A Eurasian Wigeon drake at the Lake Forest section of Lake Hopatcong has attracted more birders than the usual two or three enthusiasts that frequent New Jersey’s largest freshwater lake. This is a positive development as the lake deserves closer scrutiny in the winter months. Depending on weather and water conditions, the lake can have impressive numbers of gulls and a healthy variety of waterfowl.
(Using mocosocoBirds’ custom search with Lake Hopatcong as the search query will present a glimpse of the bird life at the lake during the previous six years.)
More than likely, this is the same Eurasian Wigeon found by David Harrison in Roxbury Twp. during the Southwest Morris Bird Count on January 15. Possibly it is the same fellow that visited Lake Musconetcong in October 2016.
Prior to the Lake Musconetcong sighting, the most recent documented occurrence of Eurasian Wigeon in Morris County was in February and October of 2010, making the Lake Hopatcong event especially welcome to birders new to the area.
Lake Hopatcong is hosting a growing number of ducks as the season moves into late winter. Over 150 Ring-necked Ducks are at the lake along with varying numbers of Gadwall, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Mergansers and hundreds of Common Mergansers. A Red-breasted Merganser female was south of Nolan’s Point on Feb. 11.
(Click on the photo for a larger image.)
The wintering Tundra Swans continue to be viewed at the Lake Forest area. Tundra Swans are annual winter visitors to the lake in varying numbers. Practically all of Morris County’s Mute Swans are wintering at the lake as well.
Gulls at the north end of the lake continue to provide interest. A Glaucous Gull was seen Feb. 11 (Alex Bernzweig, et al) and on Feb. 5 (Jeff Ellerbusch).
An Iceland Gull was roosting on the ice the morning of Feb. 11 and is one of 2-3 different individuals of this species at the lake recently.
A Lesser Black-backed Gull or two is occasionally seen. 1,000+ Herring Gulls in a few large groups is not unusual. Great Black-backed Gulls are at the lake in larger than usual numbers this winter. 56 were counted on January 29. Hundreds of Ring-billed Gulls are scattered throughout the lake. Bonaparte’s Gulls are annual visitors.
Lake Hopatcong is an interesting place to bird in the late fall, winter and early spring seasons; that is before the boats come out of drydock. There is absolutely no reason to visit the lake during the warmer months unless you enjoy viewing thousands of people riding every watercraft imaginable on all 2,500 acres of the lake. Hardy boaters are in the water as late into the fall and early winter as possible. When thickly frozen, the lake is populated with ice fishermen (not this year).
This hyperlink, Lake Hopatcong, offers viewing options. A 15-20 point route gets covered by this writer most weekends during the winter depending on the availability of open water and birds. The huge rim of Lake Hopatcong is entirely developed with residences and commercial establishments, except for very small sections here and there. This makes for difficult viewing although, with creativity and respect for private property, the entire lake from the Morris side can be viewed during the off-season.
Lake Hopatcong forms part of the Morris and Sussex County border. The lake serves as the source of the Musconetcong River which begins at Hopatcong State Park, the southwestern end of the lake. West of the river is Sussex County. The far western shore of the lake from the State Park all the way up to Nolan’s Point is Sussex County. According to maps, the county line splits Henderson Cove in half between Sussex and Morris.
The entire southern and eastern shore along with Bertrand, Raccoon and Halsey Islands (and the eastern half of Henderson Cove) are in Morris County. North of Nolan’s Point, the entirety of the lake including both shores, as well as the Brady Rd. Bridge area, all of Lake Forest and Prospect Point, as well as Prospect Point Preserve and Liffy Island (both opposite the Lake Forest Yacht Club), are in Jefferson Township, Morris County.
The rich history of Lake Hopatcong is documented in many sources on the Internet, the inevitable Wikipedia entry being one. Mining, the Morris Canal and the lake’s development as a vacation hotspot in the late 19th and early 20th centuries are fascinating elements in the story of Lake Hopatcong. Yours truly visited the former Bertrand Island Amusement Park on a class field trip many decades ago. The park is now a condo development and residential area.
Lake Hopatcong is the largest freshwater body in New Jersey but not by natural means. Nearby Budd Lake in Morris County holds the distinction of being the largest naturally formed lake in New Jersey.
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