On Wednesday, Dave and I made our way down to Cape May for the second time. We went to two locations: Cape May Point State Park and South Cape May Meadows. The two parks actually connect, so it was easy to explore both locations.
We arrived at Cape May Point mid-morning. It was in the low 4os, which to me is perfect winter birding weather. The first stop was the Hawk Watch platform, which I sometimes see listed on as a location on the NJ Rare bird list. No rare birds today, but the lake was full: Mute Swans, Mallards, Northern Shovelers, Hooded Mergansers, 2 Great Blue Herons, Double-crested Cormorants, Northern Pintails, Ruddy Ducks, Canada Geese, and even a male Gadwall (the first life list bird of the day).
There are a few small ponds that dot the trail. At one of them we found 4 Mallards swimming together. One looked a little unusual though. He had some Mallard features; such as the curly black tail and yellow bill, but he only had a partial green head and lacked the white neck ring. He clearly is some sort of hybrid, which is common among ducks. Upon further investigation on the Cornell Lab’s All About Birds website, I found that he may possibly be a Mallard and American Black Duck hybrid. This hybrid features darker plumage and a partially green head.
The next pond over was a small group of Bufflehead (who I just featured for Waterfowl Wednesday). Buffleheads tend to stay in small groups as opposed to large flocks. They were swimming closely together and sometimes would seem to dive at the same time. There were also 4 American Widgeons (life list bird #2). Males have white and green heads while females have gray-brown heads with a dark smudge around the eye. They kept going over to the 2 Mute Swans, almost swimming into them at times.
While watching the Widgeons and Buffleheads, a small gull flew overhead. It was a graceful and skillful flyer. Everyone once in awhile it would dive down to the water, and just as easily maneuver its way back into the air. I finally got a good look at it, and it wasn’t our usual gull: it was a non-breeding Bonaparte’s Gull (life list #3)! It had a small black dot on each side of its head. This gull was a 1st winter Bonaparte’s. It had black wing tips and narrow dark patches on its upper wings. He gave us a pretty cool flight show, before flying off to a new pond. We continued on our way to the connector of the Point and South Cape May Meadows.
We didn’t spend too much time in the Meadows, but we did get to explore some of the same ponds that we saw on our last Cape May trip. As expected there were large flocks of waterfowl: Mallards, Shovelers, Pintails, Ruddys, Buffleheads, and more Swans. The was a species that we didn’t expect to see: Tree Swallows. I though they would all be gone by this point, but there were a decent amount of them flying over the pond. There were also a large number of Turkey Vultures. They found a carcass of a gull, so they were having a feast across the pond. We did find one other gull at this pond: over on the side we were on. He looked pretty worn and a little chubby. I’m not sure what kind of gull it was, but we joked that maybe he looked kind of sad because his friend was being eaten by vultures.
As we were listening to some Carolina Wrens sing, a flock of quick, small birds flew into nearby trees. It was a flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers. They were eating little white berries. They were quick, but Dave ended up getting a really great picture of one.
We didn’t see anything new on the trip back to the car, but we saw a nice variety of species on our trip. It has been a great month for waterfowl: we added 6 new species to our life list over the past couple of weeks. I’m glad we had a chance to return to Cape May for some winter birding. I hope to visit Cape May again for the spring migration.
Have you gone winter birding yet? If you have tell me about it in the comments.