Monday, December 10, 2007

Trip Results: NJ Reservoirs and Alpha Grasslands

On Sunday, I led a group of hardy, friendly birders to Hunterdon and Warren counties to explore three of NJ's reservoirs and the Alpha grasslands in western NJ. Our first stop was Merrill Creek Reservoir. Although the weather was quite cold, the wind was down so the water on the reservoir was like glass. Waterfowl materialized as our time there progressed. We were treated to nice views of Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, and a very distant Long-tailed Duck. A few Common Mergansers and a Pied-billed Grebe also made an appearance. A fly-over Purple Finch didn't stick around for the group to see unfortunately.

In an effort to warm up, we hopped in the cars and headed to the Alpha grasslands. These preserved farm fields are a haven for threatened grassland nesting species including Vesper Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, and Eastern Meadowlark. When the fields are cut, they provide a wintering ground for Horned Larks, Snow Buntings, Lapland Longspurs, and various raptors. As we turned onto the famous (in NJ anyway) Oberly Road, a huge flock of gulls was loafing in a farmer's yard. Now, I don't claim to be a "larophile" by any means, but I picked out a nice adult Lesser Black-backed Gull in with all the Ring-billed Gulls. We were lucky to find the big flock of Horned Larks and Snow Buntings which were nice and close to the road. A "Grey Ghost" Harrier was also a feast for the eyes.

The next stop was Spruce Run Recreation Area, about 20 miles from Alpha. The reservoir here held a very large raft of Common Mergansers swimming along in unison - about 150 birds. Hooded Mergansers added a new species for the day and a flock of Cedar Waxwings (I searched for Bohemians!) delighted our group. With Spruce Run relatively quiet, we headed over to Round Valley about 10 minutes away.

We had our lunch at Round Valley, which seemed pretty quiet. A Common Loon and a ton of Coots were about it. A Red-breasted Nuthatched tooted from a pine, but didn't show. After lunch we moved to the "scuba diving area" where an adult Bald Eagle soared past us and perched next to its (potential) mate in a tree. It's never a bad day when you see a Bald Eagle. We searched the nearby pines for finches and owls, but were only blessed with a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. A trip to the nearby swimming beach held a nice selection of ducks: Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, and a solo Common Goldeneye. We wrapped up the trip here and got back into our warm cars. Thanks go out to a super group of participants.


Owlman said...

If you wanted to see some Red Breasted Nuthatches you should have stopped in at my place ;-) Sounds like you guys had a great time.

Patrick Belardo said...

If I do the same trip next year, we'll plan a stop there! Nice profile pic by the way! LOL!