Friday 14 June 2013

Cape May - Part 5

Monday 13th May

Monday morning. Back in the Belleplain once again. Another bash at Prothonotary Warbler. As the Beanery had failed to produce so far, perhaps we'd have more joy around Sunset Bridge and Beaver Dam?

By now the songs of White-eyed and Red-eyed Vireos had become familiar to our ears. According to Sibley Red-eyed Vireo says ‘Here I am, in the tree...’. Both memorable, repetitive songs were heard frequently as we waited around the muggy, swampy area for Prothon.

Nearby White-breasted Nuthatch was added to the trip list and other stuff noted included Magnolia and Pine Warbler, Blue-Grey Gnatcatcher, Blue Jay and a couple of Eastern Wood Peewee and Acadian Flycatcher.

Eastern Wood Peewee

White-breasted Nuthatch - Photo courtesy Richard Powell

Later in the morning, a male Prothonotary Warbler was heard calling and then it only goes and lands in the middle of the road at Sunset Bridge!! Prolonged views of this fine beast followed as it worked its way up the tree. Stonkonory!!

With the pressure now off, we perused some other spots in the forest. Another White-breasted Nuthatch, Summer Tanager, 4 American Goldfinch, a Red-tailed Hawk, Wood Thrush, Eastern Phoboe, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Red-bellied Woodpecker were noted.

Yank Goldfinch - Image courtesy Richard Powell

The morning was so enjoyable, that it was about 2.00pm by the time we returned to the point, where the remainder of the day was spent at the State Park.

There was a big fall of hirundines including c50 Cliff Swallows from the Hawk Watch platform. A Cave Swallow had been reported, but we didn’t manage to pick it out. A 1st summer Bonaparte’s Gull dropped in.

Also noted 11 Glossy Ibis, Ruddy Duck, American Coot, Tricoloured Heron, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Pine Warbler.

Northern Mockingbird

Least Sand & Semi-P

Tuesday 14th May

We were now into the last couple of full days. Beginning at Higbee, the main highlight of the morning was seeing a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, male Baltimore Oriole and Blue Grey Gnatcatcher all in the same tree, attracted by a caterpillar sack. Also Hairy Woodpecker over. We had a conversation with an American birder who was a moderator of a photograph page on Ebird. Turns out they’ve had problems with a Brit birder, by the name of ‘Buckeye’, trolling them. Interesting.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak - Photo courtesy Richard Powell

Also noted Black-throated Green Warbler, a couple of Yellow-breasted Chat, Blue Grosbeak, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Indigo Bunting, Summer Tanager and a fine male American Redstart.
A piece of advice about Higbee Beach by the way. Don’t venture into the portaloo in the car park. I did and I was mentally scarred. Talk about TMI written on those toilet walls...

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

At the State Park we added American Wigeon to our trip list, 3 present. 12 Glossy Ibis now and the Ruddy Duck still present. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet was seen in the afternoon.

Two new raptors were also added to the trip list that afternoon – Broad-winged Hawk at the State Park and American Kestrel over the Beanery. Sadly, we were not to encounter any Mississippi or Swallow-tailed Kites on this trip. A Bald Eagle was at the Meadows late afternoon.

Northern Mockingbird - always at Hawk Watch platform

American Robin

Eastern Kingbird

At the Beanery, we were also lucky enough to see yet another  Prothonotory Warbler – this time a female, which also showed well. Wooohooo! In my top three of American birds for sure.

And the day was not over yet. After the evening meal at the diner we visited Kimbles Beach Road, where a dusk stakeout gave us a Chuck Will’s Widow. Big chunky thing, bigger than Nightjar.

Wednesday 15th May
Final visit to Belleplain and last ditch attempt for Hooded warbler really. Whilst we had heard them singing a couple of times, they had remained buried deep within the scrub. Today was no different! Eventually we managed a couple of crappy flight views. A bird I hope to see much better one day, but one of the very few disappointments of the trip.

However that was more than compensated by a cracking view of Louisiana Waterthrush at the same spot, Sunset Bridge. Superb!

Other highlights in the Belleplain that morning included Downy Woodpecker, Wood Thrush, Red-bellied Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch and Magnolia Warbler.

Whilst watching a small group of warblers I intercepted a large tick on my trouser leg. Phew! Actually we’d got off lightly with ticks. I did find a very small tick attached to my hip one evening and it was very easily removed. Nothing like Richard’s tick horror story of last year.

In the afternoon it was back to Cox Hall Creek. It was a bit of a pecker fest with 1 Red- headed Woodpecker, 2 Red-bellied, 1 Downy and a Northern Flicker.

