Tuesday 30 October 2012

Cornwall Birding Rare & Scarce Bird Report 2011

The Cornwall Birding Rare & Scarce Bird Report for 2011 is now available price £12 (in store, or £14 inc P&P).  More information and online ordering can be found HERE  The report boasts 117 pages, 31 of which are colour photographs.  In total there are 83 individual colour photos and several line drawings!  Eleven articles include details of Cirl Buntings, Choughs, a seawatching review, ringing report and finder accounts of rare birds seen in Cornwall.  In summary, this is a very creditable report by the Cornwall Birding team.

Sunday 21 October 2012

Summary of visit to Cape May

This trip report summarises our two week visit to the east coast migration hotspot of Cape May in New Jersey.  My wife and I chose the last week of September and first week of October to coincide with the peak migration period.  Cape May is rightly famous not only for a spectacular raptor movement, but also a more than impressive visible migration of passerines.  Throw into the mix a Monarch butterfly migration of biblical proportions, then you have the makings of a brilliant fortnight.

A pure fluke in the weather patterns allowed us to benefit from two major falls during our stay.  Big events are dependent on big changes in the weather and we twice experienced a shift of wind from the north west. This signals a big exodus from the breeding grounds of Canada and northern North America.  The southerly routes funnel migrants to the coast and onwards to Cape May like a giant Heligoland trap.  The birds' unwillingness to venture over the sea means Cape May simply cannot fail when the winds are in the right direction.  Add to that a massive lighthouse which acts as a beacon, then all the ingredients can produce something spectacular.

Cape May Meadows - an attractive refuge for migrants.  We walked the one mile perimeter daily.
The area is surprisingly large and a car is essential to cover the main birding areas. It didn't take long to find the hotspots and a daily routine soon became the norm.    Early morning, first light visits are essential at the Higbee Dike.  This is a "high" position of 50 feet or so at the mouth of the canal and close to the point.  It's where thousands of passerines and raptors are counted in the trees below or flying overhead.  We experienced two really good falls here eg 4600+ Yellow-rumped Warblers in one morning, but I was told first hand that the place has past witnessed perhaps a million birds in one morning.  So many birds that the road down was even littered with passerines.  Did I believe it? Yes, after I witnessed myself wave upon wave of Northern Flickers, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Palm Warblers, Cedar Waxwings, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper's Hawks and Ospreys.

Cooper's Hawk

Soon after the Higbee Dike entertainment finished we headed a couple hundred yards inland to the Higbee Fields, five of them with strategically positioned towers to view passerines at eye level. The fields are where most of my photography happened.  Gaps in the hedges were the best places to position yourself as passerines worked their way southwards.

Juv Black and White Warbler - a common migrant, often very tame.
The early morning flight usually lasted three or four hours.  By 10.30 am most of the passerine migration finishes and its time to move on to a fresh set of migration at the hawk watch platform.  Most birders from the Higbee Fields will be at the hawk watch by midday to witness hundreds, if not thousands of raptors all moving south.

Merlin - a common migrant
 The extensive beaches were always were worth checking.  Terns, skimmers and gulls were always plentiful.  Tern highlights included Royal and Caspian Terns but Forster's was by far the commonest with hundreds seen daily.  The commonest gull was Laughing Gull, but several Ring-billed's, American Herring Gull and a single Bonaparte's were seen.

First year Ring-billed Gull

First year Laughing Gull

Tennessee Warbler - scarce passage migrant - seen daily in low numbers

Eastern Phoebe - common passage migrant

First year Chestnut-sided Warbler - a stunningly bright warbler and one of only three seen in the fortnight. (Image doesn't portray its lime green colouring).

