Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 15
 
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
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Bird Lovers and Friends of Rogers Refuge Plan to Dedicate New Observation Platform

Dilshanie Perera

The Charles Rogers Wildlife Refuge sanctuary for migrating birds, tucked away behind the Institute Woods, will further delight ornithologists and birdwatchers as a new observation platform providing a vantage point from which to observe fauna and flora will be dedicated by the Friends of the Rogers Refuge (FORR) on April 25.

The upcoming dedication ceremony will honor the Washington Crossing Audubon Society, which provided two grants for FORR to do an ecological assessment of the plants and animals in the area, and to build the new bird observation platform. Both platforms were built by Princeton-based carpenter James Donahue, the first having been constructed two and a half years ago, while the second was finished last fall. The organization wanted the ceremony to coincide with the beginning of the season for avian migration.

Since it is located at the precise point where New Jersey’s coastal plain meets the Piedmont, and since it contains a wetlands space protected by the surrounding woods, the Rogers Refuge is an ideal stopping point for hundreds of species of migrating birds. “The key to the refuge is the open water next to the woods,” said FORR Chair Fred Spar in an interview.

“The best time to see birds is a clear morning after a clear night with a slight southwest wind,” Mr. Spar continued, adding that the mission of the organization is to improve the 39-acre site as a habitat for birds, as well as to improve it for the observation of birds.

The refuge is owned by New Jersey American Water and maintained by Princeton Township, with support from FORR. Mr. Spar noted that five percent of Princeton’s water comes from an aquifer underneath the refuge, and that the space is a wetlands protected by a conservation easement granted in 1968, the same year that FORR was founded.

“The best time for birding is late April through late May,” Mr. Spar remarked, noting that around that time hundreds of species traverse the Atlantic flyway north from Central and South America. Approximately 53 species of birds actually breed on the Rogers Refuge land, he said, and over 200 species have been seen at the Refuge or in the surrounding Institute woods over the past 30 years.

Mr. Spar and his wife, fellow birding enthusiast Winnie Spar, are looking forward to seeing the spring warblers, many of whom they can identify by birdsong as well as appearance. Their interest in bird watching was piqued 30 years ago when they moved to Princeton and saw a yellow-shafted flicker. Eager to identify it, they did some research, bought some binoculars, and have been birdwatchers ever since.

The couple became involved with the FORR five years ago, when the pump that replenishes the water supply to the wetlands broke down, leaving the area dessicated, thus making it unfriendly to birds and the other creatures living there. The Township’s Engineering Department corrected the problem, and the birds returned as the ecosystem was stabilized.

“This really is a community project,” Mr Spar said of the maintenance of and advocacy for the Refuge. “The Engineering Department has been very responsive,” he observed, adding that a number of residents and members of FORR have also contributed to the upkeep of the site. Local boy scout troops built the bird boxes that line the marsh, as well as the kiosk and a few bridges along the newly-marked trail encircling the marsh. “We really want to encourage people to visit the Refuge, and encourage support for the projects.”

The next steps that the FORR will take include working on restoring the open wet meadow to the lower marsh by improving water flow to that space, and continuing to remove the invasive species Phragmites, which discourages nesting birds.

The dedication will occur at the Rogers Refuge on April 25 at 9 a.m. Refreshments will be served and a bird walk will follow the event. The site can be reached by turning onto West Drive from Alexander Road and following it for a quarter-mile. A sign at the gravel road marks the entrance to the Refuge. Visit www.rogersrefuge.org for more details.

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