- Cape May NJ Travel Guide and Vacation Planner Blog

Category: Nature and Wildlife

Lake Lily: Pirates, Spies, and Swans

Lake Lily in Cape May Point

Peaceful, picturesque Lake Lily has had a swashbuckling past.

It was a prized watering hole for the Kechemeches, the Native Americans who summered and hunted on the Jersey Cape. When they were pushed out by whalers and farmers in the 1700s, the lake languished in the tangled wilderness known as Stite’s Beach. It was hidden by twisted trees and brambles and locals seldom ventured toward its shores. But word of its fresh water, so near the briny ocean and bay, spread across the Atlantic.

The lake covers 13 acres and is one of nature’s most unusual gifts – as headwaters of a small watershed, all within walking distance of the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay.

Captain Kidd

Captain Kidd

There are legends of marauding British warriors and pirates of the high seas seeking unsalted drink from Lake Lily’s fresh waters. There is lore that pirates, the infamous Captain Kidd himself, anchored off the high dunes of Cape May Point and came ashore in small boats, hiking to the lake to fill their barrels. The lake then was about 10 feet deep.

England in the late 1600s was attempting to control the Atlantic. The king paid privateers to attack enemy ships, thus bolstering the British Navy. Many successful privateers became pirates, including the fearless Scottish-born William Kidd. He seized French ships in the West Indies and hightailed toward American shores with his booty. Legend holds he buried treasure on easily accessible lonely stretches of the Jersey Cape, including Cape May Point and what is now Del Haven.

Word of sighting Kidd’s sails off New Jersey shocked local officials. Colonel Robert Quarry wrote the British Lord of Trades in 1699:

There has arrived about 60 pirates in a ship directly from Malligasco. They are part of the Kidd’s gang. About 16 of them had quitted the ship and are landed in ye government of West Jersey in Cape May. I quickly rounded up two of these pirates and conveyed them safe to Burlington jail. The rest of them are still on board the ship which lies at anchor near ye Cape of this government.

New Jersey Governor Jeremiah Basse, learning Kidd was lurking in a large sloop off Cape May, sailed down to capture the notorious pirate, but Kidd out-maneuvered him, heading north to New York and New England. Kidd’s voyage ended in Boston, where he was captured and sent in chains to England. He was hanged for sea crimes on a Thames River dock in 1701. The mystery of where Kidd buried treasure still lingers as children today learn his legend during lessons at Lighthouse park where once there stood a large twisted cedar tree known as Kidd’s Tree.

During the war of 1812 British warships blocked the mouth of the vital Philadelphia shipping lanes on Delaware Bay. Raiding parties came ashore from both the bay and ocean to steal farm provisions and stop at Lake Lily to replenish their fresh water supplies. It was difficult gathering the local militia in time to catch the marauders.

When the British fleet appeared off the bay in 1813 the locals got serious, forming a coastal militia. They camped on the banks of Cape May Point to watch for the Royal Navy sails and take up arms against British coming ashore.

Robert Crozer Alexander writes in his 1956 Ho! For Cape Island!

… the patriotic residents of Cape May, knowing that the British sometimes filled their ships’ casks with water from a spring-fed, fresh-water pond called Lily Pond on the point of the cape, dug a ditch through meadow, dune and woodland to let salt water into the pond thus rending the water unfit to drink. The ditch extended from the north end of the pond for a distance of over half a mile to Pond Creek, a tidal creek flowing through the salt marshes and emptying into Delaware Bay. This was no inconsiderable undertaking for the patriots who had only axes and shovels. After the war, the ditch was partially filled and the water in the pond became fresh once more. In 1910, at a place where trees had been chopped down to be cut in logs and cordwood, a part of this old ditch was disclosed passing through sand dunes,16 feet high. Traces of the historic ditch are said to be visible even today.

Lake Lily lay in oblivion again in the midst of the Stites Beach wilderness until the 1870s. Devout Presbyterians Alexander Whilldin and John Wanamaker, Philadelphia dry goods tycoons, decided to carve a religious retreat from the 260 acres of virgin woods at Cape May Point. They hired noted British designer-engineer-surveyor James C. Sidney to create a community called Sea Grove.

Lake Lily was a natural centerpiece for the development. Sidney decided there would be no streets, only Avenues, except for one service street and Lake Drive. The drive encircled Lake Lily, offering, as Cape May Point historian Joe J. Jordan writes, “a pleasant track where nouveau-riche drivers could display their fine livery.” There were stables nearby where residents kept their horses and carriages, and visitors rented livery service.

The man-made counterpart to the lake is Pavilion Circle, the large park designed by Sidney, which to this day is the centerpiece from which the avenues branch like spokes from the hub of a wheel. In 1875 when the Sea Grove development was completed, the fancy Victorian open air Pavilion seated 1,500 for religious and musical events.

Also in 1875, as Sea Grove was being completed, Lake Lily was dredged to make it deep enough for boating. Sidney designed a charming boat house at the foot of Central Avenue. From there, small sail and row boats slithered across the glossy lake. The occupants in their Victorian boating attire created romantic scenes pictured on postcards of the day. There were weekly regattas and weekend picnics spread on the banks.

