15. Black Duck Marsh
Jemseg Ferry Road at Scovil Point
Never mind the Black Duck; it’s the Black Terns you might well encounter here. Ducks Unlimited built this wetland conservation project in the mid-1980’s and it has become a jewel of a birding spot for river ferry travelers. On any given day you will see numerous species of birds because the site contains such a variety of habitats. Most of the area is flooded by the spring freshet during April and May, but there is still lots of water around in mid-June. Foshay Lake it seems refuses to let the water out on anyone else’s schedule but its own. By the time you get out of your vehicle you may have already seen an osprey or two soaring just overhead. If the birds seem agitated it’s probably because they are defending a nest located at The Dugway, immediately down the road from the interpretive sign and picnic area. The New Brunswick Power Corporation has been installing artificial nesting towers since the early 1980’s to keep this raptor from building its stick nests on power poles and disrupting people’s conversations on some of the last party lines in New Brunswick.
If the fields are flooded, then the waterfowl will be out in full force. Look for Northern Shoveler, American Widgeon, Mallard, American Black Duck, and Blue-winged Teal. If you are just observing drakes then you know that the nesting period for those species has just really begun. Those brightly decorated little gladiators of the avian world are very loyal to their mate, waiting patiently for the hen to come off her nest so they can fly together again, even for a short time, while the hen gets a drink of water and gobbles up some aquatic invertebrates that provide her with the protein foundation required for egg-laying. Skirt the large fingers of maples to the west and look for the Black-billed Cuckoo, a Gray Catbird, a Baltimore Oriole, or Great Crested Flycatchers. Cut through the field and watch for Bobolinks, or an Eastern Kingbird. On the edges of the sheetwater covering the back of the fields you might spook a Wilson Phalarope or a band of Greater Yellowlegs hurriedly jamming their noses into the shallow water in search of culinary delights.
Even before you climb up onto the dyke of the wetland project, you might have heard the black terns already – calling incessantly as they patrol the open water, swooping down to feed on emerging insects with such an effortless and erratic flair that would make any flight engineer envious of their buoyancy. The floodplain wetlands along the lower St. John River are also a haven for the Salt marsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow, a species normally found in saltwater marshes and the dykelands along the Nova Scotia and New Brunswick border. After the winds settle into the bulrushes of Foshay Lake for the night you might even hear a Yellow Rail calling or what you might think is children playing down the road banging stones together! And if you are there in September just before dark you will witness the sudden termination of the feeding chatter of Red-winged Blackbirds clinging to the stems of wild rice, just like someone had come along and flicked the switch to say “good night”.