Looking for ducks this time of year can be scary. Not because of the ducks, of course, but because of the orangemen and I am not talking about Syracuse. While I was home, my sister and I wanted to go see what was shakin’ at Killdeer Plains and Big Island WMAs. As we discussed our plans, with an eye out the window at the pouring rain, a few of the men in the family raised the hunting issue. Apparently it is Goose and Duck hunting season in Ohio and depending on what zone you are in, the season can last until late January. We promised to stay close to the car.
We opted to go birding on Friday thinking there would be more hunters out on Saturday. But as we drove into Killdeer Plains in the morning, there were already lots of trucks pulled off the road and dots of orange moving across the open fields and marsh. Holy Cow. The guys were not kidding. I saw more blaze orange there than I have seen in all my years of living in NJ. We did not end up staying long at Killdeer Plains; the roads were really muddy and rutted and the whole hunting thing was weirding me out. We puttered over to Big Island where there were fewer guys in orange. Both areas look like they would be great places to bird in migration. Or anytime when you were not taking your life in your hands.
We went home shaking our heads wishing we had opted for Hoover Reservoir instead. Oh well, live and learn. To see other birds and not have to take your life in your hands, hop over to Bird Photography Weekly.
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.