A Sea Grove brochure bragged the lake was “stocked with perch, sunfish and black bass,” a complement to the carp and catfish that always beckoned boys with fishing poles. Nearby was “a handsome and commodious greenhouse, operated by an experienced florist, propagating a large number of flowers to decorate and add beauty to the grounds.” Town folk enjoyed excursions to Lake Lily, featured by the pious Presbyterians as wholesome fun compared to drinking, gambling and prostitution at neighboring watering holes.

In winter, there was ice skating on the lake and a small business of cutting chunks of ice to supply the lakeside Walker Icehouse.

The plain icehouse faced a fancy future. It was purchased by Dr. Randall Hazzard, a Pittsburgh physician. He enhanced his social position rehabilitating the icehouse into an elegant clubhouse called the Cape May Point Social Club. Joe Jordan writes in his Cape May Point Illustrated History: 1875 to Present: “The country club had many aliases. On any day the press might refer to it as the Lakeside Lodge, or Lily Lake Casino or Lakeside Villa.” The clubhouse opened August 11, 1899 with a reception and tea. Jordan says ladies gathered weekly for euchre and whist, there were monthly tea parties and members played golf, tennis, shuffleboard and ping-pong on the lawn.

It was Dr. Hazzard who designed the rustic bridge overlooking the lilies at the northern end of the lake. The bridge was a favored subject for photographs and paintings, and the premiere spot from which to watch the annual water festival with all the boats and structures lit up for spectators who traveled from miles around.

The Ferris family of Philadelphia purchased the lake and the Kechemeche Lodge on West Lake Drive in 1930. Sonia Forey, librarian at the Cape May County Historical and Genealogical Society, says that a member of the family, Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, was a rather famous artist. He painted and studied in Philadelphia and Paris, and in later years, worked at an easel in his lakeside studio. His widow, Annette, bequeathed the lake to the borough of Cape May Point in 1941.

The nasty Ash Wednesday Nor’easter of 1962 pummeled Cape May Point for three days. Twenty-foot waves smashed into the dunes and flooded Lake Lily, polluting it with salt water. The namesake lilies were killed off, not to return for years.

The lake itself was dying in the 1990s. Shaped like a big oval bowl, the lake is at the lowest point of a 120-acre watershed that extends east into a pond at the Cape May Point State Park and further east into the sprawling marshes of the Meadows bird sanctuary. The unusual geography is one of the reasons this area is one of the best bird watching spots in the world. Lake Lily always has been a rest and food stop for millions of migrating birds in the Atlantic Flyway. And that became part of the problem. Over the years, bird waste and silt diminished the lake, destroying its ecological balance.

Citizens of the Point took action to create new life for the lake. Led by then-Mayor Malcolm Fraser, the borough, population 230, contributed $250,000 to more than $750,000 in state money. A contractor was hired in 2003 to dredge the lake in a complex system that pumped dirty water several blocks away to a basin at the old magnesite plant. A series of constructed sediment basins and dikes cleansed the water which was then pumped back into the lake, restoring its health.

In 2005, the Friends of Lake Lily, a non-profit group of concerned citizens, planted 1,000 water lilies from money collected at fundraisers. President Francine Nietubicz says the project is successful. “Lilies have spread all across the southern end by the island, and are now growing along the edges.”

There were some bad days this past summer when record high heat waves and no rain resulted in a fish kill. The Friends work diligently to restore the fish population, reduce algae bloom and assure that drains, filters and pumps are working to keep the water fresh.

Lake Lily and the bird watching it produces are reasons that Francine and her husband Joe chose Cape May Point as their retirement home 11 years ago. They live on East Lake Drive and often are awe-struck by nature’s surprises.

“Last winter there was a frantic knock on the door,” says Francine. “A friend stopped by with a bird alert. ‘Look, look, there’s a bald eagle sitting on the ice in the lake.’ Just now,” she says, “a brown creeper flew from lakeside into my tree. The lake attracts Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets and in summer, when the lake is low, the little shore birds – sandpipers – run along the fringes” There are ducks, swallows, osprey and terns hunting the lake’s smorgasbord. Turtles bask on logs along the shore and frogs serenade into the night.

The largest and most beautiful of all the lake wildlife are the elegant, graceful, glistening white Mute Swans that glide the glassy waters. A pair lives at the lake year round. As the sun grows stronger and spring arrives, they will be nesting. “Last season there were three chicks, or cygnets, as baby swans are called,” says Francine. “They stay the season, until they are strong enough to fly away and make a life of their own.”

Swan couples are committed and romantic, necking on the water, often spending a lifetime together. The male helps with the nest (clutch) and is very protective. “The lake male is very aggressive,” says Francine. “Last season he chased all the Canada geese.” They dared not set foot or wing on the lake. With his long beak and 10-foot wing span, you can’t blame the geese for beating it.

Lake Lily, a miracle of nature, source of legends and traditions, lives on. Beautiful through the seasons, loved by wild fowl; friends and neighbors have joined together to keep this special place fresh and healthy the way it was created. 

Winged Wonders

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2010 issue of Cape May Magazine. Photos courtesy of Patricia Sutton

Tiger Swallowtail

Butterflies flutter by, and many are butter yellow in color, hence their name – butterfly! This is true of the Orange Sulphur, a very common butterfly in the Cape May area because of all the farmlands and places like Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area where alfalfa and other clovers flourish – the plants on which Orange Sulphurs lay their eggs.

