At 8:30 Saturday morning, some 40 camera- and binocular-carrying bird-watchers climbed aboard Capt. Dan Schade’s boat The Mariner for a three-hour tour. Ridingalong the mainland shoreline, Abel pointed out a small beach where gulls weredining on horseshoe crab eggs. Further down the Jersey Shore, the eggs providecritical sustenance to red knots as well, small birds that travel the AtlanticFlyway from Canada to the Caribbean each year and rely on their stop at theJersey Shore for necessary fuel. Accordingto a 2016 survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, some 46 millionAmericans identify themselves as bird-watchers. Havingan annual spring birding cruise was the brainchild of NMHA president Rik vanHemmen, noted Chuck Abel, an NMHA and NJ Audubon member who served as narratorfor this year’s cruise. Amongthe feathered creatures who live in or visit the area are oyster catchers,loons, cormorants, herons, osprey, piping plovers, vultures and red-tailedhawks, among many others. Further up the Shrewsbury the boat passed a group of pound nets – called that, Abel explained, because fishermen pound wood poles into the sea floor to string their nets across. An array of sea gulls was perched on the poles, enjoying the bay equivalent of a fast food drive-through for feathered creatures. Originallyset for April 27, the event was rescheduled to May 11 due to bad weather. It’salso a fundraiser for NMHA, a nonprofit founded in 1999 with the mission ofhelping kids and adults “discover and sustain” the heritage and environment ofthe Navesink. Fortunately,the new date was right out of central casting, a breezy, blue-sky morning perfectfor an adventure on the water. On the shore, cruisers could see an osprey in its nest. Ospreys, which mate for life, were once on the endangered list because of the toxic impact of DDT, but the species has come back strongly since use of the pesticide was curtailed. “They’re one of the birding success stories,” Abel said. Outin the bay, the boat cruised by a group of clammers raking the sea floor fromtheir small watercraft. Asthe boat meandered along the shore, around the tip of Sandy Hook and back downthe river toward the Navesink portion of the Shrewsbury, Abel pointed out thevarious species diving for seafood or nibbling their way along the water’sedge. That’s one of the reasons why members of the Navesink Maritime Heritage Association and their counterparts in the New Jersey Audubon Society host a once-a-year bird-watching cruise on the river. Oncethere were more than 500 clammers working the bay, Abel said. Now, like anendangered species, only about 50 people earn their living this way. By Eileen Moon Asbirders breakfasted on bagels, coffee and juice, NMHA’s Abel manned themicrophone, providing an overview of the Two River area’s winged visitors forbirders to look for. Someon the cruise were seasoned birders able to identify the winged creaturesflying high above the boat with their naked eyes. Others were drawn to theprospect of a day out on the river and the opportunity to get a bird’s-eye viewof the rivers. Withthe skyline of Manhattan in the foreground, the boat rounded the tip of SandyHook, where surf-casters on the shoreline tried their luck in the waves. Whenpeople are around, birds tend to scatter and the clear weather had brought alot of beachcombers to Sandy Hook. “We’rea local nonprofit,” said board member Michael Humphreys. “We focus on history,we focus on the environment of local waters. We’re trying to build up educationand awareness of our beautiful local waters.” Asthe boat rounded the turn into the Navesink portion of the Shrewsbury River,remote spots of movement along a sandbar materialized into a spectacular sight– a string of five bald eagles along the rich mudflats of the river to the eastof Barley Point and, further up, one soaring in the sky. Whilemany of us confine our bird-watching to backyards and duck ponds, it isn’tnecessary to venture too far from home to see an amazing assortment ofwildlife. ATLANTICHIGHLANDS – With the pace of life in the Two River area, it can be all tooeasy to forget that we live in one of the most beautiful places in New Jersey.And almost as easy to forget that we’re not the only living creatures who callit home. About 40 bird-watchers paid $40 each to take a three-hour tour on The Mariner, with nar- ration by Navesink Maritime Heritage Association member Chuck Abel. The event was a fundraiser for the association. Photo by Eileen Moon “Everybody got lucky,” Abel said. This article was first published in the May 16-22, 2019 print edition of The Two River Times.