Cape May-Bird Watching
Cape May is located at the furthest end of New Jersey and is America’s oldest seaside resort. In the mid-1700s, Philadelphians started going to Cape May for vacation and visitors increased dramatically in the 18th century. This history can be seen in the beautiful and well-preserved Victorian architecture that Cape May is known for. Cape May is the birthplace of the US coast guard and home to the only coast guard recruit training center. Another thing about Cape May is it is said to have to be one of the best beaches in the Mid Atlantic area. The final thing to know about Cape May and the focus of my post is that is a beacon for birds and the birders that come to spot them.The jutting of pennisular Cape May into the Atlantic Ocean make it the perfect spot for migratory birds to stop at.
Cape May is said to be one of the best in the world for birdwatching. More than 400 species of bird have been spotted in Cape May. The World Series of Birding, the premier competition for birdwatching where teams have one day to find as many bird species as possible in New Jersey designates Cape May National Park as the finish line. You can see so many kinds of birds here but Cape May is known for being THE spot to see Migratory Raptors in the fall. Cape May is an excellent place for beginner bird watchers and is easily accessible for city dwellers in Philidephia or NYC area by car or by public transit. Here are some of the best places to see birds in the Cape May area.
Best Places to See Birds in Cape May
Cape May Bird Observatory – Northwood Center
Birds can be found year-round here due to its proximity to Lily lake, the undergrowth, trees, and the abundant birdfeeders and birdbaths at this nature center. The center is great to see songbirds, 20 species of warbler can be spotted here. Many species of songbirds winter at the center thanks to the aforementioned birdfeeder and birdbaths. But fall and spring will be the best times to see migratory birds like raptors. Visit the observatory to get pamphlets, guides, and up-to-date info about bird species in the area. This is a great place to begin your bird watching trip.
Cape May Point State Park
Cape May Point Park is the must-go place in Cape May to see birds. There is a wide variety of habitats such as shorelines, ponds, meadows, forests, and dunes so you can see a huge array of bird species. The best time to go is during fall and the second-best time is spring when flocks of birds stop at the park during migration. It is considered the best place to see raptors in North America in the fall as they head south for winter. The species diversity is amazing , you will have a chance to see varieties of Falcons(Peregrine, Merlin, Kestrel), Eagles(Golden, Bald), and Hawks(Northern Goshawk, Osprey, Broad Winged, Swaninson). The Sharp-Shinned Hawk and the Red Tail Hawk are very common and can be seen most days. Rare birds can also be seen occasionally due to the funneling effect of the Cape May peninsula as it acts as a good resting point for birds tired from flying over the open ocean.
In addition to birds, Cape May Point State Park is also an important migratory spot for Monarch Butterflies from late September to mid October. In May and June, Horsehoe crabs come to spawn which attracts over a million shorebirds to dine on their eggs. Other attractions in the park are the famous Cape May Lighthouse and a WWII bunker from when Cape May Point State Park was a military base.
Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area
Higbee Beach was once a nude beach in the 1960s but birders no longer have to watch where they point their binoculars as nudity was banned there in 1999. The Higee Beach Wildlife Management Area has forests, meadows, swamps, shore, and the last remaining dune forest in the Delaware Bay. Higbee Beach is another great area in Cape May to see Migratory Raptors and songbirds as well as butterflies and dragonflies. Songbirds like Indigo Buntings, White-eyed Vireos, Carolina Wrens, Yellow-breasted Chats, Yellow Warblers, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds can be sighted in the spring and fall. It is also an important spring staging ground for migratory shorebirds like Ruddy Turnstones, Red Knots, Sanderlings, and Semipalmated Sandpipers. It is also a breeding ground for Red-Shoulder Hawks who are endangered in New Jersey.
It is a popular place to find Cape May Diamonds, Quartz that has been polished and rounded by the ocean. The area is also said to be haunted by a Black Phantom dog but likely the only black dog you will see will be someone’s black lab running across the beach.
It is about a 1.5-hour drive from Philadelphia, a 3.5-hour drive from NYC, and a 3-hour drive from Baltimore.
It is a 3.5-hour bus ride from the Greyhound station in Philidephia with a transfer at the Atlantic City bus terminal. From NYC Port Authority Bus terminal, take a bus to Atlantic City and then change to a bus heading to Cape May and get off at the Cape May Welcome Center bus terminal. It will take about 5 hours.
Admission:All three places listed have free admission but guided tours will cost extra.