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clay sutton

Home to Cape May


by Clay Sutton

I'm at 37,000 feet, over the Caribbean, skirting the eastern shore of Cuba to be exact.  I keep rousing from my memories and dreams to look out the 757 window, hoping to spot Cuba, a "life country."  I'm intrigued by Cuba for many reasons, but for the birder who would someday like to go there, the mysteries include the likes of  Cuban Trogon and Bee Hummingbird, the world's smallest hummer.

We're at 37,000 feet, returning home to Cape May, returning  after a ten day sojourn in the legendary Galapagos Islands, the unparalled archipelago 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador.  We're returning home, my wife Pat and I, after co-leading a joint Victor Emanual Nature Tours/ New Jersey Audubon Society tour there.  Our home and venue was on the 80 passenger M.S. Lindblad Polaris, and to say we toured the islands in style would be to greatly understate it.....

The Galapagos--a dream destination for every naturalist and one we thought we might never see--were just that, only a dream until we were honored and privileged to be tapped to lead this tour.  The Galapagos are oft called the Enchanted Isles, but even this ethereal description doesn't go far enough.  They are the cradle of the theory and science of evolution, and Darwin's finches continue to evolve there today, in the greatest natural laboratory imaginable.

The Galapagos are more than the volcanos and black lava beaches, even more than the sea lions, giant tortoises, marine iguanas, and glittering tropical fish.  These islands are a birder's nirvana, and the vast seabird colonies, the courtship of the Waved Albatross, and the dance of the Blue-footed Boobies will be as forever unforgettable as the whale spout-punctuated sunsets over the sparkling Pacific.

Many departing today at the airport expressed their desire to stay, not ever to return home, to savor forever this tropical island paradise, and it's admittedly easy to wax melancholy on the return home following an idyllic interlude in our lives.  But while basking in the memories of the Galapagos, my mind is racing ahead--about 1,000 miles ahead of the 757--to our hometown of Cape May.  While many return to cities, suburbs,  locations near to jobs and families, we are privileged to come home to Cape May.  Even after Orcas, Swallow-tailed Gulls, flamingos and penguins, I cant wait to get home!

You see, it's late July now, and by this time of the season, the southbound shorebird migration is in full swing.  I've got to check to see if the Whimbrel are staging on Nummy's Island, heading out on freshening southeast evening breezes to continue their timeless journey south. And I need to check and see if Thompson's Beach will attract American Avocets this year.  And, gee, the young Least Terns should be fledging now-- I need to see how the colony at Stone Harbor Point is doing. Also, late July is the best time to see  Black Terns, already back from Great Lakes breeding grounds.  And I wonder if the Mississippi Kites bred in Belleplain State Forest, and southbound songbird migration is beginning, and I need to call the hotline to hear if any rarities have shown up.  And then I need to, and then, and,.... and after that, .....Gosh, I don't even know if I'll have time to unpack.

So on wings of polished metal, at 37,000 feet we streak for home, but my mind is focused on feathered wings ahead.  The memories of the incomparable Galapagos will nourish, sustain, and restore.  It was the trip of a lifetime, to one of the natural historian's holy grails, but we are heading home to Cape May, and I'm as excited as when I left for the Galapagos a short ten days ago.  Few places, few hometowns could do that for the birder, but the Jersey Cape can. 

And yes, I sighted Cuba, emerald and blue and inviting off the port wingtip, a "life country" and a place I long to visit....that is, if I can tear myself away from Cape May long enough


Clay Sutton is a noted Cape May birder and author.

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