Connecticut Warbler is regular in late September in Cape May. Photo: Chris Wood
There’s no other way to put it: Cape May is the place to watch the fall migration in eastern North America. At regular intervals, the weather both induces birds to migrate and drives them to the coast, where geography funnels them to the very tip of this narrow sandy peninsula, often followed by impressive numbers of Peregrine Falcons, Merlins, and Sharp-shinned Hawks. Cape May’s marshes, beaches, and mudflats attract sometimes dazzling numbers of egrets and shorebirds, while gulls, terns, and the occasional jaeger or pelican patrol the nearshore waters of the Atlantic.
Apart from our first and last nights in Philadelphia, we’ll be based in a single hotel in Cape May, letting us keep our day-to-day schedule as flexible as possible so that we can take advantage of changing weather conditions—and the unexpected rarities that can show up at any time.
Day 1: The tour begins at 6:00 pm in our Philadelphia airport-area hotel, followed by dinner. Night in Philadelphia.
Day 2: We’ll leave Philadelphia after an early breakfast for the two-hour drive to Cape May. If the weather seems good for a passerine flight, we’ll drive straight through; otherwise, we’ll make a few stops along the Delaware Bayshore to look for migrants. Once in Cape May, we’ll walk the trails through the weedy fields of Higbee Beach and Hidden Valley to see what may have dropped in overnights. We’ll spend the afternoon at Cape May Point State Park, walking the beach for gulls and terns, checking the ponds for shorebirds—and constantly, obsessively looking up: Bald Eagles are frequent fly-bys this time of year, and up to a dozen species of raptor can occur in numbers. Night in Cape May.
Day 3-4: Even more than the rest of Cape May, Higbee Beach at dawn is charged with all the mystery and excitement of migration. As the sun rises over the ocean, and assuming there has been a good nocturnal migration, the morning flight of Northern Flickers, vireos, warblers, Scarlet Tanagers, and Bobolinks peaks as birds continuing on from night migration encounter the barrier of the Delaware Bay and swing north right over Higbee Beach. The most numerous warblers are likely to be Northern Parula, Black-and-white, and American Redstart, but on a good flight day, more than 20 species are possible, including such uncommon birds as the Connecticut Warbler. Later risers than the falcons and accipiters, Black and Turkey Vultures also spend the night in the area, their lumpy dark forms simultaneously eerie and comical as they crowd the trees.
Each morning will be slightly different and there’s always something new. From Higbees we’ll drive just down the road to The Nature Conservancy’s South Cape May Meadows. The freshwater ponds and marsh here, protected from the ocean by high dunes, are a great place to watch roosting waterfowl, shorebirds, and terns at close range. We may also bird Cape May Point State Park with its iconic hawk watch platform, an excellent view point to see pond, ocean and sky. In the afternoon we’ll drive north along the Atlantic coast to Stone Harbor, a long barrier island that serves as a regular hang-out for American Oystercatchers, Piping Plovers, Black Skimmers, and roosting terns including Caspian, Common, Forster’s and Royal. The nearby saltmarsh of Nummy Island is famous for the Tricolored and Little Blue Herons that feed daintily in the grassy salt pans. Night in Cape May.
Day 5: We’ll let last night’s weather determine our pre-dawn destination, whether it’s back to Higbee Beach or the Meadows or through the well-treed neighborhoods around the Point. After breakfast, we’ll make the hour’s drive north to the Brigantine unit of Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. Brig is the best place around to look for godwits, and we should find White-rumped and Western Sandpipers among the thousands of Semipalmated Sandpipers. American Golden-Plover is also a possibility here—as is just about any shorebird ever recorded in eastern North America. Boat-tailed Grackle can be common, and any of the marsh-specialist sparrows is possible along the eight-mile wildlife drive. Night in Cape May.
Day 6: This morning we’ll follow the birds across the mouth of Delaware Bay, taking a large, stable car ferry seventeen miles from Cape May to Lewes, Delaware. Along the way we’ll be on the lookout for Brown Pelicans, Northern Gannets, and Parasitic Jaegers, which regularly harass the flocks of Common and Forster’s Terns feeding offshore. Once in Delaware, we’ll bird Cape Henlopen State Park for Brown-headed Nuthatches and migrants, then move north to Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge for shorebirds. We’ll have a late lunch, then board the ferry for the return trip to Cape May. Night in Cape May.
Day 7: After a final early morning in Cape May, we’ll return to Philadelphia International Airport where about noon the tour concludes.
Updated: 02 November 2016
- 2017 Tour Price : $2,250
- Single Occupancy Supplement : $590
* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.
Maximum group size seven with one leader.