Red-bellied Woodpecker - image courtesy of Richard Powell

Also noted, a first summer male Orchard Oriole, Red-tailed Hawk and a small flock of flyover Cedar Waxwing.

This Eastern King Snake made us jump! A quick wiki revealed that despite its long length, it is harmless to humans.

Eastern King Snake

Indigo Bunting - better than Reed Buntings

A final check of Nummy Island later in the afternoon. Peregrine was added to the list with a distant pair, also Song Sparrow, 2 Black-crowned Night Heron and 1 Tricoloured Heron.

 Also a pair of American Oyc & with chicks
The 16th was the travel back to Philly day, before an evening flight back to the UK. A final stop at Heislerville on the way out. Two final trip ticks – Greater Scaup and Ring-billed Gull.

The last Least Sandpiper

Cape May. Loved it. Got the t-shirt and a cap. I can highly recommend this trip to any UK birders!
Happy to supply further info to anyone interested in making the trip.

Sunday 2 June 2013

Cape May - Part 4

Sunday 12th May

The Osprey boat trip came highly recommended by Richard as a great way to explore the saltmarshes and get closer to birds such as Ospreys, herons and waders.

The 3 hour sailing began at 10.00am, so we killed some time at Higbee first, with the main highlight being a fine male American Redstart.

I haven't mentioned Ospreys much in my postings, but that's because they are everywhere. Virtually a dirt bird around Cape May. Nests were numerous along the river on any suitable platform whether it be man-made, or just convenient. I didn't bother counting...

Osprey nest

These salt marshes also hold the world's largest colony of Laughing Gulls and many Forsters Terns breed here too. It is a very good place for passage waders, although only Willet and American Oystercatcher are the only species to breed on the salt marsh.

Most notable of  the waders was a big passage of Hudsonian Whimbrel. We counted around 200 birds, although there were probably many more. Other waders noted included Spotted Sandpiper, Semi-p Plover, Turnstone, Semi-p Sandpiper, Dunlin, Willet, Short-billed Dowitcher, Sanderling and Grey Plover.

Hudsonian Whimbrels

Hudsonian Whimbrels

On the water there were up to 30 Great Northern Diver and a single Scoter, which the guides didn't dwell on, being more interested in 'rump pumpers' (Spotted Sandpiper) and other more crowd-pleasing birds. We could see it wasn't Black Scoter and with some observation and a photo, we realised it was a White-winged Scoter.

White-winged Scoter - image by Richard Powell

Great White Egret - both these and Snowy Egret abundant here

Also on offer during the boat trip plenty of Egrets, Double-crested Cormorants and 'Brants'. Also 1 Red-Tailed Hawk, Turkey Vulture, 1 Red-breasted Merganser, 4 Black-crowned Night Heron, 1 Great Blue Heron and a superb Yellow-crowned Night Heron (the only one of our trip).

Double-crested Cormorants

Red-tailed Hawk

Yellow-crowned Night Heron - Whoooooo!

The hinterland dwellings were none too shabby at all...

It was a shame to see Hulk Hogan had hit hard times. Spotted fishing at river side (image courtesy Richard Powell)

For a full review of the Boats of Cape May click here ... This was one of the highlights (image courtesy Richard Powell)

In the afternoon we had another go for Prothonotary Warbler at the Beanery. Still no joy. Perhaps we would have better luck at Belleplain tomorrow. Noted Blue Grey Gnatcatcher, 2 Red-eyed Vireo, Eastern Wood Peewee, Great Crested Flycatcher, White-eyed Vireo and some good views of Indigo Bunting.

At Hidden Valley, virtually next door, it was similar fayre. Although we did add Wild Turkey to our trip list. Also noted Baltimore & Orchard Oriole, Field Sparrow and Black-throated Green warbler.

Cape May - Part 3

Saturday 11th May

It was World Series of Birding day. A big sponsored bird race thingy, with teams competing across the State of New Jersey to record as many birds as possible within the allocated 24 hours. And all for Charity too.

We had other plans however; Prothonotary Warbler. At any rate, it didn’t appear that the World Series birders were needing any of our help; youth birding group and fellow Hyland Inners ‘The Eaglets’ were on fire - being the only ones to claim Canada Warbler at the Point yesterday....

Prothonotary Warbler is one of the Cape’s breeding species, arriving early and already on territory, whereas other Warblers were just passing through on their way to breeding grounds further north. 

