Welcome, fellow bird watchers!

This page was originally set up as a reference point and information center for a Bird Watching Forum member get-together held in Cape May, New Jersey in April of 2001. Although that event is but a wonderful memory for those who participated, a dozen (::eek::) years later here is the page updated to a general reference for anyone thinking to make a trip to Cape May to watch birds... (A good way to spend your time here, truly; with a county list of around 400 species, give or take a rarity or twenty, you are guaranteed to see something.)

Topics covered: Helpful Links to Local Websites, "Must Do" Walks (also contains links to local pages), Cautionary Notes, Other Places to See, Bird Bash Checklist (2001)...

Underlined text means its a link!

[Last updated January 19, 2013.]

A Cape May Year in Review--Short Version:

Spring: As far as bird-watching is concerned, a short-lived season in Cape May and not quite as active as other seasons (our geography actually works against us during spring migration--birds heading north pass us by as they tend to travel in lesser concentrations and farther inland) but can nonetheless be pretty impressive if you hit it just right. Shoot to visit late April through early June for migrating shorebirds and songbirds.

Summer: June through August is our quietest time bird-wise and the busiest season people-wise, but it can still be enjoyable for breeding songbirds and water-based birds such as terns, skimmers, oystercatchers, and herons/egrets.

Autumn: If you have to pick just one season to visit Cape May, this is it. Southbound migration can start as early as July (or earlier!) for Arctic-nesting shorebirds, and continues well into November (even December) for some raptors. Peak months for the largest number and species variety are September and October. (Also the best two months for a shot at the spectacles of butterfly and dragonfly migrations.) November is becoming known as rarity month.

Winter: Even in the off season of December through March, things are happening with the birds in Cape May. In truth, a number of species over-winter here that are not seen at any other time of the year--northern finches and raptors ("irruptive" species, birds that move farther south than usual every few years), and ducks and seabirds that consider us "south". Ducks in brand-new breeding plumage throughout the winter and the staging of hundreds (thousands) of Common and Red-throated Loons in late winter (March) are amazing sights...

Helpful Links to nearby locations and organizations:

Birds and Birding at Cape May: What to See, When and Where to Go -- Pat and Clay's book covers it all! And I mean all--about 300 years of birds and bird watching in Cape May.

Cape May Bird Observatory, a branch of the local state Audubon organization, has the most information on the birds and the birding available in the county. Scan down the CMBO webpage index for "Places to Stay, Eat and Shop"; it is a good place to start looking for accommodations if you are planning on staying in town for more than a day and it will definitely allow you to support local businesses that support the local environmental groups.

Voice of New Jersey Audubon is typically updated every Thursday; it will give you an idea of what is going on as far as recent bird sightings throughout the state. (Does not include Cape May County; see next link for Cape May specifics.)

View From the Cape is the local birding blog sponsored by Cape May Bird Observatory/New Jersey Auubon; News From the Cape will give you the most recent/additional news related to birding Cape May County.

keekeekerr is a Cape May-based text messaging system, for absolutely up-to-the-minute news. (Be aware that text message rates may apply! Keekeekerr can get chatty at times.)

CMBO BIRDS on Twitter -- tweet tweet.

Cape May Weather: What it looks to be like here for the next week. Or rather, what the forecasters think it should look like. Please note that weather conditions can vary greatly in CM County as far as where and when it is hot or cold or wet or dry. In general, the coastal regions are cooler and breezier than the interior of the peninsula in summer,   slightly warmer and very much more windy in the winter. Rain can fall in torrents at one end of a street and the sun can be shining at the other. Snow happens, but rarely and usually not in quantity. It is nearly always humid to some degree throughout the year, which makes winter especially raw, so come prepared—but do come; we have birds in the “off season” you won’t see any other time of the year...

The Nature Conservancy: This worldwide organization owns many acres of land in Cape May County. Of primary interest to bird watchers is the Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge, once known as South Cape May Meadows.

Cape May National Wildlife Refuge (and its associated non-profit Friends of CMNWR): Established in 1998, this national wildlife refuge consists of many small, non-contiguous properties throughout the county and some larger tracts—specifically, the Two Mile Unit located at the south end of Five Mile Beach (“The Wildwoods”) and adjacent to a LORAN station owned and operated by the US Coast Guard.

