Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Birding Nummy Island, New Jersey

The summer drags on and any serious birder would have gone to other parts of the country by now to get new birds. Now, I am a serious birder, but I am also a father of three, so my options of birding migration are limited. Luckily, I live very near Cape May, New Jersey and can go visit relatives in the area fairly often. So I did!

Shorebird migration is in full swing, and even though we get some peeps around here and even an occasional larger shorebird, the real fun is happening in New Jersey. So when I went down to Cape May and went on a couple birding walks with the Cape May Bird Observatory I made sure to ask about where good places to go to find stuff on my own. I was directed to go birding on Nummy Island.

Nummy Island is a little island between Stone Harbor and the Wildwoods. If you take the bridge from the south it will cost you $1.50, but it is free if you drive through Stone Harbor from the north.

I took the toll road at first, but when I went back a couple days later (it was too awesome and beautiful not to come back) I drove through Stone Harbor and saved a dollar fifty. I also went to go birding down the Stone Harbor beach to the point, but they had heavy tractors doing stuff to the beach there. I assumed the birds wouldn't like that, so I skipped it and just spent more time at Nummy Island.

Nummy Island in the early morning
Nummy Island is about a mile and a half stretch of road that has salt marsh on either side. That's it. No trails, no paths, just a 50 mph road with a wide shoulder that you can pull off of. I got there early, so traffic was relatively low; in fact there were more bikers than cars. Most all the bikers said "hi" as they passed, and a couple even stopped and asked what birds I've seen.

Whimbrel at Nummy Island
One of the first things I saw when I pulled off the road to look around was a Whimbrel! New bird this year for me, and an obvious no-book-needed identification. I saw a few more when I came back, but they were all at the same location more away from the salt flats and near the water. Soon I would see lots of Willets (and hear them because they are loud) and lots more.

The sinister secret of the Nummy Island salt marsh
The areas on either side of the road were predominantly salt marsh. This is exciting because I desperately wanted to see a Salt Marsh Sparrow (and was told they are around there). Heck, there were four birds on my "I must see them!" list for Nummy Island: Salt Marsh Sparrow, Tri-colored Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, and Yellow-crowned Night Heron. I only got two of them, and the sparrow was not one of them. It is hard to see them in the salt marsh grasses, and I listened (man I listened!), but couldn't hear them over the other noises (mostly a group of 20 Laughing Gulls who were circling me to tell me they know I'm around).

Nummy Island, as seen by most people
Nummy Island, again, is just a stretch of road with a wide shoulder that most people just drive by. I would pull off and walk a stretch and then drive up some more and do the same (I was worried about storms passing though that hit 10 miles north but not me). According to the Internet, there are lots of biting insects and they recommend staying in your car, but that is bullshit. I just dressed with long pants and long sleeves and ignored the few bugs around my head; hell there were fewer bugs than in Sandy Point. It really isn't much of an issue, but I was the only birder walking around looking at birds while there were a few other birders who were there in their more expensive cars pulled off and just looking out of their windows with their more expensive binoculars. There is no way they could have seen even half the birds I did doing that; the Clapper Rail I saw would never have been seen from a car. Most of them didn't even nod or wave as they saw me and only one actually talked to me briefly, so I imagine they are just casual birders. Either way, they missed out on some good birds in their cars.

One treat I had was that I saw a Peregrine Falcon hunting over the salt marsh. No, it didn't dive, but it did swoop down and got something. Yeah, I've seen them this year already, including a couple days ago near me, but they are just awesome birds. And freaking fast.

Semi-palmated Plover near a dead horseshoe crab
The amount of shorebirds there was amazing, at least for someone who doesn't live near the shore. Ruddy Turnstones were abundant, as were the Willets, Short-billed Dowitchers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. Semi-palmated Plovers were everywhere, as were the peeps (yeah, I identified the Least and Semi-palmated Sandpipers but not enough of them to tell you which was more).

I stopped by the roosting site of the Black-crowned Night herons on the northern end to see if I could see any Yellow-crowned. Alas, I did not, but I saw a whole bunch of Black-crowned and, oddly, a Green Heron there.

Nummy Island is inspiring

Overall I got five new species there, but a whole bunch of birds overall. Here is my list of birds I saw (combined for both day) in order that I saw them:

-Whimbrel (new for the year!)
-Short-billed Dowitcher
-Semi-palmated Plover
-Semi-palmated Sandpiper
-Least Sandpiper
-Little Blue Heron (I actually saw an adult plumage one!)
-Great Egret
-Snowy Egret (the most common heron/egret there)
-Laughing Gull
-Red-winged Blackbird
-Song Sparrow
-Black-crowned Night Heron (new for the year!)
-Ruddy Turnstone
-Greater Yellowlegs
-Lesser Yellowlegs
-Herring Gull
-Great Black-backed Gull
-Fish Crow
-Boat-tailed Grackle
-Double-crested Cormorant
-Tri-colored Heron (new for the year!)
-Black-bellied Plover (new for the year!)
-Mourning Dove
-Forster's Tern (probably others, but didn't watch them too much)
-Black Skimmer
-Green Heron
-Barn Swallow
-American Oystercatcher
-Tree Swallow
-Clapper Rail (new for the year, and I saw it rather than heard it)
-Purple Martin
-Tufted Titmouse
-Peregrine Falcon

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