|Autumn Bird Watching in Southern
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A fish hawk (osprey) flying south over the Hawk Watch Platform in Cape May Point State Park at southern tip
of New Jersey, USA. It took us about 2 hour of driving to came here on Saturday, October 16, 2010 to watch
autumn migration south of many kinds of hawks and other Raptors. The official raptor counter counted 47,542
birds of prey in 2010 autumn migration season on this platform.
Another hawk flying over the Hawk Watch Platform.
One advantage of the hawk watch in Cape May Point State Park is the presence of highly experienced
birding experts from Cape May Bird Observatory. If you need help spotting or identifying birds, simply ask
the educational specialists who are present most days. It’s their job to help you and others, so don’t
hesitate to ask.
A Northern Harrier flying over the Hawk Watch Platform.
The birding experts on the platform told us that on windy day like today, the migratory hawks tend to fly at
lower level like this one making it easier for visitors to see them.
On the other hand, on "bad days" without strong favorable wind, the small number of migratory hawks that
still fly tend to fly at very high level such that they appear as tiny dots high on the sky. Therefore powerful
binocular or powerful telescope will be needed on such days to be able to see such high flying hawks that
use thermal instead of strong tail wind for their migration flight.
There were swan, geese and other kinds of water fowl on the Bunker Pond in front of the Hawk Watch
After we finished Hawk Watch at Cape May Point State Park, we drove north a few miles to Avalon Sea
Watch location. Official Seabird counters from Cape May Bird Observatory were here using powerful miles off
shore such that a powerful telescope is necessary to see them well, to identify and to count them.
Then we drove north about 30 miles to take a quick tour of Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge at
Brigantine. It was about sunset time when we arrived at this National Wildlife Refuge.
We saw at least 10 night herons, each crouching along the edge of the water, watching and lunging for fish,
frogs, and water insects. These night herons have excellent night vision and usually forage mainly at night. So,
our late arrival at sunset time on our way home turned out to be "the best time" to see these night herons. This
is the first time that I see so many night herons in one place.
This one may be a black crowned night heron.
Many water fowl with head in the water eating something.
Location of Cape May Point State Park:
Junction of Lighthouse Avenue and Yale Avenue, Cape May Point, New Jersey, USA 08212, Phone: (609)
884-2159 for the park, (609) 884-5404 for the lighthouse
Direction to Cape May Point State Park:
1. At southern end of Garden State Parkway, it becomes Route 109 South, cross over Cape May Bridge,
Route 109 becomes Lafayette Street south in Cape May.
2. Go south on Lafayette Street for about 2 miles, at the intersection, turn right into Bank Street and go
for only one block
3. Turn left into Jackson Street which becomes West Perry Street in one block
4. Continue on Perry Street which becomes Sunset Boulevard (CR 606),
5. Go west on Sunset Boulevard for about 2 miles, then turn left (south) onto Lighthouse Avenue (CR 629).
6. At junction with Yale Ave., turn left into the Park
When you get close to the park, there is the tall Cape May Lighthouse in the park and is a good landmark to
guide you to reach the park.
Map: Click here to see Google Map showing location of Entrance to Cape May Point State Park
Location of Avalon Sea Watch: Junction of 7th Street and 1st Avenue, Avalon, New Jersey, USA. It is at the
east end of 7th Street.
Direction to Avalon Sea Watch:
1. From Garden State Parkway take Exit #13 for Avalon and get on Avalon Blvd (Route 601) to go east toward
2. Turn left (north) into 1st Avenue and go north to reach the junction of 1st Avenue and 7th Street where there
is a small parking lot and some observers.
Map: Click here to see Google Map showing the location of Avalon Sea Watch
The information on location of and direction to Edwin B. Forsythe (Brigantine) National Wildlife Refuge is at the
end of my Travelogue web page at:
October is an excellent month for bird watching at Cape May Point State Park at southern tip of New Jersey.
In October, millions of birds are migrating south. The shape of narrow Cape May Peninsula concentrates and
funnels millions of migratory birds (songbirds, large raptors and other species) through Cape May Point at the
southern tip of the peninsula during their autumn migration flight. Tens of thousands of hawks are funneled to
the end of the narrow peninsula that juts far out into Delaware Bay. Faced with 12 miles of large body of
water to cross at the Delaware Bay, many migratory birds linger in the Cape May Point area to rest and feed
until favorable winds to help them to cross the big Delaware Bay or head north along the Bay's eastern shore.
On weekend with greater number of visitors, there are several different kinds of activities at Cape May Point
State Park and nearby Points of Interest as organized by Cape May Bird Observatory (of New Jersey
Audubon Society) such as: (1) watching migration flight of many kinds of raptors, (2) banding of some sample
hawks, (3) demo of trained hawks, (4) migration of Monarch butterfly and dragonfly, (5) tagging of Monarch
butterfly. These activities are described in more details at the following websites:
Under the East Shelter pavilion next to the Hawk Watch Platform, there was a presentation on the incredible
migration of Monarch butterfly and demonstration of Monarch tagging of the Monarch Monitoring Project.
