That passage from the 1930's era WPA Guide to New Jersey is still true to some extent. Despite development and encroachment, a lot of Troy Meadows still exists as a haven for a variety of flora and fauna, though the site doesn't show up on a lot of the online birding reports these days. Ivan read a report of vesper sparrows there on Mocosocobirds.com the day before Sandy hit, so off we went.
|Vesper sparrow at Troy Meadows.|
Courtesy Jonathan Klisas.
Degraded though it may have been by the footprint of human roadways and utility rights of way, Troy Meadows still has a lot to offer. We accessed it via a residential Parsippany street which eventually turned into a rutted dirt road lined with brush and phragmites. The track got muddier and more deeply pocked, to the point where Ivan found a safe opening to pull over, and we took the rest on foot. Walking several hundred feet down the road, we finally got to a broad clearing within a larger field of marsh grass and phrags, allowing us a wide view into the distance.
To me it felt as if we'd been transported to the Meadowlands, or maybe to some kind of wetlands version of Kansas wheat fields, with swaying fronds as far as the eye could see. Still, the ground below our feet was carpeted with what looked like tire shreds, dotted with plastic disks and cartridges that had either come from target shooting or fireworks. It's pretty obvious from the scattered beer bottles and wrappers that irresponsible locals capitalize on the relative desolation of the meadows to horse around.
The wind was already kicking up a pace by the time we got there, and wildlife was definitely hunkering down to ride out Sandy's lengthy duration. I honestly wasn't feeling all that good about being in an area where a weakened tree could easily be pushed over by a good gust. Perhaps the sparrow would accommodate my concerns and make him/herself visible quickly, without playing the standard avian hide-and-seek with us.
Given the slate-gray sky, it was going to be hard to identify field markings of birds on the wing, but as it turned out, it wasn't to be an issue. We'd been there about ten minutes when Ivan spied a sparrow investigating the edge where the rubberized clearing met the reeds. If I didn't know better, I'd believe the bird was cutting us a break by giving us an extended, unobstructed and close view. Sparrows can be frustratingly difficult to differentiate by species, and a birder could reasonably expect that fall migration might bring a dozen or more possibilities. Having the opportunity to actually study the bird in the open was a real gift, because we could check all of the markings that ruled out other species.
And, indeed, this very cooperative creature was a vesper sparrow, joined by another for good measure. They were my life vespers, and Ivan's first in a good long while. Mission accomplished, target birds found and cool new birding spot checked out for Hidden New Jersey readers. That was good enough for me. If we were going to be stuck inside for a couple of days while the storm raged, we'd at least be able to savor a very nice find.