Monday, July 18, 2011

Whittingham WMA

After wandering around Muckshaw Ponds Preserve in the morning, I spent Saturday afternoon at Whittingham WMA, which is conveniently located across the road from Muckshaw Ponds. (In fact, one of the WMA parking lots serves as parking for Muckshaw ponds.) Whittingham WMA is a 1,930-acre refuge that shares much of the same geology as its neighbor. Low limestone ridges alternate with depressions that hold wet areas. However, the public areas at the two sites have different characters. While the trails at Muckshaw Ponds pass through dense forests, Whittingham WMA is more open, with several large meadows in addition to the wooded ridges. In addition, the WMA includes a spring that serves as the principal source for the Pequest River and fills a series of ponds that are partially visible from the trails.

The bird species I encountered were much the same as in the morning. I did not see or hear a Hooded Warbler, but I did find a few new birds for the day. It was nice to see a Scarlet Tanager and hear a Prairie Warbler near the entrance. I found a handful of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers at the edge of a clearing in the woods. One pond had a female Gadwall in addition to the Wood Ducks and Mallards. Finally, I heard an Acadian Flycatcher calling; I have not heard many of them since moving back to this state.

There were a lot of dragonflies active in the refuge's meadows and clearings. The most numerous were ones like the meadowhawk above. From what I have read, this falls into a species complex that is not field-identifiable in New Jersey. The complex includes Ruby Meadowhawk, White-faced Meadowhawk, and "Eastern" Cherry-faced Meadowhawk, all of which have overlapping characteristics. Whatever these were, they were all over the place.

As you can see, I got myself an insect net and started netting dragonflies this weekend. The very first dragonfly I netted was this Great Blue Skimmer, which I think is an immature male. (You can see it perched here.) Catching them turned out to be easier than I expected, at least for the perched dragonflies I practiced on. All were released unharmed. The Great Blue Skimmers at Muckshaw Ponds and Whittingham were probably my odonate highlight for the day. While widespread in New Jersey, they are easy to miss among the other blue-colored dragonflies.

I saw relatively few Eastern Pondhawks, but I did catch up with this lovely female.