TRAVEL DESTINATIONS

Birding in Cape May, NJ

By
David A.
La Puma

Cape May, New Jersey has long been known as a birding hotspot among land-dwellers, sporting some amazing statistics of spring and fall migration. Over 40,000 hawks, eagles and falcons are counted each year from the Hawkwatch at the Cape May Point State Park, and over a million waterbirds were counted from the Avalon Seawatch between September 22 and December 22, 2014.

These migration watches have been staffed by New Jersey Audubon's Cape May Bird Observatory for nearly four decades and are a popular site to visit each year. What might not be as obvious are the myriad opportunities for boaters visiting the Cape May area to get up close and personal with local wildlife.

No Such Thing As A Seagull

While there is no such species as a Seagull there are many species of gull inhabiting areas. With a little practice, you'll soon realize that you can identify a number of them when you enter Cape May from the ocean. Cape May is the largest breeding colony of Laughing Gulls in the world. This colony extends throughout the Intercostal Waterway from Cape May to Avalon and holds between 40,000 and 60,000 laughing gulls. While their winter plumage can be rather drab, when they're all decked out in their spring and summer finery, there really is no other more beautiful gull. A gorgeous black hood, red bill, red legs, and white eyeliner, these gulls are purely spectacular.

Other breeding gulls in the area belong to the white-headed gull complex, namely the herring gull and great black-backed gull, the latter of which is the largest gull in the world, with the adult birds at least easily told by their jet-black backs. Adult herring gulls, in contrast, sport light gray backs, black wingtips, and a bold yellow bill. You can find them in the Cape May harbor, and you're likely to spot one perched on a piling or during your land excursions to the numerous sandy beaches on the peninsula.

Come into Cape May from the southwest during a falling tide, and you'll undoubtedly notice the activity of birds in the rips, as gulls and terns feed voraciously on the small fish present where the brackish waters of the Delaware River meet the saline waters of the Delaware Bay and Atlantic. While possible to identify birds in the rips from land, birding by boat has a clear advantage. Several species of tern are regular in the rips, including the smallest, the least tern. The two medium-sized terns present in large numbers are Forster's and common. The larger terns are royal and Caspian, the latter being the largest tern in the world. All of these species breed on the Cape May peninsula, although some travel miles just to feed in the rips and bring their bounty back to their nests in the back bays.

The Bird With The Orange Cigar

Another species regularly encountered by boat, either when coming through the Cape May inlet or when cruising around the point, is the American oystercatcher. Often seen perched on the groins around the point, at the end of the 2nd Avenue Jetty or flying in pairs between the beaches and back bay marshes, these birds have serious character! Their melodious pipping call can be heard sometimes before you see them but when you do lay eyes on them, they're unmistakable: long, thick, bright orange bill and matching eye ring, black head and bib, white belly, flesh-pink legs and black and white wings in flight.

The oystercatcher gets its name from its propensity to feed on bivalves, splitting them open with its strong beak, either shucking them like we do oysters, or by pounding them like a woodpecker until it cracks the shell. These comical birds nest both on the sandy beaches of Cape May and in the back bay marshes, and your chances of seeing them are very good during the spring and summer.

The Comeback Kid

It wasn't long ago when the osprey was practically extirpated from New Jersey. Through the banning of the pesticide DDT and the hard work of many dedicated individuals, the osprey has made a comeback. In fact, in 1973, there were only 53 nesting pairs in New Jersey, in contrast to 2013, with a record of over 500 nests found and monitored. Today most boaters know what an osprey platform looks like a wooden tower in the marshes of New Jersey, topped by a platform and typically occupied by a large nest made of sticks. Osprey leave the area in the winter, heading south to areas with richer food resources, but come spring, the ospreys return, and they cash in on their homestead claims.  Boaters entering the Cape May Harbor in the spring and summer months would be hard pressed to miss the ospreys breeding there. Again, as boats provide a perfect blind for wildlife viewing, it's common to float passed an osprey platform in late summer and see the young chicks poking their heads above the rim of the nest to check out what's going on in the world around them. It really is a special thing to witness, especially in light of the fact the species was on the brink of extirpation from New Jersey and across the eastern U.S. only forty years ago.