You might see over 100 different kinds of butterflies in Cape May County, but only if you explore spring through fall and only if you visit as many different habitats as possible: overgrown fields, grassy pastures, wet meadows, salt marshes, freshwater marshes, pine-oak forest, wet woods, and of course public (and private) butterfly gardens. Often the big and showy butterflies catch one’s eye, like Tiger Swallowtails.


A butterfly’s drink of choice is flower nectar, though not all flowers are butterfly-friendly. Over the years old-fashioned flowers have been replaced with cultivars that may look pretty to the eye, but no longer satisfy butterflies. That, coupled with the disappearance of grassy wildflower meadows, explains the low numbers of butterflies in so many places. But here in the Cape May area, we are fortunate to have high numbers and high diversity because so many natural areas have been preserved, allowing butterflies to survive and flourish.

Butterflies and plants are intimately linked. Not only do they obtain nourishment (nectar) from flowers, all butterflies lay their eggs on plants to create the next generation. Watch a butterfly lay an egg, and treat yourself to a close and personal look. Focusing on the Question Mark (so named for the silver “question mark” or half circle and dot on the underside of the wing) let’s look at the amazing life cycle of a butterfly. Question Mark eggs look like jewels and can be stacked one upon another. The caterpillar hatches from the egg and begins to eat the plant it finds itself on, in this case Hackberry, a common tree in the Cape May area. This caterpillar is quite ferocious looking, all the better for survival, since many birds are looking for just such a tasty morsel to feast on or to feed to their young. Just a few butterflies winter over as adult butterflies, seeking refuge in wood piles, under shutters and shingles, and in hollow trees – the Question Mark winters in just this way. It is seen late into the fall and is one of our first butterflies of spring.

Common Buckeye

With fall upon us it’s time to enjoy Common Buckeyes nectaring on one of our loveliest wildflowers, Seaside Goldenrod. Many Common Buckeyes migrate south through Cape May, heading to coastal North Carolina and further south. Sometimes in the fall we also see huge numbers of Painted Ladies. They too survive the winter by migrating south, but in the case of the Painted Lady they migrate all the way to northern Mexico where they can safely winter.

We all eagerly anticipate the autumn Monarch migration through Cape May, a world-famous natural history phenomenon. Monarchs can carpet the dunes nectaring on lushly blooming Seaside Goldenrod. They might come in ones and twos, sailing over rooftops and down the dune line. Many of them find their way into butterfly gardens planted with nectar delights like New England Aster and Tropical Milkweed.

Migrating Monarchs roost in a red cedar.

Waves of Monarchs migrate south, arriving on the coattails of gentle north and northwest winds. Hundreds, and some days thousands, travel south down the Cape May Peninsula to the tip, where they gather in huge numbers. They nectar by day, but by late afternoon you are likely to find them roosting on trees and shrubs in or near lush vegetated dunes.

New Jersey Audubon Society’s Cape May Bird Observatory (CMBO) has studied the fall Monarch migration since 1996 by tagging and weighing thousands upon thousands of these amazing lighter-than-a-feather butterflies that make the greatest migration of any insect in the world. Nearly 40 Monarchs that were wing-tagged at Cape May have been refound at their winter home in the mountains of Mexico. Free “Monarch Tagging Demonstrations” in September and October are offered by CMBO (call 609-884-2736 for details).

The towns of Cape May Point, West Cape May, and Cape May probably have more private backyard butterfly gardens than any other similar sized area in the country. Many of these private butterfly gardens are not your typical everyday garden, but instead over the top! Butterfly gardeners are a unique breed. They tuck nectar and caterpillar plants into every available sunny spot, often right up to the road edge. They feel compelled to garden furiously for butterflies since many yards offer so little to these winged jewels.

Right now waves of migrating Monarchs are dropping into local butterfly gardens, drinking nectar, tanking up, spiraling up into gentle north winds, and letting those winds carry them a bit further south on their way to Mexico.

Flowers make for great photographs

This article originally appeared in the June 2007 issue of Cape May Magazine.

With spring and summer come the brighter colors of fruiting trees and pretty flowers that photographers crave for to make photographs. Now that is all well and dandy but if you think about it, you will start to understand that most flowers probably taste as good to birds as they do to humans. Yes, not very good! Many of the trees we plant are non native and are planted for their beauty and color, not nutritional value to wildlife. This makes it difficult to get good photos because most birds tend to stay away from them. But that is also part of the challenge!

If you live in the Cape May area, and you have some pretty coloured (I am English and this is the correct spelling) vegetation in your garden there is a good chance that sooner or later some bloke will be pointing his big camera towards you. It will usually be early in the morning or late in the day when the light is at its most romantic. Don’t worry, chances are it will be probably me and no; I am not a peeping tom.

The pink spring blossoms are stunning but getting birds to pose for photos is near impossible. Birds rarely use these trees and when they do, they tend to be perched on the inside away from the flowers, just like this male Northern Cardinal – on the inside looking out!

Getting photographs of birds on the ground is not so difficult. The problem is nearly all the birds that spend time on the ground tend to be dull – Cowbirds, Blackbirds, Grackles and beauties such as this European Starling (no, I didn’t bring it with me). Actually, I like Starlings. When you look at them closely they are iridescent purple and green, and they change their spots! Dull or beautiful? Like many things in life, it depends on how you look at them.

Orchard Orioles have been an in increasing visitor to flowers in my garden in the last two years. As there name suggests they are at home in fruiting trees. They like warm weather, and given the state of climatic changes, they are probably going to be getting commoner.

There are a few birds that love flowers. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is fairly common in Cape May in summer. If you plant the right flowers you are guaranteed to get them in your garden. They are truly stunning and constant source of entertainment. I will always remember seeing my first Hummingbird. It flew about 100 yards past me before I realized it was a bird and not an insect. There are no Hummingbirds in Europe, but as good as we have it here, it pales compared to South America where there are hundreds of types that come in an incredible array of shapes, sizes and colors.


Check out Richard Crossley’s new book Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds.

“It’s exciting. It’s visually stunning. It’s like nothing you have ever seen before and it’s hot of the presses. It’s Richard Crossley’s, The Crossley ID Guide – Eastern Birds. It’s the first real-life approach to bird identification. Whether you are a beginner, expert, or anywhere in between, The Crossley ID Guide(published by Princeton University Press) will vastly improve your ability to identify birds.

“What’s so different about the Crossley ID Guide? Everything. Crossley has designed his guide to reflect the way we see and identify birds. We identify birds by their size, shape, structure, behavior, habitat, and field marks. We [see] birds at close range, at middle and long distances, on the ground, in flight, in trees, and on the water….If you want to be a better birder you will find the new Crossley ID Guide to be [a] major innovation and a valuable tool.”

— Wayne Mones,

Birds of a Feather…

My younger sister is both a birder and a librarian. That’s about it. Give her a bird and a book and she is SO happy.

She migrates every Spring and Fall to Cape May Point , NJ , to witness the great bird migrations there. The Point is a major stopover for about 1000 gigabytes of feathered travelers. Raptors galore. Shore birds, too.

There’s one beach bird that runs along the surf edge, dodging the dying waves and pecking the sand for who knows what. It’s called a Sanderling, and, like friends of a feather they flock together along the spit, frenetically pecking for prey.

Eventually they rest, lifting one skinny leg against their bellies…for warmth they say. However, given my extensive observations during many years as a beach bum, I have concluded that the real reason they stand on the one leg is because if they picked it up, they would fall down. Peterson and Audubon missed that one.

There’s an observation platform at the State Park by the lighthouse for sister and the usual gaggle of watchers. They are variously armed with an array of binoculars and spyglasses…instruments that resemble something any seasoned astronomer would be proud of. Some of the telescopes are mounted on tri- or monopods and backed by a digital camera with a flash unit apparently purloined from an airport runway. They take pictures of birds.

My own house is inhabited by Swift Swallows which, I am told, host lice. They skim water from my pool, add dirt from my garden, and put same under my eves to build their adobes with over 1000 mud spits per nest. I am further told that their nest may not be removed as the birds are ‘protected’. Well they can stay anyway as they are likely in a family way and they dine on tiresome insects.

But as for ‘protected’ I wonder about that. Few animals have so benefited from human encroachment on their habitat. Check under any bridge. They have adapted to the shelters we have provided for them. (I think maybe mice, rats and coyotes have also so benefited.) According to “Desert USA” (online): “During our expansive 20th century, (swallows have extended their) breeding season range dramatically, both northward and southward, capitalizing on nesting sites offered by newly constructed bridges and buildings.” They are doing better than the Homing Pigeon and Osprey, thank you.

They harbor even more unique attributes. Besides being exceptionally cantankerous, known to flog the competition, they have the weird habit of moving their eggs to another nest and sometimes winding up with some other bird’s orphans in theirs, resulting in a clutch of mixed parentage. Wouldn’t that confuse an ornithological genealogist?

Two of my swallows fell to the patio while thoroughly engrossed in their act of procreation. They were apparently unfazed by the fall. Now that’s preoccupied.


Editor’s note: This column originally appeared in the June 2006 issue of Cape May Magazine.

I am often asked what my favorite bird is. I don’t have one. But when asked which is most like me, that is easy. It is the Sanderling. Do you see any parallels?

It loves the beach. It is the one running full pelt, always getting chased out of the sea by the waves, but running back in for more (luckily for it, the lifeguards have no say). Although you can sometimes see them taking a rest, they are nearly always on the move – does that remind you of anyone?

It is built a lot like me, short and chunky (yes, some would say cuddly). Its color changes with the seasons – pale and anemic in winter to red and brown in summer. Hmmm, that couldn’t be you, could it? Its colors also change with the light, and sometimes they appear black as they take in Cape May’s fantastic sunsets.

And when you go for that romantic stroll on the beach, it always seems to be there, taking in the air, too busy to care, but adding beauty, color and character to the shore.

If you want to see a Sanderling, just pop down to the beach or one of the jetties and see them running out of the water. They are usually in loose groups. Watch them. They are a lot of fun!

The World Series of Birding Takes Flight

Photo by Derek Lovitch

It’s been this way throughout human history. Humans approach. Birds fly away.

Humans come up with a better strategy. Birds fly farther, or stay hidden, or more often don’t show up.

On May 15, human ingenuity and bird-evasive skills go head to head on birding in the world’s greatest natural treasure hunt.

