Cape May Birding

I may have to revise my answer about the best bird festivals to go to. In the past when someone has asked me, I have said Rio Grande Valley Bird Fest (which I'm going to next week--whoot!) and Detroit Lakes Festival of Birds as my top two must dos. I think Cape May Autumn Weekend will have to come in as number three. It's a weird migration/fall out area where unexpected things like thousands of robins pouring over the top of your hotel occurs. The town is beautiful and in warm weather is a red hatter's dream, but since it's the end of the tourist season, it's quiet and deserted and chock full o' migrating birds.


For me, visiting Cape May, NJ was kind of like visiting Hollywood. There have been a ton of articles written about the magic of birding there as well as books on how the whole place became such a hot spot. It was interesting putting faces to names from the book Season at the Point, it's been a few years since I read it, I'm finding I need to go back and reread. Cape May is definitely a different atmosphere and meeting some local birders you would think they invented bird watching (in many ways they did--lots of field guide authors honed their skill there).

With some of the "top birders" there is an attitude--not undeserved and I admire how open they are about it. We have it here in Minnesota and I'm sure it can be found in any state but they are so open about it in New Jersey. For example, we all have our own personal standards for bird reports. You'll read about a sighting on a listserv and there are some people who may report a king rail who you will believe and some you take with a grain of salt. You keep this to yourself and in select company you might discuss it. Not at Cape May! I actually overheard the phrase (and it was said in front of a crowd), "Somebody whose name means nothing reported a frigatebird from Higbee Beach two days ago." It was later determined that someone who has a name that means quite a lot had seen a frigatebird the following day from the convention center so perhaps that no name was correct.


The weather situation was insane. Friday morning was beautiful (pictured above at the Meadows) and sunny and I woke up to fish crows outside the hotel and had time for some quick birding at the meadows. Friday night a nasty wind storm blew in and all the birds laid low.


Saturday was not good birding but you were practically tripping over yellow-rump warblers (above) and ruby-crowned kinglets. Sunday got a little better but was still windy and Monday was perfect--although all the fish crows were gone--where did they go?


I didn't have to leave for the airport until late in the afternoon and I spent the day hitting Cape May spots like Higbee's Beach and the Beanery. As I was walking the Beanery about 9am, the sun was behind me and I was identifying a Lincoln's sparrow I noticed lots of dark, shadowy blobs in front of me on the ground. I looked up at the sky--raptor migration was on. Forget sparrows, I high-tailed it to the Hawk Watch platform. I'm so glad I did, not only were there several raptors and turkey vultures flying over, but a Swainson's hawk was seen in the distnace as well-very rare for the east coast.

(You may be wondering why I don't have more photos of this--the camera I was using "went for a walk" at the Philly Airport. All I can say is that I am so grateful I downloaded all the of the photos from the previous night's karaoke party--WHEW!)

One of my favorite moments was when WildBird on the Fly and I were walking back to the hotel on Sunday night and you could hear some night migration starting. We went to the walkway along the beach, laid on the benches and the ground and watched birds fly just about the street lights in the dark. It was chilly, you could hear the waves crashing on the beach (and no traffic!) and see birds on their way for migration and doing it with a great friend--what an awesome moment.

I dedicate the following photo to Keith Dowling who was envious in a comment about eating at Uncle Bill's Pancake House:


I think this photo is now Non Birding Bill's new desktop. These are the oh-so-tasty pumpkin pancakes available at Uncle Bill's. This is a must stop for refueling for more birding.