Birder and Lighthouse

Jay Lloyd / KYW Newsradio

Getaway Guide to a Cape May birder's autumn

October 03, 2018 - 1:23 pm

By Jay Lloyd

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) -- It's for the birds. That's a good thing. The very tip of the New Jersey shore is the autumn rest stop for flocks and flights of migrating birds. The result? Cape May has become a magnet for zealous "birders" toting thousands of dollars worth of cameras and scopes. It also attracts a blizzard of fall getaway seekers who visit the shore for festivals, eateries, beach strolling and music. Even they are drawn to the observation stand at the Cape May Point State Park with eyes on the sky and the pond. So, what will you find, whether serious birder or casual wing watcher? Here's what.


You can't miss it. The white Lighthouse with a prominent red crown is nearly 160 feet high. It's a sentinel that guides ships entering the Delaware Bay and anchors the entrance to the state park. Cross the broad parking lot to the double tiered stands that face a pond, filled with resting water fowl. To the right, the Atlantic. In between, a course of nature trails. This time of year the stands are busy with birders, tracking hawks, cormorants, geese, rarely seen ducks and egrets. Displays identify the birds and migrations. Then walk the trails for a better look at the pond. And finally, climb the lighthouse to a panoramic bird's-eye view of the bay, ocean and all the land between.

Resting water fowl at Cape May Point State Park
Jay Lloyd / KYW Newsradio


I've been visiting Cape May as a civilian for 55 years. (My first stop here was 13 weeks of Coast Guard boot camp in 1952). Each visit includes at least one ride to Sunset Beach, near the lighthouse. As the name implies, it's an amazing place to watch the sun touch the sea at day's end. During the day, pick through smooth "Cape May Diamonds," washed up on the beach. Chat with the surf fisherman hauling in blues, stripers and the occasional sand shark. See the hulk of the "Atlantus," the partially sunken wreck of a World War I concrete freighter. It's now a natural reef for feeding fish. Take some pictures or set up an easel and paint one. Grab a snack at the outdoor Grille (weather permitting) or a souvenir. You can even get those Cape May Diamonds (quartz) polished to a lustrous gem-like transparency.

Sunset Beach
Jay Lloyd / KYW Newsradio


If you haven't picked a pumpkin yet, the Beach Plum Farm is five minutes from Sunset Beach. It produces meats and veggies for some of the top hotels and eateries in Cape May. Beach Plum has also evolved over the past few year to a spot for special fine dining events (check dates and menus) and lodging. The best memories here were watching the kids get a fistful of chicken feed for the free roaming hens.

Chicken Feed
Jay Lloyd / KYW Newsradio


If the autumn temps are moderate and the sun is warm, we head for the Lobster House and the Schooner American. The fare is simple. Raw bar combos, burgers, lobster rolls and crab cakes are the highlights. A full bar supplies the wash-downs. But if the weather takes a turn toward the chilly side, we head for Lucky Bones. It has a friendly pub vibe and a menu that meanders between fin food just off the boats and creative takes on salads and apps. Pizza too. I'm stuck on a clam chowder with the aroma of the sea and a finely battered fish and chips.

Lobster House
Jay Lloyd / KYW Newsradio


Cape May has so many great spots for happy hour that unless you want to do a pub crawl, you have to pick just one. We most often wind up at the Oyster Bay. Why? Two very simple reasons: Perfectly crafted Manhattans (me) and Martinis (my wife, Mary) and the dynamic appetizers. Our favorite - the lobster and crab crostini. Don't over-do it. Dinner is just ahead.


Cape May is awash in restaurants - most of them you would recommend. But every Cape May visit brings us to a decades old favorite. It's the 19th century Merion Inn. Their local seafood is perfectly done. Steaks, chops and chicks with a nod to vegetarians, round off the menu. Now, the key here is nightly music - mostly jazz. If you like to listen, make a request and join in the applause - ask for a table in the lounge.

Merion Inn Jazz
Jay Lloyd / KYW Newsradio

Birding or not, the town will keep you coming back.