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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

May 22, 2010 some time in the afternoon Stone Harbor Beach Cape May, NJ

"There's an immature Common Eider out there!" called my grandfather - it was floating by the end of a rock jetty bobbing up and down in the swells. We didn't realize it at the time but Common Eiders are rare birds in Cape May at this time of year! We are used to seeing the last eiders depart around this time, but in Cape May they are scarce the year through. So instead of freaking-out, we took a quick look and walked on in search of new species.

We had already gotten all the usual species: House Finch, Red-Winged Blackbirds and more in the Phragmites, sand dunes, bushes and a pond that greeted the visitors warmly (and in winter coldly) with the bird species that swarmed here: Red-Winged Blackbirds in the Phragmites, Robins on the dunes, finches and sparrows flitting through the bushes and Spotted Sandpipers (along with many other shorebirds) teetering around the pond.

We strolled down the beach watching gannets way out in the distance soaring over the waves in small flocks of five or so birds. Semipalmated Sandpipers scuttled about like two legged crabs always playing tag with the rollicking waters of the mighty Atlantic. Hundreds of birds stood like statues on the sand dunes that looked out to sea - they were mostly peeps (probably Semipalmateds taking a break from their frenzied game of dodge the waves and digesting their tasty meal of worms) but there were a few plovers mixed in. Both Semipalmated and Piping Plovers were visible from our perspective. In the distance hundreds of shorebirds swarmed through the air - were they Red knots or Dunlin? I cannot say, but our adventure was not even close to finishing yet.

We turned back towards the car. As we walked by the pond previously, we had noticed a path that went away from our side of the beach and instead went toward the massive flock of birds which were hanging about on the other side of the peninsula, so we decided to take a look - maybe we might identify them. As I scanned the pond a dowitcher landed and then a second later flew off - nobody else had seen it. The dowitcher was probably a Short-Billed, the commoner species on the eastern seaboard and the only dowitcher that I have seen. An Eastern Wood-Pewee perched on a bush and an alarmed Willet flew overhead displaying its species' main field mark, the long white streak running down the center of the wing, but the distant shorebirds remained unidentified.

We spotted a grackle on a bush not that far from where we saw the pewee but this time we couldn't identify the species. (Unlike Rhode Island, Cape May has two species of Grackle: the Boat-Tailed Grackle and the Common Grackle. We have seen both species before but never together, which would have helped in are identification considerably.) We stopped to scan the pond one last time: Spotted Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Piping Plover(s?) and maybe a Semipalmated Plover (I can't remember exactly but we probably did). I lagged behind for a moment, just enough time for a beautiful Dunlin to fly in! "Dunlin, dunlin!" I cried. The Dunlin stayed long enough for everyone to get great views of its black chest, rufous back, and everything in between. It was a lifer for me and my brother!

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