Photos with this report (click to enlarge)
This was a two-week family holiday with my wife, Gerda to the eastern seaboard where only I had made one visit before (to Florida in1990). Gerda is not a birder but puts up with me 24/7 on these trips where even visits to the supermarkets have to be taken with speed (I usually spend these occasions checking the bushes outside); if it were left to me, we would probably starve after a few days. I was slightly concerned about spending too long in New York but it turned out Central Park was great and the cruise I took Gerda on to Staten Island was great for Laughing Gulls and Ospreys even if everybody else was looking at the Statue of Liberty would you believe.
Itinerary & weather
We flew from Heathrow to JFK International, New York on 6th September to be greeted that night with pouring rain and strong winds, so just like Cornwall really. Luckily this storm, remnants of Tropical Storm Hanna, subsided overnight and from then on we had good weather throughout with temperatures in the upper 20s/low 30s and many sunny, cloudless days. Central Park was warmer than Cape Cod where, as expected the weather is more strongly influenced by the North Atlantic, being more exposed and further north. It can be very wet and windy on the Cape but fortunately, this was not the case during our visit. After three nights in N.Y., we caught a train to Providence, Rhode Island where we collected our hire car and drove out to the Cape for nine nights, staying at Truro, the Outer Cape. We returned the car on 18th and caught the train back for another two nights in New York before returning home on the night of 20th/21st.
Fortunately, our visit preceded the credit crunch fiasco and the pound was strong with the exchange rate @ $2: £1. As we had booked everything in advance over the internet to take advantage of cheap deals and maximise birding time upon arrival, the whole holiday cost us £1444.00 = about £50/day each including flights, accommodation, insurances, car hire, buses and trains. Roughly this breaks down as 3 nights @ St James Hotel, Times Square, 109W on 45th Street, N.Y. @ £77/room/night on our arrival (our greatest extravagance); nine nights @ Shady Rest Cottages self-catering, Truro, Cape Cod @ £22/chalet/night; two nights @ Hostelworld: The Wanderers Inn Rest, 257W on 113th Street, Harlem, N.Y. @ £20/room/night. Train N.Y. to Providence & back cost us £50 ea but was worth the 3.5hrs each way for the Bald Eagle and 21 Ospreys as well as eliminating any prospect of traffic hassle in N.Y. Hire car was £141 for the 10 days. Travel around N.Y. by buses and underground trains was so cheap (and efficient) we used them all the time - and the ferry to Staten Island was free! However, we almost never made it as our agent, Opodo cancelled our Air India transatlantic flight reservation without our knowledge. We only discovered this when we phoned Opodo three days before departure (always double-check your flight bookings!) to confirm. They had forgotten to tell us – and presumably everybody else – so it was with considerable alarm and worry that all our pre-holiday bookings (which we had already paid for) might be all in vain. Luckily, we found the last two seats on a BA flight instead but the £691 fare was more than our original flight cost and Opodo did not make up the difference when they reimbursed us a month later.
Books & websites
We took David Sibley’s Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern North America and Birding Cape Cod by the Cape Cod Bird Club & Massachusetts Audubon Society. Both proved indispensable. There are a number of trip reports and websites on the Internet for Central Park, but not much for Cape Cod – hence I hope this submission may be useful to others planning a visit to this wonderful place at this time of year. I joined the birding yahoo group of Cape Coders and as we took our laptop with us, I was able to keep in touch with them and let them know what we were seeing at the end of each day if it seemed noteworthy. I never saw another birder at Cape Cod other than at the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. The latter is well worth a visit and I still read their weekly summaries. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website www.wellfleetbay.org before you go. You can call the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary at 508-349-2615 or to report sightings send an email to email@example.com.
Spending the first three nights at Times Square, New York enabled us to access the southern half of Central Park easily and upon our return, our stay in Harlem just a few blocks from the northern end meant we covered the whole Park over the four days we were there (with time also spent outside here sightseeing). The Park is three miles long and with the ponds, lakes, woodland and flower gardens in the middle of a city of skyscrapers, it is of course a mecca for birds and one of the chief birding sites on the east coast in spring and autumn. Nevertheless, I was surprised not to see more warblers and other migrants – my visit to Florida with trees festooned with warblers and flycatchers in October 1990 had led me to expect a similar experience here but it was not to be. There are lots of birding groups in Central Park (in contrast to Cape Cod) and one of them told me they had seen 20 species of warbler there this year but no large falls so far this autumn. I suspect as everywhere, the weather and wind direction is critical and I was probably just unlucky.
