Saturday, March 29, 2008

Sat. 3/29: A visit to Salem County

Given the news regarding a possible Prairie Falcon and the fact that I hadn't been to Salem County yet this year, I decided to make the trip this afternoon- roughly an hour and change from the Cape May area. To get to Salem, take Route 47 north to Millville, and then take Route 49 west. About five miles of Route 49 are currently closed-off just south of the city of Salem, and an easy-to-follow detour is required. There also seems to be quite a bit of roadwork occurring during week days in the city of Bridgeton (which you'll pass through if coming from the south).

Access-wise, Salem isn't at all like Cape May, and often most of the birding here is from the roadside. If you're not familiar with the area, I highly recommend reading the Salem County sections in Bill Boyle's A Guide to Bird Finding in New Jersey, pages 327-333. You can also check out NJ Audubon's own Delaware Bayshore Birding & Wildlife Trails Guide, which features information on Salem County from pages 8-29.

Multiple checks of the Freas Road area, just north of the town of Salem, failed to reveal any falcons, or Brewer's Blackbirds. As Jason mentioned earlier, this is a large area of farmfields and there are plenty of places for a Prairie Falcon to hide. I did a pretty thorough drive-through of the rest of the surrounding area to the north and east (including better-known spots like Featherbed Lane and Compromise Road), and the only other raptors I came across were 2 American Kestrels and a close male Northern Harrier.

I was hoping that I'd find a few lingering flocks of Snow Geese (to check for Ross's) and blackbird flocks (to check for Yellow-headed or Brewer's), but I had little luck finding either of these. There were a few hundred Snow Geese along Featherbed Lane, but they were distant and behind a hill from most viewing points. Tree Swallows were probably one of the most numerous birds around, with at least 30-40 seen in my travels. Salem also usually hosts the largest numbers of Cattle Egrets in the state, but no dice in that department either, today (it's still a tad-bit early).

All in all, it was certainly not as "bird-y" as I was hoping it would be, but even without great sightings, it's always refreshing to visit this portion of the state with all of its undeveloped land and wide open spaces. If you've never been, you owe it to yourself to go- and spring is a great time to do it.

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