Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bird Walk at Helyar Woods

This morning I helped lead a bird walk through Helyar Woods (adjacent to Rutgers Gardens) with a fellow graduate student, Charlie Kontos.  We led a group of 15-20 people from the Potting Shed around the trails of Helyar before re-emerging near the Log Cabin.  It was an absolutely gorgeous day, especially around 10am before the heat really started to kick in.

Before even beginning the tour, we heard a Carolina Chickadee singing and quickly spotted the tiny bird darting around from branch to branch.  The Black-Capped Chickadee and Carolina Chickadee are tough to distinguish, and you really need to hear their song to be 100% certain...and even then, they hybridize where their ranges meet (namely, in New Jersey) so it's tough to tell what you're really looking at.  This bird was singing the main song of the Carolina Chickadee, though, so it was neat to show people the difference (as we heard plenty of Black-Capped Chickadees throughout the day) even if this particular bird happened to be a hybrid.

Early on we spotted a female Eastern Towhee along with an abundance of Chipping Sparrows.  White-Throated Sparrows and Song Sparrows darted about the edge of the forest.  As we started walking along the main trail we could hear a Carolina Wren singing in the distance.  We could also hear the hum of cars and trucks on Route 1, but alas, that's birding in central Jersey.  A Scarlet Tanager gave us a nice surprise, as did a few Great Crested Flycatchers.  There were Yellow-Rumped Warblers everywhere, and earlier in the day we picked up a few Palm Warblers mixed in with them.  

As we came to the edge of the lake, we were excited to see two Wood Ducks swimming off in the distance.  American Goldfinches were singing and flitting about the rest of the way back to the entrance to the woods.  We walked along the forest edge back to the Potting Shed and added Hermit Thrush, House Finch, Downy Woodpecker, and Red-Bellied Woodpecker to our list for the day.

It was a great way to celebrate Rutgers Day, get out and breath some fresh air, and get people excited about birds and the outdoors.  On our way back we passed a wildflower tour and a salamander walk beginning.  See what you're missing?  These happen every year for Ag Field Day (now included in the all-encompassing Rutgers Day), so make sure to check it out next spring!