|Cape May Home - Wildwood- Hotels - Restaurants - Events - Shopping- Entertainment - Weather|
Cape May Birding: What A Day!
by Clay Sutton
It has been joked that a bad day at Cape May is a good day most anywhere else. That was not said to imply any smugness or ego (pride? Well maybe . . .), but this blithe statement is rooted in fact. Cape May first of all is surrounded by water, the Delaware Bay on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. Wetlands and salt marsh meet woodlands and swamps. The variety of habitats host a variety of birds - everyday.
admittedly wasnt typical even by Cape May standards, it was typical
of the wonders of the fall, the mystery of migration, and what can happen
at the peak of the season when literally hundreds of birders are scouring
all of the diverse habitats, looking, hoping, wondering.
I arrived to a veritable traffic jam with dozens and dozens of birders arriving (this rarity had been announced at the hawkwatch, mostly emptying the platform).
To make a long story short, the bird had gone . . . had flown about 20 minutes before my, and most other folks, arrival. It was never relocated, never seen again, but hadnt disappeared before many documenting photos and notes, and memories, were made for about 20 lucky people birders in the right place at the right time.
species, breeding in Siberia, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper is rare - really
rare, not even annual in eastern North America. It was the first confirmed
(fully documented) record for not only Cape May, but all of New Jersey
too. Wow. A red-letter day even if somewhat typical for what
can happen at Cape May.
Long-billed Curlew on Nummys Island, by the toll bridge the excited callers related. Once again to the car - this time the scope and camera were already packed within, at the ready. Another short drive retracing my steps to, then past the Wetlands Institute, through Stone Harbor onto Nummys Island. The 40 cars lined up on the road shoulder marked the spot.
shuffling forms had foretold the absence of the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper,
now everyone peering intently through their telescopes heralded success.
The Long-billed Curlew was there on the exposed low-tide mudflat,
backlit yet still glorious. Only high-fives and congratulatory
laughter broke the intense study.
Of note is how these birds were found. Most of the Cape May regulars, residents and visitors alike, were at the Point that day. A good cold front had brought waves of birds warblers at Higbee Beach, and kettles of hawks over the hawkwatch platform at Cape May Point State Park.
Most everyone had followed the general patterns and logic Higbee Beach/Hidden Valley early, the hawkwatch, and the Meadows later. And this is good practice great (if typical) birds were found Mourning and Connecticut Warbler at Higbees, many Peregrines and the seasons first Golden Eagle at the hawkwatch, kettling up with an immature Bald Eagle in the same glorious thermal.
No one was disappointed, at least maybe until The Call came Sharp-tailed Sandpiper at the Wetlands Institute. It took, the guy from Pittsburgh -- veteran, yes; astute, good birder, yes -- but nonetheless an out-of-towner, to go against the grain, against established logic, to bird Stone Harbor and Nummys instead.
Here, away from the hundreds birding the Point, he made Cape May ornithological history.
It has been
aptly said that 95% of the good birds are found by about 5% of the birders.
This is true, a testament to focus, skill, dedication and mastery (and
love) of the craft. Its also said that 95% of the birds are found
in just 5% of the habitat. True, too. We all bird the best places, the
protected spaces, the public open-space where we are welcome, comfortable....
and where most of the birds are usually found.
On the other hand, if you bird instead the dunes in North Wildwood or the cedars at East Point after the front, you will very probably bird by yourself. And here, your chances of finding that good bird are very good. It may not be there, but if it is, your chances of seeing it first, of being the finder are 100%.
Always remember that the famous, (in fact world-famous) Cape May phenomenon, the geographical concentration of birds, millions of birds which inevitably, typically, include a number of vagrant rarities, is not confined to Higbees, the Meadows, or the State Park. This geographical bottleneck extends throughout the peninsula and on up the Delaware Bayshore.
Good birds are anywhere, everywhere, yet, understandably, still 95% of us bird only 5% of the possible places. This isnt a criticism its just human nature and the draw of known-quantity killer birding spots.
But the guy from Pittsburgh (I dont yet know his name) bucked the trend, defied logic and convention, birded on his own, elsewhere, and found both of what will be hard-pressed not to vie with one-another for bird-of-the-year honors for the Cape. And amazingly, something like this typically happens every year.
It may not have been quite a normal day at Cape May, but these types of days are characteristic of what makes Cape May such a definitive destination for birders. It typifies the norm here and is indicative of the possibilities.
the words of the sportscasters admonition on ESPN, It could
happen, so youd better watch. At Cape May, it typically does
happen, so youd better be here, watching, waiting. And to use another
sports analogy, on any Sunday anybody could earn the
next amazing bird at Cape May. It could be found by you. You had better
get here. The cold front is due tomorrow. So many birds, so much habitat.
And, in relation to the habitat, so few birders.