CAPE MAY 2009
Birdfinders latest North American tour was a huge success. Cape May, famous amongst birders the World over, became our home for a week of outstanding birding and migration. We tallied no less than 173 species during September 25th–October 2nd, including 21 species of warbler. In addition, we found the birding scene at Cape May to be extremely friendly and hospitable, thanks in part to the folks at Cape May Bird Observatory. Our comfortable hotel was centered amidst most of the key birding locations at Cape May ensuring that we only had short drives to the hotspots. We occasionally ventured further a field to renowned locations such as Brigantine and Jake's Landing, both of which added significantly to the bird list.
The tour enjoyed good migration weather throughout the week with perhaps the exception of the final day. A steady stream of migrants greeted us on most mornings of the tour, especially at Higbee Beach where we experienced the fabulous spectacle of passerine migration. Here we recorded most of our 'wood-warblers' and also had some of the best avian events of the trip including a Red-headed Woodpecker that turned up right on cue after a text message alert, a Prairie Warbler that preened in a Holly Bush only yards from a deck full of about 25 birders, and extended views of a late Yellow-billed Cuckoo sunning itself in scrubby thicket.
The speed of passing migrants could be frustrating at times, but gradually over the course of the week we built up a nice selection of warblers including Nashville, Black-throated Blue, Blackburnian, Cape May, Magnolia, Bay-breasted, Palm and Wilson's Warblers - not to mention the near-mythical Connecticut Warbler!
Higbee Beach wasn't just about warblers however, and by walking the trails we enjoyed Swainson's Thrush, some huge flocks of Northern Flickers, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, waves of Eastern Phoebes, White-eyed Vireo, Bobolink, Swamp and Field Sparrows, Rusty Blackbird and Dark-eyed Junco.
The huge eight-mile drive loop at Brigantine (Edwin B Forsythe NWR) produced thousands of birds as always. Two visits gave us an impressive list of shorebirds including Stilt, Pectoral, White-rumped and Western Sandpipers. The last birding of the tour on Friday afternoon produced the amazing combination of Snow Goose and Roseate Spoonbill!
We also found time for seawatching and were delighted to find a few lingering Brown Pelicans, all three scoters (Black, Surf, White-winged), several Arctic Skuas and good numbers of Caspian, Royal and Forster's Terns.
Perhaps the most charming bird of the tour was Piping Plover – we found nine birds hunkered down in the strand line blending in beautifully with the surroundings at Stone Harbor. And the most striking sight of the tour was the regular flock of Black Skimmers on Cape May beach numbering several hundred birds. Seemingly completely used to being around people, we couldn't have seen them any closer, an absolute gift for the photographers amongst our group.
This was Birdfinders first tour to Cape May but such was our success it certainly won't be the last! Next year's tour will take place between September 25th and October 3rd 2010 and is already taking bookings!
A full trip report for 2009 is available.
James P. Smith