Cape May. Cape May. The name is fame for birders. Hawk migration, best in the country. Rarities abound. Cape May is birding paradise. And today I got to see why.
I started the birding day at Lake Lilly in Cape May where a Eurasian Wigeon has been reported for quite some time on eBird. We arrived and the ducks were everywhere. Gadwall, Mallard, and American Wigeon made up the bulk. But there were others, diving ducks, cormorants, swans, geese and grebes. There had to have been at least a few hundred waterfowl individuals. I searched and searched and searched. I looked through small and large groups of American Wigeons, and Gadwall. I checked to make sure that every wigeon didn't have a red head. Several times I thought "it's not here" but what keep getting me was that on nearly every scan I kept finding birds that I hadn't seen on previous scans. Even very obvious birds, like the only cormorant on the lake and Mute Swans. If I hadn't spotted them before, maybe I hadn't spotted the wigeon. I searched and searched some more. I really had covered basically everywhere on the lake and was losing hope fast. But there was one last group to check out one more time - a mixed Mallard/Am. Wigeon group on the far shore. I sifted through that group with my scope. American, Mallard, American, Mallard, Mallard, American, EURASIAN! Yes, Eurasian. And it was. The male Eurasian Wigeon showing all of his beauty. Number 433 for my Junior Big Year. A wonderful success. From there we headed to the Cape May hawk platform, just to see where the famous spot was. There we met several birders and they told us a spot that was even better for Saltmarsh Sparrow than the one I had heard about. After the hawk watch we headed to the "beanery" where a Bell's Vireo has been reported lately. There were 3 other birders there and the time we were there, no vireo. We went to the new spot for Saltmarsh Sparrow that the folks at the hawk watch told us about. We walked around and then I spotted a good looking sparrow fly into a bush. I approached slowly, pishing and making mouth noises. No sparrow. No sparrow in that bush. I didn't see it fly away, neither did my dad but it was gone. I knew I couldn't let this sparrow go. From what I saw I knew that there was at least a 50/50 chance that it was a Saltmarsh. "there!" I exclaimed quietly. Then it gave a brief but good look. It was what we hoped it was, the more common one of the two Sharp-tailed Sparrows - Saltmarsh. A life bird for both my dad and I and number 434 for my year. After the sparrow score we headed back to the Avalon Sea Watch where we got the life Common Eider yesterday and where the King Eider is supposed to be. It took some time just to find the eider/scoter flock but we did, though they were pretty far out. We had to get to a good location for a good view but we did and I was sifting through a part of a distant part of the flock when I spotted the male King Eider. How beautiful. I have long-wanted to see a King Eider but little did I think it would be on December 30 in the last 48 hours of my Junior Big Year. How amazing. From there we headed to the spot I originally heard was good for sharp-tailed sparrows to try our luck on the other one - Nelson's. We walked around for a good while but no luck. Given my cold and everything we were now tired so we took a brake and rest and ate. Things were clicking so the next obvious thing to do was to go try for the Bell's Vireo again. When we arrived there were no other birders, and no vireo to be seen. We walked around and sat around but the whole time we were looking. I followed a bird around for a while, hoping it was the vireo but it turned out to be a chickadee. While sitting I spotted it - the Bell's Vireo! It sat around and gave a nice look to both my dad and I. I didn't catch the wing bars, my dad didn't catch the eye marks, but we both caught the yellow on the sides, so between us we saw all the field marks. Success! Right after I saw the vireo some other birders showed up. We left a little while after they arrived but never saw the vireo again. They stayed longer, I hope they re-found the vireo!
Tomorrow I drive home. I really don't expect to get any more year birds but ending the year at 436 is amazing. I will do one or two last posts on New Year's Eve and or New Year's Day. What a year it's been.