|Spring Bird Watching along
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The normal spawning season of horseshoe crabs on the beaches along Delaware Bay is from about mid-May
to first week of June. Therefore, May 8 was still too early and we saw only small number of horseshoe crabs
on the beach. However, the large number of laughing gulls feasting on the eggs indicated that some horseshoe
crabs probably came up to the beach to spawn in the evening during high tide and had left the beach already
after sunrise, leaving large number of eggs buried in the sands. During spawning season, the number of
spawning horseshoe crabs on the beach is about 100 times more at night than during the day.
This is the regular view of the Reeds Beach and the jetty from the Viewing Platform which is very far from the
edge between water and sand where the actions of spawning horseshoe crabs and feasting birds take place.
With such distance, each gull appears only as a tiny white dot. Visitors need good binoculars or telescopes to
be able to get close-up view of those birds and horseshoe crabs in action.
Therefore, I used the 20X optical zoom of my compact super-zoom camera, Canon PowerShot SX10, to zoom
in to get the close up views of actions as shown in the photos above. The super-zoom cameras enable tourists
to get more and better close up photos of interesting but far away events in sightseeing and bird watching trips.
Such compact super-zoom cameras are compact, light-weight and easy to carry around. The price of such
compact super-zoom cameras ranges from about US$300 to US$400 as of 2009.
The visitors may also walk onto the jetty to get a different view at a closer distance to those actions of
horseshoe crabs and feasting birds.
We also saw many fishing birds, cormorants, on the mouth of Bidwell Creek flowing into Delaware Bay at
A pair of grackles near the jetty
In addition to these laughing gulls and shorebirds, many fishing birds, gannets, are also migrating north along
eastern seaboard of USA in the Spring season. Photos of these migrating gannets over Delaware Bay as
viewed from my previous trip on the Cape May-Lewes Ferry on April 2, 2006 are available on my Travelogue
web page at:
After finishing our tour of Reeds Beach, we drove northwest to Matt's Landing in Heislerville Wildlife
Management Area (WMA) in southern New Jersey near the Maurice River Delta where Maurice River flows
into the Delaware Bay. We saw many black skimmers on a sand bar in one of several big ponds in this WMA.
Sometimes these black skimmers also took flight into the air.
Black skimmer is noted for its unusual bill, and feeding behavior. Its bill — brightly colored, laterally
compressed, and knife-like, with the lower bill (mandible) extending beyond the upper bill (maxilla) — is
uniquely adapted to catch small fish in shallow water. A feeding skimmer with its long wings flies low over the
water surface with its bill open and its lower mandible slicing and skimming the water surface. When the
mandible touches a fish, the upper bill (maxilla) snaps down instantly to catch it. Thus, one often see a flock a
skimmers skimming the water surface in their fishing flight.
Movie clips of black skimmer skimming water surface in its fishing flight can be seen at the following YouTube
Some migratory shorebirds on one of the ponds (impoundments) near Matt's Landing
When we drove from Maurice River Road onto the 8-mile unpaved Wildlife Viewing dike-loop, we were happily
surprised to see (1) many migratory shorebirds feeding on the large mudflat near Matt's Landing and the
Maurice River Delta where Maurice River flows into Delaware Bay, and (2) many shorebirds are doing
fantastic group flight over the large mudflat. The large mudflat provides lots of nutritious foods that attract huge
number of migratory shorebirds in the spring migratory season.
The acrobatics group flight of a large flock of shore birds is fascinating as if on prearranged cue, dancing and
swirling in their own magnificent feathery waves and ballet in the air. Thought to have evolved to confuse
predators, their synchronized air movements have inspired writers and poets alike. Writer and naturalist Harry
Thurston describes these air manoeuvres in his book, The Nature of Shorebirds:
"As they bank, the light is absorbed by their dark backs, then reflected by their bright bellies...Sandpipers flow
and turn together with such uncanny precision as to make one think they are a single organism." Some people
refer to such synchronized group flight as "A Symphony Takes Flight".
I took movie clips of such fantastic group flights of large number of shorebirds over this "Maurice River Delta"
as shown on the following YouTube website:
While on the 8-mile Wildlife Viewing Loop, we also saw this egret in flight
Some migratory shorebirds in flight over the pond
Sometimes, the large number of gulls took off into the air probably due to some disturbances. I did not know
what caused such disturbances.
This is the Viewing Platform on Reeds Beach to view the actions of spawning horseshoe crabs and huge
number of birds feasting on the eggs of horseshoe crabs. The Viewing Platform can be reached by a short trail
from the parking lot for visitors.
However, to protect the migratory shorebirds, most of the beach areas here are closed off by such ropes and
warning sign posts during the spawning season of horseshoe crabs.
A view of the jetty at Reeds Beach.
A grackle near the jetty
These concentrated large number of laughing gulls are very noisy. I took a movie clip of these gulls in action
with recording of their noise as shown at the following YouTube website:
The Cape May Peninsula, at the southern end of New Jersey extending into Delaware Bay, is a “superhighway”
for millions of migratory birds every spring. After a non-stop long flight from South America and over open
water, the beaches along the Delaware Bay for these huge number of migratory shorebirds must look better
than McDonald's does to a bus-load of kids coming off a limited-access freeway. During migration season,
beaches along Delaware Bay are some of the best places in the world to have a good pair of binoculars. From
mid-May through the first week of June, the peninsula's beaches along Delaware Bay are the stage for one of
North America's truly dramatic wildlife spectacles. Millions of shorebirds drop from the sky exhausted after the
nonstop long flight from South America and find exactly what they need: a feast of the protein-rich eggs laid by
the millions of horseshoe crabs that climb from the depths of the Atlantic every year to breed on these beaches.