After docking at the South Jersey Marina (609-884-2400, southjerseymarina.com) or Canyon Club Resort Marina (609-884-0199, canyonclubmarina.com), come ashore and explore the docks for little harlequin shorebirds, the ruddy turnstone, as they pick and probe at the flotsam brought ashore by fishermen and pleasure boaters alike. Stop by New Jersey Audubon's Nature Center of Cape May (609-884-2736, njaudubon.org) across the harbor, and pick up a copy of Birding for Boaters, then hop in a kayak available for rent next door and head out to explore either on your own or with an expert guide. If you want a more personalized birding adventure, come by New Jersey Audubon's Cape May Bird Observatory on East Lake Drive, Cape May Point, for a full roster of guided walks appropriate for all ages and all experience levels. Whatever you decide, Cape May has you covered with plenty of nature at your own pace, by foot, by bike and, of course, by boat.

Related Articles
Beyond Disney: 10 Cool Family-Friendly Places to Visit on Florida's Coasts
|

OUTER SPACE. RACE CARS. ANIMAL SAFARIS. PIRATES.

These experiences are all part of a dream vacation to one of Florida’s famous theme parks. But the cool thing is that the Sunshine State offers these same topics as real, hands-on, family-friendly adventures. Here’s a Top 10 to try.

1. St. Augustine Alligator Farm & Zoological Park

Kids who love dinosaurs will love this park. Founded in 1893, some of the oldest and largest alligators are in captivity here. Plus, the Land of Crocodiles exhibit features 24 global species including the African dwarf, rare Nile and familiar North American crocodile.

Beyond crocodiles, “Some visitors like the colorful parrots, others prefer our python cave, the nesting wading birds in our rookery, or our wildlife shows,” says John Brueggen, director.“The more adventurous enjoy zip lining over the animals.”

Where to Dock: Camachee Cove Yacht Harbor

2 .Daytona International Speedway

race cars on the Daytona International Speedway
Daytona International Speedway | Credit DIS

The NASCAR season kicks off on February 19, 2023, with The Great American Race – the Daytona 500. However, any day is perfect for a speedway tour. The hour-long tram ride hits the highlights from an infield stop at the start/finish line to a view from high atop the tower seating. At a stop at the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, kids can enjoy a wow moment looking at Michael McDowell’s 2021 Daytona 500 victory car.

“The Magic of Lights returns to the Speedway’s World Center of Racing in November through Jan. 1. It’s a dazzling display of more than 1 million sparkling lights and magical scenes, all viewed from the comfort of the guest’s vehicles,” says Russell Branham, Southeast Region director of track communications.

Where to Dock: Daytona Beach Marina

3. Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex

Chat with a real astronaut. Train on high-tech simulators inside the Space Shuttle Atlantis. Go behind the gates of a working spaceflight facility. Experience microgravity like inside the International Space Station. The 42-acre complex on Merritt Island brings to life the U.S. space program’s epic story in an up-close, hands-on way.

“Kennedy Space Center is best known for rocket launches like the historic Apollo and Space Shuttle programs. Now, it’s known for the commercial companies with rocket launches happening almost every other week,” says Rebecca Burgman, senior manager for public relations and communications. The Visitors Complex offers some of the closest public launch viewing locations in the area.  

Where to Dock: Titusville Marina

4. Mel Fisher Treasure Museum

Lift a real gold bar at the famed treasure hunter’s museum in Sebastian, on the Indian River waterfront. “Kids especially like to look, touch and feel the weight of a solid gold bar from the Nuestra Senora de Atocha, the most famous and valuable shipwreck to ever be recovered,” says Nichole Johanson, the museum’s director and Fisher’s granddaughter.

“The bar weighs about five pounds, and you can still see the markings that tell its story like ownership, tax, purity, assayer and weight.” Kids get a fun and educational treasure hunt game to do while exploring the exhibits, with scavenger hunt items and riddles.  

Where to Dock: Sebastian Inlet Marina

5. Countryside Citrus

Children jumping on a "jumping pillow" on a bright sunny day
Courtesy of Countryside Citrus

Oranges are Florida’s top agricultural product, and its freshly squeezed orange juice, soft-serve orange ice cream and orange slushies are some of the kid-friendly draws at this Vero Beach farm. Another is the Fall Festival and Corn Maze in October.

