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USA | New Jersey Cape May in Autumn

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

Cape May, New Jersey - it's North America's top spot for bird migration in autumn! We visit at a time when masses of wildfowl, waders, warblers and other migrants crowd the woods and marshes - and the Cape is also a key staging post for southbound birds of prey. Based at one good hotel throughout, this splendid tour will show you everything from flocks of Northern Flickers, Blue Jays and Cedar Waxwings on the move to the tagging of Monarch butterflies on their remarkable southward migration to Mexico.

Tour Dates

2019

Available

Leaders
Brian Small

Max Group Size: 7
Duration: 9 Days

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Cost: £2675

inc return flights London Heathrow-Newark, nonstop with British Airways

Deposit: £400

Single Supp: £375
Land Only: £2295

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Black and white Warbler151 MC copy resized

Animated mint humbugs ... Black-and-white Warblers dot the forest floor on our September tour to Cape May © Mike Crewe, Limosa

Situated on the coast at the southernmost tip of New Jersey, Cape May is a magical place at any time of year. But from mid-September, as the annual spectacle of autumn migration along the eastern seaboard of North America starts to unfold, it is the USA’s number one birding spot. Bounded on the east by the Atlantic Ocean and on the west by Delaware Bay, the Cape May peninsula is a natural cul-de-sac, 'trapping' an extraordinary number and variety of southbound migrants.

Here, on a bright autumn day, we might find upwards of 20 different species of warbler in the morning; marvel at hundreds of Sharp-shinned Hawks sprinkled like pepper across the skies in the afternoon; and retire for the evening with the memory of a Sora Rail venturing out of the cat-tails as the sun sets. The passage of a weather front can bring crowds of waterfowl too, along with masses of Double-crested Cormorants and flocks of Northern Flickers and passerines - all within a few hours of leisurely birding.

Brown Thrashers, Grey Catbirds, Carolina Wrens, Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees and Northern Cardinals are usually much in evidence and a positive rainbow of warblers could include anything in autumn - from Northern Parula and American Redstart to Common Yellowthroat, bright Magnolia, Prairie and Black-throated Blues to delicate, 'upside-down' Black-and-white Warblers! In the early morning and late afternoon, Tree Swallows gather in bayberry bushes in their thousands, swarming around to devour the berries as they fatten up for their southward journey.

The presence of its own ‘Hawkwatch platform’ highlights the fact that the Cape is also a key staging post for migrating birds of prey. At this time of year we may see up to a dozen different species - everything from flights of Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks worrying parties of Northern Flickers as they sweep through, to Ospreys, Peregrines, Merlins, American Kestrels and Northern Harriers.

Shorebirds are another exciting aspect at Cape May in autumn. Laughing Gulls, Royal Terns and Black Skimmers gather on the waterfront close by our hotel and we could well encounter 20 species of wader during the week - including the cute but endangered Piping Plover, plus many juvenile Least Sandpipers and Short-billed Dowitchers.

In fact, birds are not the only migrants to enjoy at Cape May in autumn and this is a good trip for butterflies and dragonflies, too. Question Mark, Horace’s Duskywing, Black Swallowtail, American Lady, Halloween Pennant and Carolina Saddlebags are among more than 40 species recorded here by our groups. And there can’t be too many places one can go to see the tagging of migrant Monarch butterflies!

With a minimum of travelling about and so many great birds and varied habitats to enjoy in and around the Victorian seaside resort of Cape May, this is a terrific trip for anyone contemplating their first visit to North America - as well as for all those who enjoy the special thrill of migration and of never knowing what might turn up next. While the benefits of Limosa's small party size, comfortable lodgings and easy birding will ensure that the magic of Cape May is a memory not soon forgotten.

Our September 2019 tour will be Limosa's 19th visit to Cape May in autumn, and guide Brian Small's ninth trip there for us. Come, join us this year - and discover a little of the Cape May magic for yourself!

