South Cape May Meadows is a Birding Paradise
Image Source: The Nature Conservancy
Situated at the southwest tip of the Cape May peninsula, the South Cape May Meadows Preserve includes more than 200 acres of critical habitat for nesting and migratory birds. The peninsula in Cape May acts as a funnel for birds traveling along the Atlantic Flyway. While the land protected here provides foraging and resting habitat for the birds, the preserve also supports a wide variety of wildlife year-round.
South Cape May Meadows is replete with dunes, freshwater wetlands, meadows, ponds, and a full mile of protected beach. The trail system provides visitors with wildlife viewing opportunities through the preserve’s many habitats including the undeveloped waterfront. An estimated 90,000 visitors enjoy the preserve’s natural beauty each year.
South Cape May was established in the 1840s as a popular Victorian resort town filled with modest beach cottages. The community was nearly washed away by a storm surge in the 1950s, resulting in the unification of the neighboring Borough of West Cape May and City of Cape May with the few remaining residents in South Cape May.
In 2004, the Nature Conservancy of New Jersey joined forces with the Army Corps of Engineers and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to restore the area’s freshwater wetland and beach ecosystems. The goal was to combat the spread of highly invasive marsh reeds (Phragmites australis) and to return the degraded terrain to a more productive and natural state (this, in turn, serves to protect local communities from coastal flooding and benefit wildlife).
This ecosystem restoration project included:
Rebuilding and nourishing an eroded beach
Recreating a stable dune system
Reestablishing a pathway offlow of fresh water through the wetland
Restoring diverse native vegetation by controlling invasive plants
Creating shorebird foraging and resting areas within the wetland
Installing water control structures which allow management of water levels in the wetland to reduce flooding of communities and optimize conditions for wildlife seasonally.
Visitors should be aware that May, June, and July are the best times to catch a glimpse of American oystercatchers, least terns, piping plovers, and black skimmers which nest on the beach during the summer. September and October are also great times to view migrating songbirds, waterfowl, shorebirds, and raptors, along with monarch butterflies.
Note: Stopping, standing, or sitting on the beach, even when viewing nature or taking photographs, can be disruptive to nesting and feeding birds. All beach visitors are asked to keep moving and stay outside of the roped off nesting area.