge spoil a bit challenging. On our way up the hill to the spoil we saw two Mute Swan flying sideways in Vaudeville fashion. All that was missing were their cane and top hat. Quite amausing! We did spot some songbirds, hawks, a Bald Eagle and Osprey or two. The NJAS bird counter was not very optimistic that the migration would improve so we went for a walk along the base of the dike. Here we picked up our first White-throated Sparrows, and a Blackpoll Warbler, but not much else.
We headed to Uncle Bill’s Pancake House for a much deserved, hearty breakfast. We were grateful for them splitting up the checks and enjoyed the food. The pumpkin pancakes seemed to be a hit. We dropped off our lunch menu at West Side Market and as we were pulling out the rainbow-haired employee ran out to tell us that they would be closed on Sunday and would need an alternative plan for lunch.
We arrived to the Hawk Watch at Cape May Point just in time to catch the 10:00am Raptor Demonstration. We were treated to a wonderful presentation by a very humorous and animated speaker who did a fabulous job handling the hawks. We were given a very good look at the birds and their release. He explained how they use the lure birds and displayed the leather jackets they use to protect the lure birds from the raptors. Interesting little flight jackets with hoops on the back made from a Lexus car seat. He displayed a released a 2 Cooper’s Hawk, 2 Sharp-shinned Hawks and 2 Northern Harriers.
After the presentation we took at walk along the boardwalk where we saw Carolina Chickadee, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Black Vulture, Northern Pintail, and Gadwall. We couldn’t find a previously reported Eurasian Wigeon, however.
I left to retrieve the sandwiches around noon however not many folks were hungry enough yet to eat so we waited until we got to the Cape May Bird Observatory gift shop where we had a birthday picnic with festive napkins. Jan and Mario were treated to a special dessert and a round of
“Happy Birthday” from their fellow travelers. Here we got much better looks at the chickadee drinking from a bird bath.
Next we were off to Higbee Field in search of Peregrine Falcons. We did see Swamp sparrow and stumbled upon a Raptor banding station. We watched as they used a pigeon as a luring bird and sat inside the blind waiting. We watched from a distance so as not to disturb the process.
We next went back to the motel to pick up Maddie & Martin for a second trip to the CMBMR where we saw Savannah Sparrow, Ruddy Duck, many Yellow-rumped Warblers, Merlins, and Snowy Egret and Jim and Mario scoped from the shore a group of Black Skimmers.
We hit the duck jackpot on the second half of our walk with Gadwall, Pied-billed Grebe, Blue and Green-winged Teals, Black Duck, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail. James led us back to the motel where travelers went off on their own or in small groups for dinner. A very windy but satisfying day of birding!!
Sunday Oct. 17
Hallelujah.! The winds had died down and the group was able to experience a true Higbee morning migration What great sighting we had as the birds streamed above and below the ridge of the dredge spoils. Hawks and passerines darting around the group and flitting just above people’s caps. We could hear an occasional “WHOA” as a bird would stream close by the group. The walk along the dike base proved to be busy as well with many Golden-crowned Kinglets, Ruby-crowned Kinglets
We headed next to the Cape May Point Pavilion a.k.a the “wedding pavilion” to see the Black Skimmers that Mario and Jim had spotted the day before. It just so happened that a Northern Harrier was flying along the shore which flushed the Skimmers into a 10 minute flight display in “amoeba fashion” before settling down in nearly the exact spot from which they left. A small swarm of Tree Swallows were enjoying the morning seaside insects while another flock stood in line along the beach like soldiers.
We gladly headed back to Uncle Bill’s for yet another fabulous breakfast before heading to the Capri for packing and check-out.
We were on the road and headed for the Edwin Forsythe NWR which was about 45 minutes away. The 8-mile loop was a leisurely drive with occasional spots where everyone could get out and get a good look at Boat-tailed Grackles, Dunlin, Black-bellied Plover, Flocks of Snow Geese, Brant and DC Cormorants. At the end of the loop we bid a fond and safe farewell to our New York travelers Maddie, Martin, Lee & Mario.
We stopped for a quick dinner, gas and rest room before getting back on the road. All travelers were deposited safely to their vehicles and hugs and handshakes were had by all.
James and I much enjoyed escorting your group to Cape May. For some of you it was the first visit to this quaint, seaside community. We hope you had a wonderful weekend of great birding and good camaraderie and we look forward to traveling with you again soon
Good Ole’ Uncle Bills
Photos provided by Jan, Jim & Maddie