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

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Cape May - Part 1

Birding abroad is something that has been on my agenda for a few years now. Cape May, New Jersey was one of the places on my wish list, partly due to it being a great place to see Yank Wood Warblers and other migrants, as well as an impressive selection of resident birds.

As Richard Powell recounts on his blog, a seed for this trip was first sown in the Scillonian Club last October, although I don't recall seeing Father Jack at the log. However the decision wasn't made until about March time, when I decided to take my first plunge into proper world birding.

The 7th May was a travelling day with a flight from Manchester to Philly. I'm not that keen a flier, however one of the in-flight movies was The Big Year - just perfect to get into mood for some Yank birding! With Jack Black & co spotting a Prothonotary Warbler in a big fall-out would we be as fortunate?

Enjoyable as the film was, some of the CGI did make me cringe a little and the English birders who said 'only the Americans could turn birding into a competition' clearly have not met some of Britain's premiership twitchers...

On the drive to Cape May there were many world ticks of what would become dirt birds throughout the trip, however it was still all shiny and new to me at this stage. Northern Cardinal, Grey Catbird, American Robin and Red-winged Blackbird were all readily available in the gardens of the motel.

So on to birding proper...

Wednesday 8th May

We started off at Cape May Point State Park, which is on the point. There are a few sites on the point which basically form a massive migrant trap. You never know what you might get, but as with Spurn etc in the UK, the volumes and variety of birds is dependent on wind conditions. There were no big falls at this stage, but migrants were trickling through. American birders were moaning about the conditions, but there was still plenty to keep us newbies entertained.

The State Park itself has a series of boardwalked paths, reedbeds, marsh, lagoons and wooded areas, as well as cordoned off areas of the beach for nesting Piping Plover, Least Tern and American Oystercatcher.

There are purpose built Purple Martin nest boxes in the car park and Chimney Swift and American Barn Swallow were also present.

Purple Martin

A walk around the boardwalk provided the first warblers of the trip; 4 Yellow-rumped Warbler, 3 Yellow Warbler, 4 Common Yellowthroat and 2 Palm Warblers. We also noted a singing Blue Grosbeak, 2 Blue-headed Vireo, Eastern Wood Peewee, Downy Woodpecker, 2 House Wren, Blue Jay, a female Eastern Wood Towhee, Tree Swallow, Northern Mockingbird, Tufted Titmouse and a few White-throated Sparrows.

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow - image by Richard Powell

On the marshes we noted Great White Egret and a Wilson's Snipe with 2 Glossy Ibis flying over. The lagoons and the beach held a few Kildeer and Piping Plover, a Greater Yellowlegs, a single Cliff Swallow, 2 Northern Rough-winged Swallow, 1 Savanna Sparrow and Eastern Kingbird. A single Common Tern was in with the Forsters flock.

Kildeer - easy peasy!

We later visited The Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge; AKA 'The Meadows'. This is like the American version of Titchwell, but thankfully with far less people. 

The Meadows - The Cape's answer to Titchwell

From an elevated viewing platform you could view the marshes. It's a good place for looking for herons and we had 2 Tricoloured Herons, 1 Green Heron, along with both Great White and Snowy Egrets, which are both common throughout he area.

Tricoloured Heron - image by Richard Powell
 Both Turkey Vulture and Black vulture were readily seen here, the former the commoner of the two species by far. Also Osprey, Savanna Sparrow, Willet, Green-winged Teal and (a more familiar sight) a pair of Gadwall.

A Western Grebe had recently been in the area, a Cape May mega - only the third county record. We weren't really expecting to see it, with the last report on the 5th. However as we were near the site, at Alexandra Avenue we had a glance at the sea. Incredibly, theWestern Grebe soon came swimming past us, quite close in!! Really a very rare bird to see over this side of the States.

Western Grebe - Image by Richard Powell

 Also here were 44 Black Scoter and a large flock of Double-crested Cormorant.

We had packed a lot into our first day and our final stop of the day was Nummy Island. This consists of a series of roadside stop-offs for viewing extensie saltmarsh. Here we added Boat-tailed Grackle, Song Sparrow, Semi-palmated Plover, Least Sandpiper,  Black Duck, Pale-bellied Brent Geese (or 'brants' as they are known stateside), 3 Hudsonian Whimbrel, Grey Plover (or 'Black-bellied Plover' if you prefer), Dunlin, Knot and a Clapper Rail.  

Nummy Island

Male Boat-tailed Grackle