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Bird Droppings by Seymore Thanu...Published in Exit Zero...

The following articles appear as part of a weekly column,
Bird Droppings by

Seymore Thanu
, in Cape May's local FREE magazine, Exit Zero. 


Seymore Thanu is none other than New Jersey's own Pete Dunne, Director of the Cape May Bird Observatory and Chief Communications Officer for New Jersey Audubon.  Pete uses his talents and energy to make the natural world real for others.  Author of several books on and about nature (available at CMBO) he weaves information, insight and even fantasy into a net that captures minds and hearts.  He has written for virtually every birding publication and for the New York Times.


 
Bird Therapy - Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Every time I travel I return with a heightened appreciation for the wealth of birds we, as Cape May and Greater Cape May residents know here.  I’m not saying California is not a bird-rich state.  It certainly is.  But while trying to show my mother -in-law a very uncooperative Yellow Warbler, I was struck by how much easier this would be in Cape May where Yellow Warblers are almost a blight.
   

It’s the sheer volume of birds that makes Cape May so compelling.  The rich species diversity is just a bonus.  How many species?  About 350 every year which isn’t bad for a non-tropical habitat.  So why not take a moment and go out and savor a bit of Cape May’s rich natural dowry.  How about this very moment!

You don’t need to be an experienced bird watcher.  In fact it’s better that you are not.  Every bird you see or hear will be new a “life bird” as it is called. You don’t even have to be able to pin a name to it to appreciate it.  Beauty in any form need not have a label.  Just go out and savor.  The birds don’t know our names for them either.

Binoculars help.  They confer supernatural intimacy.  But binoculars are not essential.  By watching a bird with your unaided eye, you are better able to see it in context with its environment.
     

So stop reading.  Go outside.  Get to know your feathered neighbors.  

The loud caroling one is an American Robin.  The one with the hurried cheery song that warbles like a happy drunk is House Finch. The one that repeats everything several times, then switches to a new phrase is Northern Mockingbird.  The loud one that repeats the same note over and over is Northern Cardinal.   “Cheer, cheer, cheer, cheer, cheer.”

Sure you can do this.  Can you identify the laugh of a laughing gull or the honk of Canada Goose?  If you can then you can do all the rest.  The rules don’t change.  You probably cannot pin a name to every piece of classical music you hear, neither.  But that doesn’t diminish your appreciation.
       

As for Yellow Warbler.  The small bright yellow birds say “sweet, sweet, sweet, oh, so sweet.”  Try walking down the center path of the South Cape May Meadows.  The birds are common breeders in the brushy edge and they will be singing into August.

Sure there are CDS and apps you can buy that will help you learn bird songs but nothing beats real.  Real birds in real time.  In fact the more artificial the world grows the more I appreciate the grounding reality birds bring to my life.
     

Stop reading.  Go outside.  Savor the bounty of Cape May.  Here I’ll write you a note.
To whom it may concern,

Please excuse__________________ from further mundane duties today.  They are suffering acute nature deprivation and need a dose of bird song to reset their equilibrium.  
 

Sincerely,

Dr. Seymore Thanu, Doctor of Bird Therapy

RX:  A minimum of ten minutes of bird song every morning.  Take with sunshine and share with a friend.    

P.S. you can fill this prescription at the Cape May Bird Observatory, 707 East Lake Drive, Cape May Point. Present this article and pick up a free checklist of the birds of Cape May.    
 
Cold Weather Birding - Thursday, November 28, 2013


There are many compelling attributes that make Cape May, New Jersey North America’s premier bird watching destination.  First and foremost is the number and diversity of birds, followed closely by the friendly and welcoming nature of Cape May’s birding community.  Visitors frequently comment upon the quality and helpfulness of leaders that volunteer their services on Cape May Bird Observatory’s suite of bird walks.  Add to this the number and volume of field guide authors who infest the Hawk Watch Platform every fall from September through November, and offer the benefit of their experience and skill.   On a per capita basis, you can probably find more published authors on that Hawk Watch on any given Saturday in November, than any place this side of New York’s publishing district.

Not that the expertise is limited to those whose knowledge base has been compiled between hard covers.  There are scores of local experts who delight in sharing their identification skills with others.

Welcome to Cape May, NJ - bird watching’s avocational hub.

You say you aren’t a bird watcher?

I say you are just one visit to the Hawk Watch Platform in Cape May Point State Park away from an avocational adjustment,

Sure bird watching is frivolous .  Many of the things we humans do in the name of having fun are just that.

Soaking up sun on the beach is not exactly productive either.  But lots of people do it.

You can even watch birds while soaking up solar radiation.  There are lots of species, each with a story to tell.  For instance, those tiny sandpipers that you see playing tag with the waves - they don’t nest here.  They breed in the high Arctic and winter along coastal beaches all the way down to the tip of South America.

If you are like me and like to walk the beach in the late fall and winter, just off shore, you might find a large black and white bird plunge diving for fish.  They are not gulls - not everything flying along the ocean is a gull.  They are called Northern Gannets.  Gulls plop to the ocean surface, they don’t dive.  Diving is a specialization practiced by gannets and terns.  There, you’ve learned something already - how to tell gulls from terns - and you aren’t even a birder (yet).  

Tip:  Gannets are HUGE compared to even the largest terns and…

Gannets are not gulls or terns.  They are Sulids, a bird group which includes boobies (no, not the kind that get tanned on the beach) and are mostly found in the tropics.

… and...

Northern Gannet will be found here all winter sometimes by the hundreds.  Other birds to look for during your winter walks include loons.  Red-throated Loons are particularly common in Delaware Bay in winter.  A good place to watch for them is at the Second Avenue Jetty in Cape May or around the Concrete Ship at the end of Sunset Blvd.  The ducks around the jetty are mostly Long-tailed Ducks (formerly known as Oldsquaw) or scoters (Black or Surf) or maybe eiders (most likely Common Eider).  All these ducks breed in the Arctic and winter along the Jersey Shore along with about thirty other species.  It might seem cool to us but compared to where they just came from, this is like summer vacation.

You get the idea.  There are lots of really cool birds to see in Cape May and many don’t arrive until the weather cools down.  Too cool for swimsuits and beach chairs but just right for bird watching from shore.  Of course, you’ll need binoculars or even a spotting scope.  I doubt you would we wading out for a closer, identifiable look.

Dress warmly.  Remember there is no such thing as cold.  There is only inadequate gear.

Winter may be the best time to walk on the beach - no dodging skimboards or paying for a beach tag - and birds make a great excuse. Windless days are best for keeping binoculars steady.  Or you can park and watch from your car - nice and warm there.

If you aren’t sure about gannets, or loons, or don’t have a field guide, or binoculars, then head over to the Cape May Bird Observatory.  CMBO is THE place for all your nature needs.  CMBO, located at 701 East Lake Drive overlooking Lake Lily in Cape May Point (609.884.2736), is open Thursday through Tuesday, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Closed on Wednesdays through December.  You can ask the staff for help with whatever you need (or what you didn’t realize you needed). 

Pick up a free copy of the Winter Kestrel Express with our schedule of programs and walks for the season, a free birding map and checklist, and browse around.  There’s so much to choose from - jewelry, fleece, jackets, hats, clothing, hand painted decorations, books by local authors, field guides, feeders…  Even some special bargains in the sale area and used and vintage books.

If you can't make it in person, you won’t be able to buy the feeders, but you can find a wealth of birding information online at www.BirdCapeMay.org.

 
Winter Patterns - Thursday, November 21, 2013


Suddenly we are in a winter pattern.  Seems like I just went from finding monarchs and cloudless sulphur butterflies in my yard to watching hundreds of American Robins going to roost in the marshes while Black Ducks lined out overhead to find sanctuary in Delaware Bay.  This is how the daily bird pattern will be until March, unless inclement weather alters the rhythm. 

It is very nurturing and affirming actually, seeing the cycle of the seasons unfold as they always do.  Some people live for the exceptions to the rules like the western hummingbird species that turn up unexpectedly. 

If you don’t already know, in every generation of birds there are some individuals hot-wired to take the path less followed, so they stray off course.  Me?  I’m much more fascinated by the punctuality and predictability of nature than the anomalies.  The next hummingbird I hope to see will be the Ruby-throated that shows up at our feeder the last week of April.  It’s a little milestone, a sure sign that spring has arrived.

Robins are here all winter.  In South Jersey, they can hardly be counted upon to be harbingers of spring.   This is where someone is going to point out that in spring robins are singing.  Tell that to the robin that was singing a full song at my house yesterday morning and yesterday evening.  This is the kind of anomaly that fascinates me.  Why was the bird singing when the breeding season is over?  Beats me.  Probably has something to do with the angle of the sun or duration of daylight coupled with an unusually warm day. 

Anyway and back to my point, despite my one robin whose internal clock is six months out of kilter, we’re entering the typical winter pattern now.  But, do expect migration to continue for some species into December and beyond; this too, is typical.  

One good thing, to date we have not experienced a flooding storm tide so rodent populations on the salt marsh are probably high.  Last year following Hurricane Sandy, rodent numbers were swept away resulting in the wintering raptors hereabouts going elsewhere.  Keep your fingers crossed for a good batch of wintering Short-eared Owls this year.  One was reported from the Cape May Hawk Watch Platform as early as November 4th.  They should be arriving right about now.  If you want to keep your finger on the pulse of the season go to www.birdcapemay.org and read the blogs.  

Don’t expect to hear much more about butterflies until February, but if robins can sing in November maybe Mourning Cloaks can emerge in December.  As for hummingbirds, some of those western strays have arrived in November.  Don’t count them out until after the first hard freeze and do by all means keep your hummingbird feeders up until Thanksgiving and call CMBO (609-884-2736) if a hummingbird suddenly appears.

The road less followed led to your feeder.  A dead end perhaps but maybe a new trend evolving.  The world is a fluid place.  Change the only constant.

Whenever you decide to start enjoying the natural world, head over to the Cape May Bird Observatory.  CMBO is THE place for all your nature needs.  CMBO, located at 701 East Lake Drive overlooking Lake Lily in Cape May Point (609.884.2736), is open Thursday through Tuesday, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Closed on Wednesdays through December.  You can ask the staff for help with whatever you need (or what you didn’t realize you needed).  Pick up a free copy of the Winter Kestrel Express with our schedule of programs and walks for the season, a free birding map and checklist, and browse around.  There’s so much to choose from - jewelry, fleece, jackets, hats, clothing, hand painted decorations, books by local authors, field guides, feeders…  Even some special bargains in the sale area and used and vintage books.      

If you can't make it in person, you won’t be able to buy the feeders, but you can find a wealth of birding information online at www.BirdCapeMay.org.

 
Finch Frenzy - Thursday, November 14, 2013


Nuthatches are probably the most animated, wind-up-toy type bird that you might encounter this time of year in Cape May County.  And lucky for you, unlike the 30+ species of warblers that have passed through here the past couple of months in their drab fall colors, there are only two species of nuthatch you need to pinpoint.  Red and White.

No, sorry, that’s not completely correct.  There are actually three species of nuthatch . . .oops, wrong again.  There are four species of nuthatch in North America but two of them are not found in Cape May.

Wait, I did it again!  One of the two that isn’t found here is sometimes found here, but it doesn’t live here.  It lives close to here but not actually here.  It visits sometimes but it is within sight of Cape May.  

It’s shown up here a few times - July 2005, April 2010, and September 2012.  So I withdrawal my initial statement that there are only two types of nuthatches.  Rather, I’ll rephrase.

There are two types of nuthatches “commonly” (that’s the ticket) found here in Cape May.  Red and White.

Dang, that’s not right either!  Jeesh.

The birds are totally red or white.  They are officially Red-breasted Nuthatch and White-Breasted Nuthatch.  But both have bluish backs.  But if both were called Blue-backed Nuthatch, that wouldn’t distinguish which was which, would it?

And to totally confuse the issue, the other two nuthatches that don’t appear here…sorry, most likely don’t appear here, also have bluish backs.  The one that sometimes comes here (Brown-headed Nuthatch) has a rusty hue to its breast; and, the one not here (yet) has a white breast (Pygmy Nuthatch) as well.

Maybe this is more difficult than I thought!  The point isn’t to bore you with nuthatch variations or distribution.  It is to let you know of a potentially important event.

Last year at this time, there were hordes of nuthatches (Red-breasted and White-breasted) that descended upon Cape May.  There were squadrons of Red-breasted Nuthatches flying about and even, on one remarkable occasion, two White-breasted Nuthatches in flight, in view, at the same time - south of the Cape May Canal!  

What’s the big deal about being south of the canal?  Well, it is not common for White-breasted Nuthatches to be that far south.

But, if last year is any indication, it could mean that we are in for another northern finch eruption! When nuthatches arrive in numbers, then finches follow.

Finches like Pine Siskin, Purple Finch, and even crossbills (here we go again with Red and White business…but I won’t digress).  In  fact, two Red Crossbills were sighted flying over the Hawkwatch Platform in Cape May Point State Park on November 4th.

And if all those birders out there watching birds are pure of heart, we may even have a shot one of these years of getting Evening Grosbeak.  

A near mythical creature.  And one for which we are long overdue.

So consider this advance warning - stock up on Black-oil Sunflower Seed and some Nyger (thistle).  Finches are seed-eating birds.  And while you might get a lot of House Finches to begin with, check your field guide for Purple Finch (so you know what to look for), and then go to the page with Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatch.

And if you don’t have a field guide, or a bird feeder for sunflower seeds and thistle (two different kinds of feeders for different kinds of seed), then head on over to the Cape May Bird Observatory.  CMBO is THE place for all your nature needs.  CMBO, located at 701 East Lake Drive overlooking Lake Lily in Cape May Point (609.884.2736), is open Thursday through Tuesday, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Closed on Wednesdays through December.  You can ask the staff for help with whatever you need (or what you didn’t realize you needed).  Remember to  pick up a free copy of the Fall and Winter Kestrel with our schedule of programs and walks for the season, a free birding map and checklist, and browse around.  There’s so much to choose from - jewelry, fleece, jackets, hats, clothing, hand painted decorations, books by local authors, field guides, feeders…  Even some special bargains in the sale area and used and vintage books.

