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USA | New Jersey Cape May in Spring

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A 9-day birdwatching tour to Cape May, New Jersey, USA

Springtime at famous Cape May! A hotspot for bird migration in autumn, Cape May also has enormous appeal in spring as flocks of passage waders pause to feast on the annual Horseshoe Crab spawning, and colourful American warblers push on north or are settled on their New Jersey breeding grounds. Raptors will be moving too, and can include Mississippi and Swallow-tailed Kites, along with herons, terns and skimmers. Guide Mike Crewe recently spent six years working at Cape May Bird Observatory. Join him there for an exciting week of birding on North America’s east coast - at a very special time for migration!

Tour Dates

2017

  • Available

Leaders
Mike Crewe

Max Group Size: 8
Duration: 9 Days

Cost: £2595

inc flights London Heathrow-Philadelphia, nonstop with British Airways

Deposit: £400

Single Supp: £350 Land Only: £2095

Book This Tour

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The beautiful Magnolia Warbler is one of many delightful warbler treats in store on a spring visit to Cape May © Brian Small, Limosa

Cape May in springtime! ... There is something wonderful about watching bird migration, not just the thrill of seeing birds large and small that have travelled hundreds or thousands of miles (and with more to go), but also a hint of the world beyond and the time-scale over which they have evolved the practise of moving north and south during the seasons. Situated at the southernmost tip of the state of New Jersey, Cape May is rightly famous as a fantastic centre to study bird migration - and in spring it offers the chance to observe the passage of many fabulous species of bird, alongside others that have chosen to breed there.

Our spring birding tour to Cape May is based at a single seafront hotel - within easy distance of the surrounding woods, fields, beaches and marshes, and perfect for enjoying the amazing variety of birds that stream northwards through Cape May each spring. Many of northern US and Canadian songbirds pass this way, alongside raptors and waders, whilst most breeding species will be settled by mid-May and in full plumage. 

Spring actually begins at Cape May in late winter and early March, when the continent’s ducks and divers begin to move - but it’s in May that things really begin to hot up! In May, the passage of a warm front can produce pulses of migrants, when the tree-lined streets can be filled with gaudy warblers and dainty song. Taking our time, we will explore some of the special sites in the area, not just for birds but local plants, butterflies and dragonflies.

Our Cape May days might well begin with a visit to Higbee Beach. Famous for the autumn movement of birds, ‘Higbees’ on an early spring morning can also be excellent. If the weather conditions are right, on a good day, when the oaks are in full bloom and attractive to many insects, a fall of brightly coloured spring warblers, grosbeaks and buntings can make the trees sparkle like Christmas trees! As well as the immense Bald Eagles that are becoming a feature of the Cape May landscape, we can dream of perhaps striking lucky with wandering Mississippi or Swallow-tailed Kites – as we have done before! Breeding Prothonotary Warblers, with their amazing ‘egg yolk’ yellow heads, can also be found in the area, and the movement of migrants often brings Yellow-billed Cuckoos, too.

Slightly further afield, the stands of large oaks at Cox Hall Creek can hold many warblers, with sizeable mixed flocks possible, plus the chance of the stunning Red-headed Woodpecker. Within 30 miles, a visit (or two!) to the Belleplain State Forest should reward us with an array of breeding woodland birds, including Louisiana Waterthrush, while Yellow-throated, Hooded and Worm-eating Warblers declare their territories with their distinctive songs. Flocks of Carolina Chickadees, “Disneyesque” Tufted Titmice and other small birds can abound here.

A spring visit to Cape May is not all about passerines, however. The shores of Delaware Bay are world famous for the congregations of shorebirds that arrive here to ‘participate’ in the spawning of the breeding Horseshoe Crabs in May. Red Knot are currently threatened by rapidly declining numbers, but there are many Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstones, Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitchers and Semipalmated Sandpipers to enjoy – the latter three species can number in thousands. In the nearby creeks and saltmarsh we may find breeding Marsh Wrens, Boat-tailed Grackles and Seaside Sparrows, whilst Northern Harriers float across the swathes of green.

Rarely driving more than 25 miles in a day, our spring birdwatching tour to Cape May offers the chance to explore the wonderful and varied habitats of the region, as well as to witness and enjoy the migration of some really special and colourful eastern North American birds. And if our spring 2017 tour proves to be anywhere near as good as our May 2016 visit, you will not be disappointed!

Guide Mike Crewe recently returned to the Limosa fold after six years living in Cape May and working at the bird observatory there. Join him for the inside track and a week of great birding at one of North America's premier migration hotspots.

