Dave has been on his winter break from college for the past month, and tomorrow he starts a new semester. I was off from work today, so we wanted to go on a birding trip before all the chaos begins again.
Most days I past Willingboro Lakes Park while driving. It’s part of the Burlington County Park System, and I’ve been wanting to check it out for awhile. We decided today would be the perfect day to go on an adventure and see what it was like.
I’m convinced that it’s a hidden gem. On the side of a major highway, it doesn’t look like much from the outside. Once you step behind the gate though, there’s a lot to see. Willingboro Lakes was formerly called Olympia Lake, a popular weekend/vacation hotspot in the 50s and 60s. I’m not too sure of all the history, but these days its run by the park system and is a popular fishing spot.
The entrance takes you down a small hill to the main lake. Today it was partially frozen. On the ice was a medium-sized flock of Ring-billed Gulls and in the distance swam a flock of Ring-necked Ducks. Ring-necked Ducks look similar to Scaups, but have a distinctly patterned bill that the scaups lack.
The trail leads to a lake that’s closer to the highway. Here we saw a Mute Swan, Canada Geese, Mallards, Hooded Mergansers, and more Ring-necked Ducks. The Canada Geese were spread out throughout the water, and the ducks mixed in while swimming along with their own species. We watched the waterfowl for awhile before moving further along the trail. (Everything was pretty far away so this picture isn’t super clear, but you can see some Hooded Mergansers and Ring-necked Ducks mixed in the middle)
A wooded area of pines and other trees run along the sides of the lake to another smaller lake. Here we started to spot smaller birds, including White-breasted Nuthatches, Carolina Chickadees, Robins, Dark-eyed Juncos, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and Song Sparrows.
A tiny bird flew to a tree that was in front of us. I though maybe it was a chickadee. The moment I looked through the binoculars I had a wonderful surprise: a Golden-crowned Kinglet! We’ve seen Ruby-crowned before, but not a Golden-crowned. Golden-crowns look similar to the Ruby, but males have an orange crest and females have a yellow crest. We were watching a female.
What a little acrobat she was! She zipped through the trees so quick it was hard to keep track of her (or get good pictures for that matter! It thought Dave did pretty well for how fast she was). She was pecking at the base of the pine needs to get food, every once in awhile hovering in one spot. We even captured some photos of her completely upside down hanging from a branch! Golden-crowned Kinglets are not much bigger than hummingbirds, but don’t let the size fool you; they are really hardy little birds. Goldens winter in areas where the temperatures can fall below -40 degrees at night! This little kinglet was fascinating to watch.
Once we made it to the end of the trail we turned around to explore the other side of the park. The left side of the trail takes you through a more heavily wooded area and wraps around the lake. On this side we spotted a pair of Carolina Wrens, American Robins, Blue Jays, Tufted Titmice, and a Yellow-rumped Warbler.
At one point we were behind some sort of business that had a lot of large trucks. Above the building were a flock of about 17 crows and a flock of Ring-billed Gulls. They seemed to be causing quite a ruckus; yelling out alarm calls. We thought maybe it had to do with all the noise from the business, but didn’t see anything unusual. Later we found the culprit:
A Cooper’s Hawk. It was sitting high up on a tree that had bare branches. I’m not sure that a Cooper’s Hawk would have gone after a gull or crow, but they blew his cover anyway. The hawk didn’t seem to happy to be spotted, but observed the scene from its perch anyway.
We also found a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk on the way back to the entrance. As it flew off to our right it let out its high pitched keeeer scream. (Ever see a bald eagle in a show or movie let out a screech? That’s a Red-tailed Hawk sound you’re hearing. I have no clue why, but for some reason the media portrays Bald Eagles making the wrong sound. Makes no sense, right??). A few seconds later we heard another keeeer scream from our left. Another hawk? Nope, a Blue Jay. Blue Jays have been known to imitate Red-tailed Hawks. By the way, if you’re not sure what a Red-tailed Hawk scream sounds like, I highly suggest you look it up, it’s one of my favorite bird sounds :-).
It was exciting to take an adventure to a park we never went to before. Willingboro Lakes is a really cool place; you can still see some parts of the abandoned structures from it’s heyday throughout the park, but it’s mainly been taken back by nature. It was a peaceful place to walk and we saw a great variety of species. Dave and I definitely plan on returning for another trip.