The weather was simply frigid, do I need to say anything more? Crisp clear skies, with snow on the sidelines and the wind , oh the wind.... . Did I really want to go to Barnegat Beach and seek out Snow Buntings? Nah, I will save that for a less frozen time, or perhaps still frozen but not with the wind. Not sure that might happen at Barnegat though. None the less, I changed my plans at the last minute and forestalled my adventure on the dunes for a lazy day of car birding.
I checked out 'ebird' (http://ebird.org/content/ebird/) and there have been prior Snow Bunting sightings at Forsythe, but I am not too sure exactly where those might occur. You see, I envisioned 'dunes' and flocks of buntings or larks frolicking around at Barnegat but at Forsythe I can't recall mountains of dunes.
So, I did like I do and just shove off. At the refuge I promptly clicked my seatbelt 'out' and then pulled it behind me and clicked it 'in'. This prevents that constant 'binging' from occurring while 'in and out of the car' and traveling at low speeds.
Down Gull drive.... I encountered two frozen individuals taking pictures of something on the left hand fir trees. I stopped, not wanting to scare any critter they were taking images of and walked up to them. There appeared to be a boatload of very nice specimens of Audubon or Yellow-rumped Warblers. The males were particularity distinctive in color with their fashionable yellow dress, simply striking. Maybe yellow is the new black for 2016... And above them, was a small flock of Bluebirds and yes, they were frolicking, from what I could tell, so I can at least say I saw some 'frolicking birds' today although not Snow Buntings. But like the Yellow-rumped Warblers, these Bluebirds were equally striking against the snow sprinkled among the green fir trees. An awesome site as they sat upon the top of the trees and were totally mindless to the frigid nature of the weather. The gentleman taking shots told me there was a nice catbird down Gull drive just a bit so I thought, why not? I was freezing in the wind at this point and an opportunity to re-enter my car and drive down 100 yards sounded enticing to me. This gentleman was a new birder but he was pretty sure it was a catbird down the way.
Now, cat birds are interesting birds. For some reason they are taken for granted or perhaps they are just always considered one of those nuisance birds, those Mimid's (Thrashers, Mockingbirds etc). So sad for they are really pretty birds. Take a look at them the next time you find them and you see a bird unlike some others we seem to hold in higher esteem. They are usually low to the ground in the scrub and always picking around for berries and arthropods, much like the one in front of me here. Their long legs give them the ability to 'jump' ...like a frog it seems but within the scrub and twigs. Their grayish feathers are highlighted by a brown cap although the cap itself seems reddish. In fact when I view a catbird, my impression is that I just saw something rusty. Their long beak is curved downward like many thrashers and they usually are holding their tail upwards like a wren.
A truly unique bird and to top it off, they are usually very people friendly. They simply do not spook too easy so if you want to practice photography, this is a great bird to begin with as they will often just sit and pose for you.
So ...down gull drive and I have found three great specimens in 'NBC" Living Color. Nothing out of the ordinary but unique and a pleasure to see, in or out of the car. The remaining portion of the drive was likewise frozen and little to see but gulls of various ages and plumage. But luckily on the far side, I had the pleasure of seeing this white bird from below, and black wingtips, soaring above my car. A beautiful gray ghost...... a male Northern Harrier. It hovered in the wind just a second and then caught a thermal, for it just disappeared. In fact I had to wonder, was that a Peregrine Falcon? The speed of that thermal must have been immense and this gray ghost must have felt a thrill as we do on roller coaster rides. Here today.....way over there today too, but just a few seconds in terms of 'today'.
A nice day at Forsythe with the heat on in the car. In fact, I 'heated myself out' to the point where I had to open up the windows and let the heat out. I was hoping by doing so, I would attract birds to my moving warm car, much like Linus does in Charlie Brown with his blanket full of dust clouds, but to no avail in my case as I traveled down the drive in my bursting heat shield. Birds just ignored me. Yet a solid birding day, and another day of memories and sights. Birding isn't always about finding that 'one bird' but rather, building memories and stories. Yes, years from now, I will tell my grandkids of the day I clocked a Gray Ghost zooming past my car as I drove 75 miles per hour on Wildlife Drive as the Hurricane ripped thru the east coast and I saved the wildlife at the Refuge by spooking them to seek out ground cover. You see, no one says that 'birding stories' cannot be akin to 'fishing stories'.