Double Day Trip

Sunday tends to be our normal birding day. This week we were having trouble deciding where we wanted to go. The options were: Palmyra Cove or Barnegat Light. Which park did we choose? We actually went to both!

We started our day at Palmyra Cove Nature Park. The weather was lovely. We had a bright blue summer sky punctuated by white puffy clouds. Our main goal for the trip was to explore the Cove Trail. On the way to the cove we listened to the song of an Indigo Bunting, saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker, watched some Carolina Chickadees chase each other, and got a rare glimpse of a Warbling Vireo (I say rare because they are usually always at the top of the tree, so I tend to hear them frequently instead of see them).

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Red-bellied Woodpecker (Image by BirdNation)

The Cove Trail runs along the Delaware River. Sometimes you can walk on the beach along the river, but it was around high tide so that wasn’t an option. We did see some Double-crested Cormorants, as well as a flock of at least 70 Canada Geese float by.

There’s a wooden platform that extends out into the marshland of the cove. We were pretty close to it when we almost ran right into a Black Rat Snake! It was having a sun-bathing section right in the middle of the trail.

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Black Rat Snake (Image by BirdNation)

There were a lot of birds around once we reached the platform. There were 2 Bald Eagles in a nest, 6 or 7 Great Blue Herons, Mallards, small flocks of Semipalmated Sandpipers, swallows, Eastern Phoebes, Red-winged Blackbirds, a Cedar Waxwing, Orchard Orioles, and juvenile Starlings to name a few. My favorite visitor though was an adorable Spotted Sandpiper. It landed on the platform railing and pumped his little tail. With all their teetering motions, no wonder why people have nicknames these little guys the “teeter-peep” or the “tip-tail”.

After Palmyra we made our way across the state to the Jersey Shore to go back to Long Beach Island. We went to Barnegat Light SP about a month ago, but wanted to spend some time at the ocean. We arrived at the park in the late afternoon. This time we saw 3 Piping Plovers running around the beach. I think one of them was a juvenile, because it lacked the black neck and forehead bands that the breeding adult Piping Plovers exhibit.

 

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Piping Plover (Image by BirdNation)

We also saw American Oystercatcher T2 and its family again. The 2 chicks are still in what is called their prejuvenal (first prebasic) molt. This means that they have some down on the tips of some of their feathers. They are in this stage from June-August and have their full juvenal plumage by week 6. They also still have a larger black tip on their orange bills than the adults do. I was happy to see the T2 family again. The 2 juveniles were banded. We weren’t able to read their bands from the distance we were at, but maybe if they return in the future we’ll get a better glimpse of them. The picture on the left is one of the chicks a month ago in June, and the picture on the right are what they look like now in July. They grow up so fast, don’t they?

Double birding days are certainly a special treat! 🙂

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Barnegat Light Beach (Image by BirdNation)

Day 4 GBBC 2017 and Total Count!

For the final day of GBBC 2017 I went with Maria, my sister Mary, and my mom to Smithville Park. Last year my mom, sister, and I went to Smithville for the count while the lake was frozen and it was snowing (you can read about our trip last year here). This year it was cool and breezy, but much warmer. Instead of just walking around the lake we took the longer trail into Smith’s Woods.

One of the first birds we spotted was this lovely female Northern Cardinal. We heard chipping coming from the trees and it took us a few minutes to find the source of the sound. She flew over and perched on a nearby tree to allow us to admire her. I think female cardinals are so beautiful.

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Female Cardinal (Image by BirdNation)

Last year Common Mergansers spent part of the winter on Smithville Lake. They are back again this winter. As usual, they were just out of good camera range for me, but they were fun to watch. They were actually sleeping for a bit (Common Mergansers float on the water while sleeping). I’m happy that they returned to Smithville again. They were also a life bird for Maria, making it her second life bird this weekend.

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Carolina Chickadee (Image by BirdNation)

Day 4 Official Count

  • 7 Canada Geese
  • 12 Common Mergansers
  • 4 Black Vultures
  • 7 Turkey Vultures
  • 2 Red-tailed Hawks
  • 1 Red-bellied Woodpecker (male)
  • 2 Downy Woodpeckers (male and female)
  • 1 Hairy Woodpecker (drumming)
  • 2 Blue Jays
  • 2 American Crows
  • 8 Carolina Chickadees
  • 5 Tufted Titmice
  • 1 White-breasted Nuthatch
  • 1 Carolina Wren
  • 3 Northern Cardinals (2 male, 1 female)

It was so fun birding 4 days in a row for the 2017 Great Backyard Bird Count. We won’t know the official results for a few days, but it was a record-setting year for us at BirdNation. These past 4 days Dave, Maria, Mary, my mom, and myself count 45 different species and over 5,000 individual birds! What a weekend!

