Monday, December 6, 2010


Why is it that as excellent as Southern New Jersey is for birds, waterfowl (ducks and their cousins, geese and swans) only come down to visit in numbers and variety during the time of the year when it really isn't at all pleasant outside for man nor even, often, beast?

The weather was at least not forecast to rain (or sleet or snow) upon us for a somewhat hastily arranged trip to Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge on Sunday. The sun even kept peeking in and out of the predictions as the scheduled date approached. As for the wind... Eh, well, it's December in the Mid-Atlantic, so they call 20-25mph sustained winds merely "breezy" when anyone other than a meteorologist would call it a gale... Welcome to our world: weather not mild enough to not be winter, but not cold enough (cold would be better than the damp we get) to be an enjoyable outside-activity season. (I happen to like snow. If we have to have Winter, at least make it beautiful!)

When I heard the gusts hit the house before it was light outside, I certainly was thinking "Oh, what have I done?" But the day dawned sunny (if windy), the sky was mostly clear (rather than only "partly sunny") and the early winter light was gorgeous (fair recompense for less-than-ideal temperatures and wind speeds). I swung around to pick up The Wandering Merlin (who really ought to update his blog ::hint hint::) and then proceeded to overshoot our exit to the refuge. (Okay, so you get spoiled living in Cape May which perhaps leads you to not getting out enough!)

Bald Eagle with Atlantic City in the background.
(The big dot upper left is an eagle, honest.)

After purchasing my Duck Stamp ($15 a year June to June gives you access to any and all National Wildlife Refuges--give up a couple of fast food meals or a week of fancy coffee and BUY ONE!!! It's one of the best and easiest ways to ensure habitat protection) we met up with Laura (Somewhere in NJ) and Jay (co-developer of the original birdJam software and other fun and educational apps). We piled into the Great White--she might be a far from environmentally friendly vehicle but she makes a very fine wildlife drive tour bus! (oh, the irony)--and headed out.

I've seen higher numbers and variety of birds at Forsythe (formerly known as "Brig") but what we lacked in quantity was more than made up for in quality. The sun shone out against a winter-blue sky accented by winter-white clouds and remained low enough all day to bathe everything in a wonderful, warm (visually, at any rate) glow all day. I let the others with the big guns (i.e.. large lenses) shoot what they could while I trucked us around. We never once had to step out of the vehicle.

Pintail duck, er, tails.

Highlights were pin-tailed ducks (almost too handsome to be real), and green-winged teal. Lots of pintails and green-winged teal. Snow buntings gave all of us an opportunity to say we really saw them (from the truck--no need to stand atop a wind-pummeled dune along the Atlantic in the depths of winter!) and a very unusual look at that. I'm hoping one of my passengers was able to get a good photo; it was an interesting situation...

A couple of families of tundra swans were nice to see--and hear! They have a lovely chortle. Conveniently and positively id'ed by Jay's birdJam, by the by... *lol*

Laura had put in a request at refuge headquarters for snow geese and by golly, she got snow geese! Larger flocks are common, especially later in the season, but there were enough birds to be impressive. We were even able to pull a few adult (and one lovely sooty gray young) Blue Geese (same species, different color form) out of the crowd.

The Wandering Merlin spotted one of the two bald eagles that by reports seem to be setting up shop at the refuge, but we completely scratched on peregrine falcon! Unheard of at Brig, especially since they've never really been without peregrines since the hacking program from decades ago...

All told, we had a rather nice species list, but as lovely as the birding was, the company was even better.

Thanks for making our Sunday Drive great! Where're we going next?