So here we were at The Beanery AKA The Rea Farm. A renowned spot for the Prothonotary, boasting the swampy woody habbo that they enjoy. The Beanery is permit only; however a week’s permit can be yours for 15 bucks from the Cape May Bird Obs.

Unfortunately for the World Series crews and ourselves it turned out to be a very wet morning, in fact the wettest of our trip, with rain up until after lunchtime. This made it difficult to find our target bird. Around The Beanery we noted a singing Blue Grosbeak, 2 Green Heron over, Tufted Titmouse, 1 Northern Parula, 3 Red-eyed Vireo, 2 Black & White Warbler, 1 Magnolia Warbler, 2 Yellow Warbler, 4 Savannah Sparrow, 2 Carolina Chickadee, 2 Indigo Bunting, a Kildeer with chicks and a Downy Woodpecker.

We moved on to Higbee Beach, trying our luck with passage migrants instead of swamp-gazing in the rain for elusive Prothonotary. Yesterday’s big fall had gone (note: these warblers seem to pass through very quickly) and again rain hampered play, but we noted a female White-eyed Vireo, 2 Yellow-rumped Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 3 singing Red-eyed Vireo, 2 Great Crested Flycatcher and 1 Red-bellied Woodpecker.

Great Crested Flycatcher

 After drying out and a spot of lunch we tried a new spot – Cox Hall Creek (not Croxall!). This is formerly a golf course and is referred to as ‘The Villas’ on the CMBO map. We thought it would be a saltmarsh type place with creeks, as the name suggests, however it was a mixture of woodlands, grasslands and small ponds.

Cox Hall Creek

 We enjoyed very good views of Eastern Bluebird here, with nest boxes put out for their use, as well as for Tree Swallows. A small group of warblers contained 1 Chestnut-sided, 2 Yellow-rumped, 1 Black & White and oooh a very nice male Blackpoll Warbler.

Also 7 Cedar Waxwing, many Chipping Sparrow, 3 Spotted Sandpiper, 3 Eastern Kingbird, 4 Blue Grosbeak, Northern Flicker (flight view), 1 Wilson’s Snipe, 2 Great Crested Flycatcher, 1 Great Blue Heron, 1 Red-tailed Hawk, Common Yellowthroat and Northern Parula.

Blue Grozza - our best views yet...

Great Blue Heron - skulking on forest pond

 It is quite a long walk round, so I would recommend taking water, particularly if it’s warm, which it was now the rain had stopped. Scopes are not needed. Lessons learned and all that...

Lots of terrapins and turtles around Cape May - I don't know the species...

The final stop of the day was at Alexandra Avenue again, where the Western Grebe was still present and showing well near the 'concrete ship'. 16 Black Scoter were offshore.

Tuesday 28 May 2013

Cape May - Part 2

Thursday 9th May

At 7.30am we joined a guided walk at Belleplain Forest State Park, lead by CMBO guides. More of a travelling convoy than a walk really, stopping off at key spots within the forest for breeding species, although there were also migrants moving through.

Even from the car park we had a cracking male Black-throated Blue Warbler, with American Goldfinch and Ruby-throated Hummingbird also present. The guides said we would be 'birding by ear' and that the use of tapes etc would be frowned on (take note, British birders!). It wasn't long until they had picked out singing males of Scarlet Tanager and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. We also had female Pine Warbler here, which is considered one of the drabber warblers, although US birders are a little spoilt...

At Nummy Lake, within the forest, there was a summer plumage Spotted Sandpiper. Soon the guides were on about getting us on to 'pizza'. Now I know Americans are known for being 'hearty' eaters, but it was only 8am! All soon became clear - 'pizza' was Acadian Flycatcher, a fairly nondescript looking flycatcher; it is nicknamed after its call (which although distinctive sounds nothing like pizza to me!). All perfectly logical then...

After pizza we moved on to another spot, slightly more open, with fields on the opposite side of the road to woodland. Here we had Blue Grey Gnatcatcher, a brick red singing male Summer Tanager, Eastern Kingbird, a few Northern Mockingbird and a pair of Eastern Bluebird.

Summer Tanager
The next spot down had some longer grasses and we had a scope view of an Eastern Meadowlark perched atop a sprinkler. We had a Great Northern Diver over (or Common Loon, if you're American).

We visited some spots around Sunset Bridge/Beaver Dam, which is more swampy and thus a good spot for the likes of Prothonotary & Hooded Warblers and Louisiana Waterthrush. The nearest we came to these three species was a singing Hooded Warbler which refused to show, however we had a cracking pair of Worm-eating Warblers, Red-eyed Vireo and a Wood Thrush.

