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DVOC Field Trip Report
by Paul Guris

January 9, 2005 (Sunday)
Winter Birding in the Dix Wildlife Management Area, NJ

Eight of us gathered beneath overcast skies to bird the area south of the Cohansey River in Cumberland County, NJ. Temperatures were cool, but not bitter, and winds stayed relatively light for the day. Highlights of the trip included 2 Clay-colored Sparrows together, great looks at a Red-shouldered Hawk, at least a dozen Bald Eagles including multiple nests, Fox Sparrows, Gray Catbirds, Eastern Towhees, White-crowned Sparrows, a Red-breasted Nuthatch, and other birds. Lowlights were generally low numbers of passerines, and some tricky and very muddy spots on the dirt roads due to the recent heavy rains.

We met at the end of Duck Cove Rd., the first northbound turn off of Back Neck Rd. / County Rt. 601 in Fairton. It provides a good meeting spot and an overlook onto the Cohansey River. There wasn't too much to see except a hideously ugly hybrid goose that appeared to be half Canada and perhaps half white barnyard Graylag, and one male Hooded Merganser. We walked back to the start of the road and relocated the Red-shouldered Hawk that we had found on the Cumberland CBC the week before.

Our next planned stop was the PSE&G Green Swamp property overlooking the Cohansey, but we were cut off by Glen Seeholzer's sharp eyes picking out a Bald Eagle on the treeline. When we did make to the the boat ramp at the PSE&G property, we found 5 Bald Eagles (a pair at the nest across the river, a pair perched together in the marsh, and an immature bird), Northern Harrier, a confusing Red-tailed Hawk, and a flock of passerines including Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, and Golden-crowned Kinglet.

We birded our way into Dix WMA, finding that the sparrows were rather scarce. We went down Middle Marsh Lane and after an exciting ride on a highly "iffy" stretch of mucky road, we parked the cars and walked out to the dike that goes into the marsh. From one spot on the dike, we were able to see 4 active Bald Eagle nests; 3 where we saw the pairs or nest building activity, and another nest where we observed a pair the week before. On the way back to the car, we heard a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and several Fox Sparrows.

We worked a side road off of Middle Marsh Lane hoping to relocate the Clay-colored Sparrows we had found on the CBC, and we weren't disappointed. We had 2 Clay-colored feeding together in the road , giving us great scope views. They were with a flock a Songs and White-throateds, with several Savanahs nearby. Farther up the road we had 2 Catbirds, Towhees, and more Fox Sparrows. A large female Cooper's Hawk got us all a bit excited with hopes of a Goshawk.

Next, we took the road out to Sea Breeze, a tiny group of houses on Delaware Bay. We stopped at the usual spot for White-crowned Sparrow and managed to see 3 of them (two immatures and an adult), and heard another singing. More eagles and another nest were evident from the part of the road going through the saltmarsh. Scanning the bay at the end, we saw some scoters (prob. Black), 2 Red-throated Loons, and number of Red-breasted Mergansers.

We ended our trip at Husted Landing, a small marina back in the saltmarsh. We didn't relocate the cranes or Harbor Seal from the CBC, but we had Northern Harriers and more Red-tailed Hawks, as well as a flyby American Pipit.

We also bumped into Clay and Pat Sutton and after comparing notes (we had 2 nests they hadn't seen, and they had 2 we did not), we realized that there were a total of NINE Bald Eagle nests in the area we were birding; 7 in the immediate area we were covering, which is my CBC territory, and two viewable across the Cohansey. This must be the stronghold of breeding Bald Eagles in New Jersey. As if this didn't seem like eagle overload already, we also saw 3 different immature eagles between the two groups. It's nice to see this bird doing so well in this region.