Thursday, January 16, 2014

Damon's New Year in Cape May, Part 2 (Two Mile Beach to Stone Harbor)

New Years in Cape May happened. I previously wrote about the morning section of the day with a count of 62 birds. How many more birds could I get? Would I get anything to top the Painted Bunting and White-winged Dove? Could I keep up the pace of Paul in Texas? Was the day awesome?

Well, the day certainly was awesome, and as I finished my lunch of Wawa Italian Hoagie and sliced apples and let my phone charge some more I scanned over the dunes of Two Mile Beach, even though it was only Yellow-rumped Warblers around. But I knew some things we were going to see because others in the parking lot had already let out that there was a Snowy Owl just down the beach.

Yeah, Snowy Owls are old hat by now (being even down to Jacksonville, Florida), but I am not fooling myself into thinking that this eruption is will be a common thing from now on. Sure, I've seen a few already and see daily rare bird alerts for them in most counties around me, but seeing one is always a treat. So as our group ambled down the beach, I was still excited to see one. Luckily, this beach was on the ocean, so we also had our share of sea ducks also, with Long-tailed Ducks and all the Scoters around (though, as hard as I tried, I never caught a glimpse of a White-winged Scoter).

We were entertained by the Dunlin and Sanderlings along the beach interspersed with Bonaparte's Gulls flying very nicely around. But the real treat, besides the Snowy Owl, was a distant rock jetty that had Purple Sandpipers on it, with Great Cormorants visible with their big heads.

After seeing the owl, we headed back to visit a couple other places. Darkness falls fast on the eastern edge of the time zone, and our daylight, while still great, was not more than a few more hours. So we made a quick rendezvous point at Sunset Lake in Wildwood Crest. Not too huge, this lake was a good quick stop where there were predictably reliant Horned Grebes and Common Loon, plus Brants and Buffleheads. Some spotted Greater Scaup in the distance, but there was no way I could make that ID even with a scope. I also saw an egret fly in, but only a few people got the ID before it slipped into the reeds.

We then headed up to a quick stop at the free bridge on Nummy Island, and I picked up Rock Pigeon along the way (yep, those were the first of the year!). I've been to Nummy before, and though it wasn't as busy with birds as in the summertime, it still had a couple special birds there. We went there to find the two King Eiders that have been hanging out there for week, and we did! We also saw dozens of American Oystercatchers, some more Long-tailed Ducks, and an oddly single Boat-tailed Grackle.

The group was dwindling by now, and the light wasn't quite at twilight yet, so we still had time to go to one more place: Stone Harbor Point! This was where I saw my first Snowy Owl last year, and it was right nearby so we could still get there with some daylight left. With about 50% attrition, we hit the beach as a smaller but dedicated group and quickly picked up some Semi-palmated Plovers amongst the Dunlin. After seeing some sea ducks, we found a good sight: a flock of Snow Buntings in the dunes, along with a Savannah Sparrow that was actually visible (not a totally expected situation with it being a bit in the distance and the light rapidly diminishing).

As I stood there in the dunes surrounded by other birders having a wonderful time, I got a strong sense of sadness because the day was just about over. No, every day could not be like this, but what a wonderful day to start my year. It didn't matter that I got a large amount of birds on my list; I had fun and a great time out in the natural world.

My final count? 81 birds, a new Year of Birds Big Day record. And for a brief, shining moment, I was a top eBirder for Cape May county.

I am 44th now.

(Mike Crewe, who was the lead on the CMBO Kick off your year group wrote up the entire day on the CMBO View from the Cape blog, and the bird list for the day is written up on the CMBO Field Trip Report blog. Note, the list will differ from mine because I started earlier and sometimes didn't see things that others did (damn White-winged Scoters!) and I don't think any of the leaders saw the Gannet).

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