The importance of Durand Park to wildlife increases continuously as surrounding forests and farm fields disappear under houses, parking lots, or roads. The Park and areas like it are becoming virtual oases for birds, as they can still provide food, a resting place and shelter from the weather and from predators, given that they retain a great deal of the fauna and flora natural to the region. Another advantage to Durand Park is the fact that it is a managed site, which aims at maintaining its habitat diversity. All these characteristics benefit both the bird species that stay in the region year around and those which, during migration, stop to rest and feed before continuing North in Spring or South in the Fall.
Durand Park has exceptional conditions favorable to a diversity of wildlife, reflecting the many different habitats it encompasses. There are woods, a small lake, grasslands, a bottomland forest, and a barn “habitat”. Each of these habitats attracts particular species of birds.
Wooded areas favor species such as Scarlet Tanager, Wood Thrush, Hermit Thrush, Ovenbird, Towhee and Veery, just to name a few. Ovenbird and Veery have become scarce in New Jersey due to the disappearance of forests throughout the State. Every spring their territorial and mating calls are less and less frequent.
A bottomland forest is a unique habitat. It is an area of saturated soil but covered by a forest of trees whose roots can survive in these oxygen-poor soils. Usually, they develop in rivers’ flood plains, but these plains are often isolated from their rivers by levees, logged, and transformed into farmlands or build over. The Prothonotary Warbler nests in this type of habitat and their numbers, not surprisingly, have decreased markedly over the years. At the Park, this habitat is found below the lake’s dam. It extends from the dam for about 200 yards along the stream bed which drains the lake’s overflow. The Prothonotary warbler is spotted occasionally throughout the region, thus there is a chance of this bird showing up at Durand Park. In fact, this could be encouraged by placing nesting boxes within this habitat.
The barn at the Park it is not, of course, a “habitat”, but it provides an excellent nesting site for (surprise) Barn Swallows. During Spring they can be seen flying in and out of the barn as they bring insects to their young and then fly out to catch more insects and repeat the process. Barn swallows build nests along roof beams on spots away from the walls, where rats and snakes cannot reach. The nests are made of small mud balls attached to each other and to the vertical face of a beam. The overall nest’s shape is that of a half-bowl.
Grasslands have gradually disappeared from the New Jersey landscape, victims also of housing developments, malls and road construction. The species that require this habitat have, therefore, decreased in numbers. Among them are the Upland Sandpiper, Vesper Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, etc. At Durand Park a large area has been dedicated to this type of cover and the hope is that, with time, these species will be seen here. Grasslands have large populations of field mice and moles, which represent a good source of food to predators. Durand Park is no exception and Red-tailed Hawks, Marsh (Northern Harrier) Hawks, and Kestrels are seen now and then hovering over these areas looking for a meal. Of these, the latter two are of note. Marsh Hawks are relatively uncommon and Kestrels have declined markedly in numbers in New Jersey in the last years. Red foxes also have been spotted crisscrossing the grasslands.
In spite of its relatively small size, the lake appears to be attractive to some migrating ducks. Either during Spring or Fall, Hooded Mergansers, Ring-necked Ducks and Bufflehead Ducks have been seen in its waters. This is remarkable since human activity (fishing, walking by) would tend to discourage these species from landing in it. In fact, these species can be seen only very early in the morning; as people appear, they fly off or hide towards the back of the lake, which has a good plant cover on its banks. The migrating ducks mentioned above are fish eating species. Thus, the lake is providing food, shelter and rest for them. Great Blue Heron and Snowy Egret, being more tolerant of human proximity, can be seen on the banks later in the day, catching frogs and small fishes.
Since approximately January of 2006, the Park has been monitored for wildlife presence. So far, sixty eight confirmed bird species have been seen. Several others could not be identified for certain (too brief a sighting, poor light). This is not an exhaustive list, by far. Several species known to be in or pass through the region have not been spotted yet. Owls would be an example. Great Horned Owl, Barred Owl and Screech Owl are in the area, but they tend to be nocturnal and the observations have been carried out only during daylight. Many migrating warblers have not been seen, but that is due to the limited number of observations, so far. With time this list is bound to grow.
As data accumulates over the years it will be possible to see trends, favorable and unfavorable, in the number of species and of individuals of each species present at Durand Park. These trends will reflect many factors, most of them beyond our control. But maintaining Durand Park’s habitat diversity is something that can be managed to a large extent and, thus, help improve the survival chances of many species.