A Snowy Owl and More at Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge

Like every other birder in North America, we decided that this winter was the best chance we would ever have to see a Snowy Owl.  So we went to Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge at the Jersey shore, the location near here likely to be the most reliable for finding them.  There were a number of other birders who had the same idea, and the way we spotted the owl was to look across the marsh from where about a dozen cars were parked, their occupants outside with binoculars, scopes and cameras ready.  We joined them.  Fortunately for the bird, she was quite a distance away, probably more than a hundred yards, with water and marsh grasses between her and her admirers. She seemed to be undisturbed by the attention she was getting.

Snowy Owl in the marsh at Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge

Snowy Owl in the marsh at Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge

Based on the amount of dark barring in her plumage, my best guess is that it was a first year female. (If you can correct me, please let me know!)

Snowy Owl, probably a first year female

Snowy Owl, probably a first year female

She spent much of her time alertly swiveling her head from side to side, often with her eyes partly or mostly closed; her hearing may have been a more important tool in monitoring  her surroundings.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

She did take time to fluff out her feathers

Snowy Owl fluffing out her feathers

Snowy Owl fluffing out her feathers

and for some grooming.

Snowy Owl grooming (Checking for under-wing freshness?)

Snowy Owl grooming (Checking for under-wing freshness?)

At one point she looked ready for a nap.

Snowy Owl - yawning?

Snowy Owl – yawning?

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

Forsythe is always a productive birding spot. On this day, Northern Harriers hunted the marshes, and flocks of Dunlins fed together in the mud flats.

Dunlins

Dunlins

Great Blue Herons hunted in the channels along side the road.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

So did a few Buffleheads.

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

Seeing this pair of Hooded Mergansers was a treat for me.

A pair of Hooded Mergansers, male on the left, female on the right

A pair of Hooded Mergansers, male on the left, female on the right

Hundreds of Snow Geese flocked together in the ponds and marshes.

Snow Geese at Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge

Snow Geese at Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge

Snow Geese

Snow Geese

Even a dark morph Snow Goose was present.

Snow Geese, with one dark morph bird

Snow Geese, with one dark morph bird

Flocks of American Black Ducks swam in the pools, dipping their beaks just below the water surface searching for food.

American Black Ducks

American Black Ducks

American Black Duck, feeding

American Black Duck, feeding

Northern Pintails fed together in the shallow streams.

Northern Pintail pair, female upper left, male lower right

Northern Pintail pair, female upper left, male lower right

Female Northern Pintail

Female Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail, male

Northern Pintail, male

Northern Pintails

Northern Pintails

Northern Pintails

Northern Pintails

Finally it was time to leave.

Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail

Not a bad day!

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

Wonders of a Winter Walk – The Marsh

Sunday was a beautiful winter day – cold, but not windy, sunny, with just a dusting of fresh snow that fell over night.  So we decided to go to ‘the marsh’ to look for wintering birds.

Gadwall Pair

Gadwall Pair

The marsh to us is the Abbott Marshlands, known until recently as the Hamilton-Trenton-Bordentown Marsh.  We went to the access point called Spring Lake at Roebling Park in Hamilton Township, New Jersey.  It’s a reliable refuge for ducks looking to spend the winter in a place where there is enough open water to swim and feed.  As a result, it’s a reliable refuge for birders, too.  Sunday was not a disappointment.  Northern Shovelers, Northern Pintails, Gadwalls, Green-winged Teal, American Coots, and Mallards were all present.  Gadwalls, shown below assembling in a large flock on the ice at Spring Lake, were the most common species.  (It reminds me of some conventions I’ve attended!)

A large flock of Gadwalls, on ice at Spring Lake

A large flock of Gadwalls, on ice at Spring Lake

We saw Gadwalls gathering in open water, sometimes in small groups like these, possibly two mated pairs, relaxing with members of their own species.

Gadwalls, possibly mated pairs

Gadwalls, possibly mated pairs

The Gadwalls fed in groups, sometimes joined by American Coots.  Coots are known to snatch food away from other birds, but Gadwalls are among the species that reverse that role.  Were the Gadwalls stealing from the Coots, or the Coots from the Gadwalls, or were they working together as a cooperative group?

Gadwalls with American Coots, feeding

Gadwalls with American Coots, feeding

We saw Northern Shovelers, feeding in swirling cells, circling around and around to stir up food sources they could filter through their bills.

Northern Shovelers feeding in rotating cell, with Gadwall

Northern Shovelers feeding in rotating cell, with Gadwall

Later we watched Northern Shovelers, American Coots, and Gadwalls, and even Mute Swans all walking on thin ice.

Northern Shoveler, adult male

Northern Shoveler, adult male

Northern Shoveler, male, likely first year

Northern Shoveler, female

Northern Shoveler, female

American Coot, skating on thin ice

American Coot, skating on thin ice

In the north marsh, Mallards, Northern Shovelers and Gadwalls took refuge together behind stalks of Swamp Rose Mallow.

Wintering Ducks - Northern Shovelers, Mallards, Gadwalls

Wintering Ducks – Northern Shovelers, Mallards, Gadwalls

My husband got my favorite shot of the day.

Gadwall in flight over Spring Lake

Gadwall in flight over Spring Lake

Resources:

Birds of Lake, Pond and Marsh, 1999, John Eastman

The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds, 2010, Donald & Lillian Stokes

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Gadwall/lifehistory

http://cmboviewfromthecape.blogspot.com/2012/12/when-is-female-northern-shoveler-not.html