Big Year 2016: Trenton Sewer Works

Earlier in the week I was clued in on a bit of a strange sighting – someone said that they had seen SEVEN warbler species (plus 2 Kinglet species) at a local sewer pond facility! It was hard to believe for more than one reason — first that there were a bunch of warblers at a waste treatment facility, that there were 7 species of warbler in NJ in January and two of the species in particular were actually easy to get good looks at. All of them added up to making me want to get there, and an upcoming blizzard forced me into action.

It was a strange place to hold this series of seasonally-rare warblers (and allies) – the Trenton Sewer Works. In the face of the upcoming blizzard, I rushed up there before work, arriving just after sunup. The temperatures had dropped significantly and it was 20° out, hardly good warbler weather. The only things stirring at the facility were white-throated sparrows and house sparrows, plus a few yellow-rumped warblers. My hands were frozen even with 2 layers of gloves, and I decided that moving would be a good idea. I crossed the street to check out the nearby Delaware River, where a pair of BALD EAGLES were flying along and tussling, along with the expected Canada geese, ring-billed gulls and mallards in the icy water. Nearby, dark-eyed juncos and house sparrows flitted about an old metal structure on the shoreline, and a single COMMON MERGANSER floated along. After a short look, I ran back to my car to try to warm my hands which were frozen.

Cold River

I had just just started to thaw out when I noticed movement in the evergreens near the entrance to the Sewer Works, particularly a bright yellow color that had to be a warbler. A quick look through the binoculars revealed a FOY NASHVILLE WARBLER. I grabbed the camera and went back into the cold. The result was – in a word – GLORIOUS. Numerous birds skittered around me in the evergreens and a few leafless deciduous trees. The small flock moved in and out of view so quickly that it was difficult to figure out where to focus in order to get good looks and pictures. But I eventually got great looks at the Nashville Warbler, plus CAROLINA CHICKADEE, PINE WARBLER, a pair of GOLDEN-CROWNED WARBLERS and a handsome ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER. They flitted in and out to give me fleeting, if clear, looks at these beautiful, out-of-season birds. The Nashville Warbler was my primary goal but my secondary bird was yet unseen.

Thinks he's a piney
Angry-crowned Warbler

Soon enough, another birder joined me and we began walking down the driveway to follow the birds. The actual ponds held the expected European Starling, Brown-headed Cowbirds – birds common to such facilities. The warblers worked their way down the driveway. A RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET practically landed on my shoulder as it passed by, alighting on the fence too close for me to even focus. But it was more interested in the spiders within the fence than me and I was able to get this shot:

Hello, Ruby

Moving down the drive, we got more looks at the Pine Warbler, the Nashville Warbler and numerous Yellow-rumped warblers. So far I had 4 of the 7 warbler species and both kinglets. It was already a good day but moving down along the concrete wall – complete with hanging shrubbery – gave me clear and gorgeous looks at these beautiful birds. The birds were hawking and feeding out in the sun, moving from vine to vine and branch to branch like they knew that the storm was coming soon. The Pine Warbler and Orange-crowned Warblers were out, but the Nashville Warbler was definitely the star.

Golden Yellow and Gray Crabapple Chickadee Hanging About

Near the end of the driveway was a gate – the ‘no pass’ zone of the facility where I couldn’t pass. But it was right at that gate that I caught a flash of yellow along the fence. There it was – my secondary quest, the YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER!! He was feeding among the chain links, puling out spiders and whatever else he could find deep in the recesses. Just below him was another warbler, and on closer inspection I realized that it was warbler #6: a PALM WARBLER, perhaps the only species other than the butterbutts that should have been in the area. That gave me 8 of the 9 species I had hoped to see!! It was freezing cold but the show was well worth it even if I missed the Yellow Warbler (and in fact it wasn’t seen the day before or since).

Winter Palms

I snuck out of there before the Blizzard of 2016, and I hoped that all of these birds made it through the storm. I’d like to go back to see them again.


  • 85) Bald Eagle
  • 86) Golden-Crowned Kinglet
  • 87) Nashville Warbler
  • 88) Orange-crowned Warbler
  • 89) Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • 90) Pine Warbler
  • 91) Palm Warbler
  • 92) Yellow-throated Warbler
2016 YTD Tally
92 Species – Month 92
Lifers 1
NJ Species 81
NJ Lifers 1

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