Cape May, NJ, Easy Walks to See Birds!

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Marshlands of Cape May, New Jersey

Cape May, NJ is renowned in the birding world as a hotspot for birding in the spring and fall. We had the chance to get there a wee bit early, but found plenty to see, with less crowded roads and trails while we were there. Similar in feel to Cape Cod, the landscape is coastal, with lot of sand, dunes, and houses built close together. Main Street offers scads of tiny shops to tempt tourists, and built up areas of hotels for seasonal visitors. We spotted the obligatory mini-golf spot as well.

Our purpose was to explore, and enjoy seeing the birds that were here. We certainly did not do justice to the area, but where we walked offered such great trails through marshland, as well as a viewing platform, so for me, it was a win all around.

We spent the most time at Nature Conservancy’s South Cape May Meadows. The marshland here is cris-crossed with dikes that offer very easy walking.

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Easy Walking along the dikes that cross the marshland, plus a viewing platform

Wide graveled paths lead toward to dunes, with ocean on the opposite side of the dunes from the marshland. We visited on a cool day, so jackets were needed.

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Northern shoveler (male)–note his outsized beak

The birds are mostly out of the wind, below the dikes. We are no bird experts, so were grateful when we asked someone what the unfamiliar birds were nearby. Gadwall was the answer. “Look for the black butt on the otherwise nondescript bird,” was his advice.

Nearly everyone here carries a camera, binoculars, or both. Many bring tripods and spotting scopes. We brought all of the above, and put them to use. Northern shovelers seemed to favor these ponds. Lots of Gadwalls. Turkey vultures soared overhead, and a few flew right past us, at shoulder height!

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One lone crab hanging out on the sand. Still alive, we wondered if he got dropped here by a seagull, or was otherwise stranded. We left him undisturbed.

We made it out to the ocean, but saw few birds right off shore. But one osprey, then two and finally three together spent the next fifteen minutes or so cruising the coastline hunting.

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Osprey in hunting mode

We saw no successful dives,

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Osprey hovering

just hovering, and they finally moved to a different area to try their luck.

On our way back we spotted some hooded mergansers, and one very curious but shy turtle, who kept his head just above the surface of the water. We spent probably three hours making our way around the dike system and walking the beach.

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Dunes and ocean. The dunes are slowly being restored from years of human encroachment.

Portions of the beach dunes are fenced off to protect nesting areas for piping plovers and other ground nesting birds.

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Fences work to keep people off the dunes, and additional wire fencing seeks to protect nesting areas

We saw no birds within these protected areas, but one hopes the designated birds will read the signs and stay where they can be protected from marauding animals.

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We enjoyed a simple lunch at the Seaside Cheese Company, which is open year round, and had a whimsical mouse door on the front wall of their shop.

After a late lunch, we headed back north, towards home. In the coming weeks, bird enthusiasts and more will head this way, but for now, my heart is full with the sights we took in, before the crush of visitors returns.

Marjorie

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Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and has completed three guides to Easy Walking trails in Massachusetts, “Easy Walks in Massachusetts 2nd edition,”  “More Easy Walks in Massachusetts,”  and edited “Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed.” A native Floridian, she came north for college and snow! Marjorie is a Certified Legacy Planner with LegacyStories.org, and is the producer of numerous veterans interviews for the Bellingham/Mendon Veteran’s History Project. http://www.marjorieturner.com

https://www.amazon.com/Easy-Walks-Massachusetts-2nd-Northbridge/dp/0989204340

More Easy Walks in Massachusetts

Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed

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