At Cape Cod we decided, after reading the Birding Cape Cod book, to stay at the Outer Cape as this seemed to produce the best birding in autumn and after checking dozens of websites, Gerda found Shady Rest Cottages near Truro, a real gem budget-wise with all we needed for the nine-day stay. We visited most of the best sites listed within a 10km radius of here but as we did not want to spend too much time driving, we never did venture back to explore the Upper (=Inner) and Mid-Cape areas. Much of the Outer Cape is a wilderness area, the Cape Cod National Seashore, covering 44,000 acres of pitch pine and oak woodlands, kettle ponds, marsh and estuaries, sand dunes towering above the North Atlantic beaches and off-shore islands packed with waders and wildfowl. Nine days was not enough to see it all but as I was out dawn-dusk, I didn’t miss any daylight.
We had 146 species in total. I always write up my field notes in the evening and pencil in an estimate of new individuals for each species to give an idea how many I see during the holiday (see how understanding my long-suffering wife is?) so in the list below these are shown in parenthesis against each species. As a keen digiscoper, having the laptop means I can also transfer and check any photos taken as I go along and not have to worry about using up the memory cards with my Nikon Coopix 4500 camera/Leica 32x80 scope combo.
Common Loon (2): Single over Beech Forest, Provincetown 12th and at South Beach, Monomoy 15th.
Pied-billed Grebe (1): Single @ the Reservoir, Central Park 19th.
Red-necked Grebe (1): Single adult in full S/P off Duck Harbour Beach, Wellfleet 12th.
Cory’s Shearwater (11): Three dates off the Cape.
Great Shearwater (10): Two dates off the Cape with 9 on a pelagic (whale-watching cruise) off Provincetown on 16th.
Sooty Shearwater (1): Single on a pelagic off Provincetown on 16th.
Manx Shearwater (1): Single on a pelagic off Provincetown on 16th.
Northern Gannet (17): 5 dates off the Cape.
Double-crested Cormorant (1745): Common at the Cape with max 500 on 15th.
Great Cormorant (1): Single @ South Beach, Monomoy 15th.
Great Blue Heron (80): Daily @ the Cape with max 29 on 11th.
Great Egret (120): More local @ the Cape than above species but 65 on 11th included 55 from Fort Hill.
Snowy Egret (25): Max count 15 from Fort Hill on 11th.
Green Heron (13): Singles Central Park, up to 5/day on the Cape.
Black-crowned Night-Heron (7): Six in Central Park; an adult @ Provincetown at the harbour entrance 16th, the only one seen at the Cape.
Turkey Vulture (38): A handful at the Cape; most from the train N.Y. – Rhode Island.
Canada Goose (157): 23 Central Park, a few @ the Cape, rest from the train N.Y. – Rhode Island.
Mute Swan (10): One from the train, four at Salt Pond Visitor Centre & five Upper Cape.
Wood Duck (8): Singles Central Park, 5 Beech Forest @ Wood Duck Pond would you believe!
Gadwall (6): Harlem Meer, Central Park.
American Wigeon (20): From the train N.Y. – Rhode Island.
American Black Duck (50): Estuaries @ the Cape.
Mallard (150): Most in Central Park, scarcer than Black Duck @ the Cape.
Northern Shoveler (11): The Reservoir, Central Park 19th.
Green-winged Teal (7): The Cape 10th only.
Common Eider (130): Several places at the Cape eg. Provincetown harbour.
Surf Scoter (2): South Beach, Monomoy 15th.
White-winged Scoter (5): Single South Beach, Monomoy 15th, 4 off Pilgrim Heights beach 17th.
Black Scoter (6): South Beach, Monomoy 15th.