The logistics of the holiday were fairly simple.  We flew by British Airways, Heathrow to Philadelphia.  A small car was hired (£300) at the airport and we drove the couple hours south to Cape May.  A GPS is essential if your passenger is not good at navigating and saves countless arguments.  I downloaded a TomTom app to my iPhone for £39 and this was essential.  There are a lot of tolls so you need to keep plenty of quarters on you.  I'm also expecting a couple fines for driving through tolls without paying.  We booked a reasonable motel room (Madison Ave Beach Resort £70 per night) with basic cooking facilities.  Eating out is easy as Cape May is essentially a beach resort.  And that's about it.  The place feels safe, the people are ultra friendly and helpful, Mike Crewe at the Cape May Bird Observatory LINK HERE is more than helpful and the shop is well worth a visit too.  Would I visit again? Definitly.

Sunday 14 October 2012

Red-backed Shrike today at Housel, Lizard

This first year Red-backed Shrike was a popular attraction today at The Waterings, Housel Bay.  Found just 50 m from the original site of the Bufflehead last year, this stunning bird was quite content to use the hedge as a platform to prey on insects below.

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Black-throated Blue Warbler forms at Cape May

Good numbers of Black-throated Blue Warbler passed through Cape May and Higbee Fields during the last couple weeks (eg 66 counted at Higbee Dike on Fri 5th October alone).  An experienced birder mentioned to me that the local male population has a plain mantle compared to the Appalachian form which has some faint streaking on the mantle.  I checked through some images and sure enough, there are variants.  Apart from this interesting factoid, the species is indeed stunningly photographic, even in the Autumn.  I've included a couple images of a first year female which shows just how sexually dimorphic this species is.


Sunday 7 October 2012

Large fall at Cape May and Higbee in last two days

Friday and Saturday has seen a change in fortunes for the better.  After the misty and humid conditions on Thursday, light westerly winds overnight produced our second BIG fall of the trip.  We went to the Higbee Dike at first light and were rewarded with very high numbers of warblers, phoebe's, woodpeckers, nuthatches and raptors.  Perhaps the signs were there on Thursday evening when we found several new Yellow-rumped Warblers and the Orange-crowned Warbler at the Lighthouse.  I spoke to Sam Galick, one of the official Morning Flight counters and he had logged over 4,500 Yellow-rumped Warblers and 400 Red-breasted Nuthatches.  The majority are flyovers continuing their onward southerly migration, but many linger in the woods round the Dike area, giving stunning views.

Parula Warbler - one of 156 logged today!

The link here > VIEW FROM THE FIELD by Mike Crewe explains all in more detail, but essentially the extraordinary numbers are relayed here: (courtesy Mike Crewe).

 Red-bellied Woodpecker - 50
Yellow-belled Sapsucker - 8
Downy Woodpecker - 2
Hairy Woodpecker - 1
Northern Flicker - 164
Eastern Wood-Pewee - 4
Empidonax sp. - 1
Eastern Phoebe - 48
Red-eyed Vireo - 29
Blue-headed Vireo - 3
Red-breasted Nuthatch - 427
White-breasted Nuthatch - 7
Golden-crowned Kinglet - 13
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - 20
kinglet sp. - 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - 1
American Robin - 27
Catharus sp. - 4
American Pipit - 1
Cedar Waxwing - 731
Tennessee Warbler - 17
Nashville Warbler - 15
Northern Parula - 156
Yellow Warbler - 2
Magnolia Warbler - 10
Cape May Warbler - 5
Black-throated Blue Warbler - 66
Yellow-rumped Warbler - 4610
Black-throated Green Warbler - 67
Blackburnian Warbler - 1
Prairie Warbler - 1
Palm Warbler - 389
Bay-breasted Warbler - 4
Blackpoll Warbler - 95
"Baypoll" Warbler - 109
Black-and-white Warbler - 20
American Redstart - 10
Ovenbird - 1
Connecticut Warbler - 1
warbler sp. - 7809
Scarlet Tanager - 14
Field Sparrow - 1
Chipping Sparrow - 9
Savannah Sparrow - 28
Dark-eyed Junco - 4
Rose-breasted Grosbeak - 3
Blue Grosbeak - 1
Indigo Bunting - 57
Dickcissel - 1
Rusty Blackbird - 3
Baltimore Oriole - 1
Purple Finch - 13
Pine Siskin - 169
Yellow-rumped Warblers - two of the 4,600 logged today!!!

