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(Myrtle) Yellow-rumped Warbler

My first visit to The Beanery and my first time seeing this warbler.

After walking for 90 minutes on my field trip around The Beanery, I still had no bird photographs. Despite the group's enthusiasm, I started to feel that I had wasted my time. I wanted to quit the tour, leave the group, and return to the car. However, I didn't relish telling Bhavna we had driven two hours in the rain to return home empty-handed. We heard trills and high-pitched chips as we approached a pond near one of the farm buildings. We could see rapid movement in the vines growing on the other side of the pond. Someone called out, with a surprisingly disappointing voice, that we were looking at Yellow-rumped warblers. Finally!

The Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata) is a well-known bird species. Yellow-rumped Warbler species exhibit sexual dimorphism, meaning males and females have distinct appearances. While editing my photos, I realised that I had photographed females only. Female Yellow-rumped Warblers are referred to as "Myrtle."

Like most warblers, Yellow-rumped warblers are primarily insectivorous during the breeding season, feasting on insects and other invertebrates. Pond flies were buzzing around the pond as I photographed the birds hopping between the leaves of the thick vines and the branches of the dead shrubs near me.

Female Palm Warbler
Female (Myrtle) Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata) · October 21, 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

The Yellow-rumped Warbler plumage provides camouflage in various environments where the warbler lives. During the breeding season, Myrtle females have grayish-olive upperparts with streaks on their back and wings. Their throats and undersides are pale yellow. However, the prominent feature of Yellow-rumped Warblers is the yellow patch on their rump. The colour is more subdued in females than males but still noticeable.

After the early morning disappointment, seeing these Yellow-rumped Warblers in their natural habitat was rewarding.

Birding Adventure in the Fog

Located at the southern tip of New Jersey, Cape May Point is a birdwatcher's paradise, attracting over 400 species of birds each year. I was excited to explore the diverse habitat and see what feathered friends I could spot.

The morning after our first night in our cosy Airbnb in West Cape May, I woke up filled with anticipation for a day of bird photography at Cape May Point Wetlands, organised by the New Jersey Audubon. Looking out the bathroom window, I saw that a thick fog had blanketed the area. As I prepared my camera gear, I felt excitement and trepidation. I was concerned that a foggy morning would create another negative experience. I packed my camera gear into the car, then drove to Out There Coffee for a hot cup of coffee and a sugary "breakfast" to fuel my birding adventures. I bought something for Bhavna, knowing that she would appreciate it later, and then drove back to Airbnb to eat.

With my stomach full and my body cranked up on sugar, I set off for the meeting location, the Cape May Point Observatory parking lot. Driving through the dense fog, I tried to keep my spirits high. The fog seemed to cling to the surroundings as I approached the meeting location. While it added enchantment to the scenery, the fog raised concerns about visibility and the potential impact on my bird photography expedition. However, I refused to let the fog dampen my spirits and instead focused on maintaining a positive mindset, hoping for a memorable day ahead.

Upon reaching Cape May Point State Park, I was captivated by the breathtaking view of the Cape May Lighthouse rising from the fog. At that moment, I felt the urge to scuttle my plans for the bird walk and photograph the lighthouse instead. I rarely get an opportunity for landscape photography in the Princeton area. But I stayed with my purpose for this trip.

I parked in the lot area nearest the lighthouse. I could not see any other cars. Did I have the right location? I pulled Apple Maps and noticed that the Cape May Bird Observation Deck was at the other end of the parking log. Perhaps they were meeting there. I drove across the foggy parking lot, and as I approached the observation deck, I could make out car-shaped objects. I was relieved.

Cape May Point State Park · Saturday 15 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

I grabbed my camera bag containing my Fuji X-T3, the XF27mmF2.8 R WR and XF16-66mmF2.8 R LM WR lenses and three fully charged batteries. I configured my camera settings: custom auto-focus tracking and shutter priority with a shutter speed of 1/500s. In this mode, the focus system attempts to track the chosen subject as the subject moves or as the camera moves and ignores other objects that are likely to enter the focus area with the subject. I attached the XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR lens and walked over to the waiting area to introduce myself to the group.

The group leader made introductions and gave up some information about Cape May Point, the Cape May Bird Observatory and Cape May Point Park. As an avid bird photographer, I definitely wanted to photograph at Cape May Point. It’s located at the southernmost tip of New Jersey and is a popular spot for migratory birds to take a break before moving further north to the forests of New Jersey. The area’s unique combination of the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay creates a diverse habitat that attracts many different types of birds. Cape May Point State Park is over 244 acres, and it’s home to the Cape May Bird Observatory, dedicated to learning more about birds and protecting them.

As introductions were made, I discovered that our group consisted of individuals with varying levels of birding experience. Some were seasoned birdwatchers, while others were novices eager to immerse themselves in the hobby.

