Friday, 24 May 2013

Cape May, The Sequel. Part 2 and a half.

When studying the guided walks and tours back home, I was glad to see there was a Higbee Beach walk on Friday 10th.  I tried this area of Cape May Point a few times last year, but couldn't really get the hang of it for one reason or another.  Either the size of the place and getting lost, or the heat.  So this was one walk I felt we really had to attend.  To increase the height of excitement, the overnight winds changed to a useful south-westerly, to bring some migrants in from up the coast and across Delaware Bay.

And on arrival at the Higbee Beach parking lot (sorry, car park!), my goodness me, the whole morning was a complete birdfest, you just didn't know where to start looking and when to move onto the next bird.  Straight away out of the car, there's a Chestnut-sided Warbler, and I missed a Ruby-crowned Kinglet while paying the guides. 

Just from the car park migrant birds kept appearing in the trees. Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Black-and-White Warblers, Black-throated Green Warblers, Northern Parulas, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Baltimore Oriole, a Yellow-throated Vireo and the jewel in the crown, a superb male Blackburnian Warbler!

Walking was taken at a snail's pace, it had to be because the birds just kept on coming.  Blue-headed Vireos, 2 Red-headed Woodpeckers flew over, 2 Orchard Orioles and a Yellow-breasted Chat holding territory.

Yellow-breasted Chat
When entering a patch of woodland the fun just continued, with at least 2 Black-throated Blue Warblers, a Magnolia Warbler, female American Redstart, Red-eyed Vireos (with their song "I'm up in the tree, look at me, look at me!") and Great Crested Flycatcher.  And not to be outdone, this Northern Cardinal put on a splendid show.

Northern Cardinal

In fact, I think the only bird we dipped on the walk was a Veery, which would've been veery veery nice to see!  But nonetheless, that was one of the greatest birding experiences I've had bar none.  High fives all round!

The migrants kept on coming at the state park later on, where this time we did find a Veery (which indeed was veery, veery nice!), and crippling views of Magnolia and Black-and-White Warblers.  Also present was a single Royal Tern.

Magnolia Warbler
Black-and-White Warbler, image courtesy of Kay

After a short afternoon break to escape the heat of the day, the remainder of the afternoon was spent exploring the Delaware Bay beaches.  Fewer waders around than when I was here last year, obviously more Horseshoe Crabs had laid their eggs by then.  But over at Reeds Beach plenty of gulls were feeding away on the Horseshoe Crab eggs that had already been laid and washed up.

Laughing Gulls
American Herring Gull
The day ended with a White-crowned Sparrow, which turned out to be quite a late winter migrant.

White-crowned Sparrow
There aren't too many reliable spots for Prothonotary Warbler in the Cape May area.  Belleplain Forest is one, and the other is known as the Beanery, which is where I saw one last time.  So the Rea Farm, as it's also known, was the starting point for the Saturday 11th.  Unfortunately the weather had turned decidedly wet and windy this morning. 

Alas there was no sign of a Pro-tho, probably because of the weather conditions, but we did pick up a few birds such as some Savannah Sparrows, Downy Woodpecker, Indigo Bunting, Green Heron, Blue Grosbeak and warblers which included Yellow, Magnolia, Black-and-White and Northern Parula.  A subsequent look around Higbee Beach revealed far fewer birds than the previous morning, talk about getting the timing right.  But we did manage good views of Great Crested Flycatchers, a personal grip-back of Ruby-crowned Kinglet and more Scarlet Tanagers.

During the Higbee Beach walk, one of the guides recommended a walk around Cox Hall Creek, but I couldn't work out where it was.  None of my books mentioned it.  But asking at the Northwood Centre, it turns out it's also known as Villas.  So the site hass been renamed, just like the RSPB do I suppose.

So now knowing where to go, with the name Cox Hall Creek we were expecting more saltmarshes and lagoons.  But how wrong we were!  In fact, this site used to be a golf course and is now a managed nature reserve, with a wonderful mixture of woodland, grassland and ponds.  Birding highlights were cracking Chestnut-sided and Blackpoll Warblers, plenty of Eastern Bluebirds, Cedar Waxwings, a Wilson's Snipe, a flyover Northern Flicker, a Great Blue Heron stealthily fishing away and incredible views of a Blue Grosbeak.  A brilliant afternoon walk, at a new site for me which was a complete and utter surprise.

Great Blue Heron

Blue Grosbeak
One of the un-missable highlights of a trip to Cape May is a boat trip, exploring the saltmarshes and creeks, on The Osprey.  So that was the plan for Sunday 12th.  Prior to this however, a cracking male American Redstart was seen at Higbee Beach.  As for the boat trip, once again it was brilliant.  I suppose the main difference doing this trip this time, a bit earlier, were the numbers of Brent Geese and Hudsonian Whimbrels.  But also present were plenty of Great Northern Divers, nesting Ospreys of course, a perched Red-tailed Hawk picked out by Kay, a few roosting Black-crowned Night Herons and a magnificent Yellow-crowned Night Heron! 

