New Jersey is densely populated, and its natural areas are dwindling. Suburban central Jersey is particularly homogenous. Grassland habitat there is in extremely short supply. Until 2003, Negri-Nepote Native Grassland Preserve, near New Brunswick, was a 164-acre farm growing alfalfa and other crops; now its fields have been replanted with native grasses and wildflowers.
It’s the best spot in the area for Grasshopper Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark, American Kestrel, and other grassland birds. Dickcissel, a rarity in the Garden State, showed up in the summer of 2011 and has returned for the last two years, making Negri-Nepote one of the more reliable places in the region for the dapper species.
A two-acre wetland and vernal pool provide stopover habitat for migratory shorebirds, wading birds, and waterfowl, as well as a refuge for reptiles and amphibians. Since about a third of the preserve is wooded, it attracts forest birds like Carolina Chickadee, Orchard Oriole, and migrating warblers. Nest boxes provide the opportunity for up-close views of kestrels, bluebirds, and martins. — James McCormick and Gerald McCormick
James McCormick is an ecologist and a biology teacher. His father Gerald McCormick is a retired reporter and copy editor for Reuters. They have been birders for more than 30 years.
Grassland, wetlands and vernal pool, deciduous woodland.
Fairly flat and easily walkable. Three miles of trails made of gravel and soil. The one-third-mile Blue Trail wheelchair-accessible.
More than 165 species. Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Great Egret, Great Blue and Green Herons, American Kestrel, Northern Harrier, Cooper’s and Red-tailed Hawks, American Woodcock, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, White-eyed Vireo, Prairie, Golden-winged, Blue-winged, and Yellow Warblers, Yellow-breasted Chat, Willow and Acadian Flycatchers, Purple Martin, Tree and Barn Swallows, Grasshopper, Vesper, Savannah, American Tree, and Field Sparrows, Dickcissel, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Eastern Kingbird, Orchard Oriole, Eastern Meadowlark, Bobolink. Migratory warblers in spring and fall.
When to go
April through November. Dawn and dusk are best.
Downloadable bird and butterfly checklists. Occasional free nature walks; dates posted on township website and at kiosk at first trail head. Field trips offered by Washington Crossing Audubon Society. Recent-sightings list. No restrooms. Observation blind and benches. Restaurants and gas stations on Rt. 27.
Town park. Open from sunrise until 30 minutes after sundown. Deer hunting allowed in preserve; dates posted at front kiosk. Non-hunters prohibited in preserve during posted hunting times.