PhotoPatty (and Al) Visit NJ

On Monday, one of Shari and my Flickr friends, PhotoPatty, was in town with her husband Al, and we decided to get together so that I could show them around the birding hot spots in NJ. Or rather, some of the coastal hot spots (such as they are in the middle of summer).

Forsythe NWR

Since they were staying in Atlantic City, the obvious first choice was to go to Forsythe NWR in Brigantine. Obviously, I’ve been there a ton of times and so it was a good place because I knew where to look for certain things. However, I also knew that this time of year was notorious for the greenheads, which can make any trip around the Wildlife Drive a nightmare. Still, it was worth a try just in case they weren’t there.

At first it looked like we might be in luck. Patty and Al got there just before me and were already seeing their first lifebird of the trip – the purple martins in the houses by the parking lot. Better yet, there was not a single fly to be seen. That would prove to be a short-lived blessing, as the greenheads descended on us seconds after we made it to the main intersection for the drive. A dose of bug spray (and a couple of follow-up applications) proved effective at keeping the bites at bay, but the were swarming us with abandon which was annoying in itself. Strangely, getting OUT of the car at different stops would prove to lessen the flies impact, so we did so frequently during the first half of the drive around the park.

Early morning light was excellent with a warm sun, cool breeze and cloudless sky. However, the birds were a little less accommodating as they were hanging out on the ‘sunny side’ of the drive, making photography difficult. Still, Patty and Al were enjoying the few birds that were out – a number of different peep species, their first Great Black-backed Gull, and a few terns diving into the water. Just past the first tower, we got our first good looks as a host of Forster’s Terns were perched near the intake, allowing for some easy photography. We were joined by a newbie birder who obviously had NOT been to Forsythe before, so we lent him some spray to avoid any further damage to his already mangled legs. We were able teach him about some of the local species, which is great – I love seeing new birders getting out there and being excited at almost everything they see.

Back on the ‘old-hat’ birding front, we were being treated to a number of the Forsythe standards: Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Great Blue Heron, Herring Gull, Laughing Gull, and a few less common species including Black Skimmers & Spotted Sandpiper, and something new for me at Forsythe, a Least Tern. And the Osprey were out in force – one nest had FOUR young, which is the most I’ve ever seen in a single nest. I’m more used to a pair of young, but this family went super-sized: must have been a good year.

The big excitement came when we made it around the first bend, where the intake usually hosts several terns fishing and is the most common spot to see a Black-crowned Night Heron. Neither of them were there, but what WAS there were 2 (maybe 3) Smooth Dogfish swimming near the rocks trying to eat crabs. That’s right – SHARKS. I was really stoked – I have always wanted to see sharks in the wild (sand tigers hanging around the fishing pier don’t count), so this was a first for me.

Shark in the Pond

Unfortunately, it would be the highlight of the rest of the loop as the birds weren’t really playing fair (especially the Roseate Spoonbill, which was nowhere to be seen), and the flies were getting worse as the day went on, so we decided to work our way to Cape May. Even if the birding wasn’t excellent, how can you bird in NJ without visiting Cape May?

* = new, ^ = first of season

  • Canada Goose
  • Northern Bobwhite
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Snowy Egret
  • Black-crowned Night-Heron
  • Semipalmated Plover
  • Spotted Sandpiper
  • Greater Yellowlegs
  • Willet
  • Lesser Yellowlegs
  • Whimbrel
  • Sanderling
  • Western Sandpiper
  • Least Sandpiper
  • White-rumped Sandpiper
  • Short-billed Dowitcher
  • Laughing Gull
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Herring Gull
  • Great Black-backed Gull
  • Least Tern
  • Gull-billed Tern
  • Forster’s Tern
  • Black Skimmer
  • Glossy Ibis
  • Osprey
  • Mourning Dove
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Fish Crow
  • Purple Martin
  • Tree Swallow
  • Bank Swallow
  • Carolina Chickadee
  • American Robin
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • American Goldfinch
  • Odonata
  • Wandering Glider
  • Seaside Dragonlet^
  • Halloween Pennant
  •  
  • Butterflies
  • Monarch
  • Black Swallowtail
  • Orange Sulphur
  • Common Buckeye
  • OTHER
  • Eastern Box Turtle^
  • Diamondback Terrapin^
  • Snapping Turtle
  • Smooth Dogfish (shark)*

