Birding Glenhurst Meadows (Warren, Somerset County)

By sbarnes October 10, 2014
Glenhurst conwa_10-13-2012 Mike Newlon

Glenhurst has developed a reputation as a reliable site for the ever-shy Connecticut Warbler in autumn (photo by Mike Newlon).

By Jonathan Klizas

Glenhurst Meadows is one of the most productive birding locations in northern Somerset County. Its habitat is a mix of successional field, wet meadow, brooks, ­river and woods. The plethora of sparrows that visit in the autumn built Glenhurst’s reputation but it is an enjoyable location for a variety of species the entire year.

Glenhurst Meadows looking east from the Brookside Trail (photo by Jonathan Klizas).

Glenhurst Meadows looking east from the Brookside Trail (photo by Jonathan Klizas).

Excepting coastal emberizids, nearly every regularly occurring sparrow in New Jersey has appeared at Glenhurst including Clay-colored, Henslow’s, Nelson’s, Le Conte’s and Grasshopper. The number of Swamp Sparrows in October can be staggering. Savannah Sparrows are numerous. Lincoln’s and White-crowned Sparrows can be present in impressive numbers. Vesper Sparrows are regular near the garden by the arboretum. However, Glenhurst does not live by sparrows alone. Over 215 species are recorded here including rarities such as Sandhill Crane, Sabine’s Gull and recently, Black-throated Gray Warbler. Many years ago, Sedge Wren nested in a wet area west of Cory’s Brook. Red-headed Woodpeckers have been as regular at Glenhurst the past few years as anywhere in the state. In fact, a 7-woodpecker-species day is very possible in the autumn at Glenhurst. This is the most reliable spot in the region for Connecticut and Orange-crowned Warblers. Other seasonally occurring regulars are American Pipits, Rusty Blackbirds and Eastern Meadowlarks. Wilson’s Snipe and American Woodcock are numerous in the spring as are ducks if the water levels cooperate. Red-shouldered Hawks are resident. The variety of species found at Glenhurst Meadows is remarkable considering the 100 or so acres that it comprises.

Glenhurst Meadows  is a part of Warren Township in SomersetCounty, lying between Mountain Avenue to the south, the PassaicRiver to the north, the defunct Old Stirling Road to the east and the former Wagner Dairy Farm to the west. The farm is now the Wagner Farm Arboretum and is a good landmark in finding Glenhurst for the first-time visitor. West of the Arboretum is a parcel of land owned by the Passaic River Coalition labeled as Warren Riverside, extending the Glenhurst/Wagner Arboretum entity west to the King George Road, I-78 intersection. The PassaicRiver meanders through the area forming the border between Morris and Somerset Counties.

glenhurst_meadows map

Mike Hiotis describes two assets in explaining the value of Glenhurst as an attractive habitat for avifauna:

“1. The Glenhurst Complex – Glenhurst Meadows, Gillette (Long Hill) Wetlands, PassaicRiver and the powerline cut represent the southern tip of Glacial Lake Passaic. It provides the last field/wetlands habitat adjacent to the Watchung Ridge providing an excellent migrant oasis. Birds funnel into the site due to its location.

2. Due to constant flooding, Glenhurst has avoided human “improvements” which has kept the habitat attractive annually as a consistent migrant stopover. Hopefully this will continue. It is a shame some mowing could take place as thicker brush is now a concern.”

Glenhurst Meadows was referenced as the “Old Cooper Farm” when developers bought it in the early 1960s to create a golf course. The course, known as The Glenhurst Golf Club, opened in 1966. What the developers did not know is that they bought the property during a 5-year dry spell. The demise of the Club is told in the following account taken from the Warren Township Historical Society: “By the 1970s the area, always subject to flooding, took on the attributes still visible today. Annual spring floods inundated the course, washing away the sand traps and greens. Thinking they could frustrate nature’s design, Glenhurst’s owners installed cofferdams and pumps, but the flooding continued worse than before. By the mid-Seventies the course was abandoned and the land reverted to nature.”

Fortunately, Warren Township received the 100 acres under the Green Acres program. This led to the location’s former moniker among birders as Warren Green Acres. This is an unfortunate label because there are other parcels in the township, which are also under the aegis of Warren Green Acres. The name, Glenhurst Meadows, or simply, Glenhurst, started taking hold within the past ten years and is now the commonly accepted name.

Glenhurst sign

Glenhurst has two points of access. The primary one is the driveway and parking lot, which is parallel to Cory’s Brook. The sign at the head of the driveway on Mountain Avenue reads “Glenhurst Nature Trail”. Park at the end of the driveway in the small lot. Walk the driveway, which can be productive. The trail system begins at the north end of the lot. Cory’s Brook is the artery through Glenhurst. The Brookside Trail on the east side of Cory’s Brook and the West Trail on the west side of the brook form the spine of the trail network throughout Glenhurst. Numerous mowed paths branch off these trails leading to the different sections of Glenhurst. The area around the gazebo (East Trail) near the parking lot is worth checking for sparrows and other autumn visitors and is a good lookout for Woodcock displays in the spring. Keep working the trails northward checking any side trails if activity warrants it. Eventually, the trails come to the ponds, the power lines and the PassaicRiver at the north end of the Meadows. Shorebirds are frequent in the west pond area depending on water levels. Red-headed Woodpeckers may be found in many places but are reliably seen near the power-line cut, crisscrossing the PassaicRiver between Morris and SomersetCounties. The paths along the PassaicRiver near the power lines can be very productive. If there is one area that is less birdy than others are, it is probably the northeast section, but even that is worth a visit if time permits.

The other access is at the Wagner Farm Arboretum. Park near the enclosed garden. The garden and surrounding grounds are good for Vesper and Savannah Sparrows, Eastern Bluebird, American Kestrel, et al. From here, go in a northeast direction and you will eventually cross over to the area described above.

This beautiful Le Conte's Sparrow was photographed at Glenhurst Meadows by Jeff Ellerbusch.

This beautiful Le Conte’s Sparrow was photographed at Glenhurst Meadows by Jeff Ellerbusch.

Remember that Glenhurst has a deserved reputation for being wet as it floods easily. Boots are strongly recommended. Often during rainy periods, the trails along the brook leading north to the ponds and the river are impassable without knee boots, hip waders or a boat. The township usually mows the main paths a few times a year – but not always. One can easily walk the entire property from either parking lot described earlier and shown on the map. Please respect the property owners on Mountain Avenue and those adjacent to the driveway.

Note: Hunting is not allowed at Glenhurst with the following exception: WarrenTownship conducts a Deer Management Program on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays from September 14, 2013 through February15, 2014. A similar schedule is followed every year.

Want to bird Glenhurst Meadows? Check out the hotspot on eBird here.


Many thanks to Mike Hiotis and Jeff Ellerbusch for their help with this article.

Jonathan Klizas can be found at his wonderful website on birding in Morris and Somerset Counties:

The secretive Lincoln's Sparrow can be found reliably at Glenhurst in September and October (photo by Jeff Ellerbusch).

The secretive Lincoln’s Sparrow can be found reliably at Glenhurst in September and October (photo by Jeff Ellerbusch).