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.
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.
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!
We made it out to the ocean, but saw few birds right off shore. One osprey, then two, and finally three together spent the next fifteen minutes or so cruising the coastline hunting.
We saw no successful dives, 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.
Portions of the beach dunes are fenced off to protect nesting areas for piping plovers and other ground nesting birds.
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.
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 Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, and editor of Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed. Just out is her latest book, Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are.
She has been a freelance writer for numerous local, regional, and national publications for the past 20+ years, has helped numerous families to save their stories, and has recorded multiple veterans oral histories, now housed at the Library of Congress.