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DVOC Field Trip Report
by Martin Selzer

January 22, 2011
Cape May, New Jersey

Nearly 25 people joined me on a cold, sunny winter’s day as we visited the Cape May region for my annual winter trip. Fortunately there wasn’t much wind so it actually was a very pleasant day as we found some excellent birds throughout our adventure. Here are highlights of the day.
Our first stop was at Stone Harbor Point. The tide was in and therefore there were no flocks of feeding scoter or eider at either jetties here. We did have a couple Long-tailed Ducks and Horned Grebes near shore, a few distant lines of Black and Surf Scoter off shore and a single White-winged Scoter that only a few of us saw plus at least one Common Loon. In the dunes we found a single Black-bellied Plover and an earlier contender for the bird of the day honors in a flock of 12 Snow Buntings.

We then moved on to Nummy Island although the high tide all but eliminated shorebird habitat, we did get a few more Common Loons, Brant, Boat-Tailed Grackles, Bufflehead, Red-breasted and Hooded Mergansers. A cormorant perched on a distant channel marker posed an identification challenge and teaching opportunity as it had its back to us, so we took the opportunity to discuss the differences between Double-crested and Great Cormorants. Fortunately, the bird waited until we had worked through the discussion to show us its white flank patch and prove the field trip leader correct in his identification of this bird as a Great Cormorant, phew!

Next it was on the Cape May Lighthouse State Park with a brief stop for an adult Red-shouldered Hawk near the Beanery. We then birded the area near the entrance area parking lot in hopes of Lincoln’s Sparrow and American Woodcock. Initially, we found Dark-eyed Juncos, White-eyed Sparrows, Northern Flicker and Northern Mockingbird when a Fox Sparrow was seen to the left of the only mound of snow remaining at the edge of the parking lot. Not 30 seconds later, someone found a Woodcock feeding 10 feet to the right of the snow. It was nice to have such a very usable land marked to help get people on these two birds. We immediately ignored the sparrow and watched the woodcock for 10+ minutes as it fed out in the open.

We all may go looking for Woodcock doing the “timber doodle” display in the early spring but seeing one in the open reminded all of us how gorgeous these birds are! The bird of the day honors were all but locked up now or else it was going to take one special bird. While looking at the woodcock a Brown Thrasher came into view. Not a bad bird at all for January and not a bad morning of birding. We then went back to our cars for a quick lunch break before going The Jetty at St. Mary’s.

As we were leaving the State Park, a couple people stopped to take some more photos of the woodcock and found the Lincoln’s Sparrow. So we had to delay our trip to St. Mary’s and get the Lincoln’s Sparrow (normally a seriously contender for bird of the day honors). Some people went ahead and I called to let them we had found the sparrow but they had turned their cell phone off so all I could do was leave a message and hope they realized something was up and call me or turn around. You take your risks if you go ahead of the field trip leader, birds don’t always follow the field trip leader’s plans!

At the jetty were Purple Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones and a Red-throated Loon. We then made a stop at Lily Lake and picked Northern Shoveler, American Wigeon, Ring-necked Duck, Ruddy Duck, and Northern Pintail. A stop at Mt Vernon Avenue in hopes that the Common Redpolls that had been seen there on Thursday had stuck around only yielded Yellow-rumped Warblers and Cardinals but we had to stop there being so close. We then made a quick stop at the Cape May Harbor hoping for additional diving ducks but we didn’t find anything new for the day. The day had clouded up a bit so we headed to Jake’s Landing.

When we arrived at Jake’s Landing there were a few raptors perched very far out on the Osprey Platforms in the marsh. We would use them for reference points as shortly after our arrival we would have 1 to 2 Short-eared Owls hunting out in the distance. There were also a few Northern Harriers about and then we had another treat for the day a Rough-legged Hawk. The hawk started soaring and circling slowly, then it hovered and then it perched where we could easily get scope views of it. On any other day, this would have been the bird of the day but there was stiff competition today. It was barely 4:30 and we had most of the targets you’d want at Jake’s Landing (ok, no eagles). Since the sun was beginning to set it was getting really cold so we all called it a day.

I really want to thank everyone who joined me and did such a great job finding birds all day, I lost track of who found what but I think all the really good birds were found by someone else. Today just emphasizes how important it is for everyone to keep a watchful set of eyes during the course of the day. Thanks again for joining me and helping make this a really successful day.




Pictures by Laura and Steve Huber