Cape Cod Vacation: Race Point Beach

Hi friends! This past week, Dave and I went on an amazing vacation to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. We’ve vacationed at Cape Cod twice in the past with Dave’s family (Dave going many more times throughout his life), but these trips occurred before we were birders. Therefore, we were really excited to go back to see what we may have missed in the previous years.

During our recent visit to The Wetlands Institute, we purchased the Peterson Reference Guide to Seawatching: Eastern Waterbirds in Flight by Ken Behrens & Cameron Cox. According to the guide, Cape Cod is considered one of the top seawatching sites in North America. Many locations throughout the Cape are discussed in the seawatching book, including our first vacation spot, Provincetown.

Provincetown is located at the tip of Cape Cod, where Cape Cod Bay and the Atlantic Ocean meet. We spent our first morning exploring Race Point Beach, on the Atlantic side. Race Point Beach is part of the National Park Service’s Cape Cod National Seashore. (Side note: interestingly, on Thursday there was a shark dangerously close to the shore attacking a seal, causing Race Point Beach to be closed. Other areas along the cape have reported sharks really close to shore over the past day) 

Highlights from our trip (26 species):

  • 1000s of terns (including 2 lifers)!  Large mixed-species flocks that included Common, Least, Forster’s, Roseate, and Black Terns. The terns were varying ages/plumage and would frequently take flight and land again on the beach.
  • Common and Red-throated Loons. In New Jersey, we usually don’t see loons until the winter. One cool thing about traveling 7 hours North of where we live was seeing some of our winter visitors in their summer spots. The Red-throated Loons were juveniles, and one of the Common Loons was sitting on the beach for a bit. Loons are designed to be expert divers, so their feet look like little wedges sticking out behind their tail. Therefore, they are pretty awkward moving on land. To get back in the water, this loon would slowly shuffle until the water helped it back in.
  • Our first Great Shearwater. We saw a few throughout our walk.
  • Hundreds of Double-crested Cormorants (and lots of gulls of course lol)
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The Crew (Image by BirdNation)
  • Small groups of seals close to shore. The first time I’ve ever seen seals in the wild!
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Grey Seal (Image by David Horowitz)

 

  • Lots of shorebirds/”peeps”. Including Semipalmated Plovers, Sanderlings, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Willets, Greater Yellowlegs, Black-bellied Plovers, and Piping Plovers. The Piping Plovers were juveniles. We watched a few Semipalmated Plovers do what looked like some sort of dance or pair bond display.

 

Race Point Beach was an amazing birding spot and a great way to start our vacation. Our trip was really action-packed, so instead of telling you about it based on each day, I’m going to split up the posts into specific places we went. There’s just too much for one post :-)! So this post was just about our Monday morning. Stay tuned to hear about our cool evening at Skaket Beach!

 

 

Stone Harbor

Sunday we took a trip down to Stone Harbor, NJ. Stone Harbor Point is considered an Important Bird Area (IBA) by the Audubon Society and the surrounding area has many birding hotspots. We visited 3 areas on our Stone Harbor trip: the SH Bird Sanctuary, SH Point Beach, and The Wetlands Institute.

Our first stop was the 21-acre Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary. The sanctuary consists of maritime forests and meadows. The paths were relatively short and sometimes it was difficult to see what birds were around . We ended up seeing/hearing 15 species of birds in our short visit. There were a few Northern Mockingbirds, Gray Catbirds, some Osprey, and House Finches.

 

 

The second destination was Stone Harbor Point. This was actually our second trip to the Point. The last time we were at the Point was after seeing our first Red Knots at Fortescue Beach in May. At that point it was about to thunderstorm, so I was looking forward to seeing the Point in sunny weather. I definitely was not disappointed.

The beach was busy with a variety of shore and seabirds. Three Brown Pelicans and a few Ospreys soared above the waves. As with almost all beaches, there were many gulls, including Laughing, Herring, and Great Black-backed. Black Skimmers floated above a tide pool hunting for fish at a dizzying pace. There were also many terns in different stages of development. Least Terns (mainly adult but a few juvenile) dotted the sand near a tide pool. They looked like little wind-up toys as they shuffled along the beach with their tiny legs. There were a few Forster’s and Common Terns.  Two juvenile Common Terns squawked incessantly at a parent who seemed indifferent to their clamor. S/he eventually gave them some fish, but seemed to wonder when their annoying mainly-grown chicks would move out to a different patch of sand and start hunting for their own food 😂. I have to admit, all those terns really tested my identification skills. I’m not the best at terns, so it was challenging but definitely educational

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“FEED US!” (Image by BirdNation)

One of the most exciting parts of this trip was having the opportunity to observe a family of American Oystercatchers. (Last year we were lucky to see T2’s family on LBI, you can read about that here). This family had 5 oystercatchers and 4 out of 5 were banded. The adults were A58 and its unbanded mate; the chicks were A78, A79, and A80. I reported the banded birds to the American Oystercatcher Working Group, so I’m excited to learn their story. I’m assuming the chicks were hatched/tagged at Stone Harbor, but curious about A58.

Throughout our walk we kept seeing small groups of shorebirds zooming over the waves and beach. They all congregated at the end of the beach in a massive flock. It was a mixed flock of Sanderlings, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Red Knots, and Ruddy Turnstones with gulls interspersed. The shorebirds were also in various stages like the terns were, with many birds transitioning between breeding and nonbreeding plumage.

 

After our awesome walk at the Point, we visited The Wetlands Institute. The Wetlands Institute is an organization aiming to conserve coastal ecosystems as well as educate the public. You can view the beautiful marshland from their lecture hall as well as the observation tower and Salt Marsh trail. We saw at least 10 Ospreys, a Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egrets, and a Great Egret. “Terrapin Station” was all about terrapins and horseshoe crabs. “Secrets of the Salt Marsh” featured a small aquarium with the featured animal being a Common Octopus. Octopuses are fascinating and intelligent creatures. The octopus at the Institute was really cool; I could have watched it all day. The Wetlands Institute was a great way to end our birding excursion to Stone Harbor.

2017: A Year In Review

There’s something about the end of a calendar year that puts people in a reflective mood. Many people like to think back on the past year and establish goals for the future year.

2017 was a wonderful birding year for Dave and I. We went birding in 5 states, saw some cool rarities, and spent tons of time enjoying nature. So since it’s New Year’s Eve, I wanted to share my favorite birds and birding moments of 2017.

January: A Rare Experience

My mom, sister, and I observed a American White Pelican at the Jersey Shore on January 6th, a rarity at that time of year!

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American White Pelican (Image by BirdNation)

February: Great Backyard Bird Count

We had our most successful Great Backyard Bird Count so far, by observing 45 different species and over 5,000 individual birds in 4 days!

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Male Northern Shoveler (Image by David Horowitz)

March: Goodbye Winter

Our first Barnegat Light trip of 2017 included our first time seeing Red-breasted Mergansers at the lighthouse, our first ever Ipswich Savannah Sparrows, and a lone Black Skimmer!

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Red-breasted Merganser (Image by David Horowitz)

April: A Strawbridge Surprise

A surprise Pied-billed Grebe at Strawbridge Lake!

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Pied-billed Grebe (Image by BirdNation)

May: 

May was filled with tons of great birding moments! Some favorites included: our first Prairie Warbler and hearing a Barred Owl, going on vacation in Maryland and Delaware, and seeing our first Great Horned Owlet.

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Prairie Warbler (Image by David Horowitz)

June:

In June we got to reconnected with one of our favorite local celebrities, American Oystercatcher T2 of Barnegat Light, who had a family in tow. We also saw our first Northern Bobwhite and a Least Tern nest!

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Northern Bobwhite (Image by David Horowitz)

July

Three words: Double Day Trip!

Spotted Sandpiper
Spotted Sandpiper (Image by David Horowitz)

August

Surprise Rhode Island vacation!

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Sail Boats at Dusk (Image by BirdNation)

September

Wood Stork for our birthdays and our first American Birding Expo!

Wood Stork
Wood Stork (Image by David Horowitz)

October: Call of the Grackle

Our first Boat-tailed Grackles on our 9 year anniversary!

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Boat-tailed Grackle on sign (Image by BirdNation)

November: Island Beach State Park

Our first Northern Gannets and the return of winter visitors at Island Beach State Park! Also our first Short-eared Owl at Palmyra.

