This past weekend, the Core Team traveled out to the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Basking Ridge, NJ. Unable to resist the promise of a great swamp, we decided to see what kind of birding Jersey had to offer us that day.
We didn’t get as early a start as we should have, and that hurt us. The Great Swamp is big. There is a lot of ground to cover and that takes time. These days in the Tri-State area, getting to a birding spot by 11:00 AM doesn’t cut it anymore, because it will probably start raining by 1:00. Those of you from NYC know what I’m talking about.
The Great Swamp actually was a fine place to see birds. In one species-rich area, we spotted American Goldfinches, Northern Cardinals, a variety of swallows, and our new bird for that day, the Northern Waterthrush. The problem was that we couldn’t figure out just where that spot was in relation to the rest of the refuge. Simply put, the Great Swamp lacks adequate signage.
When we found the trails to the blinds, we were pretty impressed. They were raised boardwalks over some very damp forest. Another more extensive set of trails had potential for greatness, but were just too waterlogged to be navigable. The Core Team isn’t easily deterred, but there was no comfortable way to proceed across those newly sprung ponds.
The impassibility of the trail worked to our advantage, because we got caught in a true cloudburst. The canopy of the forest could not protect us from the deluge, so we ran through the swamp and made it back to the car thoroughly soaked and splattered with mud.
The weather obviously played a role in our disappointment, but I still cannot bring myself to rate this NWR as great. Pretty good, no doubt, and I’m sure we’ll be more pleased on a subsequent visit, but the Great Swamp needs some work to be truly great.