Cape May County is a birding hotspot

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Scott Whittle of Brooklyn captured this photo of a double-crested cormorant.   Scott Whittle of Brooklyn captured this photo of a double-crested cormorant.

Observatory director seeks connection to natural world

Mike Crewe believes society’s many problems exist because of a separation between man and nature.

“No connection exists until we make the effort – which is exactly the problem,” said the Cape May Bird Observatory program director.

But that bonding effort can be made in Cape May County, where bird watching opportunities abound.

Many people flock from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York for birding in Cape May.

“It (where people come from) kind of spirals outwards,” Crewe said.

Visitors travel from as far as Washington, California and Oregon, too. They also come from the United Kingdom and Sweden.

He said he finds people venture to Cape May as a beach resort. And they pick up bird watching along with the visit.

One of those was Scott Whittle. He visited Cape May in fall 2009. He enjoyed it so much that he decided to become a full-time renter there.

He said Cape May is “almost like going to college.” There are so many birding experts.

“The community here is amazing,” Whittle said. “But then, of course, the birds are amazing, too.”

He finds himself going out photographing and birding most days. For him, the two hobbies are one and the same.

He got his start in bird watching in 2007 in Brooklyn.

“I was actually doing a photo project in Prospect Park and started to notice some odd looking birds in the park, specifically American Coot,” Whittle said. An appearance like a duck, the American Coot has a black body and white chicken-like beak.

In 2008, while in New York, he found himself undertaking what’s termed the Big Year, where birders look for as many bird species as possible within a year. In seeing 350 species of birds, he put around 40,000 miles on his car and put in many hours. He set a state record by viewing eight species more than anyone else.

Many people have an interest in bird watching, but it just needs to be ferreted out, Crewe believes. But Crewe cannot pin down exactly how many people turn out to observe birds.

“It’s big numbers,” he said.

For what birds attract people’s gazes, Crewe had an easy answer: Big birds and colorful birds.

At Cape May, osprey, bald eagles and black skimmers are popular.

Birding is vital for the economy, too, he said.

Though the tourism season ends in September, he said, people watch birds in October and November.

The biggest months are likely April and May and September and October when birds migrate.

Another major draw is more than a million shorebirds birds migrating along the Delaware Bay. Red knots, sanderlings, ruddy turnstones and semipalmated sandpipers

feed on horseshoe crab eggs in May and June, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Viewing hotspots include Fortescue, East Point, Reed's Beach, Norbury's Landing and Nummy Island.

Observing birds goes beyond looking through binoculars. Friendships are forged, Crewe said.

Crewe calls himself an oddball. Crewe said he did not just wake up and decide to observe birds, and no friend encouraged him to watch them, either. It was something that developed over time.

Watching birds evokes “just a good feeling,” he said.

Crewe said he is interested in insects and plants, too.

Alex Davis can be e-mailed at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or you can comment on this story by calling 624-8900, ext. 250.

 


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