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Cape May is a great place to catch up with the scarce and declining Piping Plover © Brian Small, Limosa Holidays

Day 1
TO PHILADELPHIA & CAPE MAY

Our spring birdwatching tour to Cape May begins with British Airways morning flight from London Heathrow to Philadelphia, arriving in the afternoon. A southerly drive of about two hours through pleasant rural landscapes will bring us to the quaint Victorian seaside town of Cape May. For more than a century, this pretty resort has been attracting both beach-goers and birders - though originally the visitors were more interested in shooting the birds than watching them! Night at Cape May

Days 2 - 7                                                
BIRDING IN & AROUND CAPE MAY

The area around Cape May is quite ‘self-contained’ and with most of the best sites within a 40-mile radius, we will not have to travel far. During our stay we will visit all of the main reserves (some perhaps more than once), focusing on the specialities and passage migrants, and aiming to get great views of birds at all times. Our itinerary will remain flexible however, so that we can act upon local information as to what is around at the time, and go where migration is at its best. But an outline itinerary might proceed as follows:

Most days will begin with an early start, and a visit to Wawas to pick up a picnic breakfast, which we often eat at the tables at the State Park or Higbees, as this allows us to be where “the action is”. Although many locally breeding passerines, like Hooded Warbler or Louisiana Waterthrush, are already “on territory”, many more will still be heading north. Given the right weather conditions there can be significant movements of birds early morning and getting out early will allow us the best chance to see and enjoy them.

While small groups of warblers can occur throughout Cape May county, 'Higbees' makes a great place to start. At the Beanery or in the wet woods of Hidden Valley, grassland and scrub is attractive to hungry sparrows and Bobolinks, and we will discover that blue is most definitely the colour when it comes to watching the lovely Blue Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings!

Not far away, Cape May Point State Park is another site we will make a number of visits to. As migrant songbirds move through the bushes and trees here, the range of species and number of birds changes constantly. A walk along one of the several trails can produce exciting species such as Yellow and Yellow-throated Warblers, while Bunker Pond attracts waterbirds and waders such as Least and American Bitterns, and delicate Solitary Sandpipers. A view from the beach here, out towards ‘The Rips’, is likely to produce large numbers of feeding gulls and terns, including Forster’s Tern, and is a good place to search for Roseate Tern and passing pelicans. In fine weather, butterflies and dragonflies can be a real delight around the park.

In spring, the ‘bayshore area’ of Delaware Bay is famous for its Horseshoe Crab spectacle, when hundreds of thousands of these primitive sea creatures gather to beach and spawn. The mass spawning of crabs attracts many migrant shorebirds and, although the number of birds has declined in recent years, it is still a major event in the Cape May birding calendar.

Once, Red Knot were the main species, with numbers estimated at around 100,000 birds during the 1980s; sadly, numbers have fallen precipitously to fewer than 20,000 birds today. Fortunately, other key species involved in the spectacle - Semipalmated Sandpiper, Dunlin, Sanderling and Ruddy Turnstone - have not experienced such a drastic decline, and many thousands could be present when we visit in May. The timing of the crab spectacle is governed by the tide and the moon, but takes place annually around mid-May. We will make a number of visits to the bayshore area during our stay.

There are a number of good woodland areas to visit in and around Cape May, the best known of which is perhaps Belleplain State Forest. In May, a morning visit finds the woods echoing with the songs of forest birds: it is said that 16 species of warbler regularly breed within the varied habitats of the park. Northern Parula, Worm-eating, Blue-winged, Prothonotary, Hooded and Kentucky Warblers, Louisiana Waterthrush, Yellow-throated Vireo and Summer Tanager are just some of the species we shall be looking for.  The list is large - and so is the area - so we will perhaps make a couple of trips here!

To the north of Cape May is a large tidal system of creeks and islands, attractive to a host of migrant wader and heron species. At Nummy’s Island (named after Chief Nummy of the Lenni Lenape tribe), Clapper Rails may be seen on a rising or falling tide, and furtive Marsh Wrens and Seaside Sparrows will do their best to elude us. Here we have chances of seeing Great Blue, Little Blue and Tricoloured Herons, and both Yellow-crowned and Black-crowned Night Herons. Migrant and breeding waders also enjoy the mudflats, which in May hold American Oystercatcher and Eastern Willet, as well as transient Greater Yellowlegs, Short-billed Dowitchers and Grey Plover. Nearby, Stone Harbor Point offers our best chance of the dapper and declining Piping Plover.

