Cape May welcomes tourists, naturalists and birders all year round. This small coastal town is the perfect location for Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) and migratory birds to depart and enter, making it a renowned birding and Monarch butterfly mecca.
Cape May birds include the scoter (seaduck), red-breasted mergansers (Mergus serrator), long-tailed ducks, red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), and Osprey. Cape May birders and authors, Clay and Pat Sutton, told The Cape May Times, "Bald eagles and great horned owls are the earliest nesters of all of the breeding birds of southern New Jersey." The Suttons have reported bald eagle nestings by mid-February and even as early as January, which was the earliest ever confirmed Eagle nesting in New Jersey.
Cape May County (zone 7), like most American spaces, features both native and non-native plant species. Beach plums, pines and eastern native American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) are common. Non-native gold dust plants (Aucuba japonica 'Variegata'), ginkgos and interesting paperbark maple trees (Acer griseum) can also be seen growing in the county.
Residential gardeners and bed and breakfast landscapers feature plants that butterflies adore. And you don't have to live in New Jersey to grow some of these wonderful butterfly favorites.
The Cape May Department of Tourism reports that more than 100 species of butterflies and over 75 species of dragonflies and damselflies have been seen in Cape May.
Armed with binoculars, butterfly watchers head to the Cape every fall to watch Monarch butterflies when they flutter through town during their annual migration. Thousands of butterflies fly along the beach towards the Delaware Bay, on their way to Mexico. With the long journey ahead, the migrating butterflies and birds will often feed and rest at the 11,000-acre Cape May Wildlife Refuge, as they wait for ideal winds.
The refuge consists of three sections: the Two Mile Beach Unit, the Delaware Bay Division, and the Great Cedar Swamp Division that, according to refuge reports, attracts 317 bird species, 42 mammal species, 55 reptile and amphibian species, and large variety of marine life.
The New Jersey homes and gardens of Cape May epitomize the Victorian charm of this coastal town. The cottage gardens are overflowing with hostas, Purple top vervain (Verbena bonariensis), nepeta, geraniums, rhododendrons, azaleas, lyre leaf sage (Salvia lyrata), and Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides), a classic Victorian plant.
I've always loved how Coleus brightens up window boxes and gardens with its stained-glass-like patterns. And, as if in harmony with the glorious coleus, colorful stained glass windows adorn the homes, restaurants and churches.
Fences, gates, porches and house trim display intricate gingerbread designs and galant gables, highlighting the Victorian style evident throughout Cape May.
Fanciful statuaries, cascading ribbons, and vine-filled urns and fountains add status and even more charm to the coastal properties.
Along the Beach
According to the Cape May Plant Materials Center, 'Cape' American beachgrass (Ammophila breviligulata) is one of the grasses that increase the protective value of the sand dunes along the beach.
Extremely important, these deep rooted grasses grow in the sand dunes along the beach, stabilizing the dunes and serving as camouflage for ground nesting birds and small mammals.
Historic Cape May
When visiting, be sure to bring your bicycles or take a drive to the Cape May Bird Observatory and to Sunset Beach - the perfect place to look for the little, clear, quartz pebbles known as 'Cape May diamonds'.
Along the way you can stop at the Lighthouse and the recently restored World War II coastal artillery lookout tower (Fire Control Tower No. 23). In 1942, 15 concrete towers - four in NJ and 11 in Delaware - were built to serve as lookout towers The concrete structures stand tall and cylindrical and cannot be missed.
On a recent visit, we stopped on our bikes and walked to the top of the sole remaining NJ tower. It featured two bands of lookout windows circling the top, from which we had a bird's-eye view of the bay, beach, dunes, and native beach plums (Prunus maritima), bayberry and pines in the Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area and Cape May Point State Park.
Our pleasant guide, stationed at the top of the historic tower, pointed out the remains of the former Harbison Walker - Cape May Works, a Magnesite Plant that operated from 1941 to 1983 making refractory bricks. The area has since been replanted with native vegetation, including Alkali saltgrass (Puccinellia distans), roundheaded bushclover (Lespedeza capitata) and partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata).
Before departing, check out the telescope provided to view the remains of the 3000 ton, 250-foot sunken Concrete Ship 'Atlantusi', which was built during the steel shortage of World War I.
There is much more to see and do in Cape May, NJ. For more information, please visit Cape May County Department of Tourism.
Photographs: Copyright ©2010 Wind. All rights reserved.
Related Video and Links:
Cape May Plants Materials Center - utilizing plants to stabilize sand dunes and prevent shoreline erosion