Friday 5 October 2012

Birding at Edwin B Forsyth Refuge, Brigantine

This reserve is unlike any I 've been to.  With an eight mile drive round the perimeter, this place needs time.  In overcast and extremely humid conditions, we spent all day here.  We were not disappointed either.  Savannah Sparrows were common and we had a brief view of Seaside Sparrow too.  However, waders and duck are the main attraction.  We had decent scope views of good numbers of Western Sandpiper, Semi-palmated Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, 80 Greater Yellowlegs and a couple Short-billed Dowitchers.  Three Caspian Terns and one Black Skimmer roosted with a couple hundred Forster's Terns.  Tricoloured Heron put in a brief appearance along with three Black-crowned Night Herons.  Several Northern Harriers patrolled the saltmarsh. At mile 7, where the habitat changed to mixed woodland, we stumbled across a roving party of 25 Eastern Bluebirds, including some stunning adult males.

Adult and juv Eastern Bluebird, part of a flock of 25

Juv Black-crowned Night Heron

Great Blue Heron

We returned to Cape May State Park in the evening to get the last light.  Yellow-rumped Warblers had increased in numbers to about ten and I also found an Orange-crowned warbler, the second for the trip.  The weather was still humid but due for a change tomorrow.  This should bring some new movements.

Orange-crowned Warbler

Thursday 4 October 2012

Cape May migration goes from slowdown to standstill

Today is the quietest day so far of the trip. The weather is humid and overcast with brief spells of sunshine.  The temperature is 28 degrees and the mosquitos are biting.  We found one pocket of birds feeding at the Higbee Dike watchtower including several Red-eyed Vireos, two Black and White Warblers and an Alder/Willow Flycatcher.  Yellow-rumped Warblers seem to be increasing slightly as well.  This species is a later migrant and locals inform us that numbers will increase this week.  The big shout of the day though was a very confiding adult Lark Sparrow found by the first metal footbridge in the State Park (on the blue and yellow trail).  The species is a scarce migrant with one or two annual records in Cape May.  Nonetheless, with precious few other birds to see, this was a welcome sight.

Adult Lark Sparrow at State Park

Northern Mockingbird today at State Park

Wednesday 3 October 2012

Drastic slowdown at Cape May

Tuesday 2nd October: Today has seen a complete reversal of fortunes.  How the weather changes everything.  The wind has turned South to South-east, meaning very few new arrivals.  All but a handful of "leftovers" remain from the massive recent fall.  In the vast Higbee Woods, just a small flock of twenty roving vireo's and warblers could be found.  That said, among them was an adult male Blue-winged Warbler, a fine tick for me.  The only serious big shout today was a Rufous Hummingbird in a garden near Cape May Meadows.  Even the raptor numbers were way down and the Siberian Elm tree, so full of warblers yesterday, was empty.  The next change of weather is Thursday when the wind moves North-west.  The local birders inform me this is the best wind direction as it pushes everything southwards and towards the coast...ideal...

Below are a few images from the last couple days:

First year Magnolia Warbler
Female Black-throated Blue Warbler

First year male Cape May Warbler

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Cape May, Higbee Fields and 400 Coral Avenue

After the exhausting last couple of days witnessing an incredible migration, today has been a quieter day.  The vast numbers of passerines have virtually all cleared out, leaving singletons and just a few species reaching double figures.  Most notable birds today include Red-breasted Nuthatch, 213 of which were noted this morning at Higbee Dike alone. I saw at least 12 at Coral Avenue in one tree.  Flocks of Cedar Waxwing were darting around whilst Parula Warbler numbers were up (119 at Higbee).  Northern Flickers were being chased through the woods by Cooper's Hawks.

