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the previous day's scorching sun and high temperature, the air was cool
as we crested the dune walkover and began our walk down the
Over the Atlantic, low, moisture-laden tropical appearing clouds scudded across the sun. Scanning the beach and water's edge, we noticed only two people, beach walkers too, about a mile away to the south.
deserted beach, the perfect place for a morning walk, offering beachcombing,
birding, and more importantly, solitude.
But, no, we were closer, much closer to home. We were in Cape May County, at Stone Harbor Point to be exact (although the scene could easily have been South Cape May, or Higbees or a myriad of spots on our local beaches), and it was late July. Even though it was midsummer, "summer-at-the-shore," the beach was empty because we were . . . "early."
We had risen
predawn and reached the beach just before the sun came over the far eastern
horizon. We were greeted by a magnificent sunrise and many hundreds of
Common Terns and Black Skimmers in the thriving nesting colony at Stone
Harbor Point. Osprey resolutely hovered
Two parent American Oystercatchers with two fuzzy chicks in tow eyed us warily. Sanderling, fall migrants already back from the high Arctic, frenetically pursued every retreating wave.
Somehow, when you're out early, it always seems that all, or at least most is right with the world. We greatly enjoyed all we saw, but rather than birds, our main purpose had simply been to be "early."
an oft-overlooked instrument or methodology in the naturalist's toolbox.
It is one that can often be far more important
Birders have long-known that birding requires an early start, particularly in the spring when we seek the dawn-chorus of songbirds. And, admittedly, early is tougher in summer when the long days mean that it's barely six hours between the least glow of dusk and the first hint of coming dawn. But even now, as seasonal singing is dying down, early gives us a distinct advantage, an edge. In the Cape's woodlands, even after young birds are raised, there is still a short songbird chorus just at dawn.
and bays, birds are most active in the cool of morning, and least active
in the heat of midday. Most heron and egret "commuting,"
At Cape May
Point, Purple Martin music falls gently from high overhead long before
any hint of daylight can be imagined. Yes, early brings a
true early, we only need to get to bed, well, early, and put ourselves
on nature's schedule. The early bird may get the worm, and you can too.
The rewards are great, indeed much greater, for those out early.We enjoyed
the empty beach for a couple of hours, and in that time we only saw a
half dozen beach walkers and one other birder. It was
As we headed
back, we encountered two bonus Piping Plover at the edge of the water,
trying to blend in with the Semipalmated Plover. As
When we reached
our car, several other cars were now entering the parking lot. They parked
and disgorged coolers, umbrellas, blankets and
It was getting
late by our standards. Early was over and it was time to go. These late
arrivals would enjoy sun, surf, and clean, clear
Let's not tell them about it. I like to share nature with others, have made a career of it. But some things are best kept a secret . . . just between you and me. The shore is a far different place when you're early and, let's face it, if the whole world finds out, early won't be early any more.