A Cape May Morning

sunrisehigbeeThis morning I was able to spend some time in Cape May, one of my favorite natural places. I began with an early morning walk at the Highbee Beach Wildlife Management Area. I was looking for birds, but not expecting many migrating ones, as the winds had been from the east for a few days, not conducive to migration here. Still, it was a beautiful morning for a walk.

higbeesandroadI went north from the main parking lot along this sand road.

higbeewillowoakThere are some huge willow oaks there I enjoyed seeing, though only a few birds turned up.

higbeefromdikeWhere that road emerges from the trees, there’s a small observation platform, but instead of going there, I climbed up on the dike on the other side of the road for this excellent view of the platform and Delaware Bay.

higbeegroupThen I head back to the parking lot and walked south on the trail that goes through several open fields. There I joined a Cape May Bird Observatory tour being led by Roger and Kathy Horn, among others. They were finding some good birds, including a fall plumage Scarlet Tanager (mostly yellow) and a few warblers.

nighthawk2Thanks to a tip from another birder, we were able to spot two Common Nighthawks sleeping on branches in full view from the trail. They may be common, but they’re hard to see, especially in the daytime, where they blend in very well with the branches they sleep on. As the name suggests, they are active at night, catching insects on the wing.

nighthawkbestHere’s the other bird, and the best picture I was able to get. You can see just the tip of its very large bill (the rest is hidden in feathers) and closed eye. I’ve seen a few of these at Higbee over the years, but it’s always a rare treat to find them.

monarchchrysalisesLater I went to the Cape May Bird Observatory in Cape May Point to do some volunteer time. The Monarch Butterfly migration is on, too, and the Monarch Monitoring Project, as one of their tasks, looks for Monarch caterpillars in the area, feeding on Milkweed. They bring them back to live in the terrariums at the Bird Observatory, with all the Milkweed they can eat (it’s a lot!) until they turn into chrysalises, beautiful green gemlike objects that hang from what look like black threads. The Monarch interns have taped all the chrysalises to these tree branches to make an amazing chrysalis tree. When each one hatches, it will be tagged and released.

chrysalisescloserHere’s a closer look at a few chrysalises. Hard to believe they were once caterpillars, and will turn into butterflies, but you can sometimes see it happen here.

A great morning in Cape May.

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