Still, though, we need to find the swans while they're still somewhere in New Jersey, so I reached out to the good folks at Brig for their suggestions. They recommended we try Whitesbog in Brendan Byrne State Forest. Ah, yes. Makes perfect sense: it's not all that far away, as the swan flies, and Whitesbog Village was once the state's largest cranberry producer. Cranberry growing requires bogs that are flooded over the winter to protect the plants, essentially creating shallow lakes where aquatic birds can gather. And, of course, the whole situation is a perfect Hidden New Jersey adventure, blending birding with a unique industry that many people know little about.
|The General Store|
Just our luck, everything is pretty much closed up at Whitesbog during January, so we couldn't get the full experience (the Whitesbog Preservation Trust runs a series of events and tours during the year). Still, we were able to walk around and see the exteriors of some of the restored workers' houses and a few pieces of vintage equipment, and there's also a short bog trail that brings you into a small wooded area across from the general store. It was a bit, uh, soggy during our visit, and some of the boardwalks that would have gotten us over the waterier parts were out of place, so we weren't able to explore the whole thing.
|Some of the workers' houses|
|Somebody in Whitesbog is a Rutgers fan!|
Except they didn't. We drove atop the berms for what felt like miles, with no birds of any kind in sight. This was supposed to be a reliable spot, yet it was completely devoid of avian life. Perhaps a little farther out? Nope. Meanwhile, we were getting farther and farther away from town, and we saw no signs guiding us to the next turn in what we thought would be a loop tour route. In Whitesbog's defense, their website directs visitors to get a map in town before hitting the road, but the visitor center and general store were closed, and the only information at the outdoor kiosk was for past events (and not a map).
You can sense a bit of our confusion in this video. (Well, I was so confused I wasn't talking straight.)
After a while, we began to wonder if we'd somehow missed a turn and ended up trespassing in someone else's bog. Regardless, we weren't seeing any tundra swans, and we'd seen enough bog to satisfy us for quite some time. The GPS would probably be totally useless in these circumstances, so we were totally on our own. "Too bad they don't have live Google Earth," Ivan lamented. Yeah, if that were the case, we'd know where the tundra swans were.
Somehow we made our way back to our starting point, but not without a few bumps and k-turns along the way. We could be extremely thankful that the gods of sugar sand smiled down on us, preventing us from being mired in a soft spot on the berms, but we were still a bit frustrated by the dearth of swans. It's been one of those months: getting some pretty unusual, rarely-seen birds while missing what are traditionally easy species to spot. In any case, I'm sure we'll get to Whitesbog again, when it's a little livelier and things are actually open.