Our big day of birding to raise needed funds for the Cape May Bird Observatory began at 5 AM in Cape May at “The Meadows,” also known as the Nature Conservancy’s Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge. The group was about 20 people including about six leaders. (I’m a little vague on this partly because I didn’t do a head count, partly because a few people left early and one started late.) After our initial pep talk by team leader Mike Crewe (his wife, Megan was our van driver and co-leader), we began our list. All species count when heard or seen, as long as they are clearly identified by at least three members of the group. Most were heard and/or seen by all or nearly all the group. Each participant had pledged a minimum of $1 per species seen. It was still pitch dark as we began, counting the weird buzz of American Woodcock calling, and as first light grew, we were out on the path at The Meadows just making out a few birds on the ponds like Mute Swan and Canada Goose, and hearing the calls of Common Yellowthroat and Carolina Wren. We didn’t spend too much time here, opting to head for the woods and fields of Higbee Beach WMA with about 10 species on our list.
We walked the trails at Higbee for about two hours, adding quite a few more birds like Yellow-breasted Chat, Baltimore Oriole and White-eyed Vireo. There were local residents and some migrants, though many of the migrating songbirds I’d seen Friday were not found, and had moved on. Such is the luck of the draw. If the World Series had been held on Friday, everyone’s totals would have been considerably higher. It had rained overnight, and the skies were still cloudy as we made our way out to the beach. More species like Red-throated Loon and Herring Gull were found by scanning the water and skies and shoreline. As we left Higbee, our total had reached about 60 species. It’s always great to see the number climb quickly early in the day, but we know that won’t last!
Here are our two vans at the Cape May Point State Park where we stopped next for restrooms and another 20 species. The weather continued to be a mixed bag all day, times of sun like this, then a wave of thunderstorms and heavy rain, gradually clearing again. By around 9 AM we were in the vans and driving to the northern part of Cape May County (our targeted search area for the day) to Belleplain State Forest with about 80 species on our list.
Belleplain is the local nature area I know best, as it’s close to our home, and it’s a great place for nesting birds not found further south in Cape May itself. Here’s my wife Ellen on the right, and some of the team getting ready to find more birds.
This was when the skies opened up and we were deluged by rain. We tried to bird in it, but soon had to give it up as it was raining too hard to see or hear anything! This process was repeated several times: the rain would slow, we’d all get out and start walking, and it would pour again.
Finally we took refuge in a picnic pavilion at the Lake Nummy campground inside Belleplain where at least we would walk around and try to see birds. We found a few.
Nothing I could get a picture of, though Mike Crewe did find this cool Rosy Maple Moth on the wall of the restrooms there.
Finally, after losing about an hour due to the rain, the skies began to clear again in earnest, and we were able to get out and find quite a few great local nesting birds like Blue-winged Warbler, Summer and Scarlet Tanagers, Hooded Warbler and Wood Thrush. It was after noon when we left Belleplain, and our species list had reached just over 100. We had made our “century mark,” from which the team gets its name, but of course were hoping for a lot more! Once you’re over 100 species, new ones get increasingly difficult to find, but we had quite a few more places to look.
Heading south toward Cape May again, we stopped on the Delaware Bayshore for birds like the endangered Red Knot, Ruddy Turnstone and Dunlin, among the birds on this small sandbar. We returned to the Cape May Point State Park for a late lunch break, then spent some time looking for birds around Cape May Point itself.
This Orchard Oriole was one, giving me my first good bird picture of the day. It seems to be finding bugs in a Wisteria flower. At another stop we found a Brown Pelican, a hard one, the first of the year. At The Beanery (The Rea Farm) we added Black-crowned Night-Heron and Prothonotary Warbler, among others. Next we were in the van again to Cox Hall Creek WMA, where we found White-breasted Nuthatch and Downy Woodpecker. At around 4 PM we had 120 species, and picked up another good find, Horned Lark at the Cape May County Airport.
As the afternoon waned, we were looking for more birds at Nummy Island on the eastern shore of Cape May County, feeling weary and dragging a little.
We added more species like these Whimbrels and Black-bellied Plover. But the next round of thunderstorms was approaching, and as we drove north along the coast to Avalon, it drummed on the van tops and made visibility difficult.
This was one place where advance scouting helped. We were able to see nesting Yellow-crowned Night Herons from the windows of our vans, one row of seats at a time, through a small “window” in the trees alongside the road! We all had great looks at this rare species, bringing our list to about 126.
A few more stops as we once more headed toward the west side of the county, picking up Bald Eagle (at last!) at Beaver Swamp, and arriving at Jake’s Landing to this unusual sunset with the dim glow of the sun barely visible through the clouds.
As dusk fell at Jakes we rounded up a few more species like Clapper Rail, Marsh Wren and Northern Harrier. It was after 8 PM, and it would soon be dark. Our plan was to try to hear the calls of a few more night birds like owls and Whip-Poor-Wills, but another round of thunderstorms put an end to that plan! We began the drive back to Cape May, but the rain did let up enough so that we caught the call of a Chuck-Will’s-Widow before we ended our long day of birding back at “The Meadows” at 9 PM, once more in full darkness. My unofficial list put us at 133 species, but I knew I had missed some.
All that remained was to drive in our own cars to the official Finish Line at the Grand Hotel in Cape May, where an army of volunteers was waiting to welcome us and all the 50-plus teams with a round of hearty applause, good conversation, and a tasty hot meal provided by the hotel staff.
Everyone looks tired and perhaps a little dazed, and no wonder. Most of us had been up for at least 16 hours, and birding for 14 of them! In addition to our meal, team leader Mike Crewe had to make our official tally sheet and turn it in. We all went over our own lists and compared notes. When everyone had added their memories and records, we found our official tally came to 137 species. Not as good as some years, well behind our impressive total of 146 last year, but considering the weather, not bad! We all felt good about our effort.
It’s for a good cause, and it’s good fun, too, if you like birds and being out in nature, not to mention the thrill of the chase. Telling stories at the Finish Line, and having a laugh with birding friends is part of that. And as we sat, other teams came in and we joined in the hearty applause for them.
This morning the winning teams are listed on the CMBO site HERE, and a full list of all the teams and their tallies will be up soon, probably by this evening. We’ll be somewhere in the middle of the pack as usual, and that’s fine. I’m very happy to report that, at 137 species, Ellen and I will be contributing $274 to CMBO’s continuing worthy efforts in environmental education, land preservation and research, and thanks to generous pledges from SHAWN GALDEEN, CARL RIGNEY (both repeating yearly pledgers), SUSAN DAIGLE-LEACH, MARTIN B. MILLER, KEVIN ELDRIDGE, and AL B. WESOLOWSKY, we will also contribute another $685! I can’t say how much I appreciate their support.
Today we’ll be resting and getting caught up with things at home, but I know some birders will already be making plans for next year’s WSB. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the event created by Pete Dunne, long may it continue!