“There are activities such as a jumping pillow, kiddie zip line and air cannon, not to mention the maze and great food offerings,” says Cheryl Roseland, owner-manager. Kids and parents can U-Pick strawberries from the farm’s patch from December to February. Countryside operates its El Sid Taqueria on Ocean Drive in Vero Beach, a more convenient location to marinas for fresh citrus ice cream and slushies.

Where to Dock: Loggerhead Vero Beach Marina

6. Everglades Safari Park

To ride on the wild side, travel less than an hour west of downtown Miami on Route 41, the Tamiami Trail. The chance to take an airboat tour through the Everglades National Park is well worth the time!

An airboat is a flat-bottomed open-air boat with an aircraft-like propeller in the back and a car engine for power that can glide over the waterways and sawgrass of the glades at speeds up to 40 miles per hour. On a half-hour tour, see wildlife, alligators and anhinga birds. Guides make stops to talk about natural and human history, such as how Native Americans used cat tails to make natural gauze.

Where to Dock: Black Point Park & Marina

7. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

The words “under the sea” have a whole new meaning when sight-seeing America’s first undersea park in Key Largo. At 70 nautical miles, it’s a huge natural water park. You can go canoeing and kayaking, fishing and swimming, or choose a glass bottom boat tour, or a scuba and snorkel tour.

“The snorkel tour is an excellent way for families to experience the Park,” says Tim Linafelt, communications manager for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Recreation and Parks. “After a 10-minute coaching session, swimmers can get up close and personal with coral reefs and marine wildlife.” Plan ahead by checking out the park’s new 360-degree coral cam that streams a live feed. Lemon sharks, parrotfish and angelfish have made on-camera appearances.

Where to Dock: John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park Marina

children snorkeling the shoreline at the Dry Tortugas with crystal clear blue watersu
Dry Tortugas | Credit Yankee Freedom III

8. Dry Tortugas National Park

Play in a 19th century fort in this seven-island park located in the Gulf of Mexico. To get there, book a ride on the Yankee Freedom III, a high-speed catamaran that departs from Key West for the two-hour, one-way trip. Then, have kids watch for Fort Jefferson on approach.

“The enormity of the fort is indescribable. It’s the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere – made with 16 million bricks. It’s fun to explore with its endless halls,” says Piper Smith, VP of marketing for Historic Tours of America. Beside exploring the fort, it’s fun to swim or snorkel around the outside of the moat. The waters are filled with tropical fish, lobster, turtles and game fish.

Where to Dock: Dry Tortugas National Park

9. Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium

Sharks, sea turtles and manatees, oh my! These sea creatures star in exhibits at this marine research organization’s aquarium in Sarasota. “Our resident turtles and manatees are much loved, each with its own personality, and they also provide valuable educational opportunities.

For example, green sea turtle, Hang Tough, resides in a specialty rounded exhibit after being blinded in a boat strike. Families can see and understand how Mote biologists care for her while also highlighting the negative impacts of unsafe boating,” says Sean Stover, communications coordinator. Make the visit extra special with an Adopt an Animal Program, which includes everything from sea turtles to sea horses plus jellyfish and octopus.

Where to Dock: Longboat Key Club Moorings

10. Air Force Armament Museum

Florida’s northwest panhandle is a national center for military aviation. Pensacola is called the “Cradle of Naval Aviation” and is the official home of the Blue Angels. One hour east, this museum sits across from Elgin Air Force Base.

Kids whose favorite toys are airplanes will light up at the number of crafts on display during the drive into the grounds. Look for World War II, Korean, Vietnam and Gulf War aircraft, as well as the fastest plane ever built, the SR-71 Blackbird. Inside, please- touch displays include a fighter cockpit simulator.

Where to Dock: Two Georges Marina

THREE MUST-PLAY WATERFRONT PUTT-PUTT GOLF COURSES

palm trees on a minigolf course surrounded by turquoise waters
Courtesy of Fiesta Falls Mini Golf

Playing putt-putt Mini Golf is a ‘must- do’ shore thing on a Florida vacation. Best of all, many courses are near the beach. Lighthouse Cove Mini Golf in Jupiter is one block from the white sands. The two 18-hole courses weave around sea life, waterfalls and boats in a tropical fishing village theme. Play both! A new app lets golfers order drinks without leaving the greens.

Likewise, you can nearly see the sea from Fiesta Falls Mini Golf in St. Augustine. A 60-foot ship is a focal point, plus eight waterfalls make for cool fun. On the west coast near St. Petersburg, the Smugglers Cove Adventure Park in Madeira Beach is 18-holes around a pirate theme. That’s not all. Golf with gators! Win or lose, afterward you can stop to feed live alligators in an educational exhibit.

Read More
Fun at Florida's Boat Shows
|

Whether You're Buying a Yacht or Not

Two dark grey mega-yachts docked on the water at the boat show
Credit Informa Markets

The twin sets of upward sloping on the superyacht, Thunder, looked to me like stairways to heaven. To say these were only a small part of the eye-candy features of this 164-foot Oceanfast, one of the largest yachts for sale on display at this year’s Miami International Boat Show, says a lot.

Inside, the master suite boasted a ceiling retractable Smart LG TV, chandeliers in the main salon were part of the $8.8 million asking price, and a 22-foot-long crystal blue pool surrounded by sun loungers on the foredeck proved irresistibly inviting on this warm February day.

Best of all to me was the upper deck dining salon and its floor-to-ceiling windows. I could imagine cruising the world and looking out at breathtaking ports from this perch. And it afforded an incredible view of the enormity of the Miami International Boat Show, which is spread out over six downtown locations. Last year, nearly 100,000 attendees walked the docks, and sales were just shy of $1 billion.

I wasn’t in the market for a new boat. Window shop yes; buy no. Still, I wouldn’t miss visiting the Miami Show and many others held in the Sunshine State each year. That’s because these marine events offer so much more.

“Like a festival for boaters, hundreds of exhibits display a variety of vessels, from kayaks to luxury yachts. Food vendors and entertainment attract audiences of all ages. Several large boat manufacturers or brokers host hospitality events on board luxury yachts or in air-conditioned tents, catering to clientele who love to talk about boats,” says Andrew Doole, president of the U.S. Boat Shows division of UK-headquartered Informa Markets, a leading global exhibitions organizer that owns and operates five major Florida shows. “The shows present a way to see the latest in marine products and how to enjoy life on the water.”

Shows Aplenty

Visitors walking the docks at the boat show surrounded by multiple mega-yachts
Credit Informa Markets

Second to Alaska, Florida boasts the most coastline of any U.S. state at 1,350 miles. Add a year-round climate conducive to boating, and it’s easy to see why the marine scene is big here. Each year, the state hosts close to two dozen boat shows. The calendar runs from September to April, corresponding to the top tourism months for visitors from the north.

In September, there’s the three-day Daytona Beach Boat Show, and the Suncoast Boat Show closes out the season in April. In between, Informa hosts its shows: Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show in October, St. Petersburg Power & Sailboat Show and Jacksonville Boat Show in January, the Miami show in February, and Palm Beach International Boat Show in March.

“Record-setting attendance at the St. Petersburg and Sarasota shows in the past year now rivals the big shows in Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach and Miami. In fact, the annual boat show held in downtown St. Petersburg’s waterfront is the second largest event in the city, behind the Firestone Grand Prix in terms of attendance, revenue and logistics,” says Cindy Dobyns, president and owner of AboveWater Public Relations & Marketing, who handles press for the show.

What’s Happening under the Tents?

Exhibitor for "Electrosea" discussing the product with a customer

Beyond boats for sale, you can discover so many things to see, do, eat and drink, toe-tap and clap for at Florida’s boat shows.

One of the most fun sights at the Miami Boat Show was watching a professional flyboarder in action at Pride Park in AquaZone. Standing on a skateboard-size board attached by a hose to a jet ski below that powered the water toy, dual jet streams of water propelled the rider some 15 feet in the air above the 40,000-gallon freshwater pool.

Pros also gave the public a wakeboard experience via a simulator. Crystal Kayaks, Seabobs and Hobie Cats were brands featured for a demo at the Fort Lauderdale Show. In Palm Beach, the intercoastal waterway served as the natural aqua zone. eFoil electric surfboards were an especially big hit.

