Guide to Birds and Birding at Cape May

Posted 01/04/07
By Paul Kerlinger
 Outdoors Editor

Cape May, NJ - More than a million birders have visited the Cape May area in the past half century. Yet we've waited 69 years for a complete guide to seeing birds in this area.  

Birds and Birding at Cape May, authored by the husband and wife team of Clay and Pat Sutton, is a welcome and needed resource.   Not since Bird Studies at Old Cape May (Witmer Stone, 1937) has there been such a guide and the wait was worth it.

Clay and Pat collectively have nearly 70 years of birding, teaching, photographing, watching butterflies, and studying birds in Cape May. 

In fact, the name Sutton is almost synonymous with birding and conservation in Cape May. 

From the creation of the Cape May Bird Observatory to the initiation of backyard habitat programs in South Jersey, the Suttons have been key players in the preservation of remaining habitats here in South Jersey, not to mention educating residents and visitors about the importance of Cape May habitats to birds, butterflies and other wildlife. 

Raised in Stone Harbor, Clay grew up fishing and biridng in the Cape May area. He's witnessed the changes in habitat and birdlife over the years and his vast personal knowledge is evident in this new book.

Pat Sutton was the head naturalist at New Jersey Audubon Society’s Cape May Bird Observatory for more than 20 years (retiring early this year.) She also served as chief naturalist at Cape May Point State Park.

The Suttons together or individually have authored, coauthored, or contributed to more than a dozen books on birding, hawks, owls, butterflies, and other natural history topics. 

Their experience and passion are obvious throughout their new volume.

Birds and Birding at Cape May is a must have both for those who have  birded Cape May for many years and those who wish to make their first visit to Cape May. 

The book includes 568 pages of text, maps, site descriptions (including precise directions to finding sites), a seasonal checklist of Cape May birds, summaries of hawk and seabird counts, short historical accounts of Cape May, more than 100 black and white and color photos, weather and birding at the Cape, a butterfly list of Cape May, and tidbits about Cape May’s history. 

I particularly liked the details about conservation efforts that have preserved the important birding areas in South Jersey.  Overall, Birds and Birding at Cape May it is a rich resource.

The book’s format makes it easy to read and use.  The layout is clean and the material flows logically. 

It is also a fun read. 

Interspersed with the rich information about birds and birding there are fun anecdotes.  For example, “Gosh, An Albatross” is an account of how birders raced to see a Yellow-nosed Albatross at Cape May in May 2000.  The bird frustrated some, delighted others, and certainly didn’t belong in Cape May. 

Other anecdotes include the “Kite Fest” , about Mississippi and Swallow-tailed Kites that grace Cape May in the spring, and “Bounty of the Bay”, about Red Knots and horseshoe crabs. 

Overall, Birds and Birding at Cape May will prove to be an indispensable resource for both experienced and novice birders.   It is the ultimate guide to finding and enjoying birds and other natural life in southern New Jersey.

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