Fall migration in Cape May

1519 October, 2023

We travel to Cape May, New Jersey, for the heart of fall migration. This is an excellent time for hawks, sparrows, returning seaducks and northeast specialists like Purple Sandpiper, Great Cormorant and more. Cape May itself has much to offer, and is among the most famous birding spots and migration meccas in the world.

This fall migration tour is built around raptor, songbird, seabird, and monarch migration with field trips and workshops on each. We will be guided by raptor expert and Ornitherapy author Holly Merker, and we will also learn from staff at Cape May Bird Observatory and Cellular Tracking Technologies. 

  • Fall migration tour Cape May
  • Fall migration tour Cape May
  • Fall migration tour Cape May
  • Fall migration tour Cape May
  • Fall migration tour Cape May
  • Fall migration tour Cape May

Number of days/nights: 5 days / 4 nights

Starting: 10/15/2023, Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) (airport pick-up scheduled at 1 pm)

Finishing: 10/19/2023, Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) (airport drop-off scheduled at 11 am)

Experience the heart of fall migration with field visits and workshops focusing on raptor, songbird, seabird, and monarch migration in this world-renowned birding destination. As the weather influences bird migration significantly, we’ll see what Mother Nature deals us and then plan accordingly, but generally we will divide our time in search of migrating hawks, songbirds, waders, and seabirds, while drinking in visible migration wherever it is ongoing. With the incredible variety of birding hotspots, all located within five to ninety minutes from our base, we won’t be lacking options. Over the course of the tour, possible hotspots include:

John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge.

One of the most visited birding spots in the nation, and the number two eBird hotspot in Pennsylvania in species diversity. We expect a nice variety of waterfowl usually by this point in autumn, and there should be songbirds on the move as well. Heinz is one of the better places in the state for seeing Rusty Blackbird so we’ll keep an eye for those and anything else.


Higbee Beach

Perhaps the area’s best known songbird site, a series of fields, hedgerows and wooded areas, visible migration is often at its best here at dawn. Likely we’ll spend more than one dawn at this site, watching the early part of the day unfold as warblers and sparrows zip about, and falcons like Peregrines and Merlins rocket past. It is prime vagrant season here too, so we’ll need to keep eyes peeled for any avian out-of-towners.

The Beanery

Another fantastic songbird and raptor spot, the Beanery is a working lima bean farm, privately held but made accessible to birders. A combination of willow-lined ponds, ag fields, and hardwood forest, it is well known for attracting a tremendous array of songbirds. Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warblers especially will be on the move and in numbers, and Palm Warblers will also be evident, and we find other wood-warblers, and sparrows as well. Often this is a good early or mid-morning spot, and by mid-morning hawks are usually very much in evidence and we’ll want to keep a sharp ear out too for other scarce flyover birds like American Pipit and Dickcissel.

The South Cape May Meadows

Formerly an old cow pasture, this is now a restored wetland with lots of open space, ponds, dunes, and beach habitat. The ponds often hold ducks and shorebirds, while the dunes and beaches can hold a variety of songbirds, and as always, we’ll need to keep an eye to the skies. The Meadows has had an incredible long list of crazy birds over the years, and every day there is something fun to observe.

The Avalon Seawatch, Sunset Beach, and beach access points

There are a great variety of beach/ocean access points, and we’ll make use of several as we seek Parasitic Jaegers, Northern Gannets, and to witness loons and scoters migrating, and other seabirds as well. Usually at these sites we perform stationary counts and share spotting scopes to best view the migrating birds, but sometimes there are interesting terns and gulls perched right on the beach near at hand. The dune scrub can also hold songbirds of note.

Cape May Bird Observatory

The Cape May Bird Observatory has a host of staff around we’ll engage with to accent our time here, and where we can learn also about Monarch butterfly migration and dragonflies too.

Stone Harbor Point

A gorgeous long beach, often holding good numbers of gulls, terns, seaducks, and shorebirds, the mile+ (one-way) long walk to the southern end is often worthwhile and can be utterly thrilling.

Edwin B. Forsyth National Wildlife Refuge (Brigantine Division)

One of the best birding locations on the whole east coast, “Brig” as it’s known by the locals, is a massive coastal impoundment that attracts large numbers of herons, ducks and shorebirds, fringed by pine-oak woodlands. It also holds nice stretches of spartina saltmarsh and we’ll keep a share eye out here for Clapper Rail, and sparrows such as Saltarsh, Seaside and even migrant Nelson’s.

Sunday, 10/15/2023:

1:00 pm: Pick-up at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) for all guests; depart immediately for Cape May.

Mid to late afternoon at hawk watch platform, orientation to the state park; walk trails from platform.

