Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Walk in the Woods

 [Yellow-throated Warbler in Belleplain State Forest, Cape May County, NJ today.]

Last Sunday morning the sunshine felt like rain, 
Week before they all seemed the same.
With the help of God and true friends I come to realize,
I still had two strong legs and even wings to fly.
And I ain't wastin’ time no more . . .

- Greg Allman

There hasn't even been any sunshine to feel like rain the past two weekends. Annoying. But clouds, fog and rain don't stop the legs, right? Time for good long hike. Destination: Belleplain State Forest.

The East Creek Trail in Belleplain makes a fine walk, and the state forest has been working on some improvements to it so you don't need to slog through mud and water, mostly, which otherwise is what we ought to have to do in spring in a land laced with Atlantic whitecedar swamps and other lowlands. It's only March, but there were birds about, notably 12 Yellow-throated Warblers, 22 Pine Warblers, and 12 Hermit Thrushes (some singing!) along a five mile trek from Sunset Road southwest to Route 347 and back around the other side of East Creek Lake. Make sure you get the full Belleplain map at the forest office if you're not familiar with the route, not just the campground area map, which doesn't show this trail.

 [Atlantic whitecedar swamp (with some new boardwalk) along the East Creek trail in Belleplain. A rare and valuable habitat.]

One of the coolest finds this morning was a flock of 10+ Golden-crowned Kinglets that came in to pishing - too many to represent local winterers, these birds were migrants dallying in the Belleplain forest for a while. It was also good to reconfirm, through careful counting, my general sense that there are twice as many titmice as chickadees in Belleplain. Next question (if this is indeed accurate, as it may well be - Tom Reed came up with a similar ratio on a birding trip yesterday) - why?  Three Hairy Woodpeckers peeked, and 22 Pine Warblers trilled - other Belleplain staples.

A natural follow-up to a Belleplain morning is lunch with the shorebirds at Heislerville, especially when lunch corresponds to a high tide. The theory goes that high tide puts shorebirds in the pools at Heislerville, but the pools are still pretty full at the moment (hopefully to be drawn down soon) and shorebirds are not yet especially abundant, so only 26 Greater Yellowlegs foraged in the main pool there. A handful of Bonaparte's Gulls lingering on the island with other gulls. A few Dunlin flew past, a single Killdeer rested on a piece of driftwood, and a couple Bald Eagles stirred things up now and then. Over a hundred Tree Swallows and nearly that many Yellow-rumped Warblers feasted on a hatch of some kind near the second Heislerville Impoundment.

 [Wild Turkeys hurrying across the road at Heislerville this afternoon, hens all.]

[This male Yellow-rumped Warbler at Heislerville this afternoon is in pre-alternate molt - note the incoming blue feathers on the back, patches of black on the face and sides, and brighter yellow spots on the the chest sides. We sometimes forget how beautiful this common bird is in full breeding plumage - can't wait to see them looking that way in a month or so! ]

 The heron rookery at Heislerville is beginning to be active, with 21 Black-crowned Night-herons, nearly all adults, plus several Great and Snowy Egrets there today. A few Great Blue Herons were with them, and of significant interest, I saw one GBHE carrying sticks. It would be surprising indeed if Great Blues nested with the other herons, but it's something to watch for. A Great Egret also carried sticks to the island, which is on the right side of Matt's Landing Road as you drive in.

[Some of the 21 Black-crowned Night-herons at Heislerville today, with a Great Egret.]

Here's my full list from the hike at Belleplain, followed by the list from Heislerville (the latter of which was garnered almost entirely by looking out the truck window):

Belleplain State Forest, Cape May, US-NJ
Mar 25, 2012 9:06 AM - 11:39 AM
Protocol: Traveling
5.0 mile(s)
Comments:     Walked east creek trail loop from sunset to rte 347 and back . Cloudy, 60ish. Submitted from BirdLog NA for iOS, version 1.1

21 species

Turkey Vulture  1
Herring Gull  10
Mourning Dove  4
Red-bellied Woodpecker  7
Downy Woodpecker  3
Hairy Woodpecker  3
Northern Flicker  1
Fish Crow  2
Carolina Chickadee  7
Tufted Titmouse  16
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
Carolina Wren  1
Golden-crowned Kinglet  16     Most in a small flock or wave that came to pishing with other birds
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
Hermit Thrush  12
American Robin  1
Pine Warbler  22
Yellow-throated Warbler  12
Eastern Towhee  7
White-throated Sparrow  36
Northern Cardinal  8

Heislerville WMA, Cumberland, US-NJ
Mar 25, 2012 12:08 PM - 1:27 PM
Protocol: Traveling
4.0 mile(s)

Comments:      Submitted from BirdLog NA for iOS, version 1.1

38 species

Canada Goose  4
Mute Swan  5
Gadwall  20
American Black Duck  20
Mallard  2
Bufflehead  5
Hooded Merganser  10
Red-breasted Merganser  20
Ruddy Duck  1
Wild Turkey  4
Great Blue Heron  5
Great Egret  6
Snowy Egret  2
Black-crowned Night-Heron  21
Black Vulture  4
Turkey Vulture  20
Bald Eagle  3
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Black-bellied Plover  1
Killdeer  1
Greater Yellowlegs  26
Dunlin  20
Bonaparte's Gull  6
Ring-billed Gull  6
Herring Gull  50
Great Black-backed Gull  5
Mourning Dove  5
Fish Crow  5
Tree Swallow  100
Carolina Wren  2
American Robin  10
Northern Mockingbird  2
Yellow-rumped Warbler  50
Song Sparrow  1
White-throated Sparrow  100
Northern Cardinal  2
Red-winged Blackbird  25
Common Grackle  100

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