James Orrico and I set out for Cape May, mid-morning, Thursday. I had many year ticks I was looking for as was he, and after missing the spring weekend because of this lousy treatment, we felt this to be a good chance to get down to Cape May. Our first stop upon arrival was the Northwood Center where we talked optics and had a few laughs with our good friend Mike Crewe. Then it was off to Reed’s Beach to witness the spectacular congregations of birds gathering to feed on horseshoe crab eggs. No late Red Knots and hardly any shorbs but Laughing Gulls were everywhere!
Before going back to the hotel, we decided to take a stab at my biggest nemesis bird I’ve ever had: Blue Grosbeak. Blue Gros’s breed commonly at Higbee Beach and Hidden Valley and Mike had a spot at the valley where they were almost guaranteed. We walked through tick infested grasses out to the spot and waited. And waited some more, oh there’s a nice male Orchard Oriole. And waited. Finally just when we were about to leave, I decided to call him in. Next thing we knew, we were looking at a beautiful adult male Blue Grosbeak, what a bird!!
We woke early and made our way onto the ferry for a ride to Delaware, excited for the prospects of birding that day held. It also presented an exciting pelagic opportunity. 20 Common Dolphin were spotted on the way out of Cape May, and soon a young Northern Gannet flew over the boat. Later, as we moved into DE waters, I took a rest and of course once I stood up, I located a jaegar sp. off the end of the boat. I totally missed IDing it because I took one break. One blurry shot was taken but it does not help with ID whatsoever. Darn.
As we entered port in DE 15 Bottlenose Dolphin circled the boat. A cool experience to have both Dolphin sp. on the ride. Once docked, we headed down the road to Cape Henelopen SP. There we nailed a flock of 15 “rubber duckying” Brown-headed Nuthatches and later had one at the feeder. This is a favorite species of mine both for their silly call and their antics as much as habitat and plumage. One of my favorite birds!
Next stop was Bombay Hook NWR for Black-necked Stilt. Bombay Hook is known for it’s incredible concentrations of Snow and Ross’s Geese but probably less for it’s concentrations of biting flies. And we were battling the bugs here. Fortunately we were able to see three beautiful Black-necked Stilt but the flies ensured that’s the only year bird I saw. However, we did witness some cool behavior including a Red-winged Blackbird chasing a Great Egret and 70 Great Egrets and Glossy Ibises hunting in the dense grass. That’s one great thing about Bombay Hook and Brigantine, you can enjoy the birds without leaving the comfort of your car and getting eaten alive!
We left Bombay Hook and got back to the ferry just as they were boarding! The ride back was uneventful but once we arrived back at the hotel the tables turned. In short I had a tick attached to me, probably from wandering through the pinelands with the nuthatches. More about this later.
Day 3 started with a bang just like Day 2 ended. We were pulling out of a CVS in Cape May to drop off my Lyme disease preventing antibiotic when we hit a concrete divider. We managed to get the car stuck, one side on one side of the divider, the other on the other. We had to rescue the car and in turn cracked something underneath. Fluid started leaking out and, long story short had to call a tow truck and had to spend more than half our most bird-packed birding day at an Audi dealership.
Once, we got the car out we looked out our options. We were in the Atlantic City area and would be stupid not to take advantage of our closeness to Brigantine NWR, a spot we’ve spent a lot of time at over our past three trips to Cape May. We turned the car East and headed to Brig.
Brigantine is one of the most incredible birding spots I’ve ever been to. It has a 12 mile auto route right into the saltmarsh and packs incredible birding with amazing scenery. When we arrived we were greeted by singing Marsh Wrens and Common Yellowthroats. Calling Willets flew over every so often while Clapper Rails called in the marsh. The tide was very high and I noted that I may just get a good look at a rail. Continuing on, I was scoping the shorbs when, a medium-sized tern flew over, my life Gull-billed Tern!!! I was so happy to see this bird, I jumped for joy. Over the next several miles I got great flyover looks at Gull-billeds showing their most graceful and beautiful flight. Finally, at a bridge, I’ve always found great for feeding terns I got the most incredible look at a Gull-billed Tern foraging. The strong winds coupled with the birds beautiful flight made for a hell of a show!!
The larger black bill contrasted so well with the beautiful black cap. What a bird!! A few miles further I noticed a bird swimming in the water that seemed very out of place. A rail! I jumped out into the high winds and the door almost slammed back on me. However myself coupled with a low-flying Laughing Gull spooked my first seen Clapper Rail ever into the grass but not before I got a photo.
A beautiful skimming Black Skimmer (say that 5 times fast!) ended a great trip to Brig. Brigantine ended the birding for the trip and helped us realize that we can get up from the punches when WE want to. It showed us that there is no birding immortality but oh well, I guess mortality will suffice.
To say the least a very interesting trip filled with guts, drama, awesome places and many great birds along the way.
Good Birding To All!