John’s Adventure Blog – Delaware Bay, May 2012

“New Jersey Side of Delaware Bay” Blog – 2012

Six intrepid participants joined Eileen and me for our two-day trip (May 25th and 26th), which included viewing migrating shorebirds along the New Jersey side of Delaware Bay. We met at the Exit 49 Park and Ride of the Long Island Expressway at 6:15 a.m. to pick up one group and then another a few minutes later at a retail area in Jericho.

We headed to Reeds Beach along the Delaware Bayshore, arriving around 10:45 a.m. Here, at a beach house rented by shorebird researchers, we were treated to an overview of the current status of Red Knots and a tentative assessment of the 2012 season by Larry Niles, one of the world’s leading researchers on this species. Alula Birding & Natural History Tours was delighted to present a check of $120 to assist the researchers in buying needed equipment. Donating to conservation organizations working to protect birds in the places Alula B&NHT travels to is a priority for us!!

We had intended to head to the Reeds Beach overlook five minutes down the road but research staff indicated the shore birds weren’t there, but rather frequenting several of the beaches further south, notably Cooks and Kimble’s Beaches.  We headed first to Cooks Beach where we were treated to thousands of Red Knots, Ruddy Turnstones, Sanderlings, and Semipalmated Sandpipers actively feeding along the narrow shoreline. Docents were there to provide information about the migration spectacle and to make sure beach users refrained from disturbing the feeding birds. After Cooks we headed to Kimble’s Beach where we were again treated to the sight of countless shorebirds scurrying around on the beach feeding on horseshoe crab eggs, thousands of which were in plain sight in front of us in the wrack line. Numerous diamondback terrapins floated in the bay just offshore, visible solely by their heads jutting above the water.

Under a tent on the beach three banders were actively engaged in banding, weighing, and measuring shorebirds they had captured earlier using cannon nets. One bander was taking blood samples from the birds (from an artery on the underside of the wing) to gain an understanding of where they had been feeding through the use of stable isotope analysis. After eating the provided for box lunches on the beach, we headed north, stopping off at the Cape May Bird Observatory’s Center for Research and Education on Route 47.  Here we birded the grounds a little bit, the highlight being a singing Indigo Bunting. A few posters and bird books were purchased too!

The next stop on our itinerary was the wooden marsh overlook at Thompsons Beach. The overlook and parking lot are situated in the roadbed that once provided access to the bay shore but the road has deteriorated to such a degree, due to erosion and flooding, that access is no longer possible. We enjoyed watching as thousands of fiddler crabs (both left- and right-handed individuals) scurried toward their burrows when they saw the pack of dangerous humans lurking on the wooden platform over them!

Here, we enjoyed a close-up view of a Clapper Rail actively preening for a couple of minutes and heard many others calling around us, often one bird responding immediately to another. From the platform participants also had fine views of calling Marsh Wrens, with their tail cocked skyward in typical wren fashion and their legs splayed on two separate salt marsh cordgrass stems. In the mudflats to the east of the platform we enjoyed views of numerous Black-bellied Plovers in various plumage stages, ranging from basic plumage (non-breeding  or  winter plumage) to their stunning alternate (breeding or summer) plumage, as well as other shore and wading bird species.

East Point, where the Maurice River flows into the Bay was our next stop. There we observed about a hundred shorebirds predominated by Semipalmated Sandpipers. A lone Red Knot was resting among them.

A short ride up the road brought us to the Heislerville Wildlife Management Area. Two impoundments form the bulk of the WMA and both can be quite productive for shorebirds and wading birds during spring migration.  In 2011 we saw a remarkable concentration of shorebirds here (see 2011 blog for details). We had hoped to replicate the experience but alas, had to settle for thousands of shorebirds rather than tens of thousands of birds as seen the year before! Semipalmated Sandpiper was the dominant species with quite a few Semipalmated Plovers, Black-bellied Plover, Dunlin, and Short-billed Dowitcher thrown into the mix. Despite extensive searches of both impoundments we could not find the Curlew Sandpiper that had been there for the previous week or so.

To the north of the northern impoundment is a large pond that has a densely treed island and in the tree are many stick nests. These nests belong to several species – Double-crested Cormorants, Great or American Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and Black-crowned Night Herons.  As we enjoyed watching adult birds coming back to their nests, some with nesting material in this rather impressive wading bird nesting colony, we realized there were three very large dark birds-of-prey perched in a tree on the other side that upon closer observation turned out to be immature Bald Eagles!

After enjoying the eagles we headed east for a nice meal at the Bull & Bear Tavern in Woodbine before traveling further east to spend the night in Sea Isle City.

The next morning we shifted our focus to songbirds by birding the beautiful woodlands and lakes of Belleplain State Forest. We saw and heard a number of songbirds as we walked along the very lightly traveled roads that bisect the forest, tallying numerous Acadian Flycatchers, Yellow-throated Warblers, Summer Tanagers (including what appeared to be a territorial dispute between two pairs of tanagers), Worm-eating Warbler, Ovenbird, Hooded warbler, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and Red-eyed Vireo. Another visual treat was an eyed elater, a large species of click beetle with two prominent eye spots on its pronotum, the shield-like covering behind a beetle’s head.

Around noon we began our return to Long Island, making an intermediate stop at the Edwin Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge (Brigantine) to bird for several hours. Highlights at this large refuge, situated north of Atlantic City, included great views of a large colony of nesting Purple Martins, as well as several Gull-billed Terns, and we ended the day watching a Whimbrel taking a bath amidst a bunch of other shorebird species. This large shorebird was the seventy ninth bird species for the trip and it made the ride back to the Island all the more enjoyable!!

John Turner, President of Alula Birding & Natural History Tours, presents a check for $120 to Larry Niles and Amanda Dey. Larry is a scientist with the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey while Amanda is a wildlife biologist with the New Jersey Endangered Species and Nongame Species Program. Both have had a long involvement in researching and protecting Red Knots and other shorebirds along Delaware Bay. The funds will go towards the purchase of additional research equipment used to study shorebird biology/ecology.

Six participants joined Alula Birding & Natural History Tours during a two day trip to the New Jersey side of Delaware Bay. Here, joined by John Turner, President of Alula BNHT, they are standing along one of the bayside beaches where horseshoe crabs and shorebirds are seen in great concentrations during the latter half of May.

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