Coastal Explorations.

Along the coastal regions of New Jersey, the marshes, estuaries, and meadows that line the shore provide an invaluable resource for the state. These areas are the first line of defense against severe weather storms, acting as a buffer for the New Jersey shoreline and protecting against erosion. These places are also home to many creatures great and small, including most of the state’s fish and shellfish (via nj.gov). As a lifelong New Jersey resident, the wetlands are places to pass by as I head to my beach destinations. Through the car’s windows, I appreciate the pretty meadows, (especially toward sunset), and often it is easy to spot an egret or a heron hunting among the still waters. I confess, however, to not knowing much about them, beyond something to look at on my drives to Sea Isle City, Cape May, Wildwood, and other beach towns.

My wife and I had planned a quiet weekend at the shore, and originally I intended to take a week off from writing this blog. However, my wife discovered an institute in Stone Harbor that specializes in preserving the coastal wetlands of New Jersey. There is a museum, an aquarium, and a unique boardwalk trail through the marshes – it sounded like a great place to visit, learn more about this unique ecosystem, and share with our readers!

Let’s begin:

The Wetlands Institute

Map of southern peninsula of New Jersey, with red pin in location of The Wetlands Institute.
Located in Stone Harbor, about twenty minutes north of Cape May, is The Wetlands Institute. Established in the late 1960s, the institute seeks to inform the public about this unique coastal environment, while also working to preserve these critical zones (via The Wetlands Institute).
Exterior of Bleu Bear Bakery in Haddonfield, NJ.
On the way to the shore, we made a slight detour to Haddonfield, to stop once again at Bleu Bear Bakery. Bleu Bear specializes in gluten free baked goods, and is always worth a return visit.
Gluten-free cupcakes under glass case.
A little better than snacks we could find at a convenience store! We picked up a gluten-free soft pretzel to enjoy during our drive, and a cupcake for dessert… more on that later!
Atlantic City Expressway, nearly devoid of cars.
A sure sign it is still the off-season for the Jersey shore – during summertime, you won’t see the Atlantic City Expressway this devoid of traffic on a Saturday afternoon!
Exterior of The Wetland Institute.
We arrived at the institute after two hours of driving. While the clear skies and warm temperatures made for a beautiful day, what we both noticed as we emerged from the car was the smell – the scent of the coast. The briny, salty odor that fills your nostrils – I wish I could bottle it and take it with me wherever I go.
Egret extending wings in meadow.
Not even ten paces from my car, I spotted this egret spreading its wings among the marshes. Clearly, we had come to the perfect spot for my camera and me! (Author’s note: I received some questions and comments regarding the lack of bird photos in my last post – don’t worry. This one has you covered…)
Metal boardwalk through marshland.
We started our tour by checking in at the gift shop in the visitors center. Although the grounds of the institute are free to visit, a small aquarium and museum has a nominal entrance fee. Figuring we’d check it all out, we paid our fee and started our visit by walking through the Salt Marsh Trail, an elevated walkway that allows you to explore the marshland while not damaging the delicate ecosystem in the waters below.
View of marshland, with city of Stone Harbor in distance,.
One enormous benefit of the salt marshes to humans? They act as a natural buffer, protecting inland areas from rising seas and storm surges.
Ribbed mussels sticking out of muddy marsh.
Numerous forms of wildlife call this area home, including these ribbed mussels, which act as natural filters, cleaning the waters of toxins and bacteria.
Osprey, perched on nest.
It’s the ospreys, though, that we saw in the greatest abundance. Their nests dotted the landscape. Check out the webcams peering down at the nest – this one can be viewed on the institute’s website.
Osprey carrying fish in its talons.
Osprey hunt for food in the tidal waters of the wetlands. This one is bringing lunch back to its nest!
Osprey carrying reed in its talons in the air.
We saw this osprey repeatedly flying between its nest and the marshland, as it searched for building materials. The Wetlands are like the Home Depot for osprey home improvement supplies.
Osprey swooping toward vulture.
A vulture approached an osprey’s nest and was promptly driven off.
Osprey in flight with wings outstretched.
For most of the time outside, though, I simply enjoyed the opportunity to photograph these magnificent birds of prey as they swooped and dove overhead.
Osprey, with wings spread, in flight.
I swear this one was looking at me, wondering if I was an appropriate meal.
Osprey, with wings outstretched, in flight.
…it is still trying to decide if I’ll make a good lunch.
Osprey in flight, with trees in background.
I loved the contrast of the osprey with the trees in the background.
Row of ducks in flight.
Less awe-inspiring than the ospreys, but I did like how these ducks were all flying in formation, close to the water.
Interior of museum and aquarium.
We stopped by the small but informative aquarium to learn more about the wildlife of the wetlands.
Striped burrfish swimming in tank.
Although they can be found throughout the northern Atlantic Ocean, the striped burrfish spawns off the coast of New Jersey (via Wikipedia).
Spider crab in tank.
A face only a mother could love… this spider crab crab was pretty cool to see up close.
Turtle swimming in aquarium tank.
A section of the aquarium is dedicated to the diamondback terrapin, a species of turtle that makes its home in coastal marshes from Cape Cod to Florida. Whereas once these turtles were plentiful, their numbers have dwindled due to hunting (they were popular as a food source in the early 20th century), they can be harmed by propellers of passing ships, and the turtles frequently die when accidentally entering crab traps. Conservation of these turtles is a major focus of the Wetlands Institute.
Two turtles swimming in aquarium.
When I visited, two terrapins were swimming in their tank – I had a blast photographing them playing together.
2012 Honda Accord parked in front of tidal marsh.
We greatly enjoyed our time at the Wetlands Institute, and highly recommend it as a fun stopover for anyone looking for an interactive learning experience about the shore. Two thumbs up!
Historical marker on dune near beach.
Before leaving Stone Harbor, we crossed the island to enjoy a few minutes on the beach. On the dunes we saw this historical marker – the first airmail flight in New Jersey took off in Ocean City, twenty miles to the north, and landed on this beach in Stone Harbor in 1912. The flight was conducted to test if airplanes could be an effective way to deliver mail. In 1918, the United States Post Office began a regular airmail service between New York and Washington D.C. Fascinating!

