Saturday, March 17, 2018

Welcome David Brown to the Montclair Hawkwatch

With temperatures slowly climbing and the days getting longer, spring raptor migration is underway. For the 36th consecutive year, a Spring Hawkwatch is being conducted at the Mills Reservation on Edgecliff Rd. in Montclair, NJ - every day until May 15 (9:00 am - 5:00 pm).

New Jersey Audubon is pleased to announce and welcome this year's counter - David Brown:

David hails from Montoursville, PA. He is on the board of directors of the Lycoming Audubon Society. His local hawkwatch is the Route 15 Overlook. Last fall he was the counter at the Ashland Hawkwatch in Delaware. David has a degree in mathematics from Lycoming College. Outside of birding, he enjoys photography and playing guitar.

He is already counting and totaled 16 raptors on his first day (March 16th), including Turkey Vultures, Cooper's Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks, and a Red-shouldered Hawk. You'll be able to follow along as we live stream the count on our website -  Live Data through Trektellen (check back if it's not up and running yet), or check the whole season at under Montclair - Hawkwatch. Better yet, please stop by and make him feel welcome and share in the joy of hawkwatching!!!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

GULLS SIMPLIFIED with Michael O'Brien - March 31

From the brown and mottled to the clean and gray, you either love gulls or you don't. Whatever camp you're in, join Michael O'Brien on this School of Birding workshop for a morning in the field, learning the easy way to separate the common wintering gulls from the less common and even rare, such as a Iceland Gull. You'll also learn to cut through the fancy terminology around age and molt. After lunch, you'll head indoors for a review of gull plumages, aging, and rare species. By the end, you're sure to love gulls, too. Preregistration required.

Saturday, March 31
8:00 am - 4:30 pm
$90 members, $120 nonmembers

Register now at: CMBO Programs

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Watching the sea in spring

March 1st was the kickoff for the newest migration count in Cape May, dubbed "Springwatch". This all-volunteer count has been going on for a few years but over the last three has become more regularly carried out on a daily basis between March and June.

Last year New Jersey Audubon's Cape May Bird Observatory was able to house several volunteer counters for the Springwatch, and this year we've gone a step further and offered some administrative support in addition to housing, for facilitating those who are willing to come and put in a few days to a few weeks of counting. The count continues to be led by Tom Reed, Cape May Co. native and author of the birding year in review for our annual journal, the Peregrine Observer. Tom has been splitting his time between Cape May and Duluth, MN, and has recently returned to carry out the spring count. You can track the movement of birds each day on the site (today's count is here:, or just show up to the Coral Avenue dune crossover any day between now and the end of May. The count begins at sunrise and continues for a minimum of 3 hours. The count may continue longer if the flight warrants it, and on rainy days the count is moved to the sheltered side of the Sunset Grille at the west end of Sunset Boulevard.

I had the pleasure of being the counter last Saturday morning and really enjoyed the diversity of birds that graced my view over the three hours, despite the overall low volume (winds howling out of the NW are not conducive to large flights in spring!). I especially enjoy watching the Bonaparte's Gulls (Chroicocephalus philadelphia ; Ord 1815) and their distinct flutter-flight, so buoyant in the air, and distinctly marked with a bright white wedge on the leading edge of their wing. I didn't have a chance to photograph birds while I was counting, so I headed out to Sunset Beach this morning to see if I could grab a few shots. The conditions were less than favorable (cloudy and rainy) but the birds were close to shore and putting on a show as they fed in the tumultuous whitewater.
Bonaparte's Gull with headlights on and coming in hot!
Three "Bonies" with a 1st-winter bird leading the two adults
Bonaparte's are a "two-year gull" meaning it takes two years for them to reach adult plumage. At this time of year all Bonaparte's are in winter plumage, sporting a white head with dark ear spot and black bill. Legs are bubblegum pink and obvious when the birds are standing on the beach. Birds born last summer have bold dark markings on the upper sides of their wings, as well as the tip of their tail, making them easily recognizable as "1st winter" birds (this is their first winter since they were born). Adult birds, in contrast, show clean gray backs and all-white tails.

Unique among gulls, Bonaparte's Gull nest almost exclusively in trees within the remote taiga and boreal forests of Canada and Alaska. Lucky for us, in winter they can be quite social and indifferent to humans, providing great opportunities to view them near shore especially along the Delaware Bay!