 

Day 3 GBBC 2017: Edwin B. Forsythe NWR

Dave and I went to Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge for Day 3 of the GBBC. We also went last year when it was 16 degrees outside (you can read about that here). This year we couldn’t have asked for lovelier weather; it was sunny and 60 degrees. In September the wildlife drive at Forsythe closed for construction to repair leftover damage from Hurricane Sandy. The entire wildlife drive reopened only about a week ago, so we were excited to experience the trail again.

The first bird we counted was a female Northern Harrier. She was swooping around over the marsh. This bird was brown so we knew she was a female (males are gray). In the same field we spotted flocks of Herring Gulls and Snow Geese. We made our way down to the Gull Pond Tower before entering the drive. Last time we visited the refuge we were able to see an American Bittern at the Gull Pond. This time we spotted Turkey Vultures, Great Blue Herons, Gadwalls, Mallards, Ring-necked Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, and pair of Common Mergansers, an American Coot, a Mute Swan, and 4 Tundra Swans.

Snow Geese started flying in from all directions as we entered the wildlife drive. There were easily over 2000 of them, either flying or sitting on either side of the trail. We’ve seen large flocks of Snow Geese in past winters at the refuge, but this was probably the most we’ve experienced. Besides them were more Herring and Ring-billed Gulls. There were also Canada Geese, Mallards, Northern Shovelers, and Northern Pintails swimming nearby.

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Male Northern Shoveler (Image by David Horowitz)
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A Gull with a snack (Image by David Horowitz)

I’m not sure if you’ve ever experienced a large flock of Snow Geese before, but it’s loud.We were parked watching some Shovelers when suddenly the volume increased. All the Snow Geese decided to take flight, so the sound of flapping wings and honking became deafening.

Then The Frenzy started (remember the Frenzy last summer?). Not only were all the Snow Geese flying, but they were flying towards us. It’s hard to put into words what it’s like to see 2,000+ birds flying towards you, but saying it was amazing is an understatement. I wasn’t actually sure what to do in that moment, I snapped a few pictures but mainly just stood there in awe. A part of the flock flew directly over us while the rest landed in the field next to us. It was certainly one of the most exciting birding moments for me so far.

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Snow Goose Frenzy (Image by BirdNation)

(Sorry, it’s hard to get good pictures of large flying flocks. I did my best.)

After the Snow Goose Frenzy we found a large flock of Brants, an adult Bald Eagle, and gulls dropping clams on the trail from the air. A group of ducks swam in the distance. They weren’t just any duck though, they happened to be a new life list edition for us: Red-breasted Mergansers! There were about 22 of them and they were swimming in a tight group of males and females. They would all dive together then bob up to the surface. (They were slightly too far out to get a picture of, or I would have posted one for you guys). We have now seen all 3 North American mergansers, and happened to see all 3 in this one trip!

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Adult Bald Eagle (Image by David Horowitz)

Day 3 Official Count

  • Snow Goose (too many to count, easily over 2000)
  • 1000 Brant
  • 200 Canada Geese
  • 2 Mute Swans
  • 4 Tundra Swans
  • 2 Gadwall
  • 150 American Black Ducks
  • 50 Mallards
  • 35 Northern Shovelers
  • 60 Northern Pintails
  • 5 Ring-necked Ducks
  • 60 Bufflehead
  • 30 Hooded Mergansers
  • 2 Common Mergansers (male/female pair)
  • 22 Red-breasted Mergansers
  • 4 Great Blue Herons
  • 5 Turkey Vulture
  • 1 Northern Harrier (female)
  • 1 Bald Eagle (adult)
  • 1 American Coot
  • 30 Ring-billed Gulls
  • Herring Gulls (too many to count)
  • 8 American Crows
  • 1 Song Sparrow
  • 34 Red-winged Blackbirds

I was so happy with our trip today. We always see great things at Forsythe, but the Snow Geese experience was definitely a special moment. I wanted to give a quick shout out to my mom and sister, who went on their own bird count today! It was their first bird count on their own, so I’m excited for them. They went to Smithville Park. I will be going there again with them (and Maria!) to walk the entire loop. Tomorrow is the last GBBC day for this year, so if you haven’t participate yet you still have time! See you tomorrow!

Great Backyard Bird Count 2017 Day 2!

Over the past few years it’s been a tradition to go to Haddon Lake Park for the Great Backyard Bird Count. The tradition continued today, this time with my mom, sister Mary, and best friend/original bird teacher Maria.

It was certainly a different experience than the past few years. 2 years ago Dave and I went out in the snow to watch hundreds of Canada Geese land in the lake. Last year, my mom, sister, and I went there in 18 degree to watch the “waterfowl highway” from the car. (You can read about last year’s Day 2 of GBBC at this link.) This year was sunny and around 60 degrees, so we saw 16 more species than we did last year.

