We were visiting Paul's family for Easter this weekend, and this morning I got to go with Paul's dad to explore a bit of the New Jersey Pine Barrens! We walked some of the trails at the Michael Huber Prairie Warbler Preserve, and it was fun to explore woods so different from the ones I'm now used to in Connecticut. Unfortunately, I didn't arrive prepared with my normal gear, but Paul was kind enough to lend me his camera, and I borrowed one of his family's binoculars -- thanks for being enablers, everyone. :P
We saw a bunch of birds while we were there (although we heard many more that were content to stay out of sight), including the Prairie Warbler in the preserve's name, and Pine and Palm warblers as well. We also found a pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers working on a nest, which was really cool to see -- they're such fun little birds, and I only saw one for the first time a few days ago (the male looks positively angry with his slanting dark "eyebrows").
These are the first Eastern Towhees I've encountered, a male and a female that were scuffling around in the leaves on the path. I've known about these birds all my life, with my mom singing "drink your tea-ea-ea-ea" throughout my childhood, but I can't remember ever actually seeing one before. They're pretty fantastically colored (something not at all represented by this picture), and I especially loved watching the male as he flew, flashing the bright white on his tail and wings against his deep black back and rufous sides. I'm hoping I'll get to see these birds again sometime back in Connecticut.
This Brown-headed Cowbird male was one of a group of four of these birds (two males and two females), and he was definitely showing off for the girls. The males kept fluffing up like this, and they were also making a totally strange sound, something like a stone falling into a pool of water. The field guide we had with us described the call as "creepy" (not a bad descriptor, really), and this is apparently part of this bird's courting ritual. Pretty crazy!
And let's not forget the plants. This Trailing Arbutus was fading already, but the flowers were still very pretty, and completely new to me.
So yeah, the Pine Barrens is a pretty cool place, and I'm glad I got this chance to explore it a little. :D