Tag Archives: Cape May

Mrs. Fisher’s Frigatebird

On this day 89 years ago (8/3/1926), a few days after the passage of the Nassau Hurricane, Muriel Fisher of Germantown, Pa., spotted an unusual bird kiting over the boardwalk at Cape May. She couldn’t find the bird in any books, and eventually sent a description of it to Witmer Stone. He immediately realized she’d seen a “Man-o’-war-bird,” now known as a Magnificent Frigatebird. (Frigatebird species are very difficult to differentiate in the field, but the Magnificent is the most likely species in New Jersey.) There had been an undocumented New Jersey record of a frigatebird from the 1870s, but Fisher’s was the first documented one. The bird, resident in the tropics, had doubtless been blown north of its usual neighborhood by the hurricane.

The sighting has had its doubters over the years; one recent author thought the description in Bird Studies at Old Cape May was “unconvincing.” (Stone had also written up the sighting in The Auk at the time he got Fisher’s letter in 1928.) Stone’s Auk and BSOCM descriptions, however, couldn’t practicably include three little sketches in Mrs. Fisher’s letter which, taken together, push the sighting a whole lot closer to “convincing.” Here are her sketches of the flight profile, beak, and tail shape from her letter to Stone:

FisherLettered

Compare them with this excellent Greg Lavaty photograph that shows all three of the field characters depicted by Fisher:

magnificent-frigatebird__Greg Lavatyed

Years later, Fisher wrote to ask Stone’s opinion of a bird that had nested in Cape May the previous summer. A friend had identified it as a mockingbird (and from her description it clearly was), but Fisher, although admitting to short-sightedness, thought the bird must be a magpie. So she certainly wasn’t a particularly knowledgeable or experienced “birder,” but I’d make the case that her frigatebird notes were friggin’ convincing, and that hers should be considered the first credible New Jersey record of this tropical wanderer.

 

Cape May Star and Wave article on Otway Brown

I had an article published in today’s Cape May Star and Wave about Otway Brown – noted Cape May naturalist, as well as Stone’s partner for the Christmas Bird Count and the Cape May Flower Show. A row of Eastern Red Cedars, planted in Brown’s memory in 1948, are still growing along Madison Avenue in Cape May. Many kudos to CMS&W for having the interest in the town’s history to publish the article. Click to open image (click a second time to open full size):

CMSW Brown 4-8-15 crp

Stone Trees

Many trees familiar to Stone are still with us, and provide a living link to his world. We can start with this huge oak (I saw it in winter, so didn’t have much to go on as to species) next to Stock Grange, where Stone spent many youthful summers (on all photos, you can click to enlarge):

Stock Grange

Not far from Stock Grange, in the Doe Run Presbyterian Cemetery, a huge White Oak stands near the graves of many of Stone’s Stock Grange ancestors, including his naturalist great-aunt Mary Steele:

IMG_4123

Here’s a massive old oak in Wister Woods, where Stone and the Brown brothers spent much of their time while roaming the wide-open spaces around their Germantown homes:

Wister Oak II

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Stone Trees