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DVOC Field Trip Report
by Steve Kacir

June 2, 2012
Nightjar Field Trip to Wharton State Forest, Burlington County, NJ

I arrived at Wharton State Forest early to scout around a little and enjoy the day. Immediately, I knew that this year’s trip would be unusual. The weather was breezy and cool and the insects were tolerable. I had never led this trip under such delightful conditions. I sprayed on sunscreen and insect repellent and just enjoyed a beautiful couple of hours scouting before the field trip. A half-hour before the trip, I arrived at the Carranza Memorial where I found Bernie and Doreen Knaupp. We were waiting on one more participant who turned out to be a no-show, but we spent that time birding around the Carranza Memorial.

The birds were active due to the mild conditions. We listened to Great Crested Flycatchers, Ovenbirds and Cedar Waxwing. We watched the antics of the local Pine Warblers and Eastern Towhees. We found some bathing American Robins and Chipping Sparrows taking advantage of puddles from yesterday’s rain. At quarter past the hour, we made our way to the bog area that we usually explore during the field trip.

There, Doreen stayed at the car while Bernie and I looked for birds and other denizens of the pine barrens. This year, that section of Wharton State Forest was practically crawling with Prairie Warblers. We heard them singing at most areas along the bog trail and saw several. Prairie Warblers even exhibited territorial counter singing. Usually this trip does have a Prairie Warbler on the trip list, but I’d never run a field trip to this location and had to ignore Prairie Warblers while looking for Black-and-white Warblers! We watched an Eastern Wood-pewee feeding near the bridge. Cedar Waxwings flew over in waves, with a final total of thirty-four waxwings seen and heard at that site. Eastern Towhees, Red-eyed Vireos, Ovenbirds, Common Yellowthroats and Pine Warblers sang. A Gray Catbird fussed at us from the underbrush. Overhead, Laughing Gulls headed to their roost sites commuting home from feeding at the landfill farther west of us. Across the bog, Red-winged Blackbirds held court from the emergent vegetation, while Tree Swallows flew low across the surface of the bog. On the water, a pair of Wood Ducks became alarmed at our presence and took flight. Carpenter Frogs sang, sounding as if they were striking little wooden mallets against planks of hardwood. The chorus of frogs also included Southern Leopard Frog and Green Frog. A feeding flock of Carolina Chickadees swept through with a male Black-and-white Warbler caught up in the action. We found some Spatula-leaf Sundews and examined the craftsmanship of the local beavers. Presently, I realized we were actually running late. The bog had been so pleasant that we’d lost track of time. As we hurried back to the cars, a Common Nighthawk boomed overhead reminding us that the main event was still to come.

After a quick drive down to the railroad crossing area of Carranza Rd, we got comfortable and waited for the Common Nighthawk show to commence. Bob Shaffer and Ron French were already there, and Bob showed us photos of some nicely lit Common Nighthawks that we’d missed while exploring the bog. Tony Croasdale arrived with some friends bringing our party to a total of 10 participants. Soon enough, the nighthawks began their booming displays. Several nighthawks displayed quite close to the road and everyone enjoyed the spectacle. An Ovenbird sang its display flight song, and we soon heard waves of evening singers: Eastern Towhees, Pine Warblers, Chipping Sparrows, Eastern Wood-pewees, Great Crested Flycatchers. Overhead, more Laughing Gulls made their evening commute. American Robins, Cedar Waxwings and Mourning Doves called. We could hear distant Carpenter Frogs singing from far off in the forest. A couple Common Nighthawks called using the alternative peent call, which sounds similar to a duck quack. As the sun set, Whip-poor-wills chanted throughout the forest. We played a recording of Whip-poor-will and attracted on particular bird’s attention, eventually spotlighting the Whip, but only really seeing eye-shine before the Whip-poor-will flew into the safety of the pine grove. Eventually things wound down, though the Whip-poor-wills were still calling and a few nighthawks still flew overhead. We tallied at least twelve Common Nighthawks and twelve Whip-poor-wills before the field trip broke up. As I drove slowly out of the forest around 11:00PM, I heard an additional fifteen Whip-poor-wills and one last booming nighthawk.

--Steve Kacir