Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Walking Forsythe

The snowy owl was a big attraction, don't get me wrong.  But, Forsythe is always a pleasure. I have birded it in every season and in nearly every type of weather, and it never fails to knock one's socks off.

Most would agree that it's the second best birding spot in New Jersey, which isn't bad considering Cape May is one of the best in the nation.  Forsythe is almost never crowded, but there's always a steady trickle of vehicles on the wildlife drive.  Cars speed the process of moving around the 8-mile drive, and keep the warm-weather bugs and cold-weather cold out.

On Friday, when I first heard that the drive was closed to vehicles for the weekend, I thought about cancelling our visit.  Then I realized it was an opportunity. 

And, our time there proved me right.  Walking was fantastic, despite meaning that we covered less than a quarter of what we normally would.  

Birdsong gets drowned out by engines.  Even moving at 15 mph means some birds are inevitably missed, details lost.  For example, this member of a trio of ruddy ducks  were too close to the edge of the dike to be seen while sitting down.    

Walking it this weekend increased my love for the place by leaps and bounds.  With the cars gone, it truly shined.  I could hear brant calling from the far side of the impoundments, snow geese from all over.  

Smaller birds didn't get lost in the mix.  Dunlin were squeaking by in small flocks.  They are in their drab winter plumage, but their slightly dropping bill makes them relatively easy to identify (of course, they are plunging this feature in the mud for this picture, and you can't see the curvature). 

Sparrows were foraging and quite tolerant of our presence.  Between the two days, I found white-throated, savannah, swamp, and song sparrows along the drive.  One swamp sparrow gave us quite the show at the entrance to the Leeds Eco-trail.  

Savannahs were all over the drive, flushing forward with every few steps we took.

I don't necessarily prefer to bird in extreme cold, and I'm fond of the comforts and convenience of a car as much as anyone else.  But I do find that it's getting out there in unusual times and conditions that provide the most wonderful experiences.  Right now I wouldn't trade my two hours on Saturday morning in bone-chilling temps for anything! 

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