We started our second day in Cape May at Star Diner, located in northern Wildwood. As we enjoyed a hearty breakfast, I scanned the rare bird alerts while we discussed our possible routes for the day. Excellent winter birds were being reported throughout the area and I was attempting to optimize our route, giving us the best opportunities for the most birds.
Our first stop, Stone Harbor, did not fail to please. Soon after arriving on the beach we spotted Horned Grebe, Western Sandpiper, and Ruddy Turnstone. Leaving the beach, I spent several minutes on a viewing platform that overlooks the marsh and got Northern Harrier, Willet, and American Oystercatcher.
As the morning progressed, clouds and fog began to form and it became increasingly difficult to identify the now-backlit shore birds as they flew overhead. We opted to drive to a marshy area known as Jake’s Landing. There had been several reports of Short-eared Owls in the area and I still need several of the owls for my Big Year. Searching the marsh with binoculars and a spotting scope, I had no luck spotting the owls. Sometimes, though, birding will provide you with amazing consolation prizes. Today, my big miss for owls turned into a huge find, a Northern Goshawk! Here’s where the hours in the field paid off! We were only able to watch the Goshawk for a couple minutes before it swooped down from its marshy perch and flew into nearby forest, but it was enough.
We birded on through the day, checking eBird rare bird alerts as we went, and tallied a Black-headed Gull feeding on a Delaware Bay sandbar in a steady rain and a Short-billed Dowitcher traveling in a large flock of Dunlin. I spent several minutes standing on a street corner waiting for an often-reported Western Tanager to make a brief appearance in the shrubs around a suburban home. Really. Sometimes, you just need to trust the reports and go for the bird!
The next day dawned gray and rainy, so we canceled a planned ride on the Cape May ferry to search for ocean-going birds. Instead, we drove to a cattle farm in central Ocean County to search for Sandhill Cranes. The farm owner was happy to tell us where his cranes could be found, and we drove straight to “their” field.
Thrilled with finding the Sandhill Cranes, we stopped for a relaxing lunch before the final drive home. Our birding weekend held on more surprise, a Ring-necked Pheasant standing next to our route home!
It was a great second week and my New Jersey Big Year tally now stands at 141 species! I was hoping for a quick start in January and, thus far, have not been disappointed. I missed several of my target birds this weekend, but stumbled upon others to take their place. That’s one of things I love about birding, you’ll never know what might be waiting for you around the next bend in the trail.
I have big plans for the coming weekend. Some amazing birds have been reported and I will be off again on the chase early Saturday morning.
Until then – good birding!