Monarch butterflies are considered the “king” of the butterflies, hence the name “monarch”
The elevated Hawk Watch Platform as viewed from the large parking lot in Cape May Point State Park.
The lighthouse and the Visitor Center in Cape May Point State Park. There are men's room and women's
room in the Visitor Center. Both Hawk Watch Platform and Visitor Center have wheelchair access ramps.
Therefore, men's room, women's room and Hawk Watch Platform are all handicapped accessible.
This is the list of bird counts at Avalon Sea Watch location observed yesterday (October 15, 2010.) They saw
4,880 double crested cormorants, 565 northern gannets, 292 surf scoters, 106 black scoters, 20 northern
pintails, 21 Brant, 18 green winged teals, 10 red throated loons, 5 common loons, 2 brown pelicans, and 1
Another view of an osprey in flight. It was a very windy day on October 16, 2010. About every one or two
minutes, one or more hawks flew over the Hawk Watch Platform keeping hawk watchers very busy on this
platform. It seems that these migratory hawks like the windy day when the strong tail wind from north blowing
south makes it easier for these hawks to fly south in their autumn migration.
Weather Dependent Hawk Migration:
This means the number of hawks in migratory flight is not uniform everyday in the migration season. On days
with favorable weather condition and favorable wind, very large number of hawks may be flying. But on days
with no wind or with strong head wind or rain, there may be very few hawks flying. On such "bad days" many
hawks may be waiting for "good days" with favorable strong tail wind. Please see the Appendix at the end of
this web page for key weather conditions to consider in selecting a good day for watching large number
migrating hawks in the autumn season.
Official hawk counters and interpretive naturalists from Cape May Bird Observatory are on this platform from
September until the end of November to count the migratory hawks and to help new comers on bird watching.
These experts call out loud the identification and the oncoming direction of each hawk as it appears and flies
over or near the Hawk Watch Platform. These experts also answer any questions from the visitors.
Three views of the Hawk Watch Platform at east side of Cape May Point State Park. It is an elevated
multi-layered wooden platform. Many visitors and expert birders with telescopes or binoculars or cameras
were enjoying watching and photographing autumn migration south of various kinds of hawks. It is one of the
planet's greatest hawk migration spectacles. Hawk watchers from Pennsylvania and New Jersey are standing
shoulder to shoulder with visiting birders from Europe, Australia, and Japan.
We also saw several migratory beautiful Monarch butterflies near a traffic circle (Junction of Central Ave and
Ocean Ave) only a few blocks away from the Cape May Point State Park.
Many water fowl on lighthouse pond next to the Cape May Point State Park. Birding at Cape May Point State
Park is comfortable because there is the East Shelter pavilion as shelter in case of rain and seats on the
platform to rest your back.
A vendor truck was selling hamburger, cheese burger, chicken finger, and cheese fries on the parking lot of
Cape May Point State Park. A list of restaurants in Cape May is available at the following website:
We also saw two snow geese.
Two egrets and a night heron at water's edge.
A group of mallards
It was getting too dark for bird watching and for photography. So, we left this National Wildlife Refuge and
drove north one more hour to go home completing our enjoyment of a busy day of bird watching in southern
They usually use the binocular to scan the horizon. If they see some birds of significance, they switch to the
powerful spotting cope to get a closer view and identification of the birds. To assist visitors, interpreters are
often present during the autumn migration season from September 22 to December 22.
The Avalon Sea Watch, a count of migrating seabirds, is conducted from this observation point overlooking of
Avalon juts a mile farther out into the ocean than the coastline to the north. And so, southbound seabirds that
are following the coastline pass much closer to this beach front. The migration of seabirds along the coast of
New Jersey is spectacular, and over one million seabirds pass the Avalon Sea Watch from August through
January of any year.
According to the article entitled " Avalon Sea Watch - Where the Arctic Meets New Jersey Every Autumn"
authored by Pete Dunne in the Autumn 2011 Issue of New Jersey Audubon magazine, in the best day, one
may see as many as 100,000 migrating seabirds all in a single day from Avalon Sea Watch. On a great day
one may see 50,000 birds in a day. But on a bad day, one may see only a few hundreds birds. It is highly
weather dependent. The passage of a cold front usually brings huge number of migrating seabirds. Winds
from the north to the east are best.
Many different kinds of migrating sea birds often seen here include Scoters, Gannets, Cormorants, Loons,
many Duck species, Eiders, Gulls. Rarities have included Puffins, Curlews, Stocks, Sandhill Cranes, Jagers,
Kittiwakes, Harlequin ducks, and Razorbills.
