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Getting up close and personal with a flock of Black Skimmers (and friends) on the Cape May beach was rewarding. Photo by guide Megan Edwards Crewe.
Migration birding in Cape May is all about the weather and, somewhat unfortunately, we had sunny blue skies and mild southwest breezes for much of the week. That's comfortable for the birders and helpful to the migrating birds, but NOT so great if you're trying to enjoy the spectacle of migration! With settled weather and gentle breezes, birds don't get pushed to the coast, or they carry on flying right past Cape May Point if they do. However, despite the lack of significant visible migration for most of the week, we certainly weren't left bird-less. After all, even a tough day's birding in Cape May is better than a good day in most other places! And despite the weather, we had many nice encounters.
An unexpected Lapland Longspur shuffled through a low patch of weedy grass, nibbling seeds. A Cackling Goose snoozed among a big flock of Canada Geese. Several White-rumped Sandpipers foraged among a mass of smaller peeps, sinking up to their "knees" in the mud. Two adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls rested among a mob of gulls and terns, their bright yellow legs nicely visible. A drake Eurasian Wigeon played peekaboo in a reed bed at the far end of Bunker Pond. Hundreds (thousands?) of Semipalmated Sandpipers and Dunlins huddled, sleeping along a narrow bank -- talk about a challenging jigsaw puzzle! A Seaside Sparrow hitched its way up several reed stems, peering about with its tail cocked firmly skyward, while a less cooperative Saltmarsh Sparrow lurked in thicker growth nearby. A Carolina Wren chortled from a dead branch. Two Bald Eagles plummeted earthwards, talons interlocked as they spiraled. Hundreds of Black Skimmers dozed on a sandy beach, alongside a convenient mix of Royal, Forster's and Common terns. A Yellow-billed Cuckoo sat motionless in a tiny tree.
Dapper American Oystercatchers gathered on a jetty. Hundreds of Sanderlings pattered along the shoreline, racing the waves up and down the beach until a dive-bombing Peregrine Falcon stirred them into twisting, writhing flight -- and when they eventually returned to the beach, they flowed like water across the rocky jetty in front of us. Two Glossy Ibis huddled among hundreds of egrets, their long, down-curved bills visible as they preened. A trio of Cape May Warblers -- two drab youngsters and a still-bright male -- posed in a treetop. On one gorgeous, hot, sunny day, the sky was full of raptors: pugnacious Merlins and dainty American Kestrels shared airspace (sometimes only yards over our heads), a handful Broad-winged Hawks turned circles in thermals with Ospreys and Red-tailed Hawks and the ubiquitous Turkey Vultures, Sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawks flap-flap-glided over forests and parking lots, allowing nice comparison, Northern Harriers danced over the marshes, Bald Eagles of all ages soared past, and Peregrine Falcons demonstrated their classic crossbow shape as they glided overhead. Though passerine migration was somewhat slower, we managed to rack up 14 species of warbler, including a Nashville that enlivened a quiet afternoon walk, a treetop Black-throated Green, plenty of Northern Parulas, and a knockout, point-blank male Black-throated Blue on our last morning.
Thanks to all of you for coping with the occasionally quiet mornings and the sometimes humid afternoons -- and for your excellent spotting and interest in learning. It was great fun sharing my former "backyard" with you all! I hope to see you again on another adventure somewhere, some day.
Note that CMPSP in the following list refers to Cape May Point State Park, and Forsythe NWR is Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.
KEYS FOR THIS LIST
One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant
Red-breasted Nuthatches are irruptive migrants, arriving in big numbers some years (like this one!) and missing almost completely in others. Photo by participant Susan Kosoris.
Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Waterfowl)
SNOW GOOSE (Anser caerulescens)
BRANT (Branta bernicla)
CACKLING GOOSE (Branta hutchinsii)
CANADA GOOSE (Branta canadensis)
MUTE SWAN (Cygnus olor) [I]
WOOD DUCK (Aix sponsa)
BLUE-WINGED TEAL (Spatula discors)
We saw several big roosting groups of Great and Snowy egrets at Forsythe NWR. Photo by participant Eric Dudley.
NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)
GADWALL (Mareca strepera)
EURASIAN WIGEON (Mareca penelope)
AMERICAN WIGEON (Mareca americana)
MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)
AMERICAN BLACK DUCK (Anas rubripes)
NORTHERN PINTAIL (Anas acuta)
GREEN-WINGED TEAL (Anas crecca)
Getting leisurely close looks at a perched Merlin is always a treat; they're more typically whizzing past at top speed! Photo by participant Susan Kosoris.