For twenty-seven years, New Jersey Audubon’s World Series of Birding has brought an international spotlight to bear on New Jersey’s natural treasures and raised millions of dollars for bird conservation throughout the world.

Midnight to Midnight

Starting at the stroke of midnight on Saturday, May 15, teams of birders drawn from all across North America will begin a search that will take them the length and breadth of the Garden State.

“They won’t be bird watching,” says Pete Dunne, the event founder. “No time for that. “They’ll be scooping up birds ‘tied down’ as a result of weeks of planning and scouting.”

Pete Dunne & Don Freiday. Photo by Katherine Karnow

Routes that are GPS calibrated; timing that is down to the precise minute along routes that may exceed 500 miles.

“Teams don’t even have to see the bird to count it,” Dunne says. “An identifiable snatch of song, even a single, distinguishing chip note, is all that is needed for confirmation. Among top teams, about half the birds tallied will be “heard only.”

Some teams will have 30-40 species counted before dawn.

This isn’t just birding. It’s world class birding. And some of the world’s finest field birders will be competing.

Twenty-four hours later, the weary teams will cross the finish line in Cape May, NJ. To crown this year’s winners. Celebrate the birding opportunities of New Jersey.

And count up their earnings.

From Bird-a-thon to World Series

Photo by y Marleen Murgitroyde

The World Series grew out of New Jersey Audubon’s bird-a-thon, a fund raising event, pioneered by Long Point Bird Observatory in Canada. Supporters pledge a certain amount of money for each species seen. Teams do their best to record as many species as possible within twenty-four hours.

In that inaugural World Series year in 1984, thirteen teams competed. This year, approximately 100 teams will enter the contest, sponsored by conservation organizations or environmentally conscious companies and individuals.

They include PECO, Wakefern Foods (ShopRite), Nikon, WildBird Magazine, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Zeiss, Swarovski Optik, Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary Agency, and more.

“Even in these tough fiscal times, companies have tried to hold their place in the roster,” says Dunne. “Good conservation mindedness is good business.”

Blue Jay. Photo by Clay Taylor, SONA

Support through individual pledges also seems unfazed by the recession.

“Pledges are ahead of last year,” says Dunne of his own team, sponsored by Zeiss Optics. “Our members know how much we rely upon this event to support our research, conservation and education initiatives.

Dunne anticipates that come May 14, his team will have over $100 pledged per species. But the fund raising champions, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, will have over $1,000 per species.

“Not a bad day’s work,” say Dunne. “Even with a work day that’s twenty-four hours long.”

Cheating for a Good Cause

Black-throated Blue Warbler. Photo by Robert Lego

But how do people know that birders are not just making up their sightings?

“Birders are notoriously honest,” says Dunne. “A birder’s reputation for honest sightings is his or her social collateral.”

“Also,” Dunne adds, “nobody fudges because if they did, they’d get caught.”

“The people who compete know what kind of day it was; what birds were or were not around, and where they were found. There’s also a lot of sharing regarding the whereabouts of rare birds before the event so there are few surprises.”

Any teams that turns in a checklist that is “out of spec” would be pretty obvious. And there are also rules that make it almost impossible for teams to cheat. Rules that require that 95% of all species on a team’s list must be identified by all team members. Rules that state that a team is allowed only one species not recorded by another team.

Maybe so. But team totals certainly seem impossible.

End of the Day

Baltimore Oriole. Photo by Clay Taylor, SONA

Winning teams will record about 230 species; all in New Jersey; all in a single day. That is about 1/3 of all the bird species that breed in North America. The total number of species recorded by all teams will approach or exceed 270 species. Only in Texas and California have more species been recorded in a single day (considering their size factor to that of New Jersey, it’s quite impressive).

Teams can also limit their routes to a single county, or just south of the Cape May Canal, or even a 17 foot circle. The single county record is 201 species tallied in Cape May County. The “Big Stay” record is 143 species (also tallied in Cape May County, in fact south of the Cape May Canal). There are youth categories, senior categories, even a “Carbon Footprint” category where teams can walk, run, bike, kayak, skateboard but are forbidden to use fuel driven vehicles.

“It never occurred to us that the event would get so big,” said Dunne. “But it’s a great tribute to the state that hosts it and the organization that organizes it.

New Jersey Audubon

Youth team "Skuas." Photo by Derek Lovitch

New Jersey Audubon, the event’s organizer, is an independent state Audubon with over 110 years of conservation leadership behind it. It has ten staffed centers scattered throughout the state and its conservation efforts are reflected in such success as the ban on DDT, the Pine Barrens National Preserve, the Freshwater Wetlands Act and most recently, the effort to ban the harvest of horseshoe crabs whose eggs are critical to migrating shorebirds.

“The World Series is a game,” Dunne summarizes. “The work of New Jersey Audubon is anything but.”

The official World Series Finish Line is the West Cape May Volunteer Fire Hall. An Awards Brunch is held at the Grand Hotel in Cape May on May 16.

What then?

“Some teams go right out and start scouting for next year,” says Dunne. “Me? I go home and sleep.”

For more information on the annual World Series of Birding®, contact Sheila Lego, Marketing Director at 609.884.2736 or e-mail

Cape May’s First Annual Green Film Series

"No Impact Man" comes to you direct from the Sundance Film Festival at Cape May Stage, April 25, 2010 at 2:00 p.m.

