Snowstorm in Cape May

Alex LamoreauxBirding, Trip ReportsLeave a Comment

My car at Cape May Pt, after a half-hearted attempt to clear some snow off of it. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

My car at Cape May Pt, after a half-hearted attempt to clear some snow off of it. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

When we went to bed on the evening of January 2nd in Cape May, the temperature was dropping quick and it was beginning to snow. When we woke up to the next morning, there was a half-foot of snow on the ground and the wind was howling. We had camped in my truck overnight, and it managed to stay pretty warm in there so it was difficult to get up the nerve to crawl out into the frozen winter wonderland that was Cape May Point. This was a totally new experience for me, I had never seen Cape May with snow and now there was a half-foot!

We drove over to Sunset Point quickly to see how the storm was affecting the Delaware Bay. On the way over, we drove past Lily Lake which had a nice assortment of waterfowl on it, and there were loads of passerines foraging in open patches of ground along the road. Among the more usual species were 3 Fox Sparrows. While scanning through the sparrows, I spotted our first American Woodcock of the day, hunkered down into the snow. Once we got to Sunset Point, there were huge waves crashing onto the beach and the wind was ripping. Despite the arctic conditions, scoters and Red-breasted Merganser were moving offshore. I jumped out of my car quickly to remove ice from the windshield wipers and when I was getting back in I noticed a Merlin perched next to us on a telephone wire! The determined falcon was clenching a bloody Sanderling in its talons. It was amazing to see how un-phased the birds seemed to be, happy to just go about their usual business. Meanwhile we hadn’t seen another human yet.

American Woodcock trying to keep warm at Cape May Point, and one of 18 we saw around the point on the 3rd. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

American Woodcock trying to keep warm at Cape May Point, and one of 18 we saw around the point on the 3rd. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Merlin with a Sanderling at Sunset Point (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Merlin with a Sanderling at Sunset Point (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

After grabbing some food of our own at Wawa, we parked at the Cape May Harbor along Delaware Ave and had breakfast. A few species of waterfowl were scattered around and a dozen Sanderlings and two Dunlin were foraging on the frozen rack line along the shore. We hurried back to Cape May Point to search for a few of our target species and see what else we could turn up in the cold.

Merlin with a Fox Sparrow (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Merlin with a Fox Sparrow (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

After parking along Harvard Ave near the dunes, we started to walk around from there – winding through the streets of Cape May Point. There had been a White-winged Dove seen almost daily, as well as the usual pair of Eurasian Collared-Doves. Additional rarities that we were on the lookout for included an immature male Painted Bunting, Northern Goshawk, Rufous Hummingbird, and various winter warblers. Ironically, the first of these that we were able to find was the hummingbird…guzzling sugar water for a few seconds and then shooting off into the wind. More American Woodcocks flushed from yards, sometimes clumsily flying into houses or fences. Mark spotted another Merlin, this one had a Fox Sparrow in its grip – the one problem with being the biggest and brightest sparrow in the area. Blackbirds were around in huge numbers, with many flocks stopping to devour seeds at feeders around the point.

Brown-headed Cowbird near a feeder at Cape May Point (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Brown-headed Cowbird near a feeder at Cape May Point (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Check out what interesting snowbirds we found at Cape May Point State Park at this link!