Ok, we are back to normal programming, and I am back to not being shutout!
So after not seeing any new birds the previous week, despite desperately searching for both local cuckoos, I knew I had to change tactics. And by "change tactics" I meant "take another weekend trip down to Cape May"! Oh, let me tell you, Independence Day is not the time to go to the shore. Yeah, I've been there many times over the years, but I've never had traffic quite that bad down there as this year's fourth of July weekend. It was bad.
But it wasn't bad when you get up early in the morning to go driving to Cape May. The first day down there was the Friday after the 4th so there were no birding walks in the morning, so instead I just wandered around Cape May Point by myself. And, oh the terns!
It must have been a weekend of terns all over, because back in Philly they saw Least Terns, Caspian Terns, and Forster's Terns at Heinz (all rare sightings on eBird). But that was nothing compared to Cape May when I went! Sure, I didn't see any Caspian Terns (I did see one fly over the next day though), but I saw probably hundreds of Forster's Terns and Common Terns. It sure was a mental workout to tell them apart, but I think I'm good with it now (all it took was me sitting there with a group standing and a group flying for a half hour while having my book and iPhone app in front of me). There were a few Least Terns, but (as corroborated from talking to people the next day) not nearly as many as when I was there a few weeks ago. But I also saw two new terns for the years!
While I was walking back from the beach and strolling next to the freshwater ponds, I saw a tern in the water next to a Laughing Gull. This tern was smaller than the gull and had a black cap that went a little down its neck and a black bill. "Funny," I thought, "that tern's bill looks just like the gull's bill." Nahh, it must me something else, there is no way there could be such an easy identification of a new bird for me, could there? Yep, it was a no-doubter identification of a Gull-billed Tern. Score!
Then, on one of the little boardwalk-type things on another freshwater pond was a whole bunch of Forster's and some Common Terns sitting there allowing me to see them really well so I can truly grasp their differences. But also next to them was a much larger tern with an orange bill and a crazy haircut for a crest. Royal Tern! The only one I there for either of those, and I saw them!
So, the next day I actually went on a Cape May Observatory bird walk at the same spot and talked to them about the terns I saw the day before. The Gull-billed Tern isn't really common, but others have spotted them recently, and we actually got to see a couple of Royal Terns that day. I tell you, while it would have been easier to identify the terns with the group (the leaders patiently explained the differences to those that wanted to learn), I was certainly glad I got out there the day before and learned how to tell them apart myself. It sticks more that way and I feel like I accomplished things.
Fall migration for shorebirds is just starting, and while there I got to see Willets fly over (those weren't too hard to identify) and some Short-billed Dowitchers (luckily there were two groups that flew over because I did not get the identification on the first one despite being told what they were). Also, after a few times, I finally saw some Black Skimmers, which should not have taken this long to get. But, as is always the case, once I saw one I saw dozens and dozens more.
157; Royal Tern; Cape May Point; Cape May, NJ
158; Gull-billed Tern; Cape May Point; Cape May, NJ
159; Willet; Cape May Point; Cape May, NJ
160; Black Skimmer; Cape May Point; Cape May, NJ
161; Short-billed Dowitcher; Cape May Point; Cape May, NJ