November New Jersey with TAS: Day OneBy
Oh, no: is that snow? I was still an hour out of Philadelphia Tuesday morning when what had been an annoying sleety drizzle turned definitively white. Traffic slowed and my heart fell; this was no way to start a four-day field trip with dear friends from Tucson, of all places.
Happily, I soon outran the snow, and by the time I met the group at their airport hotel, it was chilly but not cold, dank but not dark, raining and not snowing. Even so, it didn’t feel like the kind of day we’d want to spend walking out beaches and jetties, so we decided to put Barnegat Light off to the end and to start instead at Cape May, where I knew we’d be able to hop in and out of the van if the weather didn’t improve.
It didn’t. But that didn’t stop us. On the way down we paused for a little roadside birding in Cumberland County, just to whet our appetites (and wet our binoculars) with Great Black-backed Gulls standing in the fields; a quick and discreet scan of the Canada Goose flock at the Bayside prison turned up the first “good” bird of the trip, a fancy little Richardson’s Cackling Goose (the white-necked gray goose I screeched to a halt for a little farther down the way was just as interesting, but Canada x Graylag Goose isn’t really “countable,” is it?).
It was still drizzly and mizzly when we arrived in Cape May, so we birded here and there a few minutes at a time, hopping out to scan and hopping back in to dry out and warm up again. Jake’s Landing was quiet — except for the first of many Bald Eagles we would see in the course of the trip.
Reed’s Beach hosted some very tame Dunlin and Sanderlings, and CMBO’s Goshen feeders gave us our first outstanding close looks at Red Fox Sparrow. My quick detour to add Eurasian Collared-Dove to our trip list drew smiles from the group (we’re chasing what?), but there’s nothing like being thorough.
After lunch, we beefed up our day’s list with a great selection of waterfowl on Lighthouse Pond (bless whoever built that picnic shelter in exactly the right place for scoping).
After a while we took advantage of a momentary break in the mist to look out over Bunker Pond from the hawkwatch platform: more beautiful looks at more of the beautiful same; but then came that sudden silence that announces something good. Just a few feet away, right at eye level, a massive juvenile Northern Goshawk flew across and passed behind the cedars, leaving us as impressed as the ducks must have been relieved.
There was no way we were going to better that, and it was getting colder and we were getting tireder, so we headed north to check in to our hotel and to find some supper. The Phoenix Diner in Absecon was deemed, shall we say, more than authentic.