The Mallards and Canada Geese were relaxing by the water at the beginning of the loop. There were also a few Ring-billed Gulls. One seemed to be a 1st winter gull due to his pink bill, pale legs, and overall darker plumage, while the others were adults.

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Cute Mallard pair (Image by BirdNation)
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1st Winter Ring-billed Gull (Image by BirdNation)

Farther up the path it becomes more wooded. There were a variety of small birds in this area. We spotted Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, American Robins, a Dark-eyed Junco, and a large flock of 150+ European Starlings. Maria and Mary even had the chance to add a new bird to their life lists: a Brown Creeper. I’ve seen them before, but this was my first time finding one at Haddon Lake.

There was also an American Coot swimming around with some Canada Geese. Throughout the years of going to Haddon Lake we’ve seen Coots at random times, but there is always just one. It makes me wonder if it’s the same one or a different one each time. It was cute swimming around with birds that were much bigger.

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American Coot (Image by BirdNation)

Other birds we observed were a White-breasted Nuthatch, a Red-winged Blackbird (that Maria could pick out/hear in the middle of a group of noisy Starlings!), some Song Sparrows, American Crows, Turkey Vultures, and this (possibly) 2nd winter Ring-billed Gull.

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2nd Winter Ring-billed Gull (Image by BirdNation)

We ended our walk by running into The Squad (a.k.a a bunch of white domestic geese). Not a group I’d want to mess with hahaha. :-p

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The Squad (Image by BirdNation)

Day 2 Official Count

  • 100 Canada Geese
  • 104 Mallards
  • 2 Turkey Vultures
  • 1 American Coot
  • 5 Ring-billed Gulls (3 adults, 1 1st winter, 1 2nd winter)
  • 1 Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • 1 Downy Woodpecker
  • 2 Blue Jays
  • 2 American Crows
  • 6 Carolina Chickadees
  • 5 Tufted Titmouse
  • 1 White-breasted Nuthatch
  • 1 Brown Creeper
  • 1 Carolina Wren
  • 160 European Starlings
  • 1 Dark-eyed Junco
  • 2 Song Sparrows
  • 1 Northern Cardinal
  • 1 Red-winged Blackbird (male)

Overall, it was a great count. It was a lovely day and we had a total of 20 species. Tomorrow Dave and I are going down to Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge for Day 3, another GBBC tradition. Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!

Have you participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count yet? You still have 2 more days to participate! If you went on a bird count so far, what have you seen?

 

Great Backyard Bird Count 2017 Day 1!

The Great Backyard Bird Count has begun! I got out of work a little earlier today, so Dave and I went to Amico Island. It was about 40 degrees at the time, so 20 degrees warmer than Day 1 last year. We didn’t get too many pictures because of the sun was setting and washing everything out, but we did what we could.

Upon entering the park, we heard some Mourning Doves and the conk-la-ree! of male Red-winged Blackbirds. Male and female Red-winged Blackbirds migrate separately. The males arrive at the breeding grounds a few weeks before the females in order to establish a territory. They tend to start migrating mid-February and usually arrive up north by March, so the 5 males we saw got a head start. Guess the early bird gets the territory (sorry, I had to haha :-p).  

We walked the blue loop that goes through the forest along Dredge Harbor first. Along the way we spotted Carolina Wrens, a large flock of Ring-billed Gulls, a Double-crested Cormorant, Downy Woodpeckers, a Tufted Titmouse, American Robins, Song Sparrows, European Starlings, and a Golden-crowned Kinglet. I even heard my first Gray Catbird (my favorite) of the year, but didn’t actually see it.

Remember the Great Blue Heron rookery that we would watch last year? The herons were back and getting their nests established. We weren’t able to see the back end of the island, but from our view could spot at least 32 Great Blue Herons. They seemed to be pretty relaxed for the most part, either sitting on their nests or standing around.

Then the trouble started. A juvenile Bald Eagle appeared and flew towards the rookery island. The herons started yelling and flying away from their nests in a large group. But that wasn’t all! Once the juvenile landed in one of the trees, 2 adult Bald Eagles showed up. The herons continued to yell and circle the island, while the adult eagles made loud high-pitched whistles. One adult eagle landed near the juvenile, while the second adult sat down in a nest right below the other one. Once the Bald Eagles settled down, the Great Blue Herons returned to their nests. What a spectacle!

