Spring and fall migration are the peak times to visit the Cape May area but bird watching can be good year round. The New Jersey Audubon Society’s Cape May Bird Observatory (CMBO) provides maps of Cape May County with suggested places to view various species of birds.
Viewing Birds of Prey
The best place to see hawks and other birds of prey is often the Cape May Hawk Watch platform at Cape May Point State Park. Admission to the park is free and during peak migration times the platform is manned by CMBO naturalists who point out the various species of raptors flying through and aid beginners in bird of prey identification.
The naturalists have several spotting telescopes set up for viewing and provide further information about the migration count and other activities of CMBO of interest. For the serious birder, a membership in the New Jersey Audubon Society provides access to Rhea Farm, also known as The Beanery, a private farm where raptors are regularly seen. This site is quieter than the Hawk Watch platform area and many of the same birds fly over both sites.The farm’s varied habitat supports warblers and other songbird species as well.
During the migration, the Morning Flight Platform at Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area is a great place to start. Warblers and other passerines fly over starting at first light and naturalists are present to help with identification. For more experienced birders, a quick stop at the platform can be followed by time spent in the meadows near the parking lot where many of the songbirds stop to feed.
The Cape May National Wildlife Refuge’s Two Mile Beach also offers good songbird viewing on the way to the beach and jetty for shore and seabirds.
Shorebirds, Seabirds and Pelagic Species
The Delaware Bay side of Cape May has multiple beaches where shorebirds stop off in the spring to take advantage of the horseshoe crab eggs being laid. View the horseshoe crabs and shorebirds at Reed’s Beach, Cook’s Beach or Norbury’s Landing. As this is also shorebird breeding territory some areas will roped off to protect nests of endangered species including the piping plover.
Stone Harbor Point also provides good shorebird viewing. For those willing to make a longer drive, the trip to Forsythe (Brigantine) National Wildlife Refuge near Atlantic City is another great area. The eight mile drive through the refuge (there is a small entry fee) passes through multiple habitats with sightings of many other species as well.
Known as the “Poor Man’s Pelagic Trip” a passage on the Cape May Lewes Ferry across the Delaware Bay is recommended for seabirds and, with the right weather conditions, some pelagics such as jaegers may be seen as well.
In Avalon, just a short drive north from Cape May, CMBO’s Sea Watch counts migrating seabirds and pelagic species in the fall. In some years the count has approached one million birds.
For more details of places to bird watch in Cape May county, visit the Cape May Bird Observatory website where there are maps to download and up to date details of what has been seen recently.
For other places to watch birds along the east coast of the USA and Canada see Spring Bird Watching on Cape Cod and Bird Watching Acadia National Park.