If you can't make it in person, you won’t be able to buy the feeders, but you can find a wealth of birding information online at www.BirdCapeMay.org.

 
November - Thursday, November 07, 2013


If you were visiting Arizona, you’d visit the Grand Canyon.  If you were in Cairo you’d see the pyramids.  Paris? You’d go to the Louvre.

In Cape May, it’s all about birds.  Know it or not, you are visiting North America’s most celebrated bird watching destination.  So why not treat yourself to an eye full of discovery?  Enjoy spectacles so inspiring that residents of Alaska travel here to vacation. Cape May Bird Observatory offers a selection of easy, convenient bird walks that will produce treasured looks at up to 70 different bird species, not to mention other wildlife.  I’m not joking about the Alaskan visitors.  Four of them had dinner at our house last night. 

It doesn’t matter if you’ve never watched birds before, can’t tell a “hawk from a handsaw.”  Just Googled that old English expression.  Do you like nature?  Ever tune in to the Discovery Channel, or watch National Geographic specials?  Well, why not see it for real?  Discover why thousands of people come to Cape May every autumn, just to watch birds.

This is even the perfect time of year to witness the migratory spectacle.  Hawks, songbirds and seabirds are all still southbound and squeezing through the Cape May peninsula - which is why they are so easy to see here.  The flow of birds is passing through a geographic bottleneck.

But, geography is only part of the attraction.  Cape May Bird Observatory’s suite of walks and cadre of field trip leaders makes finding birds easy and fun.  On top of that, you’ll discover that all the other people on the walk are just as enthused about Cape May as you are.

So come on.  Head over to Cape May Bird Observatory - you have to pass it on the way to the lighthouse.  With so many birds coming to CMBO’s feeders, you may not have any reason to go any farther - but you must.  Must head over to the Cape May Hawkwatch at Cape May Point State Park.    Where you are sure to meet some very entertaining birds not to mention very knowledgeable people.  You can’t swing a binocular on the Hawkwatch in November and not hit some bird book author - not that you would want to do that.

Cape May is the place everyone wants to be.  Imagine over 200 different bird species and thousands of individual birds.  Some species, like the Peregrine Falcon, may herald from Greenland or the Yukon or any point in between.  Some like the Calliope Hummingbird that showed up near the end of October, are western vagrants.  You say you’ve never heard of Calliope Hummingbird?  Probably because your bird field guide only covers Eastern birds.  You need the BIG Sibley Guide or the National Geographic Guide that covers all the birds that are found in North America.  You might be in the East, but you are also in Cape May where anything can (and does) pass through.  Cape May is a magnet for avian waifs.  A “vagrant trap” in the birding vernacular.  But it’s the sheer massed spectacle of migration that Cape May bases its fame upon.

There are times when birds are so numerous you need to watch where you step.  If you are out and about in Cape May after dark, the night of a big migratory push, you can see the darting forms of small songbirds in the glow of street lights.  In the morning, Cape May will be inundated with birds.   This spectacle is called a “migratory fallout.”  If you saw the movie, The Big Year, they touted a fall out on the “coast of Texas”.  The fallouts in Cape May are every bit as spectacular - and in only about 8 square miles.  The passage of a cold front commonly triggers big migrations in the fall.  So if it’s cold enough to wear a jacket, head over to the Hawk Watch Platform at Cape May Point State Park and get an eye full of real winged migration.  It’s been a great year for migrating Golden Eagles and Bald Eagles are seen almost every day.

So - what are you waiting for? 

Head over to the Cape May Bird Observatory, THE place for all your nature needs.  CMBO, located at 701 East Lake Drive overlooking Lake Lily in Cape May Point (609.884.2736), is open Thursday through Tuesday (closed on Wednesdays), from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through November.  You can ask the staff for help, or just pick up a free copy of the Fall Kestrel Express with our schedule of programs and walks for the season, a free birding map and checklist, then browse around.  There’s so much to choose from - jewelry, fleece, jackets, hats, clothing, hand painted decorations, books by local authors, feeders…  Even some special bargains in the used and vintage books section, some wonderful Charley Harper merchandise including a terrific lithograph done just for the Cape May Bird Observatory (which is FREE when you become a member).

If you can't make it in person, you can find a wealth of birding information online at www.BirdCapeMay.org.

 
Get Real - Thursday, October 24, 2013


Beats the tar and feathers out of me.  While birders come from all walks of life, a large number herald from the ranks of those who identify themselves as “professionals.”  Many fall into upper income brackets and have education backgrounds that average a MBA degree or better. In short, they are the kind of people you want your son and daughter to go out with.

Hey, you parents whose kids are living directionless lives.  Introduce them to birding; give them the opportunity to get hooked on nature.  

Hey, you single folk hoping to meet a well balanced individual with a zest for life whose integrity is beyond reproach.  Try birding. 

And you bored and beaten down Middle Class Worker Bees, who just want to experience once again a measure of fun in your life and maybe engage the world again with a rekindled sense of wonder.

The answer again, is bird watching. 

Imagine, every day a treasure hunt.  Every new species found a feather in your cap (pun intended).  Gather enough feathers and you become a tribal chief, respected and admired.  Cape May is birdings happy hunting ground, and there is plenty of room in the council of elders for you. 

Of course, if you are a sour and lifeless burnout whose idea of getting in touch with nature is sitting at home and watching Survivor, then please, by all means, stay home.  It would be best if you didn’t show your sour face on the Hawk Watch Platform at Cape May Point State Park where all the Beautiful People (aka “birders”) gather.  They enjoy sharing information, gab about the latest and greatest, and savor close looks at highballing Peregrines Falcons and soaring eagles; all in the company of genial people, from all over the planet, who have traveled specifically to Cape May to enjoy the spectacle of winged migration for real. 

On a per capita basis, you will find more book authors on that Hawk Watch Platform than any place this side of the New York publishing district.  Real published authors.

Search the world, people over, there is nothing that beats “real.”  

Real cool birds in real time in the company of real cool people who are really jazzed about life and who enjoy sharing their passion and knowledge with others.

But you say, “you don’t know anything about birds.”  Lucky you.  The only thing better than being an experienced birder is being a new birder.  Nobody is born knowing anything about birds.  It is a lifetime adventure and it begins for everyone one day that starts out like any other.

Attention 21st Century Homo Sapiens - now is the perfect time to get a new lease on life. 

Autumn bird migration is a spectacle worth seeing.  This is your invitation to see the world with new eyes.

All you have to do is show up for a regularly scheduled bird walk led by Cape May Bird Observatory staff and volunteers.   They lead, you follow.  Easy as that.  They even have binoculars you can borrow.  

Cape May provides the birds.  You provide the “ooohs” and “ahhhs.” 

Or you can just show up at the Hawk Watch Platform at Cape May Point State Park, the perfect non-threatening environment to see what other people are missing.  Just walk up and, ask one of the seasonal interpreters for a loaner binocular .  Then look up and marvel at the sight of migrating hawks overhead, or step up to a spotting scope trained on some special bird and get an eyeful of WOW - which is “real” at the upper end of the scale. 

But, if you’d rather just sit at home and watch Survivor, that’s fine, too.  Not the kind of tribe I’m talking about here.

But, if you want to be in the real world, stop over to the Cape May Bird Observatory, THE place for all your nature needs.  CMBO, located at 701 East Lake Drive overlooking Lake Lily in Cape May Point (609.884.2736), is open every day, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  You can ask the staff for help, or just pick up a free copy of the Kestrel Express with our schedule of programs and walks for the season, a free birding map and checklist, then browse around.  There’s so much to choose from - jewelry, fleece, jackets, hats, clothing, hand painted decorations, books by local authors, feeders…  Even some special bargains in the used and vintage books section, some wonderful Charley Harper merchandise including a terrific lithograph done just for the Cape May Bird Observatory (which is FREE when you become a member).

If you can't make it in person, you can find a wealth of birding information online at www.BirdCapeMay.org.

 
HAWK-tober - Thursday, October 03, 2013


     These are the days of madness in Cape May.  After waiting for 8-10 months, autumn migration is fully upon us.  Raptors are rampant.  Warblers wherever your binoculars fall.  


     An admirer of nature can hardly decide where to go to savor the most WOW.

     Hint: try the Hawk Watch Platform at Cape May Point State Park. 

     While you are making up your mind on where to go, you can get the latest reconnaissance from local experts while sitting under one of North America’s greatest hawk migrations.  The seasonal interpretive naturalists can even give you a calendar of nature related events - so you’ll know where to go tomorrow, too.    

     The folks at Cape May Bird Observatory have had 40 years to figure out where visitors should be to get the most out of their Cape May experience.  And there are very few places on earth that pack so much natural wonder in one small geographic package than Cape May. 

     So welcome to “The Migration Mainline.”  Tens of millions of eco-tourists would surrender all their frequent flyer miles to be standing where you are right now - here, in Cape May, at the height of fall migration.  Get thee to the Hawk Watch Platform and start stockpiling natural spectacles.  Spotting scope views of perched Merlins.  Eagles cavorting overhead.  Yesterday three Bald Eagles were in view at once and with eagle numbers at an all time high, encounters like this are almost daily. 

     But maybe Monarch butterflies are more to your liking.  The stand of cedars beside the Hawk Watch Platform are a traditional roost for these big showy orange insects. With wings folded they look like dead leaves; but with the touch of morning sunlight, the trees burst forth with animated orange blossoms.  Seeing a Monarch roost come to life will constitute one of your greatest wildlife encounters.  For best results time your visit for the morning after winds have gone to the northwest and temperatures have fallen.  Don’t forget your camera. 

     And plan to stick around for the hawk flight that should get underway by mid-morning.  A proven way to court the favor of the official Hawk Counter is to bribe him with pastry.  Peregrine falcons are particularly prone to show up when the cheese danish come out.  

   Why these arctic falcons are partial to cheese Danish, nobody knows.  Could be linked to early trade between the Inuit people and Vikings or it might be that there is no underlying link at all.  Maybe Hawk Watchers are just more focused when their tummies are happy and full with danish.

     As for warblers, the trees next to the Hawk Watch block the wind and catch the sun so insect- eating birds gather there.

     If all you want is good conversation, the Hawk Watch Platform, as the intellectual hub for visiting and resident authors, rarely disappoints.

      But please don’t bother the Official Hawk Counter.   He is there to insure that no high flying eagles slip past.  You might ask “Why is conversation more distracting than eating danish?”

    Because with danish you can chew and keep your eyes on the sky.  While conversing you need to maintain eye contact.

     The Hawk Watch is packed with garrulous Hawk Watchers.  Only the counters tend to be taciturn.  So go chat up the regulars.  Traditional opening remarks include: “What’s the flight like today?”  “What was yesterday’s count?”  And, make sure you ask the Interpretive Naturalists on duty if you can take a look through their Swarovski binoculars or spotting scope.  Swarovski Optik is the official sponsor of the 2013 Hawk Watch and has provided all the optics for the Interns (Interpretive Naturalists) and Hawk Counter. 

     They can help you sort through the scores of superior optics, too.  Just in case you find after your Hawk Watch experience (and looking through that Swarovski scope or binocular) that you cannot live another moment without a Swarovski in your hands.
   
  Cape May Bird Observatory, is THE place for all your nature needs.  Located at 701 East Lake Drive overlooking Lake Lily in Cape May Point (609.884.2736), the store is open 7-days from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  You can ask the staff for help, pick up a free copy of the Autumn Kestrel Express with our schedule of programs and walks for the season, a free birding map and checklist, and browse.  There’s so much to choose from - binoculars, spotting scopes, jewelry, clothing, hats, puzzles, hand painted decorations, books by local authors, feeders…  Even some special bargains in the used and vintage books section, some wonderful Charley Harper merchandise including a terrific lithograph done just for the Cape May Bird Observatory (yours FREE when you become a member).

     If you can't make it in person, you can find a wealth of birding information online at www.BirdCapeMay.org.

 

 
 
Monarchs - Thursday, September 26, 2013


     Thirty years ago, Monarch butterflies were a visual blight.  The peak flight of the season always coincided with a big Sharp-shinned Hawk migration.  The air was so thick with insects you could hardly see the hawks.  Now everybody goes all runny inside at the mention of Monarchs.  These colorful long distance migrants have captured people’s imagination and about every other call to the Cape May Bird Observatory is about when they should be in Cape May to catch the big Monarch migration push.

     Easy I tell them, plan your visit to coincide with the last good cold front in September or if there is none the first good cold front in October.

      “I mean what are the dates?” they reply with no small measure of exasperation.  September 20 to October 10, I reply.  But it may occur as early as September 15.   Sorry but Mother Nature doesn’t operate with train schedule precision (come to think of it, neither do the trains). 

     Block off some dates, be prepared to go at a moment’s notice, and then watch the Weather Channel.  Be prepared for the cold front to stall.  They always do.  But don’t worry if things don’t go precisely as planned.  In fall in Cape May, there is always something to see.  Raptors, seabirds, songbirds, dragonflies.  But the big Monarch push is orange icing on a very rich, multi-layered cake. 
     WOW comes in many forms in Cape May.  Maybe your best strategy is to keep an open mind, visit as often as you can, and stop by Cape May Bird Observatory when you hit town to see what Ma Nature is serving up this week and where you should go to experience it.

     Want to know where the Monarchs are roosting?  Ask the folks at CMBO.  Roost sites change from year to year.  Guaranteed, this years Monarch Monitoring Intern is sure to know the latest spot. 

       How many Monarchs are found in a roost?  Thousands sometimes.  They turn the outsides of roost trees orange and when they depart next morning, it’s like finding yourself imbedded in a living stained glass window.

     My peak flight record was 500 Monarchs a minute going past a fixed point.  But I’ve heard overnight roost estimates of more than a million insects in Cape May Point.  The greatest migration I ever witnessed was back in 1976 or 1977.  So many insects were killed by cars on Sunset Blvd that the shoulders of the road were paved in butterfly wings.  Passing cars sent up a wave of wings in their wake.   Sad?  Definitely.  But also poignant.

     There is no way to pinpoint how big (or small) migration will be.  Wet summers tend not to be conducive to high numbers.  But a local expert confided to me that she found lots of monarch eggs on milkweed.   Eggs become caterpillars and caterpillars transform themselves into butterflies. 

