Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Birding Cape May: April 2011

I spent the last 10 days of April birding Cape May and the surrounding area, taking advantage of the unusually late Easter hols. While this place is legendary mainly for its fall falls I was tempted to experience it in spring when the birds, especially the warblers, were in their breeding finery and there would also be an opportunity to get to grips with their songs. The various coastal and wetland species on offer also added plenty of extra value to the trip.

After flying from Manchester to Newark it was an easy 2½ hour drive south to Cape May ‘City’ where we stayed in the Jetty Motel at the far west end of town; the motel was within easy walking distance via the beach of The Meadows migratory bird refuge and Cape May Point and was a great base for the trip.

The usual day involved a morning foray of the best migrant birding sites on Cape May island; Higbee WMA, the Beanery and Cape May Point & State Park depending on the birds and weather. Lake Lily was particularly good at the start of the trip, when countless Yellow-rumped Warblers and others were sheltering from the wind in the lakeside vegetation. After checking the ‘obs’ for any gen, afternoons were usually spent checking out coastal and marshy sites, such as The Meadows or more peripheral sites like Villas WMA.

I also visited some northern Cape May county sites with good success, such as the impressive Belleplain State Forest, for several wood-warblers and others as these tend to arrive from the west further north and already be on territories before appearing in Cape May. Forsythe (Brigantine) NWR and Barnegat light (in hope of lingering Harlequin) were also enjoyed. One day was devoted to a ferry trip from Cape May to Lewes, Delaware in order to catch up with the most northerly breeding Brown-headed Nuthatches at Cape Henlopen State Park, a near-US endemic and the only Nearctic nuthatch I still ‘needed’.

The highlights were too many to mention here but included a drake Harlequin feeding among the crashing waves at Barnegat breakwater and a superb adult male Scissor-tailed Flycatcher that gave crippling views at The Meadows – two birds that you wouldn’t normally expect to see on one trip, but such is the diversity at Cape May! It was also just great to be out birding each day, enjoying the spring arrivals and mastering their songs. The 160 species seen are listed below:

1. Snow Goose: 1 blue and 1 white phase at Forsythe (Brigantine) NWR, the former with a broken wing and the latter presumably just not bothered about heading north.

2. (Pale-bellied) Brent Goose
3. Canada Goose
4. Mute Swan
5. Wood Duck: a pair at Hand’s Mill Lake, Belleplain on 28/04
6. Gadwall
7. American Wigeon: 1 drake at The Meadows
8. American Black Duck: plenty at Forsythe (Brigantine) NWR
9. Mallard
10. Blue-winged Teal: two pairs at The Meadows and one pair at Cape May Point State Park
11. Northern Shoveler
12. Green-winged Teal
13. Greater Scaup: 2 females at Forsythe (Brigantine) NWR on 22/04
14. Common Eider: 6 at Barnegat light on 22/04
15. Harlequin Duck: 1 drake feeding among the rocks at the end of the jetty at Barnegat light on 22/04
16. Surf Scoter: plenty seen but good numbers off Barnegat light on 22/04
17. White-winged Scoter: 2 pairs seen flying past Cape May and c.100 from the ferry leaving Lewes, Delaware on 25/04
18. Black Scoter: regularly seen but good views off Barnegat light on 22/04
19. Long-tailed Duck: 100+ close in at Barnegat light on 22/04
20. Bufflehead: 50+ in the harbour at Lewes, DE on 25/04, many displaying
21. Goosander / Common Merganser: one female at Forsythe (Brigantine) NWR on 29/04
22. Red-breasted Merganser
23. Ruddy Duck: at least 20 at Forsythe (Brigantine) NWR on 22/04 and 3 on 29/04 – good to see some kosher ones!
24. Wild Turkey: a displaying male with female in Belleplain State Forest on 24/04, a female at Higbee WMA on 26/04 and another female crossing Route 550 at Belleplain SF on 28/04
25. Red-throated Diver / Loon
26. Great Northern Diver / Common Loon: at least 10 off Barnegat light on 22/04, all in breeding plumage. Several seen flying north over the Cape throughout.