At Brigantine, there are not only huge numbers of waders, but the creeks and marshes hold Black Duck, Glossy Ibis and large numbers of breeding Ospreys. We may come across a tardy pale-bellied Brent Goose, or a pair of Peregrine Falcons, which often hang around all year.

At Cape May Point itself, in the State Park and Meadows, and at Cove Pool, in spring there should be a mix of yet more passage and breeding birds. Most important are the American Oystercatchers and Least Terns that nest on the beach, offering super views as they display – often at close range. And if the fancy takes us, seawatching from the beach can produce some great congregations of birds feeding in the rich waters at the mouth of Delaware Bay.

However, we will not just be looking down for our birds, as there are several species to be seen in the sky! Purple Martins breed commonly in the county, using nest boxes provided for them, and we will listen for their chuckling call. The martin ‘condominiums’ at Cape May State Park look especially spacious! Alongside the local American Black and Turkey Vultures and Bald Eagles (in the past we have seen 15 on one day!), raptors pass through on their way to their northern breeding grounds; May can produce small numbers of Broad-winged Hawks and, if we are lucky, maybe an overshooting Swallow-tailed Kite or Mississippi Kite will turn up and linger long enough for us to catch up with it! Six further nights at Cape May

Day 8                               
CAPE MAY, RETURN TO PHILADELPHIA, FLY LONDON

One of the great joys of bird migration is that one never knows what will turn up next - or when! There may be time this morning to ‘do the rounds’ at Cape May for one last time, or perhaps to drop in again at Belleplain Forest.

Returning north to Philadelphia, we catch a British Airways overnight flight back to London.

Day 9
ARRIVAL LONDON

Morning arrival at London Heathrow, where our spring birding tour to Cape May concludes.

blue grosbeak cape may 0516 copy resized

He's getting there... this first-summer male Blue Grosbeak was photographed on our May 2016 tour to New Jersey © Brian Small, Limosa

What To Expect

A 9-day birdwatching tour to Cape May, New Jersey - on North America’s east coast. A hotspot for migrants in the autumn, Cape May also has enormous appeal in spring as flocks of migrant waders pause to feast on the Horseshoe Crab spawning, and colourful American warblers push on north or are settled on their New Jersey breeding grounds. Raptors will be moving too, and can include Mississippi and Swallow-tailed Kites, along with herons, egrets, terns and skimmers.

Guide Mike Crewe recently spent six years working at Cape May Bird Observatory... Join him for a bird-filled holiday, at a very special place for migration!

Cape May lies on the eastern seaboard of the USA, at the southernmost tip of New Jersey. The weather here in May is predominantly warm, with highs in the mid-20sC (80+F) and averaging 11-16°C (52-62°F). The passage of fronts bring spells of more unsettled weather resulting in warm, cloudy and windy conditions at times, and possibly some rainfall - but with them come the falls of migrants for which Cape May is so famous!

At the time of our visit in mid-May, sunrise at Cape May is at ca. 5.45am and sunset at 8.00pm.

Birds

145-190 species

BUTTERFLIES & DRAGONFLIES
We usually see 20-40 species of butterflies and dragons, with Black, Spicebush and Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, Clouded, Cloudless and Orange Sulphurs, Carolina Saddlebags, Common Sanddragon and Ebony Jewelwing among those we have recorded before.

Accommodation

7 nights accommodation at a comfortable good quality hotel in the ‘upmarket’ seaside resort of Cape May, New Jersey. All rooms have private facilities. 

Meals

All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with dinner at Cape May on Day 1 and concluding with lunch in New Jersey on Day 8.

Our meal plan will remain flexible to take best advantage of the migration opportunities at Cape May. With fresh falls of migrants overnight, on some days we may take a picnic breakfast or have ‘coffee and donuts’ to get us started, followed by a cooked breakfast after we’ve checked the Cape for migrants. Lunches may be a corresponding mix of picnics or sit-down meals, according to the morning’s events.

As is the norm in the USA (where hotels often lack ‘in-house’ restaurant facilities), we'll dine out in the evenings at one or two of Cape May's better restaurants.

Walking

Easy. Short walks over flat terrain. Stout water-resistant walking shoes or lightweight boots recommended, perhaps with a pair of old trainers or 'flip-flops' (the American term for these, “thongs”, might result in inappropriate dress!) for birding along the beach.

Travel

We fly from London Heathrow to Philadelphia nonstop with British Airways.

Ground transport is by comfortable minibus

5NAM butterfly Spicebush Swallowtail New Jersey Brian Small 150513

The exquisite Spicebush Swallowtail, photographed on our May tour to Cape May © Brian Small, Limosa

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