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Longport Sod Banks

To reach this area from the Garden State Parkway, take Exit 30 (29 if heading north) and follow Route 52 east about one quarter mile from Route 9 to the Somers Point Circle. Go three quarters of the way around and follow a sign to Pleasantville onto Shore Road north. Go one mile to the first light, then turn right onto Maryland Avenue east. This road soon crosses the salt marsh toward Longport. Watch for Boat-tailed Grackles on billboards and pilings, and shorebirds in tidal pools, along the roadside. When you reach the Dunes Restaurant, a local landmark, make a sharp right turn toward Ocean City and go about one half mile to the bridge crossing the upper end of Great Egg Harbor Inlet.

Just before the bridge there is a spot on the right to park a few cars. Here scan the bay westward for waterfowl; cormorants (probably the Great Cormorant in winter) often rest on some pilings in the water, and sometimes in winter or early spring, eiders or Harlequin Ducks are found here. Drive back toward the Dunes Restaurant and scan a small pond on your right, where gulls, terns, skimmers, and shorebirds may be seen. Just after passing the restaurant again, park past a large billboard where a buggy trail passes through the dunes on the right to the beach and sod banks.

The sod banks are a tidal flat of sand, gravel, grass, and mussel beds. They are covered for several hours on either side of high tide, so plan your visit accordingly. They are worth visiting almost any time of year, although in June and July there may be as many people as birds. This locality has achieved fame in the last four years due to the annual May appearance of a Bar-tailed Godwit here. Several pairs of Piping Plover nest along the upper beach. In fall and spring, the area is especially attractive to Ruddy Turnstones, Red Knots, and Dunlin, as well as many other shorebirds; some of these usually winter if conditions are not too severe. Purple Sandpipers are found here by the dozen from November to May. An American Oystercatcher or two can often be located except in mid-winter. Offshore, look for loons, grebes, Brant, Oldsquaw, and other bay and sea ducks from November to April. A few white-winged gulls are often on the beach in winter.

In winter, it is often worth continuing east to the town of Longport, then south to the jetties at the mouth of the inlet. Here scoters, eiders, Harlequin Ducks, Purple Sandpipers, and alcids may be seen sometimes. However, parking is restricted here so plan to stay with your car.

--P. William Smith, Jr.

Reprinted from NJ Audubon magazine, Vol. 1, No. 4