Thousands of Snow Geese at Brigantine

New Jersey Birding

Birding in 2015 was off to an exciting start after our day at the Barnegat jetty, but we weren’t done yet. Since we were relatively close to the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge we decided to stop by before returning to Brooklyn.  So during the afternoon of January 2nd, we headed to the refuge to try to see as many birds as possible before the early winter sun set.

You may recall from our trip last fall, the refuge (nicknamed “Brigantine” for short) protects 47,000 acres of coastal habitat, surrounded by an eight-mile looping road. This makes it an ideal spot for winter birding, when you don’t want to get out of the car for more than a few minutes. Tim was monitoring Brigantine closely on e-bird, and read reports of Snow Geese in the thousands.  This was hard to imagine at the time, never seeing even one Snow Goose before, but we hoped to find them.

When we first arrived, we saw some of our favorite waders in the freshwater section of the refuge, such as this elegant Great Egret looking for a snack:

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Great Egret fishing at Brigantine

We also found a Great Blue Heron:

Black-crowned Night Heron

Great Blue Heron

There were hundreds of ducks floating in the water as well, dabbling for food.  Judging by the dozens of pin-tailed bottoms exposed above the waterline, these Northern Pintails were eating something delicious below.

Ducks dablling

Duck butts in the air

It was then we saw our first Snow Geese LL.  The Snow Goose has adapted easily to human agriculture; they summer and breed in the Arctic then venture south in the winter, landing on plowed cornfields or marshes like Brigantine. For this reason their population has grown immensely. We started to see waves of hundreds of birds leaving patches of marsh vegetation, and flying north over the car.  We weren’t sure where they were headed yet, so we rolled down the windows to listen to their loud cackling.

First wave of Snow Geese soaring over Brigantine

First wave of Snow Geese soaring over Brigantine

The sun was beginning to descend, so we figured they must be settling in somewhere for the night. We drove on, suspecting they were landing somewhere near the end of the loop road, and hoping to get a better view of them there.  Along the way we found some Dunlins feasting in shallows:

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Dunlins

As we neared the end of the loop road, we were treated to a dramatic sunset, silhouetting the Snow Geese as they continued to fly over in masses.

Sunset over Brigantine, silhouetting hundreds of Snow Geese

Sunset over Brigantine, silhouetting hundreds of Snow Geese

We could now see where they were gathering, in one of the freshwater ponds on the interior of the loop.

Snow Geese landing in Brigantine for the night

Snow Geese landing in Brigantine for the night

There were a few others birders pulled over nearby, so we parked the car and took in the spectacle. Our telephoto lens allowed us to get some nice shots of Snow Geese coming in for a landing, but prevented us from getting a shot that showed the staggering number of individuals congregating in the fresh water.  We can’t even estimate the number, but suffice to say, the Cratchits could have had a merry Christmas had they lived on the Jersey Shore.

Snow Geese

Snow Geese

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This dark Snow Goose is a color variant called the “Blue Goose”

Here is the list:

Northern Harrier
Mallard
Canada Goose
American Coot
American Black Duck
Great Egret
Mute Swan
Northern Pintail
Great Black-backed Gull
Gadwall
Great Blue Heron
Hooded Merganser
Bufflehead
Snow Goose
Dunlin
Northern Shoveler

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