College Town, Week Seven Pics (with bonus New Jersey!)

Here's how birders differ from other people: we take New Jersey seriously.

Thanks to a series of geographical features unappreciated by the layman, the Garden State's south end fills with extraordinary concentrations of amazing birds every spring and fall. And, as our Spring Field Ornithology course happened to fall astride of the spring migration, our seventh weekend outing was an overnight trip to Cape May, the birding capital of the state (and, arguably, the country).

But before we left, a few other interesting things turned up.

100_4211.JPGA strangely Japanese pic of Cayuga Lake from Stuart Park. No, that's not really a Shinto gate.

100_4216.JPGThe fog was thick for a couple of days last week, peaking on Wednesday with this remarkable misty view from the Sapsucker Lounge.

100_4219.JPGOut in the forest near the CLO stands this sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy, entitled Sapsucker Cairn. It's a surprising and very cool mix of the artistic and the organic.

100_4228.JPGLuckily, the weather got better on Thursday, May 5th, as the willows of Stuart Park and the sky above them demonstrate.

100_4231.JPGThursday was also the day I spotted this handsome Blue-gray Gnatcatcher hopping around the flooded woodland at Stuart Park.

100_4234.JPGThe flooding didn't bother this beaver one bit. He went right under my spot on the pedestrian bridge, giving me this up-close look at his nose and its peculiar reflection.

100_4237.JPGBut finally, early on Saturday, May 7th, we met at the Lab, piled onto our charter bus, and headed off for Cape May, 56 strong (including our instructor, Steve Kress, and our four group leaders). First stop: the picnic tables at Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge for a sack lunch. Then we tucked our pants in our socks for tick protection, split into groups of about ten birders each, and spread out into the reserve. I took my Alpen scope (foreground left) and went with sparrow expert Wes Hochachka, who helped me get a Seaside Sparrow (my first) and a Brant (also a lifer.)

100_4243.JPGOne highlight of the trip was this freshwater lake where we saw herons aplenty--Little Blue, Black-crown, Yellow-crown, Great Egret, and Snowy Egret--and logged a big flock of Glossy Ibis as well.

100_4245.JPGThe strangest part of the landscape is that you're standing in an immense flatland of marsh, with separate pools of fresh, brackish, and salt water, full of shorebirds, gulls, terns, geese, ducks, raptors, and more diamondback terrapins than I've ever imagined seeing at once... and looming over the whole thing, down to the south, are the towers of Atlantic City.

After leaving Forsythe, we dined at Yesterdays restaurant in Ocean City, then gathered behind the parking lot after supper to get two more birds, both lifers for me: the secretive Clapper Rail (which I spotted down by a saltmarsh creek), and the long-distance migrant Wilson's Phalarope, which birding sage Dave Nutter spotted out in the marsh just before we'd all settled back on the bus.

100_4252.JPGWe spent the night in the town of Wildwoods, a boardwalk-centered municipality which that night featured an antique car show. Our sleep was therefore punctuated with revving engines, booming stereos, and one seemingly knock-down drag-out fight, which might have begun in one of the two strip clubs across from the hotel. Naturally, we were all up at 5:30 to bird in the shadow of the midway.

100_4277.JPGWe didn't see much on the beach, other than the Laughing Gulls and Sanderlings above, but the sunrise was pretty awesome.

Then it was off to Higbee's Beach, where I just plain forgot to take out my camera, but we logged another lifer (Purple Sandpiper), plus a Yellow-breasted Chat, a White-eyed vireo, and a pair of Blue Grosbeaks.

100_4282.JPGWe stopped for lunch (and about an hour of beach birding) at Cape May point, getting Piping Plovers and Least terns, plus the improbable combination of shapes and colors that is the American Oystercatcher.

Our last stop, at Belleplaine State Forest, was a bit disappointing--it was late in the day, and our group managed to miss seeing all the cool birds except the Scarlet Tanager, but still, it was an impressive weekend. I personally logged five life birds, 22 firsts for 2011, and 105 species. The class as a whole saw 143 species over two days, and we had a wonderful time getting to know each other and continue our development into self-confident and capable birders. Also, for the first time ever, I was able to log onto the internet from a moving bus. As Kelly says, "It's so cool living in the future!"

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on May 9, 2011 1:43 PM.

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