On Sunday Dave and I visited Edwin B. Forsythe NWR. I make it a point to visit Forsythe at least once a season. I always see something interesting no matter what time of the year I visit, so I was looking forward to seeing what we would discover.
We usually hike a little bit of the Songbird Trail, but it was already getting hot so we went straight for the 8 mile Wildlife Drive. At the beginning of the drive there’s an observation platform that goes out into the marsh. There’s an Osprey nest there, so we like to check out the family in the summer. A few visits ago we observed a small flock of Glossy Ibis foraging there, so I was hoping to see Ibis again.
There were no Ibis but we did see a family of Ospreys (3 chicks on the nest), Barn Swallows, Red-winged Blackbirds, and a Yellow Warbler. Down below were hundreds of Fiddler Crabs! They were trying to get away though, because a turtle came parading through the mud. The little guy moved pretty quickly like he was on a mission. Although the Fiddler Crabs were scurrying away, he seemed to have no interest in them. He had places to go I guess. Then we heard a call.
‘Ttp Zhe Eeeeeee!”
The call came from within the tall grasses. I’ve heard this call before, but wasn’t sure who it was. As we scanned the marsh, suddenly a little brown bird popped up from the grass. Ttp Zhe Eeeeeee!
There it was! A Seaside Sparrow. Seaside Sparrows are drab, with a yellow spot over their eyes, and a large bill. They are usually heard and not seen, so I was shock when it popped out of nowhere. It was our first life bird of the day.
The tide was low, so the first part of our journey was all mudflats. As we continued there was more water, so that’s where all the action began. It was busy: a family of Mallards, Glossy Ibis (finally!), Great Blue Herons, Canada Gee, Laughing Gulls, and Double-crested Cormorants. As I was taking notes Dave asked, “Hey, are those birds over the the skimmer things you were talking about?”
Black Skimmers! A dream bird of mine. Every time I visit Long Beach Island during the summer I hope to see Black Skimmers, but never do. There were about 4 of them skimming along the water. Black Skimmers are unique because their lower mandibles are much longer than their upper one. They keep their bills open as they skim the water’s surface until they hit a fish. I was happy seeing them, but wasn’t prepared for what would happen next.
On the other side of the marsh something big was happening. There was a flurry of black and white in the distance. I thought it was a bunch of gulls and terns, but it was more exciting than that. It was a huge flock of Black Skimmers coming our way!
I’ve never experienced something quite like it. There had to be at least 200 of them.They were everywhere! And they were loud too, all calling out “Yip! Yip!’. The flock split; some went out towards the ocean, while the rest did a loop around the marsh before landing together in a mudflat. It was by far one of the most thrilling displays I experienced at Forsythe.
We continued on and saw another one of my favorite birds, Snowy Egrets. They were stalking around looking for fish while Herring Gulls and Common Terns flew and dove overhead. There were also Great Egrets, Grackles, Red-winged Blackbird, Willets, Lesser Yellowlegs, Tree Swallows, Crows,more Osprey families, and a family of Mute Swans with 2 cygnets.
Toward the end of the trail there were some terns hanging around. I’ll admit, terns are new identification territory for me. I was able to figure out that I was seeing some Common Terns, but there was another kind as well. They had black heads, all black bills, and black legs. Turns out they were Gull-billed Terns. They are usually uncommon, but a birder from a Facebook group I’m in told me that they have been starting to breed at Forsythe. It was our final life bird of the day.
I learned later in the day that Dave and I saw a something rare during our trip. There were 3 Ruddy Ducks hanging out not far from the Gull-billed Terns. I was a little surprised to see them, but we took a few pictures and moved on. In the evening I received my daily E-bird NJ Rare Bird Alert E-mail and the 3 Ruddy Ducks were on there. They should have left for the season, but for some reason these ones stuck around. This was the first time I saw one of the birds on the Rare Bird List in person. I submitted my checklist that night and the following day my Ruddy Duck report and comments were on the e-mail. I know that’s such a bird nerd thing, but I was excited about it! 😛
As usual, Forsythe NWR never fails to please. If you’re ever at the Jersey Shore and want to go birding you should definitely spend a day at Forsythe. Have you done any shore birding lately? If you have, what kind of shorebirds are you seeing?