"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Monday, September 16, 2013

An Unexpected Detour to Cape May, NJ

We thought we were heading right for West Chester, PA after our time at the Delaware Water Gap, but we couldn't get a spot at the RV park we wanted until a little more than a week later, so we had some time to kill.  But we never kill time, we dance with it! So Rick suggested a visit to Cape May, and off we went. Just an example of the beauty of a life on the road.

I've always wanted to visit Cape May, because the birding is supposed to be so good, but I thought it would be too much to pack into this trip through the northeast. We were also feeling a little hesitant to drive through New Jersey, which we think of as too congested. But with the help of local friends George and Peggy, Rick found a great route from the Delaware Water Gap, around the worst of the traffic and down the Garden State Parkway. Easy peasy.

Our first evening in Cape May Court House, at the Big Timber Lake Family Camping Resort we thought we'd do a little local exploring and try to find the ocean. Heading due east, we found ourselves in Stone Harbor, just in time to see the beach...

a bit of the harbor...

and a sunset followed by dinner at Stone Harbor Pizza. Stone Harbor is a pretty impressive little community. Very high end homes and a beautiful, well cared for beach.  Since we are here after Labor Day, there are no beach parking passes required for any of the beaches. Nice.

The next day I got up early to find some sunrise birding action recommended by Paul Kerlinger on one of the many wonderful websites about Cape May. He outlines in great detail where and when to go birding if you have only one day on Cape May. Luckily we have more than a day, but his article was a great way to get started. Unluckily, the weather was not conducive to birding. It had been very hot, heavy, muggy and windless here all week (you can even see it in the sunset above), and everyone was waiting for a cold front to blow in from the northwest to bring some migrating birds with it.  

Later that day Rick and I explored more of Cape May and ended up at one of the town beaches. It was a pretty good beach day, but the warm humid wind was kicking up a lot of sticky sand. We stayed a couple of hours anyway and worked on our tans.  Afterwards we drove around the town of Cape May to get ourselves oriented. 

We saw some of the colorful Victorian painted ladies that Cape May is famous for, and these large Victorian guest houses overlooking the ocean.  We also found one of the marinas so Rick could look at some boats.

We worked our way to the Cape May Point State Park, with its eerie WWII bunker on the beach...

and the Cape May Lighthouse. I ended up seeing a lot more of Cape May Point State Park and the lighthouse.

We spent most of the next day at the Stone Harbor town beach. The weather was starting to shift - it was a perfect beach day - warm, sunny and breezy. Very relaxing.  

That evening I drove down to Sunset Beach to see a couple of things it's well known for besides its sunsets. Cape May diamonds are ocean rounded quartz crystals that can be found among the polished pebbles on this particular beach.  There's at least one in the picture below. See if you can find it.

The second cool thing about Sunset Beach is the WWI concrete shipwreck of the SS Atlantus, just off shore. Who even knew there were such things as concrete ships? Evidently they were built at a time when steel was in short supply. They were not a success.

The third unique phenomenon at Sunset Beach is the nightly flag lowering ceremony hosted by Marvin Hume, owner of the local beach concessions. He engages the local children in the ceremony that honors fallen US war veterans, as Kate Smith sings the National Anthem. Sweet. 

I took the long way home via the Cape May Point State Park (again) to see the lighthouse at night. Worth it, don't you think?

And I couldn't resist another detour through the Washington Street Mall, the Cape May main street, to take more night light photos. It was a perfect, warm night to be out. All the shops are the original Victorian buildings. It's kind of a cross between Disneyland and Provincetown. 

Now, this may seem like a very full visit to Cape May already, but it had just begun. On our first day in town, while perusing the local websites about birding, I found a class being offered the upcoming weekend, on birding photography. Perfect, right? So I had to do it. Rick would have loved it to, but... it's football season.  

So, come Saturday morning, I buckled on my birding equipment and hit the refuge. Below are my fellow birders. There were just seven of us in the class, with Scott Whittle (tall guy in the center) as our teacher and guide.

Speaking of equipment. Every birder needs binoculars, and I was using my new Bushnell's. They worked great, but what I wanted to share is this thing that makes using binoculars so much easier. Rick and I both now use Rick Young Outdoors Ultralight Binocular Harness, a simple, lightweight little gizmo that takes the weight of the binoculars off your neck, stabilizes them against your body, and puts their weight onto your back. Now our binoculars are not very heavy, but after hours of birding, the strap can really do a number on your neck. And, if you are managing a camera or two and binoculars, there can be a lot of dangerous (to the equipment) swinging around of stuff. So this little harness keeps the binoculars tucked tight to your belly until you need them. You could completely forget your binoculars are even there, and it's simple and inexpensive. Get one.

So, the purpose of this class was to get better at seeing and photographing birds, and it was excellent. Out of about a zillion pictures I took, a few were pretty good. The first is not a great shot, but the silhouettes of these glossy ibises were cool. The amazing thing is that I got them as they flew by. This is one of the things we were working on in the class.

Another thing we worked on was placing ourselves in the right location in relation to the bird. This is not so easy in many circumstances, but we practiced on the beach in relation to some gulls that stand around a lot.  By placing myself below the dune from this guy, and in line with the lighthouse, I got this shot.

I have to confess that I did poorly on the little birds in the bushes. Scott Whittle is an expert on warblers and is a genius at this kind of photography. Check out the website about his book on warblers.  I did a bit better with the big birds. Below are a couple of shots of swans coming in for a landing. You just have to be ready with your camera on, with the right settings, aim at their heads and take a heck of a lot of pictures.

I like this guy water skiing.

During the two days we spent a lot of time in the State Park, because it has quite a few different  birding environments: seashore, ponds, marshes, and scrub forests.  The wind had turned on Friday, so there were more birds than earlier in the week. Still, all the local birders agreed it was not yet peaking. But that was fine, as there was still plenty to look at. The weather, wildflowers and insects were all beautiful.

This was a long post! If you've gotten this far, thanks for hanging in there.
I'll finish with one of my favorite shots from the weekend.

Next, we ride the ferry to Delaware.  Bon voyage!

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