Stone Harbor Point

By Paul Kerlinger
Outdoors Columnist

Stone Harbor Point may be the best place in New Jersey to see terns and it is a great all around birding place. It is certainly one of the prettiest places to take a walk and do some beach birding. The Point actually changes from year to year, based on storms and erosion. From the parking lot at the southern end of Stone Harbor, take the trail that leads through the dune vegetation and start walking. After about a quarter mile, you will come out on the beach and then just follow the ocean, which will be on your left. To the end of the Point requires a walk of more than one-half mile. With detours, you could walk more than two miles on sand before returning to the parking lot.

Although in some years the terns, plovers, and skimmers nest on an island off Stone Harbor, in other years they nest on the mainland. Look for the roped off areas. Inside these areas are traditional nesting locations for Forster’s Tern, Least Tern, Black Skimmer, Oystercatcher, and Piping Plover. Walk the edge of the roped off area (do not cross the rope line) and look for nesting birds. They will be sitting on the sand.

Later in the summer, other species of terns roost on Stone Harbor or the nearby islands. These additional species include Common, Black, Roseate, Arctic, Gull-billed, and Sandwich terns, along with Roseate and Royal. These outstanding aggregations of terns can try a birders abilities. Look for the dense roosting flocks on the higher sand along the beach. You will see terns constantly flying out over the ocean and returning from the ocean. These roosts are staging areas from which birds forage at sea and then return to land to rest. In late July through August, the peak numbers and diversity of shorebirds are present. After that, terns are present, but the numbers start to dwindle as the birds begin their long migrations south.

In May, Red Knots and other shorebirds roost near the end of Stone Harbor Point by the hundreds to thousands of individuals. The same birds that eat the horseshoe crab eggs on the Delaware Bayshore beaches, fly to the Atlantic side of the Cape May Peninsula to roost at night. The shorebirds leave in June, only to start returning in July. The shorebird aggregations last until late fall. Watch for the huge flocks feeding in pools and in the surf. Sanderling, Dunlin, Black-bellied Plover, Willet, and many other species can be seen roosting or feeding on the Point.

Continue walking around the tip of the Point and you will find yourself looking across the water and mudflats/sand flats (depending on tide) toward Nummy Island. At low tide, thousands of shorebirds can be feeding on these flats. Some of the flats are growing up in salt marsh, which also provides opportunities for shorebirds to feed.

As with other locations, anytime you get an aggregation of shorebirds, the Peregrines and Merlins will likely also take note. During September and October, both species are regular visitors. Watching a Peregrine put up 500 or a thousand shorebirds and start chasing them is a spectacle to remember.

Hereford Inlet, located at the end of the Point, is a wild and wooly piece of water that attracts lots of great birds. In autumn, watch for flocks of terns and gulls feeding on bait fish. If the action gets wild, look for Parasitic Jaegers chasing the terns and gulls, attempting to steal their food. Later in autumn, you can easily watch loons, scoters, mergansers, gannets, and other waterbirds migrating along the oceanfront.
Gannets and loons do come into the inlet on occasion, especially if food is abundant.

Although Stone Harbor Point isn’t known for its songbirds, there are often fallouts of warblers and other songbirds in the dense brush along the trail leading out from the parking lot. The concentrations of migrant songbirds are greatest in fall, just after a cold front has passed over the Jersey shore. Small birds that are pushed to the shore or out over the ocean, end up taking shelter in the dense beach plum, poison ivy, and bayberry of the dunes. Monarch butterflies are also very common in these patches of brush during September and even October.

Winter birding on Stone Harbor Point is slower, although it can be rewarding. Dunlin and Sanderling are often present with the occasional Peregrine stopping by to make them nervous. The occasional loon can be seen floating just offshore. Brant and Bufflehead, along with Long-tailed Duck and some others can also be spotted in the inlet or back-bay waters behind the point. Moreover, you are likely to have the entire Point to yourself.

Safety. There are no real safety issues here, other than making sure you don’t get stranded on a sandbar as the tide comes in. Always be aware of how you will get back to the mainland when walking on any of the sandbars. Water at the end of the point can drop off steeply and the currents are brutal, so don’t go in the water.


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