cape may birds

Cape May Birds by the Month: September

American Kestrel by Doyle Dowdell

by Paul Kerlinger

“Migratory restlessness” is the term used by migration biologists to describe the agitated state that comes over birds when they begin their migration odysseys.  It can also be used to describe the state of birders as the calendar turns from August to September.

Although migration has been going strong for nearly two months, September seems to be the official time among most birders to get out and look for the big pushes of migration. 

A similar condition of migratory restlessness overcomes birders at this time, leading to a frenzied quest to experience the avalanche of migration that is about to occur.

One of the best months

September in Cape May provides some of the best birding of any month in the year.  Cold fronts, or at least cool fronts, that pass through the northeastern United States bring songbirds, hawks, shorebirds, waterfowl, and an assortment of other birds to the forests, marshes, and beaches of the Cape May peninsula.  It is also a pleasant time to bird because the entire peninsula is less crowded as there are fewer tourists and the climate of September through October becomes perfect.

Songbird heaven

Veery by Doyle Dowdell

September is a great time to look for migrating songbirds.  Warblers, tanagers, orioles, vireos, and thrushes provide the action throughout the month, with a slow change in types of migrants.  Some species will peak early in the month and wane later on.  From mid-month, cold fronts are more likely to bring dramatic weather changes and with those changes come some really great fallouts.  Species like Yellow-rumps and Palm warblers, which are sometimes associated with late autumn begin to be pass late in the month.  Throughout the month look for Black-throated Blue Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Black-throated Green Warbler, redstart, and many other warbler species. 

Where to go

Finding warblers and other songbirds is not that difficult. Start at dawn at Higbee Beach Wildlife Management area.  The dike and tall platform near the angler parking lot (near the canal) can be great after a cold front.  Look for the crowds.  About a half-hour to an hour after the sun comes up, walk the trails 

Other good places can be dune forest/brush area at the end of Stone Harbor Point, the Coast Guard Base in Wildwood Crest (new section of the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge), and practically any forested area near the Point. 

A small, but wonderful place to see warblers and other songbirds is around the Bird Observatory on East Lake Drive in Cape May Point.  Though they really don’t have trails, the water sources and thick brush make birding very easy.  You wait and the birds come to you!

Hawks and more hawks

Cooper's Hawk by Jerry Liguori.

From mid-September through mid-October, birders enjoy the largest pushes of hawk migration in Cape May.  Broad-winged Hawks peak between about the 20th of September and about the 8th of October.  Large flights can be seen in Cape May anytime during this month, especially if there are strong north  Peak numbers of Merlin, Cooper’s Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Osprey, Peregrine Falcon, and American Kestrel will be seen in the last week of September and into early October. 

If you wish to see a great show, go to the hawkwatch at Cape May Point State Park and look for the Cape May Bird Observatory Hawkwatchers and interns.  They will help you spot and identify hawks as they pass.  Don’t be surprised if you see more than a thousand Sharp-shinned Hawks or several hundred Osprey in a single day.  Also, in the last week of September into early October, migrating Merlins stop by the Park and South Cape May Meadows to feed.  You are likely to see them chasing flickers, robins, swallows, and any other hapless songbird that decides to fly into the open areas.  When this happens the show can be spectacular.

Waterbirds' Migration

On the ocean and in the inlets and bays, waterbirds of various species  can be seen throughout the month.  The Common Loon migration really begins in earnest in September, although it will peak later in autumn.  These birds, along with thousands of Double-crested Cormorants flying in formation, will be seen passing within a few hundred yards to a mile off the beaches.  Stone Harbor Point usually a good place to see these and other birds that migrate along the ocean.

Royal, Caspian, and other terns are also present and may be seen foraging in the inlets, back bays, and in the surf.  Don’t forget to look for Brown Pelican and the usual cast of bird characters along the water’s edge.  There are likely to be lots of shorebirds on the mudflats behind Stone Harbor, not to mention the areas along Ocean Drive between Cape May and Wildwood Crest. 

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