Cape May found at the southern tip of New Jersey is one of those legendary locations with a rich birding history and is one of the birdiest places on the eastern seaboard! We’ll bird a variety of habitats including salt marshes, brushy woodlots and extensive beaches. Hordes of songbirds migrate through the Cape at this time of year. We will explore various patches where the warblers, sparrows, buntings and other passerines spend the day refueling for their next leg of their migrations.
Overhead swirling flocks of thousands of swallows are commonplace and this tour is timed to hit the peak of the magnificant Peregrine Falcon migration, that has a cult-like following of raptor enthusiasts. This is also a good time to see other raptor species like Osprey, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks and American Kestrels.
Shorebird migration is also at a crescendo at this time of year with the extensive beaches of the Jersey shoreline coated in Black-bellied Plovers, Red Knots, Western Sandpipers and Ruddy Turnstones.
Other waterbirds are starting to gather at the point with treats like Parasitic Jaegers harassing the terns offshore, Black Skimmers and Royal Terns roosting on the beach, evening flights of egrets and herons over the ocean and the first flocks of Black and Surf Scoters coming down the coasts. And finally Cape May has been the place of many a rarity so who knows what surprise may occur while we are there.
Day 1: Philadelphia
Arrival in Philadelphia. Our Cape May birding tour will kick off in Philadelphia with a meet-and-greet over dinner. Night in Philadelphia.
Day 2: Cape May State Park and Observatory
After breakfast, we will make the two hour drive down to Cape May. We will head right to Cape May State Park and spend some time at the Cape May Bird Observatory’s (CMBO) Hawk Deck, as well as wander the coastal woods and marshy meadows. This end-of-the-line habitat often holds good numbers of warblers, sparrows and vireos, while the numerous ponds are often full of ducks like Blue-winged Teal, Gadwall and American Wigeon.
Overhead will be ridiculous amounts of Tree Swallows swirling around, and we will spend some time on the deck watching migrating Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks, Ospreys and various species of falcons like American Kestrels, Merlins and Peregrine Falcons. As the flight starts to slow down we’ll leave the State Park and have an afternoon check-in to hotel.
After check-in and a short respite, we will head back to the beach to look at the evening gull/tern roosts. Hordes of Laughing Gulls collect on the beach and with them are often flocks of Forster’s, Common and Royal Terns as well as Black Skimmers and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Offshore, Parasitic Jaegers are streaking through the foraging flocks looking for an easy meal to snatch from a gull. Night in Cape May.
Day 3: Higbee Dike and Beach
We will start out with an early departure to legendary Higbee Dike and Beach. This is songbird migration ground zero! The majority of songbirds migrate at night and as dawn arrives, hundreds to thousands of birds start pouring off the ocean and moving up the coastlines to find a suitable stopover site to refuel and rest.
At Higbee Dike one can witness this morning flight of birds headed northward as a river of warblers, vireos, woodpeckers, sparrows and other species shoot past the dike. We will hopefully witness a big flight where we will not only be amazed by the sheer number of birds passing by, but also by the sharp-eyed CMBO counters documenting this spectacle of migration!
As the flight slows down, we will then spend the rest of morning wandering the brushy fields and woodlot migrant traps as the birds settle down and start to feed. We will explore a few of the local patches including the Rea Farm. This site often produces several rarities a season- migration surprises like Vermilion Flycatcher, Western Tanager, Henslow’s Sparrow and many more have occurred here.
For the afternoon we will switch gears and head north to the coastal salt marshes Nummy Island and Stone Harbor. In these extensive wetlands, we’ll look for secretive marsh birds like Clapper Rail and Nelson’s, Saltmarsh and Seaside Sparrows. In addition to these specialists, we will also look for more common waders like Tricolored Herons and Snowy Egrets and shorebirds like Black-bellied Plover, Marbled Godwits, “Western” Willets and Red Knots. Night in Cape May.
Day 4: Lower Cape May and boat tour
We will start out again in lower Cape May, if the winds are favorable for a morning flight of songbirds we’ll head to Higbee Dike again, or just hit some of the local migrant patches like the Coral Avenue deck to see what’s moving along the coast that morning or have a walk around the CMBO’s visitor center on Lake Lily.
