Cape May Spring Birding - Northeast Birdwatchers' Paradise
May 11 - 15 2022 | CLICK HERE for 2023 trip
$1,750 | ($500 deposit due upon registration)
$375 single supplement
Includes all lodging, transportation, and food
7 participants max
Guide: Chip Darmstadt
irding in Cape May and southern New Jersey during spring migration is legendary! With over 430 total species observed, and over 330 species seen this time of year, Cape May is home to some of the greatest avian biodiversity in the northeast. May in southern New Jersey offers an abundance of everything: migratory warblers in the shrubs and forests, birds of prey cruising overhead, and shorebirds along the beaches and backwaters. Wading birds and rails stalk the saltmarshes and nightjars sing through the night. Though less than a day’s drive from NBNC, Cape May is a whole new and exciting world of birds rarely if ever encountered in Vermont! Summer Tanager, Prothonotary Warbler, Red Knot and Yellow-breasted Chat are just the tip of the iceberg. And there’s always the possibility of a few rarities showing up in Cape May. Past trips have had Swainson’s Warbler, Curlew Sandpiper and Black-necked Stilt among other southern wanderers.
Itinerary and Focal Species
Wednesday, May 11
Today we have a long drive down to Cape May (roughly 8 hours without stops). Depending on the weather and timing, we may stop at Sandy Hook National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in northern New Jersey or just head to our hotel and have some time for a pleasant bird walk along the beach. We'll keep an eye out for Piping Plovers or Royal Terns in walking distance of the hotel rooms! Overnight Cape May at the Sea Crest Inn
Thursday, May 12
We’ll spend the morning on Cape May Island (the portion of Cape May south of the Cape May canal), exploring Higbee Beach and other local hotspots. Blue Grosbeak, White-eyed Vireo, Yellow-breasted Chat, Prothonotary, and Hooded Warblers are among the less common migrants and resident species we may bump into. More easily seen are Prairie, Chestnut-sided, Parula and Black-and-White Warblers. In any case we could see over a dozen warbler species this morning, depending on the conditions.
After lunch in the field, and as things warm up, we’ll head over to the Beanery or Cape May Point State Point to watch for migrating raptors. Cape May is renowned as a migration hotspot in general and we’ll turn our attention skyward in search of raptors like Mississippi Kite, Peregrine Falcon, and Bald Eagle.
Friday, May 13
This morning we’ll head up to Brigantine (Edwin B. Forsythe NWR), and then work our way south. Brigantine, Stone Harbor Point, Nummy Island and the Wetlands Institute all offer wonderful opportunities to study shorebirds and wading birds like Tricolored Heron and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron at close range. Red Knot, Black-bellied Plover, White-rumped Sandpipers and American Oystercatchers are just a few of the possibilities!
After dinner in Cape May, we’ll head to Jake’s Landing for a shot at hearing Black Rail. This elusive and declining species breeds in this location, but can be a formidable challenge to hear, much less to see. We’ll have an easier time locating Clapper Rails, Eastern Whip-poor-Will and Chuck-Will’s-Widow.
Saturday, May 14
Dawn will find us at Sunset Bridge, a quiet and very birdy road in Belleplain State Forest. We’ll look and listen for a wonderful diversity of birds that nest here - Hooded, Prothonotary and Kentucky Warblers, Acadian Flycatcher, Summer Tanager, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Louisiana Waterthrush and so much more. Once the songbirds quiet down, we’ll head over to Heislerville Wildlife Management Area where thousands of shorebirds feed and roost. A Peregrine Falcon looking for lunch will send Dunlin, Semipalmated Plover, Short-billed Dowitchers and Black Skimmers into flight, wheeling above the mudflats as we watch on in amazement!
Sunday, May 15
We'll head home after a little morning birding, arriving back in Vermont in time for supper. If time allows, we’ll stop at Sandy Hook or another birding locale on route home.
We’ll leave the hotel to begin our search each morning at sunrise to encounter songbirds when they are at their most active. We’ll travel from place to place throughout the day, with plenty of stops for refreshments and restrooms along the way, and return to our lodging with time to freshen up before dinner in town. While we don’t include mid-day siestas on this action-packed trip, we will be within 15 minutes of our lodging most of the time, so we can easily swing by the hotel for those needing a couple hours of downtime.
While we will spend the entire day birdwatching each day, we will not be “rushing” from place to place. Our goal is to enjoy spending time with these amazing animals. We are searching for rich experiences and astonishing biodiversity, and not necessarily the longest species list.
We’ll be staying at the Seacrest Inn right in Cape May. We selected our lodging to ensure clean and comfortable accommodations situated right in the heart of the birding hotspots we’ll be visiting – right on the shore, and less than a block from the edge of the Cape May Wetlands State Natural Area.
We will typically have picnic breakfasts (including coffee) and lunches in the field each day, and we provide a range of options to accommodate preferences and dietary restrictions. Our dinners will typically be at restaurants in the town of Cape May.
Chip Darmstadt is the soon-to-be "emeritus" executive director of North Branch Nature Center and an avid birder and naturalist. Chip has led birding trips in the US and across the world with NBNC for the last two decades, observing over 2,000 bird species along the way. Cape May has become an annual pilgrimage for Chip, who has brought NBNC youth and adult teams to participate in the World Series of Birding event that takes place each spring in Cape May. When not occupied with his varied NBNC duties, Chip works on extending his streak of over 1,200 consecutive days of eBird checklists!
- All lodging.
- All meals.
- All transportation (including from NBNC to Cape May) in a comfortable van.
- Expert bird guide.
- Park entrance fees.
- Pre-departure group briefing before the trip.
- Use of high quality spotting scopes and binoculars.
- Use of field guides.
- Incidentals and snacks.
Ready to go to Cape May?
Email [email protected] to get signed up.
Here’s an eBird Checklist of species seen in May in the Cape May area over the last five years.
All photos by Tyler Pockette