Another Cape May Morning

Friday morning I arrived at the Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area just north of Cape May at 6:30 AM. Saw a coyote on the way in, a first for me there, though I know they’ve been living in the area for some years. The weather overnight had been clear, with steady northeast winds. Not ideal for fall migration, but a lot better than the south winds last time I came down early. The skies were full of fast-moving but small clouds rolling in off the ocean, the air temp was about 60 degrees, and as the light grew I began seeing birds moving in the trees, and hearing their fall chip notes. Not a lot, but some.

Fall birding is a lot harder than spring birding. In the spring all the songbirds are singing frequently, which is a big help in finding them, and they’re usually much more colorful then, too, in breeding plumage. In fall many exchange those colors for drabber and more similar ones. Among the year-round residents like Cardinals and Carolina Wrens I did find a few migrants. The only one I could get a picture of was this House Wren. Not an exciting find, but like most wrens, hard to get a picture of, as they usually skulk. Saw an American Redstart and a few Swamp Sparrows, and down at the pond I spent some time watching a Belted Kingfisher, always a treat.

The moon was still bright as the sun rose, allowing for this pretty good picture, considering the low light conditions. Looked much clearer through my binoculars, though, close enough to touch. I wandered further and saw a few more birds, but the hoped-for migrant wave was not there this morning. Met trip leader Don Frieday from the Bird Observatory with his morning walk group, and he reported a Golden-winged Warbler had been seen that morning near the parking lot. A rare migrant through the Cape May area, I hadn’t seen one in years.

I walked the sand road north toward the canal to the Morning Flight viewing platform, where a small group was gathered. I joined them for a while, and we saw birds flying out of the Higbee woods heading northwest. These were migrants that had landed overnight and would now backtrack along the Delaware bayshore until they found a narrower part of the Delaware river or bay to cross. Again, not a lot, but a few warbler species, and one handsome male Wood Duck.

On the other side of the road from that is the dyke, a tall man-made earth enclosure used when the canal bed is dredged out to deepen the channel. Atop the dyke are the hard-core birders doing the official migration count for this spot, led by Michael O’Brien, who specializes in the flight calls of migrating songbirds, so he can often count them in the dark! Michael’s wife Louise Zemaitis was on the Morning Flight platform, covering that side of the woods. She’s a fine birder herself, as well as a good bird artist.

There was a flurry of excitement, and Michael and some others came down off the dyke, looking at the trees along the woods edge. Louise, I and others went over to see what was up. Michael had seen another Golden-winged Warbler, this one a male (the other seen had been a female). We all looked for a while, but no one could find it again. At about 8:15 I headed back to my car and drove into Cape May for my second breakfast.

After breakfast I had about a half hour before I needed to show up at the Bird Observatory for my volunteer time, so I went to the Hawk Watch Platform at the State Park. It was still early for migrating hawks to be moving much, but I did see a few Sharp-shinned Hawks, one American Kestrel, some Turkey Vultures, and the always-welcome sight of an adult Bald Eagle, above. Not a great picture, but certainly identifiable. After chatting with birding friend and trip leader Mark Garland a bit, I headed to the Bird Observatory satisfied with a good morning out and about.

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