Osprey (38): 4 off Staten Island, N.Y., three @ the Cape, rest from the train N.Y. – Rhode Island.
Bald Eagle (1): Adult from the train Rhode Island – N.Y. was the only bird we saw.
Northern Harrier (14): Five dates @ the Cape with max 7 on 11th.
Sharp-shinned Hawk (5): Four dates only @ the Cape.
Cooper’s Hawk (11): Seven dates @ the Cape with 3 on 13th.
Red-tailed Hawk (25): Daily @ the Cape. Max 6/day.
American Kestrel (3): Singles Central Park, Provincetown & from the train N.Y. – Rhode Island.
Merlin (6): Five dates @ the Cape with two on two dates.
Wild Turkey (71): Single in Central Park, rest at the Cape along roadsides.
Black-bellied Plover (370): 60 @ M.A.S. Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary on 12th, 200 @ South Beach, Monomoy & 70 @ First Encounter Beach, Herring River on 15th were the peak counts.
Semipalmated Plover (200): Daily @ the Cape with the max count 70 @ South Beach, Monomoy & 30 @ First Encounter Beach, Herring River on 15th.
American Oystercatcher (3): South Beach, Monomoy 15th.
Greater Yellowlegs (200): Common on estuaries @ the Cape, outnumbering Lessers. Max counts were 30 @ South Beach, Monomoy & 60 @ First Encounter Beach, Herring River on 15th.
Lesser Yellowlegs (12): Five dates @ the Cape with max. count 8 on 12th.
Solitary Sandpiper (12): Five dates @ the Cape with max. count 6 on 16th @ the Beech Forest ponds, Provincetown.
Willet (4): Single @ South Beach, Monomoy & 3 @ Pleasant Bay 15th.
Spotted Sandpiper (2): Singles Pamet Harbour, Truro 11th & Pilgrim Lake next day.
Hudsonian Whimbrel (45): Seen on seven dates @ the Cape with max count 26 @ M.A.S. Wellfleet
Bay Wildlife Sanctuary on 12th.
Ruddy Turnstone (18): Max 15 @ South Beach, Monomoy 15th.
Red Knot (70): South Beach, Monomoy 15th.
Sanderling (437): Max count 260 along Race Point Beach 16th.
Semipalmated Sandpiper (194): Common @ the Cape but many peep flocks unidentified at long range, most likely this species too.
Least Sandpiper (15): Four dates only but probably more – see comments for above species.
White-rumped Sandpiper (17): Two @ Wood Duck Pond, Beech Forest 10th with a single there 12th and another at M.A.S. Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary the same day. A loose flock of 14 at a high tide roost with other waders on a lagoon at the north end of South Beach below Chatham Light, Monomoy 15th was a real treat.
Baird’s Sandpiper (1): I found a juvenile at Goose Pond, M.A.S. Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary on the morning of 12th and showed it to site staff. A rarity here, it apparently stayed a few days thereafter. Photographed.
Short-billed Dowitcher (20): Only seen at First Encounter Beach, Eastham with 3 on 13th & 20 15th.
Parasitic Jaeger (21): Six dates off east coast with max counts of 7 on 12th & 16th harassing terns.
Laughing Gull (c1000): Common.
Bonaparte’s Gull (11): Only seen three dates. Max 6 @ Race Point on 10th.
Ring-billed Gull (c1500): Common.
American Herring Gull (?): Common.
Lesser Black-backed Gull (1): An adult with other gulls bathing on Great Pond, Eastham was photographed; a rarity here at this time of year apparently.
Great Black-backed Gull (c400): Widespread.
Black-legged Kittiwake (1): Adult flew south down the coast at Race Point on 10th.
Roseate Tern (c300): Seen most days with max count of 100 off Race Point 14th.
Common Tern (?): Up to 2,500/day off the coast with flocks on both sides of the peninsular. A wonderful sight with flocks commuting overland (to/from Boston?) early morning and late evening.
Forster’s Tern (48): Only seen on four dates (with up to 20/day) but probably overlooked amongst the tern flocks further out to sea.
Least Tern (5): Four off Corn Hill Beach, Truro 10th and a single off M.A.S. Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary on 12th.
