This information originally appeared as an article in the Summer 2005 Larus
To most Delaware Valley birders, Gloucester County, New Jersey is someplace you pass through on the way to Salem, Cumberland or Cape May Counties. With the possible exception of Glassboro Woods Wildlife Management Area, Gloucester County remains largely ignored. In William Boyle’s 492 page opus, A Guide to Bird Finding in New Jersey, Gloucester County birding locations consume a grand total of 10 pages and of these, two of the birding spots highlighted straddle adjacent counties. Thus, as a twenty plus year resident of Gloucester County, I offer this glimpse at a relatively new and largely under birded area, easily accessible from Philadelphia.
Located along the Delaware River, the Riverwinds development is located in West Deptford. This development was created by the Township in the last ten years from what had previously been largely inaccessible wet lands and old farm fields. This has been both a bad news and good news proposition. The creation of the development has had an adverse effect on bird populations. Thorofare (a section of West Deptford), was the location where the late Ed Manners routinely studied Northern Saw-whet and Long-eared Owls. Unfortunately, the development of Riverwinds has largely destroyed much of the habitat where these species traditionally wintered. The good news is that despite the loss of critical habitat, much was preserved and is now easily accessible.
Riverwinds is located less then a mile from Interstate 295. From I-295 south take exit 21. At the traffic light located at the bottom of the exit ramp, make a right onto Route 44 (Crown Point Road). At the next traffic light, Delaware Street (Wawa on your left), make a left. Follow Delaware Street straight through the next traffic light, crossing Grove Road, onto Riverwinds Drive and into the development.
From I-295 north, take exit 21 and make a left at
the bottom of the exit ramp onto Delaware Street. Follow Delaware Street
straight through the next traffic light, crossing Grove Road, onto Riverwinds
Drive and into the development.
NOTE: Depending on the edition of the map, the Riverwinds development may not appear.)
Shortly after you enter the development, you will see a sign and parking area on your right for the “Scenic Trail.” This loop trail is approximately one mile in length and passes through a diversity of habitat. An unofficial cumulative list maintained by this author currently stands at 130 bird species observed from the trail. Following the trail clockwise from the parking lot, the first area you pass through consists largely of grass fields bordered by deciduous trees. These fields host a variety of sparrow species. A winter regular is White-crowned Sparrows. Lincoln Sparrow has been recorded during fall migration. This is also and excellent area to witness the spring courtship display of the American Woodcock. In late spring and early summer, Northern Bobwhite can be heard calling, and if you’re lucky, you might flush a small covey. The trees that border these fields annually host nesting Baltimore and Orchard Orioles. During spring and summer, it’s not unusual to view both species, side by side in the same tree.
After a quarter mile or so, the trail makes a turn to the right. In front of you is a marsh which, depending on drought conditions and tide levels from the adjacent Woodbury Creek, is worth a scanning for Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs as well as Spotted, Solitary and Semipalmated Sandpipers. A faint trail branches off of the main trail to your left and if you follow it to the end, allows a glimpse of the Woodbury Creek. Depending on the season and the tides, a variety of waterfowl are possible in the creek including Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal and Common Mergansers. Marsh Wren has been noted in some years along this trail. In the spring Willow Flycatcher is also possible along this branch trail.
Continuing on the main trail, after another few hundred yards, you enter the wooded section. Shortly after you enter the woods, set back from the trail on your left is small stand of large pine trees. If you scan carefully, you might catch a glimpse of the resident pair of Great Horned Owls who use these trees for their daytime roost. Along this part of the trail, both cuckoo species have been recorded. Hermit Thrush is common in winter while Wood Thrush is the summer resident. Less common is Veery and Swainson’s Thrush has been observed on a couple of occasions.
About halfway through the wooded section, the main trail makes a ninety degree right turn. (There is a secondary trail to the left which can also be followed to the Woodbury Creek.) A few hundred yards after you make the right turn, you will come upon a small pond on your left. Scan carefully as sometimes a Green Heron can be found feasting on the frogs and toads that inhabit the pond. Further beyond the pond is another marshy area. This spot isn’t tidal, so depending on the amount of rain, it can consist of ponds deep enough to attract dabbling ducks, mud suitable for shorebirds or it can be bone dry dirt.
Immediately following the frog pond, the trail again turns to the right. It’s recommended, particularly during the height of warbler migration in the spring and fall that you spend a few minutes at this corner scanning the trees and bushes. To date, 16 species of warblers have been recorded along the entire trail (including Tennessee and Connecticut in the fall and Orange-crowned during a CBC), but this corner tends to be the most productive.
Another few hundred yards through grass fields will return you to the parking lot. Upon exiting the parking lot, make a right (the only direction you can go) and follow Riverwinds Drive as it bends to the right towards the Community Center. This section of road is bordered on both sides by white fences and should be scanned for Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Harriers and American Kestrel. Keep an eye out for Bald Eagles, nearby Mantua Creek hosts a nesting pair. Additionally, while to my knowledge Red-shouldered Hawk has not been recorded within the Riverwinds development proper, it is a species that could possibly be seen as it has been recorded in an area located less then a mile away, on a number of occasions. (This road tends to be busy. Please pull as far to the right as possible and engage your flashers, so that people going to/from the Community Center and Golf Course can get by.) Once you reach the Community Center, obvious roads can be followed down to the Delaware River. Directly behind the Community Center is large grass field and small pond. Both are worth a scan as the occasional dabbling or diving dick can be found in the pond and Eastern Meadowlark has been observed in the field.
Before leaving Riverwinds, one additional stop is worth mentioning. Located adjacent to the Tennis Center building is a fairly large fenced in retention pond. Perhaps because of its proximity to the river and by being fenced in, it is largely undisturbed and tends to attract an interesting variety of waterfowl. Bufflehead, Gadwall, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup and Canvasback has all been recorded.
As a trip unto itself or as a short detour on
your way to or from more illustrious birding spots, birding Riverwinds
can be worthwhile endeavor.