The Food.

Exterior of Lucky Bones restaurant.
What blog post is complete without some food photos? Our dinner destination was Lucky Bones Backwater Grille, a restaurant and bar on the waterways that lead to Cape May Harbor.
Plate with shrimp and crab cakes, string beans, and polenta.
My wife ordered the gluten-free crab and shrimp cakes, with sides of string beans and polenta. Lucky Bones’ pizza is also excellent, and I ordered the “Sofia” – a pizza with shrimp, mozzarella, roasted garlic cloves, and garlic oil, on a wafer-thin crust. A huge bonus – most items at Lucky Bones can be prepared gluten free. How was dinner? Yum! Yum! Yum!
Cupcake with chocolate icing and easter bunny candy on top.
Bleu Bear provided dessert – a gluten free vanilla cupcake with chocolate creme icing. It was the perfect ending to the meal.
Uncle Bill's Pancake House.
By this point, I’m certain my readers can guess where we ordered breakfast…
Plate with pancakes and bacon, with a glass of orange juice and a side of banana.
Takeout from Uncle Bill’s Pancake House! I had the pecan pancakes with bacon, while my wife enjoyed the gluten-free pancakes with sausage. So good!

The Sunsets

Sunset with red sky, over ocean.
And of course, no trip to Cape May is complete without some sunset photos.
Setting sun over beach, with light reflected in water.
The colors were truly spectacular.
Twilight along the beach.
Sunsets at the Jersey shore are a spectator event, and beaches quickly fill with people to watch the sun go down. As soon as it vanishes, most of them turn to leave… they don’t know what they’re missing. Twilight is even more spectacular.

The Easter… Elephant?

Lucy the Elephant, with a 2012 Honda Accord coupe parked in front of it.
On the way home, we wanted to break up the drive with a quick stop, and realized we were near the original American tourist stop… Lucy the Elephant! Built in 1881, this 6-story tall pachyderm has been a Jersey Shore landmark for almost a century and a half.
Frontal view of Lucy the Elephant.
Lucy is the twelfth-tallest statute in the United States. At one point the tallest, she was surpassed in 1886 by another you may have heard about… the Statue of Liberty (via Wikipedia). After hanging out with Lucy and stretching our legs, it was time to get back in the car and head home.
Car odometer reading 169568 TRIP A 24.3
And home! The Accord was flawless once again. Another significant milestone is approaching. Onward! 

Updates

For this week’s updates section, there are no stories of automotive maintenance and repairs, no tales from the internet to share. Instead, I wanted to pass along a few photos I took the previous weekend during a trip to visit family in southern New Jersey.

Red-tailed hawk in flight.
While sitting on the patio of a relative’s house, we spotted this red-tailed hawk swooping overhead. I rushed to my car to grab my camera, affixed my zoom lens, and started snapping away.
Red-tailed hawk in flight.
Although it was only overhead for mere seconds, I managed to get several shots before it disappeared behind the treeline.
Red-tailed hawk in flight.
Such a magnificent creature… I was happy with how the photos came out!
Daffodils in garden.
After a long and cold winter, spring has finally arrived on the East Coast. Here’s to warmer months, and lots of open road adventures!

Wrapping Up

If you are visiting southern New Jersey and have an interest in nature and the environment, I would strongly recommend the Wetlands Institute. The aquarium has lots of fun, interactive exhibits for children, while also providing thorough information for those looking to dive deeply into the story of the coastal areas of the state. The Institute is open during the fall and winter on Saturdays and Sundays from 9:30 am – 4:30 pm. While the grounds are free to wander, admission to the aquarium and terrapin (turtle) exhibit costs $8 for people ages 13 and older and $6 for children ages 6-12.

Thank you for coming along on another beach journey along the open road ahead.

‘Til next time.

11 thoughts on “Coastal Explorations.

  1. Thanks for bringing back the bird shots! I loved the egret spreading her wings and the osprey flying by the trees. Very cool shot! I also enjoyed learning about the marine life. Lastly, I will never tire of seeing the delicious gluten free treats you and your wife pick up as well as the gorgeous Cape May sunsets!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome – it seems like bird photos are starting to outnumber car photos on this blog! Glad you enjoyed the post, and yes, I’ll keep posting more gluten free goodness! Thanks for reading.

      Like

  2. The birds are back! The Osprey made for some beautiful pictures. Really pretty colors.

    So much for taking time off…but good to see about more adventures.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, I know what my audience wants, and I give it to them. They want more birds, they get more birds!! 😉

      Glad you enjoyed the photos – the osprey was a magnificent subject, but a bit trickier to catch. The ones I was photographing tended to fly like they were an F/A-18E evading enemy fire… the only thing missing were the flares.

      Thanks for reading!

      Like

  3. Thanks for visiting us and posting about your experience. I’m thrilled that you enjoyed yourself here, and had a chance to take in the Osprey spectacle. My spark bird is the Red-tailed Hawk, so I especially enjoyed those pics. Migration is heating up here, and should be going full-bore in a few weeks, so I welcome you to come back and take it in!

    Thanks again, and please reach out when you’re back in the area – I’d be happy to meet you!

    Devin Griffiths
    Marketing & Communications Specialist (and obsessed birder)
    The Wetlands Institute

    Liked by 1 person

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