Saturday, July 23, 2011
The Sounds of Summer
I don't mean sounds you hear, though there are plenty of them: the laughing of gulls, keee-aaahrr's of Common Terns, drone of flies, music of the ice cream truck driving the streets of North Cape May, crash of waves and laughter of children at the beach. The sounds I mean have water in them, at least at high tide: sound, noun: an inlet, bay, or recessed portion of the ocean.
Of both sounds, Cape May has many. Of the aquatic kind, Great, Grassy, Jarvis, Jenkins, Richarson, Townsend (who were these people?) fill and empty with the twice daily tides. Today I paddled Stite's Sound and down to Townsend's Inlet; tomorrow it will be Taylor Sound, on a falling tide, passing the marsh shack hosting an Osprey nest on the roof, the one, I fancy, that Witmer Stone stayed in 100 years ago or so. He wrote of visiting such a place, and the location matches, roughly, though without maintenance a shack in the marsh falls down several times over in the span of a century. According to the plan, I'll pass "Stone's" shack again on the way back in as the tide rises and gives me a lift to the landing. That's the theory. We'll see what the wind says, but one thing I can tell you is you don't want to wind up in a kayak fighting both an outgoing tide and the wind at the same time. At least not in the narrow channels, where the tidal flow can outstrip a small outboard or weak kayaker. In bigger channels, the water spreads a bit and you can go against the flow, but it's not much fun.
The sounds are shallow, so shallow that at low tide they won't float a kayak in places - which means they won't float a boat, or, hallelujah, a jet ski. But on the mud left behind at low tide there are shorebirds, foraging gulls, terns, egrets, and night-herons, and the myriad creatures that are the supermarket for these birds.
More on the shorebirds later. Today I checked in on another gull colony I know, a large gull colony, by which, as Tony Leukering made me clarify, I mean a colony of large gulls: mostly Herring, a few Great Black-backeds.
Mike Crewe told us over crab cakes and beer tonight that in the U.K., gull chicks are banded by teams of people,because the chicks so effectively disappear when approached. And it's true: there had to be dozens of chicks in the gull colony I visited this morning, yet a quick but careful walk-through yielded none apparent to the eye. Mike said the teams use radios, with observers guiding the banders: "Okay, put your hand down next to that shrub, the chick is right there." I stepped away from the colony to watch, and sure enough, chicks started reappearing from their hiding places, including the one pictured above.
It was 94 degrees next to the water near Avalon when I came off about 10:00 a.m. The outside thermometer reading, according to my truck, peaked at 99 in the center of the Cape May Peninsula a little later, dropping again as I got close to the bay. Who knows what the high was; mowing the lawn at midday left me soaking, and the birds visited the water drip constantly, lawnmower running nearby or not. I got on the water before sunup this morning and swam several times to cool off, watching schools of silversides flee in front of me.
These sounds teem with life. When people ask me why Cape May is so good for birds, that's part of the answer.
Posted by Don Freiday at 9:23 PM