Most of the Nemesis Bird team was in Cape May this past weekend for any overnight Paulagic trip, and some land-birding around southern New Jersey. Leica had loaned us Travis the Traveling Trinovid for the weekend, with the hopes that we might be able to pick up a few new birds for the binocular’s Big Year. By Sunday afternoon we still had a few targets left, mainly Saltmarsh Sparrow and Red Knot. From past trips to the area, we knew of the perfect spots to try: Stone Harbor Point for the Red Knot, and a drive through Nummy Island to look for the sparrow.
As soon as we crossed the toll bridge onto Nummy Island, Drew and Stefan pulled over to check out a dowitcher foraging in some puddles along the road. After watching the bird for a few minutes, we could tell it was a Long-billed Dowitcher because of the larger size, rounder body shape, and the shape of the bird’s head. Also the flat dark-gray feathers molting into the birds back are good indicators, as a molting juvenile Short-billed’s back feathers would be more likely edged in creamy-white and be a lighter shade of gray. As if to confirm that we knew what it was, the bird then let out a loud ‘keek’ which further sealed the deal for Long-billed Dowitcher. The dowitcher had a large gap in the feathers on its lower neck, and from some angles it looked like it was an open wound on the bird…maybe a close call with a Peregrine?
After moving on past the dowitcher, we spent about an hour birding our way down the 1 mile stretch of road. Highlights included 2 Tricolored Herons, 6 American Oystercatchers, and 5 Black-crowned Night-Herons roosting in the junipers near the east end of the road. Unfortunately, we didn’t find any Saltmarsh Sparrows. Right around the corner is Stone Harbor Point, and Mike and I knew of another sparrow spot that was also an alternate route to the point. We checked it briefly and heard a calling Clapper Rail but no sparrows. Drew and Stefan decided to walk that full route around and try harder for a Saltmarsh while the rest of us went directly to the beach to scout out shorebirds and hopefully pick up a Red Knot. Once we got out onto the beach, I couldn’t believe our luck when the very first shorebirds we saw were 3 Red Knots – 1 adult and 2 juveniles! Stone Harbor Point is almost always a reliable hotspot for finding Red Knots during fall migration, so I felt good about our odds before we got there but have never been able to find them to quickly and easily in the past. The knots were foraging in the sand, and running up and down with the waves like giant Sanderlings, but were surrounded by sailboats, dog walkers, and beach-goers. Before Drew could get there with the Trinovids, some people walking on the beach were headed right for the knots, and I was worried they were going to fly away since I never have luck with getting close to that species. Luckily, the birds were so focused on foraging that they just moved out around the walkers and didn’t flush!
After a few minutes of photographing the knots, a large flock of Sanderlings flew past and the knots took off and flew with them. They all landed further down the beach, so we walked down to scan through them. I walked around and got on the sunny side of the birds and then sat on the sand to try and get some photos. Three Western Sandpipers, a few Semipalmated Plovers, and over 100 Sanderlings foraged around me! After a while, people walking on the beach flushed the shorebirds further away, and we decided it was time to leave and head back home to PA.