cape may birds

Cape May Birds by the Month: November

Ruby-crowned Kinglet by Doyle Dowdell

by Paul Kerlinger

November ushers in the late season migrants.  These birds include lots of species of waterbirds, seabirds, owls, the larger and hardier hawks and songbirds, as well as an assortment of other species that make these cool days rewarding experiences.

Owls and more owls

Sawhet Owl.

Cape May is, perhaps, the best place to see owls along the Atlantic Coast.  Autumn owl migration peaks in the first week or so of November for species like Long-eared Saw-whet, and maybe Short-eared owls.  I suspect that on some nights there are hundreds of these birds passing silently through Cape May and many make secretive stopovers. 

We know this because Katy Duffy and the late Patrick Matheny published several excellent papers about this migration  If you wish to see owls, try watching from the hawkwatch platform or the elevated platform in the Nature Conservancy sanctuary. 

From sunset until total darkness on relatively calm nights can be productive.  If you are lucky, you may see owls taking off or American Bittern, night-herons, or a late harrier or two.  You should also look along the trails at the State Park or other forests at dawn.  Examine every tree and you may get lucky.

Check the back bays

Waterfowl in the backbays have built to good numbers by early in the month.  Black Ducks, with smaller numbers of  Hooded Mergansers will also be present, along with Bufflehead and an occasional Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser.  Brant will be present in nice numbers in almost any backbay.  For great views try Nummy Island free bridge in Stone Harbor.

Avalon Seawatch

Northern Gannet by Doyle Dowdell

Every day during November brings hundreds of loons (mostly Red-throated), gannets, hundreds (if not thousands) of scoters, mergansers and other waterfowl, thousands of gulls (including Bonaparte’s) and terns, an occasional eider, and even a Parasitic (or rarer Pomarine) Jaeger to the seawatch in Avalon. 

You should also see a few Horned Grebes, but be on the lookout for the rarer species of grebes that may try to sneak by.  Alcids are rare, but are seen every year from the seawatch.  Cormorants are winding down and Tundra Swans make an occasional appearance as they fly well above the beach.  The seawatch (at 7th St. in Avalon) has both a Cape May Bird Observatory counter and educational intern that are ready and willing to help you to spot and identify waterbirds as they pass by.

Don't forget the Hawkwatch

Red-tailed Hawk by. Jerry Liguori.

From the hawkwatch, you can also expect to see good flights of a variety of species.  By early November, most of the early season migrants have already passed their peak.  Species that will peak in November include Red-tailed and Red-shouldered hawks and Golden Eagle.  You will also see a continuation of Sharp-shinned Hawk, harriers, and occasional Cooper’s Hawks and Peregrine Falcons. 

November requires a bit more patience (and warmer clothes) than September and October, but the waiting is worth it.  The harriers in November are often adult males, called gray ghosts because of their silver gray backs, white underparts with striking black wing-tips.  They are nothing short of spectacular. An occasional goshawk will make waterfowl and other birds take note. 

The hawk migration continues right into December, although it does wind down after the third week or so of November.  (For a different view, which on some days includes better views of Golden Eagles and some other hawks, try watching from the Beanery on Bayshore Road.)

Still some songbirds

Song Sparrow. Jerry Liguori.

Late season songbird migration includes waves of White-throated Sparrows, American Robins, Yellow-rumped Warblers, kinglets, and others.  Fox Sparrows and Hermit Thrush will be present in the forest edges where fruits are abundant.  Look for the occasional White-crowned Sparrow at Higbee and the Beanery.

The remaining shorebirds include Dunlin, which will be en masse at places like Stone Harbor Point, American Woodcock hiding in the wet woods of Hidden Valley and Higbee Beach, and some Sanderling along the beaches.  You may also see a lingering Hudsonian Godwit at Stone Harbor Point, along with Oystercatcher. 

Although the migration may seem to be waning in November, the opportunities can be every bit as rewarding as early season migration.  Seeing a thousand loons in a single day, or 30,000 scoters can be great.  The possibility of a goshawk or a Golden Eagle at 30 yards, however, keeps me alert during November and even early December!  

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