    Great natural spectacles begin with miracles but require the catalytic touch of your sense of wonder to mature.  Without you to appreciate them, a million butterflies is just an ordinary natural phenomenon  

     So get out there and marvel.  Smell the roses - and brake for butterflies.

      But first, head over to the Cape May Bird Observatory, THE place for all your nature needs.  Located at 701 East Lake Drive overlooking Lake Lily in Cape May Point (609.884.2736), the store is open 7-days from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  You can ask the staff for help, pick up a free copy of the Autumn Kestrel Express with our schedule of programs and walks for the season, a free birding map and checklist, and browse.  There’s so much to choose from - binoculars, spotting scopes, jewelry, clothing, hats, puzzles, hand painted decorations, books by local authors, feeders…  Even some special bargains in the used and vintage books section, some wonderful Charley Harper merchandise including a terrific lithograph done just for the Cape May Bird Observatory (yours FREE when you become a member).

     If you can't make it in person, you can find a wealth of birding information online at www.BirdCapeMay.org.

 
Hawk Watch Platform Etiquette - Thursday, September 19, 2013


     Chances are you have already been to the Hawk Watch Platform at Cape May Point State Park.  Even visitors who have limited interest in birds make a trip to the Hawk Watch part of their Cape May routine.   And why not?  The chances of seeing  thousands of migrating hawks is good.  There are lots of friendly, experienced hawk watchers on hand to point out and identify high flying birds of prey.  And, since there is no admission fee, the price is right.  There are even loaner binoculars on hand courtesy of Swarovski Optik, the hawk count’s official Corporate Sponsor.

     But, just in case you are not a platform regular, here are a few do’s and don’ts to help you get the most out of your first foray to the “Raptor Capital of North America (American Birds, Autumn 1977).

     First - bring high expectations.  It is shared interest, not experience, that binds people to the birding community.  Don’t worry about what you don’t know.  The difference between a new hawk watcher and an experienced one is that thus far inexperienced hawk watchers have mis-identified very few birds.  Experienced hawk watchers have mis-identified thousands.

     Second - ask questions but don’t direct them to the official counter.  He’s very preoccupied.

     Questions should be directed toward the interpretive naturalists who are on hand daily from early morning to late afternoon.  Questions about non-raptors are fine. Too.  The folks from CMBO are equal opportunity observers. 

      But I’ll provide the answers to the two most commonly asked questions to save you the trouble - and to impress your friends when you bring them to the Hawk Watch.

     The concrete structure on the beach is a WWII ammunition storage bunker (hence referred to as “the Bunker”).

      As for how the counter knows he’s not counting the same hawks over and over again - that is precisely why he is too focused to answer your questions.

      When on the platform, step lightly, vibration distorts the image in binoculars and spotting scopes.  Parents PLEASE don’t let your kids run up and down elevated deck or worse yet, bring their bicycles.  There are plenty of play areas within the park for them to run and ride till their hearts contentment.

     By all means DO bring cookies, pastry, pizza, food in general for the counters and interns.  These are young, starving, journeymen biologists whose salary is barely enough to keep body and soul within hailing distance.  Also, tests have proven that when everyone’s attention is distracted by a digestible item, an eagle is sure to appear.

     Don’t be a spotting scope hog.  If you are viewing through a scope other than your own, when you get a satisfactory view at whatever interesting bird the scope is trained on, step aside and let the next person get their look.  And, if you are using your own scope and don’t mind sharing, offer the person next to you the same opportunity.

     If you are using CMBO loaner binoculars, they must remain on the platform - no matter what bird you are looking at!

     Identifications made by the official counter are considered final.  If he calls Bald Eagle and not a Golden Eagle, odds are he’s probably right.
     Accept the fact that other migratory birds and butterflies and dragonflies are going to be  pointed out with as much enthusiasm as eagles, hawks and falcons.  If all you care about are hawks, go to another Hawk Watch somewhere or wait until November when the biomass is less.
Maybe you don’t realize that hawks are attracted to dragonflies and other smaller birds so, if you want to see more hawks, it’s pretty good to have of those other species in the same air space. 

     Make sure you have dark glasses and or a hat with a brim   If you want to buy a book to help you identify hawks in flight, there are several very fine ones on the market.  Ask the staff at the Cape May Bird Observatory store to recommend a favorite. 

     They can help you sort through the scores of superior optics, too.  Just in case you find after your Hawk Watch experience (and looking through that Swarovski scope or binocular) that you cannot live another moment without a Swarovski in your hands.

     Cape May Bird Observatory, is THE place for all your nature needs.  Located at 701 East Lake Drive overlooking Lake Lily in Cape May Point (609.884.2736), the store is open 7-days from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  You can ask the staff for help, pick up a free copy of the Autumn Kestrel Express with our schedule of programs and walks for the season, a free birding map and checklist, and browse.  There’s so much to choose from - binoculars, spotting scopes, jewelry, clothing, hats, puzzles, hand painted decorations, books by local authors, feeders…  Even some special bargains in the used and vintage books section, some wonderful Charley Harper merchandise including a terrific lithograph done just for the Cape May Bird Observatory (yours FREE when you become a member).

     If you can't make it in person, you can find a wealth of birding information online at www.BirdCapeMay.org

 
September - Thursday, September 12, 2013


September is when it starts to get really interesting.  Fall migration is beginning to kick into high gear.  Every cold front ferries more and more northern breeding songbirds to Cape May.

On top of that, there are a few southern species that irregularly wander north this time of year.  Juvenile White Ibis may well be annual and even the odd woodstork wanders up this way every few years.

September is also when a handful of western birds wander east.  Examples include Lark Sparrow and Western Kingbird.  To cap things off, there are lots of newly fledged local breeders moving about plus lots of migrating warblers, orioles and other southbound neotrops - birds that winter in the neotropics.

So that’s September.  Lots of birds and good odds that some will be pretty unusual.

One good place to see lots of birds are the beaches of Cape May Point State Park.  Migrating terns like to loaf on the beaches there.  If the beach is empty (of birds that is), scan the rips offshore.  The birds are feeding.

The Nature Conservancy’s preserve on Sunset Blvd. (know to locals simply as “the Meadows”) is a great place to enjoy migrating shorebirds.  And, if you are looking for an easy window into the warbler migration, the little wooded lot next to Cape May Bird Observatory is a magnet for migrants.  The mister and water sources attract birds on hot days.  You can even stand in the air conditioned shop and view birds out the window.  

With a little luck there might be one or more hummingbirds coming to the feeder.

You may pick up a few ideas about attracting birds to your own yard.

CMBO staff will be happy to help you identify the birds you are seeing or you can thumb a field guide and figure it out for yourself.  Part of bird watching is the fun and the challenge.  At most places this includes finding birds.  Here at Cape May it is mostly a matter of identifying and keeping track of all the birds you find.

There is a good reason why Cape May is a world famous birding destination and no better time than now to see for yourself.  The folks at CMBO look forward to sharing the natural wonders of Cape May with you.  All you have to do is visit CMBO’s Northwood Center.  You are welcome to observe the birds anytime, sit on the benches out front, pick up some literature that is available at the base of the stairs.

New birds are arriving daily.  It is just what they do this time of year.  These are professional birds, they know what they are doing.  The person who probably could use a little assistance is you.  So come on over.

