We turned onto the gravel road into the woods. It was farther away than I remembered. As we made our way down the road, I was getting excited about what we would experience.
The last time I went to Cloverdale Farm in Barnegat was in 2012 with Maria. We went down a dirt road and parked somewhere in a clearing near an old building. There was no visitor center or restrooms because Cloverdale was a newer addition to the county park system. It was a place of undisturbed beauty, and I remember seeing many egrets and swallows there (even though I didn’t know much about birds at the time).
Sunday was my first time back at Cloverdale Farm since 2012. This time Dave and I were going to Cloverdale Farm Big Day of Birding. Over the years, Cloverdale has become a popular birding spot. I frequently see birds from this location on the rare bird list, and of course, I checked the list before we went. There were two rare birds listed, a Prothonotary Warble and a Red-headed Woodpecker (we didn’t see either by the end of the day). When we arrived I noticed that it was a little more developed (in a good way), but still retained that natural beauty.
Cloverdale Farm Big Day of Birding was an event featuring many South Jersey birding groups. There were presentations throughout the day as well as guided tours by naturalists. Dave and I attended two presentations. Our first presentation was by Allen Jackson of the Purple Martin Conservation Society about the management of Purple Martin housing. We also learned about the NJ Osprey Project with Ben Wurst of the Conserve Wildlife NJ Foundation. Both presentations were interesting an informative.
From there it was time to go birding on our own. Outside the visitor center we spotted a female and male Eastern Towhee, a Blue Grosbeak, Chipping Sparrows, American Goldfinches, Carolina Chickadees, House Finches, Eastern Bluebirds, and an Indigo Bunting. A Great Egret waded through a nearby pond while Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows, and Red-wing Blackbirds flew in all directions. A tiny, streaky shorebird flew by and landed near the pond’s edge. It rapidly pumped its tail while probing the mud. It had a yellow legs, a yellow bill with a black tip, and a pronounced white eyering. It was our first Spotted Sandpiper!
Cloverdale Farm has actually been a working cranberry farm since the early 1900s. The New Jersey Pine Barrens have been a top producer of cranberries since the 1800s, (cranberries for Ocean Spray are harvested in nearby Chatsworth). Now that it’s spring, the bogs at Cloverdale have been drained, but the trail leads around the bogs and a reservoir into the woods. We saw Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, more Chipping Sparrows, various Woodpeckers, Tufted Titmice, and Gray Catbirds along the trail.
We arrived back at the visitor center to check the ponds again. We were watching a female Red-winged Blackbird when suddenly something dark popped out of the grass.
A Little Blue Heron! It flew overhead to the adjacent pond to forage near the Great Egret (which the egret was not too thrilled about). We watched it wade around a bit before it took off again over our heads into the distance. Little Blue Herons are about 22 inches tall (as compared to its larger cousin, the Great Blue, who is around 38 inches) and a dark, purplish blue. The heron we saw was an adult. How could we tell? Juvenile Little Blue Herons are actually white.
Being a “white” blue heron can have an advantage when it comes to feeding. Immature Little Blues look very similar to Snowy Egrets. Snowy Egrets are more tolerable when it comes to these immature birds than to the blue adults. This white “disguise” allows young Little Blues to forage closer to Snowy Egrets. With the help of the Snowy, the Little Blue is able to catch more fish. Immature Little Blues start gaining their adult plumage after a year. As they molt and the new plumage grows in they get a “patchy” white-and-blue look, which is usually described as “calico” or “pied”.
Cloverdale Farm Big Day of Birding was a fun and informative event. I’m glad Dave and I made the trip to this birding hotspot. We definitely plan on going back to Cloverdale Farm for more birding adventures.