Early Spring Cape May Weekend (March 25-26, 2006)

Having a chance to get away for the weekend and hoping to experience Cape May for the first time, before it gets crowded with birders, I headed east. The idea was to pad my year list with sea ducks and other coastal birds. The trip was originally planned to take advantage of bay cruises on the "Skimmer" and the first of the season whale watch. Unfortunately things were running behind schedule and neither boat was in the water.

On Friday night I drove from Pittsburgh to Absecon near Atlantic City, where I established my base for two nights. An early Saturday morning start enabled a few stops at jetties in Stone Harbor and at Sunset Beach before joining a New Jersey Audubon Society bird walk at Cape May Point State Park . The early morning stops netted birds such as Dunlin, Sanderling, Common and Red-throated Loons, both cormorants, and Ring-billed, Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls. The walk provided over fifty additional species including stereophonic comparisons of Fish and American Crows. The beach portions of the walk revealed Surf and Black Scoters, Ruddy Turnstone, and Purple Sandpipers in sizeable flocks. Several waterfowl species, as well as the usual passerine suspects rounded out this portion of the trip list

Afterwards, I birded the CMBO "Meadows", adding more ducks, Great Blue Heron and a Wilson's Snipe. A stop at the ferry terminal produced Laughing Gull and Osprey. After a non-productive stop at Jake's Landing amid a steadily increasing rainfall and mid-thirties temperatures I called it an early day. Some hot soup and an early bed time primed me for the next day.

Sunday dawned cloudy, but the rain had stopped. I birded the nearby Forsythe NWR at perhaps too leisurely a pace. I had my best views ever of Brant. Several duck species including all three mergansers and large numbers of American Black Duck are characteristic of Forsythe. The superlatives are saved for the Snow Geese which take wing in huge flights. Perhaps their collective noun should be an avalanche of Snow Geese. A pond had early season Tree Swallows and Yellow-rumped Warblers grabbing insects on the wing. A walk near the headquarters produced an Eastern Bluebird at a nesting box. I missed on the Pine Warblers which had recently come back

Now running short of time I hurried down the state to catch the mid-afternoon ferry to Lewes, DE, although with a few stops near Cape May at which I only added Long-tailed Duck. The ferry ride was reminiscent of one I had in the North Sea between the Faroe Islands and the Shetlands because of the numbers of Northern Gannets and gulls riding in the slipstream of the boat offering excellent views. I could only hope for a skua or jaeger to come by as on that earlier trip, but to no avail. An earlier ferry crossing that day had seen a whale, but we were not that fortunate. Pulling into Lewes harbor, there was a Lesser Black-backed Gull on the breakwater, its yellow legs resplendent in the afternoon sun.

Before making the long drive back to Pittsburgh, I took the short detour to Cape Henlopen State Park to tick the Brown-headed Nuthatches that frequent the nature center feeders.

The trip produced seventy-four species. Better familiarity with the area, better time management and logistics, and better weather should have increased that total by more than a dozen additional species. If the boats had been running a hundred species would not have been out of the question. Surprisingly, Osprey was the only raptor species seen in an area renown for its fall hawk watch. This trip should pay dividends for a later trip to New Jersey when things are more birdy.

The trip list:
Snow Goose Common Merganser Laughing Gull Eastern Bluebird
Canada Goose Red-breasted Merganser Bonaparte's Gull Gray-cheeked Thrush
Brant Red-throated Loon Ring-billed Gull American Robin
Mute Swan Common Loon Herring Gull Northern Mockingbird
Wood Duck Horned Grebe Lesser Black-backed Gull European Starling
Gadwall Northern Gannet Great Black-backed Gull Cedar Waxwing
American Wigeon Double-crested Cormorant Rock Pigeon Yellow-rumped Warbler
American Black Duck Great Cormorant Mourning Dove Song Sparrow
Mallard Great Blue Heron Red-bellied Woodpecker Swamp Sparrow
Northern Shoveler Great Egret Northern Flicker White-throated Sparrow
Northern Pintail Turkey Vulture Blue Jay Dark-eyed Junco
Green-winged Teal Osprey American Crow Northern Cardinal
Ring-necked Duck American Coot Fish Crow Red-winged Blackbird
Greater Scaup Killdeer Tree Swallow Common Grackle
Surf Scoter Ruddy Turnstone Carolina Chickadee House Finch
Black Scoter Sanderling Tufted Titmouse American Goldfinch
Long-tailed Duck Purple Sandpiper Red-breasted Nuthatch House Sparrow
Bufflehead Dunlin Brown-headed Nuthatch  
Hooded Merganser Wilson's Snipe Carolina Wren  

— by Ron Becker

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Mission of 3RBC

To gather in friendship, to enjoy the wonders of nature and to share our passion for birds!