We left Higbee at 10.30 and spent a couple hours at the raptor view point.  Five Bald Eagle moved south with good numbers of Turkey Vulture, American Kestrel, Osprey and Sharp-shinned Hawk.  Lesser numbers of Red-tailed Hawk and Broad-winged Hawk were also seen.  Someone then mentioned that a decent gathering of warblers, kinglets and nuthatches were feeding in one tree at number 400, Coral Avenue.  We arrived to find an incredible gathering of birds feeding in and around the Siberian Elm tree.  Apparently this tree oozes sap once a year and attracts the insects. 

We managed to see four Black-throated Blue Warblers, Tennessee, Prairie, Magnolia, Yellowthroat, Black-throated Green, American Redstart, Parula, Brown Creeper, Blackpolls, two Cape May Warbler, Pine, Black & White, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and the Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Pair of adult Killdeers roosting in the car park at the raptor viewpoint!

Red-tailed Hawk

Brown Thrasher - seen daily in ones and twos.

Cape May Warbler

Ad male Red-breasted Nuthatch - unusually high numbers recorded this year

Magnolia Warbler

Two Black-throated Blue Warbler and two Red-breasted Nuthatch in the same shot!

Monday 1 October 2012

Cape May State Park and Higbee Beach day 4

The very impressive run of migrants continues unabated.  According to local birders, this incredible fall is as rare as the Says Pheobe that put in a brief appearance at the beach bunker today.  This is the second day of north westerlies and the weather has certainly made a massive difference to the sheer numbers of passerines and raptors passing overhead.  The locals are indeed excited and checking past records of species' day counts.  Red-bellied Woodpecker reached a total of 91 birds.  Other highlights are too numerous to mention but briefly, I personally estimated 200 Northern Flicker, hundreds of Blue Jays, 200+ Palm Warbler.  Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Sharp-shinned Hawk and Ospreys all passed through in substantial numbers.

The day's highlights for me included the Says Phoebe (South Western American species), 10 Eastern Phoebe, Orange-crowned Warbler, two Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Yellow-breasted Chat, White-eyed Vireo, Philadelphia Vireo and several Black-throated Blue Warblers including some stunning adult males still holding on to full summer plumage. In total so far, twenty species of warbler have been seen already.  More information can be found on Mike Crewe's blog.  Link is here>  MIKE CREWE

Below are some images taken today:

Says Phoebe - a major rarity at Cape May

Bay-breasted Warbler - seen at Cape May State Park

Blackpoll Warbler - seen in unprecedented numbers over the last two days
Common Yellowthroat - pretty much found in any thicket or damp habitat

White-eyed Vireo - a tick for me.  (Apologies for slightly out of focus shot - best I could get)

Orange-crowned Warbler ( two seen today)

Birding at Cape May and Higbee Beach day 3

Today has seen a big turnaround in fortunes.  The wind has changed to north westerly and the result is a visible migration on an industrial scale.  Raptors are very notable in 210 Osprey, 18  Bald Eagles, 385 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 81 Cooper's Hawks, 452 Am Kestrels,  114 Merlins and 34 Northern Harriers! More Info here

Passerines have been moving through is vast numbers.  The commonest warbler was Blackpoll followed by Palm Warbler.  At Higbee Dyke, an incredible estimate of up to 4,000 Blackpolls passed overhead!  Flocks of Palm Warbler in scores swept through the bushes and trees on a scale I have never seen before.   I also saw the following passerines in numbers: Black-throated Blue, Nashville, Tennessee, Yellow-rumped, Magnolia, Prairie, Connecticut and Wilson's Warbler.  Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Scarlet Tanagers, Nothern Flickers, Sapsucker, Blue Jays passed overhead in scores.  Words struggle to explain the enormity of the movement today.  I'm reliably informed by locals that this event only happens occasionally.  The best update and more detail can be read on this blog by local birder MIKE CREWE

Common Yellowthroat

Palm Warbler

Black and White Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Ad male Prairie Warbler