Birding Adventure in the Fog

Located at the southern tip of New Jersey, Cape May Point is a birdwatcher's paradise, attracting over 400 species of birds each year. I was excited to explore the diverse habitat and see what feathered friends I could spot.

The morning after our first night in our cosy Airbnb in West Cape May, I woke up filled with anticipation for a day of bird photography at Cape May Point Wetlands, organised by the New Jersey Audubon. Looking out the bathroom window, I saw that a thick fog had blanketed the area. As I prepared my camera gear, I felt excitement and trepidation. I was concerned that a foggy morning would create another negative experience. I packed my camera gear into the car, then drove to Out There Coffee for a hot cup of coffee and a sugary "breakfast" to fuel my birding adventures. I bought something for Bhavna, knowing that she would appreciate it later, and then drove back to Airbnb to eat.

With my stomach full and my body cranked up on sugar, I set off for the meeting location, the Cape May Point Observatory parking lot. Driving through the dense fog, I tried to keep my spirits high. The fog seemed to cling to the surroundings as I approached the meeting location. While it added enchantment to the scenery, the fog raised concerns about visibility and the potential impact on my bird photography expedition. However, I refused to let the fog dampen my spirits and instead focused on maintaining a positive mindset, hoping for a memorable day ahead.

Upon reaching Cape May Point State Park, I was captivated by the breathtaking view of the Cape May Lighthouse rising from the fog. At that moment, I felt the urge to scuttle my plans for the bird walk and photograph the lighthouse instead. I rarely get an opportunity for landscape photography in the Princeton area. But I stayed with my purpose for this trip.

I parked in the lot area nearest the lighthouse. I could not see any other cars. Did I have the right location? I pulled Apple Maps and noticed that the Cape May Bird Observation Deck was at the other end of the parking log. Perhaps they were meeting there. I drove across the foggy parking lot, and as I approached the observation deck, I could make out car-shaped objects. I was relieved.

Cape May Point State Park · Saturday 15 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

I grabbed my camera bag containing my Fuji X-T3, the XF27mmF2.8 R WR and XF16-66mmF2.8 R LM WR lenses and three fully charged batteries. I configured my camera settings: custom auto-focus tracking and shutter priority with a shutter speed of 1/500s. In this mode, the focus system attempts to track the chosen subject as the subject moves or as the camera moves and ignores other objects that are likely to enter the focus area with the subject. I attached the XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR lens and walked over to the waiting area to introduce myself to the group.

The group leader made introductions and gave up some information about Cape May Point, the Cape May Bird Observatory and Cape May Point Park. As an avid bird photographer, I definitely wanted to photograph at Cape May Point. It’s located at the southernmost tip of New Jersey and is a popular spot for migratory birds to take a break before moving further north to the forests of New Jersey. The area’s unique combination of the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay creates a diverse habitat that attracts many different types of birds. Cape May Point State Park is over 244 acres, and it’s home to the Cape May Bird Observatory, dedicated to learning more about birds and protecting them.

As introductions were made, I discovered that our group consisted of individuals with varying levels of birding experience. Some were seasoned birdwatchers, while others were novices eager to immerse themselves in the hobby.

Cape May Point State Park · Saturday 15 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

Our first stop was the dunes, a scenic area near the beach that promised breathtaking views and potential bird sightings. However, when we trekked through the sand, we were disappointed. The dense fog had covered the beach and the water. Despite this setback, the group remained optimistic.

Cape May Point State Park · Saturday 15 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR
Cape May Point State Park · Saturday 15 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR
Cape May Point State Park · Saturday 15 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR
Cape May Point State Park · Saturday 15 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

We continued our journey along the Blue Trail, which led us to Bunker Pond. Still covered in the morning fog, the pond has a variety of waterfowl, including swans and ducks. As I prepared to capture a photograph of one swan, I missed the landing of another on the pond's surface. I was disappointed but reminded myself that bird photography is a game of patience.

Leaving Bunker Pond behind, we ventured onto the Yellow Trail, which took us through the Cape May Wetlands State Natural Area. The trail meandered through a landscape of tall grasses and wetland trees, which provided a haven for countless bird species. Still, no bird photographs, just birdsong.

Cape May Point State Park · Saturday 15 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR
Cape May Point State Park · Saturday 15 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

We reached a strategically placed platform along the way, offering a panoramic view of the wetlands. It was a moment of tranquillity, allowing me to connect with nature. Still, no bird photographs, just birdsong.

Cape May Point State Park · Saturday 15 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

As we continued our walk, we decided to take a detour to Lighthouse Pond. Despite the fog obscuring the view, I couldn't resist capturing the Cape May Lighthouse in this setting. The fog lent an ethereal quality to the scene.

Cape May Point State Park · Saturday 15 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

As our birdwatching adventure came to a close, we made our way back to the parking lot. Reflecting on the day, I realised that even though the fog had initially caused concern, it had added an unexpected element to the experience.

The yearly Cape May Spring Festival, hosted by the New Jersey Audubon, is scheduled for May 18-20th. I'd read countless accounts of how the small town of Cape May bursts with life during this time, as bird enthusiasts and photographers from all over the eastern seaboard flock to the area. This is the prime season for bird migration, and I have been eagerly anticipating this experience for several months. However, I must miss out on this once-in-a-year event to lend a helping hand to my daughter in Illinois. I am struggling to overcome the intense feeling of disappointment that persists within me.

Author: Khürt Williams

A human who works in information security and enjoys photography, Formula 1 and craft ale.

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