The weekly report from the world’s birdwatching capital… by Seymore Thanu
Don’t look now, but summer’s over! Wait a minute you’re thinking, summer has just begun – like last week. Or maybe you’re thinking I don’t own a calendar. Maybe I don’t own a television either because all the weather forecasters around here couldn’t talk about anything else, because it hasn’t felt like spring since, like April. And last week held the longest day of the year; but how can a day be longer than 24 hours?
You’re right. Not about the calendar or the television – I have both of those. You’re right about it being the official beginning of summer, actually today, as I’m writing this on the day of Summer Solstice (these editors all have early deadlines), and, it’s the day the sun is directly overhead, at noon, on the Tropic of Cancer (and 23½ degrees above the horizon at the North Pole). And actually, the day isn’t any longer, we just have a bit more daylight on June 2. After that, every second of every day, the sun is inclining toward winter. Which means that every day from June 21 to December 21 (aptly called Winter Solstice), the sun will set about one minute earlier. Then it starts all over again.
But I stray from my starting statement that summer is over. Right now, this very second, and as you read these words, the very first southbound migrating birds are passing over your head. Soon they will be feeding at your feet (providing you are the kind of person who goes to the beach in July and August).
But, you’re thinking, I thought birds migrated in spring and fall, not summer.
Exactly. It’s time for fall migration. Their summer vacation is over, done with, gone.
What you are relaxing under along the beautiful Cape May beaches is, to a large degree, the insolating currency banked and stored in the earth’s surface and in the seas ever since the sun started inclining toward summer way back on December 21. That was really he last day of winter; the winter solstice. The day the sun started its climb in the sky toward summer and the amount of daylight started becoming longer and longer every day – until June 21.
It took a long time to heat the earth and water. Now with the sunlight waning, we’re eating it up, as well as enjoying the dividends of a sun that is still moderately high in the sky.
Here’s the difference between us and birds (so the next time someone calls you a bird brain, don’t take it as an insult): birds are smart. They get out of the Northern Hemisphere before the climate goes bust.
And many leave now, while the earth’s restaurants don’t require reservations and you’ve got your pick. There’s food all over the place and it’s off season at New Jersey’s coastal resorts.
Well, it’s off season in the marshes. Until the big rush starts at the end of July. By July, the marshes and beaches of Cape May will be teeming with southbound shorebirds. Some will be heading all the way to the tip of South America (where summer is just getting started).
Shorebirds. One of the best real estate experts on the planet. See, shorebirds invest a lot of energy flying to the ends of the earth. They travel thousands of miles to take advantage of housing (nesting grounds) in the North (called the tundra), then they pull up stakes and head to the temperate south before things freeze up. Sort of like the way humans flock to the sunny south in the winter to escape the savage north and then migrate back again to avoid the blistering heat and hurricanes.
These savvy, energetic experts are flying over your heads right now – getting while the getting is good. Wondering why all these humans are lolling around while the days grow shorter and shorter.
Enjoy your visit. Get your tan while the sun shines. Before you know it, I’ll be writing about the winter solstice and the return of spring!
Want to do something rather than lie on the beach all day and still enjoy the outdoors? Consider taking a bird walk with the folks at the Cape May Bird Observatory. Just stop by the Cape May Bird Observatory, THE place for anything to do with nature. The CMBO (609-884-2736) is located at 701 East Lake Drive overlooking lovely Lake Lily in Cape May Point and is open 9:30am to 4:30pm every day. Ask any of their staff or volunteers – they are always glad to help with anything you need – even things you didn’t know you needed yet.
While there, pick up their schedule of daily activities, check out the view of the lake from the wide selection of scopes and binoculars, the latest in books, bird feeders, and some great new and fun merchandise – including the exclusive CMBO logo jewelry, clothing, totes and more. Take a look at the sightings log or website to check what’s being seen. Scan the bookshelves, pick up a bargain from the used and vintage books section, look at some of the wonderful Charley Harper merchandise, or just browse around. And, if you aren’t fortunate enough to be in the area, visit us online www.BirdCapeMay.org – where birding Cape May is only a click away.
Seymore Thanu is none other than New Jersey’s own Pete Dunne, Director of the Cape May Bird Observatory and Vice President of Natural History for New Jersey Audubon Society. Author of several books on and about nature (available at the Cape May Bird Observatory), he has written for virtually every birding publication and for The New York Times.