BLACK SCOTER (Melanitta americana)
RUDDY DUCK (Oxyura jamaicensis)
Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)
WILD TURKEY (Meleagris gallopavo)
COMMON LOON (Gavia immer)
PIED-BILLED GREBE (Podilymbus podiceps)
Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)
DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax auritus)
Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)
GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias)
GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba)
SNOWY EGRET (Egretta thula)
LITTLE BLUE HERON (Egretta caerulea)
TRICOLORED HERON (Egretta tricolor)
GREEN HERON (Butorides virescens)
BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nycticorax nycticorax)
YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nyctanassa violacea)
It's not just birds that migrate through Cape May; thousands upon thousands of Monarchs do too. Photo by participant Eric Dudley.
Threskiornithidae (Ibises and Spoonbills)
GLOSSY IBIS (Plegadis falcinellus)
Cathartidae (New World Vultures)
BLACK VULTURE (Coragyps atratus)
TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)
OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)
Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)
NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus hudsonius)
We had repeated encounters with both Cooper's Hawks (pictured) and their smaller Sharp-shinned cousins during the week. Photo by partipant Eric Dudley.
SHARP-SHINNED HAWK (Accipiter striatus)
COOPER'S HAWK (Accipiter cooperii)
BALD EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
BROAD-WINGED HAWK (Buteo platypterus)
RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)
Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)
CLAPPER RAIL (ATLANTIC COAST) (Rallus crepitans crepitans) [*]
COMMON GALLINULE (Gallinula galeata)
Dapper American Oystercatchers, sprinkled along a Cape May harbor jetty, allowed nice study. Photo by participant Eric Dudley.
AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER (Haematopus palliatus)
Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)
BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (Pluvialis squatarola)
SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus)
KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)
Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)
RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres)
Seeing a just-banded Blue Jay in the hand gave us the chance to admire the finer details of its gorgeous plumage. Photo by guide Megan Edwards Crewe.
SANDERLING (Calidris alba)
DUNLIN (Calidris alpina)
LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)
WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER (Calidris fuscicollis)
PECTORAL SANDPIPER (Calidris melanotos)
SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER (Calidris pusilla)
WESTERN SANDPIPER (Calidris mauri)
SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus griseus)
GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)
WILLET (Tringa semipalmata)
LESSER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa flavipes)
Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)
LAUGHING GULL (Leucophaeus atricilla)
RING-BILLED GULL (Larus delawarensis)
HERRING GULL (AMERICAN) (Larus argentatus smithsonianus)
Great Black-backed Gulls -- the world's largest gull -- were common on the county's beaches, with plenty of speckly youngsters like this one seen. Photo by participant Susan Kosoris.
LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL (Larus fuscus)
GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULL (Larus marinus)
CASPIAN TERN (Hydroprogne caspia)
COMMON TERN (Sterna hirundo)
FORSTER'S TERN (Sterna forsteri)
ROYAL TERN (Thalasseus maximus)
BLACK SKIMMER (Rynchops niger)
We spent an afternoon on the wide-open mix of salt marsh and impoundment ponds at Forsythe NWR. Photo by guide Megan Edwards Crewe.
Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]
MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)
YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO (Coccyzus americanus)
RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD (Archilochus colubris)
BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon)
RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER (Melanerpes carolinus)
A handsome male Black-throated Blue Warber danced just above our heads on our final morning. Photo by participant Eric Dudley.
YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER (Sphyrapicus varius)
DOWNY WOODPECKER (Picoides pubescens)
HAIRY WOODPECKER (Picoides villosus)
NORTHERN FLICKER (Colaptes auratus)
Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)
AMERICAN KESTREL (Falco sparverius)
MERLIN (Falco columbarius)
PEREGRINE FALCON (Falco peregrinus)
We saw small numbers of Black-and-white Warblers creeping their way along tree trunks and branches. Photo by participant Susan Kosoris.
Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)
EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE (Contopus virens)
EASTERN PHOEBE (Sayornis phoebe)
Vireonidae (Vireos, Shrike-Babblers, and Erpornis)
RED-EYED VIREO (Vireo olivaceus)
Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)
BLUE JAY (Cyanocitta cristata)
AMERICAN CROW (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
FISH CROW (Corvus ossifragus)
HORNED LARK (Eremophila alpestris)
TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor)
BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)
CLIFF SWALLOW (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)
Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)
CAROLINA CHICKADEE (Poecile carolinensis)
TUFTED TITMOUSE (Baeolophus bicolor)
RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta canadensis)
Hunting Ospreys were a near-constant presence on the tour. Photo by participant Eric Dudley.
