When we came to West Windsor in 1957, one of the first things we noticed was the wildlife, mainly in the form of the geese, ducks and heron on the water in Grovers Mill pond, just about 100 yards away down by Cranbury Road. We also noticed that there were usually a few deer roaming around the area, especially in the woods between Clarksville and North Mill Roads.
But as more and more housing was built in the area, changes in the wildlife population took place, as you might expect. The water birds on the pond weren’t around as frequently and in as great quantity. And the deer decided to stay away from the roads, most of the time.
I’ve discussed some of these changes before, including the regular migration of the geese and ducks. Those were the days before global warming. At our latitude this seems to be making the winters less severe, with less snow and fewer days when it was really cold.
The past couple of weeks in October this year were particularly unusual, with practically no rainfall during the warm period. It seemed that the number of geese on the pond was many times what it usually is, especially at this time of the year. I stopped counting at 200. And when I say “what it usually is,” I’m referring to how it was before people started to realize that the climate really is getting warmer.
In 1957, and for a few decades after that, most of the geese and ducks had disappeared by the middle of November. They had gone south, not to return until spring. Today, many are around here all winter. That seems to be mainly because the lack of really cold weather means that the lakes and ponds do not freeze over and the birds can get at their food supplies in the water.
The days when it is possible to skate on a frozen lake in this area are much fewer now than they were when we arrived in the 1950s. Then, it was sometimes possible to skate the full length of Lake Carnegie in Princeton, all the way from the university boathouse to Kingston. Locally we went through a period when the township would measure the thickness of the ice before permitting people to skate. But it’s now been at least a decade since that has happened, and skating is no longer permitted.
In 1957, and for a few decades after that, most of the geese and ducks had disappeared by the middle of November. Today, many are around all winter.
The geese I refer to are Canada Geese, and they used to be absent for the entire winter and then some. The same was true of the ducks and the herons, although the latter had never been prevalent in this area. The herons appear to be attracted by the roosting branches that have been sticking out of the water at the pond since it was dredged around a decade ago.
One of the first things we noticed about our move to the country in 1957 was the spring arrival of the geese. Some time in March, early in the morning a flock of Canada Geese would fly over our house shortly before they landed on Grovers Mill Pond. In those days, our small house was such that we had to keep some of our bedroom windows open to have the ventilation we wanted.
We had to experiment to find the best combination of window opening and furnace thermostat setting to make the house comfortable. The best settings resulted in our hearing the arrival of the geese sometime in March. It was fun to make up imaginary conversations among the geese as they flew over the house and saw the pond again for the first time since the fall.
Once they were settled in the pond again, it appeared that they stayed in the central New Jersey area until it was time to go south again. Usually this meant raising a new flock of little ones on the pond. It also meant that there had to be frequent crossings on foot of Clarksville Road near Grovers Mill by a succession of geese of all ages from the pond to Big Bear Brook and back.
This past summer, there were several family groups on the pond at different times. They were the first ones I had noticed there for several years. I began to believe that maybe the climate had warmed so much by now that the geese had become used to the new warmer temperatures and thought they no longer had to go south in the winter to survive the cold or return to the north to survive the summer heat.
Thinking about the geese, ducks and herons reminds me of other unusual sightings of birds in the area, including the wild turkeys that used to hang out in several places near here. I haven’t seen any of them in a long time. The most unusual to me recently was the robin I saw just about two weeks ago. I had never seen a robin around Grovers Mill before except in the spring and summer.
This includes the one who built a nest in a rose bush behind our house and laid four eggs in it a couple of years ago. The eggs never hatched, but it was a beautifully made nest that I still have. But just about the middle of this past November I looked out a front window and saw a real robin sitting there in a bush. I don’t know if people who know a lot about birds would be surprised or not. But I know I was, thinking that robins were what you expected to see in the spring.