A 1,600-acre park north of Trenton where you can find raptors and owls in winter and songbirds and other migrants in spring and fall.
By William Jobes | Published: 12/17/2013
Hundreds of tall telephone poles once supported wire radio antennas on the 800 acres known as the Pole Farm. The facility was shuttered decades ago; now, after a grassroots campaign persuaded county government to stave off development, the farm and another 800-plus acres have been preserved.
The Pole Farm is the largest of five tracts composing Mercer Meadows, and it’s the best for birding.
I’ve been visiting for several years. I discovered the site by lucky accident while looking for raptors. A Northern Harrier skimming and hunting just a few feet above an open field prompted me to drive down a farm lane.
On subsequent visits, I was delighted to find that the park attracts not only harriers but also hawks, kestrels, Merlins, owls, and other raptors.
I’ve seen migrating warblers, Eastern Bluebirds, and other songbirds in the warmer months, but the deep-cold dead of winter is my favorite time. It’s when to see Short-eared Owls rising from treetops at sundown as they begin their twilight hunt for small mammals in the fields. In good years, I may spot several at once. — William Jobes
William Jobes is a print and broadcast journalist. He also wrote the article David vs. Goliath, about mobbing, and about Susquehanna State Park, Havre de Grace, Maryland, Hotspot Near You No. 72; Barnegat Lighthouse State Park, Barnegat Light, New Jersey, No. 77; and Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area, Kleinfeltersville, Pennsylvania, No. 126.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Fields, woods, streams, small lakes, and ponds.
Generally flat. The park’s interior roads are closed to vehicles.
Year-round: American Kestrel, Red-tailed, Cooper’s, and Sharp-shinned Hawks, Turkey Vulture, Eastern Meadowlark, Field and Savannah Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbird, Wild Turkey, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Bluebird, Carolina and Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmouse. Winter: Northern Harrier, Merlin, Short- and Long-eared Owls, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Hermit Thrush, Swamp and White-throated Sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco. Spring and fall: Vireos, kinglets, warblers. Summer: Tree Swallow, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Bobolink, Yellow, Prairie, and Blue-winged Warblers, Grasshopper Sparrow, Gray Catbird, Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, Scarlet Tanager.
When to go
Fall through spring. Summer can be productive in mornings and evenings.
Hiking trails, observation towers, bird blinds, interpretive signs, and picnic tables at rest stops along trails. Restrooms at most entrances and at the Hunt House, headquarters of the Mercer County Parks Commission. The Lawrence Hopewell Trail is a 20-mile bicycle and pedestrian trail through public and private lands; it runs through Mercer Meadows and connects its Pole Farm, Rosedale Park, and Equestrian districts.
County park. No fees. Open daily sunrise to sunset.
Wear multiple layers in winter. Bring a scope.