Piping Plover on beach Cape May New Jersey Brian Small Sep 2011 P1040494

Shorebirding is another exciting aspect at Cape May in autumn and we could well encounter twenty species of wader - including scarcities such as this Piping Plover © Brian Small, Limosa

Day 1
TO NEWARK & CAPE MAY

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

If time permits after checking-in at our comfortable seafront hotel for the week, we’ll take a short drive out to South Cape May Meadows - a substantial area of marshes and shallow pools fronting the ocean. Here we can watch for Green Heron, Sora, Royal Tern and Ring-billed and Laughing Gulls, along with a variety of shorebirds. Seemingly incongruous at rest, yet so elegant in flight, we might also see the Black Skimmer ‘skimming’ the shallows for fish. Night Cape May

Days 2 - 7
BIRDING IN & AROUND CAPE MAY

We plan to visit all of the top spots in and around Cape May at least once during our stay. As the movement of autumn migrants is strongly influenced by the prevailing weather however, our precise schedule will remain flexible so that we can adapt to the conditions of the moment. 

We may well begin at Higbee Beach, an area of fields, hedgerows and dune woods along the Delaware Bayshore. Birding can be spectacular here on days when migration is heavy, with large numbers of Tree Swallows, Bobolinks, Blue Jays and Cedar Waxwings mingling with the scarcer Eastern Phoebes, Least Flycatchers, Baltimore Orioles and Eastern Towhees. And if you’d previously believed the myth that American warblers “aren’t worth looking at in autumn”, then you’re in for quite a surprise as a positive rainbow of birds flick through the trees! Black-and-white, Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Magnolia, Prairie and Nashville Warblers, Northern Parula, American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat and more than a dozen others are regularly seen at Cape May in the Fall. Of course, a fair percentage of the birds seen will inevitably be in more challenging juvenile plumages, just to keep us on our toes!

At nearby Hidden Valley Ranch, warbler flocks can be common too, along with such species as Red-bellied Woodpecker, Brown Thrasher, Grey Catbird, Carolina and House Wrens, Tufted Titmouse and Carolina Chickadee. Lingering Blue Grosbeaks and the smaller Indigo Bunting often feed along the field edges here, with more cautious and solitary Black-billed and Yellow-billed Cuckoos peering out from cover as the greens and golds of autumnal Scarlet Tanagers light up the woodland edge.

All the while, we should be mindful of keeping an eye on the skies - for as the day warms up, Cape May’s raptor migration gets under way! The weather will again have a major influence on movements and there are no guarantees. But we will hope that the winds blow our way so as to bring parties of buoyant Turkey and American Black Vultures, posses of Broad-winged Hawks and a sprinkling of Peregrines and Merlins (the latter much darker here than those we are used to at home).

We’ll spend one afternoon visiting nearby Stone Harbor. Home in summer to a large mixed heronry, we are likely to find seven or more species of heron here in autumn, including Great and Snowy Egrets, Tricoloured Heron and the stockier Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night Herons. An immense area of tidal mudflats at Stone Harbor shelters tens of thousands of waders. Sharp-suited American Oystercatchers pipe along the tideline as we strive to pick out the occasional Western and long-winged White-rumped Sandpipers amidst parties of scurrying Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers and ebullient Willets. Most years, one or two Piping Plovers can still be found in late September and these cute little shorebirds with their ‘teddy-bear’ looks are always a favourite with our groups.

Another day will see us travelling north for about one hour to reach the vast stretches of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, informally known to birders simply as ‘Brigantine’. Even as we arrive, we may find new birds here as we pause to check the secluded lilyponds near the entrance for Belted Kingfisher, Wood Duck and Pied-billed Grebe. Passing through the wooded perimeter, we’ll head for the refuge’s extensive fresh, brackish and saltwater marshes.

The reserve is so big - the trail is eight miles round! - we will travel round in our vehicle, heading out on raised bunds, which provide panoramic views. Here we will seek out Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal, American Black Duck, Seaside and Saltmarsh Sparrows, and flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds and Boat-tailed Grackles - the latter can occasionally be tempted in by lunch left-overs! There is an outside chance that the first of the season’s Snow Geese will have arrived, the vanguard of many thousands that winter here. But Brigantine is justly famous for its hordes of waders and we can hope for the odd Stilt or Pectoral Sandpiper, Hudsonian Godwit or American Avocet amongst the large flocks of Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers and Greater Yellowlegs that abound here. In 2015 we were lucky to see a Curlew Sandpiper in the midst of a group of Buff-breasted Sandpipers!