Black Tern (124): Unusually large numbers of this species this year apparently. I saw the following: 3 Race Point 10th, 4 Coast Guard Beach/Salt Pond and 1 off Ballston Beach, N.Pamet, Truro 11th, 105 off First Encounter Beach, Eastham 13th, 1 Race Point and 3 off Ballston Beach, N.Pamet, Truro 14th and 7 off Pilgrim Heights beach, North Truro 17th.
Feral Pigeon (?): Common.
Mourning Dove (c600): Common. Daily.
Common Nighthawk (5): Single at Shady Rest Cottages, Truro hunting in daylight on 10th with 3 ditto 17th. One high over South Pamet Beach, Truro hunting insects with Tree Swallows 17th.
Chimney Swift (20): 20 over Central Park on our first day, 7th were the only ones seen.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (3): Single @ Town Cove, Orleans 11th and 2 in Central Park 20th.
Belted Kingfisher (20): Daily on the Cape with up to 8/day.
Red-bellied Woodpecker (9): Central Park only.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (2): Central Park only.
Downy Woodpecker (22): Up to 5/day in both Central Park & the Cape.
Hairy Woodpecker (6): Single in Central Park and no more than 2/day at the Cape.
Northern Flicker (92): Seen on all but two days. Up to 7/day on the Cape but a remarkable 48 on 19th in Central Park (with 16 there next day) involved no fewer than 40 birds flying north over Harlem in half an hour at dawn!
Eastern Wood-Pewee (6): Central Park only.
Eastern Phoebe (6): Seen on 4 dates at the Cape.
Eastern Kingbird (6): A single @ Coast Guard Beach, Eastham and a flock of 5 @ Fort Hill 11th.
Blue-headed Vireo (1): Single showed well at the car park, Wood Duck Pond, Beech Forest, Provincetown on 17th.
Warbling Vireo (3): Singles Central Park 7th; the car park, Wood Duck Pond, Beech Forest, Provincetown and Pilgrim Heights 17th.
Philadelphia Vireo (4): 3 showed well at the car park, Wood Duck Pond, Beech Forest, Provincetown on 12th with another there 17th.
Red-eyed Vireo (14): Max 3/day in Central Park and 6/day on the Cape.
Blue Jay (c600): Common; seen daily. As with Northern Flicker above, it was surprising to see some birds flocking and moving through as if on migration. Are these young birds dispersing?
American Crow (?): Common; seen daily.
Fish Crow (?): Only recorded on a couple of dates but probably overlooked.
Horned Lark (9): 2 @ First Encounter Beach, Eastham 13th and 7 @ South Beach, Monomoy 15th.
Tree Swallow (20,000): We will never forget the thousands of Tree Swallows massing over the sand dunes at the Cape. On some days we estimated 7,000 and many were settled in the low bushes eating berries – honestly! On 14th, a complete albino except for buff underwing coverts was present amongst a flock of c5,000 Tree Swallows and was being mobbed by them.
Cliff Swallow (1): One showed well as it hunted along the ridge behind Corn Hill Beach, Truro on 13th. However, upon returning home I read that the Mexican Cave Swallow has been turning up in ones and twos at the Cape in November – apparently now a regular event since 2002! This was not a species I even considered at the time, but it is too late now!
Barn Swallow (14): Seen on six dates on the Cape.
Black-capped Chickadee (260): Common & widespread at the Cape, where seen daily.
Tufted Titmouse (60): Only 2 seen in Central Park but common at the Cape with for eg. 20 in the Beech Forest, Province Lands and 10 @ Pilgrim Heights on 17th.
Red-breasted Nuthatch (3): Seen on four dates at the Cape.
White-breasted Nuthatch (2): Only seen on two dates at the Cape.
Carolina Wren (13): Seen/heard on 5 dates on the Cape with 2 in Central Park on 19th.
House Wren (3): Central Park only.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1): Single in Central Park 19th.
Eastern Bluebird (5): 5 @ Great Pond, Eastham on 13th.
Veery (1): Single in Central Park on 8th.
Grey-cheeked Thrush (2): Singles Central Park 7th & 19th.
