Jeanine and I planned a full day of birding in Cape May today, as it will probably be the only day this week without rain. On our wish list were Sooty Shearwaters, Wilson’s Storm-petrels, Yellow-breasted Chats, and Mississippi Kites (clearly, we have big wishes). We didn’t do so great with finding our targets, but sometimes the birding gods throw a wrench into your plans, and sometimes it’s actually a good wrench. As we were driving down to the Meadows, anxious to get started, we passed by a small private pond on Shunpike that held quite a bit of waterfowl. The thing that caught my eye, though, were a couple of Helmeted Guineafowl that were on the grounds. We stopped to take a look, and after picking up our bins, we noticed something different in the background. Mixed in with the usual common birds, we spotted a stunning group of nine Black-bellied Whistling-ducks on the edge of the pond.
With a species like this I wonder about whether they are wild birds, but will leave that determination to the NJ Bird Records Committee, who presumably will contact the resident and others in the area. Initial reports, however, are that the birds are unbanded. Black-bellied Whistling-ducks are very uncommon in New Jersey. They are more typically found in South America and the southern-most US states (especially Texas, Florida, and Arizona), and there are only twelve accepted records to date in NJ. Although they were first recorded in NJ in 2000 they now have appeared here in six out of the last eight years, so they are becoming a nearly annual but still uncommon occurrence. Interestingly, it appears that this is a peak time for finding them, as four of the previous records are from May 23, 25, 26, and 27.
It was a super beginning to a great day that also included sightings of Blackburnian Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, a few Canada Warblers, Philadelphia Vireo, my FOS Bank Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Brown Pelicans, a calling Virginia Rail, and to top it all, three Wilson’s Storm-petrels from the Cape May – Lewes ferry. In other words, just another day in Cape May.