The weekly report from the world’s birdwatching capital… by Seymore Thanu
Okay you procrastinators, you locals, you people in the know. In case you didn’t notice, you just missed the best week of the year – which might explain why Seymore was MIA last week! It was the week that the stuff that doesn’t belong here shows up.
Waifs. Extralimitals. Rarities. Vagrants. In a word…
Okay, that was two words. I gave you a bonus.
But my point is that if you are at all interested in birds and particularly interested in rare birds, then early November – in fact the whole month of November – is your time of year. This, traditionally, is when a whole bunch of freak strays from distant parts turn up.
Things like Ash-throated Flycatchers, Cave Swallows, Brown-chested Martins, Ivory Gulls….
Originating from farther west, farther south, farther north.
If you’re talking Brown-chested Martin, then you’re talking South America.
Anyway, November has proven itself to be prime time for waifs. The local birding crowd will be out in force, searching. You can tune into their fortune by going online at www.birdcapemay.org and clicking on “Recent Sightings.”
You mean, why is November such a hot time when the weather is getting so cold?
Yes. Precisely. That is why. At least that is my theory. It works like this.
In every generation of fish and fowl there are a percentage of individuals who take the path less followed.
The road forks in the forest. You can count on 99.9% of this year’s crop of young to go one way – the traditional or “right way.” The remainder go the other. Something in their brain says not right, left. So that’s the path they take.
Most of these pioneers don’t make it. Left is not right for their survival. But every once in a while you find a case where left works maybe even better than right, and the bird survives. When this bird breeds, it passes on its leftist tendencies to its young and they survive, too.
And on, and on, and on…
This is called “evolution.” But we don’t really care about the end game. We care about the third down and long – the birds that go way, way down field where they aren’t supposed to go.
Back to my theory. So, what I think happens is that a whole bunch of insect–eating birds that go way down field wind up in places like New England. They all stand around, wondering where everybody else went, and by and by (like come November) it starts getting cold. All the insects die. The pioneers are forced to get out of dodge (aka New England) or starve.
Some fly south. They reach Cape May which, as we all know, stays pretty warm throughout November, even December, because we’ve got water all around us.
For an insect-eating bird, Cape May is the last and best place to keep body and soul together.
Anyway, that’s what I think. Supporting the transportation of birds to Cape May is the preponderance of cold fronts in November. If a bird decides it’s time to get back on the road, the winds are likely to ferry it south and east – hence, toward the coast. Birds hugging the coast eventually wind up getting caught in the big land funnel that is South Jersey and are directed here.
Whether my theory does or does not hold water is irrelevant. The fact remains that November is the month that good birds turn up.
Look sharp. Look often. Look up. And look at www.birdcapemay.org – click on “Recent Sightings” – then check the weather – then head to Cape May.
Or you could just stop by the Cape May Bird Observatory (the CMBO) – THE place for anything to do with nature. Located at 701 East Lake Drive overlooking lovely Lake Lily in Cape May Point, the center is open from 9:30am–4:30pm every day through November. Ask any of our staff – they are always glad to help with anything you need – even things you didn’t know you needed yet. Check out the schedule of daily walks, pick up a free birding map and checklist and while you are there, don’t forget the newest books (including Pete Dunne’s newest Bayshore Summer – and Birds of Cape May – a beautiful array of photos just released by Kevin Karlson) and more.
Seymore Thanu is none other than New Jersey’s own Pete Dunne, Director of the Cape May Bird Observatory and Chief Communications Officer for New Jersey Audubon. Pete uses his talents and energy to make the natural world real for others. Author of several books on and about nature (available at the CMBO) he weaves information, insight and even fantasy into a net that captures minds and hearts. He has written for virtually every birding publication and for The New York Times.