Cape May Bird Observatory, THE place for all your nature needs, is located at 701 East Lake Drive overlooking Lake Lily in Cape May Point (609.884.2736), and open 7-days from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  You can ask the staff for help, pick up a free copy of the Autumn Kestrel with our schedule of programs and walks for the season, a free birding map and checklist, and browse.  There’s so much to choose from - binoculars, spotting scopes, jewelry, clothing, hats, puzzles, hand painted decorations, books by local authors, feeders…  Even some special bargains in the used and vintage books section, some wonderful Charley Harper merchandise including a terrific lithograph done just for the Cape May Bird Observatory (yours FREE when you become a member).

If you can't make it in person, you can find a wealth of birding information online at www.BirdCapeMay.org.

 
Hawk Watch - Thursday, September 05, 2013


The Cape May Point Hawk Watch started September 1st at the Hawk Watch platform in Cape May Point State Park.

Every fall since 1976, New Jersey Audubon’s Cape May Bird Observatory, in cooperation with New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry, conducts a count of  tens of thousands of migrating hawks that head south via the Cape May peninsula.  Approximately 40,000 birds of prey of 15 species will be tallied between September 1 and November 30.  Weather largely determines how many hawks will be counted on any given day.  But, it is rare day when no hawks are migrating at this world famous hawk watching junction.

Veteran counter, Tom Reed will return as the counter this year.  He will be joined on the platform by two interpretive naturalists tasked with pointing out hawks and other birds to platform visitors.  Visitors are cordially invited and there is no fee.  The count is funded by optics giant Swarovski Optik who have also provided a number of very fine Swarovski binoculars for use by platform visitors.

Those won over by the superlative quality of Swarovski instruments can then go to the Cape May Bird Observatory and purchase one of the planet’s premier binoculars.  Swarovski binoculars bear a price commensurate with the quality of the image but a test drive at the Hawk Watch platform is free.  

Just be prepared to discover that after seeing a Bald Eagle through a Swarovski that you can’t go back to using your old binoculars.   What are your chances of seeing a Bald Eagle.  Pretty good.  The birds nest on Cape Island and September is one of the peak periods for eagle migration.  September also sees impressive numbers of American Kestrel and it is not too early for migrating Peregrine Falcons.  Although the end of September is generally better for these Arctic nesters.

But there is always something to see.  The Hawk Watch platform overlooks Bunker Pond which hosts lots of migrating shorebirds and September is the month many neo-tropical migrants are heading south.  Including hundreds of Bobolinks.  Orioles and assorted warbler species are also daily fare at the platform in September.

Best viewing times are dawn till mid-morning and late afternoon to dusk.

If you want to keep score, there are free bird check lists at the platform as well as listings of CMBO bird walks and events.

Hawk migration is a spectacle not easily viewed except at a select few locations.  But if you are in Cape May now you are in precisely the right place at the right time.

Go out to the Hawk Watch platform and be wowed.  I look forward to seeing you there.

Cape May Bird Observatory, is THE place for all your nature needs.  Located at 701 East Lake Drive overlooking Lake Lily in Cape May Point (609.884.2736), the store is open 7-days from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  You can ask the staff for help, pick up a free copy of the Autumn Kestrel with our schedule of programs and walks for the season, a free birding map and checklist, and browse.  There’s so much to choose from - binoculars, spotting scopes, jewelry, clothing, hats, puzzles, hand painted decorations, books by local authors, feeders…  Even some special bargains in the used and vintage books section, some wonderful Charley Harper merchandise including a terrific lithograph done just for the Cape May Bird Observatory (yours FREE when you become a member).

If you can't make it in person, you can find a wealth of birding information online at
www.BirdCapeMay.org.

 
Expensive But Worth It - Thursday, August 22, 2013


It is the age-old question.  

Is the improvement in performance worth the added cost?

This could pertain to so many things - mostly high end purchases like cars, computers, golf clubs (not me - the wife is a golfer).  Not so much if we are talking about toasters, blenders, or energy drinks.

But, when it comes to optics, particularly binoculars, the answer is emphatically - YES.

You will immediately see the difference and, in this case, seeing IS believing!

At the recent Purple Martin Festival, it very literally was the difference between seeing massed concentrations of roosting Purple Martins and not seeing them - or barely seeing dark specks somewhere in the sky.

At two miles under rapidly diminishing light, the 30,000 birds were invisible to the unaided eye and not much more evident using binoculars in the $200 range.

But when someone was handed an instrument in the $1,500 price range, the most often heard expression was “WOW” followed by “how do I get these?”.

Easy answer.  Just go to the Cape May Bird Observatory and say you want to see the best binoculars they have to offer.  They will take out two or five of the finest binoculars on earth and invite you to pick the best that are most comfortable.

Comfortable?  Do you mean they could be too small - or too big?  Well, yes but not exactly.  They do come in sizes but it has more to do with how your eyes (and hands) are comfortable.

First of all, the binoculars are going to be Zeiss, Swarovski, or Leica.  What makes one of these superior instruments the best depends very much on you.  This is where the comfort comes in.  What fits your hands, face, and eyes.  Everyone has a different fit.

Yes, you are spending a lot of money so you should get just the right fit.

After all, you wouldn’t buy a pair of Berluti’s two size too small - would you?

Stop over to the Cape May Bird Observatory, is THE place for all your nature needs.  Located at 701 East Lake Drive overlooking Lake Lily in Cape May Point (609.884.2736), the store is open 7-days from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  You can ask the staff for help, pick out some binoculars you’d like to see, a free copy of the Summer Kestrel with our schedule of programs and walks for the season, a free birding map and checklist, and browse.  There’s so much to choose from - binoculars, spotting scopes, jewelry, clothing, hats, puzzles, hand painted decorations, books by local authors, feeders…  Even some special bargains in the used and vintage books section, some wonderful Charley Harper merchandise including a terrific lithograph done just for the Cape May Bird Observatory (yours FREE when you become a member).

If you can't make it in person, you can find a wealth of birding information online at www.BirdCapeMay.org. 
Bird Walk - Thursday, August 01, 2013


If you have never been on a bird watching field trip, there are two things you need to know besides when and where to show up.

FIRST - Don’t feel intimidated by what you don’t know.  If you enjoy nature and want to learn more about the special nature of Cape May, you are already ahead of the game.  Cape May is one of the most famous bird watching destinations on the planet.  Why not invest a couple of hours with local experts and discover why thousands of people come here every year just to savor the Cape’s bird wealth? 

SECOND - Just going on a bird walk doesn’t brand you a birder any more than going to Atlantic City and playing the slots makes you a compulsive gambler.

Going on a bird walk is just for fun and to treat you to a side of Cape May you may never have experienced - the natural side.

Any seaside resort can give you surf and sand.  But how many host almost half of the breeding birds found in all of North America. 

How many will you see (and hear) on your walk?  That depends on where you go.  And the date (season really).  And, of course, the weather.

In general, any time between mid-July and late-November is prime birding time in Cape May.  The passage of a cold front makes for a chilly day on the beach but it ferries lots of migrating birds to Cape May.    