Cape May Point State Park · Saturday 15 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

Our first stop was the dunes, a scenic area near the beach that promised breathtaking views and potential bird sightings. However, when we trekked through the sand, we were disappointed. The dense fog had covered the beach and the water. Despite this setback, the group remained optimistic.

Cape May Point State Park · Saturday 15 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR
Cape May Point State Park · Saturday 15 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR
Cape May Point State Park · Saturday 15 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR
Cape May Point State Park · Saturday 15 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

We continued our journey along the Blue Trail, which led us to Bunker Pond. Still covered in the morning fog, the pond has a variety of waterfowl, including swans and ducks. As I prepared to capture a photograph of one swan, I missed the landing of another on the pond's surface. I was disappointed but reminded myself that bird photography is a game of patience.

Leaving Bunker Pond behind, we ventured onto the Yellow Trail, which took us through the Cape May Wetlands State Natural Area. The trail meandered through a landscape of tall grasses and wetland trees, which provided a haven for countless bird species. Still, no bird photographs, just birdsong.

Cape May Point State Park · Saturday 15 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR
Cape May Point State Park · Saturday 15 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

We reached a strategically placed platform along the way, offering a panoramic view of the wetlands. It was a moment of tranquillity, allowing me to connect with nature. Still, no bird photographs, just birdsong.

Cape May Point State Park · Saturday 15 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

As we continued our walk, we decided to take a detour to Lighthouse Pond. Despite the fog obscuring the view, I couldn't resist capturing the Cape May Lighthouse in this setting. The fog lent an ethereal quality to the scene.

Cape May Point State Park · Saturday 15 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

As our birdwatching adventure came to a close, we made our way back to the parking lot. Reflecting on the day, I realised that even though the fog had initially caused concern, it had added an unexpected element to the experience.

The yearly Cape May Spring Festival, hosted by the New Jersey Audubon, is scheduled for May 18-20th. I'd read countless accounts of how the small town of Cape May bursts with life during this time, as bird enthusiasts and photographers from all over the eastern seaboard flock to the area. This is the prime season for bird migration, and I have been eagerly anticipating this experience for several months. However, I must miss out on this once-in-a-year event to lend a helping hand to my daughter in Illinois. I am struggling to overcome the intense feeling of disappointment that persists within me.

Bird Fishing at Sandy Hook

I was excited as I eagerly awaited the chance to utilise my brand new XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR superzoom lens. I signed up for several bird-watching expeditions with the New Jersey Audubon Society to make the most of my new acquisition. The first outing was originally scheduled for a Saturday but was postponed until Sunday due to inclement weather. According to the forecast for Sunday, we could expect chilly winds but clear skies. As I arrived at the designated meeting spot in parking lot B, I immediately noticed that the wind was stronger and colder than anticipated. To combat the harsh elements, I was compelled to wear my Patagonia winter jacket over my Patagonia spring jacket to stay cosy and warm throughout the outing.

We began our birdwatching excursion after receiving an introduction from our leaders, Linda Mack, Carole Hughes, and Chris Daly. After that, we headed towards the dunes near "Lot B". After not finding any good bird sightings for about 20 minutes, we decided to move further north towards Area "F" and Sandy Hook Fishing Beach. Unfortunately, the sun was already high above the horizon, which is not the ideal time for bird photography. My past experiences with photographer Ray Hennessey taught me that the best time for bird photography is early morning or late evening when the sun is rising or setting. The bright sky can overwhelm the camera's sensor, creating silhouettes. However, birders don't think much about this issue as the human eye can adjust to the scene.

Sunday 2 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR
Sunday 2 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR
Sunday 2 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR
Sunday 2 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

As I gazed out into the distance, I noticed a sizable group of birds hovering above a boat anchored far offshore. Unfortunately, it was difficult to capture a clear photo of any bird due to the distance. The sun's reflection on the water also made it challenging to photograph them as they appeared as dark silhouettes. Nonetheless, I took a couple of shots of birds flying overhead, and I believe one was an osprey.

Sunday 2 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR
Sunday 2 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR
Sunday 2 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

We left Sandy Hook Fishing Beach and headed to "Lot L" where we walked along a scenic trail through the trees to reach Beach 1. Although we were able to spot a few more birds, I only managed to capture one usable photograph of them in the trees.

Sunday 2 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR
Sunday 2 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

I don't understand why I bothered to go out with my camera on that freezing morning after the sun was up. I hoped to learn about bird migration patterns. Given that the information I found online from the New Jersey Audubon and other websites was too general, I had thought that the best way to get specific details was from local birders. However, I didn't get much help from them either. I learned that May might be the best time for beach bird photography, but overall, the trip was a waste of time. I ended up leaving early when the group stopped for lunch.

Sunday 2 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR
Sunday 2 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR
Sunday 2 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR