Travel Destinations

Birding in Cape May, NJ

Mid-Atlantic
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April 2015
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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.

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Camden, Maine
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True boaters say the real Maine coast doesn’t start until you reach Penobscot Bay. This is “Down East” from Kennebunkport and Portland. The dramatic stretch of coastline from Camden to Mount Desert Island sparkles with granite shores, dotted with archipelagos of pine-tree covered islands and mountains cascading into the sea. This region offers some of the best cruising ground in the world.

Camden is a magical little seaside town in the heart of Maine’s mid-coast. It’s historic but hip. “Where the Mountains Meet the Sea” is their moniker, as Camden Hills and 780-foot Mount Battie stretch down toward the bustling waterfront where this 1769 New England village sits, creating a postcard scene.

Camden is super foot-traffic friendly, starting at Harbor Park and the beautiful brick Public Library that graces the top of the bay by the Town Docks. Enjoy a picnic on the sprawling park lawn; there’s often a craft festival or free concert at the outdoor amphitheater. From the waterfront, stroll the quaint sidewalks leading to cafés, boutiques, craft stores and art galleries, pubs, and surprisingly trendy restaurants.

You can hike, bike or drive the toll road up Mount Battie in Camden Hill State Park, which encompasses 5,500 acres and 30 miles of trails. Your reward is spectacular panoramic views of the harbor and Penobscot Bay below.

Eaton Point, at the eastern entrance to the harbor, is home to a new Lyman-Morse yacht facility. Camden remains a working harbor with lobster fishermen, boat builders, ferries and tall-masted schooners taking folks out for scenic sails.

Camden hosts festivals throughout the summer season of jazz, film and its trademark Windjammers. In winter, the U.S. National Tobogganing Champion-ships are held at Camden’s namesake Snow Bowl – our country’s only ski area with views of the Atlantic.

Camden is an ideal boater’s gateway with all the services and shops you need in walking distance from the waterfront. Excursions from this protected harbor are countless and legendary. A quick cruise brings you to quiet Lasell Island for a sunset anchorage. Farther on you reach Maine’s Maritime Academy home in beautiful Castine, and the rustic islands of North Haven, Vinalhaven and Deer Isle. Ultimately you can cruise north and east through beautiful Merchants Row, or the more protected Eggemoggin Reach, to Mount Desert Island, home to famed Acadia National Park, Northeast, Southwest and Bar Harbors.

WHERE TO DOCK

Camden Public Landing
Town Docks
207-691-4314

Contact the harbormaster for overnight slips, limited but in town, and moorings throughout the harbor.

Lyman-Morse at
Wayfarer Marine
207-236-7108

Across the harbor on Camden’s east shores, this revamped marina is a half-mile walk to town, with new docks and a marina facility, home of Lyman-Morse Boatyard and 30 slips plus moorings.

WHERE TO DINE

40 Paper
207-230-0111

Relish artful cuisine locally sourced from farmers, fishermen and “foragers.” In an historic wool mill in downtown Camden, it’s comfy but chic. Savor octopus, lamb, mussels, salmon and more with fresh produce and creative sides. Save room for dessert made from scratch.

Peter Otts on the Water
207-236-4032

Get your chowder and Maine lobster fix from Chef Peter. This classic setting overlooking the harbor is a Camden staple you “ott” not miss. Open for lunch or dinner.

Franny’s Bistro
207-230-8199

With a neighborhood feel, Franny’s serves up lobster fritters, crab cakes, shrimp dumplings and land-lubber faves, too. A fun menu in a cozy setting.

Bagel Café
207-236–2661

For fresh-brewed morning coffee and daily “boiled then baked” bagels or breakfast sammies served all day.

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Jamestown, Rhode Island
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Located on Conanicut Island, Gould Island and Dutch Island, Jamestown welcomes boaters to Narragansett Bay.  Its southernmost point is on Gould Island and marked by Beavertail Lighthouse and State Park. The northernmost point is marked by Conanicut Island Lighthouse.  While Conanicut Island is the second largest island on Narragansett Bay, it is near the western mainland in Kingston, and Newport lies to the east on Aquidneck Island.  Hop on the Jamestown Newport Ferry to get the lay of the land and sea.

Jamestown was settled early in colonial history and was named for James, Duke of York, who became King James II in 1685.  By 1710, many of Jamestown’s current roads were already in place and a lot of its early architecture is well preserved. Soak up some local history at the Jamestown Fire Memorial Museum, Beavertail Lighthouse Museum and Park, Jamestown Windmill, Watson Farm, Conanicut Island Sanctuary, Fort Wetherill State Park, and the Jamestown Settlement museum.

