Migration birding in Cape May is all about the weather and, somewhat unfortunately, we had sunny blue skies and mild easterly breezes for most of the week. That's comfortable for the birders and helpful to migrating birds, but not so great if you're trying to enjoy the spectacle of migration! With settled weather and light winds, birds don't get pushed to the coast -- or 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 weren't left bird-less -- though it may have felt like we were on a quiet afternoon or two. And despite the less than desired migration spectacle, we had some very nice avian encounters.
Things started with a hint of what a "good migration event" might be like. We bowled up to the Cape May Bird Observatory's (CMBO's) Northwood Center shortly after arriving from the Philadelphia airport to find a busy mix of Northern Parulas, American Redstarts, Black-and-white Warblers, Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned kinglets, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, a late Yellow-throated Vireo and an immature Yellow-bellied Sapsucker swirling through the trees with the local chickadee and titmouse flock. The following day was our best for raptor migration, with dozens and dozens of Sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawks flap-flap-gliding over trees, beaches and parking lots while Merlins strafed the pond edges, a sprinkling of Broad-winged Hawks soared with the ubiquitous Turkey Vultures, and Ospreys passed in a near continual stream, often carrying a fishy snack along.
While things quieted down considerably after that first day, we traded quantity for quality. A lone Black Skimmer rested on the warm sand with a convenient mix of gulls -- including a trio of adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Scores of American Oystercatchers flaunted their carrot-orange bills as they rested on a stony jetty. An American Bittern did its best "don't mind me, I'm just a reed" imitation, not far from our back bay boat. A tardy Piping Plover demonstrated how well its sandy-colored plumage works as camouflage when it huddled behind a Horseshoe Crab shell and virtually disappeared. A drake Eurasian Wigeon floated among his American Wigeon cousins, already sporting hints of his snazzy breeding plumage. A dainty American Golden-Plover stood among a quartet of bulkier Black-bellied Plovers, allowing leisurely comparison of size, shape and plumage. A confiding White-rumped Sandpiper picked its way along the edge of a muddy puddle, almost within arm's reach. A quartet of Red-headed Woodpeckers -- two adults, two youngsters -- flashed among dead and dying trees along the Delaware Bayshore. A Peregrine soared right over our heads, allowing great study of its classic crossbow shape. A pair of Great Cormorants loomed over the significantly smaller Double-crested Cormorant on a light tower near Cape May's harbor. A nervous mixed group of Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned night-herons huddled under bushes on a little islet in Jarvis Sound, keeping a wary eye on the adult Bald Eagle perched just over their heads. A Prairie Warbler glowed against a juniper while Palm Warblers wagged their way across a grassy lawn below him. And who will soon forget our one-two "punch" of a cooperative Seaside Sparrow hitching its way up reed stems at Forsythe NWR, followed almost immediately by a showy Saltmarsh Sparrow. Wow!
Of course, it wasn't just the birds that caught our attention. Pods of Bottlenose Dolphins cavorted just offshore on several days. A Red Fox darted back and forth in front of our van one evening. We had an interesting presentation from CMBO's Director of Research at the organization's banding station and learned about the new cellular tracking packs they're putting on thrushes and vireos. We met up with one of the butterfly researchers tagging Monarchs at Cape May Point and learned a bit about the life cycle and incredible migration of these gorgeous insects. And we had some pretty tasty dinners at a handful of Cape May's multitude of restaurants. Let's just say that nobody went home thinner!
It was good fun sharing my former "backyard" with all of you -- even if it WAS a bit of a struggle to show you everything I'd hoped to. Thanks for your patience and perseverance in the face of uncooperative winds -- and for your good humor throughout. I hope to see you again in the field 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
CANADA GOOSE (Branta canadensis)
Common in waterways virtually everywhere we went -- as well as on a grassy cloverleaf along I-95 when we headed for the airport on our last afternoon. These birds are resident locals, descendants of geese that have long since ceased to migrate.
MUTE SWAN (Cygnus olor) [I]
Scores around Cape May and at Forsythe NWR. This introduced species is far too common, and is changing the ecology of the waterways in south Jersey: another species that is eating the marsh plants year round -- and generating too much poop!
WOOD DUCK (Aix sponsa)
A handful of these handsome ducks floated among the lily pads of the appropriately named Lily Lake at the entrance to Forsythe NWR, and we spotted another pair near the Gull Pond tower.
