Eagles were my gateway bird. Seeing them soaring free in Alaska started me appreciating all birds, even a turkey size seagull roosting a few feet from me on the beach in Wildwood, NJ last summer. Now, I’m always looking for activity in the sky. As I’ve been reevaluating the time I want to spend in gambling destinations, I’ve also been trying to take advantage of the casino offers I still have.
My mother has always been a backyard birder, so we decided to visit the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge (or Brig as it’s called in A Guide to Bird Finding in New Jersey) during a comp stay at the Borgata.
We both still played during the trip, but not to the extent I usually would (and not at a level to continue receiving comps). I love to play video poker, but it’s so easy to get carried away. I’m weary of not being able to take advantage of the non-gambling perks I’ve earned, because of such steep gambling requirements, which are generating less and less comps—which I don’t have time to take advantage of!
So, off to Brigantine we went, only I assumed that the Wildlife Preserve was on Brigantine Island, not knowing that Brigantine is made up of one inhabited island and many uninhabited ones, accessible only by boat. You reach the Wildlife Preserve from Atlantic City by car, via Route 30, then Route 9 on the mainland, in about half an hour.
The refuge protects more than 46,000 acres of southern New Jersey coastal habitats and wetlands, but the main attraction is the eight mile Wildlife Drive. There are observation towers and hiking trails along the drive, but you can also just drive around and park on the side of the unpaved road when you want to get a better look at something. (A self-guided tour brochure is available at the entrance to the Wildlife Drive.)
Now, you might think it odd, that I’m suggesting an ecotourism activity during a trip to a gambling mecca, but I found it to be a pleasant and illuminating diversion from the machines. The natural world can be soothing to the soul, if you just slow down and give it a chance. (And believe me, this is coming from a person who can play video poker all day and not go outside at all!)
When you get a few miles into the drive, there is marsh all around you and the Atlantic City skyline is not visible (though the skyline is visible during a lot of it, which makes for an interesting juxtaposition). When you spot something, you just hop out of the car and go look at it. It doesn’t matter how little or how much you know about birds and wildlife, the wow factor is all around you. (It’s more interesting if you have binoculars). Oh, look at those black and white and brown ducks with the fans on their heads (Hooded Merganser, I found out later.) Is that an Egret over there? (I’m so thrilled when my Mom confirms, “Yes, it is.”)
While we were walking out on the raised boardwalk section of the Leeds Eco-Trail, I spotted something moving in the salt marsh and on further inspection, discovered what we later identified as Fiddler Crabs. Who knew? Well, everyone we talked to afterwards, but these interesting little creatures were new to us. We searched for more information on fiddler crabs when we got back to the room. The only purpose of the giant claw on the male is to attract females and people keep them as pets. If the giant claw is to attract females and you only have one male as a pet, that poor thing has to drag that giant claw around for nothing. We ended up discussing fiddler crabs into the night!
Many of the rooms at the Borgata look out over the wetlands, so you can birdwatch from the room too! There are birds visible with binoculars if you have a bay view room and you may be able to see birds flying by the window with the naked eye.
Related: How To Get Into Birdwatching On Your Travels
If you want to experience the marsh, but don’t have a car, you can stroll along the AC Waterfront Sculpture Walk, a 1.1 mile trail that connects the Borgata, Harrah’s and Golden Nugget. You exit out of the back of the Borgata and go around to the street from the outdoor parking lot to pick up the walkway. It’s lovely and relaxing (and free), so just doing a bit of it is worthwhile.