Cape May Birds by the Month: October
Yellow-rumped Warbler by Doyle Dowdell
by Paul Kerlinger
October in Cape May is perfect! Not only is the birding sensational, but there may not be better weather in any month, anywhere. The cold fronts, a misnomer because they are rarely really cold, grace the habitats of Cape May with wave after wave of hawks, songbirds, waterbirds, and many other species.
Hawks and more hawks
Peregrine Falcon by Jerry Liguori
October is, indisputably, the best month for hawkwatching. The first week to 10 days marks the peak of migration for Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Osprey, Merlin, American Kestrel, and Peregrine Falcon. And, they all will continue to make themselves seen throughout the month. Northern Harriers continue throughout the month in a steady procession.
Broad-winged Hawks sometimes peak in Cape May during the first week or so of October, but they are not as predictable as other species.
Although the Cape May Point State Park hawkwatch may be the best place to see large numbers of hawks, the Beanery and Hidden Valley areas can provide spectacular views of hawks as they hunt for small birds and mammals.
One advantage of the hawk watch in Cape May Point State Park is the presence of Cape May Bird Observatory staff. If you need help spotting or identifying birds, simply ask the educational specialists who are present most days. It’s their job to help you and others, so don’t hesitate to ask.
Nuthatch by Jerry Liguori
Although the Neotropical songbird migrants (birds that winter in the New World tropics) are well on their way to Mexico and beyond, big numbers of songbirds come in October. The first week to 10 days hails the last movements of most Neotropical species.
The big flights of Yellow-rumped and Palm warblers will provide lots of birds to pick through when trying to find a late Blackpoll, Parula, Red-eyed Vireo, or Northern Waterthrush. All of these species will be present early in the month, but by late October, the Neotrops will mostly be gone.
October brings waves of sparrows, along with Eastern Phoebe, Hermit Thrush, Northern Flicker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and more. Try the brushy areas like Hidden Valley and the Beanery if you wish to get away from the crowds at Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area. However, if you brave the dawn flight near the dike at Higbee, you may see 20,000 or a quarter million songbirds flying out – if you hit the right cold front!
Bird the Marshes
During the first week of October, if you are near the point or marshes at sunset, you may see a flock or two of herons and, or egrets heading south. These birds have been headed south for a couple of weeks, but there are still plenty of them around as northern birds pile in and locals linger. Stop along the causeways that take you through the back bays and marshes on your way to the seawatch or other barrier islands. With less traffic, you can pull off and take a good look. You may also see a harrier or two coursing low over the marsh, or late shorebirds on the mudflats.
Look for Waterfowl
Also in the back bays you are likely to see the first Brant, and decent numbers of Green-winged Teal. Snow Geese may be in the marshes, overhead, or they may only be heard as they pass over at night.
Most of the waterfowl will be present by the end of the month, some in great numbers. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge can provide a nice stop when you are coming to or leaving Cape May. The 7 mile drive around will take you to lots of waterfowl, not to mention an occasional Bald Eagle and clouds of Dunlin mixed with other shorebirds.
Head to the Seawatch
The last week of October brings some decent pushes of Common Loons and the first movements of Red-throated Loons to the seawatch in Avalon. The last week of October is really when the seawatch gets going. Northern Gannets start in earnest and there are likely to be cormorants still passing in numbers.
From mid-October through the end of the month, tens of thousands of scoters of all three species (mostly Black and Surf) will fly low and close to the seawatch. A scope will help you. Don’t forget to look for Royal and Caspian terns, along with gulls. Though the latter may be not very interesting, species like Bonaparte’s Gull will become more common late in the month. The real treat is to find the Parasitic (and maybe Pomarine) Jaeger amongst the throngs of terns and gulls during a feeding frenzies. Again, the presence of Cape May Bird Observatory staff will help you enjoy this very different birding experience.
If you don’t like it hot or cold, but you want to see lots of birds, October in Cape May is hard to beat. Dress in layers, making sure you can adjust quickly. Not only will you see lots of birds in October in Cape May, but you will also have a most comfortable birding experience.