OK, so it wasn't quite as cold today as it was in Jack London's Yukon (-50F), but this day had indeed broken exceedingly cold and grey. I have sworn to myself that I will stop whining about the cold, so that's the last you'll hear from me about the cold. Until it gets really cold.
The Woodock Trail begins and ends at the end of Woodcock Rd., just a half-mile south on Rt. 47 from Kimbles Beach Rd. (where the CMNWR Office is located). The trail is famous in the early spring for its large population of, you guessed it, Woodcocks. On many evenings in March or April, about 10-15 minutes after sunset (depending on cloud cover), the male woodcocks (upwards of 20 here) begin their peculiar mating flight. Strange grunting "peents" are followed by a crazy upward spiraling flight and then a freefall back to earth. I'll be back here then, as Refuge Biologist Heidi Hanlon has been conducting volunteer Woodcock surveys for the past several years.
I was hoping to stumble on a woodcock today, possibly probing the soft earth for worms in the woods where the ground was still unfrozen, but no luck. Most of the wet areas were frozen. However, this is another of those great bayshore trails that take you through upland fields, lowland hardwood swamps, vernal ponds, salt marsh, then ultimately the Delaware Bay. All in the course of a three mile round-trip, so there was bound to be something worth seeing here today.
Robins were once again everywhere. Plenty of holly berries for them now even if the ground was too frozen for insects. Yellow-rumped warblers were also abundant in the fields and woods. In the top of one of the bigger oaks was a flock of cedar waxwings. This is a bird that I can no longer hear. Evidently their song is too high pitched for me, so I have to rely on the fact that their habits make them obvious: they always travel in small flocks; they usually land high up in the same or adjoining trees; and they have an undulating, goldfinch-like flight pattern. Mixed in with robins, they are easy to distinguish even on a grey day because of their smaller size, as well as their distinctive crest.
Because the marsh was frozen today I was able to walk almost all the way to the bayshore. The bay is now frozen at least a mile out. I could see open water way in the distance, but near the shore nothing but ice. Undoubtedly fish-eating species like Great Blue Herons are suffering. But scavengers and hunters like the hawks and eagles are probably doing quite well. On my way back to the truck, two juvenile Bald Eagles soared above Rt. 47, two of the growing number of eagles that winter here on the Bayshore.
I want to come back here again later this winter, start my walk around 3pm, get to the salt marsh around dusk for the Short-eared Owls and Harriers, then back through the woods in darkness for the Great Horned and Barred Owls. And maybe an early seat at the Woodcock Dance. Here's my list for today: