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.

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