(Sorry that this is not the best quality picture. The rookery is just slightly too far out for our current lens, so this was the best we could get until we buy a new lens that zooms in farther. I chose to post it though because you can see all 3 Bald Eagles together)

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3 Bald Eagles at the heron rookery (Image by David Horowitz)

Then we realized something. Last year, we saw a Bald Eagle hanging out near some Great Blue Herons in that same tree (see image below). At that time, nobody seemed to phased and the 3 birds just sat there together. We began to wonder: does a pair of bald eagles nest in the heron rookery? After a little research I found that sometimes Bald Eagles will nest in the same tree as a Great Blue Heron colony, but it’s unclear why. The nest did look a little bigger, so it’s a possibly, especially since one of the eagles was sitting in it. Bald Eagles tend to return to the same nest site each year. We’ll just have to find out if these Bald Eagles nest here in the coming months.

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Great Blue Herons and a Bald Eagle 2016 (Image by BirdNation)

 

Other birds we saw were Common Mergansers, a large flock of Common Loons, Bufflehead, and Herring Gulls.

Here’s the official Day 1 count:

  • 12 Canada Geese
  • 2 Mallards (male and female pair)
  • 6 Bufflehead (4 male, 2 female)
  • 3 Common Mergansers (2 male 1 female)
  • 15 Common Loons
  • 1 Double-crested Cormorant
  • 32 Great Blue Heron
  • 3 Bald Eagles (1 juvenile, 2 adults)
  • 200 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 10 Herring Gulls
  • 10 Mourning Doves
  • 3 Downy Woodpeckers
  • 1 Carolina Chickadee
  • 1 Tufted Titmouse
  • 6 Carolina Wrens
  • 1 Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • 17 American Robins
  • 4 Song Sparrows
  • 1 Northern Cardinal (male)
  • 5 Red-winged Blackbirds

It was a great way to start off the Bird Count weekend, especially with 32 Great Blue Herons and 3 Bald Eagles! Tomorrow I’m off to Haddon Lake Park to continue my tradition of doing the bird count at that location (not in 18 degree weather this time). I’ll be going with my mom, sister, and my original bird teacher, Maria. See you tomorrow!

To read Day 1 of the 2016 bird count, click on this link.

Blog-iversary!

Hi friends!

I realized that today is the 1 year anniversary of when I started BirdNation! I can’t believe it’s been a whole year. BirdNation has been a smaller part of a larger journey I’ve been embarking on the last few years.

Over the past few years, birds have had an incredible impact on my life. Learning about birds has opened up a whole new world for me, and has brought peace, wonder, and a deeper appreciation for all nature into my life that I was severely lacking. Until I starting birding, I didn’t realize how much of life I was actually missing out on. There was a whole new world to explore, and not just for birds, but anything relating to nature.

And as the years have been passing by, I’ve been changing. Craving a simpler existence than the life I have now. I’m a public school music teacher, and don’t get me wrong, that’s by no means a terrible existence. Teaching can be wonderful, but every year the nature of public school education becomes harder to handle. And I can feel the stress chipping away at me physically, mentally, and spiritually, so birding has become one of the few parts of my life (besides my wonderful family, friends, and pets) to bring me peace .

All of this got me thinking: what can I do to help renew myself? I love to teach and I love nature. Every time I read about climate change or environmental issue I always wish I can make more of a difference. And that’s when it struck me: maybe I should try to become an environmental educator.

So one fateful day in December 2015, I made a crazy choice: I enrolled in college as a biology major. I figured, what do I have to lose? I have a whole new world of possibilities waiting for me.

Now, I personally know people who think I’m insane for wanting to change fields. Yeah, maybe I am. And yes, I do know I have to make money to survive. I will. But taking a step forward is invigorating, and for the first time in awhile I’m excited for the future. I need to spread my wings and fly :-). Maybe I’ll land gracefully like a Carolina Chickadee, or land stumbling and awkwardly like a Laysan Albatross, but I’ll never know if I don’t try to soar. Besides, I have a back-up plan: to be a public school biology teacher, and avert my fate for becoming prematurely deaf (I’m a band teacher, so my world is very loud haha).

BirdNation was one of my first stepping stones to being an environmental educator. I thought that starting a blog solely about birds would be a great was to practice teaching others about the life of birds. I also wanted to connect with other people who are just as passionate about nature as I was.

And blogging has exceeded my expectations. I’m so happy to get to connect with you, my fabulous readers, who have brought me so much joy through your blogs. Thank you for spending your time reading my posts. You’ve helped me grow as an educator more than you know! There are so many awesome bird experiences to be had and things to learn about the avian world. I can’t wait to share them with you here at the blog.

I’m looking forward to another wonderful year of birds with you here at BirdNation!

yellow-warbler-singing

 

 

 

A New Adventure

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.

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Ring-necked Ducks, males and one female (brown) (Image by BirdNation)

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)

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Canada Geese, Hooded Mergansers, and Ring-tailed Ducks (Image by BirdNation)

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.

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White-breasted Nuthatch (Image by BirdNation)

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:

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Cooper’s Hawk (Image by David Horowitz)

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.