Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Field Trip: Tuckerton Seaport

This is the first in an occasional series of posts about NJ's bird history. These "Field Trip" posts will involve actual gadding about in the Garden State, as opposed to merely sticking one's nose in a bird book.

Tuckerton Seaport may not be the greatest vagrant trap in the state, but there's plenty on hand to interest the historically-minded birder. Tuckerton Seaport is a project of the Barnegat Bay Decoy and Baymen's Museum. Recreated buildings such as a lighthouse, boat-builder's shop and hunting lodges (among others), line the waterway. Exhibits inside each building give information on the history of different industries and crafts on the Atlantic bayshore of NJ. There are also docents and crafters demonstrating pursuits such as decoy-carving and boat-building.

The Barnegat Bay area is the home of the sneakbox, a unique craft intended for waterfowling. The boat's shallow draft makes for a stable craft that is at home navigating bayside marshes, even in shallow water. Its low profile (combined with camouflaging techniques, such as tying bunches of marsh grass onto the boat's deck) makes it easier for hunters to sneak up on their quarry. It can be rowed or sailed; it can also take an outboard motor on the stern.

One building of interest is the recreation of the Hester Sedge Gun Club, which is intended to show a typical hunting "shack" from the 1940s. Among other fixtures, it has a "punt" or market gun hanging on the wall. Punts were outlawed with the passage of the National Migratory Bird Act in 1918, but they were the favored weaponry of market gunners before then.

Like it or not, much of the avian history chronicled at Tuckerton Seaport involves hunting. Even decoys, often considered innocuous decorative items, were originally intended to be tools used to hunt birds more effectively. In addition to decoy carvers demonstrating their skills at the Seaport, a collection of decoys is housed in a recreation of the Marshelder Gun Club. One of the decoys on display is this Cinnamon Teal carved by John Updike (not the novelist) of Green Bank. Since Cinnamon Teal is a Review List species in NJ, I found myself pondering a records committee circulation that included a decoy among the documentation. But I digress.

Tuckerton Seaport is open daily to the end of October, then on weekends until 18 December. The spring season starts in May. In addition to its exhibits, the Seaport offers classes in decoy-carving and other crafts.

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