This fall has been busy for me, with visits to Baltimore and New York for comics conventions, two trips to north Jersey to visit family, and lots of work. I haven’t had much time for birding, but today my schedule cleared, the weather was ideal, and I had a nice morning walk at Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area near Cape May. The fields and woods were full of fall colors, and the early sun made it glow.
There were lots of birds to see, not as many species as you might find in September, but large numbers of Northern Flickers (above) and Blue Jays, and small numbers of about thirty other species, some migrating, some full-time residents, some arriving to stay for the winter. It hasn’t been a great fall for migrating songbirds because the weather has not cooperated very often to bring them to the coast, but last night’s cold front did the trick.
You might think from these photos that I had the place to myself, but there were probably 100 birders around the five fields and many trails, some in groups lead by New Jersey Audubon staff and volunteers, some on their own. Everyone had a great time this morning, I didn’t hear a single complaint.
After my walk I had a second breakfast, then reported to the Cape May Bird Observatory for my weekly volunteer time. My task this year has been keeping the used book shelves stocked and catalogued. In line with the center’s focus, the books are all bird or nature related, donated by members. While there, I enjoyed seeing some of the captive Monarch butterflies emerging from their chrysalis’s in one of three terrariums they have set up for them. CMBO helps run a Monarch tagging and tracking program, and if the taggers find any Monarch caterpillars on their rounds, they bring them in (with milkweed leaves to feed on) and keep them on display for visitors. When the caterpillars go into chrysalis, they usually try to climb to a high point, which in this case is the screen on the top of the terrarium, so that’s where they end up. After they emerge and are ready to fly, a process that can take a few hours, they’re tagged and released. It’s hard to imagine these tiny creatures flying all the way to their wintering grounds in Mexico, but several Monarchs tagged in Cape May have been recovered there.
In case you’re wondering what a Monarch tag looks like, it’s a small round sticker that doesn’t bother the butterfly at all. Here’s one just tagged by Lindsey Brendel. If you should ever find a dead Monarch with a tag, the tag has info that tells you how to report it. It’s a cool project that’s been going on for many years. You can read more on their BLOG.