Walk in sunshine, walk in rain

The New Jersey Audubon Fall Weekend event is on now, and at the moment we’re in the midst of a nor’easter storm with heavy rain and strong winds. Not the best time to be out enjoying nature! Yesterday was much better, though quite cold. I was scheduled to help out leading two walks at the Rea Farm in Cape May, also known as “The Beanery” because it was once a lima bean farm. NJAS licenses the birding rights to this 70-acre property, and it’s often a great place for birds. As I arrived for the first walk around 7:15 AM the sun was just rising, the temperature around 35 degrees, after a cold front had moved through the night before. Our warm October had come to a crashing end.

Folks began arriving, and as sometimes happens there were nearly as many leaders as participants, which meant I probably wouldn’t be saying much. Especially with the main leader being Michael O’Brien (third from left) here giving the introductory shpiel. He’s a world-class birder and I always learn things when I’m out with him.

The fields and woods here were full of birds, after a good-sized migration the night before. We had good looks at about six warbler species, like these two Palm Warblers, about 10 sparrow species, about 10 raptors, and quite a few other birds.

Before long the sun was out, warming us and the birds, and in sunny corners sheltered from the wind like this one we enjoyed lots of great birding. Blackpoll Warblers were common, as were Swamp Sparrows, two birds that gather here in the fall.

While bird pics are tough with my camera, especially small birds, insects are easier. Here’s the large caterpillar of some kind of Sphinx moth that someone found.

We walked the trails around the fields for about two hours, enjoying lots of birds, and after a half-hour break, we went out again with a different group of participants and did it again, seeing many of the same things as well as some different birds.

While many of the leaves are still green here, some fall color is showing up in places, and a fine time was had by all on these walks Friday.

Saturday was a completely different story, a wet and windy one. No pictures, it was too wet for my camera. Ellen and I were scheduled for morning walks at Higbee Beach, and we’d been hoping the storm would hold off until the afternoon, but when we woke early Saturday it was already pouring and blowing like mad. We were committed to show up at Higbee, so we donned all our rain gear and headed down there. The field marshal of these walks was Pete Bacinski, who I’ve known and birded with for over 20 years, and I knew Pete to be a sensible person. I hoped he’d try to talk any participants out of these walks, and into some of the fine indoor programs that are always scheduled for just such occasions. And he tried. There were about 10 participants there ready to walk out into the wind and rain, and Pete told them they wouldn’t see much or see anything well in this weather, but the younger leaders were ready to go anyway, and so off we went. Pete was absolutely right, as I knew he would be. Yes, we saw birds flying, and had brief looks at sparrows and warblers hiding in the shrubs and trees, but in terrible light, with rain-smeared binoculars it was not a good birding experience. Pete had wisely opted not to walk at all. Ellen and I hung with the group for about an hour and a half, and then we called it quits and headed home. And that’s where we’ll stay the rest of the day, warm and dry. And at least we’re just getting rain here, it’s supposed to turn to snow north and west of us. What an October!

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