Check-in to hotel.

Dinner nearby.

Monday, 10/16/2023:

7:00–9:00 am: Field trip: Morning flight at Higbee with Glen Davis

10:00 am–12:00 pm: Field trip: Hawk ID with Holly Merker, at site of choice

12:00 pm: Lunch

1:30–3:00 pm: Monarch Demo with CMBO representative

3:15 pm: Back to hotel for downtime, walk the beach, edit photos, etc.

5:00 pm: Classroom session: Hawk ID with Holly Merker

6:30pm: Dinner

Tuesday, 10/17/2023:

7:00–9:00 am: Field trip: Avalon Seawatch with Holly Merker and seawatch counter

10:00 am–12:00 pm: Field trip: Hawk ID with Holly Merker at site of choice

12:00 pm: Lunch

1:30–2:30 pm: Field trip: Songbird banding demo at SCMM (Meadows)

2:30–3:30 pm: Follow demo with walk of the SCMM

5:00 pm: Classroom session: Shorebird/seabird tracking with Cellular Tracking Technologies (CTT)

6:30 pm: Catered dinner at CTT

Wednesday, 10/18/2023:

7:00–9:00 am: Morning Flight at Coral Ave. with Glen Davis

10:00 am–12:00 pm: Classroom: Raptor migration talk (TBD Holly or CTT)

12:00 pm: Lunch

1:30–5:30 pm: Open afternoon birding. Unstructured to allow for impromptu rarity chase, or visit to Forsyth NWR, or more hawkwatching, depending on what conditions suggest is best.

6:30 pm: Dinner

Thursday, 10/19/2023:

7:00–9:00 am: Birding at Higbee Beach or the Meadows

9:15 am: Transfer to Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)

11:00 am: Drop-off at PHL for return flights

When: 15–19 October, 2023
Where: Philadelphia International Airport (PHL): Pick-up 10/15 at 1pm, Drop-off 10/19 at 11am
How Much: $2,500 in double occupancy
Single Supplement: $450.00


  • 4 hotel nights.
  • 3 meals per day from dinner on day 1 until breakfast until day 5, including non-alcoholic beverages during meals.
  • Local private transportation to and from sites visited.
  • Airport transfers: Pick-up at PHL airport 10/15 at 1pm. Drop-off at PHL airport 10/19 at 11am.
  • All guiding fees for tour leaders and local guides.
  • All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary.
  • All activities as described in the itinerary.
  • Donations to CMBO, CTT, and local conservation program.

Not included:

  • Transportation from your home to and from start/end point (Philadelphia International Airport).
  • Alcoholic beverages.
  • Items such as (but not limited to) laundry service, room service, phone calls, toiletries, souvenirs etc.
  • No insurance is included. We do strongly recommend you get your own travel, cancellation, and medical insurance.
  • Any tips you would like to offer tour leaders, guides, drivers, porters, wait staff, housekeeping etc. for outstanding service.

Terms & Conditions >>

Group size

  • Participants: min. 6 – max. 16
  • Guides: 1 – 2 (if over 7 participants)
  • ABA reps: 1


  • Birds & Monarch migration: Focused especially on hawks, morning songbird flight, Avalon seawatch & tail end of Monarch migration.
  • Specialty birds: migration spectacle (especially hawks, shorebirds, seaducks, and songbirds including marsh sparrows). Good chances for Saltmarsh Sparrow, Seaside Sparrow, Nelson’s Sparrow, Great Cormorant, Clapper Rail, Purple Sandpiper, Ipswich Sparrow, and more.
  • Visited projects: CMBO and various monitoring projects, incl. Hawkwatch, morning songbird flight, tracking of migrants via Cellular Tracking Technologies, and Monarch Butterfly tagging program.

Birding pace

  • Moderate pace.
  • Mix of field time to witness migration in action, complemented by both indoor and outdoor classroom settings.
  • Meals: breakfasts and lunches are a mix of grab/go, picnic style with indoor dinners at restaurants or maybe catered.

Photography opportunities

  • Medium to good.
  • Much depends on weather, but emphasis is on learning about migration.
  • Photography will be opportunistic and not the main thrust of this migration workshop.

Physical difficulty

  • Easy to moderate.
  • No rigorous hiking, but some prolonged walks or bouts of standing while searching for birds.
  • Early mornings are perhaps the most trying aspect, as we’ll be up at or before dawn daily. We try to finish dinner by 8:30-9:00 pm each night.
  • Flexibility of birding from one base, so guests can opt in or out of morning or afternoon activities.

This tour is organized in collaboration with our local partner Hillstar Nature.

All photos ©George Armistead.