A hop, skip and jump from Philadelpia, and within easy striking distance of Washington, Baltimore and New York, is the region’s best kept-secret, the upper Delaware Bay. Made up of haunting fishing towns, oyster beds and migrating birds, it can seem remarkably remote for somewhere so close to the bright city lights. The Delaware Bayshore stretches through four New Jersey counties with tidal rivers, salt marshes, woodlands, farms and historic towns with names like Bi-valve or Shellpile. An area rich in natural and cultural resources with vast wetlands and varied wildlife, this is a great place to get up close to the extraordinary birds of Delaware Bay.
Birding can be good any time of year but biting flies and hot humid weather can be tough in summer. Spring is probably the most popular time. The Delaware Bay is the epicentre for the prehistoric-looking Horseshoe Crab. Millions of migrating birds stop to rest up and stuff their faces in a feeding frenzy on the crab egg-laden beaches, before continuing the incredibly long northward journey to arctic breeding grounds. Fortescue, Reeds and Cooks Beach are good places to check. The survival of several of these bird species is dependent on doubling their weight in about a week, so they can breed successfully in the Arctic. Not only the sight, but also the smells and sounds make this one of the great spectacles.
With such a preponderance of fish it’s also a great place for Raptors. Bald Eagles, a recent rare bird in New Jersey, are now thriving in the area and it’s not uncommon to see several in a day. The huge nests of the Osprey are frequently perched on dead trees or telegraph poles on roadsides, often close enough for a stare down. They can commonly be seen perusing the waterways before plunging in feet first with a big splash. They always give a little shake and a wiggle to get the water off as they fly away, often with a big fish - to the envy of local fishermen.
This region is also the heart of the Snow Geese wintering range. They form flocks of several thousand – the sight and din of a mass take-off is one spectacle you won’t forget. You can always check eBird for the most up to date sightings of the birds of Delaware and the surrounding areas.
The Bayshore has a character all of its own. The charming village of Mauricetown has lots of historic houses and a Purple Martin Migration Festival in August. The old lighthouse at East Creek Point is near the Heislerville pools that are often crammed with shorebirds and has a breeding colony of cormorants and herons.
Hungry explorers might stop at ‘The Bull on the Barn’ in Newport, a small converted barn that has been lovingly decorated with old local fishing gear, signs, cans and bottles. It’s a great place for a beer and some seafood.
The Bayshore Discovery Center at Bivalve is an excellent place to find out about the history of the area. It’s also the home base to New Jersey’s official Tall Ship, the AJ Meerwald schooner. A restored oyster dredger, launched in 1928, A.J. Meerwald was one of hundreds of schooners built along South Jersey’s Bayshore before the decline of the shipbuilding industry. She’s now available for tours.
The nearby town of Millville is well known for its art galleries, and is a good place to find accommodation.
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Have you been bird watching in New Jersey? What did you make of the birds of Delaware? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Written by Richard Crossley
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About the author: RichardCrossleyRichard Crossley
Richard Crossley is an internationally acclaimed birder, award winning author and photographer. Crazy, wildly passionate, driven and single-minded are just a few of the words used to describe his love of birding and the outdoors. Richard is also co-founder of the global birding initiative Pledge to Fledge (www.pledgetofledge.org ), Race4Birds (www.race4birds.org) and The Cape May Young Birders Club.