Wednesday, June 16, 2010
May 21, 2010 all day sunny Rea Farm and Higbee Beach, Cape May, NJ
baby Downy Woodpecker in hole
a bad photo of a Prothonotary Warbler
It is hard to believe after such a great day yesterday that it could get any better but it was going to get a lot better today!
Our first stop would be Rea Farm locally known as the Beanery. It was a hot spot for Spring and Fall songbird migration. Our goal bird was the Prothonotary Warbler a large brightly colored bird with big black eyes, blue gray wings and a bright yellow body. We got out of the car and walked over to the bunch of birders watching something through their numerous scopes and binoculars. One birder was kind enough to let us take a peak through his scope at a singing male Indigo Bunting shining like a star in the early morning light. We were very lucky to see so many good birds in the two hours we spent there from a Green Heron to a Red-Eyed Vireo! Here is a list of the birds I can recall seeing at Rea:
Greater Yellowlegs (three flying over head just as we were leaving),
Downy Woodpeckers (nesting - I got a photo of one of the babies),
Great-Crested Flycatcher pair which were presumably nesting in the woods close to the path,
Carolina Chickadees, a lifer! I have been to Florida before but never saw one probably because most of our birding was done around the house we were staying at which seemed not to have any local chickadees,
Magnolia Warbler (I am pretty sure I saw this here),
(tons of) Blackpoll Warblers,
Prothonotary Warbler a lifer! After long hard wait the bird finally showed himself to us! He had been singing for ten minutes or so. I would have been so frustrated if it didn't show,
Indigo Bunting and many other birds that I can't think of right now. Why didn't I keep my notebook up to date instead of checking them down on a weekend checklist?
Our next stop was one of the most famous migrant stops in America: Higbee Beach! The name suggests that it is solely a beach but Higbee has acres of meadow and woodland as well. This was probably the best part of our trip to Cape May. I almost instantly heard the bird the leaders were calling a Blue Grosbeak (a lifer!). The Blue Grosbeak is a large bird with a bill almost the size of its head! The male is a rich navy blue except for the wings which are a strong rufus, the female on the other hand is as drab as you can get in the bird world with a fulvous back and a brown hued breast. The first bird we saw was a Northern Cardinal in a tree in the corner of the parking lot and a nesting American Robin. The most exuberating bird for me and my family present at the time was a beautiful Yellow-Breasted Chat! A lifer! The bird was hopping about at the entrance giving amazing views a perfect opportunity for photographing this beautiful bird (I got a very nice photo). There was a Field Sparrow flying across the meadow right at the entrance and a singing Indigo Bunting.
One of the leaders (Don Freiday or is it Frieday pronounced "Friday") caught a big Black Racer, a snake species. The leaders found a nesting Great-Crested Flycatcher, one of the largest flycatchers around here. The Flycatchers kept hopping into a hole in a tree. It was very interesting to watch (though it was hard standing still and watching them when I knew there were lifers around the corner and there were!). We walked under a canopy of trees where nothing much resided, other than a few ants, and into a second meadow. We hadn't taken ten steps when one of the leaders called out "Blue Grosbeak". She set up the only scope they had bothered taking along and set it on a speck in the distance about the size of a Northern Cardinal. At last we had seen a Blue Grosbeak ("up close and personal" as James Currie host of Birding Adventures TV show would say). It was so far off and we were only allowed a three-second look through the scope - I can't say that it was either particularly up close or personal! There was a male hanging around with the female but it was harder to see.
Twenty-seconds later Don Freiday found us a second reptilian lifer, a Box Turtle, a medium sized land turtle (not a tortoise) which is able to shut himself inside his shell. We saw two Tufted Titmice flying across a field which Don Freiday called a record flight for a Titmouse. They aren't big fans of long distance flights and prefer to hop from tree to tree. Sadly I got distracted and forgot to watch if he made it all the way to the other side of the meadow or got wimpy and turned back.
The leaders got really excited (as well as the whole group) when Don Freiday heard a Mourning Warbler singing from the under-brush. We were unable to locate it (he said that in his life of bird walk leading he had only shown a few groups this secretive bird! Why weren't we one of them?). There were many common warblers where he had heard the Mourning Warbler singing such as Yellow. I spotted a brilliantly colored male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird perched in a bare tree. It was one of the few birds I personally spotted on the whole walk!
"Orchard Oriole" called Don. We looked up at a bird just a bit smaller than an American Robin as it flew over us. Great! another lifer! I was beginning to worry that we weren't going to see any more!
A bit further down the path we saw a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher flitting high in a tree. This was a far as we would go due to flooding in the path. We turned around and headed back, there were a few Magnolia Warblers hopping through the bushes by the path.
"Orchard Oriole" I called. At last I had found a good bird. It was feeding in a sumac I think 12 feet away from me. I had walked a little way a head of everyone else (though I can't remember what they were watching). I was later advised by one of the leaders who told me to walk behind them because everyone would get mad at me not the leaders of the walk if I was the one that scared a bird away by mistake which often happens if you are in the lead.
We came across a mixed warbler flock, a pair of Orchard Orioles, some Blue Grosbeak and some other of the birds we had seen already but were still very exciting just a little way down the path! There were Yellow and Blackpoll in the flock. A probable Blackburnian was flitting through the tree tops but we didn't get our bins on it for a positive identification. There were some Blue Grosbeak feeding in one of the many fields and a pair of Orchard Orioles munching on something in a tree.
The last good bird we saw was a beautiful Prairie Warbler, a yearer, singing high in a tree giving us "killer views" (another James Currie expression which he often says. Though he would actually say "killer views through my Nikon Field Scope").
As we walked into the parking lot some local birders took the time to check the rare bird alert and a man shouted "Mississippi and Swallow-Tailed Kites at the Beanery!" Ten or so birders jumped in their cars and made a long procession down the road to Rea Farm. We walked over to one of the men who had led the first walk at Rea. He told us that someone had said they saw them but no one else had. He said that the Swallow-Tailed Kite was reported to be heading in the direction of Higbee! The irony of it all!