October in Cape May Point is sensational for bird watchers to enjoy spectacular views of wave after wave of
migratory hawks, songbirds, water birds, and many other species on days with favorable weather condition
and wind. Birders from all over the world come flocking to this migration shrine every autumn to witness the
thousands of hawks winging their way south over Cape May Point. Hawk watchers may see migration of
sharp-shinned hawk, Cooper’s hawk, red- tailed hawks, osprey, merlin, American kestrel, broad-winged
hawk, Goshawk, Peregrine falcon, northern harriers, bald eagle, golden eagle, etc. For example, more than
45,000 hawks were counted from this Hawk Watch platform in 2003 and more probably passed unseen.
Challenges for Bird Photographers:
At sunset time the mosquitoes in the wildlife refuge became very active such that we had to stay inside our
car and to keep windows shut. Many mosquitoes were crawling on the windshield and windows trying very
hard to get into our car. I was not the only person inside our car trying to take pictures at various twisted and
awkward body positions depending on the location and direction of the bird. The bird that we wanted to take
pictures might fly away at any moment such that we had to take these pictures in a hurry at our awkward
twisted body positions and through the gaps among head and arm of people, camera, seat head-rests and
window frames. We also had to take pictures through the car window on the other side of the car at low light
combined effect of all these sub-optimal conditions and constraints on the quality of the bird picture
taken.situation. After one-day of driving, the car windshield and windows were not clean. This picture shows
Millions of Monarch butterflies pass through Cape May each autumn on a migratory journey. The incredible
life-cycle and migration of Monarch butterfly can be seen at the following website:
It is amazing that it takes 4 generations of Monarch butterflies to complete their 2000-mile migration loop. In
other words, it is not the same Monarch butterfly that completes the entire 2000-mile loop. Instead, it takes
the relay of 4 sequential generations of Monarch butterfly to complete the 2000-mile migration loop. These
newly born Monarch butterflies among the 4 generations have no previous experience for such long distance
migration loop. How do they know which direction and where to migrate to as part of the 2000-mile loop?
A series of video clips on migration of Monarch butterfly through Cape May, New Jersey and the
demonstration of Monarch tagging is available at the following website:
The # 6 and #7 video clips in this series show huge number of migratory Monarch butterflies flying all over
the places in Cape May.
For the year 2010, the peak number occurred on September 18 and it was estimated that about half million
migratory Monarch butterflies were flying all over the places in Cape May on that particular day alone.
I looked through the reports of Daily Hawk Count and associated weather conditions at Cape May Point as
reported by Cape May Bird Observatory at:
Daily hawk count is NOT uniform over the 60-day period (September and October) of autumn hawk migration
season. They vary substantially from day to day. I have also collected additional related information from
Internet search. Based on such information, I have compiled the following list of weather conditions on good
days favorable to produce large number of autumn migration hawks on the good days.
1. Large Variation of Daily Hawk Count: More than sixty years of observations have shown that weather
is the single biggest force affecting hawk migration. Daily hawk count is NOT uniform over the autumn hawk
migration season. They vary substantially from day to day. For example for the 60-day period in September
and October, 2010, the highest count is 2726 on October 9, 2010 and the lowest count is 5 on September 3,
2010 as observed on Hawk Watch Platform in Cape May Point.
2. Rain: On the days with rain or shower, the daily hawk is usually very low in the order of 10 or less. So,
it is important to pick a non-raining day for watching hawk migration.
3. Wind and Wind Direction: The good migration days with daily hawk count greater than 1,000 usually
have good strong tail wind blowing from north to south since such favorable winds allow the hawks to glide for
long distances with little effort. On the other hand, the bad migration days with daily hawk count of less 100
usually have wind in the wrong direction of blowing from south to north against the direction of hawk migration
south in the autumn season.
4. Wind Speed: On good migration days with strong wind blowing from north to south, the stronger the
wind, the closer the hawks will fly to the treetops where substantially less air turbulence occurs, and the more
easily the hawks will be seen by hawk watchers.
5. The first 11 days of October is the best period in this 60 day period in 2010 for watching hawk
migration, subject to the conditions 1, 2, 3 and 4 listed above.
6. Cold Front: In autumn, the best conditions generally follow the passage of cold frontal systems, which
produce blustery north wind or northwest wind for a day or two following the frontal passage.
7. Early Morning: Hawks can be seen moving from first light until the sun sets, although early to
mid-morning often proves best for most species.
On the special magic day of October 4, 1977, there were 21,800 hawks counted on that day in Cape May
Point as reported by Pete Dunne at the following website:
By 10:00 AM on that magic day, the air over Cape May Point was black with huge number of migrating birds
Additional information sources on favorable weather conditions for autumn hawk migration: