CAPE MAY 2011
Courtesy James P. Smith
Birdfinders had yet another highly successful tour to the premier migration hotspot of Cape May. A muggy, south-eastern airstream greeted us upon arrival in Philadelphia and produced warmer than usual temperatures for most of our week. Whilst the locals wandered around hoping for a change in the weather, we enjoyed some of the best warbler watching that we've ever had on this tour. True, we never experienced the huge morning flights of warblers for which Higbees Beach is justly famed – the wind and weather just wasn't right. But by way of compensation we had terrific views of a wide variety of North American wood-warblers and other migrants close at hand on many days of the tour. It turned out to be a photographer's delight! At times it seemed like warblers were dripping from the branches: Tennessee, Nashville, Black-throated Blue, Magnolia, Black-throated Green, Prairie, Blackpoll and Palm Warblers, whilst the show of Cape May Warblers was simply outstanding. We even managed to get everyone onto a Connecticut Warbler on the very last morning of the tour!
The shore-birding wasn't too shabby either, highlighted by scarcities such as Hudsonian Godwit, American Avocet, Stilt Sandpiper, Piping Plover and an extraordinarily tame Upland Sandpiper. Again we found ourselves asking, "Why are those North American waders so approachable?"
The extensive salt marshes around the Cape May peninsula provide habitat for some real skulkers, with Clapper Rail, Saltmarsh and Seaside Sparrows being difficult birds at the best of times. This year we had wonderful views of all three species and also found the two sparrows at Brigantine, a spot which again 'wowed' us with its huge concentrations of shorebirds and waterfowl, not to mention a couple of Yellow-headed Blackbirds and an American Mink!
Raptors filled the sky at Cape May Point on many days of the trip including plenty of Bald Eagles, Ospreys and a memorable take-off of Sharp-shinned Hawks one morning at dawn, with several birds heading straight out to sea over Delaware Bay. The rarest raptor of the tour was a dark-morph Swainson's Hawk, a vagrant to the east coast, glimpsed by a lucky few from the viewing platform at Cape May Point. Indeed, it was a very good tour for out of range species with Brown Booby, White Ibis, Wilson's Plover and Black-throated Gray Warbler all making it onto our tour list for the very first time. And all of this enjoyed in a tiny, postage stamp sized patchwork of prime habitats, and from the comfort of a single base!
James P. Smith, Gill, Massachusetts, USA