We spent a lovely morning at the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. The high for today is about 16 degrees here in Southern New Jersey, so lucky for us, Forsythe has an 8 mile wildlife drive. It’s one of New Jersey’s 5 wildlife refuges and comprised mainly of wetlands. Other habitats include swamps, forests, and fields.
It’s a bit of a drive, but I make my way to Forsythe at least 5 or 6 times a year. I try to go at least once a season to see the resident birds as well as visitors during migration. The experience is always different, and always worth the drive. I’ve added over 50 birds to my life list from visiting the refuge. Today was the first time I’ve been there where it was almost completely frozen over, except for a few areas where we saw a majority of our birds.
Day 3 official count (17 species, 679 individual birds):
- 3 Snow Geese
- 469 Canada Geese
- 79 Tundra Swans
- 28 American Black Ducks
- 19 Mallards
- 1 Bufflehead (male)
- 3 Great Blue Heron
- 1 Bald Eagle (juvenile)
- 10 Ring-billed Gulls
- 4 Herring Gulls
- 3 American Crows
- 1 Hermit Thrush
- 54 American Robins
- 1 Brown Thrasher
- 2 Cardinals (male and female pair)
- 1 Red-winged Blackbird
We first saw a group of about 250 Canada geese. This was the first area of moving water we encountered. There were some American Black Ducks in the distance. American Black Ducks are very similar to female Mallards, but Black ducks are more of a chocolate brown color with yellow-olive bills instead of orange-black bills. On the other side we saw a single male Bufflehead frequently diving in the water. A juvenile bald eagle soared overhead.
As we continued along we thought we were seeing some sort of loon, because the bird was swimming lower in the water. It turned out to be a male Common Merganser. He had a white body, red bill, and a dark green head. He was busy swimming around with some herring gulls. We got a video of him swimming and cleaning off his feathers. We’ve seen Hooded Mergansers multiple time, but this was our first Common, making him a “life bird” for us.
Then a lone Snow Goose appeared randomly. Maybe they were looking for their friends?
Towards the end of the wetlands section we saw 2 large groups in the distance. One looked to be American Black Ducks or Canada geese. The other had white birds with some darker ones, so we assumed they were Snow Geese with some blue morphs. As we got closer we learned the first group were Canada Geese, about another 200-something individuals. There was another singular Snow Goose relaxing on the grass.
We pulled up to the flock of Snow Geese we saw in the distance…except they weren’t Snow Geese. They were Tundra Swans! There were 79 of them, and the assumed “blue morphs” were Canada Geese and Mallards mixed in. Remember on Waterfowl Wednesday I said that waterfowl were ducks, geese, and swans? Well this was the very definition of the word “waterfowl” because they were all represented here. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve never seen so many swans in one place. They were pretty far away, so this was the best picture we could get with our camera that was not made for birding. You can see some swans sticking their long necks straight up. They also got pretty loud at one point. It was certainly a pleasant surprise.
Once you drive through the wetlands you enter the forest section. Here we saw some Robins, Crowns, a Hermit Thrush, and a Brown Thrasher. The Hermit Thrush was running around on the grass, while the Brown Thrasher hung out in a nearby bush. The Thrasher was our other “life bird” today.
Although it wasn’t as busy with birds as it is other times of the year, it was very peaceful driving around seeing the frozen landscape. As usually we had a great time at the Refuge. Day 3 was a success.