The weekly report from the world’s birdwatching capital… by Seymore Thanu
Talk to a motel owner, a shopkeep, a waitress in one of Cape May’s many restaurants and they’ll all tell you: “Ecotourism is a big part of the economy here,” and “Birders might be weird, but they’re nice,” and “The Cape May Bird Observatory is our link to the birding business.”
All these things are true. But they also skirt one huge part of the tourism pie.
What business people in Cape May habitually ignore or underestimate is the impact that open space and wildlife viewing opportunities have upon The Average Tourist. People whose primary reason for being here is to lie on a beach and bob in the surf. People who consider breakfast, lunch, and dinner their three principal reasons for getting up. People who will spend most of their in-between time wandering from shop to shop, or peddling a bicycle, or reading on the balcony of their motel rooms or the porch of their rental.
People who would never in a million years consider themselves bird watchers.
EXCEPT. That during their visit they will spend a morning at the Cape May Hawk Watch. They will go on a CMBO-sponsored morning bird walk. They will walk through the South Cape May Meadows.
And, key to this discussion, they chose to come to Cape May instead of any number of other shore resorts precisely because Cape May offered these eco-tipping opportunities.
Birds (and butterflies, and dolphins) were not their primary reason for being here. It was the tipping reason. It was the game changer.
Now here’s the best part. Many of those tacit eco-tourists become dedicated eco-tourists precisely because their natural experiences at Cape May were so much more engaging and satisfying than they expected. This means they want more. This means they have to come back to Cape May. Because everybody else has beaches. Cape May has nature, too.
So, not only do great wildlife viewing opportunities attract business, they make business. They turn visitors into Cape May nature addicts.
You think I’m kidding? I’m not.
Three weeks ago I watched hundreds of tourists stand open-mouthed as tens of thousands of monarch butterflies flowed around them.
You don’t see this every place.
The other day I was on the hawk watch platform as ordinary, non-binocular-carrying tourists looked up and peered into swirling clouds of migrating hawks.
They got to see Bald Eagles. Got excited (because everyone else was excited) whenever a Peregrine Falcon flew by.
The hundreds of dragonflies in the air and hordes of butterflies were just a bonus.
The fact is, there are very few places on the planet where nature is so close and so manifest as it is in Cape May. You don’t garner people’s attention with little specs of birds perched two time zones away. You do get their attention (and loyalty) by showing them spectacles that they only thought they could see on The Nature Channel.
Yep. Great wildlife. Right up there with beaches, shops and surf.
Somebody once asked the guy who’s the director at the Cape May Bird Observatory what his “business model” was.
His answer: “Location, location, location.”
But without natural spectacle, location is just a place. With it, it’s a destination.
See you in Cape May – hopefully looking up!
The Cape May Hawk Watch is still going strong until the end of November; the Avalon Sea Watch is manned through the end of December; or you could just stop by the Cape May Bird Observatory (CMBO) – THE place for anything to do with nature. Located at 701 East Lake Drive overlooking lovely Lake Lily in Cape May Point, the center is open 9:30am–4:30pm every day. Ask any of our staff – they are always glad to help with anything you need – even things you didn’t know you needed yet. We are always eager to help new (or soon-to-be) birders! Check out the schedule of daily walks, pick up a free birding map and checklist, and while you are there, don’t forget the newest books (including Pete Dunne’s newest Bayshore Summer – and Birds of Cape May – a beautiful array of photos just released by Kevin Karlson), and more.
Seymore Thanu is none other than New Jersey’s own Pete Dunne, Director of the Cape May Bird Observatory and Chief Communications Officer for New Jersey Audubon. Pete uses his talents and energy to make the natural world real for others. Author of several books on and about nature (available at the CMBO) he weaves information, insight and even fantasy into a net that captures minds and hearts. He has written for virtually every birding publication and for The New York Times.