Hot Spot Birding Guide to the Mercer Meadows Pole Farm

A red-tailed hawk looks for its next meal at the Pole Farm

The “Pole Farm,” where for a good chunk of the 20th century AT&T maintained a network of radio antennas for international telephone calls, is a true birding hot spot.

Built around remnants of what at one time was a coordinated tangle of poles and wires that connected the world, today’s Pole Farm in Lawrence Township, New Jersey, is a magnet for all types of birds, changing season by season as they migrate up and down the Delaware River valley and the Atlantic coast flyway. As I write this post in spring 2021, birders have recorded 218 species since 1998 through the eBird program.

I’ve been visiting since spring 2019, and over the last year I’ve been visiting three or four times a month. I mix up the visits between early morning and, in the cold months, an hour or so ahead of sunset and, in the warm months, between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.

A northern harrier soars over an open field at the Pole Farm

One of the best aspects of the Pole Farm is that it provides a mix of broad grassland fields that attract (e.g.) tree swallows, sparrows, Eastern meadowlarks and Northern harriers, and of wooded areas that attract Eastern towhees, woodpeckers, thrushes, brown thrashers and more. Red-winged black birds, Northern cardinals and catbirds are ubiquitous, and always remember to look up: you might spot a pair of bald eagles passing overhead or a group of cedar waxwings congregating in the treetops.

Warblers come around in the spring, although I have yet to develop the eye or the experience to spot as many as I’d like. Common yellowthroats eluded me much of last year, but I’ve spotted and photographed several since.

I see and hear from other birders reports of owls, pheasants and assorted waterbirds, but I’ve yet to pencil many of them into my logs. I will keep searching.

My top priority is to view and photograph birds, but deer and other animals are present along with butterflies and other insects. Wildflowers bloom through much of the year. If I get skunked (and I did see a skunk once!) on photos of birds, there are nice fallback options.

The park has a couple of observation platforms and blinds on which are posted signs showing some of the birds and other wildlife commonly found. They are good teaching tools for children, not to mention adults.

The trails, by the way, are easy to walk for kids and basically everyone except those with serious mobility issues. The ground is mostly flat to gently sloping, and the trails themselves are a good six to eight feet wide in most places. Sturdy boardwalks take you over Shipetaukin Creek and some marshy areas.

A wheelchair probably could roll along some of the paths, but only a short section is paved. If anyone wishes to visit in a wheelchair, I’d recommend that someone else scout the trails and make a judgment.

Be aware that bicyclists and runners use the trails regularly, and the occasional horse and rider might show up, the former leaving proof.

My only quibble about the Pole Farm is that the trails are not marked with blazes or markers beyond the crossroads signs that point you to various destinations. Further, I have never seen a trail map at a trailhead.

The Pole Farm is part of the larger Mercer Meadows park, and its site offers a map of the park at large for download. I intend to update this guide with an annotated map at some point soon.

The history of the Pole Farm is a fascinating study in telecommunications technology, which was what first drew me in. But the birds and wildlife and wildflowers are what keep bringing me back.

Mercer Meadows Pole Farm is free to the public and open 365 days a year, sunrise to sunset. Dogs on leashes are welcome. Roughly equidistant to Princeton and Trenton, the park is a great destination. If you’re visiting this part of New Jersey and have only one chance to go birding, do it here.

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