Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Michael Huber Prairie Warbler Preserve

The Deerhead
A few years ago, when I didn't know the roads around here as well as I do now, I tried to find this spot, which I was told was a great place for hard to find warblers. I wound up, following Google directions,  almost getting plowed into by a dump truck coming out of a sand quarry dug out deep into the woods and the next right turn I was supposed to take was little more than a footpath going I don't know where.

Last week I went again and, just by looking at a map (imagine that!) I found the place with no trouble at all--basically I made a left off Route 70 and went 4 1/4 miles on Sooy Place Road. I think part of my problem was that I was reluctant to drive on a road I couldn't pronounce, but now that I know that "Sooy" sounds like a hillbilly calling in his hogs, I'm quite comfortable on the road.

And now that I know where it is and how to get there, I looked it up again on a few map sites--all their directions border on the idiotic--they may be a hundred feet shorter in distance but they are way more complicated than they need to be.

The preserve is truly deep into the Pine Barrens--hundreds of acres of pitch pine and jack oak crisscrossed by fairly wide paths. Going there in early July is probably not the best strategy, but in my 3 times there in the last 6 days--I've been getting really bored walking the same places lately--I've found a nice number of warblers and the place is unfamiliar enough to me that I get that frisson of almost being lost in the woods.

My first trip there on Thursday I saw both Blue-winged Warbler (a new bird for Burlington County) and the always sought-after Hooded Warbler. That trip was cut short by unexpected rain. Sunday, I saw my first Prairie Warbler there. I apparently haven't yet walked on the trail that goes through their habitat, because that's the only one I've seen. I got a little farther that day, but that trip was also cut short, this time because a local power outage made it impossible to close our garage door and Shari had to leave the house.

Today, I was able to explore for over 3 hours. I had seen a list by another birder who used "by the deerhead" as a location. I didn't know if that was a geological formation or an actual dead deer. I asked a Burlington County birder friend of mine about it but it was a mystery to him. Today, I found the deerhead--pictured above it is made out of some kind of soft, solid plastic, and I had passed it on my two previous trips, as had my friend all the times he's been there.  No wonder I have problems finding little birds deep in the foliage.

The Huber Preserve does feature a geological formation unique to the Pine Barrens, a couple of "spungs" (which  I can find in no dictionary)--they are somewhat akin to vernal ponds being pools of water not fed by a spring or underground source, but rather bowls of densely packed clay that depend on rainfall to keep them full. Unlike vernal ponds they are not seasonal. There are two listed on the trail map and today I made the trek up to one--don't try this unless you are really tick protected and aware because I picked off more than 10 of the little demons from my socks and pants--only to find that it was simply an overgrown dry spot in the forest. Not a drop of water.

It has been my observation walking in the woods & fields of the Pine Barrens--Whitesbog, Colliers Mills, the Cranberry Bogs, the WMA behind the house--that you are never really that far from a road. You can always hear a car or truck no matter deep in the woods or far out in a bog you are. The Huber Preserve is the first place I've been that I couldn't hear any traffic. Planes yes; they're inescapable especially with McGuire so close. But not an automotive engine in the 3 plus hours I was there.

As I said, summertime is not the ideal time to go here but I will definitely have to make it a go to spot during next year's migration. I also hear from my friend that Red Crossbills are in the area--I may have seen one today, a juvenile, because there was a striped finch that I couldn't place, but I didn't get a look at the beak and I didn't see it that well or that long--those damn leaves!

For my 3 trips I've totaled 29 species. Not very impressive but it takes a while to get to know where the birds are.
Turkey Vulture
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Black-billed Cuckoo
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Great Crested Flycatcher
White-eyed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Wood Thrush
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Blue-winged Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler
Pine Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Northern Cardinal

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