Cape May

After the short drive from Brigantine to Cape May, we decided to get some breakfast. Then it was off to the Cape May State Park to do some birding. The ponds weren’t really doing much, so we jumped into doing the hike around the marshes/swamps in the park. And the birding was just about what you would expect near noon on a hot day in summer – not absolutely horrible, but not too great either. But I got to show off some of my knowledge of butterflies and dragonflies, which Patty and Al weren’t very familiar with. They seemed interested – but more likely they were just humoring me.

I had to get excited, though, when one of those huge black dragonflies that frequents the park was actually grounded for a bit – I’ve been trying for two years to get a good shot, and finally got a bunch of them with this guy. Turns out that they were indeed Swamp Darners, as I had thought. But I tried not to spend too much time taking pictures of butterflies and dragonflies, since I knew that they wanted to bird. There wasn’t much new under the sun for me, but they were able to pick up a few new species – Gray Catbird, Carolina Chickadee and American Black Ducks among them. There were a couple other birds flitting about – including a unseasonal Cedar Waxwing, but I really wanted to get them a Blue-gray gnatcatcher that wouldn’t come close enough for a good look. A horde of brown birds (starlings, brown-headed cowbirds, etc.) ended our trip around the marsh, and we decided to go to the Cape May Meadows.

The Meadows

The Meadows was a little more populated than the state park had been, but not particularly lively or easy to get pictures of the birds that WERE there. Still, it was fun to visit the place and see some older species for the first time this year. And Patty & Al got to see their first Mute Swans, as well as seeing a fledgling American Oystercatcher (a FOS for me) and a Least Tern laying on a pair of eggs. There were a ton of odes at the Meadows, as always, including some Needham’s & Painted Skimmers and Halloween Pennants. But soon enough, the heat of the day led us to the end of the loop and we decided to call it a day to head back ‘home’ for some dinner.

* = new, ^ = first of season

  • Canada Goose
  • American Black Duck
  • Mute Swan
  • Great Egret
  • Snowy Egret
  • American Oystercatcher
  • Sanderling
  • Willet
  • Lesser Yellowlegs
  • Least Sandpiper
  • Laughing Gull
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Herring Gull
  • Great Black-backed Gull
  • Least Tern
  • Common Tern
  • Black Skimmer
  • Mourning Dove
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Fish Crow
  • Purple Martin
  • Tree Swallow
  • Blue-gray gnatcatcher
  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Semipalmated Plover
  • American Robin
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Gray Catbird
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • American Goldfinch
  • Odonata
  • Wandering Glider
  • Common Green Darner
  • Swamp Darner^
  • Blue Dasher
  • Spangled Skimmer
  • Caroline Saddlebags^
  • Needham’s Skimmer^
  • Painted Skimmer^
  • Halloween Pennant
  • Eastern Forktail
  • Blue-tipped Dancer
  • Butterflies
  • Monarch
  • Black Swallowtail
  • Spicebush Swallowtail^
  • Common Buckeye
  • Least Skipper

End of the Day

The end of the day (after a Garmin-inspired 26-mile detour) was back in Haddonfield, where Patty and Al got to meet Shari and the pets, and where we went to a delicious dinner at the Cheesecake Factory (thanks for dinner, Al & Patty!). But it was great to sit back after a long, hot and enjoyable day of birding and talk with them and get to know them beyond the pictures. Soon enough, it was time to say our goodbyes but it was – at least I thought it was – a successful day. They tallied 7 or 8 new species, which isn’t bad for a mid-summer venture, although I’d LOVE to show them the migration in Cape May one of these days. Or who knows, maybe next year we’ll all get together in Texas or some other exotic birding locale for a combined trip?

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