Whilst on the Rea Farm walk, one of the guides gave a quick plug to one of the boat trips on offer on Sundays and Mondays. Aboard The Osprey, exploring the saltmarshes and creeks. With increases in both temperature, and the number of people and cars piling into Cape May for the Memorial Day holiday, Sunday 27th seemed like a good opportunity to do this.
Before that however, there was some time to explore the woods around Higbee Beach. One particular bird got my head scratching. A search through the Sibley field guide revealed it to be a Blue-grey Gnatcatcher. Later on, another Gnatcatcher was seen feeding a Cowbird chick, proof that Brown-headed Cowbird is an equivalent of Cuckoo over here. Other new birds included a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Blue Grosbeak, a pair of House Finch, White-eyed Vireo and a Wild Turkey.
Heading back to Cape May City for the three hour cruise on The Osprey. Nesting Ospreys were easily seen heading out of Cape May harbour. In fact, nest platforms are dotted all over the saltmarshes, all of them occupied by nesting Ospreys. Proof that Osprey nest platforms do work.
The saltmarshes here contain the world's largest Laughing Gull colonies, plus good numbers of Forster's and Common Terns, American Oystercatchers, Willets and Grey Plovers (or Black-bellied Plover over there). The saltmarshes are also the habitat where you can find American Black Duck.
Plenty of herons and egrets on show of course, including Snowy and Great White Egrets, along with Great Blue, Tricoloured, Green and Black-crowned Night Herons. Other saltmarsh specialities seen were two Clapper Rails briefly in flight, and Boat-tailed Grackle.
The afternoon was spent covering more saltmarsh, in an area known as Nummy's Island. A road passes straight through the island and is easy enough to get out of the car and scan. Again, the same waders and herons were present here, along with a single American Golden Plover and Song Sparrow.
However, this was also the site of my first "insect problem" of the trip. Whilst walking along the grass verge and happily driving along, I found a load of ticks walking up my trousers! Eeeuuughhh!!! Must've brushed past an infestation of them. Not particularly wanting to risk getting Lyme Disease, a change of clothes back at the motel seemed like a wise move.
Not that I felt them but I actually had four ticks on me, the first time it's ever happened whereever I've gone in the world. One of my leg, one on the back of my shoulder and two on my stomach. A section on Clay and Pat Sutton's book on birding in Cape May gives a reassuring section on dealing with ticks. They can be just pulled off, and Lyme Disease isn't a risk unless the tick has been sucking your blood for at least 48 hours. So that was good, off they went, insect repellent loosened them no end. Two weeks on at the time of writing, I've felt ok since.
The 28th (Memorial Day) and 29th were the two days of the trip that were really too hot and humid for me. Pretty slow going for birding most of the time. Both mornings were started as early as possible at the Belleplain State Forest.
Later in the week there was to be a guided excursion here. But an explore around the field office on Memorial day morning produced 2 Ovenbirds, a family party of Eastern Towhees, Chipping Sparrow, Eastern Phoebe, Pine Warbler, Cedar Waxwings and all sorts of songs and calls I didn't recognise. That's where the guided walks are a big help.
The Cape May Point state park has a few shelters around the main car park. Birding in the late afternoon here, escaping the heat, produced a Cooper's Hawk, Yellow Warbler and Grey Catbird.
Starting the 29th at Belleplain again, and following directions in the Clay and Pat Sutton book, was quite productive. Highlights this time included a Broad-tailed Hawk carrying a small lizard in it's bill, male Summer Tanager, two Worm-eating Warblers, a Black-billed Cuckoo, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Brown Thrasher and a pair of Turkeys.
As this was to be the last really hot day, the other plan to carry on birding while keeping cool was to have a ride on the Cape May - Lewes ferry for the afternoon, and see what could be seen from the ferry to the state of Delaware and back.
On the whole the ferry ride was pretty quiet, but there was a nice cooling breeze! The main bird activity was in Lewes harbour where there were 4 Brown Pelicans and a drake Surf Scoter, so not an entire waste of time.