A guide to the best spots on or near campus for bird watching
Archived article from Apr 13, 2004
By Amy Vames
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“You see an amazing variety of birds in the city of Camden because of the extensive waterways here,” Lang says. “I take my binoculars and field guide with me just about everywhere I go. Just steps from campus I’ve seen bald eagles. In the spring, we get purple martins, swallows, woodpeckers, robins, sparrows, goldfinches and red-wing blackbirds.”
All of the birders interviewed by Focus agreed that you don’t have to go to some exotic locale to see interesting and beautiful birds. So even if you only have your lunch hour to stroll around campus, you won’t be disappointed. George Levine, a professor of English and director of the Center for the Critical Analysis of Contemporary Culture, has been birding for a quarter century and is the author of the 1994 book “Lifebirds” (Rutgers University Press). He advises fledgling birders to visit parks and gardens in the early morning or evening, when the birds are most active. Warm days after a rain are also good times to bird.
One of his favorite places to bird is the Ecological Preserve on the Livingston campus. “I’ve seen a good proportion of my lifebirds there,” he says. A lifebird is a bird someone sees for the first time, and they are coveted by birders just as much as rare coins are by numismatists. Warblers, white-eyed vireos, tanagers, flycatchers and thrushes are common in the woods there, Levine says. But, he cautions, wear long pants and be on the lookout for ticks.
Close encounters of the avian kind
Believe it or not, there’s more to campus wildlife than the Easton Avenue bars on a Saturday night. Birds and their sightings have provided many pleasurable and memorable moments for birders on campus. Here are just a few:
Joseph J. Seneca, university professor at the Bloustein School, likes to keep an eye out for chimney swifts during the third week in May as they return to the area after wintering in Peru. Once here, they build nests on the rooftops of university buildings, including at Old Queen’s. “For me, they mark the passage of the year and a new breeding season, and are a reminder to me of the end of the school year,” he says.
Public policy and administration chair Michael Lang on the Camden campus remembers sitting on the banks of Newton Creek once and seeing a stunning example of wildlife in action. “I saw a bald eagle dive into the creek, grab a fish, and then sit and eat it for about 20 minutes,” Lang recalls. “That was right in the city. The inner city is really growing as a habitat for birds,” he adds.
One of English Professor George Levine’s favorite birds to spot at the Ecological Preserve is the blue-winged warbler, a pretty yellow-breasted bird with a blue and white wing. “I can always rely on seeing it there, although it’s not common. It sounds like a cricket.”
And if you’re strolling around campus within the next month or two, take some time to look down in between all the looking up. Biologist Joanna Burger says killdeer, which are shore birds, often nest on campus in the spring, especially near footpaths. “They are remarkably tolerant of people,” she notes. “Listen for the call, a high ascending whistle. It likes to build its nest on the ground. But be careful not to disturb the nest. If you get too close, the bird will get off the nest and do a broken wing display. That’s a ploy to get the intruder’s focus off the nest. Humor them and move so they can return to incubating their eggs.”
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