BLUE-WINGED TEAL (Spatula discors)
A dozen or so floated on Lighthouse Pond (at the Cape May Point State Park -- aka CMPSP) on a couple of days, and we saw a few others at the South Cape May Meadows one afternoon. They were all in eclipse plumage, though a few of the males were starting to show traces of their crescent-moon facial patches.
NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)
Common on the impoundments at Forsythe NWR, where their big bills helped to quickly distinguish them. These too were mostly in eclipse plumage.
GADWALL (Mareca strepera)
These elegant ducks were surprisingly scarce this trip, with a pair on one of the ponds at Forsythe NWR, and a closer bird with some wigeons at the Meadows.
EURASIAN WIGEON (Mareca penelope)
A male on CMPSP's Lighthouse Pond was a highlight of an otherwise quiet walk one morning before breakfast. He was molting into his snazzier breeding plumage, but was still definitely looking a bit "half and half"!
AMERICAN WIGEON (Mareca americana)
A trio with the previous species on Lighthouse Pond, with few others at the Meadows on our final morning. As with most of the other ducks on this tour, they were still largely in eclipse plumage.
MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)
Abundant on waterways throughout, including a dozen or more snoozing on the wooden platform beside CMPSP's Red trail.
AMERICAN BLACK DUCK (Anas rubripes)
A close bird with a Mallard on Lighthouse Pond one morning gave us a great chance to study one of its key features -- a speculum with black rather than white borders. We had many, many others at Forsythe NWR, which was originally established to help preserve the species.
NORTHERN PINTAIL (Anas acuta)
One flew past while we birded from the Gull Pond tower at Forsythe NWR, but our best views came at the Meadows on our last morning, when we found a pair having a leisurely bath and preen on the reserve's main pond.
GREEN-WINGED TEAL (Anas crecca)
Regular at CMPSP and the Meadows, typically sprinkled among the larger ducks. We had some great opportunities to practice distinguishing between these and Blue-winged Teal during the week.
SURF SCOTER (Melanitta perspicillata)
A trio flew past at the head of a big line of Double-crested Cormorants, low over the water just offshore at Stone Harbor one afternoon, and we spotted another couple with a White-winged Scoter flying past the Avalon seawatch.
WHITE-WINGED SCOTER (Melanitta deglandi)
One bookended by Surf Scoters, flying past the Avalon seawatch during our visit. This is generally the least common of the three scoters around Cape May.
PIED-BILLED GREBE (Podilymbus podiceps)
We spotted a couple of birds briefly at Forsythe NWR, but our best views came on our last morning, when we found a half dozen floating and diving on the Coast Guard ponds while returning from our rail spotting.
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]
Seen around Philly, Cape May and Cape May Point, typically in small flocks. Somehow, we managed to miss them one day!
MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)
Daily, sometimes in pairs (as over the Meadows), sometimes in large groups on roadside wires.
RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD (Archilochus colubris)
It took a bit of patience, but we finally laid eyes on a little female visiting the flowers and feeders around Michael and Louise's porch. And shortly after she finally arrived, a second bird zoomed into view.
CLAPPER RAIL (ATLANTIC COAST) (Rallus crepitans crepitans)
Yahoo! After fleeting views for some of a couple rapidly disappearing across the floating wrack during our boat trip, we had superb views of one along the edge of a muddy ditch at Two Mile Landing. The subspecies in the mid-Atlantic -- crepitans -- is drabber than birds found elsewhere.
AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER (Haematopus palliatus)
Scores along the rocky jetty at the mouth of the Cape May harbor, including good numbers of youngsters, which were distinguished by the dark tips to their carrot-orange bills.
BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (Pluvialis squatarola)
Also abundant along the Cape May harbor jetty, with some still showing traces of their striking breeding plumage. We had others in the shorebird flocks at Forsythe -- though mostly in flight, no thanks to the Peregrine!
AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER (Pluvialis dominica)
One, looking slim, small-headed and thin-beaked compared to the quartet of Black-bellied Plovers it was standing with, seen along the shoreline of Jarvis Sound on our back bay boat trip. This is a rare but regular vagrant to the county.
SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus)
At least 23 snoozed in footprints on the beach at Stone Harbor one afternoon, another stood sentinel on a rocky jetty in front of the Avalon seawatch, and handful of others scuttled across the beach at the Two Mile unit of the Cape May NWR, looking considerably darker than a nearby Piping Plover.
