Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The First of Seven Wonders of Cape May

[Northern Gannets talking behind the Cape May-Lewes Ferry on Monday. Click to enlarge.]

There are certain can't-miss natural events tied loosely to the calendar that are unique to Cape May, NJ. I don't know if there are 7 or 9 or 5 that really make the cut. I haven't gotten that far thinking this notion through. But believe me, I will - The Seven Wonders of Cape May beg to be written about, and I'm sure the problem will be there are more than 7 worthy contenders, what with warbler fallouts and hawk flights and monarch butterflies and Laughing Gull colonies and on and on.

Anyhow, if there are 7 wonders of Cape May, I think the first on the annual timeline might be the gannets in the Delaware Bay. Maybe this is giving some winter events short shrift, like courting Long-tailed Ducks for example. But hey, it's my list, right? My rules. It's got to be big, and the gannet thing is. You can leave me a comment with what you think the other wonders are, but don't try to talk me out of the gannets.

And someone is going to complain about the "unique to Cape May" thing, so yes, I know you can see a lot of gannets elsewhere. I can't remember if it was Audubon or Wilson who saw the gannet colony at St. Mary's in Newfoundland from a distance and thought his boat had chanced upon a rare spring blizzard over the rocks ahead. I feel lucky to have been to St. Mary's, and loved it, but the drama of gannets moving north in spring is compelling. The morning flight along the bay always puts the light of sunrise behind you, unless fog compresses everything to a flight of white and black over dark gray water and under pale gray sky. If there's any fog in the coming week or so, I suggest going to Sunset Beach or another bay viewing point, in case the flight turns close to shore and becomes epic.

Fog or not, in late March and early April they concentrate here, and south or southeast winds and maybe a rising tide all seem to pack them up into Delaware Bay, out of which they fly, often in the morning, which happened on Monday when, I hear, for a while they were a hundred a minute or so.

I had occasion to be travelling south on Monday afternoon, and chose to do so by crossing the Bay on the ferry. The day's gannets had thinned by then, but at one point almost 50 pursued the ferry, and delightfully kacked at each other as they jockeyed for position. A couple other birders were on board to notice, but most other passengers were oblivious, though the Captain's call about dolphins on the left side of the boat got some people out of their chairs to look. There were dolphins, indeed, and Red-throated Loons taking off in front of the ferry, too. But the gannets, they were the wonder. The first of seven. More or less.

[Red-throated Loon takes off in front of the Cape May-Lewes Ferry. I've never had a bad trip on ths boat.]

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