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!