Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Searching Cowtown for cattle egrets and freakishly big mammals

Before we left on our southbound excursion to points dinosaur and elsewhere, Ivan checked the birding bulletin boards for unusual sightings.

"There are cattle egrets at Cowtown Rodeo in Salem County. And a Eurasian collared dove on Route 40."

Cowtown?  COWTOWN? I've been looking for an excuse to get there, well, forever... and with the hadrosaurus already on our itinerary, I couldn't resist the opportunity to add two oversized mammals to the list of inanimate creatures to visit.

I'd heard about Cowtown eons ago but have only driven past it once. Located in Pilesgrove, it's New Jersey's only stop on the professional rodeo circuit and the country's oldest weekly rodeo. You can't miss it on 40: you're greeted by a muffler man dressed as a cowboy, and a statue of some sort of oversized bovine (Steer? Cow? It's got both udders and horns, so your guess is as good as mine.) I'm not much of a rodeo fan, but the lure of mammoth, non-anatomically-correct creatures is too great to resist.

We got there to find the place deserted, as the sign said that the rodeo is only open Tuesday through Saturday. Not a soul was there, but for some cattle lounging in the adjacent pasture. I took a bunch of pictures as Ivan began scouring the area for egrets and doves. He saw plenty of cowbirds and gulls, but the egrets were nowhere to be found, so we continued our wanderings around Salem County farm country. At least one of us had found our quarry.

The egrets? We finally found them not far away, in a grazing area on Sharptown-Auburn Road. Four of 'em were doing what cattle egrets do -- hanging out in the field with the cows. Another life bird for Sue, another year bird for Ivan. The dove, however, eluded our search.

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