By mid-morning, we’ll head over to the nearby docks to take a tour of the salt marshes aboard the boat, the Osprey. This will be an excellent way to get deep into these delicate coastal marshes that exist behind the barrier islands. We will see flocks of staging waders, terns and shorebirds, and if lucky will observe a few lingering “Eastern” Willets, the local breeding race of Willet and likely its own separate species from the more plentiful Western Willets that winter in New Jersey. After the boat tour, we will head back to the State Park to check out the afternoon hawk flight and see what else has dropped in over the course of the day. Night in Cape May.
Day 5: Avalon Seawatch
We will leave earlier than typical on this morning to get up to the Avalon Seawatch. This dynamic part of the CMBO count programs keeps an observer stationed here dawn to dusk to record the stupendous number of migrating waterbirds. We are likely to see species like Green-winged Teal, Surf and Black Scoters, and Double-crested and hopefully Great Cormorants. While it’s too early for the huge numbers of Red-throated Loons and Northern Gannets seen here later in the fall, but we are likely to see at least a few.
For the afternoon, we will push on north to Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. This expansive refuge is a fantastic spot to see vast numbers of waterfowl like Northern Pintails and American Wigeons. Often there is a couple of Eurasian Wigeons waiting to be plucked out by the careful observer. Also of interest will be the first flocks of Brant that overwinter here. We’ll stop back at the Avalon Seawatch to see if there is an evening flight of egrets, terns and jaegers. Night in Cape May.
Day 6: Higbee and Cape May State Park
We will spend our final day of birding back at Cape May visiting starting out again at Higbee Beach for morning songbirds and head over to the State Park in the afternoon to catch one last hawk flight. If there are any species that we want another attempt at, or something of note pops up we may try for it. We will return to Philadelphia for the night.
Day 7: Departure
Our Cape May birding tour concludes today. You can depart anytime today for flights home.
Departures & Prices
Tour Price Includes
- Good quality accommodation
- Includes all breakfasts and lunches
- 4 - 8 Participants will be guided by one guide. 9 - 12 participants will be guided by two guides in two vehicles
- All park, conservation and entrance fees
- Boat tour
Tour Price Does Not Include
- Flights to and from start of tour
- Travel Insurance
- Evening meals
- Items of a personal nature
What to Expect
What to Expect
The climate of southern New Jersey is quite pleasant in early October. Daytime highs average in the mid 60°Fs with nighttime lows dropping to the low 50°Fs. However we will be on the coast a lot and it can be both windy and with a damp chill at times. Rain is certainly possibly and raingear with a set of warm clothes, gloves and jackets are recommended.
Most walking will be easy to moderate on trails and some sand. There is the possibility of one walk that could be a couple kilometers on sand. Our attempt for marsh birds will involve the guide putting on his rubber boats and walking into water, but participants don’t have to do this, though if they want to either have rubber boots or accept getting one’s feet wet!
We will have mostly early morning departures to observe the dawn movements of birds and be having continental breakfast at the hotel before departure each day. Picnic lunch will be supplied on most days, perhaps one day we will break for a restaurant lunch. All dinners will be at restaurants. Each night at dinner, we will compile the bird list for the day and finalize our plans for the next day.
Even though we cannot guarantee a sighting of the animals below, we feel quite confident that an encounter with the ones listed below is quite likely.
- Red Knot
- Peregrine Falcon
- Clapper Rail
- Parasitic Jaeger
- Seaside and Saltmarsh Sparrow
- American Oystercatcher
- Surf and Black Scoter
- Great Cormorant
- Eurasian Wigeon
- Northern Gannet
- Lesser Black-backed Gull
- Big numbers of common migrants like Gray Catbirds, Northern Flickers, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Forster’s Terns and many species of warbler like Northern Parula, Connecticut Warbler, and of course Cape May Warblers!
Past Tour Checklists
Past Tour Checklists
View the list of birds and other wildlife we encountered on our past tours.