At the mic: Andrew Marden
Andrew Marden lives in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey and has been birding for 9 out of the 15 years he has been alive. After being shown his first bird, an Eastern Kingbird, he has not stopped and has traveled to many places including the Galapagos Islands, Costa Rica, London, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and various places across the U.S. His favorite bird is the Northern Cardinal, and he just started a blog. His other activities include playing music, swimming, hiking, and biking.
The Cape May Autumn Birding Festival is a weekend long event that is in its 68th year, making it the longest-running birding festival in North America. Birders from around the state and country gather to this migration hotspot to witness the spectacle of fall migration in New Jersey. Rare birds are almost always found, and up to 200 species of birds can be seen throughout the whole weekend. The sheer number of migrants flying overhead and in the parks can also be quite the sight to see! With all this in mind, the New Jersey Young Birders Club ran a Youth Birding Day sponsored by Zeiss Optics as part of the Cape May Autumn Birding Weekend. A group of seven young birders from both in and out of state and a few adults were led by Scott Barnes and Sam Wilson, who did a fantastic job showing us around Cape May. We all met up at the parking lot of Cape May Point State Park at 9:00 AM and began our eventful and bird-filled day.
At the very beginning of our day, the group was treated to fly-bys that consisted of a juvenile “Blue” Snow Goose, an Eastern Meadowlark, hundreds of Yellow-rumped Warblers and various blackbird species, and a non-fly-by Red-breasted Nuthatch in the cedars which gave wonderful views for the group. With this auspicious start to the day, the group moved over to the hawk-watch platform to scope out the waterfowl on Bunker Pond and the gigantic kettle of various raptors soaring over the point which consisted of Turkey and Black Vultures, Red-shouldered, Broad-winged, Red-tailed, Sharp-shinned, and Cooper’s Hawks, and A Northern Harrier or two. Amidst all this, a call went out for Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, and those who heard it immediately stopped what they were doing to get their binocs on this rarity. Sure enough, though distant, a few of us could make out the body of this long-tailed flycatcher flying right past the point. After a few minutes of disbelief and shock, a celebrating group marched on to the Lighthouse Pond, where we located the four continuing Eurasian Wigeons among a flock of American Wigeons. A Green Heron was also spotted across the pond, a nice find for the time of year. After another few hours of birding the state park, which included a few Hermit Thrushes and two close Pectoral Sandpipers, the group headed back to the picnic tables for the lunch, generously paid for by Zeiss, to discuss the day’s events and to catch up on our other birding adventures.
Our next stops were the Lehigh Avenue and Coral Avenue Dune Crossings where we could overlook the Delaware Bay. On the waterfowl end, there were many groups of Black Scoters floating by the jetties with a few Surf Scoters mixed in. They weren’t quite waterfowl, but were still a very good bird. We saw a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls resting on the beach among the various other gulls. Our migrants included a few more fly-by harriers, a group of Pine Siskins, another Red-breasted Nuthatch, and a few different sparrow species which included a Savannah and a Vesper sparrow. Also, if we were quick enough, a few members of the group got to watch a Golden Eagle fly further and further away until it was too distant to even see with binoculars. After we had our fill of those, we loaded into the van and shipped off to the Cape May Convention Center where most of the birder activity was during the day.
The convention center was loaded with different information stalls and vendors selling everything from field guides to digiscoping accessories. It made some of us wish we had brought our money! We met many people and also got to see a live Red-tailed Hawk and an Eastern Screech-Owl up close. It was a pretty cool stop and certainly something worth checking out.
Our final stop of the day was at Cape May Meadows, where we would search for more species to boost our total for the day. We added various shorebirds including a pair of Stilt Sandpipers, heard a Virginia Rail, and got even better looks at Vesper Sparrow and Eastern Meadowlark. In the central impoundment we also had nice numbers of waterfowl including two Pied-billed Grebes and a few American Coots. Finishing with an impressive 89 species for the day, our exhausted team of young birders filed back into the van to finish where we started back at the state park. It was quite the day, and it couldn’t have been done without the excellent leadership of Scott Barnes and Sam Wilson, who did a fantastic job of both showing us birds and teaching us many useful tips about bird identification and habitat, Zeiss Optics who sponsored us for the day, and of course the parents who drove us there. It was a day that none of us will forget, and something we certainly look forward to again next year.