Cape May is having a great run of rarities this fall, and yesterday morning Richard Crossley (of the Crossley ID guides) added to the madness by discovering a beautiful young male Vermilion Flycatcher hawking insects at the Rea Farm (aka The Beanery) in West Cape May! The flycatcher spent the rest of the day showing off for birders by perching at the tips of snags and on farm equipment, and capturing insects like a pro. This is the 2nd state record for New Jersey, with the previous record also from Cape May County – a bird seen by only a few birders on Stone Harbor Point from May 14th to 15th, 2002.
Vermilion Flycatchers are a fairly common resident of riparian areas throughout the desert southwest, Central America, and South America. Vagrant records have occurred throughout the northeastern US, with some astonishing sightings from as far as southern Quebec, Massachusetts, and Michigan! Sightings of this species in Florida and throughout the Gulf Coast have been on the increase in recent years. Most out-of-range sightings have been of adult males, perhaps because they stand out in the field more so than the duller, streaked females. The Cape May bird is an immature male with red undersides and red streaks coming in throughout it’s crown, but with a plain grayish face spotted with a few red feathers.
As soon as I got off work yesterday afternoon I raced over and jumped onto the next Cape May-Lewes Ferry ride over the bay. My plan was to ride my bike the 5 miles from the ferry terminal over to where the flycatcher was being seen, enjoy the bird for as long as I could, and then bike back for the 6pm ferry back to Delaware. Luckily for me, the bird was present as soon as I rolled up on my bike. Sweaty from biking as fast as I could and shaking from the excitement, I shot off the photos above while the Vermilion Flycatcher perched in plain sight to the delight of many other birders present. He seemed to be active and happily captured, thrashed, and devoured many insects while we watched. Occasionally one of the hundreds of Yellow-rumped Warblers in the area would land right next to him, glancing up as if to determine who this bright red visitor was.
If the excitement of a vagrant Vermilion Flycatcher wasn’t enough, I was also fortunate enough to spot a Pomarine Jaeger from the ferry! The Cape May-Lewes Ferry is notorious for the chance at seeing jaegers and other pelagic species, and I have had the opportunity to see quite a few Parasitics from the ferry previously. When I turned to see this massive jaeger bullying a Laughing Gull as it crossed in front of the ferry, I knew right away it had to be a Pomarine: big, bulky, and with the tell-tale “double flash” of white on it’s underwings, the bird was unmistakable. I fired off a bunch of photos as the jaeger flew off away from me. Later in the trip I also spotted a Parasitic Jaeger that made a brief appearance at the back of our wake, harassing Laughing Gulls. Presumably the same Pomarine Jaeger passed the boat a second time once we were into New Jersey waters, offering another opportunity for some photos before heading off towards the rips off Cape May Point. As we approached Cape May, a nice flock of 12 Bonaparte’s Gulls flew past as well; my first of the fall!