Swainson’s Thrush (3): 3 in Central Park on 19th.
Wood Thrush (1): Single in Central Park 20th.
American Robin (c800): Common & widespread but much commoner in Central Park (where 250 counted on 7th) than on the Cape.
Gray Catbird (120): Seen on all but two dates.
Northern Mockingbird (20): Only a few on the Cape but 11 in Central Park 19th.
Brown Thrasher (3): 2 at Pilgrim Heights, N. Truro 17th and 1 in Central Park 19th.
European Starling (c3000): Common & widespread.
Cedar Waxwing (389): Flocks on 8 dates at the Cape with peak counts 103 on 11th & 162 on16th. A flock of 28 in Central Park 19th.
Nashville Warbler (3): 2 at Wood Duck Pond, Beech Forest, Provincetown 17th and 1 in Central Park 20th.
Northern Parula (5): Only 1 on the Cape – at Pilgrim Heights 17th rest in Central Park, Battery Park and Riverside Park, N.Y.
Yellow Warbler (2): Central Park and Battery Park, N.Y. only.
Magnolia Warbler (4): 1 on the Cape, 3 in Central Park.
Black-throated Blue Warbler (8): Central Park only.
Black-throated Green Warbler (6): 2 in Central Park, 1 Battery Park and 3 at the Cape.
Pine Warbler (33): Max 23 on 17th at the Cape; none in Central Park.
Prairie Warbler (1): Male at South Pamet Beach, Truro 17th.
Blackpoll Warbler (2): 2 at Wood Duck Pond, Beech Forest, Provincetown 17th.
Black-and-white Warbler (7): Single at Pilgrim Heights, N. Truro 17th and six in Central Park on two dates.
American Redstart (30): 6 at the Cape, the rest in Central Park (20), Battery Park (2), Riverside Park (1) and elsewhere (1) in N.Y.
Ovenbird (2): Singles in Central Park 7th & 8th.
Northern Waterthrush (2): Singles in Central Park 7th & 8th.
Mourning Warbler (1): One skulking in a wet thicket at Wood Duck Pond, Beech Forest on 17th eventually gave good views.
Common Yellowthroat (12): 11 in Central Park but only one at the Cape.
Wilson’s Warbler (3): 2 in Central Park 7th and one at Pamet Harbour, Truro 16th.
Canada Warbler (4): One in Central Park 8th and 3 @ Wood Duck Pond, Beech Forest on 17th
Yellow-breasted Chat (1): Grateful thanks to the Audubon Society for the bird in Central Park on our first day.
Eastern Towhee (7): 2 @ Pamet Harbour 11th and 5 elsewhere 15th.
Chipping Sparrow (120): Small flocks at the Cape but only one seen in Central Park.
Field Sparrow (2): A pair at Corn Hill Beach, Truro 14th. Photographed.
Lark Sparrow (1): The surprise of the trip; a single in the car park at Race Point Beach from 1530hrs on 16th had gone by next day.
Savannah Sparrow (4): South Beach, Monomoy 15th.
Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow (1): South Beach, Monomoy 15th.
Song Sparrow (12): All seen at the Cape at various localities.
Dark-eyed (Slate-coloured) Junco (1): Single at Wood Duck Pond, Beech Forest on 12th
Northern Cardinal (100): Daily.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (3): Two together in Central Park on 8th and a single there 19th.
Red-winged Blackbird (7): 2 @ M.A.S. Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary 12th and 5 there next day.
Common Grackle (c1700): Common & widespread. A flock of c1000 @ Taunton on 18th as we were returning to Providence.
Brown-headed Cowbird (96): A few flocks around the Cape. 60 at Provincetown 10th onwards.
Baltimore Oriole (4): Singles @ Pamet Harbour 11th and flying north over there 16th, Pilgrim Heights and South Pamet Beach, Truro 17th.
House Finch (17): 9 in Central Park, 8 @ the Cape.
American Goldfinch (85): All at the Cape where seen on 8 dates.
House Sparrow (?): Common & widespread. More common in Central Park and surroundings (where c1000 seen on 7th) than at the Cape.
Other species seen:
Eastern Hog-nosed Snake