CAPE MAY — They are flocking here from all over the globe, humans and birds.
The birds? Up to 4,000 yellow-rumped warblers, 45 American robins, 36 peregrine falcons, and up to 500 common sparrows were spotted by birding enthusiasts one morning this week.
The humans? One hundred and twenty — all here for the International Bird Observatory Conference 2017. Add to that number thousands of birders who have arrived to watch the fall migration.
“Cape May is truly a mecca. … It is a place that you want on your bucket list of places to go birding,” said Lillian Armstrong, special events coordinator for New Jersey Audubon’s Cape May Bird Observatory, which this weekend is holding the international conference at the Grand Hotel of Cape May. “It really is an amazing moment to have all this happening here at once.”
The conference, the second to be held after an inaugural gathering three years ago in Sweden, is welcoming experts from five continents who observe, research, and advocate for birds. The work of the group is ultimately to engage and encourage millions of bird enthusiasts worldwide via educational programs, scientific research, and community-based conservation projects, according to Armstrong.
Armstrong and others have noted that the migration of birds through Cape May — a spot considered a premier flyway in North America because of the sheer number of birds and variety of species that funnel through its peninsula between the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay — is particularly spectacular this fall.
The spike in the numbers of hawks, sparrows, robins, terns, and other songbirds and shorebirds — and a few rare species — is being driven by northwest winds and a pattern of cold fronts that have emerged along the East Coast over the past month. The winds have pushed the flocks of birds to the coastline, according to Glen Davis, 40, of Cape May Point, a lifelong birder who is working this fall for the Cape May Bird Observatory conducting a daily morning songbird count.
Davis has been using software to track, record, and post an official 2½-month-long daily count of his observations. He’s conducted such a count on an informal basis since he was 15 and living in North Jersey. His finding this year will help researchers here and across the globe develop databases that can eventually aid them in better understanding the birds.
Standout species this year? Those yellow-rumped warblers arriving by the tens of thousands daily, chirping their abrupt, loudly pitched sing-song tweets as they descend on swamps and backyards to feed on insects as they make their way from mid-Atlantic states to the West Indies and Costa Rica for the winter.
“They are such delicate little birds, but sometimes they get so loud — because there could be as many as 10,000 of them in one spot at once — that you can’t hear yourself think,” Davis said. “To imagine each and every one of them letting out a little chirp all around the same time as they converge on one spot all at once, the wave of sound that is created by that, is extraordinary. It’s those spectacular numbers that make this place so special.”
Rare species find? A lone, rather uncommon-around-here bird called a common greenshank — seen by one of Davis’ friends hanging out with a flock of more common greater yellowlegs at the nearby Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, Davis said.
Pablo Elizondo, executive director of Costa Rica Bird Observatories, who was Friday’s featured speaker at the conference, called the gathering in Cape May — of both the birds and the humans — an important milestone in future conservation.
“In the future, bird observatories will be like the bank for the data we will need to answer the important ecological questions across the globe,” Elizondo said. “As we collect and then share information, we can collaborate and understand what is happening with various species and figure out better conservation plans and solutions for understanding and preserving these species.”
The conference, with more than 40 programs and workshops, runs through Sunday. Prime birding season in Cape May generally runs through November.