cape may birds

Cape May Birds by the Month: April

Dunlin by Jerry Liguori

by Paul Kerlinger

Cape May - April is a turning point month for birds. Wintering birds are still around and at the same time a few Neotropical migrants are returning. The day to day changes in birdlife are the most exciting part of spring migration and April offers new species arriving almost daily.

Salt Marshes Come Alive

The salt marsh seems to come alive in April. All the long-legged waders will be present after mid-month and many will have constructed nests by months end. A great spot to look for herons, egrets, and ibis are the marshes along Ocean Drive between Cape May and Wildwood Crest, the marshes behind Wildwood, and on Stone Harbor Boulevard.

You might also find Yellow-crowned Night-herons roosting in the tree groves in the back bays or coming out at dusk in the marshes near Stone Harbor Point and North Wildwood. Don't go into the tree groves or you will spook these birds (which may be nesting nearby). Watch the trees from a distance and you are likely to see Great Egret, Snowy Egret, and night-herons roosting. The white birds are a tip off and can be seen from a half mile away.

Look for newly arriving terns, mostly Forsters. Late in the month the first Least Terns and Black Skimmers will be reported, along with Common Terns. Also on the beach, Piping Plovers will commence nesting this month, although those on the outer beach may be individuals heading farther north to nest.

Shorebird Migration Begins

Lesser Yellowlegs: Doyle Dowdell

The last week of April marks the beginning of the mass migration of shorebirds. Although a few winter in Cape May and others arrive in late March and early April, it is not until the last days of the month that the avalanche of shorebirds begins (with the peak numbers coming in May).

Look for Yellowlegs, Oystercatcher, and the hardier species like Ruddy Turnstone, Dunlin, and Sanderling. The loud voices of Willets will be evident and look for Whimbrel in the last weeks of the month.

Whimbrel can often be ound in the grassy meadows of Nummy Island or the marshes along Ocean Drive between Cape May and Wildwood Crest. Look for their distinct head and bill above the marsh grass. Also try the beaches, mudflats, salt marshes, and freshwater pools. These birds will be in some of the same locations suggested for the long-legged waders. Snipe may be found at freshwater ponds and wet fields. Don't forget to look for Marsh Wrens in tall grasses at the edge of the salt marshes. Many of these birds arrive at month's end.

Early Nesters

Prairie Warbler:: Doyle Dowdell

Landbirds come through in big numbers in April, although those species that winter in the tropics do not peak until May. In the open areas, swallows will make their presence known and more will arrive at later in the month.

Forests like Belleplain in upper Cape May and lower Cumberland counties will host some early nesters like Pine Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, and some others.

Some of these birds are Neotropical migrants, coming her to nest after wintering south of the US-Mexican border. These species will commence nesting activities in mid-late April, although the fickle weather can turn the birds off making them difficult to see and hear.

Hawks come through in good numbers and can be seen practically anywhere. There are no real aggregation locations, as in fall, although more will be seen near the tip of the peninsula as they hunt the fields and forest edges of Higbee Beach and Hidden Valley Wildlife Management Area.

Check the surf

Northern Gannels

The ocean really comes alive in April with Red-throated and Common loons feeding just beyond the surf. Try the rips at Cape May Point for Red-throated Loons that sometimes float within 100-200 feet of the beach. Later in the month they will be all but gone.

There will also be plenty of action with Northern Gannets, Double-crested Cormorants moving north in large flocks, along with Bonaparte's Gull moving northward close to the beach, and Laughing Gulls still arriving in large flocks.

Red-breasted Mergansers can be found here and there, along with many other waterfowl, which willl be moving through or moving out by the end of the month. Brant are still feeding in the back bays throughout the month.

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