Needless to say, the fact that Stokes is part of a large region of protected and vital habitat within Sussex County contributes to the presence of a wide variety of bird species. This, in turn, attracts a wide variety of bird watchers.
Spring and fall are the best seasons for bird watching, since many species migrate through the area in those seasons. However, birds can be seen all year in Stokes if you learn where to look. All birds need food, water, and cover (or shelter) in which to rest, hide from predators or storms, and make nests. Wetland areas, such as swamps and stream banks, are often great spots to find birds. Birding at stream crossings along Struble or Sunrise Mountain Roads, at Steam Mill and Lake Ocquittunk, and at Tillman’s Ravine can be productive. Sunrise Mountain is a great spot to watch migrating birds, especially hawks.
Many endangered and threatened bird species either reside in or migrate through Stokes; these include peregrine falcon, golden-winged warbler, red-shouldered hawk, Cooper’s hawk, barred owl, bald eagle, northern goshawk, northern harrier, American kestrel, osprey, pied-billed grebe, vesper sparrow, grasshopper sparrow, red-headed woodpecker, long-eared owl, and bobolink.
If you plan to bird watch in Stokes (or anywhere outside your house), there are a few recommendations. Get a map of the area and learn to read it; you can get paper maps at the park office or download an app from www.njparksandforests.org/parks/stokes.html. Tell someone where you’ll be going if you plan to go alone. The minimum gear needed includes the map, water, and proper footwear for the terrain you plan to cover (flip-flops aren’t good on rocky trails). You might also want to bring a cell phone. Binoculars and a good bird field guide will increase your enjoyment. Pen and paper are also useful to note what you see.
While you bird, it is important to remember that these are wild creatures and it is possible to hurt them unintentionally through your actions. Walking off a marked trail destroys habitat; littering can injure or poison a bird that eats what you drop; disturbing a nest can kill the young within it. The best practice is to follow the Leave No Trace guidelines to take only photographs and leave only footprints, as well as the American Bird Association’s Code of Birding Ethics. Go to www.sussexcountybirdclub.org for the ABA Code, as well as information on birding walks and programs.
Birding can be a lifelong hobby; there is always something more to learn or another species to see. Learning bird songs will expand your ability to detect birds and increase your enjoyment while birding. Many birders contribute to the scientific study of birds by participating in projects like the Christmas Bird Count and by posting their observations on sites like eBird. And birding is a great reason to explore Stokes.
Contributed by Marianne Ofenloch