Too much of a great thing: Owl overload at the Pole Farm

Reports of owls — short- and long-eared — have been filed from the Mercer Meadows Pole Farm multiple times during the last few weeks, and crowds are gathering.

I’ve spoken with several birders on my last few trips, and as thrilled as we are that owls are about, it is becoming a challenge to find parking in the late afternoon. This morning, one birder told me the main lot at the intersection of Cold Soil and Keefe roads was full on a recent day by 2:30 p.m. Another told me it was almost full at 1:30 p.m. on one of his prior visits.

I know from my own experience around 4 o’clock last Thursday afternoon that the lot was full; I was lucky to find a spot on the driveway. The next day, I went back about 3:50 p.m. and not only was the lot full, but the driveway was cluttered with cars. Frustrated, I drove on to neighboring Rosedale Park.

A short-eared owl flies at the Mercer Meadows Pole Farm. I took this shot in the fading light just before sunset Dec. 29.

At the Pole Farm, the biggest gaggle of photographers stakes out the area where the paved Lawrence Hopewell trail makes a big curve once you walk past the restrooms and the red arches marking the location one of the original AT&T buildings. The short-eared owls have been appearing shortly before sundown, and I’ve twice seem them in what appeared to be aerial combat with Northern harriers. (I’ve yet to see or hear a long-eared owl.)

I expect the crowds will persist for a while. Should you wish to go, expect that you might have to get creative to park. Should there not be space for you in the lot and drive, you can head down Cold Soil Road, park on the side and walk back into the park. There’s no parking along Keefe Road near the park entrance.

Another option would be to park in the Reed-Bryan Farm or Blackwell Road parking lots at the other ends of the park and walk the trails to the Pole Farm side. That’s a good hike of more than a mile, and you’d need to walk back in the dark after sunset.

Whatever you do, please stick to the trails as stipulated by park rules and don’t wander into the woods. That’s not good for the owls.

Published by Dan

University media executive by day, blogger by night, I am a well-traveled resident of New Jersey

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