Some of the best birding in central New Jersey can be found in the Sourlands in all four seasons. The nearly 12,000-acre swath of forest is a vital stopover for birds migrating northward in spring and southward in the fall, providing the most significant shelter and sustenance between the Pinelands and the Highlands. For many it is a brief stopover as they head for the northern tier of states and Canada. Others, including some of the rarer warblers and thrushes such as Kentucky Warbler and Veery, will stay to nest and raise their young, providing ample opportunity for birders to add to their checklist.
April through June is the most exciting time for birding in the Sourlands as the neotropical migratory birds are arriving, males are singing on territory and both parents are busy visiting their nests with food for their young. Once the young have fledged the birds may be less conspicuous but they can still be found throughout most of the summer right up to southward migration time, stretching into early October. The woods are full of “confusing warblers”—silent and clothed in dull plumage—a fascinating challenge for serious birders.
The open woods of winter invite birders to search for all seven species of woodpeckers to be found in the Sourlands. Songbirds that come down from Canada to spend the winter here are abundant in the woods and can be found foraging on dried wildflowers and grasses in the meadows. Among them are scores of Juncos and White-throated Sparrows as well as Eastern Bluebirds, which are permanent residents.
There are thousands of acres of preserved open spaces in the Sourlands and miles of trails that are ideal for birding. Somerset County’s Sourland Mountain Preserve in Hillsborough and Montgomery Townships has both woodland and grassland areas. Trails of the Ted Stiles Preserve at Baldpate Mountain in Titusville pass through the heart of the forest and wind along meadows offering opportunities to see and hear some of the region’s rarest warblers. The Sourland Ecosystem Preserve in Hopewell and East Amwell Townships joins two preserves with a trail system. The varied terrain and forest composition of all of these preserves make for a satisfying day of hiking as well as birding. For directions, maps and trail descriptions visit the website of the New Jersey Trails Association, www.NJTrails.org.
Roadside birding offers sightings of grassland birds, including threatened species such as Eastern Meadowlark, Bobolink, Grasshopper Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow and American Kestrel. The endangered Upland Sandpiper has also been documented in the Sourlands. In winter, birders may be lucky enough to spot Short-eared Owls and Northern Harriers.
Both beginning and experienced birders will find a rewarding day birding on the mountain trails and along the country roads of the Sourland region any time of the year.