Sunday, May 20, 2012

Birding Watching Reservation

After spending the past few weeks birding Middlesex County, partly in connection with the Middlesex County big day run I did with Patrick, Anthony, and Tom, partly my usual patch birding, and partly for NJ Audubon's Lower Raritan Bird Survey, I felt that I wanted to take a break and go someplace different. One place that looked inviting was Watchung Reservation in Union County. I had been there frequently as a kid but only once, several years ago, as an adult. It is mentioned in Bill Boyle's Guide to Bird Finding in New Jersey, but judging from the eBird data, it appears to be somewhat underbirded for a site in such a densely-populated area.

Watchung Reservation is a long strip of woodland nestled between the First and Second Watchung Mountains. The Blue Brook runs between the two mountains; a dam near the northern end creates a narrow lake. The forest is mature with a high canopy. Unfortunately nonnative invasive plants dominate much of the understory. (During my walk, I noted Multiflora Rose, Japanese Barberry, Garlic Mustard, Japanese Knotweed, Mile-a-minute Weed, and Norway Maple – all very numerous.) However, I did see some signs of a healthier understory, in the form of Tulip Poplar seedlings, Jack-in-the-pulpits, Christmas Ferns, and the Red Baneberry shown below. I also noted a few viburnums such as Mapleleaf Viburnum and another that I think was an Arrowwood Viburnum.

The birding was as good as I had hoped. I started out at the Trailside Nature Center, followed a series of trails to the Deserted Village, and then wound my way back with a short stop at the lake. As I entered the woods, I quickly saw a Northern Parula and heard Blackpoll Warblers. Continuing along the green trail, I found Magnolia Warbler, American Redstart, Ovenbird, and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Near the junction of the green and orange trails, where the trails run along a stream, I heard a Louisiana Waterthrush sing a few times. Continuing along the orange trail, I started hearing thrushes: Wood Thrush, Veery, and even a Swainson's Thrush. I heard quite a lot of Veeries, which pleased me since they sing one of my favorite bird songs. I heard more warblers, too: Black-throated Blue, Blackburnian, and Yellow Warblers. I took a trail that followed Blue Brook south towards the Deserted Village. Along this trail I heard Eastern Wood-Pewees and a Worm-eating Warbler.

There were relatively few birds singing in the vicinity of the Deserted Village when I arrived there. I very vocal House Wren was nesting under the eves of one of the abandoned buildings. An Eastern Phoebe appeared to be nesting somewhere in the area. I also heard an Indigo Bunting singing and saw a Baltimore Oriole. I heard a Least Flycatcher near the lake, but scanning the lake did not produce any waterbirds. A few Chipping Sparrows were on the ground near the scout camp area, and one Red-tailed Hawk was gliding on a thermal high above. Two birds I did not see: Mourning Warbler and Kentucky Warbler, both of which are supposed to be regulars in the vicinity of the Deserted Warbler. I was also surprised not to hear any Scarlet Tanagers; it seemed like good habitat for them. I am glad I revisited Watchung Reservation. It seems like a place worth going back to, especially when birds are singing like they were yesterday.