Big Year 2016: Cape May

First trip of the year – Cape May and the environs. I always love hitting the Cape May area early in January for the winter birds that frequent the bird-friendly wetlands and beaches around Cape May. It turned out to be a good day, with me seeing 48 new species for the year.

The drive down gave me some of the common species I hadn’t seen around the yard yet: pigeon, Canada Goose, starling and some of the gulls. Pulling into Sunset Beach gave me the first interesting species of the day, a Surf Scoter. But the winds were blowing and most things at the beach were well past the rips so I moved on.


The Cape May Bird Observatory – specifically Lily Lake – offered up some of the first waterfowl species for the year: the typical mallards and mute swans, plus GADWALL, AMERICAN WIGEON and RING-NECKED DUCK. Nice looks at them although they were skittish as they tend to be.

Ring Around the Bill

Lighthouse Pond – Cape May Point State Park

I stopped by the Lighthouse Pond on the way into the State Park and there was a lot of great things to see. AMERICAN COOT, NORTHERN SHOVELER, BLUE and GREEN-WINGED TEAL. But the highlight of the stop at the pond was the male EURASIAN WIGEON, a increasingly annual visitor to southern NJ1. It’s a beautiful bird and I got my best shot of one yet.

The rest of the park was also just as much fun. Along with the ones I expected to see – TURKEY VULTURE, MUTE SWAN, etc. – there were great looks at uncommon but cool birds (for me) such as the SHARP-SHINNED and RED-SHOULDERED HAWKS, CEDAR WAXWINGS and a FIELD SPARROW hanging out in the reeds along the edge of the main pond. CAROLINA WRENS were even singing off of the HawkWatch!! SWAMP SPARROWS were competing with SONG SPARROWS and AMERICAN GOLDFINCH throughout. The weather was warming up so the YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS were out in force, chittering away and flying in and out of the dunes to give quite a show, as the numerous waterfowl in the bunker ponds fed in the chilly pools.

I've Come for Your American Women

Just gotta sing

The Villas – Miami Ave

I went looking for the rare-ish Black-headed Gull at Miami Ave. Walking down the beach I came across a slew of shorebirds in the tidal flats and another birder clued me in to look for a large number of RED KNOT there. Red knot are uncommon (at best) in NJ in winter and I saw at least 15 of them (he said 2 dozen)!!! Joining them were SANDERLING, BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER and DUNLIN. Back at the entrance, a sandbar held gulls, including BONAPARTE GULLS and FORSTER’S TERNS but sadly no Black-headed Gulls that I could find. Still a good day when I get to see over a dozen Red Knot in January in NJ.

Winter Knot

Villas-Cox Hall Creek WMA

Last stop was the WMA where a couple of rarities were being seen – I ended up finding the immature male RED-HEADED WOODPECKER flying back and forth between a roost and a food supply. I ended up watching for about 10 minutes as he transited the two locations, calling every so often. But I missed the Varied Thrush that had been seen there for the past few months, despite a vigorous search. Reports had it being a very secretive bird but as far as I know no one saw it for days before or after.

Red-headed Rarity

Still, it was a great overall day – 50+ species including 4 seasonal rarities.


  • Eurasian Wigeon
  • Field Sparrow
  • Red Knot
  • Red-headed Woodpecker^
2016 YTD Tally
61 Species – Month 61
Lifers 0
NJ Species 61
NJ Lifers 1

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