The main town, shops and restaurants are located on the eastern shore of Conanicut Island.  But even from the western side, Dutch Harbor and other attractions are easily accessed with a one-mile walk.

WHERE TO DOCK

Conanicut Marina
401-423-5820

This full-service marina has a ships store/chandlery, gift shop, extensive dockage and a large mooring field.  It’s located in the heart of town overlooking Newport and the Pell Bridge, but bring your fishing poles for the kids.

Dutch Harbor Boat Yard
401-423-0630

Located on the west passage of Narragansett Bay, this small, local marina has good moorings, launch service and facilities.  At times, the harbor can be rolly from a SW wind up the West Passage.  The holding ground is excellent for anchoring, but the dinghy dock is by seasonal permit only.

Safe Harbor Jamestown Boatyard
401-423-0600

Jamestown Boatyard is renowned for excellent workmanship on all types of boats.  It also has a large mooring field and is in a beautiful location on the East Passage.

WHERE TO DINE

Slice of Heaven
401-423-9866

This family-owned café and bakery with an outdoor patio is an ideal spot for breakfast and lunch, especially if you’re looking for tasty gluten-free and vegetarian options.

J22 Tap & Table
401-423-3709

This lively, year-round restaurant specializes in classic American cuisine and local seafood dishes such as New England clam chowder, lobster tail and seared yellowfin tuna while accommodating meat eaters with wings, burgers and steak tacos.

Village Hearth Bakery & Café
401-423-9282

Take a seat inside this rustic eatery or outside on the patio to enjoy wood-fired bread, pizzas and pastries with a cool beer or wine.  To start your day with a smile, order a cup of the eco-friendly coffee.

Bay Voyage Restaurant
401-560-7979

Inside the Wyndham Bay Voyage Inn, this casual dining establishment presents a seasonal menu of American cuisine standards and seafood with fresh ingredients and a stellar view of Narragansett Bay.

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Explore the Spirited Lakefront of Burlington, VT
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A vibrant, compact city hugging the eastern shoreline of Lake Champlain, Burlington abounds in scenic beauty, four-season recreation, a college town vibe, arts and culture, and a quirky character all its own.

Burlington - destinations - marinalife
Burlington Church Street | Michelle Raponi on Pixabay

Eclectic shops named Anjou & the Little Pear or Common Deer, and restaurants called Zabby & Elf 's Stone Soup or The Skinny Pancake dot the urban landscape. A local artist's satirical comment on the bureaucracy of urban planning called File Under So. Co., Waiting for..., consists of 38 filing cabinets welded together to a 40-foot height. Birds frequently nest in the upper chambers.

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burlington - destinations - marinalife
Burlington Bike Path | Michelle Raponi on Pixabay

Since the 1800s, the Old North End has been the city's melting pot, and global cuisine from Nepalese dumplings to the African Market can be found here today. Between munches, stroll over to historic Elmwood Cemetery, whose residents include Revolutionary War soldiers. Hear their stories and perhaps have a chance encounter with a local spirit on a Queen City Ghostwalk Tour. Liquid spirits rule when the internationally famous, regionally beloved and hidden gem breweries line up for the annual Vermont Brewers Festival. Year round, enjoy homemade bratwurst and drafts at Zero Gravity Craft Beer. At acclaimed Foam Brewers, the patio faces Lake Champlain waterfront and the Adirondack Mountains. Hop on the Sip of Burlington Brew Tour for a dozen tastings and the sights of this dynamic, energetic city.

Where to Dock

Burlington Community Boathouse Marina

802-865-3377

This full-service marina is the centerpiece of a growing waterfront. Amenities include 105 slips up to 65 feet, Splash Café and a fantastic sunset over the Adirondacks.

Burlington Harbor Marina

802-540-6869

With 160 slips (60 transient slips up to 80 feet), this new marina's tranquil harbor setting is convenient to downtown amenities and recreational activities.

Where to Dine

Honey Road

802-497-2145

Savor sophisticated Mediterranean small plates, cocktails and creative desserts in a comfy tavern setting.

burlington - destinations - marinalife
Burlington Church Street | Needpix

The Farmhouse Tap & Grill

802-859-0888

This farm-to-table gastropub dishes up local burgers, charcuterie and innovative specials. Sip on local brews in the beer garden.

RíRá

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Hen of the Wood

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