I awoke with trepidation. The temperature was going to soar into the 90s and I had signed up for a marsh field trip at the Sussex County Birding Festival. I considered not going. I had things that needed doing around the house that may or may not have included sitting in front of a fan with an icy beverage. It would be a tough slog through a hot muggy wet blanket. But there were the possibility of rails. I reminded myself that I like the heat, hopped into a cold shower and was on the road by 6:30.
Paulinskill Valley WMA, known locally as Hyper Humus , is a large wetland between Lafayette and Newton NJ. I had seen its mention on the ListServe but had never been there. The fabulous thing about this trip was that it was lead by a man who virtually grew up there and still lives down the road. Shall we say, he birds there often.
Upon entering the trail we were greeted with yellow warbler, scarlet tanager, american redstart, and wood thrush. (When you enter a woodland path and a scarlet tanager is peering down at you, you are definitely having a birdy day.) As I walked along the path leading to the marsh I looked for birds, butterflies, dragonflies, wild flowers, frogs, turtles and snakes. I can be easily distracted and the painted turtle beside the path digging a nest hole was fascinating.
Birding is hard once the trees have leafed out. We were mostly birding by ear; the songs of yellow warblers, baltimore orioles and cuckoos drawing us further into the marsh. I never did see the yellow-billed cuckoo that dogged our steps although several others did. Once we got out to the “ponds” there were great blue herons, mute swans by the dozens, red-winged blackbirds, grackles, a few mallards and some canada geese. From off in the distance came the lilting tones of a marsh wren tucked away in the reeds. Standing out on one of the dikes, we heard the “kiddick” of virginia rails. Rails are more often heard than seen. But today there was a frenzied calling and scurrying about in the reeds at our feet. Holding our breath and gesturing in silence, we pointed them out to each other. They were close enough that we did not need binoculars. We all had great views. Virginia rails are always so much smaller than I think they are. I guess because clapper and king are so big. As we watched, a little further down the dike a lone rail walked out onto the grass path, posing nicely, then ducked back out of sight.
It was worth the muggy, 90 degree, 3-hour walk to see this. Really.