Cape May Birding Places: Jakes Landing Road

By Paul Kerlinger
Outdoors Columnist

There are only a very few places where a birder can access the wild marshlands of the Delaware Bayshore. Jakes Landing Road is perhaps the best and easiest access point for birders who are visiting Cape May. It is also an amazingly scenic location, where you can watch the sunset over an expansive marsh, while seeing some great birds. It is about a 40 minute drive from Cape May Point and can be reached by driving up Route 47 from the Cape May Bird Observatory’s Education and Research Center, which is in Goshen.

Driving north on Route 47, go through the town of Dennisville and continue for a couple of miles. After passing a gas station on your left, start looking for a large horse-pasture on the same side of the road. Just after that pasture go left onto Jakes Landing Road.

Jakes Landing is a birding site for two seasons: spring and late-fall through winter. The best birding at Jakes is the marsh and at the end of the road, as well as in the forests along the road. Start birding at the parking lot at the end. Simply look from the parking and boat launch areas. Also walk along the road back toward the forest.

In spring, look for nesting harriers, Clapper Rails, Sharp-tailed and Seaside Sparrows, and Red-winged Blackbirds. Harriers will usually be seen coursing over the marsh in search of food. Clapper Rails can be heard regularly, but it is more difficult to see them. The can be seen most often when the tide is out and the muddy banks of Dennis Creek. Look carefully for movement at the edge of the Spartina grass. These stealthy rails will often walk out a foot or two looking for fiddler crabs. Later in the season, you may also see them with 3-5 young. There are Bald Eagles that nest locally, so be alert for an eagle sitting in a tree at the edge of the marsh or soaring over the marsh in search of food.

Jake's is one of the better places in South Jersey to encounter Black Rails, although you will not likely see them. Simply go there at least 45 minutes after the sun has set and start to listen for their kee-kee-do calls. Most of the birds that have been heard will be on the far side of Dennis Creek. Do not use a tape and do not attempt to walk on the marsh to find these birds. If you do, you may become hopelessly mired in muck. It is also not appropriate birding etiquette to harass these rare birds. Still, warm nights from late April through early June are the best. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t see one the first time you try.

In the forests along the road out to Jakes, try for Yellow-throated Warbler, Pine Warbler, and other nesting songbirds in spring. Most of the birds you find here will also be found in Belleplain State Forest.

In late fall and into winter, Jakes comes alive with raptors and waterbirds. Simply bird the parking area at the end of the road. Bald Eagles are common throughout the winter at Jakes, along with Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Harrier, and you are also likely to see the occasional Cooper’s or Sharp-shinned Hawk hunting near the marsh edge. One of the most sought after birds in winter along the Bayshore is Short-eared Owl. For your best shot at a Short-eared, go about an hour before sunset and stay until the sun has set. These birds are seen as they forage low over the marsh and are also sometimes heard making their odd calls.

You should also see thousands of Snow Geese feeding and flying way out on the marsh. Black Duck, mergansers, Green-winged Teal, and some other ducks are regulars in this area. Pied-billed Grebe can be on the creek, as well.

The forests along the road out to Jakes Landing will yield the standard wintering forest birds, although if you are lucky, you may see a Long-eared, Great Horned, or Saw-whet owl. They are present in the pine and oak forests along the Bayshore, but they are difficult to find. You may find their pellets (regurgitated bits of bone and fur) beneath the pine or holly trees.

River otters inhabit Dennis Creek and other waterways of the Delaware Marshes, so be alert for them swimming in the creek. They are rare, but you may get lucky. Note also the muskrat lodges scattered through the marsh.

Note: Do not go to Jakes alone as it is isolated location. There are no real hazards here, but don’t drive your car through the parking lot and into the creek at the boat launch site. The usual poison ivy and ticks are found in the forests along the road out to the landing. You will not likely need a scope in spring, although in fall and winter when looking for perched raptors, a scope helps.


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