PIPING PLOVER (Charadrius melodus)
One nestled behind a horseshoe crab shell on the beach at Cape May NWR's Two Mile unit, blending in perfectly with the pale sand -- great spotting, Jan! This little one was quite late; most Piping Plovers are long gone by October.
KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)
Small numbers on three days, including a trio hunkered down on the grassy lawn at Cape May Point SP just after dawn one morning. We saw others at Stone Harbor and Cape May NWR's Two Mile unit.
RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres)
A few dozen rested on the wooden seawall around one of the marinas in Cape May harbor, including "Y=E" -- a leg-flagged bird that has been returning to the same spot since at least 2018, when it was photographed on one of our tours! We saw a couple of others at the marina at Two Mile Landing.
SANDERLING (Calidris alba)
Regular along the county's beaches, where they chased the waves back and forth across the sand. These pale shorebirds are found almost exclusively along the coast.
DUNLIN (Calidris alpina)
Also regular along the coast, though in smaller numbers than the previous species. Their darker backs and longer, droopy-tipped bills help to quickly distinguish them from Sanderlings with which they often associate.
LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)
Small numbers at Shell Bay, Two Mile Landing, and on our Osprey boat trip. We had especially nice looks at a couple conveniently close to some Semipalmated Sandpipers at Two Mile; these darker-backed, pale-legged birds tend to look a bit crouched as they forage.
WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER (Calidris fuscicollis)
One at Two Mile Landing proved marvelously cooperative (eventually!), strolling around mere yards from where we stood. Its longer wings were nicely evident in comparison with nearby Semipalmated Sandpipers, and we had long, leisurely moments to go through the rest of its field marks. We found another keeping company with a Killdeer at the Meadows later in the week.
SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER (Calidris pusilla)
Common at many wetlands, including a group of 40 or so along the shore near Two Mile Landing (seen on our back bay boat trip), clouds fleeing from the Peregrine at Forsythe, and a shifting mass scattered among the Dunlin and Sanderlings on the beach at Cape May NWR's Two Mile unit.
WESTERN SANDPIPER (Calidris mauri)
A little group of a half-dozen or so sprinkled among a multitude of Semi-palmated Sandpipers in one of the impoundment ponds at Forsythe, distinguished by their longer, droopy-tipped bills. There were probably others too, but the strafing Peregrine made finding them rather challenging!
SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus griseus)
Several dozen probed the mud with their long bills among a big group of Greater Yellowlegs in one of the impoundment ponds at Forsythe NWR.
LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus scolopaceus)
A single bird among the Short-billed Dowitchers at Forsythe NWR. Unfortunately, it scuttled out of view behind a nearby bunch of sleeping Greater Yellowlegs before everybody got a chance to see it in the scopes -- and the Peregrine wasn't making its passes at that point to wake everybody up!
SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)
We found only two -- both fluttering along watery channels in front of the boat on our back bay boat cruise.
GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)
Regular throughout, with leisurely views of many at Two Mile Landing and Forsythe NWR.
WILLET (WESTERN) (Tringa semipalmata inornata)
Scores preened and snoozed on grassy islets in a pan at the Wetlands Institute, waking up noisily when another group of 20 or so dropped in. They were all the western subspecies "inornata", which is paler, longer-legged and longer-billed than eastern birds. The latter are typically long gone from their eastern breeding grounds by the time of our tour.
PARASITIC JAEGER (Stercorarius parasiticus)
At least two chased some hapless terns around over the sea near the Avalon seawatch, showing nicely their remarkable agility. Their habit of stealing other birds' catches is what gives them their common name.
LAUGHING GULL (Leucophaeus atricilla)
Common throughout, with all ages seen -- including a few brown youngsters, which were conspicuously scarce this year. Two big summer storms, which overtopped the back bay marshes where the birds breed, killed the entirety of two broods this summer, and only a small number of pairs attempted a third.
RING-BILLED GULL (Larus delawarensis)
One with a couple of Herring Gulls and a Laughing Gull for convenient comparison at Shell Bay one afternoon. This is a winter visitor to Cape May, and will be arriving in increasing numbers over the next few weeks.
HERRING GULL (AMERICAN) (Larus argentatus smithsonianus)
Common throughout, including plenty of scruffy-looking brownish-gray youngsters.
LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL (Larus fuscus)
A handful of adults on the Cape May beach gave us the opportunity to compare them with their nearby larger cousins as they patrolled the surf line, and we saw others at Stone Harbor Point. This species has become considerably more common on the eastern coast of the US over the past few decades.
GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULL (Larus marinus)
Abundant throughout, including dozens resting on pilings at Shell Bay and snoozing on the Cape May beach. This is the world's largest gull.
CASPIAN TERN (Hydroprogne caspia)
And this is the largest tern! We had one over Nummy Island, but our best views came at Forsythe, where several hunted over the impoundment ponds. Their huge red bills are diagnostic, as is their overall size.
COMMON TERN (Sterna hirundo)
A few among the multitude of Forster's Terns festooning the walls around marinas in Cape May harbor, where their dark caps (looking a bit like receding hairlines) made them easy to pick out. Most of these local breeders have gone south by the time of our tours.
FORSTER'S TERN (Sterna forsteri)
Plentiful along the county's coastlines and at Forsythe NWR in neighboring Atlantic county. We watched dozens plunge-diving into the sea around the concrete ship at Sunset Beach, and got up close and personal with scores in Cape May harbor. Their black eye patches make winter-plumaged birds easy to identify.
ROYAL TERN (Thalasseus maximus)
Regular, generally in small numbers, along the county's beaches -- often orange-billed adults with begging yellow-billed youngsters in tow. Though they don't breed locally, Royal Terns come north post-breeding to feed in the county's rich waters.
BLACK SKIMMER (Rynchops niger)
A late afternoon visit to Cape May's beach netted us close views of one hanging out with a mix of gulls -- and distant views of a much bigger group way down the beach.
GREAT CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax carbo)
Two on a light tower at the end of the Cape May harbor jetty dwarfed the Double-crested Cormorant sandwiched between them. This is an uncommon winter visitor to Cape May.
DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Nannopterum auritum)
Very common throughout, often standing spread-eagled on pilings or marina walls. We got close enough to them on our back bay boat trip to see their sea green eyes.
BROWN PELICAN (Pelecanus occidentalis)
More than a dozen -- a convenient mix of white-headed adults and brown-headed youngsters -- rested on the rocky jetty at the mouth of the Cape May harbor, keeping a wary eye on our boat.
AMERICAN BITTERN (Botaurus lentiginosus)
Wow! Most years, we're lucky if we find a single bittern. This trip, we had three! Our first was doing its best "don't mind me, I'm just a swaying reed" imitation in a patch of marsh grass in Jarvis Sound. We got super close looks at another sneaking away from our boat in the same area, and then watched a third glide past over the Meadows while we birded from the tower on our first visit there.
GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias)
Scattered individuals on all but our first afternoon, typically hunting along the edge of a reedy pond.
GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba)
Also regular throughout, including a big group mixed with the next species around a pan near the end of the Two Mile Landing bridge. Resident numbers are boosted in the fall by migrants from further north.
SNOWY EGRET (Egretta thula)
Abundant, often in association with the previous species. Some of the youngsters weren't yet showing much distinction between their feet and legs, as they'll get when they're adults.
LITTLE BLUE HERON (Egretta caerulea)
An adult strode across the marsh at the Wetlands Institute, periodically disappearing completely from view as it reached a channel.
TRICOLORED HERON (Egretta tricolor)
A scattering of birds at the Wetlands Institute, Two Mile Landing, and from our back bay boat. The very long yellowish bill and white belly of this medium-sized heron help to quickly separate it from the previous species.
GREEN HERON (Butorides virescens)
One stood hunched along the edge of CMPSP's Lighthouse Pond one morning, gazing intently into the water -- nice spotting, Brett!
BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nycticorax nycticorax)
One roosting in a pine tree over CMPSP's Red trail was a bit unexpected (though the splatters on the boardwalk showed it had clearly been there a while). We saw others at the Wetlands Institute and at Forsythe, but our best views came on the back bay boat trip, where we found a number of adults and youngsters with nearby Yellow-crowned Night-Herons for good comparison.
YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nyctanassa violacea)
Adults and youngsters stood on pilings visible from the Wetlands Institute, and we saw others on our back bay boat trip. Immatures of this species have smaller speckles on their wing coverts than immature Black-crowned Night-Herons do, and they have longer legs, longer necks and thicker beaks.
