CAPE MAY VIZ-MIG SPECTACULAR

Yellow-rumped Warbler was the bird of the day with an incredible 15,000-20,000 migrating at Higbee Dyke alone! 

CAPE MAY IS SYNONYMOUS WITH VISIBLE MIGRATION IN NORTH AMERICA and it did not disappoint on my recent visit to attend the 67th Autumn Birding Festival there. I feel very lucky this autumn with the timing of my visits to migration hotspots and just like Spurn Point the previous week, conditions for visible migration were again very good. First of all a fast moving cold front in late autumn tells insect-eating birds it is time to move south and associated strong northwesterly winds at night push migratory birds to the coast and ultimately down New Jersey’s Cape May Peninsula. As they run out of land at the tip of the peninsula they put down. At first light these birds start to re-orientate by flying back north along the landward side of the peninsula, on the shore of Delaware Bay. It was Richard Crossley and Paul Holt who ‘discovered’ in the 1980s that this movement could be seen from the dyke at Higbee Beach, where they break cover from the wood lots and cross the Cape May canal, which effectively makes the point an island. There was a great bunch of friends gathered here for what turned out to be the biggest day of the autumn so far with somewhere between 15,000-20,000 Yellow-rumped Warblers alone making the ‘morning flight’ north across the canal. The sky was literally covered with birds for the first couple of hours of light. ‘The counter’ Sam picked out Blackpoll and Tennessee Warblers by call and a few others included Black-throated Blue and Northern Parula. Both kinglets were also well represented and the bushes were alive with sparrows, mostly Chipping and White-throated, however, the other most obvious species were Northern Flickers and Sharp-shinned Hawks as well as Rusty Blackbird, with around 50 seen amongst the flocks of red-wingeds passing over. I have never seen anything close to the scale of this movement of passerines in such a short period of time and after a while I stopped using binoculars and just stood and stared at the jaw-dropping spectacle. In the distance, continuous lines of Black Scoters were moving south in Delaware Bay, several Northern Harriers passed by and a ‘Common-Loon-in-the-moon’ caused some laughter.

 

Yet another Yellow-rumped Warbler! Although there were so many of them not all would pose for a photo!