American Bald Eagle

The symbolism of seeing a bald eagle on election day during my first visit to Forsythe Wildlife Refuge will always make that sighting special to me, but it wasn’t until several months later in April 2021 that I had an even better bald eagle encounter, one that is my favorite one to date. And fortunately, I was able to capture many shots of which this is one. I was walking along Wildlife Drive again and spotted a white-headed shape on a tree on a little island in the bay. I waited patiently and took photos as it perched, seemingly content.

American Bald Eagle perched on a tree near Wildlife Drive at Forsythe Wildlife Refuge
American Bald Eagle (Photo by Beach and Barrens)

It was getting late, and it decided to get some hunting in before nightfall. It finally took off and started soaring back and forth keeping close watch on the water. It was windy, and I think it got curious about me and my camera. As it passed over me at one point, it took a moment to hoover on the wind currents and peer down at me as I clicked away. 

See more images from my encounter in this Beach and Barrens Facebook album.

American Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) facts from Cornell All About Birds

  • National emblem of the United States since 1782.
  • Juvenile bald eagles have brown heads and do not have the characteristic white head plumage until they reach adulthood after about five years.
  • Fish are the preferred food of bald eagles.

Bald eagles became rare in the 1900s but conservation efforts led to a dramatic rebound, and it was removed from the Endangered Species list in June 2007. Not only is this great news for the eagles, it spurred the growth of ecotourism as this article in the Press of Atlantic City highlights:

A federal study estimates that the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Galloway Township alone is at least party responsible for $8 million worth of Atlantic County’s economy, with visitors spending money at hotels, restaurants, gas stations, convenience stores and retail shops.

– New Jersey’s bald eagle population soaring, by Thomas Barlas, Press of Atlantic City, 4-27-16

Food, Drink, and Live Music at Rack’s

Restaurateur Alisha Miller opened Rack’s Bar and Grill on the White Horse Pike in Atco in 2003. Almost 20 years later, it’s become a local fixture and hotspot with good food, a large selection of beers, including craft brews, pool tables, and outdoor bar. Miller also owns a second location on the Black Horse Pike in Williamstown. 

I used to pass the Rack’s in Atco frequently when I boarded my horse in 2017 at a farm in nearby Evesham. I didn’t stop to eat, though, until the weekend I moved to Atco. Two of my favorite appetizers include the crispy brussels sprouts, a bacon and balsamic glaze concoction, and seared yellowfin tuna with just the right amount of wasabi sauce. I also recommend both the teriyaki salmon and black sesame encrusted ahi tuna steak entrees. Great price for each and includes vegetables and steamed white rice. Rack’s used to have a Sunday brunch with the best Bloody Mary’s I’ve ever had. They unfortunately do not have it anymore.

Rack’s is also a popular venue for local live music. Members of Goodman Fiske, Atco’s hometown favorite band, featuring vocalist Ryan Fiske, guitarist Gene Goodman, drummer Anthony Baker, and bass guitarist Alex Staff, periodically appear at Rack’s. Check out their website for future performance dates. You can also book them through STARS Productions.

One of the first bands I saw as Rack’s began featuring live music again after the pandemic was the South Jersey alternative pop duo Kicking Sunrise, with lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Joe Murphy and drummer Mark Altamuro, played for patrons. The Washington Township duo has been active since 2013 and signed with independent record label Right Coast Music. Check out their website for future tour dates.

A favorite local band of mine that I saw at Rack’s for the first time is JEM and the Vibe.They have a few brass players among their members, including a trumpet player! You can book them through their website and follow their Facebook page to learn about future performances.

A Year at Goshen Pond

Goshen Pond is a New Jersey state campsite located in Wharton State Forest along the Mullica River. Situated upriver from nearby Atsion Lake in Shamong, it is easily accessible by turning off Atsion Road onto an unimproved dirt road and following the signs to the campground. According to the New Jersey State Park Service website, Goshen Pond is a pet-friendly, primitive campsite with a hand water pump, fire rings, and pit toilets. The South Jersey Trails website provides tips for visiting and a review of the facilities, noting: “The pond is quite pretty.  Check it out especially at sunset.  There is a beaver dam and lodge in the pond.” I couldn’t agree more, and I made regular visits to the pond from the spring of 2020 through the spring of 2021, photographing the area during that year’s worth of time.