New last year, the St. Petersburg Boat Show partnered with the Annapolis School of Seamanship to offer one-hour on-water training sessions held multiple times daily. Topics included Women at the Wheel, Basic Boat Operator and a Junior Captains Program. All were free. The only catch is buying tickets ahead of time and pre-registering for the sessions.

Seminars are a sought-out reason to attend boat shows. Every show offers them, and many shows invite local celebrity speakers. A good example is the Jacksonville Show, where last year Captain Tim Altman of HooDoo Sportfishing Charters and founder of the Wahoo Junkies brand gave two talks on wahoo trolling with bait and high-speed trolling.

One of the best-known seminar presenters on Florida’s boat show circuit is Captain Don Dingman, star of the Hook the Future TV show. Dingman hosts interactive fishing clinics full of demos for kids ages four to 16. At the Fort Lauderdale Show, each kid received a free Hook the Future/Carolina Skiff custom rod and reel combo. It shows how boat show seminars can hook the whole family.

Fred’s Shed is worth the cost of admission if you’re a DIY fan. Launched over a decade ago by the Chicago- headquartered National Marine Manufacturers Association, this up close and personal educational experience is held at NMMA events like the Miami Boat Show. Topics range from installing marine electronics to detailing and service and maintenance tips.

Food and entertainment make shows extra festive. There’s no need to leave the fun. On-site at the St. Petersburg show, for example, you can gobble up everything from stone crab claws to Greek gyros, street tacos and wood-fired picanha steak.

The Windward VIP Experience at several shows includes an open bar, wine and spirit tastings, gourmet food such as oysters on the half shell, as well as early access to the show and a shady air-conditioned oasis to sit and relax. Most shows feature live bands with oldies, classic rock and top 40 hits on tap.

View the Boats

A center console passing by a big yacht in front of a house on a canal in Florida

Of course, it’s the boats that float these shows. “All types of watercraft are featured, including fishing boats, cruisers, ski boats, pontoons, inflatables, personal watercraft, and more,” says Erin Johnson, administrative director of the North Florida Marine Association that puts on the annual Jacksonville Show.

Vendors, from national brands to local shops, exhibit and sell all the boating go-withs. There are nearly 100 of these at the Suncoast Boat Show, and more than 1,000 at shows such as in Fort Lauderdale.

Mega and superyachts are here too, just like Thunder. You’ll find the bulk of the 100- to 200-foot-plus vessels at the Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami shows. All it takes is the price of a show ticket to walk the docks and dream.

Read More
Florida's Amazing Creatures Challenge
|
Sea turtle swimming through coral reef in clear blue waters
Sea Turtle | Credit Matt Botha

“WHAT’S THE DEAL with a flamingo wearing a top hat and puffing on a Cuban cigar or a mustached manatee strumming a guitar at a tiki party?” That’s what many travelers wonder when they come to the Sunshine State.

The answer is rather simple. From beaches and coral reefs to everglades and tropical islands, Florida is home to a diverse array of ecosystems. Toss in a balmy year-round climate, and it’s got habitats that spawn a dazzling display of marine life.

These amazing creatures are so beloved by Floridians that they’ve been integrated into the local pop culture in celebration of the state’s indigenous beasts. Native aquatic creatures are elevated into iconic symbols, reflecting the region’s diversity, unique groove and reverence for the water.

TRACK DOWN ICONIC IMAGES AND FEEL LIKE A FLORIDIAN

close up view of a flamingo
Flamingo | Credit Pixabay

While you roam around Florida this season, you’ll likely visit the state’s many marine sanctuaries, research centers and protected habitats. But Marinalife also challenges you to join the local fun by finding caricatures, logos and iconic symbols that playfully incorporate these unique creatures into images directed at everyday life.

You’ll discover many of them on sports teams’ logos or mascots, bar napkins, restaurant menus, clothing (shirt, hat, etc.), pool floaties, ads for products, road signs, products in stores, souvenir shop merchandise, glassware, food and beverage labels, boats, flags and more.

Read More

Want to Stay In the Loop?

Stay up to date with the latest articles, news and all things boating with a FREE subscription to Marinalife Magazine!

Thanks for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Marinalife articles