Went over to Two Mile Beach this morning thinking about nice fat Thanksgiving turkeys. No turkeys to be found here, but I did manage to spot plenty of other birds. (If it's turkeys you're interested in, a better spot on the Refuge might be Indian Trail, which I'll report on soon.)
I parked at the Visitor's Center and headed down the south branch of the Dune Trail to the beach. A small flock of snow buntings (about 15+ birds) were picking at beach grass seeds on what's left of the fore-dunes between the south observation deck and the jetty. These are lovely, delicate little ground-feeding birds that might go unnoticed if you weren't looking for them. Two nice things about snow buntings: they are always in flocks (upwards of 100 have been hanging around the dunes at Cape May Point State Park in recent winters); and they never seem to fly far from where you spook them. Watch them as they circle and fly back up onto the dune a bit further down the beach. They are sometimes accompanied by lark sparrows, but not today.
The entire beach has been absolutely scoured by the recent nor'easters! It's hard for me to estimate how much sand has been lost, but it seemed that at least 10-15 feet of former dune is now piled up at the base of the jetty. But it's a pretty healthy natural dune system over there, and my guess is it will come back little by little on its own as ocean currents and spring storms do their annual job of relocation and dune construction, all at no cost to taxpayers.
Plenty of sanderlings and ruddy turnstones on the beach today, as well as two larger, plumper, grayer, longer-billed birds that upon closer inspection turned out to be winter-plumage red knots! Hard to ID now, since there's no red to be found anywhere. One actually had a bright green banding tag high on its left leg. They appeared to be healthy, but why were they still here and not on their wintering grounds in Tierra del Fuego? I'm guessing the warmer than average temps this fall may have influenced them. Or maybe it's just that the southward migration of these birds is not quite as spectacular as their northward journey in May, when they appear in huge (although dwindling) flocks up at Kimbles Beach feeding on horseshoe crab eggs. Anyone out there know the answer?
At the jetty, a few usual suspects, including cormorants and purple sandpipers, as well as many red throated loons and a couple of common eiders (which have been seen in huge numbers at Cape May Point recently). Plenty of Northern gannets offshore, following the schools of stripers, no doubt. I searched for the harlequin ducks that have been seen further south at Poverty Beach, but no luck today. A train of scoters careened by just offshore, low to the water heading south toward the bay. These sea ducks are always in a hurry.
If you haven't walked down the new Boardwalk Marsh Trail (which starts at the far end of the first parking lot), you should definitiely give it a try. Birding the ponds from the back end is very good now and will only get better as flocks of winter ducks start arriving soon. Much safer than risking life and limb parking on the shoulder of Ocean Drive. Buffleheads, black ducks, cormorants, and a few common egrets were hanging out on the ponds. A late snowy egret and a nice chuckle of brant were feeding in the ponds near Two Mile Landing. Here's my list for this foggy, drizzly morning:
- ruddy turnstone
-great black-backed gull