Barbour’s Pond- Garret Mountain Reservation, Woodland Park NJ

Garret Mountain Reservation is a wonderful urban park. Located in Woodland Park, New Jersey, the park has at least two different vantage points where visitors can look down/out at the city of Paterson and beyond. Along with the paved paths frequented by walkers and joggers and the many picnic areas (some recently updated) with grills and picnic tables, there are also hiking trails. According to Passaic County’s website, the park welcomes over 150 species of birds throughout the year and the County sponsors Bird Watching meet-ups throughout the summer. While they are not as intense, nor as remote as the Appalachian Trail, they do provide good terrain for a short walk. I typically do not follow the whole trail (which basically works its way around the outer edge of the park. Instead I usually walk an easier and shorter loop around Barbour’s Pond.

Well shaded, the trail at Barbour’s Pond has lots of lovely ledges to sit on and watch the swallows. There are also many outlets to the water’s edge, though you often have competition for these spots from fishermen. In the many times I have walked this loop (often my go to spot between the end of the workday and an evening activity) many times and seen a great many birds. Most are the common New Jersey birds you would expect, but I have also seen a Palm Warbler, Killdeer, Ovenbird and what I believe was a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker.

On one particular summer afternoon in July the landscape was dominated, not by the flapping of feathered winging, but rather the flitting of an army of blue dragonflies

While the dragonflies stole the show, there were also Robins, Grackles, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Catbirds and mourning doves around and about. A pair of Canada Geese were surprisingly the only members of the species near the water. At one point I came across three Blue Jays, all a bit unsure of themselves. Upon closer inspection, you could see a few downy feathers still among their mostly adult plumage indicating that they were juveniles. The shrill of a baby Blue Jack was gone, but they still made a racket.

The swallows at Barbour’s Pond are usually far too busy to stop and pose for photos. One did land on a tree. Being darker blue/black, I believe it was a Bank Swallow. Bank swallows sometimes nest along stream bank and I think in the case of Barbour’s pond, they like the rock ledges which line one whole side of the pond. I have also seen Tree and Barn Swallows at the pond, but not on this occasion.

There were three Mallards hanging out in the shade by the edge of the pond, two males and one female. The males were between feathers, just molting into their breeding plumage. Their partially green heads were particularly odd to see. There are apparently six different plumages for the Mallard, four of which are different phases of the male’s feathers. You can see am great image of them all together at: www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/metro/urban-jungle/pages/110830.html?noredirect+on&noredirect=on

Besides the dragonflies, there was a lot of other interesting insect activity. Moths fluttered around and one beautiful blue-black butterfly. I didn’t get an amazing photo of it, but I can see enough of the wings with their iridescent blue to determine it was a Red-Spotted Purple. You can learn more about this butterfly at the North American Butterfly Association’s website: https://www.naba.org/chapters/nabanj/butterflies/red_spotted_admiral.html

Painted turtles were also everywhere, particularly in the algae covered edge of the pond directly in front of the boathouse. At first I didn’t realize quite how many there were. Most weren’t moving an inch. Rather, they were perfectly still, mostly submerged with the exception of just their heads popped up above the blanket of green algae. At first I thought they were the ends of sticks or maybe jagged rocks, but I knew I hadn’t seen that many rocks here on earlier visits. There were at least seven or eight turtles in this concentrated section, floating along, just chillin’.

To learn more about what Garret Mountain Reservation has to offer, and for a map of the trails, visit: www.passaiccountynj.org/passaic_county_park_system/parks/garret_mountain_reservation.php

Splish-splash in the Bird Bath

I was in search of the ideal bird bath for almost two summers before I finally settled with the weighted plastic model I bought from Lowes. Despite the fact that it wasn’t exactly the bird bath I had designed in my imagination, I was very happy to both provide my feathered friends with water and, of course, to observe and photograph their aquatic-antics.

So I did some bird bath research, made sure I was dumping the old water regularly and refilling it with fresh. I even converted a kitchen brush for scrubbing dishes into a bird bath scrubber to get rid of anything gross growing along the edge of the bird bath (I guess I used a bit to much elbow grease because after about three months of cleaning the bird bath, the finishing paint started pealing off the basin).

So my bird bath was in place, clean and welcoming, safe and ready to provide refreshing baths for hundreds of birds.

And they just never took a bath.

They did use the bird bath as a convenient ledge to rest on.

Sometimes they even decided to drink out of it.

Sometimes they even seemed to be scrying the future in its surface.

Even the squirrels were drinking from it…and using it as a jumping point onto my feeders whenever they were feeling particularly bouncy.

But no baths, or at least no baths while I was in the yard. Occasionally I would pull in the driveway and there was a bird looking wet and hopping out of the bird bath. But when I am in the yard, armed with my camera and ready for the water droplets to fall, nothing. Maybe they were shy. I don’t know.

Then one summer day, we had locked ourselves out of our house after an afternoon of grilling and sitting in the yard. I was frustrated with the situation and tired of standing over my husband as he tried to break in to our home, so I took my camera back out, turned my back on my problems and watched the feeders. Within minutes a Starling landed on the bird bath. At this point I had been two years with a bird bath and I knew better than to hope for an actual bath. But I figured if it perched long enough I might be able to get some interesting shots. And then it did the unexpected. It stepped off of the ledge, entered the water and actually bathed. A bird used my bird bath to take a bath! Amazing!

I was so shocked that my frustration with the locked door vanished. My husband didn’t seem to understand the monumental level of excitement about a bird taking a bath in a bird bath, so I left him to his task, feeling great satisfaction that after two years my investment had paid off. I settled back down to watch the feeders some more, assured that we would soon be back in the house, when a Catbird landed on the bird bath. And then he walked into the water. And took a bath.

It is really the little things in life. And the funny part is, if we hadn’t been locked out, I would have been inside cleaning up or something equally mundane and I never would have witnessed these two stupendous baths.