Coming soon to Tad Bay!
Double-crested Cormorants
Red-tailed Hawk
Hudsonian Whimbrel
A Swivel-eyed Loon.  Sorry America, that won't make any sense to you whatsoever!
And time to foam at the mouth, Yellow-crowned Night Heron!!!
Also present was a Scoter sp., which the guides seemed to dismiss a little.  Probably because it was a dull, dark duck and not a snazzy, summer plumaged Great Northern Diver.  Thankfully I took a distant photo of it, just presumed a Surf Scoter and thought nothing of it.  Well you wouldn't, considering all the other great birds on offer.  But looking at the picture later on, you know, this is a White-winged Scoter!  The scarcest of the three Scoters in Cape May.

White-winged Scoter

Lots of boating goes on at Cape May.  Whilst on the boat trip, I couldn't help but notice some of the names of the boats, and for a short while this took priority over birding.  Some personal highlights were as follows:

Carry on Boating!  Barbara Windsor's boat?
Yes I still don't understand what "The Whole 9 Yards" means?
Now this one I can understand.  A chap's escapism, just like a beloved allotment over here
But I shudder to think what happens on this boat!!!!

Monday, 20 May 2013

Cape May, The Sequel. Part 1

A year ago, I undertook a birding trip to Cape May in New Jersey.  Despite it being a really enjoyable trip, visiting at the end of May it felt like it was a little bit too late for the spring passage.  It had gone past it's peak.

Following that trip, fast forward a few months to October, and a few evening drinks in the Scillonian Club with that Black Redstart fancier, Ochruros.  After getting somewhat annoyed by overhearing certain birders moaning that there's nothing to see on the Scillies and no yanks (despite there being Blackpoll Warbler, Solitary Sandpiper, Ring-necked Duck and American Golden Plover present on the islands), a random response from me, a bit like Father Jack, was something along these lines:

You want Yanks?  Let's go to Cape May next spring! Drink!

So that's what we did, with all the arrangements done in March and on Tuesday 7th May off we went.

Birding commenced with a morning spent at the Cape May Point State Park on the 8th.  Highlights included 2 smart Palm Warblers, a mysterious pair of Vireos that we eventually realised were Blue-headed Vireos, an all too brief Ovenbird, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Yellow Warblers, a single Cliff Swallow, Savannah Sparrow and an excellent all-round selection of birds that one would expect to see.

Purple Martin, image courtesy of Kay
Tree Swallow
Northern Mockingbird, image courtesy of Kay

Eastern Kingbird
Following a lunch of American pancakes, it was over to the Cape May meadows refuge.  Water levels were rather high, but it didn't stop this Tricoloured Heron from searching for fish.

Tricoloured Heron
The Northwood Centre (not Center!) is the main place for getting bird gen in the area, there are sightings sheets that can people can fill in.  Looking through these sheets, a Western Grebe had recently been seen out at sea from Cape May point, so this was the next port of call.  After spending some time scanning the sea and finding 44 Black Scoter, the bird eventually swam into view and un-Grebe like, spent no time diving at all!

Western Grebe, not easy in the waves!

Not realising it at the time, but this is quite a mega for New Jersey, with only about 20 previous records for the state.  Finishing the day off round the saltmarshes of Nummy Island (also the site of my tick incident last year!), highlights included a lucky view of a Clapper Rail, a pair of Black Duck, a few Hudsonian Whimbrel, Brants (or Pale-bellied Brent Geese to you and me!), 2 Common Loons (Great Northern Divers, don't start me off on that one!) and this Boat-tailed Grackle.

Boat-tailed Grackle
The following day (9th) started further to the north, at the Belleplain State Forest, where we joined up with a guided tour.  As I mentioned last year, lots of organised trips are on offer in Cape May.  No need to pre-book, just turn up.  And at Belleplain in particular, the guides know the best spots across a large area.

A cracking start began in the car park with good views of Black-throated Blue Warbler, Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Scarlet Tanager.  Also Acadian Flycatcher, with it's call apparently sounding like "Pizza", couldn't recognise it personally.  Add in Great Crested Flycatcher, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Worm-eating Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, Summer Tanager, Eastern Bluebird, Eastern Meadowlark, singing Hooded Warbler but not seen.  The tour finished with excellent views of Prairie Warbler and a smashing Blue-winged Warbler, something I didn't really expect to see.

Prairie Warbler
The rest of the day was spent in the saltmarshes to the west of Belleplain, at East Point, Heislerville and Thompsons Beach.  East Point revealed some of the American waders like Willet, Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers, Short-billed Dowitchers, a few Bonaparte's Gulls and a Fish Crow, it's call separating it from American Crow.


Bonaparte's Gulls

Fish Crow
Over at the Heislerville refuge, the mixed Cormorant and Heron colony was in full swing, the first Orchard Oriole of the trip was seen, as were 40 Black Skimmers.

Black Skimmer
Finishing the day at Thompson's Beach and Jake's Landing, birds at these sites included at least five different Clapper Rails, a Bald Eagle being mobbed by Osprey, Seaside Sparrow, Northern Harrier and Marsh Wren.  Although when finding somewhere to wine and dine for the evening, a look in a Stone Harbour Golf Club looked a bit too posh for my liking, but there was a Cattle Egret feeding on the lawn, so well worth going.