Delaware Bay Shorebird Banding Project: The entire story of the shorebird phenomenon, especially the red knot, as researched by the State of NJ and an international team of scientists. I put it here because the project, run yearly from early May through the first week in June, welcomes visitors and often volunteers.

Birding and Wildlife Trails: For many, many more wonderful self-guided tours of wildlife locations throughout New Jersey, but especially note the Delaware Bayshore (Cape May, Cumberland and Salem counties) regional guide.

Citizen’s United to Protect the Maurice River: Technically an organization operating in and for the adjacent County of Cumberland, Citizen’s United MR also runs events on the Cape May County side of the Maurice (pronounced “Morris” in proper bayshore dialect) River. And, after all, birds have wings…

Wren's List of MUST DO WALKS

A list of the best places to visit in Cape May, whatever time of the year you happen to be here.

Morning/Afternoon/Evening Bird Walk #1 – Cape May Point State Park A wonderful spot no matter the season or your bird sighting goals, this state park has it all, plus large and clean public restrooms. A mix of beach, forest, scrub, and freshwater ponds, you can pretty much find anything from kinglets to eagles here. The two miles worth of trails are well marked and at least half are boardwalked and handicapped accessible. And if you have the stamina and want a birdseye view of southern-most New Jersey, the lighthouse is open to the public most of the year. Most Active Season(s): Any; THE location for Fall hawk watching.

Morning/Afternoon/Evening Bird Walk #2 – Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge (aka South Cape May Meadows), property belonging to The Nature Conservancy, is a place with a remarkable history that continues to be interesting. Formerly a cattle pasture (and a town before that, once upon a time), it has been allowed to revert to freshwater wetlands and ponds, grassy fields, bayberry and cedar scrub, and has a beautiful beachfront framing the Cape May Light House. There is a large parking lot off of a main road (Sunset Blvd/Road 606), the trail consists of a raised, well-packed dirt path, there is a tall observation platform overlooking most of the property, and the total loop is a mile or so long. There is an informational booth adjacent to the parking lot; it is manned during the summer months into the fall. This location is good for a wide variety of bird species throughout the day and all year 'round; also lovely for just enjoying the landscape. On the way to Cape May Point SP and close to the first three spots listed below. Most Active Season(s): Spring and Fall migration, Summer for beach nesters (beach access is limited, but provides views of nesting Piping Plovers).

Morning Bird Walks #3 (#4, #5, #6, #7...) - Try to hit at as many of these places as you can:

Hidden Valley and Higbee Beach are federal/state wildlife management areas in Cape May consisting of woods and field habitats and some beach & dune systems on the Delaware Bay; both are nearly within shouting distance of each other on New England Road/641. Just up the road and around the corner from them is The Beanery, agricultural land and mature hedgerows with a bit of wet woods and a pond for good measure, located off of Bayshore Road/607. The farmer actually leases out the "birding rights" to the local NJ Audubon center, so you must have a CMBO or NJA membership (or purchase a pass from them) to gain access to this piece of private property. These three spots are good songbird and migrant habitat, and rare visitors such as kites (the avian kind, both Mississippi and Swallow-tailed) show up here with increasing regularity in May. Most Active Season(s): Spring and Fall migration.

Cox Hall Creek Wildlife Management Area – A recent acquisition of the WMA program, Cox Hall used to be a golf course and is located on the Delaware Bayshore side of the Cape May Peninsula in an area known as The Villas, roughly in the middle of the county. With little effort on the part of its managers, the 200+ acre sanctuary has become one of the favorite easily accessed natural areas for both visitors to and residents of Cape May County with its freshwater ponds, older forest surrounded by meadow (greens allowed to revert to more natural grassland) and easily-walked or biked paths (both old golf cart and new trails). Most Active Season(s): Spring and Fall migration particularly.

Jake's Landing birding is done along a paved road through maturing mixed forest, field, and a pine stand out to a well-graveled road and parking lot overlooking the saltmarshes and tidal creeks of DE Bay. Expect songbirds on the road out and, depending on the season, watch (and listen!) for northern harriers, short-eared and great horned owls, bald eagles, clapper and rarer rails, marsh wrens, salt-marsh sparrows, a variety of ducks, etc. in and flying over the marshes. Most Active Season(s): Summer for marsh-based breeders, Winter for over-wintering migrants.