Why in the world would the Cape May Film Society host a Green Film Series just now? Why not years ago? Hasn’t environmental awareness been a long-standing cause? Isn’t Earth Day… like… 40 years old already?

Yes, in fact Earth Day is 40 years old this April. And to celebrate, the Cape May Film Society is hosting a special Green Film Series and kicking it off with one of the best environmental film to come along in years. Best because it is actually as entertaining as it is effective in raising environmental awareness. It’s that “entertaining” factor that is relatively new in the world of environmental films.

"Unstrung," the story of Pat Martino, screens April 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the Gallery Aferro in Newar, NJ.

On Sunday, April 25, at an exclusive 2:00 p.m. matinee at Cape May Stage, Cape May Film Society will partner with Slow Food Cape May to present No Impact Man, a funny environmental film straight from Sundance Film Festival. No Impact Man follows self-proclaimed Guilty Liberal, filmmaker Colin Beavan, who takes his family on a year-long adventure of having no impact on the environment and thus discovers a lot about himself and the way we all live. Question is, “Can he save his family while he saves the planet?”

The Cape May Film Festival is taking its show on the road – again! In a special event held in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institute’s Jazz Appreciation Month, the Festival will screen Unstrung, the story of Pat Martino, at the Gallery Aferro in Newar, NJ. Mr. Martino will be on hand to answer questions, as will filmmaker Ian Knox from the UK. The program will be held on Saturday night, April 24 at 6:30 p.m. Details at or by calling 609-884-6700.

Also being shown with the feature film No Impact Man is the environmental music video What About Tomorrow? produced by Charles Alexander. This year marks the 20th anniversary of What About Tomorrow?, The following is an excerpt written by Alexander looking back on the production of the video.

The music for the video is taken from a little-known song by Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, who are now more famous than ever because of the current global success of Jersey Boys, the Tony-winning play based on their lives..

At the time I produced this video, I was science and environment editor at TIME magazine. Instead of having our customary “Person of the Year” in 1989, we named “Endangered Earth” as “Planet of the Year” and compiled a 33-page special report on such dangers as global warming, deforestation and species extinction. The issue generated enormous interest, and I got invitations to address audiences from Maui to Moscow.

Working on one of those speeches in late 1989, I came up with a line something like, “We have enough resources today, but what about tomorrow?” That made me think of a song called What About Tomorrow? which was an obscure track on Streetfighter, one of the Four Seasons’ least known albums. But it was written by those same two Jersey Boys, Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe, who wrote Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like a Man, Rag Doll, and Can’t Take My Eyes Off You. What About Tomorrow? is a typically melodic Four Seasons’ love song. Yet, I thought it could be much more. Within a day, I had rewritten the lyrics to make What About Tomorrow? into a call for environmental action.

After obtaining the permission of the Four Seasons Partnership (Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio) in early 1990, I immediately set out to make my rewrite into an environmental music video. Time was short. I wanted the video to have its premiere on April 22, 1990, the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Day.

To perform the soundtrack, I recruited my friends Bill Oliver and Glen Waldeck, a folk-singing duo who made a career of playing songs about the environment. Oliver happened to hail from the musical hotbed of Austin, Texas. To arrange the music and gather musicians for the soundtrack, he lined up Reese Wynans, at the time the keyboard player for the late Stevie Ray Vaughan. Wynans, in turn, put together an all-star Austin band. Percussionist Paul Pearcy, for example, had just been named one of the city’s top musicians at an annual awards dinner and also played on Willie Nelson’s and the Dixie Chicks’ albums.

With soundtrack in hand, I found a willing video producer, whose company did environmental documentary work for the Smithsonian Institution, in Sam Green, owner of the Edit Room in Washington, D.C. After listening to the song, Green and Jeff Consiglio, who became the director and editor, suggested that we could put together a video by using stock footage of nature scenes and filming original scenes featuring children, for whose sake we need to preserve the environment. Consiglio recently edited the documentary feature film War/Dance, which was nominated last year for an Academy Award, and also edited Weezer’s music video Pork and Beans, which won Best Short Form Video at the 2009 Grammy Awards.

To shoot the original scenes, Green and Consiglio hired skilled cinematographer Erich Roland. In recent years, Roland has shot footage for such prestigious TV shows as Frontline, Nature and American Masters. But perhaps his most celebrated year came just before he shot What About Tomorrow?. In 1989, Roland was camera operator on the Academy Award-winning Driving Miss Daisy and cinematographer for The Johnstown Flood, which took home the Oscar for best documentary short subject.

What About Tomorrow? premiered on Earth Day 1990 on the VH-1 national cable-TV network as well as airing on several local TV stations, including major network affiliates in Cleveland and Indianapolis. A couple of weeks later I was interviewed about my video on Nine Broadcast Plaza, a show produced by Channel 9, based in Secaucus, NJ, and serving New York City. The substitute host that day was an up-and-coming TV personality named Matt Lauer.

Why is this 1990 video still relevant? Well, the environment is even more in the news than usual, as Congress struggles to pass the first U.S. legislation to fight climate change. Unfortunately, little has changed in two decades. In fact, such ominous trends as global warming and habitat destruction have accelerated. The environment is more imperiled than ever. The future in which our children and grandchildren will live is more in danger than ever.

