I’ve been participating in the New Jersey Audubon Society’s World Series of Birding event since 1988, when I first joined the Cape May Bird Observatory’s Century Run team. I’ve been part of that team for many of the intervening years. This year for the first time I was invited to join the planning committee of Team Captain Brian Moscatello, leaders Roger and Kathy Horn, and supporter Patti Domm. We met twice in the weeks before yesterday’s event, communicated often by email, and Roger, Kathy and I did lots of scouting for bird locations and planning of the route. Yesterday we came prepared with a Game Plan. Some of it worked, some had to be changed due to events and new information, but I think helping with the plans made it even more fun for me than ever. I had a great time.
THE PLAN: 5 AM, leave promptly by bus from our starting place in Cape May, drive directly to the Cape May Airport. 5:20 to 6 AM: bird near Airport runways and woods.
This worked perfectly. We got there at first light, when it was still dark enough for night bird Chuck-Wills-Widow to be calling, a bird we usually struggle with at the very end of the day. We also immediately got Horned Lark, which we expected, and Eastern Meadowlark, which we were not sure we’d find. We birded near the runways for those, then in the Airport Woods, above, where we got some unexpected songbirds like Hooded Warbler.
This worked pretty well. On the Delaware Bay beach, above, the tide was higher than we expected, so there weren’t as many shorebirds as we’d hoped. The clamor of hundreds of Laughing Gulls on the beach filled the air. It had rained overnight, but the sky was clear as the sun rose, and remained clear until mid afternoon. There were a few songbirds in the woods nearby, but not a lot. As often happens, we missed a lot of migrating warblers and other songbirds this year that we knew were around in the days before. It’s the curse of the event for us. We did have Bald Eagle sitting on the beach here, always a plus. We had counted 52 species by 7 AM. It always seems so easy in the beginning, when every new bird you see counts, and you’re totting them up in handfuls!
THE PLAN: 7:15 AM, Bathroom stop at CRE.
CRE is the New Jersey Audubon Center for Research and Education in Goshen. We spent more time here than I expected, so our schedule began to fall behind, but we found more good birds on the CRE grounds, including Ruby-throated Hummingbird at the feeders, Brown Thrasher, and Orchard Oriole, which nests there.
Everyone enjoyed this spot, though we saw few raptors or ducks. There were good looks at Marsh Wren, Seaside Sparrow, and other birds you only find in this habitat, and nice views of shorebirds and things like Glossy Ibis. We were longer here than I expected too, but only because there were so many things to see. That proved to be the case through much of the day. The Century Run is meant to be a more relaxed and fun experience than the “race from spot to spot” approach of the top teams, and it is that. I enjoyed seeing all the cool birds like everyone else, but found I was often the one saying, “Let’s move on!” because I knew we had many other birds and locations to visit, and there’s only so much time in the day.
We were actually here from about 9 to 11 AM, visiting a half dozen spots that I had scouted, and finding nearly everything we’d hoped for, so it was very productive. On Tom Field Road we heard (and a few saw) Prothonotary Warbler. On Sunset Road we got Worm-eating Warbler and Acadian Flycatcher.
On Frank’s Road we had Summer Tanager, above. At Lake Nummy there was Yellow-throated Warbler. At the Headquarters we got Eastern Phoebe.
On Upper Champion Road, above, we found Eastern Bluebird (very scarce this year) as well as Indigo Bunting and Blue Grosbeak. A very “bluish” place! Since we were running late, we skipped a few spots and headed back toward the south end of the county at 11:15 AM with 100 species on our list. The first 100 are relatively easy, after that you’re searching and struggling for each new bird.
THE PLAN: 10:45 to 11:45 AM, Higbee Beach, Cape Island.
We dropped this idea, as we felt we’d get there too late to find much. Instead we went with an alternate idea to stop at Cox Hall Creek Wildlife Management Area on the Deleware side of the county. We spent about 40 minutes there, but only found a few new species.
Clay Taylor, from Swarovski Optik, got this great photo of a male Red-Bellied Woodpecker, which we all enjoyed there. But, in general, from about 11 AM to late afternoon, woodland birds are quiet and resting, so harder to find.
Here’s our ride, a full-size bus that was very comfortable. With a capacity of 40 people, there was enough room for our team of 28 to spread out with our stuff, including gear and food. We had two drivers, one for the first half, one for the second, who were both excellent, and managed the trickiest roads with skill and ease.
THE PLAN: 12 Noon to 1 PM, Cape May Point State Park for lunch and birding.
We were actually here from about 1 to 2 PM I think, but enjoyed our lunch in the picnic pavilion next to the Hawk Watch platform, and added a few new birds there before moving on.
THE PLAN: 1 to 2 PM, Cape May area hotspots.
There was only time for one, we decided, so out of many options we went to the fishing jetty below Higbee Beach. We walked the sand road in, and then found the ever elusive Purple Sandpipers on the jetty itself.
THE PLAN: The Cape May Meadows 2 to 3 PM. Walk the trail.
