Silver Lake Park is a 465 acre wildlife and recreational property in Bucks County, PA. Bucks County is north of Philadelphia and across the river from New Jersey. The lake within the park was created as a man-made mill pond with the 1687 building of a dam on Otter Creek. Much of what was once open water has filled with silt over the 300 plus years and is now marsh. The Silver Lake Nature Center occupies about half of the Park and includes the State’s “best protected Coastal Plain Forest,” according to County’s publicity. The recently retired (2015) Robert Mercer was, for 40 plus years, the naturalist manager for this Center.
When Bob and his wife, Eileen Mercer, were seeking a winter haven in retirement, they focused on the Charleston area which they had visited on vacations. They first spent time on the Isle of Palms. From that base, they visited other areas and stumbled onto Seabrook Island. In their research of the Island, they were attracted to the focus on its wildlife. This is their second winter renting a Marsh Walk for three months or so. It is interesting to note that they had joined both Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) and SINHG before they set foot on our Island in early 2017. I first met Bob on a Yawkey Reserve SINHG trip that January and quickly realized he was an accomplished birder even though he was being very low key.
Bob grew up in Eastern Pennsylvania and graduated from Clemson with a degree in Parks and Recreation Administration. He credits Paul Hamel at Clemson as the person who kicked off his interest in nature education and Rick Mellon, Mellon Biological Service as to birding in particular. His initial job was with the US Department of Fish and Wildlife in Oklahoma, but that was short-lived. When there was an opportunity to become involved with the Silver Lake Nature Center, in a part of the United States with which he was more familiar, he grabbed it. In that position, he was the leader of all manner of educational endeavors including bird walks within the Park and at destinations within a couple hour’s drive. Cape May, New Jersey (a very popular birding area because it is located on a primary migratory flyway) was a common endeavor. He has been a longtime and active member of the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club (the nation’s second oldest birding society, I’m told) which is located in Philadelphia.
Eileen grew up on a New Jersey farm (yes, agriculture has historically been a major economic factor there) and went to Trenton State College (now known as The College of New Jersey) and was initially employed as a teacher. Following that she worked in an environmental laboratory. Subsequently she became involved with properties of historical interest and their programs. One of her specialties was a live demonstration of how cooking was done a couple hundred years ago and what was cooked. She had been interested in birds from her days on the farm and she was accustomed to go on guided bird walks similar to what SIB provides here on the Island. This is where she first met Bob, who was guiding those walks. It was not until several years later, however, when they reconnected. They recently celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary.
Both of these people have well-honed birding skills which I have observed on several trips together. Most recently during the Great Backyard Bird Count. Their ability to identify species starts with a keen sense in identifying the many bird calls. Most often the singing bird is hidden in the surrounding vegetation rather than flying across your field of vision. We who formed SIB just over two years ago are very pleased that Bob and Eileen are a part of the organization and to have them share their skills as SIB endeavors to expand the interest of the Island’s residents in the beauty of our feathered friends and in the protection of the bird habitat on our beaches and within our neighborhoods. We hope the Mercers will continue to visit Seabrook!
Submitted by George Haskins
Photo by Charley Moore