Well, now, trail heads, you’ve probably been wondering where your trail head in chief has been this winter.
I wish I could tell you that I was off on a long-distance hike in Australia or South America, or perhaps off on a mountain-climbing expedition in the Rockies or the Pyrenees.
But the truth of the matter is, between some ghastly weather in New Jersey this winter, a transition into a new job and not one but two graduate school classes this winter and spring, my hiking time has been severely curtailed. And by extension, so has my blogging time.
This weekend, having finally caught up on some things, I packed up my water bottle, binoculars and copy of “Birds of Eastern North America” and headed someplace I’ve not hiked yet: Watchung Reservation in Union County.
Watchung Reservation is a large piece of hiking real estate: more than 2,000 acres straddling four towns in northwestern Union County: Berkeley Heights, Summit, Mountainside and Scotch Plains. It contains about 13 miles of hiking trails, according to the lovely people at the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, including seven blazed trails. There are also riding stables, the deserted village of Feltville, Scout camp areas and Lake Surprise.
I did the red-blazed half-mile Hilltop Swamp trail near the Trailside Nature Center (check it out, they’ve got lots of really cool exhibits inside) as a warmup before moving over to the History Trail. I wasn’t attempting any sort of distance hikes here – this was a slower-paced birdwatching hike I was doing.
If you’re going birdwatching in northern New Jersey, Watchung Reservation is a great place to go. As I was coming back to my car from the trail, I chatted a bit with one of the staff members who was overseeing the Wild Earth Fest celebrations going on at the nature center. He told me that the woods at the reservation were full of warblers, thanks to a southwest wind that had blown in the day before.
I’m pleased to report that I came home with a nice long list of bird species that I spotted, as well as a pair of extremely muddy hiking boots. (The History Trail is a bit marshy this time of year.)
So what’d I see? There were plenty of black-and-white warblers, at least one common yellowthroat, a few American Redstarts and maybe a blue-headed vireo.
I also spotted a couple of wood thrushes, a few white-throated sparrows and some gray catbirds.
And woodpeckers. We’ve got a lot of red-bellied woodpeckers around here, some downy woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, and the occasional hairy woodpecker. While I was at Watchung, I could have sworn I heard a pileated woodpecker off in the distance.
As a side note, the warblers definitely seem to be moving through here, whether they’re on their way north to Canada or New England for the summer or making their breeding grounds here. Up at Eagle Rock Reservation in Montclair and West Orange, I’ve seen a fair number of yellow-rumped warblers and one or two palm warblers.
I’m going to try to squeeze in some more birding hikes this spring and during the summer, and I just may finally get around to taking out a membership in the Audubon Society.
For further reading and other stuff: