My team: CMBO Cape May Center Run.
Our goal: Tally as many species of birds as possible in Cape May County on Saturday, May 12th, to raise funds for nature conservation, education and research by New Jersey Audubon’s Cape May Bird Observatory.
Our leader: Cape May Bird Observatory Program Director Mike Crewe.
Participants: 14, each pledging at least $1 per species seen, some like myself gathering additional pledges from friends and family (and in my case, readers of my blog).
Transport: A seven-passenger van driven by Roger Horn, and two passenger cars driven by Kathy Horn and Mike Crewe (no trolley or bus this year, hurrah!).
The Competition: about 50 other teams, some covering the entire state, some just one county like us, some even smaller areas, with awards in several categories, and glory for everyone. Okay, we didn’t win anything. We’ve never won anything, but we have a great time and raise quite a bit of money!
This year the weather was perfect for us birders, and not bad for the birds, either: mostly sunny, little or no wind, about 50 degrees when we started at 5 AM, rising to the mid 70s by afternoon, and still about 60 when we finished at 9 PM. We began our day at the Nature Conservancy’s Cape May Meadows, above is first light there. Mike took the roll call and gave us a rundown of the planned route, then we set off on the trail through this wetland area out to the beach and back, picking up bird species for our tally first by hearing them call, then as the light grew, by seeing them. Hearing counts, too.
By dawn we were on the dune overlooking the ocean finding birds like Piping Plover, Least Tern and lots of gulls. Every species counts one, so we’re as happy to count the very common Laughing Gull as well as the endangered Piping Plover.
Here’s an American Coot, one of only two known in the area at the moment…
…and here’s an Osprey looking into the water for fish. We saw them off and on all day.
The fields at Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area was our next morning stop, and we found lots of great birds here. Nesting birds are important to the count, but it’s migrating birds that really build our tally number, and here we added warblers like Black-throated Blue, Northern Parula and Magnolia, as well as Summer and Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-Breasted Grosbeak and plenty more birds heading north to nesting grounds elsewhere.
Here’s an Eastern Kingbird, one of the flycatchers that does nest in our area, on a blooming wild black cherry tree. As you can tell, we had plenty of blue sky to see them in! The favorite here might have been a very cooperative Yellow-Billed Cuckoo.
We also walked out to the beach to find birds like Purple Sandpiper and Ruddy Turnstone.
Next we drove to Belleplain State Forest to add many more breeding songbirds, some I had scouted out during the week like Prothonotary, Worm-eating and Hooded Warblers. No good still photos of these, as we were hearing more than we saw.
Heading south again around noon we stopped at Cook’s Beach for birds like this Seaside Sparrow…
…and a Bonaparte’s Gull, as well as the endangered Red Knot and other shorebirds and gulls.
Driving south again back into Cape May, we stopped at the Cape May Point State Park for lunch, where we added more birds like this Lesser Black-Backed Gull (in front), a tough one to find, here with Laughing Gulls, Forster’s Terns and Canada Geese.
After lunch and more birding around The Point, we drove north again a short way to Cox Hall Creek Wildlife Management Area where we found this rare (in our county) Red-Headed Woodpecker, as well as Bluebirds. A stop at the Cape May County Airport added Horned Lark, then we drove east to the barrier island of Stone Harbor.
Along the way there we stopped at Shellbay Avenue, then The Wetlands Institute for a scan of their ponds…
…where this beautiful Little Blue Heron entertained us while fishing.
North of Stone Harbor in Avalon we stopped to add both Yellow-Crowned and Black-Crowned Night-Herons in a spot I’d scouted…
…then drove south to Nummy Island, just off Stone Harbor Point, where we found more birds for our tally like Brant and Whimbrel.
These American Oystercatchers were fun to see there, though we’d already added them earlier. As the tally rises, new species get harder and harder to add. In the early morning we had 60 species at The Meadows, by lunchtime we were up to 118 (our total last year!) but after that it got progressively more difficult. We drove inland again to pick up Cattle Egrets on Route 9 in Swainton, then stopped at Beaver Dam Road were we added nothing new I think, next to Jake’s Landing Road which added a few more, and back into Belleplain State Forest for a few final singing birds, including Whip-poor-will (my scouting paid off there.)
Here’s the team (except me, and one person who left early) at dusk in Belleplain after a very long day, but a wonderful one for birding. One final stop to hear Chuck-Will’s-Widow calling, and then we ended our day back at The Meadows. We drove our own cars to The Grand Hotel where the World Series of Birding Finish Line was this year, and while having some free food, Mike Crewe entered our official tally. We ended up with 146 species this year, a very good result! I think it’s the best one in quite a few years. Sure, other teams saw more than us, but they always do. The winning team was Team Zeiss headed by CMBO’s director Pete Dunne, which tallied an amazing 207 species across the entire state. In our category (Cape May County only) we were sixth, and 21st overall. You can read the full results HERE. Doesn’t matter, we are very pleased with our result, and thanks to my own pledge and generous pledges from others, I’ll be contributing $832 to the organization we support. That’s it for this year, thanks for reading, and a HUGE thanks to those of you who pledged!
In addition to taking still photos with my new camera, I took some video clips. You can see a compliation HERE.