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Winter Birds :
One Day Cape May Birding Guide

American Wigeon by Doyle Dowdell

by Paul Kerlinger

Cape May, NJ - Even in winter, Cape May is a magical place for birds. If you can only get away for a day, you can still hit forests and fields and marshes, as well as back bays and ocean birding. It's all in the planning.  Here's our suggested do it yourself, one day wonder birding tour. Try it anytime between late December and March.

Dawn: Cape May Point State Park and St. Mary’s Jetty

Bonaparte's Gulls

When the sun breaks the horizon, make sure you're standing in Cape May Point State Park. There's a pavilion that will give you a little shelter and a nice view of the ocean.   Start by scanning the ocean and then check out the beach for shorebirds, seaducks, and other seabirds.  Gulls are also abundant here and there will often be more than 100 sitting on the beach between the Park and the city of Cape May.

For another view, try the overlook next to St. Mary's By the Sea, at the end of Lehigh Ave. Walk up the narrow dune path for a panoramic view of the confluence of the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic ocean. On your way out of the Point, don't forget to stop at Lily Lake and Lighthouse Pond (visible from Lighthouse Road, near the park entrance) for dabbling and diving ducks and herons.

  • Time: 1 to 2 hours.
  • Hint: A spotting scope will be very useful for seeing ducks, loons, and grebes on the water.
  • Highlights:  Northern Gannet, Scoters, Red-throated and Common Loon, Bonaparte's Gull, Purple Sandpiper and Ruddy Turnstone, and the possibility of an alcid, eider, other seaducks, and jaegers. Redheads and Ring-necked Ducks are present on Lily Lake in some years, amongst the other duck species.

Mid-Morning: The Beanery / Rea Farm

Drive a short distance from Cape May Point to the Beanery on Bayshore Road near 6th St. Park in the grassy area (near the birding signs.) Start birding immediately when you get out of the car.  Look up for Black and Turkey Vulture.  Walk through the gates and work the edges of the fields for sparrows, juncos, kinglets, and other songbirds.  Keep going along the dirt road through the forested swamp. 

You'll come out on an open farm field. Bird along the edges of the field and along the railroad tracks (across the field and to the left) that lead toward Delaware Bay.  Look for songbirds and hawks. You could stumble upon Hermit Thrush, woodpeckers, and songbirds. Don't forget to check the sky regularly for raptors.

  • Time: 2 hours
  • Hint: This is a good time to take a break for lunch. You'll be ready for a nice warm cup of soup right ab our now.
  • Highlights:  Land birds, Coopers and Sharp-shinned Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Northern Harrier, Black and Turkey Vulture, harrier, Hermit Thrush, Fox Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, kinglets, woodpeckers, etc. 

Early-Mid Afternoon: Stone Harbor Point and Nummy Island 

Long-tailed Duck by Doyle Dowdell

After lunch, drive north to Stone Harbor.  At the south end of Stone Harbor, you'll find a parking lot.   Walk to the top of the dune and start looking for sea and shorebirds. You can also walk along the beach, all the way down to the end of the Point.  It's a great mile and a half hike on sand. Scan seaward for ducks, loons, gannets, and gulls. 

Sanderlings on the beach can be mixed with Dunlin and Ruddy Turnstones (and perhaps a Red Knot).  If you walk to the Point, look at both the ocean and the inlet.  The water moves swiftly and loons and other fish eating birds feed there.  

Nummy Island is just over the bridge heading south. Park on the side of the road.   A spotting scope will help to scan the channel between the island and Stone Harbor for gulls and waterfowl.  Next, drive across the Island, watching for for ducks, long-legged waders and harriers on the open water salt ponds. Brant should be numerous.  Go to the larger bridge at the south end of Nummy Island and back again, looking for birds as you go.

  • Time: 2 hours
  • Highlights:  Water birds (Brant, loons, Black Ducks, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser, Long-tailed Duck), Northern Harrier, Gannet, Sanderling, Northern Harrier,   You may also see Black-crowned Night Herons and even Peregrine Falcon in winter. Other herons and egrets are sometimes present in winter.  Snowy Owls have been observed on Nummy Island on several occasions.

Sunset: Jake's Landing

Jake's Landing may be one of the best places to end a birding day in New Jersey. Drive north on route 47 to Jake's Landing Road. make left and follow the road to the landing on the marsh. You'll want to get there at least an hour before sunset and leave when as it gets dark.   The Jake's Landing parking lot is the best place in New Jersey to see Short-eared Owls.  Several are often present during winter.  (At dusk and after dark, you may also hear Great Horned Owls.)  Look in all directions, the owls and harriers will be flying low over the marsh. 

Scan with your binoculars along the tree line for perched Bald Eagles and other hawks.  If the Snow Geese are spooked by an eagle, you may see several thousand of them take to the air in a spectacular explosion of wings.  Most often the large flocks are off to the west.

An aesthetic extra at Jake’s is the extraordinary sunset.  The waning light, the sea of marsh grass, and the wide open views to the west, make for an incomparable experience.  What could be better after seeing Short-eared Owls hunting the salt hay farms than a perfect sunset.

  • Time: 1 1/2 hours
  • Hint: Keep a Cape May County road map on hand and also a copy of Birds and Birding at Cape May, by Clay and Pat Sutton (Stackpole Books) Carry the Sutton's book with you as you go from spot to spot.
  • Highlights:  Northern Harrier, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, other hawks, Short-eared Owl, Great Horned Owl, Snow Geese, Hooded Mergansers, Black Duck, other ducks, salt marsh sparrows. There is also a possibility of an otter in the river.


Purple Sandpiper by Doyle Dowdell


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