WHITE IBIS (Eudocimus albus)
A group of five -- two adults and three brown youngsters -- circled over the CMPSP parking lot before heading off south on our first morning.
BLACK VULTURE (Coragyps atratus)
Small numbers seen on most days, often circling over Cape May Point.
TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)
Common and widespread, with dozens in the skies over the county each day.
OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)
Daily, sometimes with a fish snack clamped firmly in their talons. That sometimes proved dangerous, as when we watched one Bald Eagle powering quickly across the sky in hot pursuit of a fleeing, fish-carrying Osprey.
NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus hudsonius)
Especially common at Forsythe NWR, where we saw as many as 4-5 at once gliding over the marshes. We had small numbers of others on most days, including a pair of rusty-bellied youngsters circling over the lighthouse our first morning.
SHARP-SHINNED HAWK (Accipiter striatus)
Abundant throughout, particularly on our first morning, when the sky was peppered with them. We had plenty of practice separating them from the next species -- looking for their smaller head, pulled-forward "wrists", square-tipped tail and "man falling off a cliff" wing action.
COOPER'S HAWK (Accipiter cooperii)
Also common, especially on our first full day -- though they tended to rise later than the Sharpies. They generally fly with a straighter leading edge to the wing (i.e. not with their wrists pulled forward), which makes their heads protrude further; their rounded tail tip also helps distinguish them from the previous species. As with most of the hawks we see in Cape May, these were almost exclusively youngsters. Those who survive their first epic trip south learn never to come this way again!
BALD EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Gratifyingly common, with both adults and youngsters seen every day but the first. The stately bird sitting in a juniper on an islet we passed during our back bay boat trip was particularly photogenic -- though the herons huddled in the bushes underneath undoubtedly wished it was sitting elsewhere.
BROAD-WINGED HAWK (Buteo platypterus)
A few among the circling kettles of birds we saw over Cape May Point on our first full day, with our best looks coming at one soaring low over the trees near the Sea Grove road entrance to CMPSP. This is North America's smallest Buteo.
RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)
Surprisingly few this year, seen on just four days. One soaring with a big group of raptors over Stevens Street showed nicely the classic dark belly band of this species and we saw others scattered on treetops along the parkway as we drove north to various birding spots.
BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon)
Single birds on most days of the tour, including one sitting on a post at CMPSP and another hovering over the marsh at the Wetlands Institute. We heard their rattling calls regularly.
YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER (Sphyrapicus varius)
A brown-faced youngster visited a series of holes it (or another sapsucker) had drilled into a tree near CMBO's Northwood Center, seen on our first afternoon.
RED-HEADED WOODPECKER (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)
A busy family group -- two adults and at least two youngsters -- swirled through the dead and dying trees near the intersection of a couple of sandy tracks in the Dennis Creek WMA. They appeared to be bringing acorns back to some of the trees, either to store or to crack open.
RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER (Melanerpes carolinus)
Another normally common species that was conspicuous by its absence. We saw only three -- all at Cox Hall Creek WMA on an otherwise quiet afternoon.
DOWNY WOODPECKER (Dryobates pubescens)
Best seen at Higbee Beach WMA, where we found a calling pair near the parking lot. We saw another at Cox Hall Creek.
NORTHERN FLICKER (Colaptes auratus)
Easily the most common woodpecker -- and one of the most common migrants of the week -- with dozens seen bounding over fields, trees and beaches each morning.
AMERICAN KESTREL (Falco sparverius)
Small numbers on the early days of the tour, particularly on our first full day, when the sky was full of raptors. We had especially nice looks at several zooming back and forth over Michael and Louise's house while waiting for a hummingbird to make its appearance. The curved "banana shaped" wings and proportionately longer tail of this paler species help to separate it from the next.
MERLIN (Falco columbarius)
Especially good views of several of these dark, fast falcons zipping low over the ponds and marshes of CMPSP on our first day. They certainly are pugnacious -- often chasing birds far larger than themselves!
PEREGRINE FALCON (Falco peregrinus)
One soaring over Sunset Beach gave us plenty of time to observe all of its distinguishing features. Another one (or maybe two) strafing the shorebird flocks at Forsythe gave us less opportunity for leisurely study, but more chance to appreciate its stupendous speed and agility.
EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE (Contopus virens)
One hunted near CMBO's Northwood Center on our first afternoon.
EASTERN PHOEBE (Sayornis phoebe)
The more common of the tour's flycatchers, with singles seen on most days -- including one tail-dipping bird hunting from a telephone wire near CMBO's Northwood Center on our first afternoon and another near the parking lot at the Wetlands Institute.
YELLOW-THROATED VIREO (Vireo flavifrons)
One in the treetops near CMBO's Northwood Center on our first afternoon was a surprise. These uncommon summer visitors have typically left the county by the middle of September!
BLUE-HEADED VIREO (Vireo solitarius)
Jan spotted one among a mixed flock of passerines flicking along the edge of the field in front of the platform at Higbee Beach.
RED-EYED VIREO (Vireo olivaceus)
A couple of birds feeding low in the junipers near our picnic lunch spot at CMPSP showed nicely, and we saw others well along the field edges at Higbee Beach WMA.
BLUE JAY (Cyanocitta cristata)
We saw these gorgeous, noisy birds daily -- typically in pairs, occasionally with an acorn in their mouth. Large numbers of this short-distance migrant move through Cape May in the fall, particularly during October.
AMERICAN CROW (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
Another common and widespread species, with small parties seen daily -- including some at Cox Hall Creek, which were among the very few species we found during our visit.
FISH CROW (Corvus ossifragus)
Less widespread than the previous species, typically found only along the coast -- including a quartet flying around at Two Mile Landing and a few investigating the parking lot at Sunset Beach. Their distinctively nasal calls help to distinguish them from the very similar American Crow.
COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)
Two croaking birds flying past the Wetlands Institute on our first visit were certainly a surprise. Though they have begun to breed in very small numbers in the county, they are still quite rare. It was a new "site bird" for most of the staff of the institute, who abandoned a staff meeting to see it.
CAROLINA CHICKADEE (Poecile carolinensis)
Regular in woodlands and suburbs, with especially good studies of the busy gang visiting the feeders at CMBO's Northwood Center on our first afternoon. The dividing line between this species and the Black-capped Chickadee occurs further up the state of New Jersey.
TUFTED TITMOUSE (Baeolophus bicolor)
A pair with some chickadees at Higbee Beach were among our few new birds on a quiet morning. We saw others at Cox Hall Creek WMA and Forsythe NWR.
HORNED LARK (Eremophila alpestris)
The Cape May Airport came through for us, with four spotted on and around the runway marker signs there. This is the only regular breeding area for the species in the county.
TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor)
Sprinkled like pepper across the skies on most days. This local breeder is typically the last swallow to leave the area, primarily because it is the only one that can digest fruit, so has an alternative food source in the case of cold weather.
RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Corthylio calendula)
This tiny migrant was fairly common for the first half of the trip -- particularly on our morning at Higbee Beach, when a constant parade of them flitted past the viewing platform.
GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET (Regulus satrapa)
Less common than the previous species, but we had some nice views of a couple outside CMBO's Northwood Center our first afternoon, with a handful of others in the junipers along the CMPSP's Red trail.
BROWN CREEPER (Certhia americana)
Jan spotted our first, hitching its way up a skinny trunk near the parking lot at the Wetlands Institute -- clearly a migrant, given the overall lack of trees in the area! We had other migrants on Nummy Island and in Avalon's "dune forest".
BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER (Polioptila caerulea)
One or two, looking like tiny, twitchy mockingbirds, in the junipers outside CMBO's Northwood Center, with others in CMPSP the following day.
HOUSE WREN (Troglodytes aedon)
One flicked through ankle-high vegetation near our picnic lunch spot at CMPSP one afternoon. Unfortunately, it dropped out of view before everyone saw it.
CAROLINA WREN (Thryothorus ludovicianus)
Abundant throughout -- though far more frequently heard than seen, with their duets ringing out just about everywhere we went. We had especially nice scope studies of one having a vigorous preen in a bush outside Michael and Louise's house.
EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]
Daily, including dozens mixed in with a big flock of Common Grackles at the Dennis Creek WMA, where we found our Red-headed Woodpeckers.
GRAY CATBIRD (Dumetella carolinensis)
Another daily species, though heard-only on a couple of days. Some good views of multiple birds munching berries along CMPSP's Seagrove track and at Higbee Beach. This species migrates through Cape May in big numbers.
BROWN THRASHER (Toxostoma rufum)
We heard the loud, "chupp" calls of these big mimids on several days, and saw them well one morning at Higbee Beach, when a couple perched out in the open on a dead snag near the viewing platform.
NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (Mimus polyglottos)
Common and widespread, seen every day of the tour -- including a noisy quartet of youngsters near the hawkwatch one morning.
EASTERN BLUEBIRD (Sialia sialis)
A trio, including an adult male, near the start of the Forsythe NWR entrance road.
AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)
Mae spotted one near CMBO's Northwood Center our first afternoon, but it took until the next day -- when we found a pair on the lawn near the Wetlands Institute -- for the rest of us to catch up with it. We saw a handful of others at Forsythe NWR. This species often overwinters in big numbers in Cape May.
CEDAR WAXWING (Bombycilla cedrorum)
A few flyover flocks seen early in the day at Higbee Beach and along CMPSP's Red trail, with the high-pitched "jingle bell" call of others heard from the junipers near the hawkwatch platform.
HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]
Daily, including a few checking for crumbs around the food stall at the Philadelphia Airport (seen by some while we waited for everyone to arrive) and chattering flocks bouncing around on the lawn of our hotel each afternoon.
HOUSE FINCH (Haemorhous mexicanus) [I]
A female perched briefly in a nearly leafless tree at the Wetlands Institute, and we saw a few others at Cox Hall Creek, Cape May NWR's Two Mile Unit and the Meadows. This species, which was introduced early in the last century from the west coast, is far less common than it was before the ongoing conjunctivitis epidemic.
AMERICAN GOLDFINCH (Spinus tristis)
The distinctive flight calls of this species were heard on several days, but we didn't actually see the bird until we got to Forsythe NWR. There, we found one individual, in winter-dulled plumage, perched on a reed stem near the road out to the Gull Pond tower.
WHITE-THROATED SPARROW (Zonotrichia albicollis)
Three or four winked into and out of view in a bramble bush near the start of CMPSP's Seagrove trail on our first morning -- the vanguard of the sparrow migration (which typically peaks in late October).
SEASIDE SPARROW (Ammospiza maritima)
Our first was a challenging bird that repeatedly popped into view at Shell Bay -- but only for a few seconds at a time. A couple of others, seen from the Osprey on our boat trip, were similarly skulky. Fortunately, we found a much more cooperative bird at Forsythe; it spent long minutes nibbling seeds in reeds near the edge of the wildlife drive.
SALTMARSH SPARROW (Ammospiza caudacuta)
And this was a nice bonus bird, when we found one low along the edge of the road while enjoying our views of the previous species. Some of the group saw another one (or two) from the Osprey as well.
SAVANNAH SPARROW (Passerculus sandwichensis)
Particularly common at Forsythe NWR, where dozens flitted along the wildlife drive in front of our van. We saw others at Higbee Beach and the Meadows.
SONG SPARROW (Melospiza melodia)
Surprisingly scarce this year, though we did have good looks at one at the Wetlands Institute, and others -- including one in good comparison with a nearby Savannah Sparrow -- at Forsythe NWR.
SWAMP SPARROW (Melospiza georgiana)
A busy little group in the weeds along the road out to Forsythe's Gull Pond tower gave us nice opportunity to study them in the scope. We saw others on each visit to the Meadows -- appropriately, along the site's marshy edges.
BOBOLINK (Dolichonyx oryzivorus)
Best seen from the tower at the Meadows one morning, when a group of four circled around us a few times before dropping into the reed bed. We saw others in flight on our first morning at CMPSP. Their rich "link link" flight calls are distinctive.
RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)
Seen on most days, most often in small flocks overhead. We did find some "on the ground", nibbling seeds in the flooded Spartina grass of Jarvis Sound (while we were on the Osprey) and clustered in the reed beds at Forsythe NWR.
COMMON GRACKLE (Quiscalus quiscula)
Scores (hundreds?) seen in a big flock over the trees at Dennis Creek WMA with a handful of others at Cox Hall Creek. The subspecies in New Jersey is "stonei" -- part of the "Purple Grackle" complex.
BOAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus major)
Small numbers along the coast, including a couple of glossy males have a "sing off" on the masts of one of the whale boats in the same marina as the Osprey (our back bay boat). These are larger than the previous species, with a longer tail and bluer iridescence on the body.
BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER (Mniotilta varia)
A few crept around on the trunks and branches of trees near CMBO's Northwood Center on our first afternoon, and others did the same near the viewing platform at Higbee Beach several mornings later.
NASHVILLE WARBLER (Leiothlypis ruficapilla)
One in the sunflowers near the Wetlands Institute played hard to get, only showing for a few before disappearing.
COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis trichas)
As usual, one of the more common warblers on this tour, seen flitting along the edges of fields and marshes on several days.
AMERICAN REDSTART (Setophaga ruticilla)
Small numbers seen on each of our visits to CMBO's Northwood Center. Most were "yellowstarts" -- either females or young males -- though we did see one adult male our first afternoon.
NORTHERN PARULA (Setophaga americana)
Probably the most common of our warblers this trip, including some lovely close birds at the Northwood Center our first afternoon and more than a dozen flicking through the trees near the viewing platform at Higbee Beach. The small size and very short tail of this species are distinctive.
YELLOW WARBLER (Setophaga petechia)
Our perch at the top of the Gull Pond tower at Forsythe NWR was perfect for viewing the female feeding at the top of a nearby juniper bush.
BLACKPOLL WARBLER (Setophaga striata)
As it was for this one too -- which was foraging in the same treetop! The dark streaking on its back and fainter streaking on its underside help to quickly distinguish it from other similarly-plumaged possibilities (i.e., Pine and Bay-breasted warblers).
PALM WARBLER (Setophaga palmarum)
Best seen at the Wetlands Institute on our first visit, when we found a little gang of them striding around on the grassy lawn. We had others in the dune forest at Avalon.
YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (Setophaga coronata)
Small numbers on several days, including a few at Higbee's one morning, a trio near the Gull Pond tower at Forsythe NWR and others along a hedgeline at the Meadows. This is typically the last warbler species to migrate through the area -- and many stay for the entire winter.
PRAIRIE WARBLER (Setophaga discolor)
One with a little mixed flock of migrants near the Wetlands Institute's parking lot showed very well as it foraged in a juniper tree.
SCARLET TANAGER (Piranga olivacea)
A drab female rested in a nearly leafless tree beside the Wetlands Institute's parking lot -- nice spotting, Jan!
NORTHERN CARDINAL (Cardinalis cardinalis)
Common and widespread throughout, recorded on every day of the tour.
VIRGINIA OPOSSUM (Didelphis virginianus)
Brett spotted one scuttling down a driveway as we headed towards a planned owling stop late one evening. Unfortunately, it had disappeared by the time we found a place to turn around.
EASTERN COTTONTAIL (Sylvilagus floridanus)
A couple along roadsides during the week.
EASTERN GRAY SQUIRREL (Sciurus carolinensis)
Regular throughout, including a number carrying walnuts.
MUSKRAT (Ondatra zibethica)
Jan saw one paddling across Lighthouse Pond, shortly before the snapping turtle made its appearance.
BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN (Tursiops truncatus)
Len spotted our first pod, offshore at Sunset Beach. We saw even bigger groups close to the Cape May beach and offshore at CMPSP. Like some of the avian migrants, these summer visitors "stage" near the mouth of the Delaware Bay -- gathering in larger and larger numbers before heading south for the winter.
RED FOX (Vulpes vulpes)
One trotted across the road in front of the van as we made our way towards Higbee Beach one evening, then returned to sniff its way along the roadside.
NORTHERN RACCOON (Procyon lotor)
Two youngsters picked their way along the back edge of Lighthouse Pond, ducking into and out of view -- which made the nearby ducks uneasy.
NORTHERN RED-BELLIED TURTLE (Pseudemys rubriventris)
One dove into the water near one of the bridges at the Meadows, seen only by Len and me before it disappeared under the scummy green mat of vegetation on the surface.
COMMON SNAPPING TURTLE (Chelydra serpentina)
One enormous individual rolled its way across Lighthouse Pond, looking a bit like a miniature Loch Ness Monster -- good spotting, Jan!
SOUTHERN GRAY TREEFROG (Hyla chrysoscelis)
We heard plenty of these little frogs trilling from trees throughout the tour -- but never laid eyes on a single one. This species is endangered in New Jersey (mostly due to its limited range there) but is widespread elsewhere.
Totals for the tour: 130 bird taxa and 7 mammal taxa