Monday, February 25, 2013

Ivy League Birding: Princeton W.A.

It is a lesser known and celebrated fact that the prestigious Princeton College in New Jersey actually is named after a wildlife refuge in eastern Iowa. Of course, most things in the northeast are actually named after obscure midwestern wildlife refuges. This refuge, like the college, has some prestigious and fancy to-do birds. Also like Princeton (honestly, I have no idea) the atmosphere here was bitterly and bitingly cold. The riparian woodlands and the adjacent, off-shooting fingers of the Mississippi provided some flowing water and habitat for those brave wintering waterfowl and other perennial birds. Fanciest of all out sightings was this pair of Trumpeter Swans.

Equally conspicuous, though not due to its size or elegance, was this single Ross's Goose, who was doing its best to stay alive in the rough and tumble world of a Canada Goose Gang.

It is curious to ponder how this single Ross's ended up in this secluded area, without any other Geese of its type. We didn't even see any Snow Geese around. Was he trying to be clever in joining up with this gang, thinking they were one of the groups that would take him to the warm, lush golf courses of Arizona? Did he just get lost or left behind and fall in with the the biggest, loudest, most protecting flock he could find? Are all of the Canada Geese actually his adopted children? Any of these are possibilities.  


The woodlands arounds the Princeton water features did well in hosting the expected winter fare for the area. White-throated and American Tree Sparrows were abundant, despite the frigid wind. In fact, what came across as a frigid wind was probably a simple, cool breeze to the tough-as-nails Tree Sparrows.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers were also numerous, and we even got a lifer Red-headed for me, though it took off before it was possible to take any photos. Still, Red-bellied is a pretty good Woodpecker. It's like the finished version of the similarly but more conservatively capped Gila Woodpecker in the southwest.

We picked up a few Downy Woodpeckers as well, though this male was actually photographed at a different site. From this angle, the bird's head reminds me of a Star Wars stormtrooper, which reminds me that I reference Star Wars really often.

The Swans and Ross's Goose were nice finds and unusual for the area. We picked up some Horned Larks on the way out just to add some yellow to the day's color palette, and saw plenty of Kestrels and Red-tails perched along the drive home. So yes, no big deal but now I've birded my way through Princeton. I'll be expecting big grants and offers from the Cornell Ornithology School any day now...