Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cape May Part Two - It's All About the Birds

Flocks of tree swallows swirl over the sand

This year Cape May had the largest autumn migration fall-out in over 10 years. Driving to early morning field trips, I had to drive 10 miles an hour to avoid running over the dozens of birds on every paved surface - even the middle of the street. I had to stop the car at one intersection to pick up an exhausted sparrow who didn't move when my car approached and put him on the side of the road where he would be safer. The sky and trees were dripping with birds. Thousands of robins, yellow-rumps and sparrows, tree swallows (along with a lifer cave swallow), finches and kinglets flew through the night and landed in Cape May to rest and feed before continuing migration. Dozens of raptors wheeled through the sky at any given moment.

The weekend provided two life birds for me (cave swallow and lesser black backed gull) and almost 100 species total. But it was the sheer numbers that were breathtaking. I have only been birding for six years, but this was a spectacle unlike anything I had seen and had only read about. I felt blessed to be able to witness it.

My picture taking ability is limited to large birds perched close, so all the bird pictures I have are of mute swans. The most exciting birds I saw were the raptors - dozens of sharp-shinned hawks, Cooper's hawks perched on telephone wires and calling to each other, then flying down to the ground only yards away where I could get good looks at their patrician profiles. An osprey, immature and mature bald eagles, both turkey and black vultures, dozens of harriers (where I learned to identify the juveniles by their gorgeous buffy rufous bellies), red-shouldered and red-tailed hawks, peregrine falcons (!!!), broad wing hawks and dozens of kestrels were highlights of the weekend. There is no place like Cape May for raptor watching.

Morning flight over the hawk watch platform at Cape MaAlign Centery Point Park
(click to enlarge and view the spectacle of hundreds of birds in flight)

One of the more unusual birds I saw close up was the woodcock blown in from over the ocean and perched under a staircase across the street from the Grand Hotel. It was obviously exhausted and stressed, so we stayed a respectable distance and, thanks to Jim from Kowa Optics who showed us the location and lent us his scope to observe, I got looks at a forest bird who flys mostly at dusk at Cape May in broad daylight!
Getting great looks at kinglets, thrushes, sparrows, ducks and shorebirds like oystercatcher, dunlin, black bellied plover, sanderling, purple sandpiper, ruddy turnstone (one of my favorite shorebirds), woodpeckers, herons, egrets and terns made for an educational as well as exciting weekend. I was able to clearly see size difference in the cackling goose at the tail end of the V formation of Canada geese. I learned to differentiate the white scapular outline on mallard duck wings and see the color and size difference of lesser black backed gulls vs. great black backed gulls.
I couldn't have asked for a more exciting weekend - birds and great friends.

1 comment:

dguzman said...

Oh man, you bring it all back. What a weekend--now AB is totally spoiled! If we're at a lake looking for a merganser or a duck, she's all "but where are all the other birds? It's kinda boring just looking at one at a time...."