More photos of these horseshoe crabs, laughing gulls and shorebirds in action on Delaware Bay from my
previous trips in last few years are available on my Travelogue web page at:
There is an egret nesting place (rookery) on an island in the middle of one of the large ponds in this Wildlife
One of several swans in the pond in this Wildlife Management Area.
In October 2007, I visited Matt's Landing area for the first time and saw many egrets and several herons.
Photos from that trip are on my Travelogue web page at:
On the mud flat on river bank of Maurice River near the marina at Matt's Landing, we saw many fiddler crabs
moving around. The two claws of male fiddler crab are highly asymmetric. One of the male's two claws is
much, much larger than the other claw. You see them at low tide leaving extensive mud flats on the river bank.
Male fiddlers eat with their small claw while holding the large claw before them -- like a fiddle. As the small
claw moves back and forth between the ground and the mouth, it looks almost as if the crab were sawing at his
fiddle with a bow. The male's big claw is used for impressing females and for flaunting when competing with
other males for territory.
Location: 299 N. Beach Avenue, Cape May Court House, NJ 08210
1) Take Garden State Parkway south to Exit 13,
2) At the end of Exit Ramp of Exit 13, Turn Right (West) on Highway 601(i.e., Avalon Blvd.)
3) Go west on Highway 601 (Avalon Blvd.) to Rt. 9
4) Turn Left (South) on Rt. 9 and go south for 0.6 miles
5) Turn Right (West)) onto Highway 646 (i.e., Goshen Swainton Rd.) and go west for 2.5 miles
6) Turn Left (South) onto Rt. 47 and go south for 2 miles.
7) Look for Reeds Beach Sign (Green Color), Turn Right into Reeds Beach Rd. and follow road west to
end (i.e., to the Beach).
8) Turn right (north) into N. Beach Avenue along the beach. (There are some houses on the beach and the
narrow road is N. Beach Avenue.) Keep going north on N. Beach Avenue for about 1 mile until the end
9) The marina parking lot is on the right side at the end of N. Beach Avenue. (This is near the mouth of
Bidwell Creek flowing into the Delaware Bay.) Visitors park at the small parking space at end of N.
Beach Avenue or in this marina parking lot for watching spawning horseshoe crabs, seagulls and
shorebirds on the beach.
Two Observation Areas on Reeds Beach: (1) A designated Viewing Platform on sand beach accessed by a
short trail from the parking lot, and (2) A stone/cement jetty from the parking lot into the Delaware Bay for you
to walk near the water edge of the beach for another view of mating horseshoe crabs and feasting shorebirds
Map: Click here to see Google Map showing location of Reeds Beach
Matt’s Landing and Heislerville Wildlife Management Area (WMA):
Location: 114 Matt’s Landing Road (i.e., Rt. 736), Heislerville, NJ 08324
1. Going south on Garden State Parkway and take Exit # 17 for Ocean View and go west to Highway 9
2. Turn left onto Highway 9 south and go south for about 2 miles
3. Turn right (west) into Highway 83 (west) for 4 miles
4. Turn right (north) into Highway 47 for north about 2 miles
5. After going through North Dennis and at the Y-Split, stay on left side to take Highway 47
(Eldora-Delsea Dr.) for 6 miles
6. After going through Delmont, in 0.5 mile, turn left (west) into Glad Road (CR-616) for about 2 miles
7. Turn right (north) into Main Street (CR-616) and go north for about 1 mile
8. Turn left (northwest) into Matt’s Landing Road (CR-736) and go for about 1 mile to the end at Junction
of Matt's Landing Road and Maurice River Road in Heislserville Wildlife Management Area (WMA). You see two
big ponds on two sides of Matt's Landing Road here and a marina ahead on the Maurice River. There are many
birds on these two ponds.
9. From Maurice River Road turn left and get on (unpaved) 8-mile Wildlife Viewing Loop for more bird
Map: Click here to see Google Map showing location of Matt's Landing
After we finished touring Matt's Landing in Heislerville Wildlife Management Area (WMA), we drove northwest
again to two more beaches at East Point Lighthouse and at Fortescue in New Jersey along Delaware Bay. We
saw some more gulls and more shorebirds on these two beaches. There were also many people fishing on
Fortescue Beach. Those fishing people had many pickup trucks parked on the roadside along the Fortescue
However, when I arrived at this large mudflat in the afternoon, the sun was on the far side of the mudflat and
my camera was practically pointing at the sun. It was not a good lighting condition resulting in poor qualities of
these pictures and movie clip of large number of shorebirds in action on this mudflat. I could not go to the far
side of the large mudflat to get better sun light direction because that side is the large body of water of
Maurice River and Delaware Bay. It appears that I may have to come back here again on the morning to get
good pictures and good movie clips when the sun will be behind me.
Concentrated large number of laughing gulls on Reeds Beach in New Jersey along Delaware Bay feasting on
eggs of spawning horseshoe crabs when we visited Reeds Beach on Friday, May 8, 2009. These laughing gulls
are in high breeding plumage and look beautiful with their burgundy bills.
Map: Click here to see Google Map showing location of Reeds Beach