Birding from the Comfort of Your Armchair at Cloverdale Farm Park

By J.D. Watson | Jul 31, 2019
Photo by: J.D. Watson

Barnegat — “Sit back, get comfortable. We’ll let the birds come to the feeders and I’ll interpret what we see and hear.”

And so began an enchanting Armchair Birdwatching session at Cloverdale Farm County Park on a recent Friday night.

Patti Trasferini, program coordinator with Ocean County Department of Parks and Recreation, explained the session was intended to be an introduction to birding for those with limited mobility.

Cloverdale Farms, the newest addition to the county park system, is located on the old Collins cranberry bogs and tree farm in Barnegat. The acres of undisturbed forests and bogs make for a birder’s paradise and, as thousands sat in traffic amid the hubbub trying to get to weekend destinations, a lucky handful sat in the quiet among nature’s splendor, overlooking cranberry bogs as the sun went down in the west and a light breeze carried birdsong across the solitude.

Mary Cannon of Manahawkin was among the amateur birders on hand. She described how she delights in watching the birds attracted to her feeder at home. “I love watching them. I could be in the worst mood, but watching the birds, everything gets better,” she admitted.

She and her friend, Kathy Ridgway, also of Manahawkin, both agreed that the birding program on a busy Friday night was the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of the coming weekend. “It’s just so peaceful, so beautiful,” Ridgway said.

Indeed, settling into folding camp chairs and armed with pairs of binoculars, the birders took to watching a couple of feeders to see what might show up. Results didn’t take long. A pair of ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilocus colubris) appeared early and returned often to the hummingbird feeder set up on the side of the visitor’s center.

“The females are territorial. They’ll guard the feeder,” Trasferini explained.

“That’s so funny,” Cannon exclaimed. “For years I was blaming the bully hummingbird on the male.”

Trasferini also explained that the hummingbirds are typically nesting through mid-July and become more active, enabling more people to see them around their home feeders.

As Trasferini was talking about hummingbirds, the birders watched a tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) skim over the surface of the water in a bog beyond the low bushes skirting the lawn behind the visitor center. Trasferini described how a tree swallow can eat its weight in insects every day and where it feeds can be used to accurately predict the weather. “As they fly closer to the ground, they are reacting to a low-pressure system pushing the insects to the ground,” she said.

As the shadows lengthened, more birds came to the feeders: a drab house sparrow (Passer domsticus), a tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) and its pal, a black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) – pals because they often mix flocks together – even the New Jersey state bird, the eastern goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) stopped by to show off his bright yellow plumage. Trasferini showed all how to use her handy field guide to help identify the various species.

Away from the feeders, more birding action continued along the bogs and tree line across the water. “I think I hear a brown thrasher across the water,” Trasferini said, remarkably. The male brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) is said to have the largest song repertoire of any bird found in North America, with documented examples of over 1,100 and some sources estimating beyond 3,000. “They are known for their mimicry,” she said.

A family of Canada geese (Branta Canadensis) ambled by, leading Trasferini to take an unpopular opinion on the bird. “Canada geese are fun,” she said of the bird widely considered a pest. “In the 1970s, New Jersey thought we needed more geese so they introduced a non-migratory variant” of the birds already here who would leave every winter. Now, because of their success, many flocks stay all year long.

Trasferini said birding is an easy hobby to get into. A good pair of binoculars, a good field guide and a willingness to be outside is really all that’s needed. “It’s not an expensive hobby,” she said.

Linda Miller, of Forked River, said she had come to the event because she wanted to know more about the birds she would see around her house. “I get a lot of birds, but I don’t know what they are,” she groused.

Trasferini said she often hears complaints of hawks disturbing home feeders. “If you get a hawk at your feeder, you’re doing a good job attracting a variety of birds. The hawks have to eat, too.”

Before the sun set, Trasferini brought the group to two box nests on the other side of the visitor’s center to see some of the fledglings there. The first contained a tree swallow nest with a few juveniles; the second contained a bluebird (Sialia sialis) nest with four or five juveniles.

Proceeding out to the overgrown bogs, the group was excited to see a mature bluebird on the wing. “I’ve got actual goosebumps,” Cannon exclaimed at seeing the bright blue plumage.

“You’re hooked now,” Trasferini explained. “We call that a lifer. He’s beautiful with his bright cobalt blue back.”

Returning along a path to the visitor’s center, the group encountered another birder, Vicky McErlean from Manahawkin, who was taking pictures in the park and suggested the group take a detour to see a red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), waiting for her dinner at the edge of the tree line a little farther down the path.

“A good birder will want to share,” Trasferini explained with admiration.

Returning back to the visitor’s center, Cannon gushed, “This is an awesome place – so tranquil and peaceful.”

Scott Babcock of Tuckerton agreed. “What a wonderful program! I wish there were more people, but I’m so glad that I came.”

 

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