Migrating birds now?  Most certainly!  Autumn migration is in full swing .  On an average walk through the South Cape May Meadows you can encounter 40-60 species.  Of course, having skilled bird finding guides is helpful and the quality loaner binoculars that offer the kind of views that make birds really stand out in front of your eyes.

But be careful.  A full frame look at an American Oystercatcher (a portly shorebird that looks like it is wearing a tuxedo and smoking a carrot) or an eye-full of Orchard Oriole (a bird that looks like a fanned ember) might be enough to turn you into a bird watcher.  

And how would you explain that to your kids?  Easy - take the kids with you.  Bird watching is like a treasure hunt.  Fun for the whole family. 

Here’s a few August bird walks you might want to try.  All walks are 2 hours and cost $6 for NJ Audubon/CMBO members and $10 for non-members. 

Every Monday at 7:30 a.m. meet in the parking lot of The Nature Conservancy (South Cape May Meadows) on Sunset Blvd. and you might get to enjoy the walk with Seymore.

Every Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. meet in front of the Hawk Watch Platform at Cape May Point State Park and bird the trails and paths at the State Park.

Every Thursday
at 8:30 a.m. meet in front of the Hawk Watch Platform at Cape May Point State Park.  This walk is great for beginners!

Every Friday
starting August 9 at 7:00 a.m. (for you real early birders), meet in the Higbee Beach parking lot at the end of New England Road and walk the field paths of Higbee.

Every Friday
at 5:30 p.m. (except for tomorrow, August 2 - meet at 6:30 p.m.) meet in the parking lot of The Nature Conservancy (South Cape May Meadows) on Sunset Blvd. for sunset birding through the Meadows.

I have a few tips to help you get the most out of your first bird field trip.  Stay close to one of the leaders.  If you aren’t seeing the bird they are discussing, just say so.  If you are having problems finding birds with your binoculars, ask a leader to help you adjust them.  When the group stops,  find yourself a strategic spot, assume a comfortable, balanced stance on a part of the world that doesn’t crunch under foot (in other words stay off the gravel and out of the dry leaves).  Much of bird watching is actually bird listening.  Shuffling feet mask bird sounds (as do ring cell phones and vocal children so try to mute both before hand).  And when you are stationary, it is easier for your eyes to detect motion, which is key to finding birds.

Last pointer - when looking through a spotting scope, get an identifiable look, then quickly step aside for the next person in line.  Don’t be a scope hog; unless of course it’s your personal scope.  The scopes carried by leaders are for everyone to share.

And sharing is exactly what happens on any regularly scheduled Cape May Bird Observatory bird walk.  Stop by CMBO, THE place for all your nature needs, located at 701 East Lake Drive overlooking Lake Lily in Cape May Point (609.884.2736).  The center is open 7-days from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  You can ask the staff for help, pick up a free copy of the Summer Kestrel with our schedule of programs and walks for the season, a free birding map and checklist, and browse.  There’s so much to choose from - binoculars, spotting scopes, jewelry, clothing, hats, puzzles, hand painted decorations, books by local authors, feeders…  Even some special bargains in the used and vintage books section, some wonderful Charley Harper merchandise including a terrific lithograph done just for the Cape May Bird Observatory (yours FREE when you become a member).  The schedule and birding map is always available at the entrance to the building.

If you can't make it in person, you can find a wealth of birding information, including our monthly calendar of walks, online at www.BirdCapeMay.org.

 
Seasons Passage - Thursday, July 25, 2013


   I don’t know why the first American Robin fledgling of the season always takes me by surprise and seems too early when I hear the throaty churp of a young robin hiding under a hedge.  My first thought just as it is every year - “Oh no, it can’t be summer already.”  But it is.  Once again, spring passed in a rush.

   Funny, but I never accuse autumn of arriving ahead of schedule when the first flocks of snow geese pass in September.  I know it’s time for fall.  Likewise, I don’t second guess the first courting American Woodcock in March or blame them of short-changing winter.  This is particularly hard to understand since I love winter and have nothing but antipathy for summer.  

   If it was up to me there would be three months of summer and five months of winter. American Robins can crank out plenty of young in just three months.  They don’t need an extra several weeks.   Four and four strikes me as just about the right allotment of months for spring and fall.   I could be persuaded  to trim one month from winter to make autumn in Cape May last five full months.

   If there are baby robins out and about now, can this years’ crop of barn swallows be far behind?  Then in a few short weeks the first southbound Yellow Warblers will be touching down in Cape May ushering in five weeks of autumn.

     I don’t know how non-birders gauge the progress of seasons.  Maybe it’s the volume of traffic on the parkway, or how long it takes to find a parking spot in Cape May, or the amount of quarters weighing down your pockets to keep the meters filled when you do find that parking spot.  Or maybe it has to do with displays in shop windows.  

     But for you shopkeepers who want to be in step with the season, here’s some inside information  a little bird told me - it’s time for you to start your end-of summer sales.

     I’ll be sure to let you know when Yellow Warblers decide to call it a season so you don’t get stuck with a lot of unsold summer stock when autumn arrives in Cape May.

     Should be around the first week in August, give or take a cold front.

     If you are confused about the seasons on the calendar, stop over to the Cape May Bird Observatory, they’ll set you straight.  CMBO, the place for all your nature needs, is located at 701 East Lake Drive overlooking Lake Lily in Cape May Point (609.884.2736), and open everyday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  While you are there, pick up a free copy of the Summer Kestrel Express with our schedule of programs and walks for the season, a free birding map and checklist, then browse around the shop.  There’s so much to choose from - jewelry, clothing, hats, hand painted decorations, books by local authors, even insect repellant!  Don’t forget the special bargains in our sale area, used and vintage books section, some wonderful Charley Harper merchandise including a terrific lithograph done just for the Cape May Bird Observatory (FREE when you become a member).

     If you can't make it in person, you can find a wealth of birding information online at www.BirdCapeMay.org.

 
Indigo Buntings - Thursday, July 18, 2013


   Let’s talk about Indigo Buntings.

   Inda-wha?

   Indigo Buntings.  A small, common, drop-dead-gorgeous bird that thrives where woods meet fields.  The bright blue plumage puts a summer sky to shame.  The sharp, glittery notes of the bird’s song gladden the heart.

   It’s just about the most spectacular thing you will ever see this side of the pearly gates and a Super Bowl for the Eagles and...

   You’ve never seen one?  What a stupendous shortfall in your life which, very fortunately, can be amended. 

   Indigo Buntings are pretty common in Cape May.  All you need to do is put yourself in fortune’s path.

   First, a little bit about the bird.

   Indigo Buntings are about the size of a sparrow and (in case you haven’t guessed) indigo blue.  At least the males are indigo blue.  The females are cryptically brown.  It goes with their ambition not to be seen when incubating the clutch of three to four eggs in the small, cup like nest placed in low shrubs, approximately one to three feet above the ground.

   Boy, you’re thinking, that guy Seymore is one smart dude to know all this cool stuff about birds.

   Uh, no.  This guy Seymore just knows that there are books like Kenn Kaufman’s Lives of North American Birds and David Sibley’s Guide to Bird Life and Behavior that have all this neat natural history information in it.  The books are open on my desk.  I’m just quoting the text. 

   You are one trip short of the Cape May Bird Observatory’s store in Cape May Point, from being as erudite as I am.  The place is filled with books that are packed with information like this.

