A guide to the best spots on or near campus for bird watching
Archived article from Apr 13, 2004
By Amy Vames
“Bird migration time in New Jersey is always a time of release — just before the heaviest green of spring, when the weather can still lean back toward winter and when, crisp, yet warm and brilliant, it feels like a new beginning.”
From “Lifebirds” by George Levine, professor of English and director of the Center for the Critical Analysis of Contemporary Culture
With the vernal equinox, a new beginning indeed has arrived at Rutgers. The last patches of stubborn, grubby snow are gone, revealing precious snowdrops and brilliant crocuses as they push their way up through the muddy ground. And, as they do every year at this time, migratory birds are visiting parks, waterways, forests and fields on and around Rutgers’ three campuses.
Although Camden, Newark and New Brunswick are densely populated urban areas, there are plenty of spots on each campus or very close by that offer excellent birding, say several Rutgers professors, who also happen to be expert at sighting avian life.
“The wonderful thing about birding is that all you have to do is look up,” muses Joseph J. Seneca, university professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. “The river, the fields on Busch campus, the gardens at Cook are all good places to find birds. There are lots of opportunities to see interesting birds if you just look up.” On the banks of the Raritan, one can see a wide variety of water fowl and shore birds, including herons, egrets and ibises, which came back to the area last month and start breeding in late April and early May. At low tide, many gulls and other shore birds rest on the sandbars in the river.
Seneca also recommends visiting the Display Gardens on the Cook campus to see warblers, which are on their way north, and the fields at Busch and Livingston for snow buntings and horned larks; they spend the cold months in New Jersey as their version of going south.
Joanna Burger, professor of biology on the New Brunswick campus, also enjoys seeking out warblers around campus. You can see as many as 15 to 20 different species of the tiny birds around campus. But they are just passing through, staying in the area for only a few weeks. “They are coming from South America and Mexico,” says Burger, who is the author of “A Naturalist Along the Jersey Shore” (Rutgers University Press, 1996), among other books. “Some will go to upstate New York, others to Canada.” She recommends taking your binoculars and a field guide this month to Buccleuch Park at the northwest end of College Avenue or to the Display Gardens to get a glimpse of some warblers.
Early morning, she says, before the sound of too much traffic invades the park, is the best time to hear and see birds. Colin Beer, a psychology professor on the Newark campus, says the best birding site near that campus is Branch Brook Park, just a few miles away. Along with the common birds, such as gulls and crows, visitors can see more elusive birds like warblers and nighthawks. “I saw my first and only chestnut-sided warbler in that park in 1960,” he says wistfully. Beer, who teaches courses on animal behavior and is an expert on gull communication, says a wide variety of gulls can be seen along just about any waterway in the state, including laughing, herring, ring-billed and black-headed gulls.
Birders on all three campuses say New Jersey is also an excellent place to see raptors, or birds of prey. Michael Lang, chair of the public policy and administration department at Camden, says the area’s rivers, streams and wetlands attract such species as bald eagles, ospreys, red-tailed and Cooper’s hawks, and vultures. His favorite birding haunts are city parks along the Delaware River; Petty’s Island, which is between Camden and Pennsauken on the Delaware Channel; and Farnham Park on the Cooper River.
Lang has been active in working to secure a strip of parkland around the city near its waterways as part of the Camden Greenway program and is advocating for the National Audubon Society to establish an Audubon Center in Camden. The society is beginning to recognize the importance of establishing urban habitats for birds, Lang says.
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