Kathy & Myles Conway
Day 1 - The Allen and Hoffmann Bird Clubs joined together for this trip, which began with 15 of us meeting at Brigantine on Friday, Sept. 22. After two years of upgrades at this wildlife management area that caused the loop road to be closed, the entire drive was open this year, and we were rewarded with good looks at shorebirds, ducks, and waders. At one point, in one field of view in our scopes, we saw Tri-colored Heron, Snipe, White-rumped Sandpiper, and Wilson's Phalarope (the latter, a first ever on a fall Cape May trip). Near the end of the loop, one of us with sharp eyes in the lead car spotted the reported Yellow-headed Blackbird while driving by. All other cars were then able to creep forward in turn so that everyone was able to get the same eye-level view. Having heard reports of a Roseate Spoonbill at Heislerville WMA on the Delaware Bay side, we decided to head there before checking in at our hotels. There, after some searching across a large impoundment, one of us spotted the telltale pink and all were able to get a decent scope view.
Day 2 - Saturday morning we made the requisite trip to Higbee at first light, but were not impressed with the numbers or species. We saw very few warblers, but quite a few Flickers and Sharpies. The hawk watch site at Cape May Point proved to be a better stop; in fact, all agreed it was one of the best we had witnessed there. Sharpies were almost constantly flying over, and Bald Eagles, Ospreys, Pere-grines, and a few Broad-wings added to the mix. We checked the beach there and at St. Mary's and added Lesser Black-backed Gull and a pair of Black Scoters. Some of the group checked the shore in town later and counted close to 200 Black Skimmers.
Day 3 - On a tip from another birder we decided to try Cape May Meadows early on Sunday rather than return to Higbee and it proved to be a nice time of day to be there. We added some species to the list including Wilson's Warbler, Least Flycatcher, and 4 sparrows - Field, Savannah, Song, and Swamp. After checking out of the hotels, we rendezvoused at Nummy's Island. Tides were high, but we saw many more Tri-colored Herons and Black-bellied Plovers. Less than a handful of night-herons were present where we usually expect double-digit numbers. At the Wetlands Institute where we ate lunch, we added a few more night-herons, along with many Willets and an adult Little Blue Heron. By then the heat of the past few days was beginning to take its toll on some of us, so we wrapped up the trip there and added House Finches and Mockingbirds just before we departed. A respectable 129 species were totaled, which is about average for the 14 years this trip has been run.
The weekend was busy in Cape May and our group was split between 3 hotels. Rather than try to arrange a dinner reservation for our large number, we tried something different and ate "in" at the hotel both nights. On Friday we ordered pizzas, and on Saturday we grilled steaks and salmon in the hotel backyard. The consensus from the group was that this was much easier (and cheaper) than eating out during a busy weekend in Cape May; something to keep in mind for future trips.