We were actually here from about 3 to 4:30 PM I think, but it was great birding. This shows the group on the way back from the beach where we found a rare Iceland Gull, as well as uncommon Lesser Black-backed Gull.
Here’s a fine group photo by Clay Taylor. I think a few participants had left by then, but it’s most of us. I’m close to the center in the back row, behind the woman in the white shirt. Most of the World Series teams are much smaller than this, usually 3 to 4 people. They can move faster and cover more ground. We have our fun, just the same!
I don’t usually have time or opportunity for good bird pictures on the day, but this Mallard family was easy and irresistible. The alert mother was wary of some snapping turtles nearby who would have gladly had duckling for lunch.
Also on the trail was a Black Rat Snake perhaps after the same meal, or bird eggs. We did well at the Meadows, leaving with 120 species on our list. Then it was time to head up the Atlantic side of Cape May County in quest of a few more birds.
THE PLAN: 3:15 to 3:45, Ocean Drive to Wildwood Crest.
The timing moved back more than an hour, but we found good birds on Ocean Drive, including Belted Kingfisher. This was a bird I had scouted in two other places, but both those Kingfishers had disappeared by our big day. When we stopped at one of the Coast Guard Ponds on Ocean Drive, I thought I saw a Kingfisher hover-feeding, and called it out. A moment later, I realized it was a Tern instead, and recanted. A few minutes later, Clay Taylor spotted a real Kingfisher on the opposite shore through his scope! It’s the first time I’ve ever made a bad identification call and had it turn out to be right by accident! We then had no trouble finding the Peregrine Falcon that’s been living on a tall apartment building in Wildwood Crest, photo by Clay Taylor above. We also got Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron in a park in Wildwood, and had already seen Black-Crowned Night-Heron in the morning, so we no longer needed to spend any time in Avalon, which would make up some time.
THE PLAN: 4:15 to 5 PM, Nummy Island and Stone Harbor Point for shorebirds, herons, etc.
We got to Nummy Island about an hour behind schedule, but found several more good birds for our list including Whimbrel and Little Blue Heron. A storm front had been predicted to come through in late afternoon, and from Nummy we could see it approaching ominously. We hurried on.
At Stone Harbor Point the clouds were rolling in overhead, the wind was picking up, and it looked like tornado weather! We hurried to the lookout place and were able to find our target bird here, Piping Plover. Then, with wind whipping the sand up around us, we hurried back to the bus just as the rain began. Soon it was coming down in torrents.
It rained hard for about an hour, but that actually didn’t hurt our day too much. We were able to get Cattle Egret from the bus, then headed back to Belleplain to try for Scarlet Tanager again, one breeding bird there we’d missed. We waited out the rain in a picnic pavilion near Lake Nummy, and once it ended, evening sun lit up the treetops in a glorious display. We found a likely spot for our target bird, and soon heard it calling, along with other birds like Wood Thrush. Amazingly, we were back on schedule! There were two more birds to listen for in Belleplain.
We stopped first to try for Blue-winged Warbler, which I knew was nesting in a certain field but hadn’t been calling in over a week. We didn’t get it, though we enjoyed a lovely sunset sky. At 8:30 PM as it was getting dark, we heard the Whip-poor-wills calling on Sunset Road rounding off our want list for Belleplain. We made one more stop at Jakes Landing Road, but added nothing new there, and headed back to Cape May at 9 PM with 134 species on our list.
ADDED: the official results are in, and we had 134 species, so all our sightings were accepted. You can see all the team results HERE, and the main WSB page showing the top fundraisers is HERE. In the team results, we’re in Level 2, finishing in second place, though some teams have not reported their lists yet as of this morning. Level 2 teams are not eligible for the top list awards because their listing rules are less strict, but we never come close to them anyway. Second place in Level 2 is great. As for fundraising, we did fine, in sixth place among many teams, and our fundraising number will go higher when all the pledges are collected.
So, this year we did well, just a little below average for all the years I have records for, that average number being 137 species. We did better than some years on ducks, six species. We got all the Herons and Egrets except Tricolored Heron. We did okay on raptors, but missed some. We did very well on shorebirds with 20, including some we usually miss. Excellent on gulls with six species. We had no owls, and only two Woodpeckers. We missed some Flycatchers we knew were around. We found 14 species of Warblers, but about 30 had been found in the area in the previous week. We found only five Sparrow species out of a potential ten or so, but swept the Blackbirds and related species like Oriole, getting all eight. In all, we did fine. Back in Cape May, many of us went to the Finish Line in the Cape May Point State Park to enjoy some barbecue and other food, and to talk with the staff and other teams. Everyone seemed to have enjoyed their big day.
As soon as I have the official total for our team, I’ll be letting my wonderful and generous supporters know. With their help, I’ve raised about $700 for the Cape May Bird Observatory’s mission of nature education, conservation and research. Our entire team should have a fundraising total of close to $5,000, I estimate, and the entire World Series of Birding will raise about $150,000, though many teams raise funds for their own local nature center or organization, it doesn’t all stay in New Jersey.
Hope you’ve enjoyed reading my annual report on this event. Back to regular blog topics soon!