Belleplain State Forest is an upland pine forest renowned for its migrant songbird populations in early spring and its breeding species (warblers to bald eagles) in the summer. "The Spot" here is an area at the junction of paved roads, but there are many dirt roads (some pedestrian-only) and trails on which to while away the hours. One caution about Cape May birding I feel I should proffer here is this: I personally believe Belleplain to be the best habitat on the entire eastern seaboard for every species of tick   imaginable; spring and fall are horrible, early summer is only somewhat less obnoxious, and you can even pick up the little bloodsuckers in winter. Don't worry about looking out of place in the ah, unusual sartorial style of smart bird watchers—everyone will be fashionably wearing their socks over their pant legs here, if they know what is good for them. Most Active Season(s): Spring for warbler (and other songbirds) migration. Many Summer breeders present but not necessarily visible.

Sunset Bird Walks – Jake's Landing, detailed above, especially in the winter for owls. Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge as mentioned above. But on balmier days, The Wetlands Institute on Stone Harbor Boulevard (Garden State Parkway Exit 10b) is an often-overlooked locale. The trail is open to the public free of charge; there is an admission fee for the facilities. "After hours" in the spring, summer and fall is a lovely time to walk out over the marshes to a large tidal creek. The birding can be rather good, but the sunsets can sometimes be even better. And every now and then, a “what is it doing here?” bird will show up at this location; Purple Gallinule is one way-off course species that comes to mind… Most Active Season(s): Any.

For Waders and Shorebirds – Reed's Beach is up the Delaware Bayshore side of the county and is the site famous for migrating shorebirds and spawning horseshoe crabs (although the phenomenon happens in many other places); it's a small place and moderately difficult to navigate - one narrow road with no stopping or parking along it - but worth a look at the right time of the year (as are any number of the bayshore beaches with public access). The local marina owner at the north end of Reed's Beach obligingly provides parking (for a minimal donation) and in season (May-June) there is a small observation platform in the dunes overlooking one of the best stretches of the beach for feeding shorebirds... Mid-May through the first week in June is the time when this activity hits its peak. The days of and just after a full and/or new moon are ideal; the majority of the crabs come up to lay eggs on these nights of extremely high tides. Please note: Access actually on to many bayshore beaches is restricted during the spring shorebird migration to allow the birds to feed undisturbed; please enjoy the spectacle from posted observation points. Most Active Season(s): Spring shorebird migration.

Stone Harbor Point: Drive south on Dune Drive/Second Avenue until you can go no farther; park in the lot and walk down the beach or down the trail behind the dunes to the end of the island to find nesting skimmers, terns, oystercatchers in the summer, migrating shorebirds, overwintering peregrines or even snowy owls in the colder months. (Be aware that from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, beach tags may be required and necessary if the beach patrol is doing a thorough job; this location is also a sailboat launching beach at that time.) Combine Stone Harbor Point with:

Nummy's Island: Follow Ocean Drive/3rd Avenue south off of Seven Mile Beach (Avalon/Stone Harbor)—the road forks at 117th street: head west—over the bridge, and out to the island before the next (toll) bridge. Park carefully on the shoulder and scan everywhere; good stuff has a tendency to turn up out here. This location tends to be best on incoming or outgoing tides when water levels are ideal for concentrating birds near the road; high tides at their peak cover too much of the marsh, low tides cause birds to spread out over too much marsh for optimal viewing.

Most Active Season(s): Spring and Fall migration, Winter for ducks.

“River of Raptors” – Come experience it Cape May style… Put the lighthouse (and restrooms) at your back, settle in on the platform located at the end of the Cape May Point State Park parking lot, and enjoy the show. Bring a pillow to sit on, lunch and sunscreen (yes, even/especially in fall!), and spend the whole day; the company is always   exceptional even if the hawk flight is not up to par. The marked and boardwalked trails through the park nearby to the platform provide very good birding for a large variety of species, sometimes even better than that from the deck itself. Most Active Season(s): Fall migration.