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Sanderling (Image by BirdNation)

December: A Snowy Christmas Eve

Our first ever Snowy Owl at Holgate!

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Snowy Owl (Image by David Horowitz)

We had a fantastic 2017! I’m looking forward to more amazing birding adventures in 2018. Happy New Year!

 

 

Nests and Surprise Guests

Hi friends! I received an update from the American Oystercatcher Working Group about T2, who we spotted for the second year in a row at Barnegat Light State Park. T2 was banded on Island Beach State Park (which is on the barrier island directly north of Long Beach Island). T2 was banded on September 19, 2007 and spends its winters in Cedar Key, Florida, which is about a 1,050 mile migration one-way from Barnegat Light. Pretty cool to get to know a bird personally, right?

This past Friday (June 16), Dave and I took a trip to Cape May. We spent some time at South Cape May Meadows (SCMM) and Cape May Point State Park (CMPSP).

SCMM and CMPSP actually connect through a path. We made our way through the meadow with the intent of taking this path, but it turns out it was closed off. The connecting path is right before entering the beach, so we decided to explore the beach instead. It turns out the path being closed was a good thing, because we had the opportunity to watch some nesting Least Terns.

Least Terns are the smallest of the North American Tern species, standing only at about 9 inches tall. In breeding plumage, Least Terns have unique bills because they are yellow with a black tip, as opposed to orange or black of other terns. Least Terns also have a white forehead and two dark primary feathers. There were a few pairs either sitting on eggs, flying around to get food for their mate, or some defending their nests. We watched one one breeding pair repeatedly dive bomb an American Oystercatcher pair, who quickly got the message that they weren’t welcome in that spot. It was the first time we had the chance to see any sort of nesting tern. They were fascinating to watch. If you look closely to the picture on the right of the tern standing, you can see its 2 speckled eggs behind the sticks.

Throughout our walk we kept seeing an Oystercatcher pair. Eventually we saw one of them sitting on their nest. We were observing this oystercatcher from a distance when its mate came from the other direction and walked right up to us. This Oystercatcher had bands which read M3. Before walking off Dave was able to get some good pictures of M3’s metal band, so I submitted a report about M3 to the Oystercatcher Working Group as well. M3 was banded on Avalon Beach, NJ on June 26, 2009. It migrates over 670 miles one way to spend the winters at Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina.

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American Oystercatcher M3

Other birds we saw at the Meadows included at least 8 Ospreys, Common Yellowthroats, Black Skimmers, a Willet, and Great Black-backed Gulls to name a few. We drove over to CMPSP to see what we would find there.

It was pretty quiet bird-wise at the Point since there were more people around. From the Hawk Watch platform we saw 20 Mute Swans (never saw that many at once!), Great Egrets, Canada Geese, Mallards, House Finches, and Red-winged Blackbirds. We were getting tired, so we decided we were only going to walk up the path a little bit then head back to the car. We didn’t expect to see too much.

On the way back, Dave paused. “Is that…a Bobwhite?”. I listened closely.

“poor- bob-WHITE!” 

Yep. Our ears weren’t playing tricks on us. It was a Northern Bobwhite. A Bobwhite is not quite who we expected to hear at the beach since they tend to live in forest or brushy habitats. Then I remembered that people were reporting Bobwhites here at the Point on the NJ Rare Bird List. Some people say they were released there, which is very likely. We started walking towards the sound when a cute, plump brown bird popped out from the grass.

The next moment made the whole trip for me. It ran right at us, stopped, and started making little mumbling sounds at us. It was adorable to watch it run around. It quickly ran back into the grass only to emerge onto a large sand pile a few moments later. Then its friend showed up on another sand pile and began to make the “bob-WHITE!” call. The original Bobwhite wasn’t too happy with the other’s appearance though, because it ran down the sand pile and waddled straight down the path until we couldn’t see it anymore (I couldn’t help but think of Forrest Gump, “Run, Bobwhite, Run!” hahaha :-P). The Bobwhites were really amusing, and a fun way to end our Cape May trip.

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Male Northern Bobwhite (Image by BirdNation)