Every state has birding hot spots and New Jersey is no exception. While some NJ birding spots are essential visits during a specific season like spring or fall, a trip to Cape May means the potential for great birding anytime during the year.
And so I rose at 3:30 AM on Saturday (January 5th) for my trip. Cape May is nearly a two hour drive and I wanted to arrive in time for sunrise just before 7 AM. Arriving at Cape May Point State Park around 6:15, I headed out onto the beach to search for my first traget bird, a juvenile King Eider.
King Eider is a large sea duck that breeds along the Arctic coast of northern most Canada. Occasionally, small numbers of King Eider will make their way to the New Jersey shore, like this young duck found near a jetty adjacent to St. Mary’s retreat. One of the things I like most about birding is the wonder of how this animals make such long distance trips. This bird was no doubt hatched this year well north of the Arctic Circle and somehow found its way to Cape May.
Winter in Cape May can mean outstanding birding for winter finches and Saturday was no exception. By the end of the morning I had spotted Red Crossbill, White-winged Crossbill, and Pine Siskin. Birding is not restricted to the state park, as many of these excellent birds were found in trees along the streets adjancent to the park’s entrance. Large groups of birders were wandering to and fro, filling their own birding lists with great birds.
After a very successful morning of birding old Cape May, I headed for one of my favorite winter birding spots, Barnegat Lighthouse. Long jetties extend along both sides of the inlet at the lighthouse, and these rocky structures are a favorite wintertime gathering place for perhaps the most unusual and beautiful duck of them all – the Harlequin Duck.
These small colorful sea ducks breed near fast moving streams along Canada’s northern sea line and, in small numbers, over winter along the Jersey shore. Barnegat Lighthouse is the most reliable spot in New Jersey to see these beautiful creatures.
Tired from a long day of birding and even longer hikes through soft beach sand, I headed for home and a hot shower. Few days are as successful as this day had been, as I had seen over 80 species in an 8-hour period. Some were birds that I had spotted on other birding trips, but many were first-of-year birds too. Regardless of their status, all were great birds to observe.
Today (January 7th) is the end of the first week for my New Jersey Big Year. Tomorrow I will post an update on my progress.