Seabirds While Standing on Firm, Dry Land – Head to Sunset Beach, located at the end of Sunset Boulevard in Cape May Point. This small parking lot and beach at the end of the peninsula overlooks the spot where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. The mixing of the waters (locally known as “The Rips”) stirs up food that attracts small fish, providing an excellent feeding location for pelagic birds normally found farther offshore. The little fish in turn bring in big fish; numerous fishing boats in The Rips actually mean the conditions are right for some potentially good birding. (Sunset Beach, as its name implies, also provides some of the best viewing of our spectacular sunsets, as well as being the home of the famous Concrete Ship. Come soon if you wish to view this unique feature, however—you have only a few more years to see what little is left of it before the sea claims it completely…) Most Active Season(s): Spring and Fall migration. Also a good storm-birding location; THE place to be during a good Nor’easter or hurricane (please mind evacuation orders if you are not a local resident).

Does Old Man Winter make you warm all over? – Try the Avalon Seawatch: The north end of Seven Mile island juts out quite a way into the ocean, and birds migrating south along the coast in the fall and winter fetch up against land here. The highest power optics (and the warmest clothes) you have are needed most of the time, but you never know what may come in from off the water... Drive north on Dune Drive, take a right onto 7/8th street; the road ends at a parking lot. 8th street has both parking and access to a large, walk-able jetty. This area is wonderful in fall and winter for Purple Sandpipers and all manner of interesting sea ducks that forage along rocky coasts—the jetty’s boulders are an admirable substitute for their natural habitat.

(For more winter birding, consider Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge - An hour or so drive north of Cape May County, easily accessed from the Garden Sate Parkway; often provides excellent birding on a seven-mile driving loop through/around freshwater impoundments and saltmarsh. Can be combined with: Barnegat Lighthouse State Park for a day trip. Another of New Jersey’s famous lighthouses, the jetty, beach and inlet upon which this light stands is an excellent winter birding spot. Due to its location well to the north of Cape May, it tends to collect northern migrants such as Harlequin Ducks far more reliably than points farther south.)

Most Active Season(s): Fall migration, Winter for over-wintering seabirds and ducks.

Cautionary Notes and Suggestions When Out and About In Cape May:

Some people tell me that the biting insects of Cape May County are worse than anywhere else in the world. This I find difficult to believe, because I mostly grew up here during peak bug times and survived, and I have heard some pretty horrific things about plagues of bugs elsewhere... But they are an unpleasant aspect of any trip to Cape May from May to August, and you should be prepared. For anything: noseeums(gnats/midges with a bite far greater than their minute size would predict), mosquitoes, green head flies, deerflies/strawberry flies/triangular flies (call them what you will - they all bite like the devil), and ticks. Especially ticks. Oh, and you could get into chiggers (another little mite-type beastie—but invisible—with a nasty, lasting bite) as well.

Arm yourself well with appropriate clothing (best precaution) and the bug juice of your choice (may or may not work, depending on the level of toxicity and the determination of the insects to suck the life out of you). If the flying bloodsuckers get you anyway despite precautions (and they will), meat tenderizer (salts found in any grocery store) moistened with water and enthusiastically rubbed into the bite can help ease the torment. I'd also recommend a fresh tube of anti-itch/anti-histamine cream as well; you may find yourself reacting allergically to some fly bites (I certainly do).

Ticks are a very real and valid threat, with Lyme disease having a definite presence in Cape May County. Wear long pants, long sleeved shirts, hats, socks over pant cuffs when in any area even remotely vegetated, and when in dense foliage areas, you may even wish to go so far as to use packing tape (wide adhesive tape) to wrap wrist and ankles - I'm not kidding about the prevalence and tenacity of the ticks around here. Check, double check and check again your person and clothing (and your companions’) when coming out of the field (or forest, or even a saltmarsh).

White sheets over your vehicle seats will help you detect any of the wily monsters that get rubbed off of your clothing, even if you think you got them all. You will not have. You want to stop ticks from lying low in the car and getting you days later when you least expect them and are not prepared to do battle with them. (There’s nothing quite like seeing a tick waving at you from your dashboard days after your jaunt afield…)

Wide sticky tape (like cheap packing tape or a pet hair remover roller) may help remove   ticks from clothing and person alike. (It's your call as to how great is your wish to remove ticks, and how much body hair you wish to keep.)

