There is a SO MUCH to tell you about the weekend; I'll go in chronological order and give you a little account of each day's activities.
I drove to Cape May Thursday after work; en route, I got lucky:
The Cape Harbor Motel: clean, comfy, and affordable:
Down at Cape May Point near the lighthouse, I saw my first warbler--a palm warbler amongst some bare shrubs:
At the convention center, I walked into the vendor show area and met my first celebrity!--Wildbird on the Fly, editor of WildBird Magazine (oh, she's the cute one on the right; pay no attention to the chubby-cheeked geek on the left):My first lifer of the trip was a Savannah sparrow, seen on a field trip to the Beanery:Not a great photo, but note how dark it was with the rain coming down; it was wet and miserable, and Susan of Lake Life and I were soaked to the skin by the time the Beanery field trip was over. However, we got some good looks at a few birds, both in the trees and overhead.
I can tell you that the migration flightline definitely runs through Cape May. All weekend, we saw flocks of everything from red-winged blackbirds and robins to double-crested cormorants and great blue herons, all heading for their winter homes down south. It was awe-inspiring to see groups of 200+ cormorants, all focused on getting to their destination.
I'll flash-forward now to my drive home because, after all I'd seen and learned during the weekend programs and birding walks, I really began to think about this whole fall migration business. Like everyone else, I learned about bird migrations when I was a kid in science classes. What I didn't learn in school or even in these last few years of learning bird ID, behaviors, and so forth, is that a lot of birds don't survive the fall migration. I don't know if I just missed that part of 4th grade science with Miss Gomez or maybe I just tuned it out (you know how bird death bothers me), but I never really thought about the fact that, despite their preparations of packing on the fat stores and staying together for safety, a lot of birds will die en route to their winter vacation homes.
Thinking about it last night in the car as I watched another flock of cormorants flying over me, I wondered: Am I naive or just dumb? Neither option is very comforting. Of course, some birds die; it happens every day. But somehow, this was different. I imagined what it would be like to be forced to pack up, leave my home, and walk hundreds of miles to a new home. Along the way, there would be dangers--predators, man-made obstacles, and others around me competing for what food and drink were available on the way. I wouldn't have a choice about leaving; I'd be compelled by instinct to do this, not just once but every autumn, so I could get away from the snows of the north. This would be no fun vacation, no retirement trip in the luxury RV to Texas or Florida for the winter visitors from up north. During this "vacation," I could die at any moment. I might collapse from exhaustion, unable to continue because I hadn't brought enough food or couldn't find enough on the road. Someone might just decide I'm an easy meal and kill me. I met encounter a storm that blows me so off course I can't recover; I'm separated from my traveling companions and I'm lost. Finally, I just lay down on the side of the road, confused and tired, and sleep until I don't wake up again.
I know that to most birders, all these things are so obvious on their face as to be silly. But as I said, I just didn't think about that before this weekend. As I drove on toward Philadelphia in the fading sunlight of the day, I was filled with a sadness I couldn't shake. I thought about that forced "vacation" all the way home.
Spring migration at Oil Creek had been a wonderful experience; the birds were all dressed in their finest outfits, excitedly singing and looking for mates; I could sense the thrill of possibility in the air. Most importantly, these birds were coming home. They'd survived the trip south and the trip back north, and now they were singing and fluttering, ready to create the next generation of birds. Fall migration is different, though. Everyone has to leave; all the nests they'd worked to build, all the great hunting spots they'd worked to find, all the warm sunshine and gentle breezes of spring and summer are over, and now they're were facing a hard flight away.
For me, it's just a lot to think about. I looked up at a passing flock of 20 or so great egrets, and I whispered, "Good luck."