A 1,100-mile drive to the Midwest, through below-freezing temperatures, snow, sleet, and ice. A weekend jaunt to the New Jersey seaside resort town of Cape May on a cool, yet gorgeous, January weekend. One journey involved driving through five states, the other trip was one-tenth the mileage and all occurred in New Jersey. One was in a midsize SUV, the other in a 2-door coupe. So what did these two trips have in common?
Over the Christmas holiday, my wife and I drove out to Wisconsin to visit her parents. As we had traveled from out of state, we spent the two weeks in the house, avoiding going out. Fortunately, the back deck of the house looks out onto a large tract of land that was filled with birds galore, allowing me to practice my bird photography during our break.
Once we returned to New Jersey, we quarantined again, this time getting tested for COVID before safely emerging from our home to drive to the New Jersey shore. We visited the practically deserted Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge near Cape May Point, and I was able to capture several of these magnificent creatures in photos.
So sit back, pour yourself a fresh cup of coffee (or hot chocolate!), and enjoy this exploration of the birds of winter!
Go West, Young Man. The Sequel.
Exactly one year after taking a nearly 1,200 mile road trip, my wife and I set off again for the Midwest. You can read our 5-part adventure from last December here. Once again, my wife’s Jeep Grand Cherokee would be our Midwest adventure vehicle of choice.
We left New Jersey and crossed into Pennsylvania… the state that feels like it goes on forever and ever!
Pennsylvania might stretch on for an eternity, but at last the view was pretty!
As the sun set, we crossed into Ohio.
We stopped in the town of Maumee, Ohio, to get some rest at a Home2Suites hotel. This was my first hotel experience since the pandemic began… and it was shockingly good. From the touchless check-in experience, to the rooms that are sealed after they have been cleaned and disinfected, to the “grab and go” hot breakfast, I felt remarkably safe. Home2Suites, a Hilton property, did an excellent job making guests feel both welcome and secure. On our trip back, we would stay again at this same hotel.
We somehow missed the Illinois state welcome sign… so this photo of the skyline of Chicago will have to make do.
Whoever programmed this billboard in Chicago gets an A+ for creativity.
And finally… Wisconsin! Of course, after crossing over from Illinois, it would still be another five hours before we reached our destination.
As we were stopping for gas, I couldn’t help but take this shot. After all, when in Wisconsin… cheese!
Before quarantining for the next two weeks (and using the drive-thru while wearing our masks), we made a stop at my favorite coffee shop. Starbucks is cool, Dunkin is fun, and Wawa is a classic… but for my money, nothing topics Caribou. From Caribou, it was on to our final stop.
There’s no place like home for the holidays… especially when your mother-in-law makes her simply divine seafood soup for Christmas Eve dinner! So good!
And, of course, there’s no Christmas without Christmas cookies! In this case, homemade cookies my Mom had sent from New Jersey.
We did take the Jeep on a quick test drive in the snow, to see how it handled the elements. As is the case in the Midwest, winter storms don’t stop people – everyone just slows down and keeps on going.
The Nokian WR G4 SUV tires, at home in their natural environment.
I spent a good chunk of my trip, though, taking photos of birds on my in-laws property. This white-breasted nuthatch enjoyed the bird feeder on the back porch.
This might have been my favorite photo from the entire trip.
All of the birds, including this goldfinch, were puffed up to stay warm – for most of our trip, temperatures were only in the single digits!
Even during snowstorms, the birds were out and about. Did you know that the humble chickadee forages for food over an enormous area, with hundreds of storage locations, which the bird will return to throughout the winter? The hippocampus of the bird’s brain will grow during the fall as it learns all the places where it has stored food, and then will return to normal size during the spring (via sweet-seed).
Fun fact: the Northern Cardinal is also known as the Winter Redbird, for how strongly its coat stands out against the snow (via birdwatchinghq).
We ended up delaying our return home by a day when an ice storm crippled much of the Midwest. Although the skies remained ominous for much of the trip, we had clear roads through Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio…
…but Pennsylvania was a different story. As we ascended into the mountains of central Pennsylvania, we encountered rain, which quickly changed to sleet, and then a mixture of snow and ice. The Jeep was fantastic, and although I’ve been a fan of Nokian tires for a long time, the control and confidence I felt from the tires’ handling of the road conditions was reassuring.
So stressful was the drive through Pennsylvania that I half-joked with my wife that when we crossed the bridge into New Jersey, I was going to get out of the car and kiss the ground. I didn’t do that… but I’ve never been so happy to see the NJ Turnpike before.
And home! The Jeep was a fantastic road trip companion for our drive to the Midwest. Capable of handling extended hours of highway driving with ease, and then providing a safe, secure trip through awful winter weather, it really did a fantastic job. Cape May Bird Watching
After completing our quarantine (and testing negative for the virus!), my wife and I headed southward, to Cape May, my favorite seaside resort town.
No snow! No ice! No sleet! No freezing rain! Just sunny skies, with nary cloud in sight, for our drive down the Atlantic City Expressway on a beautiful Saturday.
Once we arrived in Cape May, we ran a quick errand to the Cape May Winery, one of our favorite local spots. Among our favorites? The chardonnay and the sauvignon blanc.
After spending all day in the car, we decided to go for a short hike at the Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge. Located near Cape May Point, the refuge is a stopping point for birds during the annual migration season.
The first bird we spotted was this little guy… a long-billed dowitcher. These birds thrust their long beaks into the mud in shallow pools of water, and receptors on their beaks allow them to feel for food (via allaboutbirds).
The refuge has a permanent blind installed, to allow you to watch birds without disturbing them. This snowy egret came to within only a few feet of where I was hiding.
When he turned around, I could swear he was looking right at me.
Nearby, a pair of swans floated lazily on the pond.
After a few moments, another egret landed in search of food.
The water was so still, it was easy to capture its reflection.
The refuge is in located in the South Cape May Meadows. I could look at this view all day.
The Cape May Lighthouse was visible across the meadow. As the sun began to set, we decided to drive down Sunset Boulevard to nearby Sunset Beach, to catch the last of the day’s light.
No matter how stressful my day, a few minutes by the water’s edge in Cape May is all it takes to feel centered again. It’s my happy place.
And the Cape May sunsets aren’t half-bad, either.
Dinner was takeout from Jake’s, a local bar and restaurant. We split an order of mouth-watering calamari, and my wife had the broiled seafood combination: scallops, shrimp, and flounder, with a baked potato and green beans. I had the baked crab cakes. How was it? Yum!
And, of course, no trip to Cape May is complete without breakfast from Uncle Bill’s Pancake House!
Since we were getting takeout, I stole some placemats so we could feel like we were eating in the restaurant. I had the pecan pancakes, and my wife had the gluten-free pecan pancakes. Some may ask if I ever get tired of having the same thing for breakfast in Cape May. My response? Nope!
After a lazy Sunday morning, it was time to pack up and head home. The Accord was a champ during the drive, comfortably handling the two hour drive to and from the beach. 166,000 miles is right around the corner – stay tuned for our next adventure!
Two trips, two very different destinations, but linked together by some amazing photographic opportunities. From the arctic chill of Wisconsin to the brisk and sunny shores of Cape May, the birds of winter put on a show for my camera.
I hope you have a great start to the new year. Be safe, take care, and as always, thank you for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead.
‘Til next time.