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Skye Haas reports from the recent New Jersey: Cape May tour:

October 18: Skye Haas reports from the recent New Jersey: Cape May tour:

I must admit, I was nervous about this tour; showing up in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Idalia was not the most ideal of conditions for a migration tour. The forecast was a never-ending week of east winds, peppered with rain. But I should have remembered, there is ALWAYS something amazing to look at in Cape May! And boy did we start off with a bang too! I don’t quite share some birder’s love of storm birding, more often than not, it just leaves you wet and birdless, but from time-to-time storms do drop in some great birds and we pulled into Cape May on nothing less but a Brown Booby roosting with some cormorants!

The booby was quite content to sit and let us soak it in and enjoy it!   

With the constant east winds, we experienced a lot of high tides, subsequently we enjoyed a lot of great concentrations of shorebirds, as many of them were forced to spend time in the remaining bits of higher ground in the coastal marshes. We did quite well for shorebirds overall, with some of our highlights being Avocets, Stilt and White-rumped Sandpipers, American Oystercatchers, an amazing fallout of Pectoral Sandpipers with hundreds of indvidual's grounded from the storms, and a flyby Hudsonian Godwit.  

 Other waterbirds we did ok with, the group certainly marveled at the flocks of skimmers…

…and conversely shared the agony of trying to identify dabbling ducks in non-breeding plumage. The big flights of scoters that Cape May is renowned for hadn’t really kicked into overdrive yet, but we did have a couple close passes of a few Surf and Black Scoters.

We enjoyed lots of species of terns and even had a Black Tern; like the booby, it was another storm waif and a first ever for the collective list of this tour.  

Unfortunately, warblers were a group where we didn’t do too well for. There just were no favorable winds to bring migrants to Cape May. Now that being said, we were treated to several Prairie Warblers…

…a local breeding species that normally migrates out of the Cape May area by the time the tour runs. Another special get was a Mourning Warbler, a bird that not only was a new first ever for this tour but my first ever for New Jersey! And of course, no trip to Cape May is complete until we have some time with a Cape May Warbler, which of course we did on a few occasions.  

Finally, no trip to Cape May is complete without some time on the hawk deck! Again, east winds aren’t the best for most species of hawks. We did have a trickle of Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks…

…but the buteos were conspicuously absent. Ospreys of course were omnipresent, but the one group of raptors we did well for, and certainly doesn’t mind an east wind were falcons. We had numerous American Kestrels and Peregrine Falcons, and on one afternoon, were treated to an amazing Merlin migration.

Merlin after Merlin whipped by, sometimes brushing over our heads, while others made swipes through the flock of foraging Tree Swallows, catching one more often than one would expect a swallow to be captured while on the wing!  So in retrospect, I shouldn’t have doubted, even in predicted bad weather, there are few places that can beat Cape May as a birding hotpot in the fall!  

Posted: October 18, 2023