Cape May Hawkwatch Update: October 22nd – November 4th

We may have turned the corner and are squarely in the back half of the 2021 fall season, but there is no sign of slowing down at the Cape May Hawkwatch, sponsored by Swarovski Optik! On October 27th a whopping 1,197 migrating raptors were tallied, including 668 Sharp-shinned Hawks. An extremely impressive total that late in month, although anything is possible in Cape May. However, as a whole, the peak numbers and diversity have started dwindling down a bit thanks to the shorter days and cooler temperatures. On the bright side, the last leg of the season also opens the door for a different cast of new and exciting raptors to be observed.

Some of those exciting raptors are migrating Turkey Vultures which are often overlooked and disregarded because of their looks, but in reality, they are a fascinating species. Thankfully, in Cape May, we see hundreds of them migrating through, especially in the latter half of the season. Who can identify the hawk species that joined their kettle?

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, the first Golden Eagle of the season was observed in the middle of October, which was a precursor of things to come. The NW winds on November 1st brought 4 of these majestic beauties down the Cape May Peninsula, the first 4 Golden Eagle day since 2018! Another two were counted for good measure on November 3rd. That brings the season total to 10 Golden Eagles which already beats the entire season total in 2020 and 2019. With nearly another month left in the season, who knows how many Golden’s we will see!

Believe it or not, the 4 Golden Eagles on November 1st weren’t the biggest highlight of the day. A dark morph sub-adult Swainson’s Hawk stole the show and got all the visitors on their feet. Swainson’s Hawks are a rare vagrant from the western part of North America and only seen 1 or maybe 2 times a year in Cape May. This particular bird made many loops around Cape Island and even stuck around for a second day allowing for excellent looks at this elegant raptor.

Swainson’s Hawks show a distinctive profile, making them stand out among the local birds of prey we see in Cape May. Notice how the bird in this photo has especially long wings that are very tapered towards the tip making them look pointed. Also, take note of the long tail. This combination give the illusion that a Swainson’s Hawk is half Red-tailed Hawk and half Northern Harrier.

Putting raptors aside for a second, I wanted to note one particular bird that I haven’t talked about yet this season: White Ibis. If you are a long-time reader of this blog, you may remember I mentioned them quite often in blog posts in previous years. They have not been talked about this year because they have become extremely common! The White Ibis total was 1 in 2018. The total in 2019 was 150. The total in 2020 was 280. The current total so far in 2021 is a gaudy 1,148. Jokingly, I set myself a goal of counting 1,000 White Ibis, a total I didn’t think was possible. Shockingly, the goal of 1,000 has already been surpassed and we still have almost a month left in the season!

White Ibis used to be a mega rare bird in Cape May but have become incredibly common. As I write this blog, White Ibis have been seen from the Cape May Hawkwatch platform 42 of the 65 days so far this season. That’s 65% of the days! I wonder how many will be counted next season!

-Jesse Amesbury