   Back to Indigo Buntings.

   The birds arrive in late April.  They remain in Cape May until early November.  But the best time to see them is now when males are really vocal.  Sitting out on the tops of bushes, singing their bunting trimmed hearts out.

   They are also fond of utility lines.  In fact, they seem to prefer them.  When you are as beautiful as a male Indigo Bunting, you want to stand out and being the only bird perched on a wire serves this ambition.

   My own experience with this species goes all the way back to 1958.  I was a wee little Thanu armed with a pair of WWII binoculars borrowed from my dad, searching the world for all the birds Ma Nature could muster. 

   I didn’t have a field guide (i.e., a book to help me identify the birds I saw).

   By the way, you can buy one (or twenty-one) of these at CMBO, too.

   All I had were a bunch of Audubon leaflets that I got in the mail, including the one featuring Indigo Bunting.

   I never thought I’d ever see a bird this beautiful but, well, I wanted to be prepared just in case.

   It took me years to find one.  That’s because I didn’t know where or how to look.  Cape May Bird Observatory has simplified this, too.  They offer lots of daily walks all summer long and many of them cut right through prime Indigo Bunting habitat.

   Want to brighten your day?   Go on a quest for the bird whose plumage puts a summer sky to shame.

   First place to start is the Cape May Bird Observatory.  CMBO, the place for all your nature needs, is located at 701 East Lake Drive overlooking Lake Lily in Cape May Point (609.884.2736), and open everyday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  Pick up a free copy of the Summer Kestrel Express with our schedule of programs and walks for the season, a free birding map and checklist, then browse around the shop.  There’s so much to choose from - jewelry, clothing, hats, hand painted decorations, books by local authors, even insect repellant!  Don’t forget the special bargains in our sale area, used and vintage books section, some wonderful Charley Harper merchandise including a terrific lithograph done just for the Cape May Bird Observatory (FREE when you become a member).

    If you can't make it in person, you can find a wealth of birding information online at www.BirdCapeMay.org and maybe you’ll be able to find a picture of an Indigo Bunting.

 
Hummers NOW - Thursday, July 11, 2013


Everyone loves hummingbirds.  And now is a great time to attract them into your yard by putting up a hummingbird feeder.  Why now?   By July young hummingbirds are dispersing and migration will continue into September.  Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are actually very common in New Jersey and when this years crop of young fledge, the population will be at its peak. Even if hummingbirds don’t nest near your home, migrants can and do turn up almost anywhere including urban areas (even offshore).  But don’t even think about putting up a hummingbird feeder unless you are prepared to maintain it.  This means replacing sugar water daily in hot weather.  Sugar water ferments and after a snoot full of alcohol, hummingbirds will avoid your feeder.

Instructions about proper feeder maintenance and the correct ratio of sugar to water come with most feeders. Most authorities use a ratio of four parts water to one part sugar.  So four cups of clean water and one cup of everyday regular white processed sugar.  Do not use powdered sugar, artificial sweetener or honey and PLUHLEESE don’t add red food coloring.  A red feeder is enough to catch the bird’s eye.  Boiling the water before adding the sugar will slow down the fermentation process and dissolve the sugar more quickly.  But wait for the liquid to cool at least to room temperature before pouring it into the feeder and putting it outside.  Another good trick is to make enough sugar water for several days and store the reserve in a clean container in your refrigerator to keep it fresh.

Hang your feeder in the open, high enough to be out of the reach of cats and away from windows to prevent a bird strike.

Don’t be surprised to see other birds sipping from your feeder.  Orioles are particularly fond of sugar water.  And some feeders have ports large enough to accommodate oriole bills.  Commercial feeders are not expensive but some makes and models are better than others; easier to fill or clean, or less likely to attract insects.  There are a variety of styles sold at Cape May Bird Observatory, like the HummZinger.  If you want to see one (the feeder and the hummingbirds) in action, visit CMBO at 701 East Lake Drive Cape May Point (just off Lighthouse Ave).  Hummingbirds appear every 15 minutes or so.

Of course the best way to attract hummingbirds to your yard is to landscape with lots of hummingbird-friendly flowers.  Local naturalist Pat Sutton  is an authority on the subject.  On the New Jersey Audubon website (www.njaudubon.org), Pat has a two part article “How to Create a Butterfly and Hummingbird Garden.”

Think of birds and butterflies as animated blossoms.  Why have an ordinary garden when you can have a dynamic one?

Consider leaving your hummingbird feeder filled and out into November.  While there is only one breeding hummingbird in the East, western species tend to wander here in October and November.

If you get to Cape May Bird Observatory between hummingbird visits, you can amuse yourself by watching all the other bird species coming to the feeders. Or you check out the hot new Zeiss Terra binocular.  It’s a game changer - a German optical glass for those of us who don’t have Swiss bank accounts. 

Cape May Bird Observatory, is THE place for all your nature needs.  Located at 701 East Lake Drive overlooking Lake Lily in Cape May Point (609.884.2736), the store is open 7-days from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  You can ask the staff for help, pick up a free copy of the Summer Kestrel with our schedule of programs and walks for the season, a free birding map and checklist, and browse.  There’s so much to choose from - binoculars, spotting scopes, jewelry, clothing, hats, puzzles, hand painted decorations, books by local authors, feeders…  Even some special bargains in the used and vintage books section, some wonderful Charley Harper merchandise including a terrific lithograph done just for the Cape May Bird Observatory (yours FREE when you become a member).

If you can't make it in person, you can find a wealth of birding information online at www.BirdCapeMay.org.

 
Instant Messaging - Wednesday, July 03, 2013


   The expression “a little bird told me” has special and literal meaning if you are a bird watcher. 

   Every new arrival marks a seasonal milestone.  When the year’s first House Wren arrives it lets you know with a song.  After a winter’s absence, the morning you hear the ringing whistle of Osprey signals that a new breeding season has arrived.  Who needs a groundhog to mark the passing of one season into the next when spring heralds are arriving with a fresh seasonal update everyday. To birders, spring sends an instant message update every morning.  All you need to do is wake up, open a window, and get your voice mail.

   It’s not just informative, it is anchoring and affirming to be so connected to the world around us.

   Birds are nature’s envoys.  All a person needs to do to get on Mother Nature’s Facebook page is boot up your senses and listen.

   Over at the Cape May Bird Observatory, they’ve got a entirely different way of Tweeting!  You should stop over and see for yourself.  CMBO, the place for all your nature needs, is located at 701 East Lake Drive overlooking Lake Lily in Cape May Point (609.884.2736), and open everyday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  While you are there, pick up a free copy of the Summer Kestrel Express with our schedule of programs and walks for the season, a free birding map and checklist, then browse around the shop.  There’s so much to choose from - jewelry, clothing, hats, hand painted decorations, books by local authors, even insect repellant!  Don’t forget the special bargains in our sale area, used and vintage books section, some wonderful Charley Harper merchandise including a terrific lithograph done just for the Cape May Bird Observatory (FREE when you become a member).

   If you can't make it in person, you can find a wealth of birding information online at www.BirdCapeMay.org.  And i you are more into the IM world, you can find us on Facebook or Tweet us with just a few clicks.