Plainsboro, NJ - The 530-acre Plainsboro Preserve has its own CSPAN-type channel. It’s called “Bird TV.” It’s on 24/7. And it broadcasts rain or shine, no matter what.
No, Bird TV is not included with your basic cable package and no, it’s not actually television. Rather, it is a giant bay window that showcases a diverse array of habitats and the 50-acre McCormack Lake in Plainsboro. Nevertheless, it educates and fascinates anyone who tunes in.
“Our bird sightings are extensive and we keep a list of all observed species,” said Nancy Fiske, Sanctuary Director for New Jersey Audubon, who manages the Preserve for Plainsboro Township and Middlesex County.
“In January, we can easily see 60 to 100 birds from 20 different species coming daily to visit the bird feeder,” Fiske said. “It’s generally very active and it’s always very entertaining.”
And just like any quality programming, the showings are diverse. In addition to birds, Fiske said visitors can just as easily observe foxes, beavers, groundhogs, chipmunks, squirrels, deer, and otters on any given day.
For students, however, the Plainsboro Preserve represents a true sanctuary that brings classroom studies to life.
“It’s funny, but my favorite thing about coming here are the peaceful noises,” said Anupama Casalena, a third-grade student at the Plainsboro-based Montessori Country Day School, part of the Montessori Corner group of schools. The school routinely brings its students to the preserve for both educational and recreational purposes.
“We’ve already seen a purple finch, a blue jay, a cardinal and a woodpecker!” Anupama added.
Beyond that, the preserve is a great place for young learners to exercise their bodies and minds in an outdoor setting.
“I love seeing the kids being free in open space,” Fiske said. “It’s not on pavement or concrete and they can simply explore.”
Erica Blanco, an elementary school teacher at Montessori Country Day School, agreed, saying the kids interact with nature at the preserve in ways they cannot on the traditional playground. “They have a great time in the playground, but they leave here knowing more than when they arrived, and that’s particularly powerful,” she said.
“I believe that curriculum can’t be just worksheets. Kids need to learn through interaction and application. When we put our curriculum together I’m constantly thinking of how we apply these lessons in the real world,” Blanco said.
“Nancy and the Plainsboro Preserve have been very welcoming and it’s great that she and New Jersey Audubon are here,” she said, adding that her school includes botany and zoology in its curriculum, which “dovetail perfectly with our visits here.”
New Jersey Audubon provides year-round environmental education opportunities for the local community and stewards the site, which Fiske characterizes as a “lasting ecological legacy for current and future generations.”
The Nature Center houses a variety of exhibits, live animals, a reference library, a popular Nature Store, and several miles of trails.
And, of course, there’s Bird TV. Today, Blanco’s students are doing bird-watching for Cornell Lab of Ornithology and they’re able to input their observations directly into a national database.
“They’re doing tallying, they’re doing graphing and they’re able to be part of a bigger community to understand that we all play a part,” Blanco said.
For Sarany Vegirouthu, one of Blanco’s second-grade students, it’s all about learning outside. “It’s really interesting and it’s so cool to be outside and to learn at the same time. I love it!”