Your Best Find

It’s always exciting when a rare bird is reported in our area. Many of us will jump in the car right away to “chase” the target bird. Sometimes we find it and sometimes we don’t, but it’s all part of the excitement of birding.

Nothing is more exhilarating than when you are the person to find the rarity. In October of 2018, I was birding in Cape May, NJ, renowned on the East Coast for its fall migratory birds. My good friend Robert and I scoured the Higbee Beach area for migrating songbirds. Dozens of warblers, vireos, thrushes, flycatchers, cuckoos, and other species moved through the shrubs and low canopy of the coastal woodlands.

Robert suggested that we take a small path that meandered away from the main trail, and immediately a mixed flock of warblers, chickadees, and titmice surrounded us. Binoculars moving at a rapid pace, we called out the various species present. When Robert announced “black-throated blue warbler, male”, I spun around for a look. As the bird moved into view, I noticed the signature small orange spots of a black-throated gray warbler between the bill and the eyes. Robert agreed with the ID, and we started calling over the birders in the area to see this wonderful vagrant. At least a dozen people were also able to see it and I did manage to capture a couple of verifiable pictures right before it took off. This western warbler was at least 2000 miles away from where it should have been. How it ended up in Cape May was a mystery. (As a side note, I am always fascinated with vagrants. I would love to know the details of their journeys that took them so far off course!)

Actual photo of the black-throated gray warbler in Cape May

Robert and I were delighted with the sighting and the fact that we could share it with so many others. When we stopped by the Northwood Center Bird Observatory later that day, an older couple who had also seen the rare warbler recognized us from Higbee Beach. “Those are the warbler guys!”, they announced to the staffer. She looked at us with some skepticism, ran upstairs, and returned with the Director. He approached us with a dour demeanor and asked, “You wouldn’t happen to have a picture?”. Thank goodness I was able to get those shots before it flew away! I showed him the indisputable photos and his mood improved. He congratulated us on a wonderful find, proceeding to pull out some maps and show us the “real” hot spots in Cape May! Word of a rarity travels quickly in Cape May, soon we were surrounded by a large group of birders asking for the details.

We finished a wonderful day of birding with a stop at the famous “Hawkwatch Platform” by the Cape May lighthouse. We ran into same older couple from the nature center as we climbed up on the platform. “The warbler boys are here!” they shouted to the people within earshot, who gathered around us as we retold the details of the sighting. One of them introduced us to Pete Dunn, whom I had never met but whose work I greatly admire. I showed him my pictures of the warbler and he too congratulated us on a great find!

The community of birders sharing their experiences as we did in Cape May that day is what makes birding so special. Later that night when I called my wife and told her of the day’s events, she exclaimed, “Wow you guys were like bird celebrities!” And that is exactly what it felt like!

We would love to hear about your best find. Please share your story with us!

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