Monday, October 09, 2006

An afternoon in Cape May

Yesterday's weather was gorgeous and I had just a few hours to wander around with my binoculars and camera. I arrived too late to see the Sandhill Crane (what is that doing on the East coast?) that went by the hawkwatch (pictured above), but I did get to see plenty of sharpies, a harrier or two, a few merlins, and two young bald eagles. The birds stream by overhead and disappear past the lighthouse and Delaware Bay to the south.
In addition to migrating hawks, yellow-rumps and tree swallows were everywhere, as were the monarchs. The goldenrod in the dunes surrounding Cape May Point State Park was covered with them. Dragonflies were also on the move yesterday, Black Saddlebags being the most visible.
One of my favorite places in Cape May are the fields and wet woods of Hidden Valley. Often I'm alone in my wanderings there and rather than watching the hawks swirling high overhead, can see them here hunting the migrant flocks of flickers and warblers and sparrows. They say that many of the hawks that fly past the lighthouse don't necessarily head out over the bay immediately, instead they *circle back* and cross somewhere else. Hidden Valley and Higbee Beach provide the habitat and birds that fuel their journey. Pictured above is one of a few banding stations around Cape May where they lure in migrants to trap and band them. They were set up in the adjacent field and I spent a good deal of time peering over the hedgerow to see what they tempted into their nets.
I wasn't able to decide if what I was seeing at the top of that pole in this really poor pic was a real bird or not. Its head moved like a real bird, but I couldn't fugire out why a hawk would spend so much time so close to the banding station and the mist nets. I know sometimes a fake owl is used to lure hawks at a hawkwatch site, but not if they're ever used that way at a banding set-up. Maybe Laura O. knows? At one point there was a bald eagle overhead and I was hoping it might come in for a closer look at the bait, but it didn't.
Each step along the shrubby fields kicked up grasshoppers and small flocks of sparrows ahead of me. Monarchs and honey bees fed in the wildflowers and impossible-to-identify warblers teased me with their scolding notes. Buckeyes led the way along the path, flitting from patch to patch in the sunlight. I often hear Barred Owls calling from the woods here, but yesterday they were quiet.
My last stop for the afternoon was The Meadows just north of the lighthouse. The water levels were really high, so any hopes for lingering shorebirds (not that I could ID them anyway) were lost. The ponds had an awful lot of Mute Swans and many mallards. I also imagined a few Gadwall. The highlight there was a snowy egret doing its crazy dance as it hunted - such comical birds. I love to visit Cape May, but hate to leave. The weather in late September and early October is perfect and the crowds are gone from the beaches. I left around 5 pm, expecting an easy 2 hour drive home, but instead didn't get in until nearly 9. Like any good trip to South Jersey, it had to end with an hour and a half traffic jam on the parkway because of an accident. A lousy end to an otherwise beautiful day.


bunnygirl said...

Your pictures are so lovely! You're making me really regret not getting up to the northeast this year!

Susan Gets Native said...

Wow, wow and wow.
A great bird day! I have probably said it before, but you are one lucky chick to live where you do!

Lynne said...

Wow Laura, beautiful pictures and it sounds like a perfect day!

HAHA!! Your word verification is eggnar!!! HAHAHA!!!

Ruth said...

Lovely photos! The mornings here are mostly silent as the majority our songbirds have gone south. Our mountain ash tree is full of robins this weekend, but they will go soon as well. I really should carry binoculars, as well as my camera when I walk, but then, the dog scares the small birds away before I see them. You inspire me to be more observant.

bunnygirl said...

Hi, Laura! Regarding the post you left on my blog, I used the "Fresco" style under "Filters," "Artistic."

In some cases I have to go back in and do little touch-ups to the photos I run through the filters, but in the case of the bunny pic you liked, everything went fine on the first try.

I'm getting totally hooked on Photoshop...

Dave said...

You had a busy day. We've been busy picking Mt Ash Berries for the birds that spend the winter at the clinic that usually migrate (waxwings, etc).

vicki said...

Laura- these are beautiful photos. I had no idea, since this is a first visit to your place here, that I would be stopped in my tracks at the first post I read. I love Cape May- and so did my father, which is why we scattered his ashes there. That was a dozen years ago and I've been back twice to visit. It's about as peaceful a day as one can imagine.

Reading this made me think about him and then about the Sand Hill Cranes that whooped it up in the marsh grass near Wit's End, our Michigan cottage.

And reading further, I reminisced about Selma Busynose, our giant Flemish rabbit we had for her lifetime.

And the field guides...hmmm...maybe we were separated at birth? This feels like one of those very nice happenstance connections. Thanks for coming by. For you, I will post some wind- tomorrow or Thursday-promise.

Floridacracker said...

I have to tell you, you are changing my image of NJ. I've always pictured it as concrete and smokestacks.
I didn't realize it was this pretty.

Michelle said...

Sounds and looks like a wonderful day!

Michelle said...

Sounds and looks like a wonderful day!

LauraHinNJ said...

Michelle: It was. When I'm old and rich I'm going to retire to Cape May!

FC: There's that too, but not in my pics. ;-) Guess I'm lucky not to live in an urban area, but even in those places there is beauty, I think, if you go looking for it.

Vicki: I look forward to your wind pics! Glad you found something here to bring pleasant thoughts.

Dave: That sounds like fun, too! How cold is it already in Alaska?

Ruth: Glad you liked the pics. I find that a dog is a good excuse to get out, oftentimes I bring Buddy along just to have company and so that I won't appear to be wandering quite so aimlessly.

Lynne: Those word things were nutty last night! Sometimes I make a mistake *on purpose* just to get an easier one!

Susan: Come visit!

Bunnygirl: Ditto! Bring Tidbit!

birdchick said...

The bird shape looks like a hawk but it could also be one of those fake owls that has a mobile head (for more realism).

Sometimes hawks will come in and watch the bait trying to assess the situation. They will sit for a long time--usually scaring away other passing raptors in the process.

We once had a first year goshawk fly into the nets six times in a row trying to get the bait pigeon--even after it had been banded and released. The young hawk just didn't understand that it was not going to get the pigeon. After the sixth time we drove it a mile away and released it.

I'm coming to Cape May at the end of the month, sorry I missed you being there.


LauraO said...

Coming in late here, but just wanted to say great pictures and writing. I don't know about Sandhills in NJ, but we sure had a load of them in Florida when I lived there.

LauraHinNJ said...

Thanks, Birdchick!

Laura: I've never seen one. I think there a few that are seen in the winter out west of where I live, but I haven't made it out to look for them yet.

Mary Ann said...

I love the butterflies and goldenrod picture.

This summer I heard (but did not see) a Sandhill Crane on our beaver pond for the first time ever. George Archbald from the International Crane Foundation tells me they are now nesting at nearby Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. Check out my October 12 post about George and the ICF. Follow the link to ICF to read more about Sandhill Cranes and others.

LauraHinNJ said...

Thanks for the link Mary Ann - had no idea they nested in NY.