Once upon a time, friends and I would go to Duke Gardens every February to walk in the greenhouses and feast on the riotous color of spring flowers; a treat for our winter-weary eyes. We did it for years. Then Doris Duke died, we all scattered to the winds and the annual pilgrimage fell by the wayside. So when I heard that NJ Audubon was making arrangements for an optional grassland birding training session at Duke Farms, I jumped at the chance.
As we milled about in the cool gray morning, waiting for everyone to arrive, birds called from the trees and shrubs. Chimney Swifts fluttered over head, a flock of Cedar Waxwings lifted to settle in another tree, a Song Sparrow belted out his song and off in the distance the call of an Indigo Bunting lifted skyward. The assembled birders chatted about the World Series the week before, the birds they were hearing and seeing, Nightjars or the lack thereof, their grassland survey routes and the wonder of Duke Farms and its huge amount of grassland in the midst of suburban NJ.
Once we got to the fields in the western portion of the estate, the first thing we heard was the buzzing of a Grasshopper Sparrow; followed soon after by the bubbling song of Bobolinks. Lots and lots of Bobolinks. Like everywhere you look Bobolinks. I just love them! We were also treated with an immature Orchard Oriole, lots of Indigo Bunting and big open sky. Part of the joy of grassland birding for me is being out in big sky country.
Here’s the list of what we saw, probably not complete and done from memory: Cooper’s Hawk dashing past with a yellow warbler in its clutches; Red-tailed Hawk; Am. Kestrel; Chimney Swift; Purple Martin; Barn Swallow; Tree Swallow; N. Rough-winged Swallow; E. Bluebird; Catbird; N. Mockingbird; Cedar Waxwing; House Wren; E. Meadowlark; Red-winged Blackbird; Bobolink; Orchard Oriole; Indigo Bunting; Grasshopper Sparrow; Savannah Sparrow; Song Sparrow.