Report written by Jonathan Wasse (jcwassebirding.com/birdsamerica11_NJ)
WSB 2011: Saturday 14 May 2011
23:00 Friday night – let’s get the show on the road. Nick and I set off from EHT, picked up our vehicle for the race and headed to our starting point – Cedar Swamp Marsh just south of Tuckahoe. We met up with team mates Bob and Shmuel at the bridge, quickly discussed the logistics for the hours of darkness and got into position listening for what the marsh would have to offer from midnight. Birding locations and highlights summarised below. Please click here to view a “Google Map” of our route and click here to view a pdf showing where all the species were seen/heard on the day.
Spot on 00:00 a Chuck-will’s-Widow sang from distant woodlands. It was good that there was no wind at this time. The marsh was disappointing a Sora called briefly but eagle-eyed Shmuel spotted a Great Horned Owl perched on a snag. We left at 00:40 and drove to nearby Tuckahoe Marshes. At this site singing Swamp Sparrow was noteworthy. Not the greatest of starts for marshland birds. After a detour to transfer Bob and Shmuel to one car, we went to Jakes Landing Road. Several teams were here during the period of our visit (02:20-03:20) Calling Clapper and Virginia Rails were soon added to the list and duetting Great Horned Owls were noteworthy.!
The next four hours saw us cover Belleplain State Forest. Whip-poor-will wre heard alongside Pine Swamp Road and Barred Owl called from deep within the woods heard from the guard rail of Savages Bridge Road. We aimed to be at Sumner Avenue (east) for dawn and spent an hour collecting lots of singing birds. Highlights included the staked out Eastern Meadowlarks, Grasshopper Sparrow and Brown Thrasher, which can be surprisingly tricky on WSB day! A brief stop at Sumner Avenue (west) added more species typical of the area including Eastern Phoebe. En route to the Headquarters an Acadian Flycatcher called from the “Lake Nummy crossroads”. The HQ and nearby Lake Nummy produced about 10 new species, but we were struggling for Summer Tanager which seemed to be everywhere in the week leading up to the event. The “guard rail” south of the “crossroads” mentioned above held both singing Summer and Scarlet Tanagers as well as a calling White-breasted Nuthatach. A Broad-winged Hawk whizzed by. Sunset Bridge and nearby triangle was very productive for specialist breeding birds, highlights including Kentucky and Hooded Warblers, the Louisiana Waterthrushes and a Yellow-breasted Chat nearby. heading south-west out of Belleplain along Tom Field Road saw us connect with Prothonotary and Pine Warblers and the hidden lake held a regal adult Bald Eagle perched at the top of a tree – a view that would in normal circumstance demand more than a 5 seconds look.
To one of my favourite place, the Eldora triangle of Lehner Road/Paper Mill Road/Pickle factory Pond in the north-west of Cape May county. We studied this area for just under one hour from 07:50. Highlights included Horned Lark and the masses of waders in the fields – dominated by Semipalmated sandpipers and Plovers. Right on the boundary a brilliant look at Prothonotary Warbler was had and a Northern Flicker perched on a dead tree.
Stipson’s Island Road did not yield Willow Flycatcher as last year and the White-crowned Sparrow had moved on. Highlights included both Yellowlegs species, American Black Duck out of the way and Northern Harrier. Next stop saw us taking in the similar habitat of Jakes Landing Road. Nothing new on the marsh, but a trail on the edge of woodland produced a Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Blue Jay. En route we connected with American Black Vulture.
Now, we must visit a very important location – yes, you’ve guessed it, tis the nearby Wawa on Route 47 in Dennis Twp. After a reasonable amount of time, it was back en route taking in Beaver Swamp and CMBO (Goshen). The former bagged us Wood Duck, a drake sitting on/glued to the nest box, and Forster’s Tern, whereas the latter didn’t disappoint. At CMBO (Goshen) the reliable Ruby-throated Hummingbird was very reliable and Cedar Waxwings sat in the same bush, with a House Wren in song nearby.
Decision time. How many of the beaches along the Delaware Bayshore should we check out? I proposed to chance just one, Cook’s Beach, a location that I had not scouted so it was a gamble, but I had heard good things of it. A stroke of luck or a choice of a genius? I’ll let you decide. The waders here were amazing, the highlight of the trip for me. Plenty of Knot, Sanderling, Turnstone and Dunlin, with new species noted including Least Sandpiper, American Oystercatcher and several Ring-billed Gulls. Since we got the latter we decided to go to the Atlantic coast side via Tamerlane campground. To ensure good relations we did not enter the campground but viewed the trees from the perimeter fence. The Red-headed Woodpeckers did not sho, had they been displaced by Red-bellied Woodpeckers that were present in the same tree? We were disappointed, but a highlight was a singing male Baltimore Oriole in the treetops. This was the only one of the trip for me and was a species proving elusive to several teams during the scouting week.
Off to Sea Isle City area and from the Boulevard just west of the town the Pergrine showed well and a Great Blue Heron was present by the road – a very tricky bird for Cape May County on WSB day! Seawatching off Sea Isle City produced the flock of 12 Eider and Surf Scoters. Purple Sandpipers joined other waders on the beach/jetties and Gannet were noted offshore. We left the site at 12:45 and made our way down the Atlantic coast.
Fame at last? Prior to WSB Nick had been contacted by a TV company from Philadelphia who were filming the birdrace. They joined us along this stretch for an hour or so, and the “Elder Statesman” of the team gave an interview on the team’s behalf. Hope the TV crew got some excellent footage of an adult Yellow-crowned Night Heron as it was on our side of the channel across from the heronry at Avalon 34th Street. Watch this space: I will post more details of the filming when information becomes available. Other highlights on the Atlantic marshes included Little Blue Heron and Brant (pale-bellied Brent Geese) at Townsend’s Inlet, Whimbrel and Tricoolured Heron at Scotch Bonnet Marina with Nummy’s Island hosting Black-crowned Night Heron in the roadside trees and a Great Northern Diver noted in the channel. One of the stops before crossing over on to Cape Island saw us connect with a drake Bufflehead and Spotted Sandpiper at Sunset Lake, Wildwood. Our tally was ticking over, including sightings of Red-breasted Merganser, Green Heron and Common Terns at the nearby Coastguard Ponds.
We arrived on the island around about 16:00 and headed for the Magnesite Plant. At Pond Creek Marsh Least Tern was added to the list and literally appearing out of nowhere the Pied-billed Grebe delighted its four observers.
Birding around Cape May Point produced Black Scoter at the Concrete Ship, but nearby CMBO (Northwood) didn’t yield any lingering winter birds. However, a singing but distant Yellow-breasted Chat was unusual at this location. Cape May Point State Park proved reliable for Northern Rough-winged Swallow and Gadwall and a visit to the nearby Cape May Meadows saw us collect our last birds of the birdrace – Common Moorhen, Bank Swallow (Sand Martin), Piping Plover and Yellow-rumped Warbler.
With fatigue very much setting in, we called it a day at around sunset and headed off to the finishing for a well deserved bite to eat. It’s fair to say that at the time we were disappointed with our total but it must be said that it was a poor day for migration and this affected all teams. We shouldn’t feel bad as the winning team for Cape May County recorded only 163 species – the hard to see migrants affecting all. Nevertheless, fatigue aside, we did have a good time and the planning of the route and schedule worked out very well indeed.
A big thank you to everyone who sponsored me, £290 raised so far £100 to CMBO and £190 to BBC Children in Need.
Well done to team 1000birds.com, especially to Nick for sorting out the transport for the day and formulating the schedule. Another fantastic effort!