Spring 2020

I first photographed Goshen Pond on May 3rd after a friend recommended it to me. I took my DSLR with me only to discover I left the battery plugged into the charger at home. Doh! I did manage to get this pair of shots with my iPhone 8. If you look closely at the second photo, you’ll see a carpenter bee buzzing across the picture. I didn’t even realize I captured it until I saw it on my computer later. The third shot is a cropped close-up of my little photobombing friend.

The next time I visited the pond the following Thursday evening, I managed to remember to put the battery in my camera and spent several hours happily snapping pictures. Since the location of the pond was very close to my house as well as the farm where I boarded my horse, I decided to return for multiple visits and photograph the changing seasons. Most of my first spring shots were scenic, but in June, I photographed this beautiful cedar waxwing very high up a tree. Wish it had been a little closer.

Summer 2020

Goshen Pond teemed with life in the summer of 2020. An orchard spider spun a web along a path in the bushes. A wild Blue Flag Iris bloomed near the water and water lilies on its surface. A gray catbird called in a summer evening, and I caught another diving off a tree. A short hike yielded shots of a curious deer and a tiny gray tree frog. The deer was quite interested in the strange camera sounds coming from my Jeep so she stared for about a minute and then took off. Poor thing had some deer flies on her forehead, though. This shot of a bumblebee on some pickerel weed came out a little blurry, but I thought it looked kind of cool anyway.

Autumn 2020

In October, the woods around the pond lit up with the fire of autumn color. It was prime time for kayaking. An irruption of pine siskin occured in 2020, and I found a few to photograph in addition to a bluejay and woodpecker. I saw one last lone water lily floating on the water. Late autumn brought an early herald of winter with a light snowfall in mid-December.

Winter 2021

Ice formed on the pond as the weather turned cold. We received a good amount of snow in the Pine Barrens in the winter of 2021. I hiked around the pond in mid-February after a heavy snowfall.

The Beaver Paparazzi and the Mayfly Dance

Spring rolled around again. While hiking around Shamong’s Goshen Pond in Wharton State Forest one evening in April of 2021, I heard a very loud splash. It sounded like something big dropping or being thrown in the water. Puzzled and a bit unnerved, I went to investigate. Turns out it was not someone dumping a body or anything. It was one of the pond’s resident beavers slapping its tail in warning. Clearly, it did not appreciate someone lurking near its territory shooting photos like one of the beaver paparazzi. After delivering the tail slap, the beaver dove under water where it could utilize its tail as a rudder to get away from what it perceived as a possible threat. 

This was the first time I encountered a beaver in the wild slapping its tail. It was pretty cool to hear and watch. I did capture some video here on Youtube. I wish the quality was better. I’ve just started experimenting with my DSLR’s video capability. I lost focus on the beaver but was happy I got the splash.

Beavers were nearly driven to extinction thanks to demand for their fur and deforestation. They have since recovered in New Jersey and throughout the rest of the country. The New Jersey beaver population is now so robust that the state allows trapping with the proper permits. 

Beavers are natural engineers and famous for the dams and lodges they create. Their construction activities can sometimes bring them into conflict with humans by causing flooding and tree damage. The Humane Society offers some tips for dealing with beavers and their dams.

Although the beaver was my most memorable wildlife encounter at Goshen Pond to date, I also had another fascinating experience with some local fauna. While driving down the dirt road to the pond at dusk, I noticed some kind of winged insects swarming around my Jeep and floating in the air. By sheer luck, I had wandered into the spring mayfly emergence, when these little creatures hatch en masse and perform an ephemeral and ethereal dance around each other like magical fairies.