Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Becoming a more local birder

When it comes to birding locally or having a "local patch", I am ashamed to say that it's not something I've embraced. Is it because I don't have any good habitat nearby? Not at all - there are some decent parks around and even a darn good one on a major river on my way to work. I've never once stopped there to bird before work. :( No I don't have any excuse. There are terrific grasslands 20 minutes away, marshes nearby, and a bayfront not too far away.

For some reason, I'm always willing to default to a 45 minute drive to bird at Sandy Hook. It's partially because I like the social element of birding there where I'm bound to run into other birders - and usually ones I know. It's also a place I feel comfortable and I know it well.

With Baby Julian (did I mention he has a name?) coming in September, I know that birding closer to home will become a necessity. I'm going to embrace it fully. I've already began researching local spots, checking out Google maps, and talking to friends. I'd like to concentrate on my home county of Middlesex County even though I'm on the border of a county that has a lot better habitat (and a fall hawkwatch). Middlesex County, in my opinion, is very underbirded except for a small handful of locations. It's mostly developed, but has some interesting waterfront areas, a major river, some nice swamps, and even an odd remnant piece of Pine Barrens habitat (more on that in a future post). It's a pretty large county by NJ standards too. So, stay tuned for future posts highlighting some of these locations and the birds I find along the way. My one big question is... Can someone tell me where there is decent grassland habitat in this county!?


John said...

Have you tried birding the fields around Cook Campus? In addition to the pastures along College Farm Road, there are also some big fields between Route 1 and Rutgers Gardens. I'm not sure if it's good breeding habitat, but it could be good for stopovers.

I believe South Brunswick has some farms left, though more and more are being converted to subdivisions.

Then there is also that ex-farm at the corner of Washington and Metlars.

With all the cities in the county, it wouldn't surprise me if there were vacant lots with some grassland-type species. Maybe not bobolinks, but possibly some other birds. I've seen pipits in Johnson Park. And there are landfills.

Kallen305 said...

Patrick, I love the name of your baby boy. I bet you can't wait!

I prefer local birding to long distance birding because I keep my Worcester County checklist (the county I live in). This is my most important list and I actually bum out if I have to go out of the county to get the bird. I say find some spots and start a new checklist for your town, county, neighborhood, etc. I guarantee you will learn to really enjoy it.

Good luck and I can't wait to read what kind of birds you get.

Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

I think you might find a different kind of satisfaction in birding near home.

Have you found a good baby-pack to carry Julian along while birding?

Patrick Belardo said...

@John - Thanks for the suggestions! A friend of mine used to live on that farm on Metlars. They have breeding Blue Grosbeak there. I talked to the grassland breeding survey folks at NJ Audubon and they have no survey spots in the county. Sad.

@Kim - I'm looking forward to it.

@Lynne - Yep, I did find a cool baby pack thanks to a suggestion from a birding friend. It's got a sun shade and everything. This kid is going to know the call of an American Bittern before he knows his own name!

Jochen said...

Check your local breeding bird atlas for Henslow's Sparrow.
If a Grassland has breeding Henslow's, it is good. If it hasn't, it is not worth visiting.
Sorry, Montana and North Dakota: Henslow's rule.

Patrick Belardo said...

@Jochen - Unfortunately, we don't get too many breeding Henslow's here in NJ period. I think there's been one in the last 5 years and it was on private land not in my county.

John said...

Given the density of the state, and particularly of the county, I think Grasshopper Sparrow would be a better grassland indicator than Henslow's.

Jochen said...

I tease because I love - Henslow's.


Jennifer Hanson said...

Not in county, but the fields around Walnford in Monmouth Co. (just south of Allentown) would be my "local" grassland spot. Then again, I live in the nethermost reaches of southern Middlesex, just before it turns into Mercer or Monmouth. There's a lot of in-county farmland near me, but it's not that birdy. The grassland areas in Franklin Twp., Somerset, might be more convenient to you.

In any case, good luck with going local!

Patrick Belardo said...

Yeah, the Franklin Twp spots are really close to me. I was just hoping to find something in the county itself. I hope to one year do a Middlesex County big year. I wonder if anyone has done that.

Donna said...

I've found a nice variety of sparrows + Indigo Bunting at Ireland Brook Park off of Riva Ave., but I wouldn't call it a grassland habitat, more brushy. I think this area has a lot of potential.

But, the grasslands across Rte.27, in Somerset County, are where you're going to find the GRSP's.

I'm interested to read about what you find--I've been looking for a good patch in Middlesex Cty for 2 years!

Jennifer Hanson said...

I think Middlesex would be a very interesting county to do a big year in. There's a lot of variety in habitat (even if we're scratching our heads about the grassland birds at the moment). It would be an interesting challenge, and isn't that what big days/years are all about anyway? ;)

Susan T. said...

Cook campus has been a something of a disappointment for me. Along College Farm Road, I only see anything out of the most ordinary during migration. I've birded Rutgers Gardens and it's hit or miss there, sometimes good, sometimes bad.

Middlesex is a big challenge, I think. If that's where Cheesequake is located, that's another big disappointment. I've never had a good day there.

One source for you is East Brunswick's Environmental Commission page: There's a small but active group of birders in East Brunswick.

You are really much closer to the many choice spots in Somerset County. Of course, if doing a big year, Middlesex's bayside spots would give you a boost.

Patrick Belardo said...

@Susan - I have actually never visited Cheesequake. It's a shame that it was a disappointment for you. I plan on giving it a try in the winter. It is Middlesex. Raritan Bay will be nice to bird more often and Arthur Kill has some nice spots.

I am probably closer to some of the Somerset spots, although it is still about a 20 minute ride for me to many of those areas like Griggstown, D&R Canal, etc.

Thanks for the info on East Brunswick. I forgot about that gang!