For decades, the music of the Four Seasons has brought joy to millions. But few people realize that Seasons’ music has also been used to deliver a powerful and vital environmental message in What About Tomorrow?

– Charles Alexander

Artificial Reefs: Insurance for Future Fishing

towing 3

An old boat is towed to the Cape May Reef for sinking

This article originally appeared in Cape May Magazine, Winter 2008.

On any given day the most popular fishing ground off Cape May is none other than the Cape May Reef, aka the Sanctuary. Located 9.1 nautical miles from Cape May inlet on a course heading of 128 °, it is home to more marine species than any other marine structure inshore. The Cape May Reef is man-made and is the largest artificial reef, at 4.5 square miles, and the oldest artificial reef site in New Jersey. The Cape May Reef was originally started in 1982 by the Cape May County Party and Charter Boat Association. In 1984 the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Division of Fish and Wildlife took over all reef building responsibilities in the state from several private reef associations. It’s been a true success story between man and nature.

The objectives of the reef program are to provide:

  • Hard-substrate “reef” habitat in the ocean for certain species of fish and shellfish.
  • New fishing grounds for anglers.
  • Underwater structure for scuba divers.
  • Economic returns for tourism and sportfishing industries.

prep sinkingBy constructing and managing reefs, the goal is to spread the benefits of the reef’s resources to as many people as possible.

At less than 10 nautical miles from the inlet most boats have the range to fish the Cape May Reef. There are currently two other reef sites off the coast of Cape May County within 10 miles of major inlets: the Wildwood Reef and the T.I. Reef. There are a total of 15 reef sites encompassing a total of 25 square miles of sea floor in New Jersey. Part of the reef’s goal is not to change New Jersey’s marine environment, but to enhance a small controlled portion. Reefs such as the Cape May Reef are home to over 150 marine species. Some of the most common species preferred by anglers and divers are black sea bass, summer flounder, tautog, blue fish, Atlantic bonito, porgy and, of course, lobster.

sinking 2The Cape May Reef works like this: a hard substrate in the ocean provides an attachment surface for a variety of encrusting or fouling organisms called epibenthos such as mussels, sponges and barnacles. This creates a protective mat for species at the bottom of the reef’s food chain, which includes Crabs, Snails and Shrimp. In the middle of the reef’s food chain are bottom fish, like Sea Bass that feed on Crabs and Tautog that feed on Mussels. Schooling bait fish migrating through tend to like high structures such as sunken ships. Pelagic predators (free swimming) including Sharks, Blue Fish and Mahi Mahi are at the top of the reef’s food chain feeding on these bait fish and each other. Hard substrates also protect fish from not only predators but surges and current. Reefs create a cycle of life that is critical in supporting life in the ocean.

Removing the wheel house before sinking

The wheel house is removed prior to sinking

Since New Jersey has a very gently sloping, shallow coastal floor with very little hard structure such as outcroppings, and, although there are an estimated 500 to 3,000 shipwrecks off  New Jersey’s coast, many of these wrecks are slowly destroyed over time by the forces of the sea. The intentional sinking of vessels helps to replace deteriorating wrecks. As of 2007, the Cape May Reef is home to 21 sunken ships such as clam boats, Coast Guard cutters, cargo ships and tug boats. Other structures sunk at the reef are subway cars, barges, concrete ballasted tires, concrete castings and army tanks. All of these ships and structures have to be cleaned of all pollutants and pass a U.S. Coast Guard pollution inspection. All loose and floating debris must be removed as well. The next step is to vent all internal water, tighten bulkheads and, in some cases, cut holes just above the water line to assist in the sinking of the vessel. These holes are covered with a “soft patch” such as plywood to prevent leaking during the tow to the reef.

Reef balls

Concrete reef balls

Another very important structure are reef balls made entirely of concrete four feet in diameter and weighing 1,800 pounds each. These reef balls resemble small igloos with many holes. In the fall of 2007 over 500 of these reef balls will be towed by barge by Sea Tow Cape May and sunk on the reefs’ sites off Cape May County. It’s important to note that most of the sinkings of these structures are funded by the private sector such as the sportfishing fund and non-profit organizations that have raised donations from fishing and diving clubs. Without these clubs and organizations much of the success from the reef program would not be possible.


Most of the fishing on the Cape May Reef is done by drifting and fishing off the bottom and, since it’s such a large reef with so much structure, fishermen can make long drifts and the reef can handle hundreds of boats fishing the reef at the same time. Most of the drift fishing is done in the middle of the reef in approximately 65 feet of water. The northern end of the reef is the shallowest area – about 55 feet. Wrecks and reef balls are spaced far enough apart that boats can easily anchor. The lower end of the reef is the deepest at about 70 feet. Here there are larger wrecks and subway cars. This area is preferred by scuba divers. Many party and charter boats fish the Cape May reef daily from late spring through the fall. Most of these trips last between six and eight hours.


