This scheduled trip was moved up a week earlier to escape the holiday, but the forecast was rain by mid-morning in southern New Jersey, so a scant five of us decided to visit Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge on Long Island. There were a few other birders around and one larger group. The West Pond trail was still blocked by a breach from Storm Sandy, so we took the shorter walk straight out along the open bay, where there were many distant shorebirds and some quite close, including one Pectoral Sandpiper and a few Oystercatchers. We turned to see a group of birders approach and noticed a Clapper Rail standing in the trail before it scampered across the causeway and into the reeds on the other side. We visited a Barn Owl nesting in a box at a blind where we could see the mother moving around through the hole and a little bit of fluff from the baby. At the East Pond we scanned for Shovelers, Coot, many Ruddy Ducks, and some Glossy Ibis.
The rain was heavy at times until we got to Brigantine, where it had let up to a drizzle, but with the wind still brisk. The south loop was open only to the tower and the tide was low. The ocean side channel mudflats were covered with mostly Semipalmated Sandpipers, but among them were good numbers of Dowitchers, Dunlin, Willets, Turnstones, and Semipalmated Plovers. Among the Forster’s Terns and Laughing Gulls were a hundred Black Skimmers, some feeding, but most huddled on a sandbar inside the dike. Other birds present were Glossy Ibis, Great and Snowy Egrets, Cormorants, an adult Bald Eagle, Ospreys, a Green-winged Teal, and swallows. At the end we found a big flock of 60 Whimbrels on a sandbar with some calling loudly.
The next day was cloudy, with some rain showers, but we headed for the Belleplain State Forest, where we stopped to find birds still singing in profusion. We heard Yellow-throated Warbler right away, plus Acadian Flycatcher, White-eyed Vireos, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and many familiar birds. At triangle we met up with another group from Westchester Bird Club in Pennsylvania who were very friendly and helpful with information and scopes. We heard a Worm-eating Warbler among the many Pine Warblers, and good looks at several Hooded Warblers. When we caught up to the other group, they were watching Summer Tanagers. One of the group told us about a Prothonotary Warbler at campsite 11, which we got to see well after some searching. After returning to Cape May for lunch, we returned north to Reeds Beach, where we found the spectacle of shorebirds and gulls as the tide started to fall. Laughing Gulls and Red Knots were in the thousands, starting right at our feet and the clamor was amazing. With them were many Turnstones and Dunlin and the odd Willet and Yellowlegs. The rain and wind got the back of our legs soaked, but it was worth it. Later at the Wetlands Institute there were much needed restrooms and a lot of people, but only a few Egrets, an Osprey nest, some Ibis and Plovers, mostly seen from the Observatory. We went south through Stone Harbor to Nummy’s Island, where we stayed in the cars and saw one Little Blue Heron.
We tried Higbee early in the morning, but it held mostly resident species, including many White-eyed Vireos singing. A bird perched on a small dead tree singing vigorously turned out to be an immature Blue Grosbeak. Then we went to Cape May Meadows, where we watched a reported Red-necked Phalarope male twirling at the back of the pond. Other birds there were egrets, terns, various expected shorebirds, Ibis, Oystercatchers, Killdeer, Green Heron in flight and Purple Martins. On our way north we stopped at Jake’s Landing, where the salt marsh was alive with Marsh Wrens singing and performing wild dances. Even better was a long, close look at singing Seaside Sparrows. We only heard one Sharp-tailed Sparrow sing, plus Virginia and Clapper Rail. There was plenty to remember on the long ride home.