Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dive-bombed by gulls

Another fine portion of our jaunt to Exit Zero was a visit to the Brigantine portion of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. Actually, it was the second visit for me, as we'd been down there during the horrid cold snap a few weeks ago.

The refuge is within the geographic range of the famous New Jersey Pinelands and accessible from the Parkway through a secret exit in a rest stop. Taking that route, you end up on Jimmy Leeds Road, eventually to Route 9 and then the refuge itself. Personally, I find any reference to the Leeds name in South Jersey to be troubling. Leeds, after all, is the Jersey Devil's last name.

Given the amount of snow on the ground on our first visit, we didn't bother with any of the foot trails, preferring to take the drive along the marsh to see the waterfowl. The way the drive is situated makes it relatively easy to bird from the car, provided you see your desired subject in enough time to stop the vehicle and roll down the window. Most of the road is on a series of berms going through the marsh; it's just wide enough to give you room to pull over and stop and still let traffic behind you get through.

Last time we were there relatively early and were able to see some pretty neat stuff, including a bittern (my catch in the grass on the side of the road) and an immature bald eagle enjoying a mid-morning snack on the ice. This time, we were a bit later in the day, closer to dusk. While the marsh had thawed quite a bit, there didn't seem to be anyone remarkable out there. The real story came from the skies.

Or, more accurately, from about 10 feet above us. As we drove along the road, we were occasionally confronted by gulls hovering with morsels in their beaks. They were on a mission: crack open the shell or whatever the morsel was in, preferably on a hard surface. Like my car. Uh, no.

Most of the time, I'd wait them out, watching them hover until they finally dropped their stuff and dived down to collect their meals. Then I'd drive past them and they'd start the process all over again. One of the gulls, though, didn't seem to be getting the drill. He just floated there on the wind, not dropping his stuff and not letting me pass. "This one obviously took the short bus to gull school," Ivan observed. Yes, perhaps.

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