Cruising for Baby Birds on the Salt Marsh
CAPE MAY, N.J. – I went cruisin' for chicks with Captain Bob Carlough of The Skimmer, a back bay pontoon boat, on a hot July afternoon. Our destination: Cape May's back bays.
It's been a tough year for mama birds on the salt marsh. Abnormally high tides this spring wiped out more than 10,000 nests in one day, but the adult birds tried again and here we were witnessing the fruits of their dedication.
In one area alone there were tens of thousands of Laughing Gull babies, hunkered down in the tall sea grass.
The gull chicks' nests are only inches above the water. It's remarkable that these birds survive and flourish under such harsh conditions.
Nearby, hundreds of Common Terns were waving in the air, signaling to their young in nests below.
Most of the people on board The Skimmer had never seen a baby gull or other baby bird, so this was a special experience for them.
The Osprey nests were easy to see. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in collaboration with people like Capt. Bob and Linda Carlough, have erected nests on poles in the marsh.
Of the 18 nests erected in a recent year behind Wildwood, 14 have chicks in them as of July 2005. Cruising by a nest, you are likely to see both adults and baby Ospreys. If you are lucky the adults will bring in a fish to feed to their young.
If you are truly lucky, you may also see baby Willet (a large shorebird), Oystercatcher (a large sandpiper-like bird with a bright orange bill), or Clapper Rail ("thin as a rail" birds) chicks. All nest in the marshes of Cape May and Wildwood.
Although you aren't likely to see baby herons and egrets, you may just hear them as they make their clicking and screaming noises as they beg for food.
The presence of their nests in colonies of dozens to hundreds of nests is given away by adults sitting on tops of the trees. Sometimes nests can be seen through the vegetation, but for the most part they are well hidden.
The beauty of going to the nests on a boat like The Skimmer is that the pontoon boat slides along the edge of the marsh, right next to a gull or tern colony, without disturbing the nesting birds.
If you want to see this phenomenon, do it soon. The young will be leaving their nests by early August.
Tern hovers over babies in the salt marsh
Baby Laughing Gulls hidden among the marsh grass.
Mama, Papa and baby osprey
Cormorant mother and chick
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