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.
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.
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.
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.
|Male Boat-tailed Grackle|