I made a point of getting up early. There’s a special quality of light when you arrive at Negri-Nepote Grasslands early in the morning, misty gold, and the birds are much chirpier. Also, I was hoping to beat the hunters. Negri-Nepote is a grassland preserve in Somerset County, New Jersey, across Rte. 27 and down the road a bit, and the hunting season has been extended, as it has been in many New Jersey preserves, to help cull the deer. I was in luck today, the parking lot was empty. Well, empty of people.
There is one path that leads from the parking lot, on the edge of the forbidden farm to the southwest (those are PRIVATE KEEP OUT signs there). The view up the slope is clouded by early morning fog, so it takes me a minute to see the sparrows flying low across the path, from the trees on the farm border to the tall grass on the other side. Song, Savannah, White-throats, and, yes, Swamp Sparrow.
There have been a lot of Swamp Sparrows this year at Negri-Nepote. Some autumns I don’t see any. I think this is an immature Swamp Sparrow, note the slight streaking on the breast. It was clinging to a grass stalk in the field, enjoying the view, until some instinct told it, “Hunker down, lady with camera approaching!”
The sparrows are mostly silent this time of year. Yellow-rumped Warblers chip up and down the path, small flocks winging through the trees. And, then there are the Blue Jays, yapping away. In the mist, they look more gray than blue.
Up the slope, I easily see an Eastern Towhee and Field Sparrow in the Forbidden Zone. I approach Hannah Pond quietly. Susan T. came up with this name after the storm named Hannah destroyed some of our favorite birdy trees, and we’re making it stick by using it in every NJBirding report. I’m pleased to see my Pied-billed Grebe (I first spotted it two weeks ago) swimming with 16 Mallards.
And, there’s something on the wood duck nesting box, something large with an owl-like head, but not an owl. Northern Harrier! (Northern Harriers have an owl-like facial disk which gives them that special look as well as help them locate prey by sound.) The hawk rises as I try to take it’s photo from the blind, soars for 10 seconds then goes down with a vertical snap, settling on the edge of the pond with whatever it was he decided to eat for breakfast. Every other winged creature in Hannah Pond takes flight.
I hear a Red-tailed Hawk from the direction of the upper field. There is a nesting pair in the preserve, but I usually have to go to the other ends of the fields, northeast or northwest, to see them. Not today. It’s a short-walk morning, a work-day walk. The mist is gone, the uncut grass of the field above the pond shines golden.