When you get home from a day afield, strip and check every inch of the clothing you wore, inside and out. If you don't immediately put your clothes into the washing machine, seal them into something until you can wash them (hot water, hot dryer recommended); some ticks will jump ship as soon as the warm body is gone and will hang out (on the clothes rack, the washing machine, the bathroom wall, wherever) waiting for an unsuspecting victim to walk past, others will stay with the clothes until the warm body comes back.

Check, double check, and check your person again. If you were in the right habitat, I bet you'll find a tick or two... Do I begin to annoy you or make you nervous? Good. I've seen the nasty things Lyme does, and would not wish it on anyone. BE CAUTIOUS.

Enough about the bugs. WEAR YOUR SUNSCREEN! Overcast days here will fry you to a crisp, water reflects sunlight up under shading hats, and these effects are certainly not limited to summer—many a dedicated autumn hawk watcher has a lovely tanned face and hands...

BE PREPARED for any kind of weather at any time of the year and at any time during your visit. Maybe you won't quite need a down parka in August, but summer evenings can be chilly enough (especially near or on the water) to make you wish for a warm outer layer, and a lightweight jacket on a balmy day in February may be welcome.

Other Things to Do/Places to See:

Cape May isn’t all about the birds alone; there is quite bit of variety if you are looking for other things to do nearby or within a few hours' drive… (Driving times depend greatly on where in Cape May County you start. Allow yourself at least 45 minutes to get from one end of the county to the other.)

Cape May City itself—the entire town—is on the National Registry of Historical Places. Many gingerbread-y examples of late Victorian architecture can be found here, as well as unique shopping opportunities and lots of beach.

The Cape May-Lewes Ferry crosses the Delaware Bay to Lewes, DE, home of some interesting history as well as nearby shopping outlets (tax free), not to mention more DE Bayshore birding spots. Foot passengers are welcome and shuttle buses run to the stores on the DE side; DE National Wildlife Refuges are within an hour's driving distance.

Waterway tour boats (dolphin/whale/wildlife excursions) are also available in Cape May depending on the weather and season. The Skimmer's Salt Marsh Safari and The Osprey's Birding By Boat both provide nature-oriented and/or birding tours.

Cape May Lighthouse in Cape May Point State Park. Actually, we have quite a number of lighthouses scattered along the coastline... Hereford Light on Five Mile Beach is another, East Point Light is up farther north along the Bayshore.

Cape May Times - A very comprehensive local website. Lots of good stuff in it!

Cape May County Chamber of Commerce – What it says.

Cape May County Dept. of Tourism - I should hope just about everything is covered here.

Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge - An hour or so drive north of Cape May County, easily accessed from the Garden Sate Parkway; often provides excellent birding on a seven-mile driving loop through/around freshwater impoundments and saltmarsh.

Atlantic City - Approximately an hour's drive north, if you really want to go. Guess everyone should go once, just to say they have been? Randomly picked web site, hope it helps.

Adventure Aquarium, Camden - Just under a two-hour drive towards Philadelphia. Small but I love it; there's a huge open ocean tank filled with everything from mackerel to manta rays. (Actually, they are sting rays, but that blows my attempt at alliteration...)

North Jersey – A number of fantastic wildlife refuges exist in the more populous areas of the state: Jamaica Bay NWR, Great Swamp NWR, Hackensack Meadowlands, etc.

The Raptor Trust - The rehabilitation center of rehabilitation centers, focusing on raptors. Northern NJ.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - Liberty Bell, Art Museum (everybody hum the Rocky theme), South Street, it's all there.

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary - About four hours away, just above Reading, PA. Magical. Mystical.

Don't neglect other places within a day's drive elsewhere, most especially in and around   the Delmarva Peninsula! It is well worth passing through this area; the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art is incredible, and Chincoteague NWR is one of my favorite places...

Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge  Black-necked Stilts and American Avocets seem to prefer the Delaware side of the Bay...

