Cape May Birds by the Month: June Birds
by Paul Kerlinger
Glossy Ibis by Doyle Dowdell
What do June and January have in common with respect to birding? This may seem bizarre, but in these months you can see both northbound and southbound migrants. In January you have the latest of southbound migrants and the earliest of northbound migrants. The opposite is the case in June.
Last Northbound Migrants
Early in June, the last of the northbound migrants are coming through or taking off. The best example of migrants that are leaving in early June include some of the shorebirds and the occasional songbird. Try the mudflats and beaches of the Delaware Bayshore (perhaps Thompson’s Beach) or at the edge of the pools in the Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge (South Cape May Meadows). A few Red Knots may be around, along with yellowlegs, Semi-palmated Sandpipers, Sanderling, and maybe some others.
First Southbound Migrants
Western Sandpiper by Doyle Dowdell
Later in June, the first of the southbound shorebirds show up. It may seem bizarre that these birds are already moving south, but consider where they are coming from. These early birds are arctic nesters. They have already mated on the tundra and left their mate to care for the nest and eggs. By leaving so early, they do not compete with their mates or offspring for food. Some of the species that arrive and may be seen in the last days of June include the yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, and Short-billed Dowitcher. This varies from year to year, but offers a few species to shoot for if you maintain a “month list.”
Forest nesting birds, mostly songbirds offer excellent opportunities, especially in the first two weeks of the month. June is one of the best months for learning bird songs. After all, if you aren’t chasing migrants, you can settle into a habitat and take the time to listen. You may be pleased by what you learn. Yellow-breasted Chats on territory at Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area will offer a variety of song, as will most other species. Taking time to learn these songs will not only help you identify these birds during migration next spring, but it will help you eliminate these birds when trying to find other species. Ruling out the common species is the first step in identifying the more uncommon species of warblers and other songbirds. These birds often refuse to show themselves and drive you crazy – unless you know their songs. Try Belleplain State Forest, Peasley Wildlife Management Area, or one of the many other forests near the Delaware Bayshore.
Back Bay Birding
Willet by Doyle Dowdell
Along the shore and out into the ocean, June birding can be excellent. The usual cast of characters will be at the beach and in the back bay marshes. Look for Piping Plover on barrier beaches, along with Least Tern and Black Skimmer, all nesters in these habitats. Behind the beaches along the channels and marshes you will find Willet, egrets and herons (including Tricolored and Little Blue, ibis, salt sparrows, marsh wrens, Clapper Rails, and other marsh dwelling species.
Stone Harbor Point and the marshes behind Stone Harbor (The Wetlands Institute) offer excellent viewing of these species. The gnats may drive you crazy, so bring along Skin-so-Soft or some other insect repellent. Perhaps the best way to do your back-bay birding is aboard The Skimmer (see boat trips on this web site), a pontoon boat that will get you the best views of a Common Tern or Laughing Gull colony (including young birds) you will ever want. You may also get close-ups of Clapper Rails, so bring your camera.
Offshore, there will not infrequently be Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, Sooty,Greater, and Cory’s Shearwaters. You may be able to see them from shore on very rare occasions, so a boat trip out to 5 or 15 miles offshore may get you a view of these long-distance migrants as they pass near Cape May. You could very likely see Wilson’s Storm-Petrels from the Cape May-Lewes Ferry if they are around. In some years, these birds have been rather abundant, expecially in the same years in which whales have lured the whale-watching boats from nearshore waters. You may also try one of the whale watching boats.
To the most avid of birders June can be a month to look for rarities. With migration not providing a constant infusion of new and different birds, the more insatiable of the binocular crew seek birds that shouldn’t be in Cape May.
Examples of rare birds that show up in June include Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, with more than 4 being recorded here in June over the years. Cave Swallow, Sooty Tern, Magnificent Frigatebird, American White Pelican, Anhinga, and Painted Bunting have all made appearances in June.
One of the most common of rarities (now that’s a concept) is the Missisippi Kite, which can be seen most reliably at the Beanery.
June offers some interesting opportunities for seeing birds. The nesting season is in full swing and birds are in their best plumage and song. There are also some opportunities that won’t come again for another year, so don’t miss a great opportunity.