Artificial reefs such as the Cape May Reef ensure fishing for future generations. So, next time you fish the reef and your fishing rig gets snagged, think of what’s below you and all the work it took to enable you to catch that fish!

steve-spagnuolaStephen Spagnuola, a graduate of Visual Arts, New York City, worked as art director for many ad agencies in New York before leaving advertising to pursue fashion photography, and worked on such magazines as Stuff, Flatiron, and Zink. Stephen is a freelance photographer and marketing director for Sea Tow Cape May. Visit Steve online

A Little Bit About Butterflies

A swallowtail butterfly

A Swallowtail Butterfly

One of nicest experiences for gardeners is the observation of butterflies in the garden planned for them. Years of natural gardening in our yard reward us with a wonderful array of plants that attract butterflies until frost. A variety of natural food sources insure that colorful butterflies and moths live in our garden throughout out the season.

Southern New Jersey has a good number of interesting butterflies and moths, but the shore areas have even more. Cape May Point and areas along the Delaware Bay often have more unusual southern ones, so be sure to have a field guide if you are out walking in that area.

Blue mist shrub

Blue mist shrub, Caryopteris, blooms in September and October, a late source of nectar

From mid-July until frost it is fun to watch the butterflies from our window while dining, but best is when butterflies float about us if we have breakfast or sip a late afternoon glass of wine on the deck. We purposely plant butterfly plants near our doors, windows and garden fence. Many varieties partake of nectar from all of these butterfly delicacies.

When they are ready to lay their eggs, moths and butterflies are more specific in finding a host plant that their larvae will eat. If you plant plenty of parsley, dill, fennel and Queen Anne’s lace the Swallowtail Butterfly will dot them with eggs and from summer to fall the plants will be covered with small black caterpillars, the larvae of the Swallowtail Butterflies. When these small black larvae eat, they become large and striped and more and more green.

After shedding their skin several times, they will eventually become a pupa. This hardens and changes color, while inside the larvae begins changing to a butterfly. Sometimes you can see this happening through the cocoon. When the butterfly or moth emerges, it is wet and needs some time to dry. Soon it flies to nectar plants to feed, and later to host plants where it begins the cycle and lays eggs that hatch into larvae. They then eat their way to the pupa stage and it all begins again. By planting certain plants you can enjoy this life cycle right before your eyes.

Milkweed blooms

Milkweed blooms

Plants Butterflies and Moths Love

The Monarch Butterflies need milkweed. The Spicebush Butterfly needs sassafras or spicebush. Some Fritillary like violas, some need passionflower vines and Mourning Cloak lay eggs on pussy willow. Beautiful pale green Luna moths lay eggs on birch and hickories, which explains why I see them in the light next to our big old hickory tree. Many moths lay eggs in broad-leaf deciduous trees so, for this reason, spraying woodland areas is harmful to moth populations. There is nothing so exquisite as the grandeur of a moth like the Polyphemus or Cecropia moths. If you would like to see pictures of these beauties, look in a field guide or on the Internet. Or better yet, plant some trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals that will attract them to your garden. We usually pull out wild cherry trees, but now we do have a few large ones since many beautiful moths deposit eggs on the leaves.

Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly

As a child, I had a 4-H butterfly and moth project. I would watch the base of streetlights and wait to find one of the short-lived moths that flew to the light in its last night of egg laying and then die. They would promptly be added to the butterfly/moth collection board. I would also catch butterflies, hopefully after they had laid their eggs.

A fragrant shrub called glossy abelia, lilac, wigelia, vitex and many others bloom and provide nectar. There are many long lists of plants that butterflies love, but of course the bright orange butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and butterfly bush (Buddleia) are the most popular. To see a good variety of butterflies it is worth having a little “patch of meadow” with wild milkweed (Asclepias) Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium), bright purple iron weed (Vernonia), Russian sage, hardy Salvia, black-eyed Susans, and long blooming Scabiosa (pincushion flower). Now is a really good time to plant shrubs and perennials for spring bloom. These, plus the following, will also give your yard the cottage garden look.


Sassafras is a host plant for large beautiful moths

Sow hollyhocks, chamomile, mint, anise hyssop, phlox, yarrow, lavender, perennial sunflowers (Helianthus), perennial asters, penstemon, mints, and catmint, Plant the following annuals next spring – tithonia, zinnia, dill, pentas, dianthus, lantana and cosmos. These plants as well as many more will all spread, wave beautifully in the breezes, come up profusely each year and attract a large variety of butterflies. A tapestry of color, this planting looks nice along a fence, or as a border in a sunny spot.

For a more contained look that can be used in a formal herb garden or small foundation planting use lavender, dianthus, heliotrope, purple cornflower, zinnia, basil, pansies, blue mist shrub (Caryopteris) and fragrant blue blooming Vitex.

Spring violets are host plants.

Spring violets are host plants.

On ongoing plan to plant your garden with butterflies and moths in mind is a great project. Don’t spray plants because the least little insect, that caterpillar you are spraying for instance, might just be a butterfly in disguise.

Public Butterfly Garden

The Children’s Garden in Camden New Jersey boasts of both an outdoor butterfly garden and a year round butterfly house. When I spoke to Mike Devlin, director of the Children’s Garden Center, one day he remarked that two Monarchs were just outside his window, but that there were many more in the butterfly house.

“It is an attraction that has allowed us to teach more about the environment,” he said.

Visit Plant now for butterflies in your garden next season.

Triple Oaks Nursery and Herb Garden hosts natural gardening classes, floral design classes and much more. See calendar at