BROWN CREEPER (Certhia americana)
HOUSE WREN (Troglodytes aedon) [*]
MARSH WREN (Cistothorus palustris)
CAROLINA WREN (Thryothorus ludovicianus)
RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Regulus calendula)
Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)
EASTERN BLUEBIRD (Sialia sialis)
Most of the Indigo Buntings we saw were already sporting their drabber winter plumage; there were, however, a few exceptions! Photo by participant Eric Dudley.
AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)
Mimidae (Mockingbirds and Thrashers)
GRAY CATBIRD (Dumetella carolinensis)
BROWN THRASHER (Toxostoma rufum)
NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (Mimus polyglottos)
EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]
CEDAR WAXWING (Bombycilla cedrorum)
Calcariidae (Longspurs and Snow Buntings)
LAPLAND LONGSPUR (Calcarius lapponicus)
A confiding Lapland Longspur was a highlight of our first afternoon. Video by guide Megan Edwards Crewe.
Parulidae (New World Warblers)
NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH (Parkesia noveboracensis)
BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER (Mniotilta varia)
NASHVILLE WARBLER (Oreothlypis ruficapilla)
COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis trichas)
AMERICAN REDSTART (Setophaga ruticilla)
CAPE MAY WARBLER (Setophaga tigrina)
NORTHERN PARULA (Setophaga americana)
YELLOW WARBLER (Setophaga petechia)
BLACKPOLL WARBLER (Setophaga striata)
BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER (Setophaga caerulescens)
PALM WARBLER (Setophaga palmarum)
PINE WARBLER (Setophaga pinus)
YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (Setophaga coronata)
Participant Eric Dudley got this shot of a couple of Mute Swans on one the state park's "plover ponds", with the iconic Cape May Light in the background.
BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER (Setophaga virens)
Passerellidae (New World Buntings and Sparrows)
SALTMARSH SPARROW (Ammodramus caudacutus)
SEASIDE SPARROW (Ammodramus maritimus)
CHIPPING SPARROW (Spizella passerina)
FIELD SPARROW (Spizella pusilla)
WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW (Zonotrichia leucophrys)
WHITE-THROATED SPARROW (Zonotrichia albicollis)
A Nashville Warbler gave us a fine show one quiet afternoon. Photo by participant Eric Dudley.
SAVANNAH SPARROW (Passerculus sandwichensis)
SONG SPARROW (Melospiza melodia)
SWAMP SPARROW (Melospiza georgiana)
EASTERN TOWHEE (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) [*]
Cardinalidae (Cardinals and Allies)
SCARLET TANAGER (Piranga olivacea)
NORTHERN CARDINAL (Cardinalis cardinalis)
BLUE GROSBEAK (Passerina caerulea)
INDIGO BUNTING (Passerina cyanea)
If we'd had a dollar for every Northern Flicker we saw, we'd have been rich! Photo by participant Susan Kosoris.
Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)
BOBOLINK (Dolichonyx oryzivorus)
BALTIMORE ORIOLE (Icterus galbula)
RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)
BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD (Molothrus ater)
COMMON GRACKLE (Quiscalus quiscula)
BOAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus major)
Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)
HOUSE FINCH (Haemorhous mexicanus) [I]
AMERICAN GOLDFINCH (Spinus tristis)
Spotting a Yellow-billed Cuckoo in the open is always a treat -- particularly when it sits still for a while! Photo by participant Susan Kosoris.
Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)
HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]
EASTERN COTTONTAIL (Sylvilagus floridanus)
EASTERN GRAY SQUIRREL (Sciurus carolinensis)
BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN (Tursiops truncatus)
WHITE-TAILED DEER (Odocoileus virginianus)
EASTERN RATSNAKE (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)
RED-EARED SLIDER (Trachemys scripta elegans)
PAINTED TURTLE (Chrysemys picta)
Carolina Wren was another often-skulking species that performed nicely for us. Photo by participant Eric Dudley.
NORTHERN RED-BELLIED TURTLE (Pseudemys rubriventris)
SOUTHERN GRAY TREEFROG (Hyla chrysoscelis)
NORTHERN GRAY TREEFROG (Hyla versicolor) [*]
Totals for the tour: 143 bird taxa and 4 mammal taxa