November New Jersey with TAS: Day TwoBy
It was honest-to-goodness cold when we left the hotel Wednesday morning, and the strong wind made me worry that we wouldn’t see anything all day. Somehow, though, the breeze quit as soon as the sun came up and out, and for the properly clad, it was pleasant to stand on the shores of our second Lily Lake — the one at the Noyes Museum — and watch Hooded Mergansers cower as the day’s first Peregrine Falcon zoomed overhead.
Parts of Brigantine, right next door, had been opened to foot traffic, so we planned to spend most of our day there. The old tour road is absolutely devastated, and it looks like it will be some considerable time before the dikes can be rebuilt, but even without access to the famous waterfowl pools, there was a lot to see for pedestrian birders. The biggest surprise and the biggest birds of the entire trip came mid-morning when we were returning from the Leeds Trail to the parking area. I heard a Snow Goose call, and we looked up to see eleven white birds overhead — a single honking Snow Goose and ten (ten!) American White Pelicans.
This is a scarce species in New Jersey at any season, and I had never seen more than one at a time. As I fumbled with my camera (and finally succeeded in obtaining a good, tight focus on a bunch of pine needles), the birds slowly flapped and soared their way south; the flock passed the Cape May hawkwatch two and a half hours later.
Walking Brigantine is always a fine experience. It’s too easy, when the dike road is open (or when the dike road is existent), to be drawn out into the marshes right away, ignoring the birding on the woodland trails and brackish backwaters. Forced to take our time, we enjoyed the woodland birds of the Pine Barrens and the views, no matter how distant, we had of waterbirds on the pools. At least five Bald Eagles were continually hazing the thousands of ducks, putting the flocks up to see if anything lingered in reach; a Peregrine Falcon surveyed the marsh from an Osprey nest, and plenty of Northern Harriers made their wavering way out across the spartina flats. A Red-shouldered Hawk, common enough in the area but basically impossible to produce on demand, settled into the distant tree line to wait for whatever edible thing might wander by.
There were smaller birds in the woods, too, including Hermit Thrushes and ridiculously tame Golden-crowned Kinglets. A flock of roadside kickers and scratchers was dominated, as everywhere this week, by White-throated Sparrows, but the Rusty Blackbird that joined them was an especially nice surprise (and a lifer for a couple of us).
After a late lunch, we moved north, driving east every couple of miles out into the marshes in search of crepuscular fancies. No owls obliged, but we did witness one of the most impressive Boat-tailed Grackle gatherings I’d ever seen in New Jersey.
Just before sunset, the marsh behind (what are now the sad remains of) Antoinette’s Restaurant started to fill with grackles, first a few dozen, then a hundred, until finally 600 Boat-tails were crowded shoulder to shoulder on the wooden docks.
I was interested to see that the flocks were largely segregated by sex.
We would see good numbers of Boat-tails again at Nummy Island the next day, but this was a spectacle to behold, the perfect ending to a day in the pines and marshes.