On October 22nd, the three of us got up extra early to make it over to the Higbee Beach SWA Morning Flight station. While we waited for the sun to rise, we could hear the flight calls of hundreds of birds and we all knew it could be an amazing morning, especially since it had been northwest winds all night. Sure enough, as the sun rose, thousands of Yellow-rumped Warblers and American Robins as well as a few other warbler species and Northern Flickers began flying past. Some birds were flying right between us as we stood only one or two feet apart from each other! We only stayed till 8:45am, but the morning flight counter, Tom Johnson, ended up counting 15,000 Yellow-rumped Warblers and 10,000 American Robins fly past! This made the morning of October 22nd the best morning flight day of the season so far! Other highlights from the morning flight were lots of Blue-headed Vireo, a Connecticut Warbler, lots of Brown Creepers, and an immature Red-headed Woodpecker. Sharp-shinned Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks were also loving their lives, with multiple individual accipiters around, chasing warblers and diving into trees full of flickers. The low angle of the early-morning sun made for some great photo opportunities of the birds in flight.
It was hard to leave the morning flight station, but we really wanted to be able to bird a few other spots while it was still early before we took our trip on the ‘Osprey’ at 10:30. We decided to go over the nearby Hidden Valley Ranch and walk around. Bird activity was high and we saw five warbler species and six sparrow species, including Vesper Sparrow which is a good sighting on Cape Island at this time of the year. Another great sighting was a Yellow-billed Cuckoo that was perched up in the early-morning sun trying to warm up, and allowed us to approach it within a few feet.
Our plan was to then take the ‘Osprey’ boat cruise out onto Jarvis Sound to get up-close looks at the famous Brown Booby. However, a private trip had gone out at 9:00, we had to wait till 1:30pm to go out. In the meantime we went over to the Cape May Hawkwatch, hoping to catch a glimpse of the dark juvenile Swainson’s Hawk that had apparently roosted on Cape Island and should get up and show itself at some point. We arrived just in time, in less than 15 minutes the Swainson’s Hawk appeared out of nowhere and was soaring directly over the hawk watch platform, allowing everyone present awesome looks. Obviously, Swainson’s Hawks are western raptors but every year a handful of them are seen at eastern hawk-watching sites. So far this year, Cape May has had four migrate past their site. Other raptors we saw during our time at the hawk watch included Broad-winged, Red-tailed, Red-shouldered, Osprey, Bald Eagle, American Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks, and both vultures.
We also searched for the reported Eurasian Wigeons at Bunker Pond, without success. However, when we went down to the beach to search for Lesser Black-backed Gulls, we were quickly rewarded with fantastic up-close looks at an adult.
Stay tuned for the next part of this series about my birding trip to Cape May!