The guides advised putting in some time at these spots for the target species, which we would surely do...

Next we moved on to a further spot which had a few Prairie Warblers and the walk ended on the star bird of the morning - a stunning male Blue-winged Warbler. An Eastern Phoebe was near the forest office.

Prairie Warbler

Next, the beach at East Point for a little wader watching. Within a small flock there was Least, Semi-P & Spotted Sandpipers, a Greater Yellowlegs, Sanderling, Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitcher and Willet. Also Osprey, Fish Crow, Great White Egret and a party of 12 Bonaparte's Gulls (all first summers) congregated on the beach, making a refreshing change from the ubiquitous laughers. 

Boneys on the beach - image by Richard Powell

Fish Crow - image by Richard Powell
At Heislerville, our next site, there is a huge herony which contains Great White & Snowy Egret, Black-Crowned Night Heron and Double-crested Cormorant. 

Heislerville Herony
 Black Skimmers are guaranteed here.

Black Skimmers - exciting you'd think, but asleep 99% of the time

A rare shot of a skimmer awake by Richard Powell

This is also a very good site for wader watching, with huge mixed flocks feeding here on the low tide. Waders included Kildeer, Greater & Lesser Yellowlegs, Willet, Short-billed Dowitcher, Grey Plover, Dunlin and Semi-P Plover.

Also noted Black Duck, a male Orchard Oriole, Osprey and Eastern Kingbird.

At Thompson's Beach a viewing platform offers views over the marsh. Osprey were numerous here and we had a superb adult Bald Eagle, which was seen off by the Ospreys. Up to 5 Clapper Rail were seen.

At the final stop of the day, Jake's Landing, we added Seaside Sparrow, Marsh Wren and Northern Harrier to our list. A further Bald Eagle, this time an immature and Glossy Ibis were also noted.

2 Cattle Egrets were noted that evening, one on the grass outside a local golf club.

Friday 10th May

Overnight there had been south-westerly wind which is what you want here for migrants on the Cape. We joined a group here to find the trees literally dripping with passerines.

From the car park and the beginning of the path, this was pure fantasy birding. The only problem was knowing where to look first! I was watching my first ever Chestnut-Sided Warbler and Black-throated Green when someone called 'Blackburnian' - a stonker of a breeding male Blackburnian Warbler came working through the trees along with Northern Parula, Black-throated Blue Warbler and a few Black and White Warblers. Meanwhile Baltimore Oriole, Scarlet Tanager and Rose-breasted Grosbeak were in the treetops. Up popped Vireos - Yellow-throated, Blue-headed & Red-eyed. Ruby-crowned Kinglet also here. All in the space of about 10 minutes. Immense!!

The path to fantasy birding....

The place reminded me of a larger version of Holme NWT, but with far more birds and wider range of habitat. Along the many paths here, the action continued; more warblers - Magnolia, Yellow, Yellow-rumped, Prairie and many Common Yellowthroat. More Chesnut-sided....more Parulas....

A couple of Red-headed Woodpeckers over, a singing male Yellow-breasted Chat, a female American Redstart, 2 Orchard Oriole, Blue Grey Gnatcathcher, Indigo Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, White-throated  & Fields Sparrows, Eastern Wood Peewee and Great Crested Flycatcher were all noted.

With this area so good, it was best not to move too far. Back at the State Park there was a Royal Tern dwarfing the Forsters on the jetty. Around the boardwalks there was another Yellow-breasted Chat, a Veery under some scrub, singing male White-eyed Vireo, 3 Magnolia Warbler, 1 Black & White Warbler, Carolina Wren and 2 Northern Rough-winged Swallow.

Black & White Warler

The area was now getting busy with birders ahead of tomorrow's World Series of Birding (a big sponsored bird race type thing) as well as grockles and the passerine action had died down. It had also gotten very hot, so after a short break from the midday sun, we went to look at a couple of beaches on the west side of the cape.

Magnolia Warbler - image by Richard Powell

Norbury's Landing and Reed's Beach as well as others along this stretch are the places to view waders and gulls this time of year as they feed from the eggs of horseshoe crabs. This process was really only in its beginnings, however still provided a spectacle of mainly Laughing Gulls, along with American Herring Gulls and the odd Willet and Turnstone feeding on the eggs. It was also nice and cool here too...

Horseshoe Crab Frenzy


Laughing Gulls

 At the last stop of the day at Cape May NWR at Kimbles Beach Road where we found a White-crowned Sparrow at the side of the path. This is a scarce to rare spring migrant here so we were chuffed. 

White-crowned Sparrow