Catholic Birder

Birds have had my attention for over 30 years. God for just a few. Before birds were a passion. Now they are a confirmation. Saint Francis of Assisi, patron of birds, pray for us.

November 01, 2005

Great trip to Cape May

What a great trip. Sandi and Phoebe were able to spend a lot of time together, rollerblading, shopping, having breakfast and tea. I left before dawn each morning and birded most of the days on my own, around 35 hours in the field. We spent the evenings together having dinner and went on a whale watch Sunday afternoon after Mass. No whale but still a lot of fun.

Saw many thousands of birds this weekend. Good flights of late warblers, kinglets, sparrows, robins, flickers, thrushes, and swallows at dawn from the Higbee Beach dike. Good numbers of raptors at the hawkwatch and a steady stream of scooters and other pelagics seen from the shore and on a whale watching trip. 140 species for the trip including 22 uncommon, 7 scarce, 1 rare and 2 very rare species.

Was able to spend a little time birding with two of the world’s best birders, Pete Dunne and Michael O’Brien. Pete is the author of a dozen birding books and a hard person to peg into stereotypes. At the Cape May observatory store yesterday morning, for instance, he was discussing the influx of high priced optics from manufacturers who previously catered to hunters. A customer chimed in saying “hunters only need a large field of vision to see big game.” I said, “No, actually, some of the best birders I’ve known are hunters who honed their ID skills duck hunting.” The cashier then said, “Pete’s a hunter,” to the surprise of everyone there. He talked me out of purchasing the doubler for my Swarovski EL binocular, explaining that he has seen birders hurt themselves by bringing the glasses to their face and forgetting that the doubler was in place. Ouch.

Most unlikely bird was a European Goldfinch that I can’t count since it is likely a released bird. Michael, who sits at Higbee each morning and counts by flight call throughout the fall (, and I heard a finch among hundred or so birds in the air at that moment. I said, “that didn’t sound like an American.” We were both on it by the time it was ten yards beyond us. Bulkier, distinct white on wings, dark head with contrast at the nape. We determined it was a European but most likely an escapee since there are no true records of one crossing the Atlantic and migrating on the East coast.

Had great views of sandhill crane, american bittern, northern goshawk, golden eagle, several bald eagles, merlin, peregrine falcon, parasitic jaeger, both dowitchers, northern saw-whet owl, blue-headed and philadelphia vireos, winter wren, swainson’s thrush, vesper sparrow, lincoln’s sparrow, dickcissel, and both orioles - the orchard being a very rare late migrant about 40 days past when the last ones are supposed to move through. Some really great encounters. I almost stepped on the saw-whet on Saturday night. It flushed from the ground just a step in front of me as I was walking through a meadow trail along a cedar grove. Kinglets were everywhere and I had many occasions to film them close up. One of the three bitterns I saw was in the road at 6:15 am Saturday morning on the drive to Higbee. It flew at eye level in front of my car for thirty yards. The songbirds that morning were so plentiful that I was barely able to keep from getting hit by them as they passed through the four foot tall grass to get over the dike. I stopped counting the number of times a cooper’s hawk or sharp-shinned hawk came within twenty feet of me and had to alter it’s direction. One missed my head by inches as I came out of the grass. The pond in front of the hawkwatch must have been stocked with bass recently because there were at least a dozen osprey fishing it, making the hawkwatch more exciting for the several hundred birders there.

I’m exhausted from the weekend but my mind is very refreshed.


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My little sisters, the birds, much bounden are ye unto God, your Creator, and always in every place ought ye to praise Him, for that He hath given you liberty to fly about everywhere, and hath also given you double and triple rainment; moreover He preserved your seed in the ark of Noah, that your race might not perish out of the world; still more are ye beholden to Him for the element of the air which He hath appointed for you; beyond all this, ye sow not, neither do you reap; and God feedeth you, and giveth you the streams and fountains for your drink; the mountains and valleys for your refuge and the high trees whereon to make your nests; and because ye know not how to spin or sow, God clotheth you, you and your children; wherefore your Creator loveth you much, seeing that He hath bestowed on you so many benefits; and therefore, my little sisters, beware of the sin of ingratitude, and study always to give praises unto God. Saint Francis of Assisi - c 1220

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