Another really cool sighting which occurred yesterday and continued again this morning, was of a Thick-billed Murre swimming close to shore both mornings. Dustin Welch captured a few shots of this uncommon-from-shore seabird yesterday when it was initially found by the Springwatch counters. Here's one of Dustin's great photos:

Thick-billed Murre © Dustin Welch
Of course as we progress into spring we will see diversity begin to ramp up quite quickly, so if you'd like to check out some of the great birds Cape May has to offer be sure to join us on one of our guided walks, attend one of our School of Birding workshops, or get a personal tour with our guide-for-hire service.

All the info you need is in our quarterly program guide, the Kestrel Express, downloadable here:
Or free to pick up at our Northwood Center, 701 E. Lake Drive.

We hope to see you soon here in Cape May!

A winter-plumaged Red-throated Loon from Sunset Beach
Red-breasted Merganser, the punk rock duck!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018


Each year the dance or nuptial flight of the male American Woodcock heralds spring. Witness this wonderful and short-lived spring phenomenon. Join Associate Naturalists Janet Crawford and Karen Johnson at the Center for Research and Education for a brief indoor session, then travel to a nearby woodcock hotspot to experience it yourself. Preregistration required.
Saturday, March 17
5:00 - 7:00 PM
$15 members, $20 nonmembers

Register now at: CMBO Programs

And the 2018 LAGU Award goes to...

Tom Johnson!

Congrats to Tom for finding the first Laughing Gull (LAGU) of 2018 (found on February 26th, at the Cape May / Lewes Ferry Terminal), an annual tradition that typically occurs around the first week of March, and has local birders calling from the hills: “bring on the spring migrants!”

Tom Johnson's Laughing Gull on February 26th

March 1 was also the kickoff of the volunteer-based visible migration count dubbed “Springwatch” which takes place daily from the Coral Avenue Dune Crossover on Cape May Point starting at sunrise and continuing for at least 3 hours depending on flight volume. Come visit our volunteer counters at your leisure, or contact Program Director Brett Ewald (brett.ewald AT to inquire about becoming a volunteer counter. You can also follow along on to see what's being spotted each morning.

Good Birding!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Iridescent Cacophony

We're in the transition between winter and spring, when gregarious blackbird flocks continually descend on the feeders at the Northwood Center and the trees are full of metallic calls, guttural gurgles, and a variety of whistles. Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) are one of the most common icterids in Cape May right now, along with Red-winged Blackbirds and a smaller number of Rusty Blackbirds.
"purple" Common Grackle perched above the Ryan De Witt Memorial Trail at the Northwood Center
Common Grackles come in three "flavors": purple, bronze and the southeastern subspecies colloquially refereed to as the "Florida Grackle" despite breeding from North Carolina to Louisiana. In Cape May we can get both the purple (Quiscalus quiscula stonei ; Chapman, 1935; Named for Dr. Witmer Stone, author of Bird Studies at Old Cape May - thanks to Scott McConnell for pointing this out!) and the bronze (Q. q. versicolor ; Vieillot, 1819) subspecies, as the bronze is most migratory and passes over the range of both the purple and "Florida" subspecies. Currently the flock behind Northwood has been dominated by the purple subspecies which breed south of Southeast New York, and east of the Appalachians down to Alabama and central Louisiana. Keep an eye out, though, as the bronze birds continue to pass through on their return migration and get mixed up in these big blackbird flocks over the next few weeks!
"purple" Common Grackle at the Northwood feeder

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Have Fun Helping Us Count!!! The Great Backyard Bird Count - February 17

Come one, come all - and help us count some birds!!! CMBO is pleased to once again host a Great Backyard Bird Count Event - taking place this Saturday, February 17th at the Northwood Center in Cape May Point (701 East Lake Dr.). Join Pete Dunne and Associate Naturalist on hourly "walks" - counting all the birds we see at the feeders, trails behind the building, and on Lake Lily across the street. Counts are scheduled for 10 am, 11 am, 1 pm, 2 pm, and 3 pm, but show up any time and take part. Let's see who can come up with the most species or the most individuals of a certain species - all of our counts will be submitted to the official online count. A great chance to learn more about wintering birds. Most of all, lets' have some fun!!