A rainy Saturday didn't dampen spirits or wash out activities during the Littoral Society's 2023 Fall Cape May Wildlife Weekend on October 12-15.
It certainly helped that every other day had near perfect seasonal weather but even amidst a downpour on Saturday, trip attendees still ventured into the wild to marvel at the incredible birds and wildlife that visit or reside in this picturesque part of southern New Jersey.
As expected, bird watching didn't disappoint. Cape May is one of the top sites on the east coast for witnessing fall bird migration and trip participants counted 86 different species - including a number of Terns, Teals, and Herons, as well as numerous shorebirds, dozens of ducks (including two Pied-billed Grebe and an American Coot), a Northern Harrier (a ground-nesting raptor with a flat, owl-like face) and three Brown Pelicans.
Speaking of raptors, a large variety were sighted (including procrastinating Osprey, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Merlin, Broad-Winged Hawks, two Bald Eagles and a Peregrine Falcon). Many could be seen every day hanging out on light poles and buildings or overhead catching thermals with Turkey Vultures. (See the eBird trip report).
But it wasn't all about birds! There were also sightings of dolphin and whales during Friday's Whale, Dolphin, & Bird Watch with the Cape May Whale Watch and Research Center, numerous smaller marine creatures during seining led by Littoral Society Education Director Michelle Rebilas at Cape May Fishermen's Memorial Park and Nature Center; and butterflies galore during the Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project demonstration at Triangle Park in Cape May Point.
The group also absorbed a bit of history during a tour of the Cape May Point Science Center, which was an active convent up to 2021 before conversion to an environmental center. One highlight was a beautiful bronze statue of Harriet Tubman in the Science Center's garden, which called attention to the area's role with the Underground Railroad.
Although New Jersey wasn’t the primary end point for fugitive enslaved people, many were rowed across the Delaware Bay so that they could more easily reach their eventual destinations. They were aided by the beam of the Cape May Lighthouse and were hidden in caves near Cape May Point until they could continue their journey.
One of the most famous conductors on the Underground Railroad, Tubman worked as a cook in Cape May during 1852 to earn money to help runaway enslaved people. During that time, she learned how the Greenwich Line worked (which brought the fugitives from Delaware to Greenwich, NJ), and of routes they could safely travel through Salem, Cumberland and Cape May counties, including obscure Indian trails.
With that knowledge, Tubman made over 19 trips into the South and helped guide 300 enslaved people northward, which earned her the nickname “Moses,” along with a bounty for her capture.
A museum dedicated to Tubman can be found on Cape May's Lafayette Street in the restored home of the Rev. Robert Davis, who was pastor of the neighboring Macedonia Baptist Church for many decades.
Thanks to all who came along on our Cape May Wildlife Weekend, as well as our hosts at the Cape May Point Science Center and The Chalfonte Hotel.
If you'd like to join the Littoral Society on a future trip, follow our social media (Facebook or Instagram), join our email list or keep an eye on our events calendar. We have annual nature field trips during all seasons, including an upcoming trek to Chincoteague and Assateague islands on the Delmarva peninsula on November 2-5.