(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.

Cape May Fall Birding Festival

The Cape May Fall Birding Festival was on my to-do list for years.

This year, I finally could attend the Cape May Fall Festival. The Cape May Fall Festival has been on my to-do list for several years, but health issues (between 2018 and 2019) and the global pandemic put my plans on the back burner. Last year, the dates of the festival overlapped with the dates of Diwali. Bhavna is Hindu, and the religious festival is the year's highlight for our family and extended family.

I registered for the 7:30 AM field trip at Rea Farm. The Rea Farm, affectionately known as "the Beanery" among birding enthusiasts, sits on the east side of Bayshore Rd, nestled between 6th and Stimpson Ave in West Cape May. It is one of the last operational farms on the bay side of the lower Cape May peninsula. With Pond Creek Marsh as its neighbour, "the Beanery" has a diverse ecosystem featuring wet woods, farm fields, weedy edges, and farm ponds as habitats for warblers, passerines, finches, and sparrows. My hopes were set high that I would see warblers.

Access to this private property is possible through NJ Audubon, either as part of the festival, during Cape May Bird Observatory (CMBO) scheduled walks, or through a permit with a current membership in NJ Audubon or Cape May Bird Observatory.

Bhavna insisted on accompanying me, concerned about me driving alone in the early morning and wanted to provide some company for the two-hour drive. She also offered to drive us home if I was tired after the walk. We left the house around 5 AM. Bhavna slept while I drove in the darkness on the Garden State Parkway. We arrived in West Cape May around 7 AM for check-in at The Grand Hotel's Wicker Room. From there, it was a short five-minute drive to the Rea Farm.

The Beanery, Cape May
The Beanery at Rea Farm, West Cape Mayy · October 21, 2023 · Apple iPhone 11 Pro · iPhone 11 Pro back camera 6mm f/2

The birdwatchers had already gathered in the parking lot. Our knowledgeable guides, Karen Thompson, BJ Pinnock, and Bill Boyle, introduced themselves and shared their hopes for the field trip despite the less-than-ideal weather. Among the binoculars-wielding birdwatchers, I felt like the odd one out as the sole bird photographer especially with my Fuji X-T3 and super telephoto XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR hanging on a sling,. Bhavna patiently sat in the car, reading on her iPad in the rain-drenched parking lot, waiting for the walk to conclude.

The Beanery at Rea Farm, West Cape May
The Beanery · October 21, 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

As we started on our birding adventure, it drizzled, a blanket of clouds hanging low in the sky. I felt anxious as memories of the disappointment from my last field trip to West Cape May filled my mind. Covering approximately half a mile, the Beanery offers an immersive natural experience. We explored the grounds and walked across grass and dirt trails that curved along field edges and through the woods.

The Beanery at Rea Farm, West Cape May
The Beanery · October 21, 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

Photographing birds against the backdrop of the cloudy sky presented its own set of challenges, and capturing silhouetted photographs was different from what I had in mind. Unfortunately, the birds seemed to be hiding from the weather, and my options for "bird-on-branch" photographs were disappointingly scarce.

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

The grey sky loomed overhead throughout the walk, a constant reminder of nature's unpredictability. Frustration dampened my spirits, but I persisted, distracting myself from the cold and damp by engaging in friendly conversations with fellow birdwatchers about their favourite birds and sharing my photographs of warblers.

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) · October 21, 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

Towards the end of the field trip, the trail led us to a barn overlooking a large pond, and there, at last, I spotted some warblers. Several individuals were singing and hopping around the vines and branches of the trees. I was excited.

After photographing the warblers, we walked around to the far end of the pond, where a family of ducks were feeding.

By 9:30 AM, our walk had concluded, and my growling stomach redirected my thoughts to breakfast. Bhavna and I decided to dine at Dock Mike's, where a hearty brunch warmed our bodies and lifted my spirits.

According to the official tally, our group saw over 30 species of birds.

As we headed back home, I reflected on the experience. Though the day's bird photography experiences were mixed, the Cape May Fall Festival was a reminder that in bird photography, patience is essential, especially in challenging conditions.

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.