Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Cape M...Well Almost May, April 30

I've gone to Cape May many times over the past couple of decades and it's always proved to be a great place to bird. I led a trip there on April 30 and it was superbulous!

Last year when we were setting up the upcoming bird trip calendar I suggested a couple of changes. One of them was a ~day~ trip to Cape May. Now some of you may think that's an awful lot of trip to fit into one day for a group. You are correct. Nevertheless our group consisting of Ian Resnick, Phil Uruburu, Lou and Nancy Tognan, and Jeff Ritter made our way down there to see what goodies awaited us. We were not disappointed!

When we arrived at our first destination Higbee Beach, it was unseasonably cold and very  cloudy. As we began our walk another group was just finishing up theirs, and they told us that the birding was kind of quiet. Undeterred we headed down the path. We heard birds left and right but most were White-eyed Vireo and Carolina Wrens. Along with the expected Red-tailed Hawks and Turkey Vultures we spotted Black Vulture as well as an adult Bald Eagle. The latter was one of three we had throughout the day. Bald Eagle = ‘trash bird’ nowadays... YAY!

One of the benefits of having gone this early in the season as Jeff pointed out was that the trees had not fully leafed out so it was much easier to see birds. Even so it was good to have Jeff and Ian available because we still relied upon hearing to find most of the birds that we saw. Even I heard a few things by setting my hearing aids to stun.

Titmice played with us making really weird noises and the Blue Jays did this as well, alerting us to the presence of a Sharp-shinned Hawk. Later on we saw a pair of Cooper's Hawks circling and frolicking with one another.

One of the birds we heard calling all around were Field Sparrows. Ironically they were not calling from within the field but instead at the tops of trees. So why aren’t they called Tree Sparrows? Because Tree Sparrows sing in fields! At least the sparrows were kind enough to give us great looks at them while they sat there and sang for us.
Field Sparrow

And then we heard a Cuckoo. We all agreed it was a Cuckoo but it was a bit amusing that we all couldn't remember or decide whether it was a Yellow-billed or a Black-billed Cuckoo. We were all excited and walked towards the sound in order to see if we could track down the bird. Eventually we were able to figure out from where the bird was singing and Ian was the first to spot the bird sitting in vines behind a cedar. Although it was a bit obscured all of us got good looks and a few pictures. 

Black-billed Cuckoo

Continuing on I was surprised to spot a Green Heron fly by which only a few of us saw but a nice sighting nevertheless, while Phil deftly pulled a Purple Martin out of the air. The end of the field did not give up many warblers besides omnipresent Yellow-rumped, so we headed back. We added Indigo Bunting and Brown Thrasher and then heard another Cuckoo. This time it was a Yellow-billed! It was not as forthcoming as the Black-billed and I flippantly said it would show up back at the parking lot. It did! Not only that, it queued up in a tree and afforded great shots! 

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Cuckoos by the way, are responsible for parasitizing a species completely out of existence. They were known to be “cuckoo for it”.  No longer with us is Puffinis cocoa, or Nestle’s Auklet.

Our next stop was 'the Beanery'. Still overcast and late in the morning it was not as good as hoped but we added House Wren and Barn Swallow.

Our next stop was the lighthouse. Here we had more Martins and a full compliment of expected Gulls, Rough-winged Swallow, and Gannet. By now stomachs were grumbling and cannibalism was an imminent threat to me so we went off to procure victuals. With my demise averted and their attention focused upon their food I re-checked the local reports. 

The previously reported Curlew Sandpiper and Ruff had been seen that morning so when we finished we headed to Heislerville WMA. Upon arrival we saw a line of birders focusing their attention out into the impoundment so we pulled into the parking lot. Encouraged by all the eyeballs pressed to the scopes I made haste to join them. Unfortunately I soon learned that the Ruff had not been seen recently and that they had not spotted the Curlew Sandpiper either.

Undeterred we all set up Scopes and begin scanning. There were many birders present and one of them offered to show me a photo of the Curlew Sandpiper so I would have a better idea of what plumage it was in. We had not been scanning for too long when a Peregrine Falcon put all the birds up. Oh joy. But hey, a Peregrine Falcon!

Shorebirds flying around. { ignore the bystanders' talking }

There were hundreds of Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitchers,  Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and a handful of other peeps out in the impoundment, now swirling about in the air. For a while it seems like they might not ever settle down again. But they did and eventually we began scanning the ever-growing mass of birds. 

There were a lot of birds to pick through but despite the high numbers I saw a bird that was neither a Dunlin or a Dowitcher. It was the Curlew! I called everyone’s attention to it and Jersey birder Doug chimed in that he had just found it too. The Curlew Sandpiper cooperated for quite a while as folks lined up to get a look through my scope. It was one of those circumstances where the distance made explaining where the bird was for others to get on it exceedingly difficult. The bird however cooperated, and everyone present was able to get a view. Distance and lighting precluded a photo for me, but one was posted of this individual the next day >here< that is quite nice.

We continued to scan for some time, and checked other vantage points for the main pool hoping to find the Ruff. Unfortunately, we never were able to locate it, so with daylight burning we continued on to our next location.

The Belleplain Forest is a great place to bird. Here too, the trees were not leafed out yet so viewing was easier. We drove slowly and listened, and stopped here and there before getting to the first ‘stop’.

At the triangle, we got out and listened, and although it had been several years since I had been there I recognized the exact spot where I had seen Yellow-throated Warblers in the past, and that is where we heard singing and spotted one right away! Here we bumped into Doug and his co-conspirator Carole from the Heislerville location and the warblers kept coming! Black-and-white, Worm-eating, and Hooded! Great views of them all!

We didn’t scare up a Protho here, so we moved on to another location. There as before the birds were quite amenable and we soon got killer close up looks at the Prothonotary. Honestly, that bird is so gorgeous, I believe it ~wants~ us to look at it!

Prothonotary Warbler
We scored a bunch of glamour warblers. We were very happy. But daylight was burning and having done so well we moved on to our next stop, Brigantine NWR. We added a few day birds we missed elsewhere, like Great Blue Heron, Green-winged Teal, and Willet; birds we should have seen earlier but nice to score; better late in the day than never. We heard Clapper Rail, and had a singing Seaside Sparrow.

The drive was closed before the first turn, so we doubled back and headed to the other location. On route I spied Caspian Tern { the friendly Tern } and at the end of the road we scored Marsh Wren and Common-throat. Although only a few of us saw it, we got a glimpse of a Snipe as it flew from the nearby cattail stumps into the denser vegetation. Not bad!

We capped off the day with dinner at our traditional location,  ‘The Office’ in Tom’s River, where celebratory beer was consumed with much rejoicing of a days birding par excellence.

We ended with a total of 96 species for the day. Nice! A map of the locations mentioned is located >here<.

Species List:
Wood Duck                           
American Black Duck                 
Green-winged Teal                   
Great Blue Heron                    
Snowy Egret                         
Glossy Ibis                         
Clapper Rail                        
American Coot                       
American Oystercatcher              
Black-bellied Plover                
Semipalmated Plover                 
Least Sandpiper                     
Wilson's Snipe                      
Caspian Tern                        
Tree Swallow                        
Marsh Wren                          
Seaside Sparrow                     
House Finch                         
Canada Goose                        
Mute Swan                           
Northern Gannet                     
Double-crested Cormorant            
Laughing Gull                       
Ring-billed Gull                    
Herring Gull                        
Great Black-backed Gull             
Northern Rough-winged Swallow       
Barn Swallow                        
American Crow                       
Carolina Chickadee                  
House Wren                          
Gray Catbird                        
Blue-winged Warbler                 
Yellow-rumped Warbler               
Green Heron                         
Black Vulture                       
Turkey Vulture                      
Sharp-shinned Hawk                  
Cooper's Hawk                       
Bald Eagle                          
Red-tailed Hawk                     
Rock Pigeon                         
Mourning Dove                       
Yellow-billed Cuckoo                
Black-billed Cuckoo                 
Chimney Swift                       
Ruby-throated Hummingbird           
Red-bellied Woodpecker              
Downy Woodpecker                    
White-eyed Vireo                    
Blue Jay                            
Fish Crow                           
Purple Martin                       
Tufted Titmouse                     
Carolina Wren                       
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher               
American Robin                      
Brown Thrasher                      
Northern Mockingbird                
European Starling                   
Eastern Towhee                      
Field Sparrow                       
Song Sparrow                        
Northern Cardinal                   
Indigo Bunting                      
Red-winged Blackbird                
Common Grackle                      
Brown-headed Cowbird                
American Goldfinch                  
House Sparrow                       
Wild Turkey                         
Great Egret                         
Black-crowned Night-Heron           
Greater Yellowlegs                  
Lesser Yellowlegs                   
Curlew Sandpiper                    
Short-billed Dowitcher              
Forster's Tern                      
Peregrine Falcon                    
Yellow Warbler                      
Worm-eating Warbler                 
Black-and-white Warbler             
Prothonotary Warbler                
Common Yellowthroat                 
Hooded Warbler                      
Pine Warbler                        
Yellow-throated Warbler             
Prairie Warbler                     

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