Cape May offers many ways to experience spring and fall migration of hundreds of species. But to get close to shorebirds, get on the water.
Since 1994, Bob Lubberman has been running birding safaris on the Back Bay, New Jersey’s southernmost salt marsh, aboard his pontoon boat, The Osprey. Captain Bob grew up along the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay, working on fishing boats since he was 13. For the past eight years, he has been navigating 200 birding trips a year, often accompanied by Vince Elia, a former Audubon researcher. They know every creek, island, spit, and mudflat, and the likely places to find birds that drop in or stay for a season.
Every trip is different, depending on conditions, the tide, time of year and, mainly, what Bob knows is out there. If it’s spring, expect tens of thousands of Laughing Gulls. You’ll encounter 100 pairs of Osprey along the way, nesting on buoys, manmade platforms, and a shipwreck, as well as a Peregrine Falcon family roosting precariously below a drawbridge.
In tall grasses, Whimbrels try to blend in and Tricolored Herons peek up like periscopes. Later, we spot a Clapper Rail nest Bob accidently discovered on a previous trip. Unforgettable.
Low salt marsh with mudflats, islands, and salt pans.
The best way to explore the Back Bay is by boat.
Spring: Lingering waterfowl, nesting Osprey, and migrant shorebirds, including Whimbrel, Lesser Yellowlegs, Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitcher, Semipalmated Sandpiper. Summer: Laughing Gull, Common and Forster’s Terns, Black Skimmer, Black-bellied Plover, Clapper Rail, Great Blue and Tricolored Herons, Yellow-crowned and Black-crowned Night-Herons. Fall: Migrant hawks and falcons, Bald Eagle, and egrets. Winter: Bufflehead, Long-tailed Duck, Common Loon, Purple Sandpiper, and Great Cormorant. Rarities: Bar-tailed Godwit, Brown Booby, Franklin’s Gull.
When to go
Early to mid-May to see the most species. Mid-May through June for shorebirds. Fall for raptors.
Loaner binoculars, snacks and beverages, and a restroom onboard.
Private pontoon boat. The Osprey, which has a capacity of 36 guests, runs 2.5- to 3-hour trips daily from end of April through end of October. Prices: $30 for adults, $18 for children 6-12. Cape May Bird Observatory sponsors trips a few times per week; $30 for members, $35 for non-members, $20 for children. Book tickets online or call The Osprey office.
Bring a camera; the views are extraordinary. The Osprey has windows that open, but spend time on the front deck.
Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area
About 5 miles west of Miss Chris Marina. Old-growth forest and other habitats attract a wide range of migrant songbirds.
Cape May Point State Park
About 4 miles southwest of Miss Chris Marina. Covers 244 acres, with easy trails and boardwalk through woodlands, wetland marsh, and coastal dunes, and a platform for watching raptor migration.