Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Right in your own backyard

This past weekend, naturalists from Cape May Bird Observatory and the Nature Center of Cape May hosted an event named Birds and Beers on the Bay by Bike. Starting in Cape May, we biked and birded our way through Cox Hall Creek Wildlife Management Area. We were serenaded by Orchard Orioles, Wood Pewees, and lots of Catbirds as we took a leisurely ride around the WMA before making our way to the Cape May-Lewes Ferry. A handful of Wilson’s Storm-petrels accompanied us along our route to our sister cape and Delaware greeted us with an unexpected White-winged Scoter. We took a beautiful ride around Cape Henlopen State Park and over to Gordon’s Pond where Black Skimmers and Common Yellowthroats were putting on a show.

CMBO Director, David LaPuma, showing off his biking-with-a-spotting-scope skills while biking along Gordon's Pond in Cape Henlopen State Park for the Birds and Beers on the Bay by Bike tour. [Photo by Sam Wilson.]
No birding trip to Delaware would be complete without some adorably-squeaky Brown-headed Nuthatches, and though the looks were fleeting, we got them nevertheless. We had to peddle hard up to Rehoboth Beach to stay ahead of a looming thunderstorm and made it to Dogfish Head Brewery just before the skies opened up. After some good food and even better beer, we made our way back to Lewes via the Junction & Breakwater Trail. This spectacular path winds through old growth forest and wetlands, giving you a sense of being miles away from civilization. Yet, this trail opens into a new, extremely manicured housing development, where native plants have been replaced with non-natives and retention ponds are zig-zagged with wire to keep waterfowl out. It was a stark contrast to the natural places we had been exploring but presented a great opportunity to discuss the landscaping choices we make in our own properties. We would never end on a bad note though, so a relaxing ferry ride brought us back to Cape May where we capped off the event with a much-deserved Cape May Brewing Company beer.

Ominous skies looming overhead at Gordon's Pond in Cape Henlopen State Park caused us to peddle faster towards Rehoboth Beach to the promise of shelter (and beer) at the Dogfish Head Brewery. We made it in the nick of time and were inside while Mother Nature gave the rest of the area a drink too. [Photo by Phil LaTourette.]

I discovered that it is not easy (and sometimes dangerous) getting a clear picture while biking, especially after visiting Dogfish Head Brewery! Here are some of our Birds and Beers on the Bay by Bike tour participants taking in the beautiful scenery of the Junction & Breakwater Trail between Rehoboth Beach and Lewes, Deleware. [Photo by Margeaux Maerz.]

Our group of fifteen consisted of a wide range of ages and experience, from skilled birders to one woman who was afraid of birds. By the end though, I think we converted most of our new friends to bird lovers! One reoccurring comment throughout the trip (other than how much they were learning) was how they never knew these beautiful wildlife places even existed. As one of our participants Greg noted, “I’ve been living around the corner from here for years and I never knew Cox Hall Creek was there!” Which got me thinking, how many people pass by these natural places everyday, complete unaware of their existence?

Newly-converted bird enthusiast, Solomon, takes a closer look at a perched Blue Grosbeak during one of the stops along a marshy section of Cape Henlopen State Park on the Birds and Beers on the Bay by Bike tour. [Photo by Sam Wilson.]
As an avid birder and all-around nature lover, I am constantly outside, exploring the natural areas we have throughout the county. Though to be honest, I learned of these places by word-of-mouth or attending one of our CMBO walks. A visit to one of our NJ Audubon Centers can provide a wealth of information and maps to natural areas to go hiking and birding, but what about areas that occur outside the county or even outside the state? That led me on what I am lovingly referring to my Search for Natural Areas Around Me Search Engines! Type in “natural areas around me” into your favorite online search engine and you will be bombarded by some helpful, but many not-so-helpful, websites. So, I went through them for you and at the bottom of this post you will find a compiled list of helpful websites (with links!) to aid you in your search for places to explore.

There is no shortage of scientific research that suggests communing with nature can result in a wide range of health benefits from reducing anxiety and depression symptoms, to increasing Vitamin D and focus. Just being outside and active, whether it’s biking up the bayshore or walking the trails of your local park, can release feel-good neurotransmitters like endorphins and serotonin. Spending time in natural light can also help normalize your internal clock (circadian rhythm), renewing your eating and sleeping cycles, and who doesn't need more sleep nowadays? Simply put, being outside is good for you!

So I encourage you to search around the areas you live, or the areas you like to vacation, and find somewhere to get away from it all. Go outside, listen to the birds, watch the tides move in and out, and unplug from the constant bombardment of stress technology grants us. Your mind and body will thank you. You may even come out of the experience with a whole new appreciation for the beauty and serenity you can find around your area, even in your own backyard.

Some helpful links to find natural places and events around your area.

NJ Audubon Calendar of Events:

New Jersey State Parks: (two search options on the left side of the page)

National Parks:

National Wildlife Refuges:

National Wildlife Federation:

Unfortunately, NJ Fish & Wildlife does not have search capabilities on their website, but you can use these next two links together to first find a WMA in your county of choice, then locate a road map:

New Jersey Wildlife Management Areas:

New Jersey WMA Road Maps:

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