The day started quietly, with a drive through mist-shrouded farms and forests tinged with early fall color. The calendar said “October”, but by the time we arrived at the dock, the day was already doing a fine imitation of summer. We were here on Cape May Harbor for the Salt Marsh Safari, a two-hour tour on the 40-foot Skimmer through the back bays of Cape May. Before we even got on the boat, we had some great looks at Snowy Egrets (above.)
FUN FACT: Here’s a Semipalmated Sandpiper. A big name for a little bird! Its feet have short webs between the toes, hence the name. The holes in the mud are made by crabs, a few of which we’ll meet in an upcoming post.
Some of those aboard were veterans of springtime Skimmer trips, and reported that there weren’t nearly as many birds this go-round. It didn’t bother me, as I still saw two life birds this trip. Quality over quantity! Here’s the first lifer, Tri-colored Heron.
Speaking of fishing, a couple of times our captains scooped up marine life with a bucket for us to examine. There were sea urchins, shrimp, crabs, and a sea star at least six inches across. We also found a couple of large whelks. Most people know these for the empty shells found on the beach, but they are actually snails. Every time the captain tickled the soft creature inside the shell, it fired back with a jet of water.
Here’s the second life bird, Whimbrel. The captain brought the boat in for a really close view. Being on a boat has its advantages. As does that long downturned bill, for the Whimbrel. It’s perfect for digging yummy tidbits out of the mud.
Shameless plug: if you’re in the Cape May area and want to learn about the wildlife of the marshes, or just want a relaxing boat ride, check out the Skimmer. The captains are friendly and really know their stuff. http://www.skimmer.com/default.html
After lunch, we went for a land-based trek through Cape May Point State Park. With marshes, ponds and forests, there’s always a lot to see here. As the afternoon wore on, the unseasonable heat was getting to animals and humans alike. A couple of Mallards found a nice patch of shade.
Here’s the Bird of the Afternoon. This is a juvenile Black-crowned Night-heron. We found him at the base of a footbridge crossing a small stream. He couldn’t have been more than ten feet away, and he barely budged the whole time we were taking his portrait.
Coming up: Migration Meanderings