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DVOC Field Trip Report
by Paul Guris

January 11, 2004 (Sunday)
Winter Birding in the Dix Wildlife Management Area, NJ

On a still, frigid Sunday morning (single digits!), the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club ran a trip to Dix WMA for some winter birding. This is a great area for viewing Bald Eagles, and for picking up semi-hardy birds like Catbird, Towhee, and Thrasher. A total crew of 12 people attended. One of the advantages to birding Dix is that even though we had a caravan of 6 cars, there's nobody down there to worry about ... or so we thought.

After racking up a few things at the meeting place, we drove towards the very end of Back Neck Road. Along the way we stopped for a flock of American Pipits, flocks of sparrows, etc. One lone pickup truck passed us. One lone ominous pickup truck. During one stop, we had a probable Ross's Goose in one of the many flocks of Snows going overhead. At another, I spotted a very small dark goose in with the Snows and hoped for a blue morph Ross's. To our surprise, it was actually a very small Canada Goose, a bird obviously smaller than the Snow Geese it was with. Bob and Eilleen Mercer had two fly-over Bald Eagles as we pulled away. Sometimes it pays to be the last car.

We began birding the end of the road and wandered off to search various habitats. Al Driscoll, being Al, decided to wander off in another direction.
I'm still not sure if it was intentional, and I don't think he knows either.
Anyway when we hooked back up, he recounted his tale of being questioned by New Jersey State Trooper. Apparently the man in the pickup couldn't understand what we were all doing with our scopes and binoculars (looking at Pipits ... isn't that obvious?), and he called the police. (It's a good thing John Ashcroft doesn't work Sundays. We might still be in custody.) The officer was amazed that the area was good for birds, and even more stunned that it was one of the best areas in the state to find Bald Eagles.

One of the unique things about this area is the number of normally uncommon winter lingerers. I cover that area on the CBC and have had counts of 20 Catbirds and 80+ Towhees just in my territory. We didn't push as hard on our field trip, but still managed to find 6 Catbirds, a Brown Thrasher, and about a dozen Towhees. Interestingly, all seemed to have a look of regret on their faces, perhaps for not migrating just a few hundred miles more? This is a great place to get a jump on a year list!

All in all we had a pleasant day of birding with over 60 species. We saw 10-12 Bald Eagles, including a pair sitting together and one sitting at an obvious nest. We saw about a dozen Snipe throughout the day, probably desperately looking for a patch of unfrozen marsh. Harriers were common in all of the marshes.

The sighting of the day for me was a very cooperative and quite healthy looking Virginia Rail walk out into the path, giving us "crippling" views. I use the word crippling because it was missing a foot. The leg looked like it healed a long time ago, and although the bird walked a little funny it got around just fine. It came so close that we could barely fit it into a scope with 30x wide angle eyepiece.

Hopefully we'll see everybody back next year!