Saturday, 11 October 2014

On the move - Cape May

Arriving at Cape May late into the evening, where we were staying with Richard and Deb Crossley, we were quickly informed that weather conditions were ideal for a ‘morning flight’ and so we were out at Higbee’s at 5.00am, ticking Great Horned Owl on the way.  Dark shapes zipped through the half-light, the bushes ‘tick’ed and ‘zitt’ed, and as light arrived it was clear that many birds were on the move.  Northern Flickers were everywhere, at least 200 passed over in the first couple of hours.  Cedar Waxwings, American Robins and Bobolinks called from above and the bushes were alive with warblers and vireos. A viewing platform in the corner of one of the fields overlooks an area of scrub where the first sunlight arrives. A dozen or more species of warbler were prominent this first morning, including Tennessee, Nashville, Parula, Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Blackpoll, Black-throated Blue, Hooded, Prairie and Black and White.

The ‘morning flight’ at Cape May is an amazing migration spectacle.  Morning flight is an after sunrise dispersal of migrants, mainly birds re-orientating and moving northwards up the Delaware Bay shoreline back from Cape May point. The fields and wooded areas at Higbee Beach is one of the best places to observe this movement.  Some counts have been staggering, not least the 67,000 migrants counted on 13 October 2003, including 58,959 Yellow-rumped Warblers, and the 1,516 Flickers that day somewhat eclipsed our 200. After the morning flight, the custom is to move down to the hawkwatch platform near the lighthouse or explore the Cape May ‘meadows’ or other less watched areas.  At the hawkwatch platform, birds are called and counted as they pass.  That first day, 500 American Kestrels passed through according to the tally board. 

Over the following days the spectacle of visible migration was always evident; hundreds of Blue Jays endlessly flying through one day, thousands of Tree Swallows clumped in a bush another.  There were raptors galore every day with up to 50 birds of 8 species circling above at peak periods, with Sharp-shined Hawks (or ‘Sharpies’ as they like to say over there) continually visible overhead.

On the quieter days, we did the ‘must-do’ trips up to Stone Harbor Point and Nummy’s Island.  Stone Harbor Point is a long sand spit to the seaward side of extensive saltmarsh. At high tide waders gather in numbers; numerous Western and Semi-p’s on the beach, Willet, Marbled Godwit and Short-billed Dowitcher in the saltmarsh.  Rails, herons and egrets lurk in the dense Spartina beds.  Further north, Forsythe Wildlife Refuge (aka Brigantine) is another location not to miss.  Water levels were rather high on our visit but Seaside and Sharp-tailed Sparrows were there to be ‘squeeked’ and ‘pished’ out of the grass and scrub.  If visible migration is your thing, it is spectacular at Cape May.

Pics from top: Sharpie, tree swallows, black & white, Higbee's, Short-b Dow, hawkwatch, flycatcher ID, Lesser Yellowlegs.

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