Where we go and what we see and do will naturally vary from year to year, depending on the birds and prevailing weather conditions at the time. But rest assured we shall visit an amazing wealth of habitats all within close proximity of our hotel – shallow pools where Lesser Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpipers feed, mature forests for White-breasted Nuthatches and Hairy Woodpeckers, saltmarsh creeks for Clapper Rails and much, much more. Six further nights Cape May

Day 8
CAPE MAY, FLY NEWARK TO LONDON

One of the joys of migration is that one never knows what will turn up next - or when! There should be time this morning to ‘do the rounds’ at Cape May for one last time, or perhaps to pause on our way back north for one last birding stop in Belleplain State Forest.

Returning to Newark Airport this afternoon, we catch the British Airways overnight flight back to London.

Day 9
ARRIVAL LONDON

Morning arrival at London Heathrow, where our autumn birdwatching tour to Cape May concludes.

Egrets New Jersey Brian Small copy resized

Egrets - we have a few, but then again not on this tour! Both Great and Snowy Egrets gather to feed on pools in the coastal marshes of New Jersey © Brian Small, Limosa

What To Expect

Cape May, New Jersey - it's North America's top spot for bird migration in autumn! We visit at a time when masses of wildfowl, waders, warblers and other migrants crowd the woods and marshes - and the Cape is also a key staging post for southbound birds of prey. Based at one good hotel throughout, this splendid tour will show you everything from flocks of Northern Flickers, Blue Jays and Cedar Waxwings on the move to the tagging of Monarch butterflies on their remarkable southward migration to Mexico.

Cape May lies on the eastern seaboard of the USA, at the southernmost tip of New Jersey. During mid-late September, the weather at the Cape is predominantly warm and mainly dry (16-28°C/60-82F), though it's often noticeably cooler first thing.

The passage of cold fronts can bring spells of more unsettled weather resulting in cool, cloudy and windy conditions at times, and possibly some rainfall - but with them can come the exciting falls of migrants for which Cape May is so famous!

Birds

140-170 species

BUTTERFLIES & DRAGONFLIES
20-40 species - including wonderful Monarch butterflies which will be on migration at the time of our tour. We may be able to watch researchers ‘tagging’ Monarchs at the Cape to monitor their incredible journey south to Mexico.

Accommodation

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

Meals

All main meals and restaurant gratuities are included in the tour price, commencing with dinner at Cape May on the evening of Day 1 and concluding with lunch in New Jersey on Day 8. Food is good, varied and plentiful.

Our meal plan will remain flexible to take best advantage of the migration at Cape May. With fresh falls of migrants overnight, on some days we may take a picnic breakfast in the field or have ‘coffee and donuts’ to get us started, followed by a later 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 many hotels lack ‘in-house’ restaurant facilities), we'll dine out in the evenings at one or two of Cape May's better local restaurants.

[Our tour price includes the expected 15-20% gratuity for all meals in North America.]

Walking

Easy. Short walks over flat terrain. Stout, water-resistant walking shoes or lightweight boots recommended, perhaps with a pair of old trainers for birding along the beach.

Travel

Return flights from London Heathrow to Newark, nonstop with British Airways.

Ground Transport  By comfortable minibus

Wood Thrush & Black throated Blue Warbler m Cape May NJ Brian Small Sep 2012 P1080916

Buy one, get one free!... Wood Thrush and a male Black-throated Blue Warbler photographed on our September tour © Brian Small, Limosa

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1 J&DM, Cape May tour ... We really enjoyed the week in Cape May. We enjoyed the birding, Mike's excellent leadership and organising skills and the company. It was also fascinating to meet up with Louise and learn at first hand of her work on the Monarchs ... [empty string]
2 D&JR, Cape May, New Jersey tour ... This was our first Limosa trip and we enjoyed it all. Even the breakfast buying trips to Wawa’s became part of the general experience. We appreciated Brian’s deep knowledge of plumage detail in the variable warblers, and the fact that he had good local contacts. We hear you are introducing a spring version of the holiday, which we may take in 2014... [empty string]
3 PD Cape May, New Jersey tour ... Brian is possibly the best leader that I have encountered... So many memorable moments, from skimmers on the beach to the incredible numbers of waterbirds at Brigantine... [empty string]
4 PML, Cape May, New Jersey tour ... I was impressed with the way Brian organised the days so that some could start later or finish earlier but without preventing the others from birding the whole day. Very extensive choice of food in the evening, room very spacious... [empty string]
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