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge (and Chincoteague Natural History Assoc.) and Assateague State Park -- Not just for ponies (they are technically horses, anyway). The birding can be quite wonderful, with southern species such as Brown-headed Nuthatch that don't make it as far north as Cape May.

100+ Birds seen late April/early May 2001, Cape May Bird Bash. (And we weren’t even trying very hard…)
M = Migratory Bird Refuge (field, scrub, freshwater pond, dune and beach habitats) 
B = Belleplain State Forest (as the name implies, it's a forest, some creeks, some shrub) 
S = shore points (including salt marsh, cultivated garden, and beach) 
J = Jake's Landing (combination scrub forest, pine woods and salt marsh) 
* = a life bird for at least one of the Bash participants 
(entire species) = seen by someone, at some time, in Cape May County over the weekend
red throated loon (M) *
(common loon)
northern gannet (M)
double crested cormorant (M, S)
least bittern (M) *
great blue heron (M, S)
great egret (M, S, J)
snowy egret (M, S, J) *
little blue heron (S)
tri colored heron (S) *
black crowned night heron (S) *
glossy ibis (M, S) *
turkey vulture (M, J)
Canada goose (M, B, J)
brant (S) *
mute swan (M)
gadwall (M) *
Am. black duck (M)
mallard (M, J)
blue winged teal (M) *
green winged teal (M)
scoter sp. (M) * - too far out for detail
osprey (M, J)
(northern harrier)
sharp shinned hawk (M)
broad winged hawk (B) *
red tailed hawk (M, B, J) *
Am. kestrel (M)
unidentified raptor, poss. coop (B)
unidentified raptor, poss. falcon (J)
clapper rail (S, heard at J) *
Am. coot (M)
black bellied plover (S) - flyover
semipalmated plover (M)
piping plover (M) *
killdeer (S) *
Am. oyster catcher (S)
greater yellowlegs (S)
willet (M, S, J)
(whimbrel *)
sanderling (M, S) - one banded in 1999 in NJ on the DE Bay
(semipalmated sandpiper - M)
short billed dowitcher (S)
some unidentified peeps - ok, lots of un id'ed peeps...
laughing gull (M, S, B)
(Bonaparte's gull)
herring gull (M, S)
great black backed gull (M)
Forster's tern (M, S, J)
least tern (M, May 5)
rock dove (M)
mourning dove (M, B)
barred owl (B) * - wow!
chimney swift (M)
red bellied woodpecker (B)
downy woodpecker (M, B)
(hairy woodpecker - B)
northern flicker, yellow shafted (B)
(willow flycatcher, by sound - B)
eastern phoebe
great crested flycatcher, probable (B)
eastern kingbird, or did this become the flycatcher? (B)
white eyed vireo (B)
(yellow throated vireo *)
blue jay, heard at (B)
(American crow)
fish crow (M)
purple martin (M)
tree swallow (M)
no. rough winged swallow (M, J)
barn swallow (M, J)
Carolina chickadee, heard at   (J)
tufted titmouse (B)
Carolina wren (M)
house wren
kinglet (golden crowned) (B)
blue gray gnatcatcher and its   nest!!! (B)
hermit thrush (B)
wood thrush, heard (B)
Am. robin (M)
gray catbird (J)
no. mockingbird (M)
brown thrasher
European starling (M)
(blue winged warbler *)
yellow warbler (M, S) *
yellow rumped warbler (M)
yellow throated warbler (B) * 
pine warbler (B) *
prairie warbler (J)
palm warbler (B)
black and white warbler (B)
(prothonotary warbler, heard)
worm eating warbler (B) *
ovenbird (B) *
(northern waterthrush *)
common yellowthroat (M) *
hooded warbler, heard (B)
(scarlet tanager - S, B)
eastern towhee (B)
(chipping sparrow)
(saltmarsh sharp tailed sparrow)
(savannah sparrow)
(seaside sparrow)
song sparrow (M, S)
(swamp sparrow)
white throated sparrow (S)
northern cardinal (M)
red winged blackbird (M, S, J)
common grackle (M, B)
boat tailed grackle (S)
brown headed cowbird (M, B) 
Baltimore oriole (S) *
house finch (S)
Am. goldfinch (M, heard B)
house sparrow (M, S)