Almost ideal weather conditions (Friday’s passing cold front with storms, Saturday’s northwest winds) set up a great weekend birding in Cape May with a group led by Mark Garland. Warbler migrants were numerous (15 species for my count, including my darling Black-throated Blue and Black-throated Green). In the afternoons, we worked the neighborhood streets around Lily Lake. An insect hatch in the elm trees caused them to “turn on,” in Mark’s words. A brilliantly yellow Prairie Warbler; a crazy weekend for Red-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta canadensis).
Falcons and accipiters were also plentiful (ID mnemonic: the tail of a Sharp-shinned Hawk is sharply cut off, while a Cooper’s tail is rounded) , and easier to see from the west side of Cape May Point than from the official watch station in Cape May State Park. A trio of Brant in Delaware Bay was a small surprise. Mark called the goldenrod thriving in this windblown habitat Beach Goldenrod (other sources call it Seaside Goldenrod) (Solidago sempervirens).
Sunday morning at Higbee Beach we were seeing half a dozen Northern Flickers at a time. Higbee runs north-south along the bay side of the peninsula. Mark explained an early-morning phenomenon that I didn’t understand the first time I visited Cape May, in 1998. As the sun comes up, a passerine (migrating by night) that finds itself over Delaware Bay takes the strategy “water! go back the way you came!” So at sunrise you will see birds flying back north over Higbee, looking for a dry spot to land.
Monarch butterflies were also in migration, a steady stream all weekend. The flicker of a butterfly was always catching my eye, making me think that I’d spotted a bird. I added Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) to my very short butterfly list.
Everyone came scrambling to see the Say’s Phoebe (Sayornis saya) in the park east of the lighthouse. I’ve seen this bird in the west, so I got my look and then went elsewhere: there had been reports of Clay-colored Sparrow in the brush along the back of the dunes, and some of our group got a brief look, but I did not succeed.
80 species for the weekend, plus good looks at several Cape May Warblers for a life list twitch.
Mark’s suggestion paid off: Westside Market on Broadway is a good place to get a sandwich and Krimpets for lunch. If you’d like a split of wine to go with dinner (many of the restaurants are BYOB), Collier’s is the place to go.