27. Pied-billed Grebe: 1 adult at Hand’s Mill Lake, Belleplain on 28/04
28. Slavonian Grebe / Horned Grebe: 1 in breeding plumage off Barnegat light on 22/04
29. Northern Gannet
30. Double-crested Cormorant
31. Great Cormorant: 1 immature at Barnegat light on 22/04, another off Lewes, DE on 25/04
32. Great Blue Heron
33. Great White Egret / Great Egret
34. Snowy Egret
35. Little Blue Heron: 2 flew over the Beanery early on 23/04
36. Green Heron
37. Black-crowned Night Heron
38. Yellow-crowned Night Heron: a small colony by the wooded pool at the Dune Drive / 44th St intersection at Avalon

39. Glossy Ibis: 4 north over Lake Lily, CM Point on 23/04
40. American Black Vulture
41. Turkey Vulture
42. Osprey
43. Northern Harrier: 3 at Jake’s Landing on 24/04
44. Bald Eagle: at least 2 adults and an immature in the south CM County area throughout
45. Sharp-shinned Hawk
46. Cooper’s Hawk
47. Broad-winged Hawk: 1 at CM Point on 21/04 and one in Belleplain SF on 28/04
48. Red-tailed Hawk
49. American Kestrel
50. Clapper Rail: heard more than seen, 2 pursuing each other in flight briefly at Jake’s Landing on 28/04
51. Virginia Rail: 2 heard at The Meadows on 27/04
52. American Coot

53. Black-bellied Plover / Grey Plover
54. Piping Plover: 3 regularly seen on the beach opposite The Meadows

55. Killdeer
56. American Oystercatcher

57. Solitary Sandpiper: 1 at The Meadows on 21/04
58. Greater Yellowlegs: outnumbered Lesserlegs throughout.
59. ‘Eastern’ Willet
60. Lesser Yellowlegs
61. ‘Hudsonian’ Whimbrel
62. Ruddy Turnstone
63. Sanderling
64. Semipalmated Sandpiper: First 2 adults at The Meadows with Least Sands on 27/04
65. Least Sandpiper: First one flew in to The Meadows on evening of 21/04 and 14 on 27/04
66. White-rumped Sandpiper: 1 adult with Least Sands at The Meadows on 28/04
67. Purple Sandpiper
68. Dunlin
69. Short-billed Dowitcher: seen at Forsythe (Brigantine) NWR on 22/04 and 29/04
70. Wilson’s Snipe: seen at the Beanery and The Meadows
71. Arctic Skua / Parasitic Jaeger: one adult chasing a Laughing Gull from the CM – Lewes ferry on 25/04
72. Bonaparte’s Gull: 4 on the sea from the Lewes – CM ferry on 25/04
73. Laughing Gull
74. Ring-billed Gull
75. American Herring Gull

76. Glaucous Gull: an obliging second summer hanging around the fishermen on the beach opposite our motel on Beach and 2nd Ave from 23/04 onwards

77. Great Black-backed Gull
78. Forster’s Tern
79. Caspian Tern: an adult at Forsythe (Brigantine) NWR on 22/04, apparently quite a scarcity here at this time of year.
80. Black Skimmer: 4 over The Meadows early on 25/04
81. Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon)
82. Mourning Dove
83. Black-billed Cuckoo: first arrivals at Higbee WMA on 29/04

84. Chimney Swift: first seen over the State Park on 21/04
85. Ruby-throated Hummingbird: first one in a garden at CM Point on 20/04, displaying male at Higbee on 27/04
86. Red-headed Woodpecker: 2 adults in the 3rd field at Higbee on 29/04 during a minor influx in-off following a storm the previous night
87. Red-bellied Woodpecker
88. Northern Flicker (yellow-shafted)
89. Downy Woodpecker
90. Acadian Flycatcher: 3 in Belleplain SF on 28/04
91. Eastern Phoebe
92. Great Crested Flycatcher: first one at Higbee WMA on 26/04 then seen regularly
93. Eastern Kingbird: first one at Villas WMA on 20/04 then fairly regular

94. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher: an adult male gave crippling views at The Meadows on 23/04 following a swing from southerly to northerly winds (the pic below doesn't do this bird justice, especially when the ridiculous tail streamers and salmon pink underwings were shown off in flight:

95. White-eyed Vireo
96. Blue-headed Vireo: 1 in Belleplain SF on 24/04
97. Red-eyed Vireo: 2 in Belleplain SF on 28/04.
98. Blue Jay
99. American Crow
100. Fish Crow: regularly seen and heard at the coast, easy to pick up once the call was known
101. Purple Martin: good views by the nest houses at CM Point lighthouse parking lot

102. Tree Swallow: seen from 20/04 onwards
103. Northern Rough-winged Swallow: small numbers from 20/04 onwards
104. Bank Swallow / Sand Martin: small numbers on 21/04 following strong northerlies which concentrated a big movement of hirundines over the CM Point lighthouse parking lot
105. Cliff Swallow: at least 2 with the other hirundines at CM Point on 21/04
106. Barn Swallow
107. Tufted Titmouse
108. Carolina Chickadee
109. Red-breasted Nuthatch: 1 at CM Point on 23/04 and a pair at Cape Henlopen State Park, DE on 25/04
110. Brown-headed Nuthatch: A pair were seen in the woods opposite the nature centre at Cape Henlopen State Park, DE on 25/04 and 1 was on feeders briefly at the nature centre itself.
111. Carolina Wren

112. House Wren
113. Marsh Wren: several at Jake’s Landing on 24/04
114. Ruby-crowned Kinglet: 1 at CM State Park on 23/04
115. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher: a small influx during the first part of the visit with numbers gradually tailing off.
116. Eastern Bluebird
117. Hermit Thrush: 1 in a wood at CM Point on 21/04
118. Wood Thrush: 2 seen in Belleplain SF on 28/04
119. American Robin
120. Gray Catbird
121. Northern Mockingbird
122. Brown Thrasher: elusive but 1 singing from a tree top in Belleplain SF on 24/04 showed well
123. European Starling
124. Cedar Waxwing: 4 in a garden at CM Point on 21/04
125. Northern Parula: first one singing at CM Point from 21/04
126. Yellow Warbler: singing at CM Point from 20/04
127. Yellow-rumped Warbler: impossible to miss ‘butter butts’ during the first few days, especially around the sheltered edges of Lake Lily and the CM State Park

128. Yellow-throated Warbler: small numbers of the white-lored type at CM State Park from 20/04. Nominate, yellow-lored type also seen and heard in Belleplain on 28/04.
129. Pine Warbler: seen from 21/04 onwards
130. Prairie Warbler: regularly seen and heard from 20/04
131. Palm Warbler (eastern type): small numbers from 20/04
132. Black-and-white Warbler: first one seen at Forsythe (Brigantine) NWR on 22/04, several singing birds showing well in Belleplain SF on 24/04
133. American Redstart: 3 adult males at Peaslee WMA on 28/04
134. Prothonotary Warbler: 1 male in the wet woods at the Beanery on 26/04, another male near Peaslee WMA on 28/04

135. Worm-eating Warbler: plenty singing and showing well in Belleplain SF on 24/04 and 28/04
136. Ovenbird: all over Belleplain SF on 24/04 and 28/04, often sitting in full view on exposed branches
137. Louisiana Waterthrush: 1 at Sunset Rd bridge, Belleplain SF on 24/04
138. Common Yellowthroat: fairly common in any scrubby habitat

139. Hooded Warbler: a singing male showed well on Tom Field Rd, Belleplain SF on 24/04
140. Yellow-breasted Chat: first one on territory at Higbee WMA from 26/04

141. Eastern Towhee
142. Chipping Sparrow: easy to see at Villas WMA and Forsythe (Brigantine) NWR
143. Field Sparrow: easy at Higbee WMA
144. Savannah Sparrow
145. Seaside Sparrow: small numbers seen at Jake’s Landing
146. Song Sparrow
147. White-throated Sparrow
148. Scarlet Tanager: a superb adult male in a wood at CM Point on 21/04, also heard in Belleplain SF on 28/04
149. Northern Cardinal

150. Blue Grosbeak: first one at CM State Park on 27/04
151. Indigo Bunting: several at Higbee WMA from 26/04
152. Red-winged Blackbird
153. Common Grackle
154. Boat-tailed Grackle: seen at Forsythe (Brigantine) NWR and Reed’s Beach
155. Brown-headed Cowbird
156. Orchard Oriole: first one, a first year male, feeding on tree blossom by Lake Lily on 21/04, one adult male at Hand’s Mill Lake, Belleplain on 28/04 and a pair at Higbee WMA on 29/04
157. Baltimore Oriole: a singing male at Vine St, Belleplain on 28/04
158. House Finch
159. American Goldfinch
160. House Sparrow

Plenty of other wildlife seen too such as Musk Rat, beaver dam, Black Racer, Rat Snake, Snapper Tortoise, Red-bellied Terrapin, Fence Lizard and Monarchs.

Good birding,



  1. Nice one Chris. Sounds like you had a great time. Will you be saving up for an autumn visit? : )

  2. Good trip Chris,gripped by the Scissor tailed Flycatcher!

  3. Great stuff Chris. Sounds like you had a great time.

  4. Good couple of weeks there. Very jealous about everything, apart from the minger Snow Goose and maybe the Coot. Any pics of the STFly?

  5. The goose and coot pix were especially for you Rob! I've also got a pile of AHG pix that I'm planning to unleash as your homework for autumn.

    I had to phone-scope the STfly as I'd left the lens in the car and was halfway round the reserve when another birder casually dropped the bombshell. Tried to upload it with the rest of the post but no luck - will try again.

    Def fancy another visit Rhys, it's the kind of place that really gets under your skin.