Spring in Cape May: A Relaxed & Easy Tour May 14—20, 2017

Posted by Louise Zemaitis


Louise Zemaitis

Louise Zemaitis is an artist and naturalist living in Cape May, New Jersey where she is a popular field trip leader teaching birding workshops as an Associate Naturalist wi...

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From the beaches and marshes of South Jersey’s cape to its forests and farmlands, VENT’s 2017 Spring in Cape May Relaxed & Easy tour was a delight of sights and sounds. Each day our merry group enjoyed a wonderful sampling of the region’s diverse wildlife and scenery. 

Although we usually start the tour with a quick exit to Cape May, a recent cold front begged us to take a peek at nearby John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge before leaving Philadelphia. This urban refuge, with its mix of forest and tidal freshwater marsh, seemed likely to hold a few migrants. Upon arrival, we were treated to Willow Flycatcher, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, American Redstart, Northern Parula, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Orchard Oriole, all feeding in the morning sun. A great way to start the tour!

Northern Parula

Northern Parula— Photo: Michael O’Brien


Down on the coast, the saltmarshes along the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean were full of life. We had ample opportunities to view shorebirds from every angle. Heislerville Wildlife Management Area and Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge’s impoundments provided excellent viewing opportunities. We practiced recognizing the differences between various sandpiper species with Michael O’Brien, author of The Shorebird Guide and guest VENT leader, and had a couple of surprises along the way (namely Scott’s Red-necked Phalarope and Michael’s Stilt Sandpipers). We explored the back bays around Jarvis Sound on a leisurely afternoon cruise on the Osprey. Amidst a thriving colony of Laughing Gulls and terns, we found numerous migrant shorebirds in the salt pans, as well as lingering Brant, Red-breasted Mergansers, and a breeding plumage Common Loon. Other marshland favorites included a Tricolored Heron “dancing” as it hunted at Stone Harbor’s Wetlands Institute, a resplendent colony of night-herons at Ocean City’s Welcome Center, and exuberant Marsh Wrens fluttering up in the air, singing their bubbly songs, and doing splits in the vegetation at Jake’s Landing. 

What the Cape May region is perhaps best known for in spring is the spectacle on Delaware Bay’s beaches, where Horseshoe Crabs gather to lay their eggs, providing critical fuel for migrating shorebirds. On our visits to Cook’s Beach and Reed’s Beach, we encountered hundreds of Ruddy Turnstones, Red Knots, Sanderlings, and Semipalmated Sandpipers all joining in on the feast. And at Sunset Beach, we took a few moments to rescue some stranded Horseshoe Crabs, giving us the chance to see these ancient animals up close.

Read Louise’s full report in her Field List.