Yesterday, my sister-in-law took me out to the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. https://www.fws.gov/refuge/edwin_b_forsythe/
I had never heard of this place. And despite growing up in New York, not too terribly far away, I really never knew that the southern New Jersey coast was a series of barrier islands and a huge swath of wetlands.
The Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge is a huge preserve, more than 47,000 acres of coastal habitat and wetlands, protected and managed for wildlife. It was established in 1939, and expanded in 1967 to include the Barnegat region, though the entire area was renamed in 1984 after the late Congressman Edwin B. Forstythe.
This region is mostly salt marsh - low, flat, muddy marshes where fresh water washes down from the mainland, and saltwater comes in from the bays and canals that separate the mainland and the barrier islands. Which means the water level changes with the tides.
Several varieties of grasses and flowers have adapted to the half-fresh-half-saltwater environment. Fish swim in and out, there are turtles, and muskrats, beavers, all kinds of woodland creatures, and of course wonderful birds.
The refuge has several hiking trails through the woods, but it was a hot day and this is the season of the green-head flies. Which are the local biting horse fly. Yeah, we skipped the hiking trails.
The alternative is an eight mile drive out along causeways that link a couple of tiny islands, and surround much of the water in this small section. There are a few places to stop and walk along a boardwalk over the marsh, to look at birds and turtles and fish, as well as the plants growing in this special environment.
There are also places to just pull over and watch the birds.
Plus a lookout tower to climb, with wonderful views of the seabirds who live here, and come to dive for fish or forage along the beaches and mudflats.
The drive is marked by signs that are in the shape of flying geese, which correspond to various places of interest on the map. Turtle Cove, the lookout tower, the boardwalk, the inner pool, and so on. I just really liked the sign's shape!
Best of all, there are platforms for nesting peregrine falcons and osprey! These large birds of prey, especially the osprey, build gigantic nests and lay a couple of eggs. We thought perhaps the platforms help prevent muskrats from finding and eating the eggs or very young birds. There were very few trees in the salt marsh, so the park rangers have built these platforms for the birds.
It was so interesting! We drove slowly, stopping constantly to walk around, watch the birds, climb the tower, take photos. I think my favorite were the families of osprey, especially this one with a young osprey looking as if he's testing his wings and thinking about flying. Mom or dad osprey was sitting on a post nearby, waiting to see if junior was ready to take the plunge. Junior never did. Just balanced on the side of the nest, looking like a young child standing on the high dive platform and rethinking the wisdom of this move.
We saw a variety of hawks. All kinds of seagulls, which are remarkably noisy and argumentative. Barn swallows and tree swallows swooping over the grasses and water, hopefully eating all the mosquitoes and flies. Stately and majestic egrets and herons, flapping their huge wings leisurely or walking around on their stilts of legs, looking for dinner. Plus a few glossy ibis flew by, dark and shiny, with their signature long curving beaks. (I had no idea we had ibis in this part of the world!)
There are occasional bald eagles, but we didn't see any. Or swans, who migrate through. We did see Canada geese, ducks, and cormorants paddling around in the water.
It was wonderful! Quiet and tranquil, inhabited solely by all these wonderful birds, and large expanses of just water and grasses and pink flowers. (And that's Atlantic City on the island in the distance, on the other side of the bay.) We had a fabulous time!
It was sunny, but the breeze from the bay and the ocean beyond made it comfortable, and kept the insects away. The fact that we saw so many nesting osprey was incredible, especially since they are still considered an endangered or threatened species. They seem to have made a remarkable comeback, at least here at this refuge.
If you ever get to New Jersey, this is definitely a place to visit!!!