Non-biting midges are here!

If anyone has visited the shores of Merrill Creek Reservoir in the past few weeks you no doubt encountered swarms of non-biting midges.

These insects, as their name suggests, do not bite or sting, but do cause an annoyance with their shear numbers. They seem to have an innate ability to find your eyes and mouth as you hike but otherwise are quite harmless.

While they are enough to keep us from enjoying our outdoor pursuits, they do offer an incredible food source for our feathered friends. Many birds are just now arriving on their nesting grounds back from Central and South America. As you can well imaging the birds have depleted their fat reserves and are in need of a lot of high protein food.

If you stop by Merrill Creek in the next few weeks and encounter the swarms of midges, try to find comfort in knowing that these insects are providing a grand buffet for the birds!

They’re here!

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A Visitor From the North

February 23, 2019

Bird watchers were treated to a wonderful opportunity to observe a visitor from the north this winter. A boreal chickadee was first seen by a couple who were sitting inside the Visitor Center watching the activity at the bird feeders on February 23, 2019 and 11:30 am. The feeding station, with a variety of feeders and an “ice free” pond, offer just what hungry birds need to survive the winter. The feeders offer great looks at our common winter birds from the comfort of the Visitor Center.

The couple, who were sitting in the chairs in front of the windows watching the bird feeding activity when the woman remarked”that doesn’t look like a regular chickadee”. Her companion who first took a picture on their cell phone, began to look through the various bird identification books on the table nearby. After a quick study he announced that he was pretty confident that it was a boreal chickadee!

This announcement drew the immediate attention of others in the Visitor Center and soon the little chickadee from the north was soon to be admired by hundreds of visitors from across the East. By 1:30 pm Merrill Creek was a buzz with birders from all over attempting to get glimpse of the northern visitor. A boreal chickadee had not been reported in New Jersey in 30 years!

Although the bird was initially observed on the ground at the feeders, it spent the majority of its time feeding in the evergreen trees around the Visitor Center for the first few days. It was not until days later, to the delight of eager bird watchers, that it became a “regular” at the feeders. This of course provided ample opportunity for “good looks” and great photographs.

The chickadee has a special affinity for the peanuts and dried fruit and it appears that the bird has feed exclusively on these high protein fruit and nuts. After the third week it began feeding on suet and has been regularly stopping in for a treat in between its staple of peanuts.

Technology and nature often are not thought of having a symbiotic relationship, but in the case of viewing this boreal chickadee it was. It began with the folks who first saw the bird and had the wherewithal to take a cell phone picture. If they did not have photo documentation, its quite possible that many birders would not have believed their sighting. It was then, after the confirmed identification, that the report/alert was transmitted via text and email to hundreds of bird watchers. The continued reporting on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “eBird” reporting platform by those who have seen the bird, has provided others a daily report on sightings.

I am writing this post on 3/22/19 after I observed the boreal chickadee feeding on suet this morning! It will be 4 weeks on Saturday that this little traveler has offered so much excitement to the delight of the birding community.

Favorite meal

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Reducing Fishing Line Litter

March 2019

On Saturday morning, March 9th, a small group of people were gluing together pieces of PVC piping in one of the classrooms at the Merrill Creek Visitors Center.  Starting with a two-foot section of four-inch piping, volunteers attached a cap to the bottom, and then an elbow at the top.  A threaded cap then screwed into the bottom, creating a sort of cylindrical trash can—well, recycling container to be more specific. 

Cole Baldino of Trout Unlimited and Ryan Jiorle of the AmeriCorps New Jersey Watershed Ambassadors Program organized this project, which is aimed at reducing fishing line litter in and along the waterways of New Jersey.  The idea is to install these containers at publicly owned, high-activity fishing sites with stickers to help explain that they are meant not for trash, but monofilament fishing line only.  This is because it can be recycled and used in the manufacturing of other plastic products.  And by disposing of it in one of these containers, the line can be kept out of the water and areas around the water, where it can endanger wildlife, negatively affect water quality, and take hundreds of years to break down. 

Funded by the New Jersey State Council of Trout Unlimited, five volunteers constructed twenty of these containers before heading down to the Merrill Creek Reservoir boat ramp to watch Cole and Ryan demonstrate how to attach these containers to existing signage.  At the conclusion, volunteers were sent home with some of the containers so that they could install them near their own fishing spots and oversee their maintenance, which involves emptying out any collected fishing line or other material.  In addition, the organizers and volunteers hope this will create awareness about the littering problem near waterways in general.  Preventing these kinds of materials from entering aquatic habitats will help improve not only their beauty, but also their long-term health.

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Forest Management in MCR Environmental Preserve


Merrill Creek Reservoir (MCR) staff is working with New Jersey Audubon Forester, Don Donnelly to re-forest an area of the Environmental Preserve.The area encompasses a peninsula of land where volunteers and other naturalists conduct ecological surveys, informal research on flora and fauna, and forest stewardship demonstration projects. The forests of the environmental preserve were hit hard during super-storm Sandy and have not fully recovered because of the proliferation of non-native plants and high deer herbivory that plagued the region during the past decade. The first step of the plan is to use a forestry mower to remove existing undesirable non-native vegetation and shrubs, then replant the site with approximately 500 trees per acre on an 8’ x 10’ spacing. This will allow us to mimic natural tree regeneration densities, which will help to minimize non-native plant re-emergence. MCR received a grant from the New Jersey Tree Foundation for 2,500 trees of several species to promote future resiliency of the forest. The trees will be protected by an electric fence system along the perimeter of the planting to protect the seedlings until they reach at least 6’-7’ tall. The trees will be planted by college and high school interns who are studying within the environmental field.

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Bald eagle fledged from MCR seen in PA

Male bald eagle banded June 18, 2015
Male bald eagle banded June 18, 2015 (click on image to see full size)

Michael Rucci photographed an immature bald eagle at the Octoraro Reservoir in Chester County, PA. After seeing that his subject had a green band on one of his feet, he emailed his photograph to the NJDEP Fish and Wildlife biologist who looked up the band number, E-25, and saw that the eagle had  been banded as a nestling on June 18, 2015 at the Merrill Creek Reservoir.   

In the photograph you can see that the bird has a lot of white on the under side of the body, but it does not not a full white head and tail of an adult. This bird is almost 2 years old but technically in it’s third year if you count 2015 as year 1.

For additional information on Merrill Creek eagles please see the bald eagle tab on the main page.



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