Sunday, February 08, 2009

Brigantine and Villas

Yesterday was the first day of a South Jersey weekend. The trip was originally supposed to involve a few more people who could not make it. So it ended up just being my mother and I taking a tour of South Jersey birding spots.

We began around mid-morning at Brigantine, the main attraction in Forsythe NWR. A trail near the entrance turned up a few songbirds. There was a nice flock of sparrows along the entrance drive, including a brilliant Eastern Towhee. Where the drive crosses a lake, an immature Bald Eagle flushed a flock of Mallards and a pair of Hooded Mergansers.

At the first observation tower (on Gull Pond Road), we could see several large flocks of Canada Geese, numbering in the thousands. In the distance were also a few dozen swans, which turned out to be Tundra Swans when we got closer to them later in the day. Several small flocks of waterfowl included more Mallards, Hooded Mergansers, and Northern Pintails. Those three species, along with Black Ducks, would be the dominant waterfowl species along Wildlife Drive. Just before we moved on, a Peregrine Falcon shot past the tower in pursuit of some pintails. Unfortunately for the falcon (but fortunately for the ducks), it missed.

Wildlife Drive winds around the refuge for about eight miles or so. Today we saw pretty much the same species all the way around. The main exception is that there were some collections of American Wigeon, Bufflehead, and Brant along the section of the drive closest to the bay. A few hundred Dunlin were scattered in several flocks, mostly at the outer part of the drive. I tried to find other shorebird species among them, but I was unsuccessful. Near the end of wildlife drive, once we got back into the meadow and forest parts of the refuge, there were a few trails that looked like they had some potential for early morning birding. Today the birds were mostly common species, but we got some good looks at Hermit Thrushes.

After returning back to the entrance, we started down to Cape May. My main interest on the peninsula this weekend is Villas WMA, site of a series of intriguing sightings in the past few weeks. Most of the rarities were uncooperative. I did my best to pick out a hen Eurasian Wigeon among the dozens of American Wigeons, but I am still not sure if I actually saw one. (A drake would be so much more convenient!) White-winged Crossbills were nowhere to be found, though apparently they were present earlier in the day, and the (resident?) Red-headed Woodpecker was trying not to be seen (and succeeding). We did get some very good looks at waterfowl, including a brace of beautiful drake Redheads, a Canvasback, a Ruddy Duck, and several dozen Ring-necked Ducks. There was also a small flock of Chipping Sparrows between the parking lot and the lake. Best of all, we encounter six of my species of interest, Rusty Blackbird.

Villas is an interesting location, a former golf course being restored to a natural state. As a result, the habitat is quite varied, and the WMA supports diverse breeding and wintering bird populations. It is also seems to get less attention from birders than other spots around the Cape, so if you are looking for a good quiet birding spot on the peninsula, this seems to be the place to be.