Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: The Black-crowned Night Heron

Photos by Fred Nisenholz

On a cold early evening in March, I was part of a group of hardy birders who came to the banks of the Hackensack River at Laurel Hill County Park in hopes of witnessing the whirling Meadow dance of the woodcock. As our group waited patiently for the Timberdoodles to broadcast their first “PEENT” call of the night we instead heard a distinctive “Quock” sound from overhead.  One, than two, and finally 19 owl-like images flew out of the rapidly darkening skies directly over our heads. All were Black-crowned Nights Herons, providing for one of those natural magical experiences that often occur in the Meadowlands, a sure indication of a cleaner and healthier environment.

The Black-crowned Night Heron has suffered throughout its history, first from feather hunters in the 1800s and later from the ravages of the pesticide DDT and habitat destruction, forcing New Jersey to add the bird to its list of threatened species in 1999. By the late 1990s, there were still only about 200 of the birds in the State.

Thankfully, with the vast environmental improvements made in the Meadowlands over the past 20 years, Black-crowned Night Herons can now be seen in most areas of the region, whether perched on the railing of DeKorte Park’s Marsh Discovery Trail or quietly peering down at you from a low tree branch at Losen Slote Creek. They rest during the day for the most part and forage a diverse menu at night, hunting everything from fish, insects, and crabs to birds, eggs, and sometimes even fruit.

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Pontoon Boat Trip Photos

Fred Nisenholz provided us with these great photos from last week’s pontoon boat tour. Thanks Fred! Don’t forget: the last boat tour of the season is Sept. 24. Remaining tours are 5 p.m. Sept. 8, 11, 16, 22, and 24; and 8:30 a.m. Sept. 19. To register click here.

I Spy Some Soras

Following on our post this morning of Roy Woodford’s Least Bittern photos, we have some Sora shots courtesty of Roy. Like the Least Bittern, the Sora is not always easily seen, and it can take patience to wait for one to appear.

Least Bitterns Galore!

Roy Woodford sent us some spectacular shots of the sometimes reclusive Least Bitterns that he’s taken this summer. Writes Roy:

What I find really rewarding is when I can get pictures of that which is not often seen. One of my favorites in this category is the Least Bittern.  They are very hard to spot (even with binoculars) and are very shy and reclusive … quickly hiding in the phragmites if you get too close.

I’ve found if you’re extremely patient, you can gain their trust (or they just don’t think of me as a threat).  It took weeks to find the tolerant ones and hours each time to get them used to me being there.

The endless hours of searching and waiting (while baking in the sun) were well spent though.  On numerous occasions, the birds would come out and feed, preen, and wander around me … only occasionally actually looking at me.  Most of these shots are from about 20 feet away.

Banded Sandpipers Spotted

Tagged Semipalmated SandpiperLast week Ray Duffy spotted two banded Semipalmated Sandpipers in DeKorte Park’s Shorebird Pool where the Transco Trail meets the New Jersey Turnpike. The sandpiper photographed by Ray was banded on May 17, 2013, near Heislerville in Cumberland County. The second bird was banded on May 20, 2013, in Fortescue in Cumberland County.  Both sandpipers are believed to have been hatched in 2012 or earlier.

Thanks to Ray for the info and photo!

A Hawk’s Happy Ending

Red-tailed hawk. Photo by Jeri KratinaGreat story in The Record today about a badly injured red-tailed hawk found in a Clifton parking lot last year that was treated at the Raptor Trust and identified by its band at Garrett Mountain Reservation in Woodland Park earlier this month. The detailed article tells the bird’s story, and that of the good samaritans who saved and redisovered it. In addition, the story gives a brief history of the Raptor Trust, which has treated more than 90,000 injured birds of various species since it was founded in 1982. Check out the story here.

Photo by Jeri Kratina

Experience the Meadowlands in September

snowy egret Mill Creek

Snowy Egret, Mill Creek

The NJSEA has plenty of events in September, including guided nature walks with the Bergen County Audubon Society, the final month of our pontoon boat tours and stargazing at the William D. McDowell Observatory.

Next month’s free nature walks are Sunday, Sept. 6, at Mill Creek Marsh in Secaucus and Tuesday, Sept. 15, at Harrier Meadow in North Arlington, normally closed to the public. Both walks are from 10 am to noon.

The William D. McDowell Observatory is open every Wednesday in September from 8 to 10 p.m.for free public viewing nights. In addition, the Observatory will be open from 7:30 pm Sunday, Sept. 27, to 1:30 a.m Monday, Sept. 28, so the public can view a Total Lunar Eclipse.

The peak of the eclipse, when the Earth is positioned completely between the Full Moon and the Sun, will take place at approximately 10:45 pm. The event will include a talk on the history of eclipses and telescope viewing of other astronomical objects, including Saturn and Neptune.

There’s still time to get in a pontoon boat ride along the Hackensack River before the season ends in late September. These great rides offer a whole new perspective of the Meadowlands’ amazing natural beauty and wildlife. For times and registration information click here.

See you in September!

An Old Friend Returns

Jill Homcy was recently on Valley Brook Avenue when she recognized a familar Peregrine. Jill explains: “Last October I stopped at River Barge Park in Carlstadt and found a beautiful banded peregrine falcon fledgling in a tree. I sent pics in to the national banding site, and they helped identify her as having been born in New York City and banded on June 5, 2014.

The following month, Jim Wright and Chris Takacs also identified the banded peregrine in Harrier Meadow in North Arlington and Jim went on to write a wonderful article about her background. Well, I am excited to report that I spent an hour with her (on Aug. 18) and she looks well!”

Jill’s first shot is of the fledgling peregrie last October. The next two pics are from Aug. 18, 2015.

Don Torino’s Life In The Meadowlands: Changing Seasons

northern harrier jeff nicolThings are changing in the Meadowlands. Despite the oppressive heat of the last few weeks and what it may say on your calendar summer has gone. Nature has no date book, apps or IPhones. Rather, it prepares as it has done for eons despite our best efforts to take one more visit to the beach and have another barbeque.

raptorNow, the Semipalmated Sandpipers are congregating by the thousands on the mudflats of the Meadowlands, resting and refueling for their incredible journey that began in the Arctic and will end in South America. The Yellow-legs, Egrets and Plovers can also be seen now, meeting together, and well aware that summer in the Meadowlands is rapidly leaving us behind. The last generation of Monarch butterflies, although far less than years past, are flying high over the marshes on their long arduous journey to Mexico. More Warblers are arriving by the day but their visit will be short as the days go by, and the Orioles will not be seen much longer as fall slowly but assuredly arrives.

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